Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Infatuation

Dating? Courting? Crushing? Chances are you will catch a good bout of infatuation early in your relationship.

It’s intriguing that the Bible doesn’t shy away from this very human experience. In the Song of Songs – the big book on relationships – the two main characters are clearly twitterpated. Hear the poetic words of Shulamith, ogling her beloved, as he returns from a time away:

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.

There are tell-tale signs of infatuation here. Did you notice how she describes him? He’s like a young horse, galloping and leaping across the mountains. It’s like a scene from a Bollywood romance. That’s how she envisions him. And then when he arrives, he doesn’t even make it to her front door. He stops and stares at her through the window. He’s not creeping or stalking – he’s just admiring her from afar. Tongue-tied, doe-eyed fool that he is.

That’s infatuation. The experience is so common we’ve got hundreds of ways to describe it. Star-crossed lovers. Love-sick puppies. Spell-bound. Enamoured. Punch-drunk love.

Did you know that there’s actually a scientific term for this experience? It’s called limerence. It was the psychologist, Dorothy Tennov, who came up with the term. She dedicated her professional career to studying this phenomenon by interviewing thousands of people who were truly, madly, and deeply in love. Her findings weren’t pulled out of Twilight novels or Ed Sheeran songs – they were completely research based. Some of the symptoms she observed included mood-swings, a literal heart-ache (chest pain), an irrational fear of rejection, passion and longing, and constant distraction. Limerence can make you do things outside the norm – like leaping over mountains as a gazelle, or playing peek-a-boo through the shutters.

Infatuation is great. It’s lovely. It’s wonderful. Ever felt it?

But here’s the thing. A lasting relationship cannot be built solely on infatuation, no more than your body can survive on Twinkies and cream soda. Sure they might taste delicious and give you a mid-afternoon sugar spike, but they won’t provide the nourishment you need for long-term health. And besides, you’ll be a diabetic in your thirties if you keep it up.

Infatuation occurs early in a relationship, but it doesn’t last forever. Eventually, it comes crashing head-first into reality. It might happen with your first fight, your first failure, even your first flatulence. But at some point in a relationship, you realize that infatuation isn’t enough. This is why relationships sometimes end prematurely. Some falsely assume that infatuation is the only mark of a good relationship.  And when the infatuation dissipates, they ditch the person they’re with and drive off looking for a new candidate.

Infatuation won’t sustain a marriage. It won’t sustain you through job-loss. Or the demands of parenting. Or cancer. But what will sustain your relationship is sacrificial love: true, biblical, agape love, where you lay down your lives for each other, serve one another, and sacrifice for the relationship. It’s a love that’s committed for the long-haul: for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. When you live in the love of Christ, and you allow his love to live through you – this is what sustains a marriage.

Can I recommend something? Early on in your relationship, take your foot off the gas. Ease up on the infatuation and instead, take time to build your friendship. Divert that energy toward getting to know each other. Discover more about the person you’re courting.

You pick this up in verse 14. Whispering through the window, the beloved says to Shulamith:

14 My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.

What’s he saying? He’s saying that he wants her to leave the house and talk to him. And more than anything, he wants to see her face (notice he mentions it twice). The face was very important to the Hebrews. It represented a person’s presence. To see somebody’s face was to know that person. This is why they would “seek God’s face.” Your face reveals everything about you: your personality, character, and emotions. He wanted to see her face. He wanted to know her.

What if, early in your relationship, you made getting to know each other the primary goal? What if you focused on building a solid, lasting friendship? I’d recommend asking questions that go deeper than where you recently ate lunch or your favourite episode of Friends. Find out what each other’s joys are. Tell your faith stories, like when God first became real to you. Talk about your fears and your weaknesses. Truly get to know each other.

Expect infatuation, but build friendship.

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: Attraction

In relationships, attraction gets traction. If you are looking for a future spouse, I’m sure you’ve got a short list of qualities that you’re looking for. What’s at the top of your list?

In the Song of Songs, it’s evident that Solomon and the Shulamite woman (let’s call her Shulamith) were attracted to each other. They weren’t shy about expressing this. When you dive into the book you encounter 18 compliments within the first 24 verses. These reveal what they found so attractive about each other. One can put together a pretty good short list of qualities from what they admired.

What was at the top of Shulamith’s list? Surprisingly, it wasn’t charm, good looks, or a sense of humour. Here’s what she said about her beloved in Song of Songs 1:3 (NIV):

Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!

Shulamith was dropping a heavy compliment. In her day, people bathed infrequently, since large quantities of water were hard to find. People might have gone days without a good full-body scrub. But Solomon smelled good. I can envision her doing a “Wiser Slow Clap” and saying, “Well done. Thanks for taking care of yourself and thinking about the rest of us. The Axe Body Spray is working overtime.”

But what impressed her more than his breath-taking bouquet, was his character. Notice what she said: “your NAME is like perfume poured out.” What she was referring to was his reputation, which flowed from his character. He was known as a person of integrity. People looked up to him, thought well of him. He was a fragrance, not flatulence.

The Bible places tremendous importance on a person’s name. Names had meaning. This is why Jesus changed Saul’s name to Paul. It’s why he renamed Cephas and called him Peter. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

The thing most attractive about her beloved was his name. He was more than eye-candy or a babe with a bod. What reeled her in was his character.

Are you single and looking for a future spouse? Here’s a question to consider: “What are you most attracted to?” Our culture greatly emphasizes physical allure. Hear me out – it’s not that looks don’t matter. It’s just that the hottie-with-a-body you marry today will look a lot different thirty years from now. You see, every human succumbs to the same inescapable reality – it’s called gravity. Gravity is as certain as death and taxes. Thanks to gravity, your skin will sag and your body will droop. Your nose and ears will elongate. The skin on the back of your arms will wobble. Your finest features will slide four inches south.

When the body fades, character remains. Character matters – more than cut abs or a clean-shaven face. Character trumps curves or cleavage.

So if character matters, then it’s important to do your homework. Before you dive head over heels into a relationship, maybe ask around about that person. Find out what their name stands for. Spend some time on social media digging into their profile (yes, this is a prescription to creep but not to stalk). Check out their pictures and comments. What do these say about their character?

If a boy wants to date my daughter, he has to ask me. We sit down and have a long conversation, discussing many important matters (yes, my daughters encourage this practice). One thing I insist is that they don’t just couple-up and disappear from the rest of the world, filling their days with private dates, while abandoning their friends. Instead, I suggest that they date in groups, with other people. You see, when you’re alone with someone, you only get to see what they are like when they’re with you. But when you’re in a group, you get to observe who they are with others. You get to see how other people respond to them. You get to see how they treat others – if they are kind, courteous, or compassionate. You discover their character from a third-person perspective.

Character matters. So, the more important question is, “What does your name represent?” In other words, what do people think of when they hear your name? Are you admired as a good, kind, honest, and trustworthy person?

Here’s a hint about attraction. Like attracts like. People of character are most often drawn to people of character. If you want to date people of character, you need to be a person of character. Andy Stanley has said: “Become the person that you’re looking for, is looking for.” If you’re looking for a person of character, you need to become one.

A great relationship doesn’t start with finding the right kind of person. It starts with becoming the right kind of person.

Do you have a good name? Are you a person of character?

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

Discipleship, spiritual formation

A Love Story?

This Sunday, Crosspoint launches a new teaching series called Love Story. We’ll be diving into the Song of Songs and exploring a number of its themes including attraction, courtship, marriage, intimacy, and conflict.

Some might wonder…Why are we doing this series? I’m aiming to answer this question.

But first, let me talk about the subject matter. Song of Songs is an interesting book. For much of church history, it’s been treated as a taboo text, most often interpreted as an allegory that reveals how Christ loves the church. A strictly allegorical interpretation is problematic, which I won’t get into here. That said, we will be taking the book at face value and interpreting it literally. I understand the book to be a real, flesh-and-blood love story between a man and a woman. It has a lot to teach us about romance, love, intimacy, and sex.

Now, why the series? First, I know a lot of people need help in their relationships. Every week I hear agonizing stories of marriages falling apart or calling it quits. I also do a lot of premarital preparation with young Millennials and I know many of them are eager to learn about building relationships that will thrive and endure. I think most of us in marriages will agree that our relationships could use a tune-up on a regular basis.

Second, our culture is sending mixed messages about romance and sex. Have you ever stopped to think about how confused we have become? On the one hand, we have seen the #metoo and #timesup movements gaining incredible popularity in the Twitterverse and beyond (which they should because there is absolutely no excuse for the sexual harassment or exploitation of women). And yet, on the other hand, in the United States, the porn industry generates $13 billion per year and 1 in 5 searches on a mobile device are for porn. Certainly, most of the women in those videos are being exploited (we can perhaps argue about this point later). Are we culturally confused about sex?

Third, the Song of Songs is in the Bible. If you accept that the Bible is God’s Word for the world, then you should probably accept that God gave it for a reason. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV) tells us that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful…” Did you catch that? ALL of Scripture is useful. Not some of Scripture. It doesn’t say, “All Scripture is useful…except for that naughty bit of poetry after Ecclesiastes…you can ignore that one.” The Song of Solomon is useful. Boy, is it ever.

Finally, in a world preoccupied with sex and romantic love, the worst thing the church can do is say nothing. Romantic love is the topic of countless movies and songs. Sex is on the minds of billions of people, every single day. The world is talking about it – why isn’t the church? For example, did you know that the movie Fifty Shades Freed topped the box office a couple of weeks ago? It has raked in over $150 million dollars so far in world-wide sales and the franchise itself has made over one billion dollars. Hollywood has figured out what sells. If this topic is so pervasive, why are we so silent about it? Interestingly enough, Jesus wasn’t. And here’s the kicker…sex and romance were God’s idea in the first place. Why should we take our cues only from Hollywood? Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear from the Designer?

Now, I realize that some would rather avoid this topic, for different reasons than it being a taboo topic. For some, this series could expose deep pain. Maybe you’re single and you don’t want to be. You’ve wrestled with God about it and feel deep disappointment. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a relationship war, or you’ve just been through a break-up. Maybe the last thing you want to hear about are relationships.

First, let me say that my heart breaks with you. I’m not walking in your shoes, but I see your limp. I get it – this series might not be specifically for you. But I hope you understand why we’re doing it. What is more, I hope you will join us each Sunday, because what you don’t need when you’re struggling is isolation. Church isn’t just about hearing a message. It’s about belonging to a people. Christ’s vision for his body is that when one part rejoices, so do the other parts; and when one part is heartbroken, so are the rest.

Also, please know that we don’t believe that a person with a “married” status is of greater value than one with a “single” status (read 1 Cor 7:25-35). At Crosspoint we hold a high view of marriage AND a high view of singleness. People in each status have different concerns, capacities, and challenges. We never want to exclude singles. We’ve taught about singleness in the past and we’ll do so in the future. This just happens to be a series about relationships.

As it turns out, a lot of the relationship principles we will be exploring will apply in other relational contexts such as friendship, workplace, and family. The topics also focus much on becoming the right kind of person. There’s going to be something for each of us to learn. Plus, what you learn you can always pass on to somebody else who needs to hear it.

At the end of the day, Song of Songs is a fascinating book that’s worth getting to know. I hope you will come to love it as much as I have. Join us!

 

If you can’t make it out to the series, but would still like to tune-in to the messages, you can listen to our podcasts from Crosspoint Church. To subscribe, click here.

Discipleship, Leadership

The Church Needs Leaders?

The church needs leaders – always has and always will. So where do church leaders come from?

In recent decades we’ve witnessed an enormous push to develop leaders within the church. Much of this has been influenced by the leadership development movement in the marketplace – which hasn’t been a bad thing. The church has needed to increase it’s leadership game, so we shouldn’t diss or dismiss the movement. To be honest, I’ve got an entire shelf of leadership books in my personal library. I’ve also had my fill of leadership conferences and even have a graduate degree in organizational leadership and management. So, yeah, I think leadership is important.

But I’d like to propose that the starting point for finding and making great leaders, in the church, is the path of discipleship. It doesn’t begin by sending somebody to a leadership conference.

When you read about Jesus in the gospels, you discover two significant groups of people who chased after him: the crowd and the disciples. The crowd was the mob who shadowed Jesus during his Palestinian ministry tour. Some were captivated by his teachings, others by his miracles. But at the end of the day, the crowd was somewhat fickle. They sometimes laughed at Jesus in their unbelief, or walked away when he spoke hard truths. In the end, it was the crowd who called for Pilate to crucify Jesus.

Out of the crowd, Jesus called his disciples. He didn’t pull his punches with the masses. There was no soft-peddling of hard truths. He called them to come and die, and to step into his new life. This meant – to borrow the often used distinction – they needed to stop being fans and become followers, fully devoting themselves to Jesus and his teachings. If you want a good dose of his message for the crowd, check out Luke 14:25-35.

Many people responded to this call and followed him wholeheartedly. It was from this larger pool of disciples that Jesus called The Twelve. These men would have a unique role to play in Jesus’ kingdom movement. They would become the future leaders of the church, heralding the good news to the ends of the earth.

For Jesus, the starting point for leadership development was discipleship. The apostles were disciples first, leaders second.

Over the years, I’ve observed that the best leaders are, first and foremost, disciples. They succeed because…they’re a lot like Jesus. They’re loving, courageous, and good. They’re committed and sacrificial. They’re emotionally healthy and relationally connected. When we live like Jesus and lead like Jesus, we impact the world around us.

What would it look like if the church made discipleship its primary objective? What women and men could we discover, to lead in the kingdom movement of Jesus? Who would naturally rise to the surface?

Discipleship

A Problematic Dichotomy

Many argue that the church in North America is facing a discipleship deficit. We are “a mile wide and an inch deep,” as far as spiritual formation is concerned. If you’ve been kicking around the church the past five years (especially if you’re a Conservative Protestant), you may have heard this broken record skip one too many times. Maybe you’re asking, “What’s all the fuss about Chicken Little? Is this really such a big deal?” Here’s why it’s a big deal. Car manufacturers make automobiles. Computer companies build desktops. The church is supposed to make disciples. In fact, Jesus commanded us to do it (Matthew 28:18-20). It’s our raison d’être, our purpose and our calling, but it seems we’re not very good at it. How would Apple shareholders respond if they discovered their computer company started making bath soap?

There’s a common misunderstanding about discipleship that contributes to this malady. Here it is, simply put: we assume being a believer is distinct from being a disciple. It’s the assumption that putting your faith in Jesus is enough, that if you just trust him for his free gift of salvation, you can get on with running your own life, on your own terms. It’s the notion that discipleship isn’t for everybody. It’s for those serious Christians. Those spiritual high-achievers. At the end of the day, it’s optional. It’s more like a feature app, but it’s not your OS. Christianity thus becomes a two-tiered system, divided between believers and disciples.

Here’s the problem – the Bible doesn’t support this distinction. In the biblical view, every believer is a disciple, and every disciple is a believer. In the early church, when a person became a believer in Christ (put their faith in Christ), they became a disciple. This is clear when you read the book of Acts. Jesus’ followers were referred to as believers (Acts 2:44; 4:32; and 5:14), and the same group of people were also called disciples (Acts 6:1). They were synonymous terms. Every believer is a disciple and every disciple is a believer.

So to say, “I’m a believer, but I’m not a disciple,” creates a problematic dichotomy that Scripture won’t sustain.

One of the causes of this false distinction is a misunderstanding of saving faith. Salvation is God’s free gift, which is given to us through faith. So belief is the linch-pin, the catalyst. This begs the question…what then is faith? And this is where the problem pivots. Believing is important, but so is what you believe. You might believe in unicorns and three-eyed ravens, but will that lead to salvation? The object of your faith matters. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9 (NIV): “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Saving faith requires trusting in Jesus as Lord. The Bible reveals Jesus as the crucified Saviour, who rose victorious over sin, death and the grave, and who is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If this is true, then the implications for saving faith are far-reaching. If we truly believe that Jesus is Lord of all, then shouldn’t our natural response be to fall on our knees and cry out, “Command me!”?

Jesus didn’t pull his punches when he called men and women to follow him. He taught that being a disciple means denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following him completely. This call didn’t change after his resurrection. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Now, to be clear, being a disciple doesn’t mean you are perfect, or that you have everything figured out. A disciple isn’t an elitist category of spirituality. A disciple is a learner, a student, who is committed to a lifetime of growth. At their core, disciples are submitted to the Master and willing to be led. They gladly give up their lives, because their Lord did the same for them.

Faith in Jesus, as Lord, naturally gravitates to discipleship. So it all comes down to how you see Jesus. Is he the Lord, or someone else? If you believe in the former, then it changes everything. But when Jesus is reduced to someone less – perhaps a get-out-of-jail-free-card, genie-in-a-bottle, or sleepy, disinterested grandfather – there is only a weak gravitational pull toward discipleship.

Every believer is a disciple and every disciple is a believer.