3 Reasons Why I am Glad I’m Not an Atheist

AtheistCartoonTheSimpsons The following are some points that I have picked up through conversations with many atheists in both Europe and Canada.  That being said, I am not an atheist myself and therefore realize that my thoughts are biased.  I am happy to have a discussion with anyone who self-identifies as an atheist.  I also apologize in advance if anyone is offended by this post, but I also believe that what I share here is the truth….of course, if you’re an atheist you likely think otherwise. 

Over the years I have heard the same responses from my atheist friends.  They ask me what the point of my faith is.  They say the Bible is just made up of feel-good fairy tales that are impossible and never happened.  Some of them have the audacity to say Christianity is basically a crutch to get through difficult seasons in our lives.  It can be easy to become offended at comments like these, but let me suggest another alternative to you: sympathy.  You see, I believe being an atheist is intensely hard work.  It takes a lot of brain and will power to convince yourself that there is no intelligent design, that there is nothing beyond the grave, and that there may be seemingly no meaning behind all the pain and suffering we experience in our world today.  That there is nothing better than what we already have and that all we have to live for is ourselves.  I don’t think I am brave enough to engage in this “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you will die” mindset, nor do I think I have the strength to believe that there is no Infinite Being who guides us as a moral compass.  If you have that type of strength, then all the power to you, but I do not.  And I don’t think I ever will.  Below I’d like to highlight the three reasons why I am particularly glad I am not an atheist:

#1: Atheists Don’t Believe in the Power of Prayer – Over the last few weeks, I have been engaging in a lot of debates surrounding the issue of divine healing.  Do I believe in it? Why or why not?  The answer is: yes.  I have seen healing take place in my own life and in the lives of many others.  I have seen God opening doors because of prayer even though the world was doubtful.  I believe that prayer changes our hearts and attitudes.  Sometimes for whatever reason, God doesn’t answer our prayers like we would have wished, but many other times I have seen God working miracles because of prayer.  Therefore, I know first-hand the importance of intercession.  I believe that when we (collectively speaking) pray a great and powerful energy is being released.  God hears us because of our persistence and He honours our requests.  Prayer has sustained me through some very difficult times and seasons in my life.  In fact, I recently was reading a journal that I wrote when I was going through a particularly rough patch and nothing seemed to be working in my favour.  I wrote: “The prayers of the saints sustain me.  They are the only thing that has kept me going.”  In seasons of distress, when we cling to God, He does not disappoint.  He feels for us in the pain and sadness.  He encourages us and supports us.  He can do that when we are just praying to Him one-on-one and He can also do that when other people we know and love (or even sometimes don’t know) are remembering us in their prayers.  I would not trade this divine connection for the world.

#2: Atheists Don’t Believe in the Sovereignty of God – Atheists don’t believe that there is any form of Divine Power.  In essence, this means that humanity is responsible for itself.  I can think of nothing worse.  When humanity is in charge, it results in chaos.  Think about people like Hitler and Stalin… those are classic examples of when people didn’t seek God’s opinion, but just did what they thought they wanted to do.  It resulted in severe injustice and death.  Even the most moral of people are not capable of making the best decisions in each and every circumstance.  Yet, when we put our faith and trust in God, we believe that there is something greater than ourselves.  When we seek God in prayer and humbly ask for His guidance, He directs us to new places we never thought we could be before.  When things work out, it can be easy just to thank “chance” or “good luck,” but even my atheistic friends have admitted that there are times when there is really no logical explanation for some of the amazing events that have occurred.  Why put your trust in your own intellect and might when humanity in and of itself is not able to understand the vastness of the universe or the intricacies of even the smallest of animals.  Why not just put your trust in God who has created all these things and who we are told even loves and cares for us though we are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

NOTE: Here I wish to be very clear.  Not all atheists are like Hitler or Stalin… in fact, few are.  Many atheists can also be very loving people who do a great deal of good for our world.  We also have Christians who destroy this earth.  They ruin our ecosystem and hurt relationships.  Sometimes Christians can act even worse than someone who does not believe in God.  All I am saying is that if someone is passionately following God 100% of the time and seeking to do His will for their lives, I believe they have the opportunity to become moral for reasons other than morality’s sake.  Conversely, if someone is just living for themselves because they believe that there is nothing beyond the grave, the world becomes rife with opportunities for caring about nothing else other than self-seeking, gratifying pleasures.  But there are many who are in the middle.  After all, C.S. Lewis once wrote, “a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.” (Mere Christianity)

#3: What If You’re Wrong.  This one gets to me every time.  I have some friends who grew up in the church, but have since left organized religion.  In fact, they want absolutely nothing to do with religion.  Period.  Sometimes these same friends will say to me, “it must be nice to believe that there is a meaning behind everything.”  Once I even had a friend admit she was somewhat envious of the fact that I believed God was in control over every aspect of my life: my marriage, my children, my future profession.  She said she wishes she could have that type of trust because it would likely make her feel better, but she just couldn’t bring herself to believe as I do.  This was so sad for me to hear.  I thought, “but you can.  You used to have it, but you chose to give it away for some reason.”

We are likely all familiar with Pascal’s Wager.  In this wager, Pascal says that we essentially have two options.  We can either believe that God is real or we can believe that He isn’t.  If we believe the first, that God is real, but it ends up that He really isn’t, what do we have to lose?  We end up dying and going into the ground.  We don’t rise again, there is nothing more, just the endless abyss – but it doesn’t really matter because we will be dead and thus it will not concern us.  On the other hand, if we believe that God is not real, and we die and find out He is, what have we got to lose?  Everything, including our own soul.  Therefore, it is really in our best interest to believe in God.

I see no reason why not to believe in God.  It seems to me that the Pros far outweigh the Cons.  Faith in God enables us to believe that there is something more than simply what meets the eye.  It reminds us that life is not only about us and therefore relieves us of a responsibility of trying to be in control, but also gives us an invigorating sense of wanting to change the world.  It surrounds us with friends who will pray for us during our darkest hours and who will truly be there for us.  It can radically change us to become more loving, giving, and self-sacrificial.  My question to you is this: why do you not want that?  Is believing that you were created by chance and that there is relatively little meaning to life because all we are going to do is eventually end up fertilizing dandelions really helping you to become more positive and happy?  I personally find the prospect of being an atheist to be rather dull and lifeless.  I even find it to be somewhat depressing because I feel like if I were an atheist there would be nothing to live for.  I would have an insane fear of death and being eternally forgotten.  I would wonder why I was born since people are only going to forget me after about three generations (if not sooner).  Instead I have put my trust in a loving Saviour who breathes life-giving messages of hope and peace into my life.  I have learned to find contentment in this life because I believe that it is really nothing more than a rest-over stop before my final destination which will be even more glorious.  A destination that promises no pain or heartache, no diseases or divorce, no abuse or apathy.  Doesn’t that sound amazing to you?  Then what’s holding you back?  Why not reach out, take that step of faith, and place your trust in the Eternal God who has truly promised us so much more.


2013-02-10-theanswerP.S. I came across these super interesting blogs after I had finished writing my own.  Although I still stick by what I shared, Courtney’s (AKA: Godless Mom’s) blog provided me with a bit more understanding and appreciation towards the atheist movement: http://jaysondbradley.com/2015/09/16/5-things-i-wish-christians-understood-about-atheists/#sthash.XHvalCon.dpbs.  Conversely, Jayson’s blog provides some sound insight on a reasonable Christian response to atheism and is also worth a read: http://godlessmom.com/guest-post-5-things-i-wish-atheists-understood-about-christians/.



Why I Decided to Call Myself a Missionary, and Why I’m Glad I Did

8772b3468bf2ab7343534e35f3728ed5  So send I you to labor unrewarded,
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing-
So send I you to toil for Me alone.

So send I you to bind the bruised and broken,
O’er wand’ring souls to work, to weep, to wake,
To bear the burdens of a world aweary-
So send I you to suffer for My sake.

So send I you to loneliness and longing,
With heart a hung’ring for the loved and known,
Forsaking home and kindred, friend and dear one-
So send I you to know My love alone.

So send I you to leave your life’s ambition,
To die to dear desire, self-will resign,
To labor long, and love where men revile you-
So send I you to lose your life in Mine.

So send I you to hearts made hard by hatred,
To eyes made blind because they will not see,
To spend, tho’ it be blood, to spend and spare not-
So send I you to taste of Calvary.

~Margaret Clarkson

I used to be a picky eater.  I hated eating anything that looked weird, had a funny name, or sounded distinctly Asian.  Then one day it all changed.  My mom told me that if I wanted to be a missionary I had to learn to eat whatever was placed in front of me.  I could not go to the mountains of Nepal or the jungles of Mozambique and still expect to live off of the five foods I had chosen to have an affinity for.  Ever since that day, I have taken pride in being adventurous.  Whenever I am at restaurants, I try to go for whatever sounds the most bizarre and when I moved to Scotland the very first thing on my bucket list was trying haggis.
Cuisine may be an almost insignificant aspect of the missionary life; however, it marks a distinct change in my heart and soul.  A change from the familiar, the pleasant, and the comfortable, to engaging in something more akin to Dorothy following the yellow brick road on her way to Oz with no clue what awaits her.

I believe there is a bit of Dorothy in each of us.  Inside every heart, no matter how preoccupied with reason, is a sense of adventure.  A sense of longing for something our hearts and minds cannot perceive and a sense of waiting on God to show us what we instinctively know we could never solve for ourselves.  At least this has been my experience.
This past year, I felt God calling me to go to Scotland and to serve as a missionary.  Now the very fact that I call myself a missionary is something I struggled with for several months and something I have occasionally questioned even now that I am living abroad.  I grew up with this notion that missionaries are people who have the distinct role of spreading the Gospel.  In fact, when I was around 7 years old I learned a song at my Christian school that went like this: “Be a missionary every day.  Show the world the Jesus is the Way.  It could be town or country or the busy avenue, but be a missionary, God’s own embassary, be a missionary today.”  At the same time I remember being intrigued by stories from people who lived abroad well into my young adult years.  I was enchanted by tales of people risking their lives for the sake of the Gospel, smuggling Bibles, dodging bullets, and forsaking all they had.  In almost every scenario, these people moved abroad to a completely different culture, far from all the comforts of home.  They had to learn to eat completely new foods, learn a different language, wear different types of clothes, and had to learn strange customs.    It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I was introduced to something different.  A ministry practice that taught me that missionaries were most needed in European and Western countries and that missional living begins right at home.

So when I felt God leading me to go to Scotland, my initial thought was to rebel against the label of missionary.  I am not here to outwardly proselytize nor am I doing any form of conventional church or ministry work.  However, I decided to go for the title anyways, and it has been incredibly beneficial that I have done so.  Here’s why:

  • Calling myself a missionary has enabled me to have a greater vision for the work I do.

One of my good friends has served as an urban missionary for several years in a multi-cultural city within Canada.  One day we went for a walk and she told me that she believes all Christians are called to be missionaries, and I also share this notion.  The truth is that as long as you believe in Christ and take His command to share the Good News and to engage in social justice seriously, you can always find ways to plug in and serve.  I can be a missionary to a friend when we are having coffee, when I am delivering needed goodies to the homeless, or even when I am doing something as simple as cleaning a toilet.  That’s because it’s not about the work we are doing necessarily, but about the mindset we do it with.  You could be a mega church pastor who is completely devoid of love and compassion.  Then it doesn’t matter whether or not you are doing “Christian” work, you aren’t showing the love of Christ in the least.  Likewise you could be a carpet cleaner or a cashier who tries to treat everyone with respect, equality, and dignity.  Then it doesn’t matter whether you feel you are doing some relatively insignificant work or not, you actually wield significant authority and power to influence people on a deeply spiritual level.

  • Calling myself a missionary has helped other people share in my calling.

Before I came to Scotland, I sent out prayer letters stating that I was going to serve in Europe as a missionary.  This really enabled me to be covered with prayer.  Before I left I experienced a bunch of really weird things happening to me.  It wasn’t so much the things themselves, but the order in which they occurred.  First I got sick and the doctor wasn’t even sure whether or not I was healthy enough for anything strenuous (thankfully, it ended up being nothing major).  Then I had some occurrences at work and school which just added stress upon stress.  In those moments, I was so thankful to have a family of friends at Tyndale who I was sharing my dorm with for the summer.  I remember those students surrounding me in prayer and with the comfort of the Bible.  Since several of them are full-time missionaries they told me that what I was experiencing was Spiritual warfare.  Satan meant to discourage me from my trip and that was the reason all these things were happening all at once and literally one month (or even up to a few weeks) before my plane took off.  Almost all of them had experienced something similar when they first left for the mission field.  Although spiritual warfare is often unpleasant, I remember my pastor telling me that it can also be a good thing.  We can be encouraged that Satan finds us a threat because it means we are doing something right in our faith walk and in our serving.

  • Being a missionary has made me more proactive.

You may be well aware of the stats that Europe has seen the greatest decline in Christianity.  People over here have a hardened atheism.  It isn’t just some belief that God isn’t real because they haven’t experienced Him themselves, it is a complete breakaway from Christendom.  It is this sense of being so aggressively against God and so interested in intellect and reason that those who believe in God are seen as being hopelessly naïve and foolish.  This may not be the sense in all of Europe; however, I have met several people from many different European countries during my time abroad and this seems to be a prevailing worldview.

Since I decided to come as a missionary, I have been able to pray for Spiritual protection over myself concerning these matters more readily.  I also have been able to pray for new Spiritual eyes as I often find myself in situations where I have the opportunity to love and encourage those who are the most disadvantaged.

So, after all this, the title of “missionary” may still seem elusive or even inappropriate for some.  I am not currently serving as a preacher, I am very much giving personal care.  I do talk openly and frequently about my faith and sometimes have questions specifically addressed to me, however, I also try to do it in a tactful and respectful way.  Especially because I work with adults who have learning disabilities, I want to be very sure not to influence them in any way because of my power or perceived authority over them.  Yet, more and more, I have discovered that I really and truly am a missionary serving abroad.  And so are you.  I have changed my mind.  Being a missionary does not necessarily mean eating Kimchi or confronting witch doctors, instead, it can simply mean being present and being a Christian in any setting you find yourself in.  I guarantee that if you decide to enter this missionary calling for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.  You will find yourself surrounded by friends and most importantly by the love of God and that is truly the most important thing of all.



A Pessimistic Religion – Is Christianity Too Focussed on the End Times?

EndTimes   In 2012 I was 11 years old and in grade 6.  My teacher, we’ll call her Mrs. Rose, a lovely lady and deeply devout in her faith made an outrageous claim that showed pure ignorance.  She suggested that we were living in the end times and that she wouldn’t be surprised if Christ came before our 30th birthday.  I am now on the verge of celebrating my 25th birthday and I have strong doubts that Jesus will be coming back within the next 5 years.  Mrs. Rose was not the only person I have met who espouses such views.  It seems that the majority of evangelical Christians I come into contact with on a frequent basis hold opinions such as these.  It also appears that eschatology is the one area of theology that everyone has different views about.  Academic, practical, and arm-chair theologians alike all hold very strong beliefs when it comes to matters of the rapture, heaven, hell, and eternal judgement.  Yet, over time, I have begun to question the majority of these views.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to think ahead or to consider the future implications for our actions.  Recently, the MennoNerds group that I am a part of, put out a whole series of vlogs on this very topic.  We discussed matters of heaven, hell, and the Second Coming and the majority of us concluded that a healthy view of eschatology can actually benefit the church because it helps put our actions into perspective.  When we realize that we are living for something more than just what we see and do in this world, it helps us to focus in on being more accountable for our actions, having a greater sense of evangelism and witness, and thinking more creatively and constructively about how to live out Kingdom Theology in the here and now.

On the other hand, an unhealthy preoccupation with eschatology can also hinder the very work that Christians are called to do.  A few days ago, I was reading a short devotional piece which talked about the Christian response to caring for the earth.  In this piece, the writer suggested that we often fail to properly steward the land we are given.  We may forget the responsibility we have for our ecological systems because we see earth as nothing more than a “resting stop” on our way to glory.  Old hymns which speak of “just travelling through” or urging us not to become too enamoured with worldly possessions and belongings also remind us of such a mindset.  However, as the writer in this article suggested, this earth is so much more than simply a “pit stop.”  God has given us dominion over the land, but He has also called us to care for creation and all who live in it.  God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth, but as we read in the book of Revelation we see that it is not entirely a new location, but rather a re-creation of the place we are currently in.  I have no doubt that God is capable of renewing and restoring the landscape, but I also believe that He wants us to be responsible and not destroy the resources He has gifted us with.  I believe it grieves God deeply when we destroy our ecosystems, lakes, forests, and farmlands for no other purpose than to amass more wealth for ourselves.  I believe it angers God when we care more about luxurious living than finding delight in the simplicity of the land He has provided us with.

I personally have never been much for eschatology.  I hold a belief that we simply do not know enough about the end times and that anything we think of is simply conjecture.  I believe we can discover quite a bit about God’s character and His ultimate plan for eternity through His Word, but I also believe that it is foolish to spend too much time making suggestions which may not come to pass.  Ultimately, God is in control and His timing is best so nothing we can say or do will speed along His return before He is ready to bring about the final results.  Therefore, I prefer to spend my time focussing on what is tangible and knowable and trying to live my life in a way that yields fruits and results rather than focussing on what is impossible for the limited human mind to grasp.

Nevertheless, all Christians are called to have some sort of understanding of eschatology, so how do we find a happy medium between utter preoccupation and blissful ignorance?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Get to know the Scriptures. Few things irk me as much as someone who likes to blabber on about their theological viewpoints without having done any major theological work.  Note: I do not expect everyone to have a master’s degree in theology.  I believe that many people can be incredibly faithful to the text without any formal or academic training.  Nevertheless, I do believe that all Christians must become acquainted with their Bibles.  Read up about the End Times in the Old Testament prophecies, the Gospels, and the book of Revelation.  First get to know what God says about the End Times, and then turn to trusted secondary sources and people with sound wisdom and doctrine.
  • Don’t Make Assumptions. Oftentimes people will make unnecessary connections between the End Times and our current world situation.  They may take certain verses out of context in order to proof text or support their argument that the end is nigh.  However, Jesus Himself said that no one knows the day or the hour of His return (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+24%3A36&version=ESV).  When Jesus walked this earth over 2,000 years ago, He mentioned that He would return very soon.  We know from Scripture that a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Peter+3%3A8&version=ESV), so it is safe to say that God has a very different understanding of time than our finite human mind can understand.  It is neither wise nor healthy to become caught up in an exact date and in fact, it can be quite dangerous to make generalizations of when such a time will be. Christ does not call us to know when His return is, but He is calling us to continue to live faithfully and to prepare for the reality that such a time can occur at any moment.
  • Don’t Be a Downer. Sometimes evangelical Christians have a tendency to focus solely on the negatives.  This is especially true when they compare a previous generation with our current one.  Many Christians disparage the way the world is currently functioning, but I have always thought that this was quite unfair.  It is true that children are disobedient to their parents, people are lovers of money, and given to wine – but tell me of a generation in which this was not the case (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+3%3A2&version=ESV).  People have always looked out for “number one” just in different ways.  It is also true that our world is chaotic, violent, and plagued with natural disasters, but if we focus on these things, we forget about all the positive ways our world is developing.  For example, I think about how people with mental illness or learning disabilities were treated in the past and I believe it is safe to say that we have made many improvements in our relationships with those who are different than ourselves.  Additionally, we can consider that although we have not reached perfection and although there is still wide spread animosity, racism, and sexism, we are gradually starting to make improvements in the way we treat women and people of colour.  We are not quite there yet and we still have a long way to go, but compared to the past, I think we are beginning to make necessary changes.  Therefore, I think it is unfair to continue to believe this world is going downhill without first making mention of the ways in which we are working towards equality and freedom in our society.

Lastly, people who disparage the current world system often neglect to realize that we are blinded to other cultures and generally tend to focus in on ourselves.  It may be true that in North America or certain European countries we are beginning to see more devastation or more apathy on spiritual matters, but we cannot neglect the fact that in many formerly persecuted countries, people are streaming into churches for the first time to hear the Gospel.

The Bible tells us two things about the End Times that we often tend to ignore.  Firstly, it tells us that in the last day people will stream to the house of the Lord (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+2%3A2&version=ESV).  It also speaks of a great spiritual revival in which “your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joel+2%3A28&version=ESV).  Secondly, it suggests that the end will come during a time of peace (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+24%3A6&version=ESV).  Therefore, people who spend too much time lamenting the End Times because of western apathy towards spiritual matters are simply missing the point of what the Bible itself is speaking to us.
Throughout history, there have been few topics of such interest and division to the Christian church than what occurs in the Last Days.  We are called to approach this topic responsibly, but also with the understanding that no one alive can know all the intricacies of a topic that holds such depth.  Let us continue to journey together as we uncover what Christ says in His Word on this topic, but let us do so with the ultimate understanding that eschatology fuels us for action not for apathy or hearsay.


5 Ridiculous Things Christians Say That Really Don’t Help

not-sure-if-stupid-or-just-christianWhen we are going through difficult times in our lives, often all we want is simply a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.  Yet over and over again, well-meaning Christians come out with some of the most ridiculously unhelpful responses to trauma ever.  Below are five things you should NEVER say to someone who is grieving or who is going through a rough patch, followed by some more appropriate things to say and do:

#1: God Will Not Give You More Than You Can Bear – This is often the go-too phrase Christians cite when they don’t know what else to say or when they are secretly resenting the fact that you are unloading your burdens on them.  The fact is: depression is more than you can bear.  The loss of a loved one is more than you can bear.  Losing your job and being in a financial crisis is more than you can bear.  What the Bible ACTUALLY says about the topic is that God will not tempt us beyond what we can bear, but that when we face temptations, He provides a way out for us (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+10%3A13&version=ESV).  God is faithful and He is in control.  He knows that we are weak and helpless and He does not delight in our hardship (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Lam.+3%3A31-33&version=ESV).  Nevertheless, it is easy to lose sight of this when we are caught up in the tribulations of life.  Sometimes life definitely can seem like more than we can bear.  Citing this verse is nothing more than a pat-answer and it doesn’t breathe life into anyone’s circumstances.

#2: God Brought These Trials On You For a Reason – Oftentimes in a moment of wanting to sound positive, Christians may encourage us by stating that the difficulties in our lives will bring about some greater good.  This may be true.  I have heard of numerous examples of God using people who have been through trials in order to further benefit His Kingdom.  I have met people who were on the brink of suicide and severely suffering from mental illness who are now using those experiences in order to help others who find themselves in a similar predicament.  I have frequently been moved by deep stories of compassion and forgiveness even in the wake of seeming destruction.  I have also been able to impact the lives of others through some of my own struggles, and when this happens I greatly rejoice that God considered me worthy to suffer for His sake (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+5%3A41&version=ESV).  I have often seen how when we place our situations into God’s hands and allow Him to work with them, He will.  Anton Boisen, the father of modern day chaplaincy, once said “we should be willing to go through hell if it means helping one other person.”  Boisen, himself underwent some very trying times and drew close to Christ through them.  Nevertheless, saying such a statement does not help the person in the midst of their hardship.  It is true that oftentimes when we persevere even in the midst of trials, God will bless us richly for it (look at the case of Job).  However, in the moment, it can often seeming meaningless and disheartening.  Sometimes the person you are ministering to is just not in the place where they can accept a saying such as this quite yet.  Instead we need to work hard to show pastoral sensitivity, care, and support.

#3: Just Have More Faith – I remember once when I was going through a difficult time in my life I was told by many well-meaning people “you should have more faith.”  This caused me to be depressed.  I thought I was doing something terribly wrong if I was a Christian and studying to be a pastor and yet was unable to trust God in the midst of my circumstances.  Thankfully, I met with a wonderful Christian lady who was mentoring me at that time and talked to her about this predicament.  She then spoke such truth into my life in a way that I will never forget.  She said, “I don’t think it’s fair for people to say things like that to you.  Faith is a gift.  It is like someone blaming you for having brown eyes instead of blue ones.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, we should constantly be working to grow in our faith; however, some people are just naturally more gifted in this area than others.  I have known some people who have been through the worst things imaginable and yet in the midst of it have clung to Jesus and trusted Him wholeheartedly.  I have also known people who went through trauma and struggled to keep a grip on their faith.  Today they would tell you that the trauma they endured helped refine and mould them and they are among some of the strongest prayer warriors and pastoral hearts I have ever encountered.  However, I can assure you that when they were actually going through hardship, they were not always so convinced that God will looking out for them – in fact, they may have felt the complete opposite.

Does this mean that the first group of people (those who believe Christ regardless of what tries to shake their foundation) are just more spiritual and Godly?  I would say no.  I believe they are two very different responses that in essence both show a profound trust and faith in God.

In the first case, it can be a huge blessing to meet someone who has an unshakeable faith.  I know of one family in particular who have lived a lot.  It seemed like at every turn they were experiencing trials – financial, health, spiritual warfare.  Yet, they remained unmoveable.  They firmly believed everything that had swept into their path could be used by God.  And it is this belief that has been such a blessing to me.  This family is a supremely powerful example of the Christian faith and how to walk with God even when God seems absent.

On the other hand, I know someone who went through the most horrendous experience ever.  She went through a traumatic loss of her first child and lived with the shame and guilt of how that child was conceived and the subsequent loss for many months which turned into years.  This person often doubted God.  She sometimes felt very angry and wondered why God allowed such a thing to occur.  She sometimes questioned whether or not she was a good Christian when she experienced such intense emotions.  BUT it was through her doubt that she learned to cling close to the Cross and now she has is ministering to other women.  I believe that doubt can often be a sign of our faith.  It is an assurance that Christ will accept us even when we question why something happened.  This is a true relationship.  This makes our trust all the more real because we know that it is not simply something to be taken for granted.  Doubt can also be a very powerful bridge to the Cross and to sharing the Salvation message with others.  After all, the majority of people don’t have as strong of a faith as the family I mentioned in the first case study.  How is a non-believer or a young Christian supposed to connect with someone who has never experienced the difficulty of believing in the sun when all they see is rain clouds forming?

Faith can be built up and become a strong fortress in one’s life, but it often comes about after many years of spending time with Christ.  It comes about after we have struggled through many different experiences and realized that Christ is victorious time and time again.  It often comes about after we have lived through considerable doubt and realized that trust is the better option.  So don’t dismiss doubt, fear, and pain – they are all part of the process that transforms us into the loving, sensitive people God so desires us to be.

#4: You Just Need to Forgive and Move On – One of my dear friends (who has given me permission to briefly share this story) went through a profoundly difficult season in her life.  She was taken advantage of by an older gentleman who was a church elder and who used her inexperience to violate and manipulate her in the worst of ways.  She tried to seek justice through the legal system, but like so many others, was not able to get very far.  She didn’t have enough proof, only a handful of good friends who believed what she said.  This friend was righteously angry.  She went to talk to a pastor right away about what happened, but the pastor simply told her she needed to forgive because that was the best thing for her to do and would be the best way of getting revenge on the man – if he felt like she simply didn’t care anymore.  When my friend shared this episode with me she was in tears, and I also was outraged.  I thought to myself, “What an irresponsible pastor to tell her to do something like this!”

Now don’t get me wrong, forgiveness is vital to any healing journey.  God calls us to forgive rather than to let bitterness and hatred well up inside our hearts.  However, forgiveness cannot be rushed.  Forgiveness takes time and it often involves many layers.  My roommate once said (not about this specific scenario) that sometimes we forgive as best as we know how and then we have to give it to God because we simply don’t know how to forgive anymore.

Oftentimes, the problem is that Christians are forced to forgive before they are amply prepared and ready to do so.  In fact, most counsellors would tell you that before you can forgive, you need to be able to feel your emotions.  You need to acknowledge that hurt was done to you and that it caused great harm.  Oftentimes, we need to experience a certain amount of righteous anger before we can peel back that layer and move forward in our lives. Anger helps us come to the place of recognizing that what we lived through and experienced was NOT okay and this prepares us for other future scenarios when we find ourselves in similar predicaments.  What this pastor should have told my friend is, “I hear you.  What this church elder did was definitely not okay.  I can hear that you are angry.  Let’s stay with than anger for a bit.  Let’s explore it.  Let’s talk about why you feel angry.  Let’s talk about how you were violated.”  Then after weeks and months of her opening up to the pastor and hopefully to a good counsellor, it is time to begin the arduous process of forgiveness.  But by no means should forgiveness have been brought up within less than 24 hours of her traumatic experience.

By the way, my friend has since moved on from this experience.  Of course the past still haunts her at times, but today she realizes the myriad ways God has used her story to minister to others.  She prays for her offender’s salvation on a daily basis and she has offered as much grace and compassion as she can.  Thankfully she has never had to see him again, but she tries to practice forgiveness and inner peace frequently.  She is an example of a courageous and passionate follower of Christ to me.

#5: Curse God and Die! – Okay, I admit that I have never actually heard someone say this.  At least not in these words.  However, my church is doing a study on the book of Job and we came across Job’s wife saying these lines.  My pastor pointed out the role of a Godly spouse should be to encourage and uplift you during trials.  Of all people, Job’s wife should have been there to grieve alongside him and support him, but instead she wants to take the easy way out: why not just end your life?

While we may not tell someone to act on these instructions, we do something similar when we question God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy.  Once I met with a Spiritual Director and he asked me to share a time when I felt God was distant.  I shared about the death of my grandmother.  We were very close and I had a high regard for her as a strong and faithful servant of God.  He right away barged in with questions such as: how could God have allowed this to happen?  And he suggested to me that I was really questioning God over this.  The fact is, I was not.  Of course her death saddened me, but I also accepted it because she had previously been suffering.  I knew she had a profound trust in the Lord and this filled me with the assurance that one day we would be reunited.  I also found ways to make her memory live on.  She gave me a special ring before her death, and I have worn this ring every day for the past 6 years.  The truth is that it was actually in the midst of this challenging event that I grew close to God.  Some of my closest times with God were in the midst of me feeling like He was distant.  I remember calling out to Him because I felt like He wasn’t there when I was mourning, only to be enveloped so readily by His love and care.  There is a cliché saying, but I think it’s true: “sometimes the only time you look up is when you are lying down.”  Sometimes the best times to look to God for answers are when we realize that we truly are not self-sufficient and that we cannot live this life on our own.

Okay, so now I’ve hit you with the negatives.  I’ve shown you the answers to steer clear of, but it wouldn’t seem right to leave you just with that.  Instead, let me suggest some better alternatives.  Here are three ways to minister to a hurting person without having to put your foot in your mouth:
#1: Silence: Sometimes we simply do not know what to say, but we try to fill the air with meaningless talk because silence makes us feel uncomfortable (this is especially true of extroverts like myself).  Yet, oftentimes, nothing needs to be said.  In fact, silence can be the greatest form of support.  In ancient Jewish culture, there is a tradition called “Sitting Shiva.”  This is the same practice we see in the book of Job.  Basically what happens is that after the death of a loved one or another form of crisis, a Jewish person’s closest friends and relatives will gather around them.  During this time, words do not need to be exchanged.  If the person who is mourning feels like talking, they will listen and engage with them.  If they prefer silence, then there is silence.  There is no pressure to verbalize pain or raw emotion.  Sometimes all you need is someone who will let you cry on their shoulder.

#2: Don’t Dismiss Their Pain/Stand in Agreement: Over the past few months, I have struck up a brilliant prayer partnership with a dear friend I attended seminary with.  One of the most remarkable things she always says to me in her emails is simply this: “I would never dismiss your pain.  Not ever.”  I could be yammering on about the most seemingly inconsequential things.  I could be writing to her to say that I feel down because it has rained non-stop for 3 weeks (remember this is Scotland).  I often have a tendency to downplay my own experiences and talk about how I know I am overreacting (even though if another person wrote to me with the same requests I would never say it to them).  Yet, time and again she is saying that she recognizes the challenge and does not wish to undermine it.

When someone is going through a difficult season, we can do them a great service by standing with them in solidarity.  In the Bible we read that we should “laugh with those who laugh and mourn with those who mourn” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12%3A15&version=ESV).  We get good at saying this in theory, but we don’t truly live it out.  In reality, we are meant to try to feel the same way as the other person feels.  Of course, this isn’t always possible to the same degree, but it is still feasible at some level.  Instead, we find ourselves being inwardly rather than outwardly focussed.  When someone gets that job promotion we wished we could have had we find ourselves being bitter and resenting them.  We ask ourselves why they are getting special favours and not us.  What we should actually be doing is throwing a celebration party for them.  When someone is going through pain and suffering, we sometimes have smug indifference.  We thank God that it wasn’t us and we think we are immune to such trials.  We may even make comments that reflect our own defensiveness and wish that we never undergo such trauma.  What we are actually called to do in that situation is to weep with them.  To literally shed some tears.  To acknowledge that we also feel a righteous anger and that we also revolt against the injustice that has been shown.

#3: Love: Lastly, love is one of the best responses to helping someone who is facing difficulty. There are many ways to show love, but in the interest of time, I would only like to highlight two.  Both have been extremely beneficial in my own life.

The first is tough love.  Tough love is when someone has a close enough bond to you that they are willing to tell you when enough is enough.  Now, you have to be careful here.  You have to exercise tact and caution.  You have to ensure that the person knows that you are only saying such things because you truly do care and that you want to be there for them, but the argument or difficulty has run its course.  NOTE: this is not about telling your friend to simply “get over it.”  Although tough love is sadly misunderstood to be this.  People heal at different rates.  It isn’t about telling your friend that they are taking too long or that they should be further ahead than they are.  Instead, tough love is the realization that sometimes because you love and care about your friend, you have to take a step that will protect your friendship with them.

I remember once I was going through a difficult time in my faith walk.  I had one particular friend who really stood by me during that time.  Honestly, she was figuratively speaking, an angel.  She would let me text and call her and she was always encouraging me and lending a listening ear.  But then sometimes it all just got out of hand.  I was going back and forth.  I was trying to lead a convenient faith.  Sometimes I would text to say I had made some great gain in my spiritual walk, then a few days later say something along the lines of doubting everything I once believed in.  My friend ended up saying to me, “you can’t keep going back and forth.”  She recognized that we all go through trials in our faith and that what I was experiencing was quite normal.  She said she was happy to continue the conversation with me, but that if I was going to be a Christian, I needed to cease being lukewarm.  I needed to start owning up to my faith – and that included both the good and the bad times.  Wow!  When she spoke to me in this clear and upfront way, it really made me pause and reconsider.  After that, I decided she was totally right and I made an effort to really change my mindset.  Today, because of her tough love, I have a much stronger faith and trust in God.  That conversation changed my prayer life and my outlook on faith.  That was an example of when I really needed tough love.

The second type of love is encouraging love.  Oftentimes, it takes a very long time for someone to heal – in fact, it could take a lifetime because we never truly get over all the hurts and pains that are done to us.  It is true that “time heals,” but it only heals so much.  And if we fail to address the root cause of our pain, then it really doesn’t matter how much time we have – all we need is for another similar experience to rip open the old wound and we will start bleeding all over again.  It can be very discouraging for the person who is trying to heal to go through this.  They may feel like they should truly be much further along than they are.  But this is where your encouraging words can really come in.   The same friend who showed me tough love, was also really great about this.  She was constantly telling me that she was proud of how far I had come.  If I made gains, even small ones, she was there to congratulate me along the path.  If it weren’t for her, I’d probably still be going through some faith crisis all the while thinking that I would never get out of it.  Today, I have moved past that phase and realize that I was quite resilient and tactful and I can take a moment or two to be proud of the God who brought me out of that whole mess.

Trials and difficulties are all a part of life.  There’s no denying that.  We will face challenge upon challenge while we are still in this world.  But Jesus also said “take heart, for I have overcome the world.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+16%3A33&version=ESV).  Next time your friend or loved one is going through a difficult time, take a moment to step into their world.  Take a moment to listen and encourage them.  Most importantly, take a moment to remind them of the One who has truly overcome the world.

Neither Poverty Nor Riches: Missional Giving Starting at Home Base

art_78309   This blog post has been on my heart and mind for several years.  I often have started writing it, but then refrained from posting for fear of offending others.  Yet, in light of the fact that I have posted many controversial things on my blog, I am sure that by now you know this is just my style.  What I am about to say is not easy.  I do not want to sound ungrateful or bitter.  But, I think it needs to be said.  So here goes:

Since I was 18, I have intentionally been studying for the ministry.  I have loved it and I have struggled with it.  I have met wonderful people along the way, shared in some good laughs, and recognized moments of profound truth about myself and the world around me.  I studied to be a pastor because I felt a sense of calling.  The job would not be worth it if you didn’t feel that same sense of love for Christ and His Bride.

Nevertheless, over the years, I have begun to see a recurring pattern.  It is sad, but it is a reality: churches like to take advantage of their pastors.  Churches often take their pastor’s time for granted.  They believe the role of the pastor is to be on call 24/7 regardless of whether or not that will influence her own life and her own family.  After all, the church is her life and her family.  Churches often don’t realize the unnecessary and extreme demands they place on their ministers.  If someone asked them to spend extra hours at work without pay, they likely would say no.  If someone asked them to sacrifice everything they have (including their own soul) for the sake of the company, they would probably be most offended.  If someone got frustrated at them for describing nursing as work, they probably would think the person was being hypo-sensitive.  Yet, for some reason we expect pastors to put up with these same types of attitudes.

Often churches don’t account for the fact that pastors can face burn out and depression, and they often don’t put proper safeguarding techniques in a pastor’s way which enable them to have a long tenure.  In fact, it is a proven statistic that the majority of pastors do not last more than 5 years, and often by the time they have left the ministry, they are severely wounded to the point of likely never wanting to enter the ministry again.  I have written many a blog post on the issue of self-care before, but there is one area I have not touched, that I think needs to be addressed: financially taking advantage of a pastor.

I have seven years of higher education.  I have spent enough money in my university and seminary education to buy a house.  I often like to joke to others “I have as much education as a doctor, however, I will never get the same amount of money or the same amount of respect.”  Although this is said in jest, there is always an element of truth to even the most sarcastic of comments.

I am not in ministry for the money.  Heavens, no!  You would have to be absolutely insane (or Joel Osteen) if your first and foremost priority was getting respect and prestige from a ministerial calling.  Even so, there is no denying that we live in a world in which finances often are crucial to daily life.  Yet, these are the scenes we experience the most often:

Joe is 25 and has just graduated from seminary.  He has about $15,000 in student loans to pay off and he is looking for a church.  He believes God has called him to full time ministry so he looks everywhere.  Yet, he is unsuccessful in his search.  Many churches are more than willing to take him on, but they aren’t willing to reach into their pockets and pay him anything.

Sally is 23 and in her second year of seminary.  She has to do an internship as part of her MDiv Requirements.  She notices that a church is hiring a youth worker.  She gets in contact with them to ask if she call fill this spot while also doing her internship.  The church suddenly moves from being willing to give a salary to saying that because she is an intern they won’t be paying her anything, but would be more than happy for her to come and learn what it means to be a youth pastor.

Richard is 28.  Previously he was an engineer, but he has recently felt the Lord calling him into ministry.  He has sacrificed everything to heed God’s call for him to work at a church.  A church takes him on offering to pay him a small wage, but in the end is not able to follow through.  When Richard raises the fact that he also needs to support his family, he is told that he should simply have more faith and trust God.

These scenarios may sound strange, but they are exactly what the majority of seminary students are up against.  Churches believe that we should work for them for free because it is “the Lord’s work.”  They demand a lot of hours out of us (not giving us much opportunity to find a second job), and when we raise the issue that we are having difficulty putting bread on the table they guilt us by saying that this is what God has called us to do, so why complain.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know many churches are dwindling in attendance and many do not have the financial means to provide for their interns.  However, I also believe that many churches do.  Since I wanted to get a wide range of experience, I have worked in 7 different churches for my field ed and internship placements over the past 7 years.  Out of those 7, only one of them truly showed any signs of generosity.  Whenever I tried to apply for a paid internship, I was told that the church couldn’t pay me because they didn’t have resources.  I am very aware of the fact that some of these churches were quite well off.  I am also aware of the fact that after being told they couldn’t even give their intern enough to cover the cost of the academic credit, three of those churches ended up sponsoring refugee families to the tune of large figures such as $90,000.

I believe in being generous.  I believe that we are called to serve the “least of these” and provide for those who have less than we do.  Yet, I also believe that generosity needs to start at home.  People who are studying for the ministry already do not have a lot of money as Bible Colleges and theological seminaries are often more expensive than traditional forms of secular schools (which are also expensive).  When I was an intern working for free, I also had Toronto housing prices to contend with, needed food, needed to buy gas for my car, and still wanted to hang out with friends at times.  There were many moments in which I had less than $50 to my name and wondered how I could afford my groceries.  Yes, this was an excellent example of trusting in the Lord who certainly did provide for my every need, however, I also feel it was a bit unfair.

You see, Christian organizations often promote what is known as “faith work” or tent-making.  They have found their basis in the life of St. Paul who did both Christian and secular work (which supposedly funding his Christian work).  But over the years, I have developed a bit of resistance to this notion.  I mean, who else do you know of who has 7 years of education who is working for free?  Have you ever heard someone say “I am raising funds to work at Apple.  I believe God has called me to work there, but I need to support myself” or “God has called me to be a doctor so now I work at North York General Hospital for free”?  Chances are you never have and you never will.  That’s because this type of mentality is absolutely ludicrous in any other context except Christian ministry.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have learned something from each organization and church I have ever been involved with as an intern.  For the most part, everyone has treated me very kindly and in some cases I truly realize why the organization did not have the resources to pay me.  And like I said, a pastor should not become greedy or too preoccupied with worldly wealth.  Still, I think that churches should try a bit harder to allocate funding for their interns.  I think churches need to realize the intense pressures a young seminary student is under and to try to provide.  It’s great for us to look outside our own church and support other causes, but our primary motivation should be those who are right in front of us who need our support.  After all, if God has put them before us, there must be a reason.

So, please.  Next time you offer an internship program and then realize that you can’t afford one, please think twice.  Please remember that pastors are people, too and that we live in a world where working for free is likely not a reality.