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 reminds us that sometimes our priorities can become 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, 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.

relationships, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Lifelong Love

What are you doing to ensure that your marriage not only survives but thrives? Do you have a strategy in place for your next twenty-five years together? The final two chapters of Song of Songs are rich with practices for growing a lifelong marriage.

One of the practices, we will discover, is to bring play time into your relationship. Here’s an example from Song of Songs 7:11-13 (NIV). Here Shulamith is presenting an invitation to Solomon: 

Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside,
let us spend the night in the villages.
Let us go early to the vineyards
to see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
and if the pomegranates are in bloom—
there I will give you my love.
The mandrakes send out their fragrance,
and at our door is every delicacy,
both new and old,
that I have stored up for you, my beloved.

Shulamith is saying, “Let’s get out of the palace. Let’s get away…maybe visit the countryside together.” Clearly, what she has in mind is more than a sight-seeing tour. She wants to smell the fresh spring air – maybe even explore the vineyards. But she also has something else on her mind. She wants to grow intimacy in their relationship.

An interesting side note here. Notice that she says, “the mandrakes send out their fragrance.” In Hebrew, the word for mandrake means love-apple. Mandrakes were considered an aphrodisiac, a love drug. Unquestionably, she’s offering Solomon something more than long walks and sightseeing. Needless to say, before she finishes speaking, Solomon has already packed his bags and is booking flights on Expedia.

To grow lifelong love, you need to intentionally infuse play time into your relationship. This quality time is so much more than sitting on the couch together, watching Neflix, and brushing hands as you reach into that bag of Doritos at the same time. It means setting aside space and time, free from distraction: no kids, no work, and no social-media intravenous drip. Play time is not only important for your relationship, it’s necessary.

So are you planning play time together? Are you getting away on excursions? What about dates – when is the last time you had one of those?

You might think, “I see my spouse all the time…why do I need to date her?” Because setting is everything. If you take a dinner plate from the cupboard and set it on the counter-top, it’s just a plate. But if you take the same plate and you set it on a luxurious tablecloth, surrounded by cutlery, linen, candles, and a wine glass, it changes everything about that plate. It’s the same thing with your marriage. Setting is everything. A different setting changes the focus, the dynamic, and the conversation. Trust me…it will activate different parts of your brain. New parts of your brain will come alive – old parts of your brain will wake-up. Neural synapses will ignite. All because you decided to change your routine.

Dates don’t have to be expensive. Last summer, my wife Karen and I started biking together. We would throw our bikes into the back of my truck and take off on new adventures throughout the city. One day, we went for a long ride in the river valley. On the return trip to the truck, we passed a fruit stand. Normally, we don’t stop at fruit stands because we’re always racing from appointment to appointment. But on this day, we had bikes! I left my wallet in the car, but I did have some pocket-change. After a bit of haggling, we sauntered away with a bag of peaches and spent the next hour in the shade of the trees, laughing, dreaming, and spitting pits. That was a three-dollar date, but it was the best…date…ever.

The bottom line is, if you are going to embrace play, you have to work at it.

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

 

relationships, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Messy Love

In every marriage, conflict is inevitable.

Even Solomon and Shulamith, those twitterpated lovebirds, had their differences. You read about this in Song of Songs 5:2-8. Solomon arrives home sometime past midnight. He comes knocking on the door of Shulamith’s room, hoping for a little bit of “something-something.” But she’s in bed. The makeup is off, cucumber mask is on, and flannel pyjamas have been applied. She’s a bit miffed that he’s shown up a few hours later than he should. So she shuts him down. Conflict anyone?

It’s understandable why couples conflict. In a marriage, you have two very different people coming together, with unique personalities, likes, interests, and families (you never just marry a person…you marry their family). And to add misery to the madness, each is hard-wired to be naturally selfish. It’s a problem that goes back to the Garden of Eden.

So if you’re in the early stages of a relationship, don’t be surprised when you experience conflict. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with your relationship. If you haven’t had it yet, it’s probably because you still have a superficial knowledge of each other, or you’re blinded by infatuation. Trust me, a day will come when your relationship will come crashing head-first into reality. You might not consider divorce, but homicide might seem like a good option (I kid…I kid).

So if you are facing conflict in your relationship right now, don’t freak out. A good marriage is not something you find but something you work for. You’re going to fight with someone for the rest of your life – it might as well be your beloved.

At the end of the day, the issue is not if you have conflict, it’s what you do with conflict.

Here are two warning signs that you may not be resolving conflict. The first is the absence of conflict, and the second, the permanence of conflict. On the one hand, if you are in a relationship that has an absence of conflict, it could be that you are in the early stages of blind-love bliss, but it could also be that somebody in the relationship is being overly compliant, or walked on. This means you are avoiding conflict, not dealing with it. On the other hand, the permanence of conflict can also be a problem. In this case, the same problem keeps resurfacing. Rather that dealing with it, it gets swept under the rug, and never resolved. When you sweep too much conflict under the rug, it results in a bumpy marriage.

Paul writes in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” God wants us to resolve conflict. You have your part to play in this. You can’t determine what your spouse will do in a conflict, but you can determine what you will do in a conflict. You are responsible for your role in bringing about resolution.

Marriages often fall apart, not because of really stupid decisions or irreconcilable differences. They fall apart because couples don’t know how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. The conflicts persist and the relationship experiences incremental degradation: one bad argument at a time, one hurtful word at a time. The relationship erodes, like a shoreline washed away by the sea.

Expect conflict. But more importantly, resolve conflict.

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: Before the Bedroom

Before our wedding, my wife (Karen) and I made the wise decision of getting premarital counselling. Our counsellor made a statement that I will never forget: “Foreplay begins in the kitchen.” Before you let your imagination run wild, let me explain what she meant. Her point was simple – as you go about your day, how you treat each other determines if you are moving closer together or further away. Intimacy is something that develops throughout the day.

In short, sex begins long before the bedroom.

Solomon understood this. In the fourth chapter of Song of Songs, he wooed Shulamith with his words before pursuing physical intimacy. This chapter depicts a night in the honeymoon suite (maybe even the first night). Here’s what he said in verse 1 (NIV):

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead. 

Solomon understood the power of words. He began by declaring his bride’s beauty. In fact, he did it three times in the first seven verses. Then he continued to poetically describe her beauty, working from the top of her head, to below her neckline. While his metaphors could get lost in translation, in his day, they would have been Pulitzer prize-winning prose.

But what’s most astounding is that the couple hasn’t even touched each other in the first seven verses. Solomon didn’t come charging into the bedroom like a caveman, beating his chest. “Me Gronk! You Woman! We make love!” Rather, he understood that emotional intimacy should precede physical intimacy.

Did he want her? Absolutely. He was quite eager to climb his mountain of myrrh and hill of incense, and he wanted to do it all night long (4:6). But even so, he didn’t rush in, grabbing and groping, like a monkey searching for bananas in the dark. Instead, he wooed her.

Sex begins long before the bedroom.

And so, practically speaking, if you are a complete loser during the day, bullying, manipulating, or mistreating your spouse, don’t be surprised if you get the cold shoulder in the bedroom. This applies for both husbands and wives. But if you are tender, kind, supportive, and affirming throughout the day, you will build trust, security, and intimacy. Foreplay begins in the kitchen.

I wish I could take a poll of my friends’ wives and ask them: “What do you think is one of the sexiest things your husband does during the day?” I bet their responses might surprise their husbands. Chances are that flexing your gluts in front of the mirror in your tightie-whities doesn’t top the list. And neither does jumping out of the shower, and shouting “Woo hoo!” while doing the funky-chicken dance. So not sexy.

Surprisingly, the answer(s) might be:

  • When he texts me little love notes during the day
  • When he helps get the kids bathed, reads them a story, and tucks them in at night
  • When he serves others without complaint
  • When he prays with me and spiritually initiates
  • When he hugs me and tells me I’m beautiful – just because

I was surprised to discover what sexy looked like from my wife Karen’s perspective (she’s given me permission to write this). When we bought our current home, I did a lot of renovations prior to our family moving in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to complete the baseboards. For months, we lived in our home without them, and my beloved was very patient with me as I tackled a demanding new job. Every once in a while, she would kindly hint about how nice it would be to have them installed. Finally, I took time off work and tackled the project. It was about mid-afternoon on the first day that she stopped me and said, “Just seeing you working so hard for us, finishing the baseboards…I am so attracted to you right now.”

Cue the Barry White music. Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

For the next year of our marriage, installing baseboards became a metaphor for something else. To my dismay, I finally installed baseboards in every room of the house. I did consider secretly removing some of the baseboards when she wasn’t looking…

God-honouring sex begins early, long before the bedroom. Intimacy grows throughout the day.

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: 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.