How Do We Know What to Believe? (AKA: Biblical Hermeneutical Crash Course 101)

100_3162   You’ve probably heard the same arguments over and over to the point of it almost becoming nauseating.  It seems that churches still focus on the key issues and regardless of which position you take, you will always find opponents.

What are your views on pacifism?  The Just War Theory?  Should we fight in self-defence or be absolute pacifists?

What do you think of women as leaders?  Can women be embraced and encouraged in any level of church governance or only in select roles?  Or should she merely be silent and submissive to her husband and male leaders?

What is the role of a Christian single?  Is celibacy the ideal or to be shunned and discouraged?

How should a Christian respond to inter-faith relations?  Should they be rigid and only maintain their own beliefs or open-minded and accepting of all world faiths without trying to convert or evangelize?  (A blog post coming on this one later)

These are just a select sample of the various questions you may be barraged with at any given time.  And in most of these cases, one can easily point to verses in FAVOUR or also AGAINST the position.  And the frustrating thing is that sometimes these contradictory viewpoints come from within the same passage, more often the same book, and always within the same canon (the Scripture itself).  It can be therefore becoming extremely challenging to navigate the maze between finding a convicting value while also appropriating the right amount of attention and care to the variety of factors that play into the text including: the socio-historical and economic climate of the Biblical world at the time, the writings and teachings of early church fathers and mothers, Spirit led guidance and interpretation (taking place within the community), our own cultural perceptions and biases formed from our unique experiences and cultural worldviews, and finally, of course, what the text itself is saying.

While I cannot answer all of these important questions for you (I will leave that between you and God), I would like to suggest a few invaluable tools that will hopefully aid you on your journey of discovering more about what you actually believe and why you believe it.

Tips and Tools For the Trade: A Biblical Student’s Handy Toolbox

#1: Humility in Admitting Our Blind-Spots

It is impossible to read the Bible without any form of bias and anyone who tells you they let the Scripture speak solely for itself without reading anything into it themselves is either intentionally prideful or, more often than not, simply ill informed.  The truth is that when we read the Bible our own thoughts and opinions are constantly being read into it, and due to our own life experiences and circumstances we may become overly passionate, zealous, or even dogmatic and defensive over certain texts whereas we may approach others in a rather apathetic or confused manner.  Here’s an example of what I mean:  As you all know (assuming you’ve read more than one of my blog posts) I am a woman who studied theology and trained as a pastor.  Thus, when I approach Scriptural passages describing a woman’s submission or suggesting a woman should not be in a key leadership position, my back instinctively goes up.  Even though I’ve studied these passages on numerous occasions and perhaps have come to several points of justification, I still have a difficult time reading what the text actually says on the matter.  Conversely, a passage speaking about how a master should treat his slaves does not appeal to my emotions in such a way because the concept of Biblical slavery is fairly foreign and repulsive to most modern day Christians (I am not speaking about sex or human trafficking here, I am speaking about slavery in terms of the Biblical injunction to act as servants and care for the land).

When determining what you believe on a topic and why, it therefore becomes important to do your best to step aside and see the text for what it is without bringing in your own personal and cultural pre-understandings.  Certain Scriptural texts such as those alluding to the polygamy at the time or injunctions to inflict physical harm and violence (for example through stoning adulterers) must be seen in light of the historical cultural time-frame rather than judged by our standards and values today.  A common phrase often employed in theology is: “don’t measure yesterday’s system by today’s yardstick.”  It is also helpful to keep in mind that if 2,000 years from now in the year 4016 a spaceman were to appear on our earth he may also be repulsed at some of the ways we treat one another or go about our daily habits even though what we are doing is commonplace and socially acceptable at the moment.  The same could be said about our cultural limitations.  That what might be encouraged as fine behaviour in one country may not be acceptable in another.  For example, some cultures believe it respectful to glance away and avoid body contact on first meeting an individual (especially one of a different gender) whereas in a culture like North America, the most socially acceptable thing to do would be to look the person in the eye and offer a handshake.  Some cultures find greeting one another with a kiss (perhaps even on the mouth) to be a form of great hospitality, warmth, and welcome, whereas other cultures would find this an intrusion on personal space.  And so on.  Therefore you see that when we are looking at a text that is so ancient and from a culture than the majority of us are not familiar with, it becomes important to state from the start our own limitations and prejudices that may thus hinder a truer reading and interpretation of the text.

#2: Humility in Acknowledging our Own Hierarchy of Rules

As stated above, certain texts garner more attention and interest on our part than others, but we must ask why this is.

Is it simply the result of our upbringing (perhaps a culture or denominational structure that valued some rules but not others)?  Is it the result of our own personal encounter with Christ – something He has taught us personally or that is especially relevant at the moment?  Is it the result of a current cultural issue (for example, the current ongoing trend about how the Mennonite Church should or should not accept people in the LGBTQ+ community)?

It is not necessarily a negative thing to have certain texts appear greater than others, but we must be willing to admit this is the case.  And it is for everyone.  I have a few friends who claim they follow all the rules in the Bible equally, but I have never actually met someone for whom this is truly the case.  A person may believe that a woman can’t preach, but then they proceed to attend church without a head covering.  A woman may believe that homosexuality is a sin, but then they do not grow their hair long.  A person may believe in the injunction to love their neighbours as themselves and to care about the social welfare of others, but then they completely neglect their own body and treat themselves with contempt or have a low self-image of who they are.  No one is immune from this and you shouldn’t think you are either.

So how do you determine which texts to give importance to?  Here’s what I recommend:

  • Keep the texts with a common theme. If the same (or a similar message) is constantly being repeated, pay close attention to it.  Especially when Christ Himself was the one to say those words.  On the other hand, if the command lies only in one of the Epistles and nowhere else and seems rather obscure, look more closely at the cultural context.  Perhaps it was meant only for a specific church in a specific geographical location for a specific reason.
  • Keep the texts which promote peace, harmony, and unity rather than discord and division. Although theological arguments are commonplace, this does not mean you have to enter into them needlessly.  In fact, sometimes for the sake of peace, it becomes more important to maintain a right relationship or friendship rather than simply being correct (even if you are).  Within any major world religion (including Christianity) there are certain Biblical texts that are inclusive and some that are exclusive.  Choose the inclusive ones over the exclusive ones.

In a recent course I took on Religious Literacy from Harvard University, Dr. Ali Asani posed the following questions (while although were geared towards Quaranic study are equally vital and valid when applied to the Biblical text):

How does an interpreter even know whether or not she is performing an exegesis [exposition, analysis] of the Scripture or an eisegesis [reading into]?  Is it even possible to know?  Is pure exegesis or pure eisegesis even possible? 

What do you think?

#3: Humility to Hear Other Viewpoints

Someone who is secure in their position not only tolerates, but welcomes, appreciates, and embraces a wide variety of opinions on varying theological matters.  This is not to say, of course, that you can’t question or push-back on areas you disagree with, though we should strive to do so with tactful respect (not with loaded arguments, name calling, or suggestion).  [If you need some help on how to do that go here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/when-we-disagree-with-each-other-tips-learned-in-life/]

What does this look like?  Here are a few tips:

  • Make intentional space and time to hear opinions that are different from your own. Ask open-ended questions that are straight-forward and to-the-point.  Don’t simply argue your position and then end with a question such as: “so even after all of this, why would you still believe that?”  Avoid value judgements.  Defend your own points, but once again, acknowledge your cultural blindspots.  (By the way, no one’s perfect, I say all of this, but I’ve fallen prey to doing some of the very things I’ve just suggested not doing…that’s why I’m encouraging you to learn from my mistakes).
  • Put your nerdy cap on and do some reading. As I’ve alluded to in other posts, it’s important to know the other position just as well as your own – in fact, if you are going to be a serious scholar, you should be able to debate the other viewpoint as if you truly owned it yourself.  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but when trying to determine my values on controversial topics, I always try to get as wide of a range of opinions as possible.  As I mentioned in my Harry Potter post, when deciding if I would allow my children to read H.P. or not, I intentionally took the time to ask a variety of people (parents, educators, pastors, Sunday school teachers) on both sides of the spectrum for their input.  I also did my own reading (including reading through the entire series and books and websites/blog posts both for and against) so when I ultimately arrived at my conclusion I was confident that it was not one taken lightly.  Please don’t be one of those people who argues your point without fully understanding why you arrived at that conclusion.  [If you want to read the Harry Potter post look here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/fantastic-fiction-or-wicked-witchcraft-a-critical-view-of-whether-christians-should-read-harry-potter/)
  • Make room for the Holy Spirit to move. In Anabaptism, we place a high value on the Holy Spirit freely working within our congregational and corporate lives, just as much as we place value on Him working in our personal experience.  Oftentimes, it can be quite helpful to approach a text communally and to live and share the experience of how He speaks to each of us through the same text.  One of the coolest things about Christianity is that 25 people can read the exact same text and we would get 25 different interpretations (this is not to be feared nor is it cause to defend our viewpoints as “the ultimate truth” over anyone else’s, but rather adds to the beauty of Scripture being acutely personal and practical).  It is also important to take time to pray and ponder passages on our own, but if we do so, we must guard ourselves against proof-texting (in other words, taking verses out of Scripture in order to prove a point).  Recently, for my Harvard course, I was listening to a great lecture by Dr. Sajjad Rizvi, who prompted me to think of this classic example we can all learn from:

 

A father beats his young son for being disobedient and stealing toys from his siblings.  The father beats the child so badly that marks appear on his body and when the boy shows up at school, the teacher questions him about this.  The father responds that he has only acted in this way because he is in Christian and in the Bible it states, “Those who withhold the rod hate their children, but the one who loves them applies discipline.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2013%3A24).  In this case the question is: did the father apply harsh discipline because of this verse – because he thought it was the most accurate way to continue his religious practices and beliefs and because he truly wants his son to grow up to be a responsible member of society?  OR did the father abuse his child, then look for a text that justified his behaviour and applied it (trying to convince himself this was truly the case) in order to assuage his own conscience and guilt?

Obviously depending on the actual scenario, the correct answer could be either one depending on his true motivations, but this is a question we must all ask ourselves.  We must especially guard against using Scripture verses to deny someone their basic human rights, or to look down on a certain people group due to their culture/ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, or sexual orientation.  We must be aware not to justify cruelty or abuse on the grounds of Scripture, but we also must do this in less obvious ways just as rigorously.  We must do it on matters that make us prideful, insecure, or resentful.  We must do it in order to take the best care possible of those entrusted to us, but we also must do it on order to take care of ourselves and not let others take advantage of us.  In other words: we don’t always need to convince ourselves that we are in the wrong.  We don’t always need to be the stereotypical apologetic Canadian!

Although this blog post was not able to cover all of the major facets of a theological debate, I do hope it’s given you a bit of ground with which to think and work with.  Ultimately, our theological differences should work as our greatest strength and asset, not as a weakness.  We should constantly remind ourselves that our academic theological debates represent a greater desire to serve Christ and to be faithful to the text and thus it is not about simply being right or wrong, but rather having a greater appreciation for the whole character of Christ and His inspired Word instead.  I hope that on your journey to discovering what you believe and why, you will meet many wonderful travelling companions – both those who agree with you and can support you in your personal opinions, but more importantly, those who see the world differently than you do.  Because it is really the latter that makes your life all that more beautiful, complex, and special.

 

theology2

 

Every Woman’s Survival Guide for Being in Full-Time Ministry

867a3e6795e578c0646c91530d770128   Originally I was going to name this post: “For Women Only: 3 Things They Never Taught Us in Seminary” and it was going to be an exposition of the various ways women can feel lonely in a “man’s world.”  However, after thinking about it for a while, I decided that this was not really the direction I wanted to go.

You see, the word “ministry” can often be quite misrepresentative.  Everyone who is a Christian and who is actively seeking to follow Christ, to evangelize, and to reach out and support others is already engaged in ministry.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an elementary school teacher, an engineer, or an at home mom…you’re doing ministry, and you’re likely doing it full-force.  Now here’s where it gets a bit tricky.  Oftentimes in the professional world, we get a bit muddled and try to segregate “ministry” (as in helping out at the church food bank) and “vocational MINISTRY” (as in being a pastor, woman’s worker, youth leader, or any other paid position).  But once again this is misleading.  That’s because even if you never preach a sermon, you probably are logging in those same hours… in fact, you’re probably also in full-time ministry.  How many diapers did you change this week again?  How many errands did you run for the kids?  How many times did you bite your tongue when your co-worker was going at you because you wanted to be a good Christian influence?  You get the picture.  When we try to put “ministry” in a box it ends up disastrously because it becomes more about what we (or what society) thinks are the most fundamental tasks for the Kingdom versus what Christ thinks are the most important.

And what exactly does God say is the most important task in full-time vocational ministry?  It is this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+12%3A30-31)

 

Loving God, seeking to follow His will, and in turn reaching out to others who need us the most.

 

But how exactly do we do that more practically?  Look no further than the book of James:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=NASB)

 

Or in the words of Eugene Petersen’s The Message:   Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=MSG)

 

Menno Simons got it right when he gave this brilliant explanation and expanded upon this passage:

 

True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love;
it dies to flesh and blood (1);
it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires (2);
it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul (3);
it clothes the naked (4);
it feeds the hungry (5);
it comforts the sorrowful (6);
it shelters the destitute (7);
it aids and consoles the sad (8);
it does good to those who do it harm (9);                                                                                                   it serves those that harm it (10);
it prays for those who persecute it (11);
it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord (12);
it seeks those who are lost (13);
it binds up what is wounded (14);
it heals the sick (15);
it saves what is strong (sound) (16);
it becomes all things to all people (17).
The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.” (https://themennonite.org/feature/true-evangelical-faith/)

I have the first part of this quote featured on my Skype, Google HangOut, and Facebook and I try to include it once in a while when I am preaching just to keep in fresh and in the front of people’s minds.  It’s a text I try to live by.  It’s a text that breathes life into who I am and into my existence.

So now that we understand and realize that we are ALL called to full-time vocational ministry, what do we do?  I’m going to be open and honest with you for a minute: even having the assurance that you’re in the field God called you to, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.  Women still have to face all sorts of pressures.

Women have to face outward pressures.  It is easy for us to feel lonely and singled out.  You may be blessed to have a core group of friends who support you in your ministry despite your gender, but you’re also going to constantly have people in your face who suggest that serving God is a sin in your case because you have an XX chromosome and not an XY.  You’re going to face discouragement when sharp disagreements occur.  And you might be frustrated when the only positions you can get are working with kids or youth and you really don’t see yourself doing either.  Even if you are surrounded by people who accept your calling, you might still feel lonely because you will be one woman among a barrage of men.  The men you work with might be wonderful, but you might still long for a deeper connection – one which only a woman-to-woman bridge can bring.

Women also face internal pressures.  Ideas they bring to themselves about what success looks like.  The pressure to conform to social norms that they themselves feel are important, or a certain shyness that makes them unable to be assertive to men.  I’ve written more about that in my recent blog post: “Boundless Possibilities” you can read it here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/boundless-possibilities-dismantling-the-myth-of-the-good-little-church-girl/

I’m sure I could write a hundred different blog posts addressing a hundred different ways to tackle this problem, but I think it really all comes down to 4 key points.  If you want to succeed and have longevity in your ministry – any kind of ministry, you must: know who you are, know whose you are, know where you are, and know why you’re there.

Know Who You Are

I’ve mentioned in a few other posts that my inward struggle to accept myself for who God has made me to be has been an ongoing battle…and one that I often don’t succeed at because I’m a pacifist.  I’ve also shared how I’ve begun addressing that issue and recommended a fantastic resource called Daughters of the King (http://www.dot-k.com/). This great website also has a 7 minute audio clip speaking words of affirmation and truth.  In the description it reads: “It is important that you know who you are in Christ.  If you are going to accomplish anything in the earth for God’s glory, it will first begin with you knowing who you are.  Be blessed as you listen to Scriptures from God’s Word that will give you clear understanding into your identity.”

The key to maintaining a strong and vibrant ministry is understanding and accepting who you were made to be.  It’s about recognizing the unique ministry you have which only you are capable of achieving at this time and to this particular group of people.  It’s about not comparing yourself to others.  Realizing that you have strengths and gifts that they don’t have, but also that you have many blindspots and weaknesses where you will need to rely on others and delegate tasks to them because they will be a better fit.  It’s about seeking out resources to improve on those areas where you still need to grow.  And it’s about being mentored so that you can be the best version of yourself you can possibly be without worrying or caring so much about what others around you are (or aren’t) doing.

Know Whose You Are

We belong solely to Christ and our ministry flows from His desire for us to please Him and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who permits that to happen.  Everything that happens in our life takes place for a purpose.  There is no meaningless or wasted moment when we follow and serve Christ.  Even the most difficult and painful times can bring us closer to Him if we are willing for that to happen.  When we know who we are in Christ, we follow the Voice of the Good Shepherd (not endless societal rants or superficial theological disagreements).  We become attuned to His Words and His will…forsaking all others and realizing that sometimes His calling upon our life will bring about rejection and discord.

It’s also recognizing when we need to drop a circular argument because it’s getting us nowhere.  Of course, we rely on those emotionally closest to us to provide support and encouragement and we long for people to hear what we have to say and affirm it.  However, the Bible also tells us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%2012:18)  Scripture also tells us to avoid endless quarrels, and worthless quandaries and instead seek to edify one another in our attempt to build up the Body of Christ: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Titus+3%3A9&version=NASB).  In other words, next time you want to harp on your favourite controversial passage, ask yourself what you’re really going to accomplish through it and why you really want to do it.  If you need more help in this area, check out my recent blog post on this topic: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/when-we-disagree-with-each-other-tips-learned-in-life/

When we are secure in Christ, we don’t have to worry about whether or not people will like us or try to get everyone to see things from our point of view.  Knowing WHOSE we are, is just as important as knowing WHO we are because it reminds us that without Christ we can do nothing and thus, any ministry we are called to belongs to Him.  Not to those who disagree with us.  And not even to ourselves.

Know Where You Are

There is a famous African proverb that says: “if you don’t know where you are, or where you’re going, any bus will do.”

For years I have dreaded these two questions in a job interview:

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

What will you do if you don’t get this job?
I’m an extreme planner.  Not only do I have a 5 year plan, but I also have a 10 and 15 year one.  But over time, I’ve learned that “In their hearts human beings plan their lives. But the Lord decides where their steps will take them.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2016%3A9) In other words, just when I think I’ve figured it out, my life drastically changes.

Take my current position.  Never in my entire high school or undergrad career would I have seen myself working with people who have intellectual disabilities.  The thought never crossed my mind… I was destined to be a full time pastor in the Mennonite Church.  Then, all of a sudden, in my first year of seminary, my heart tugged me in this direction.  It was completely unplanned and unexpected, but now I have been in the field for almost 4 years.  I love what I do and see it as my primary focus and ministry.  It has grown from curiosity into an intense calling, affirmed by others around me.

Well, not everyone.  Some people think I’m wasting my education and should go back into full-time pastoring…but in the end of the day, you need to rely on Christ’s will and plan for your life.  After all, it’s your life, not theirs.  When Christ clearly shows you what you are to do, you don’t hold back, you go do it…even when others around you might not understand or might think it’s foolish and pointless.

So where are you today?  Are you young or old?  Are you just beginning your academic journey or have you been retired for years?  Where are you currently living?

When you think about your age, life-stage, and geographical position, each place brings with it new opportunities for witness and evangelism.  Opportunities that you might not have had in previous years and that you might not have again because this is where you are RIGHT NOW, at this particular season.  Think about how you can be a good steward with where you find yourself at this moment.  Don’t keep looking back – preserved in the past like a stand-still pillar of salt.  Don’t keep reminiscing about the “good old days” neglecting the current reality.  And conversely, don’t become too future focused.  Don’t keep grasping for the next goal without taking a moment to pause and reflect on what you have just accomplished.  Live in the here and now.  Live in this tension of the “now” and “not yet”.  Live with the assurance that God is going to move in many mighty ways to the people you are encountering at the bank, the grocery store, your local church, your favourite coffee shop, and the ice rink.  That’s really the key to a successful ministry.

Know Why You’re There

Have you ever found yourself in a trying situation – a place you never wanted to be, never want to go back to, and would never wish on your worst enemy?  Have you ever asked God why He placed you there to begin with?

Helen Rosevear was such a woman.  A young, idealistic English doctor in the D.R. Congo, she soon found herself face to face with rebel soldiers, force, and violation.  Yet, she chose to ask God the question: “Why am I here?  What can I accomplish through this terrible injustice?”  God spoke quietly and softly to her heart reminding her of who she was and whose she was.  She recounts this question in particular “are you willing to trust Me even if I never tell you why?”  In her fear, pain, and frustration, she humbly submitted regardless of the cost.  She later publicly shared her testimony on numerous occasions where she proclaimed “the question is not ‘is it worth it?’ but ‘is He worthy?’”  Because of Rosevear’s great internal strength of character, she has become a hero of the faith to many including a mentor to myself.  Oh that we would have such a faith!

You might have found yourself in a similar position, or you might find yourself in a less intense one… but we all face struggles and difficulties of various kinds throughout our journey in life.  When we’re stuck at that job we don’t want to be in, we can ask ourselves “why is God calling me here?  What is He trying to teach me through this work place?  How can He use me to minister and benefit others?”  When we’re about to lose it with our children we can ask God for the grace we need reminding ourselves that He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love even despite our rebellion and disobedience to Him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+145%3A8&version=NASB).  When we find ourselves in a time of utter confusion and at a crossroads, unsure of exactly where we are or why we’re there, we can rest in Him and His promise to clarify our calling and our direction.

If you need more guidance in this area, one of my fellow MennoNerds Benjamin L. Corey recently wrote a series of posts on this very topic as he recounts a deep personal loss he recently experienced.  Two of his posts in particularly really stuck out to me because of their honesty and depth.  Corey gives us the great reminder that even in loss and confusion, it’s okay to question God and to be angry.  Even when we’re following Christ and relying fully on Him, we’re still going to have many questions – that’s to be expected.  But we also know where to turn for the answers.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/how-to-be-here-when-here-is-the-shittiest-place-you-can-imagine/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/if-god-is-the-cause-of-our-suffering-hes-kinda-a-jerk-just-sayin/

Being a woman in ministry is a difficult and often painful place to be, but my following these four steps of knowing WHO we are, WHOSE we are, WHERE we are, and WHY we are there, our ministry will become much more robust.  When we keep seeking the guidance of the One who called us into His glorious hope, it also becomes so worth it.  May you experience a glimpse of His joy as you seek and serve Him with the people He has entrusted you with TODAY.

When We Disagree With Each Other (Tips Learned In Life)

argument2   I get it.  I can be a pretty argumentative person.  I thrive on debates (much to the chagrin of my more passive friends) and as an online personality test once told me, I am a haughty-intellectual “you think you know everything, and you probably do.”  In fact, I once thought I was wrong, and I was right, so therefore, I’m always right!

All joking aside, I have recently been reflecting on my own inner nature to try to prove my point, to become defensive, and to go around in circles without ever landing the plane.  So to help me with this on-going struggle, I’ve started doing some research.  I’m currently reading a really great book called When to Speak Up, and When to Shut Up by Dr. Michael Sedler.  In this book Sedler shows us ways to affirm the other person’s dignity and worth, while also having the courage to state our own convictions clearly.  Here’s one of the best tidbits of advice he provides: “don’t argue by stating your position over and over.  If someone does not agree the first time, the next five times will not convince them.  Saying it louder and with greater force will not work either.” (p.127). Yep, something I am definitely guilty of personally!

A few days ago, one of my fellow MennoNerds, Tabitha Driver wrote this incredible blog which you can see here: http://ultimatemetaphor.blogspot.ca/2016/08/when-christians-disagree-5-common-logic.html.  I’d love to just copy and paste all the nuggets of wisdom she has to share, sorry Tabitha!  But being the good little Mennonite girl that I am, I thought I’d kind of amalgamate Sedler’s book and Driver’s blog in order to provide you with my own perspective on the topic.  It’s probably not as good as either one, but I hope it might be a close third.

#1: Understand the Reason for Your Argument

Although as I have stated and will readily admit, I am quite an argumentative person and thus probably get into some form of debate daily (yes, the good Lord still loves even me!) in the interest of time, I will only share with you the most recent one.  Lately, I have really been struggling with the issue of women in leadership.  Those of you who read my blog know that I just came home from a year-long mission’s trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Unlike my liberal Canada, Scotland is still quite conservative in a number of ways, meaning that you’d be hard-pressed to find a female pastor over there.  In fact, many churches will not even let a woman be an elder!  This has oftentimes been quite a challenge and struggle for me.  I studied theology and I graduated with my Master’s of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry.  Previously, I have served as a pastor and pastoral intern and it is difficult for me to go from being permitted to preach in a church to being told I need to be quiet and submissive.  So I usually go right ahead and jump to the defensive.  Even in Scotland, I was often very clear that this issue is a deal-breaker for me.  I have no problem going to a church like that for a year or two, but when thinking of settling somewhere permanently or when contemplating where to put in church membership, this is a major issue of consideration.  Yeah, I know, I’m probably a bad missionary for not blending in enough with the culture!  However, I have recently started looking at the question quite honestly.  What exactly is it about being told I can’t lead or preach that irritates me so much?  On the one hand, I believe I have a strong calling from God and I want to please Him with my education and be a good steward of the 4 preaching courses I’ve taken.  That’s a good motivation…probably the right one to have.  But admittedly, I also realize that lots of times the real reason I’m frustrated is because I have an ego.  I want to get the “status” I feel I deserve.  I don’t want to be deprived of doing something I enjoy.  And yes, perhaps, if I probe deep enough, I like the attention that preaching gives to me.  So then the issue becomes less about God and more about myself which, as I’m sure you know, is a trap door for disaster.

Summation: It’s fine for you to disagree with someone else’s opinion, but you have to know WHY.  You have to be honest with yourself.  You have to realize when the issue is becoming less about God and more about you.

#2: Become Aware of Internal Triggers and Unwanted Emotions

Emotions are one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  They remind us that we are alive and healthy.  They allow us to experience joy and pleasure.  They can also be highly distracting when we want people to take us seriously if we don’t know how to properly reign them in and put them in check.

A list of emotions to watch out for: anger, bitterness, jealousy, pride, envy, fear, intense people-pleasing, sadness, depression…I’m sure you can think of any number of other adjectives to add as well.

If you suddenly find yourself exhibiting a high level of any of these emotions, you need to slow down, take a breath, and stop.  Re-evaluate the situation, ask yourself why you’re experiencing these feelings, validate them, then don’t resume the confrontation or debate until you can put them back in place again.

Emotions are neither bad nor good in themselves, but rather they serve as warning signs and signals.  They can be helpful, but they can also detract from what you’re trying to say and make your words sound less credible.

Summation: A wise theologian once told me: “in the end of the day, your opinions don’t matter, and neither do mine, the only thing that matters is the Word of God.”  We would do well to heed his instructions.  It can be easy for us to become preoccupied thinking our viewpoint is the only correct one to have.  We may even begin feeling our blood boiling and our pulse quickening.  But if that happens, we need to take a step back and relax.  We need to keep our head in the discussion…if we can’t do that, well…quite frankly… then we aren’t ready or mature enough to have that type of conversation yet.

#3: Agree to Disagree in Love…No Really…

With the women in leadership issue, I’ve also been realizing how I can be rather hypocritical on the issue… and I’ve definitely seen this with other areas as well.  Here’s a classic example.  I’m a people-pleaser (a bit ironic that I’m also an avid debater, isn’t it?)  I love stirring up trouble, but then I go cower in the corner because I’m scared that people will be mad about it for the next month and a half (oftentimes this is an over-exaggeration and the majority of the time, they are just fine).  Anyways, I’ll usually give a stereotypical Canadian phrase such as this: “Ultimately, I believe we can all have different opinions on this.  It’s not a deal-breaker for salvation.  It’s a side-hall issue, not a main-hall one.  I have many friends who disagree with women in ministry, but we are all still friends.  I respect them.  They respect me.”  But I realize that this is all just lip-service to what’s really stirring in my heart.  Truthfully, I wish I could be the type of person who always respects other people’s viewpoints and is fine with them, but in reality, I’m far from that.  I might nod my head in agreement when I’m with them or even add a few “mmm-hmmms” and “yes, that makes sense” but inwardly I’m seething.  A lot of the time, I feel like I need the other person to come to my side, or else I haven’t done the issue justice.  Even though I say that I’m fine with a close friend not supporting my vocation, inwardly, I’m hoping to bring him or her around so that they can see things from my viewpoint.  Which actually really isn’t fair.  If I’m asking them to respect where I’m coming from even if they don’t agree, to love and honour me even when they don’t support me, I should definitely be doing the same for them.  So why aren’t I?

Summation: If you suddenly discover yourself secretly trying to convince the other person to come to your side even though with your lips you’re proclaiming that they are entitled to their own opinions, ask yourself why you aren’t willing to relinquish the control.  What do you hope to get from their changing their mind?  Is that really necessary for life in the Body, or can we actually, really, truly agree to disagree on some issues and still maintain close friendships and ties?   One of my really good friends from Edinburgh and I have butted heads on this issue many, many times, but I’ll always remember what she said once when I Facebook messaged her after a particularly stressful debate.  She said to me: “I’m not offended.  Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it, but the opposite, actually.  Having different opinions adds colour to our friendship and is a beautiful part of our personalities.  I don’t have this need to have everyone agree with me all the time, and you shouldn’t either.”  Since then, whenever we end up being on different ends of the spectrum, I always remind myself to be thankful because our differences are what makes our relationship so unique and so much more interesting.  It’s what makes it special, rather than bland or boring.

#4: Avoid Obnoxious Name Calling (In Other Words: Grow Up!)

Academic debates can often turn into “straw-man” type arguments when we let our emotions run rampant (if you don’t know what a “straw-man” is, it’s basically using irrelevant information and attacking the individual’s personal character in order to strengthen your point.  It’s highly emotional, it’s immature, and it’s the way of most politicians – cf. what we see all the time in the latest U.S. political debate).

Getting involved in a theological debate requires precision, honesty, and integrity.  It also means knowing and understanding the facts… not just going off on someone you disagree with.  One of the biggest downfalls of the church, is Christians using verbal ammo against one another in order to compel the person to come to their side.  May I ask a quick question though?  If you’re constantly shooting at me, barraging me with your machine guns – what makes you think I want to hop the fence?  I’d much rather stay on the side of peace.  In other words, feel free to challenge someone else’s opinions, but do it with love and grace.  Be the Quaker Peacemaker who walks across the field with a bag of chocolate chip cookies, shakes the enemy’s hand, and gives him a hug.  Don’t be that big army thug.  After all, Anabaptists are called to be pacifists, right?

Summation: If you want people to take you seriously, you don’t get that respect from knocking someone down, belittling them, insulting their character, or questioning their spiritual status. In other words, avoid saying meaningless things like “if you were really a Christian, you’d…,” or “I don’t see how you can really be a Christian and do…” Avoid thinking of one particular denomination, way of thinking, or theological position as being the only infallible option that will bring one to eternal life.  Also resist throwing around terms like “liberal” or “conservative” with a tone suggesting that one means heresy and the other is synonymous with close-mindedness.  If you are going to use loaded terms, understand the implications and look up what they actually mean (so as not to use them out of context).  Better yet, avoid labels altogether.  Even if you intend to use the words with their original definitions, culture implies all sorts of things about these ambiguous types of words…so best to run the farthest you can from them.

#5: Let Them Eat Zwiebach!  (Or Borscht, or Strudel, or Rollkucken, or… You Get the Picture!)

Facing a myriad of people who disagree with female pastors has actually been quite a humbling experience for me.  Today I was reflecting on how my inability to see things from the other person’s point of view is so counter-productive to what I really want my life’s aim to be about.  Here’s why:

There are some people who sincerely believe that God does not allow a woman leadership over a man.  Many of these people are not “women-haters” or do not see women as inferior, but they have come to that conclusion through careful dissection and Scriptural research.  My Edinburgh pastor recently stated, “society and culture often tell us that unless men and women are doing the exact same things they are not equal, but that’s not necessarily the case.”  And he’s right.  The woman is the one who carries the child to term and gives birth and she is the one who breastfeeds her, but that doesn’t make her any less of a daughter to her father and that doesn’t mean the father therefore has no responsibility and care over her.  A mother and father are similar and equal and yet incredibly different.

On the other hand, you meet people like me.  People who have also done massive amounts of research, who know the Biblical languages, who have read the Bible cover to cover on multiple occasions and in many different translations, and who have theological training and they believe that it’s fine for a woman to preach.  They see it as being a God-ordained ministry for both men or women and they recognize that calling is central so if the woman is called, why not?

Now in either one of these cases, what is ultimately the most important thing?  To serve and honour God.  One person comes to the conclusion that a woman shouldn’t preach because they want to respect God’s authority and His Word.  They feel like denying a woman this opportunity is ultimately God’s Will.  It’s how they serve God.

On the other hand, people like me believe that we can serve God both in and out of the pulpit regardless of our gender.  We trust that by doing so we are being faithful to God’s call upon our life.  We feel like to not speak, would set “fire to our bones” and would not be honouring all that God has given to us.

So then, who’s right?  Well, in a way both are.  When thought through correctly, both viewpoints are distilled into the same category: how to best live Biblically.  Both are about being faithful to the witness and identity of the church, but both witness in incredibly different ways.

Realistically, I think that when Christ comes back, He doesn’t want us to be squabbling over petty theological differences.  He wants us to spreading His Word and His message through our lifestyle choices.  He wants us to care for the “least of these,” not sit behind ivory towers writing theological treatises that probably don’t make a whole lot of difference in the end of the day.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for academic debates, but there’s an even bigger place for activist faith and true, life-giving and breathing Christ-centered spirituality.

So in the end of the day, let’s just throw aside our differences.  Let’s agree to disagree.  Let’s periodically put away our theological dictionaries, concordances, and interlinears, and let’s all eat a batch of zwiebach (or strudel or whatever other Mennonite food you want to insert here!)

Summation: I’ve you made it to the end of my long blog, congratulations.  You probably need zwiebach not only to proclaim peace with fellow debaters, but also just to get your strength and stamina back so you can read other nerdy writings at https://mennonerds.com/!  Just saying!

The Myth of Over-Busyness

c81e728d9d4c2f636f067f89cc14862c_1433763822  Convenient, fast, and efficient.  These three words epitomize our cultural fascination with all things technological.  We are a generation of multi-taskers, a society of workaholics, and a group of gregarious extroverts (even if we are internally introverts).  Yet, what does God have to say about our strenuous patterns of over-work?  How does a jam-packed schedule affect our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves?  How does busyness change our relationships at work or within our family?

I have struggled with workaholism most of my life, although I probably would never have described it in those terms until quite recently.  I’ve always enjoyed being right in the centre of whatever was happening.  Being passive is not an option to me.  When I was younger I used to be part of a number of extra-circular activities and clubs.  In university I served on several campus and church ministries while taking a full course-load, and then in seminary I foolishly worked 4 part time jobs while taking 5 master’s level courses and trying to maintain a rigorous social life.  Everyone around me cautioned me that this was not going to be sustainable, but I was convinced that I could make it happen.  I dreaded missing out on anything social, and because social occasions often consist of lunches and dinners out, I knew I had to keep up my work schedule in order to afford having fun.  This continued until my body finally told me that something had to give.

The first time I realized I needed to slow-down was when I was in my first year of seminary.  I had moved to the U.S. to engage in a Peace and Theological Studies program, was working two campus jobs (one in maintenance and one at the library) and was trying to get involved in a local church.  I remember nearly falling asleep one day in the student lounge when someone mentioned that I didn’t look well.  She asked if everything was okay (assuming it was merely an emotional issue).  Almost as a bragging point, I mentioned my intense schedule.  Rather than sharing in my pride, this woman mentioned that she used to be like me, but because of over-working her body and mind, she had suffered 3 mini-strokes within the past year.  I was absolutely stunned.  This woman was not much older than I was!  At most, she was still in her mid-thirties.  I had always assumed strokes and TIAs happened to the elderly due to heart complications.  I had no idea that someone under 40 could experience those kinds of effects due to the sheer burden of stress and physical exhaustion.  I will never forget her wise words of counsel to me: “You need to slow down because if you don’t, your body will make it happen.  Your body knows when enough is enough.”  Since that time I have heard that some of my friends have suffered from seizures and other health complications exactly for the same reason: over-busyness.

I would love to say that I learned my lesson early on, but I am rather stubborn and slow when it comes to learning this invaluable wisdom, so I continued down this slippery slope for several more months.  Eventually it came to a head when my doctor told me that my body was giving out.  You can read more of that story here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/3-things-that-i-wish-everyone-understood-about-burn-out/

God designed our bodies for work, but also for rest and relaxation.  He designed us to be driven and motivated by causes we are passionate about, but he also created us for community and inter-dependence.

What does the Bible say about over-work?  According to the Scriptures, what is the best balance for a work-play-rest rhythm?

  • The Bible tells us to rest.  God Himself set this precedent when He created the world.  The Bible tells us that God worked for 6 days and then He rested.  We know that God is big, mighty, and all-powerful.  Certainly God could have created the earth in one day or even one minute if that’s what He wanted to do.  So why did God stretch out the creation?  Because He wanted to pace Himself.  Because He wanted to show us that we don’t need to accomplish everything all at once.  We can do a little at a time.  Pause.  Reflect.  Appreciate the beauty.  Take time to be grateful for our progress.  Get our creative juices flowing, then start again.  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV
  • The Bible tells us that work is good.  When God created Adam and Eve, He sent them on a mission.  Nowhere in the Scriptures is work portrayed as “a necessary evil” or “the daily grind just to pay the bills” unlike how the majority of people in our world feel today.  The Bible does mention that when sin entered into the world, work became harder.  The ground was less likely to yield a bountiful crop, dishonesty and a “dog-eat-dog” mentality ensued, but still work was good.  Many people in our world feel unsatisfied at their jobs, but they stay on because they feel they need the money.  Work has become the butt of many jokes, “oh, it’s Monday, AGAIN!”  Many people say that they wish they didn’t have to work, but work is such an integral part of our identity that often people who are unemployed or laid-off face the highest rates of depression and low self-esteem.  Rough sleepers long for something to do.  Many of them mention that they would take any job (even a menial one) in order to support themselves.  There is something inherent in our human condition that promotes a healthy sense of pride when we are able to accomplish something and be recognized for it.  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+31&version=NIV
  • The Bible tells us to let the ground lay fallow.  This is something I never understood until I moved to Scotland.  Scotland was probably the first year of my life in which I decided to intentionally take a break, mostly because I had no choice.  Moving to a new country where no one knew me, I didn’t want to come across as some hyper-active kid who needed to get involved in everything and I was also working close to 50 hours a week.  I still went to church, small groups, and other activities, but I made the intentional choice to take a sabbatical.  To take a rest.  To learn from the experience of others.  To let the ground lay fallow.  At first this was very challenging.  There were many moments when I was edging to do a bit more or when I was tempted to brag about my Master’s of Theology in hopes that someone might ask me to lead or serve.  However, this opportunity of being in the background was quite formative for me.  Without the pressure to lead, I was able to learn from the knowledge and life-stage of those much older than me.  I was no longer a kid in my early/mid-twenties giving instruction (as if I actually knew anything), instead I was receiving encouragement from parents, grandparents, and elders.  That year of stepping back taught me humility and patience as those with no theological background were wrestling through Biblical texts.  It taught me new perspectives as 16 and 18 year old explained what the text meant to them.  I’m not saying to lay fallow forever – I know I wouldn’t last.  A year was about as long as I would want to go with no form of leadership or servanthood.  I also feel like because God entrusted me with this type of education and calling it is an important responsibility to minister and use my natural skills and learned abilities.  Nevertheless, it is important from time to time to step back and let someone else take the lead.  Someone who needs to be in charge all the time can often become over-controlling or fall prey to narcissism and self-importance.  Someone who has found the balance between work and rest, between being a leader and being a follower has the potential to be a much more effective minister.  Know your limit, serve within it. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+23%3A11&version=NIV

So, more practically, what does taking a rest mean for the average ministering person?

  • It means practicing self-care.  It means eating healthy, finding the time to exercise, and hanging out with non-ministry friends.  It also means having ministry colleagues who can spur you on and encourage you when you want to quit (because trust me: if you’re in any type of full-time ministry there will be plenty of times when you are ready to give up!)
  • It means making daily devotional time with God a priority.  If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy to serve!  When you have such a busy schedule, it can be difficult to find an hour to really set aside for meditation and to read the Scriptures.  But this is where you will draw your strength from.  Godly friends and good parishioners will only get you so far.  Without the power source, you are powerless!
  • It means keeping your family as your central priority.  This is true both of married pastors as well as those who are single.  If you’re married, it’s so important to keep your spouse central to your ministry.  To make time for him or her and to not neglect his or her needs.  If you’re single, it’s important not to overwork yourself under the myth that you have no other responsibilities.  When your friends start complaining that you aren’t as present as you used to be (or that you are tuning out when you are with them), it’s time to re-evaluate and make a change.  Trust me: some of my friends have mentioned this to me before!  I (and you) need to listen to them!
  • It might mean serving in a different area.  My main calling in life is to serve adults with developmental disabilities.  I absolutely love this, but I also long to do something more in the organized church.  That’s why volunteering in the creche or even ushering has become so important to me.  It adds a bit more variety in my life  – though be careful with how much you are willing to take on.  If you’re already feeling burnt-out in your central ministry, you might want to scale back a bit rather than adding even more activities.
  • It means listening to yourself, to your body, and to God.  It’s learning how to say no, how to accept that you can’t do it all, how to relinquish control.  It’s not beating yourself up if you can’t (or simply don’t want to) do something.  It’s having the courage to ask for help when you are feeling overwhelmed.  It’s being able to embrace your limitations.

Sound like something you want to be part of, but don’t know where to start?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • April Yamasaki (one of my fellow MennoNerds) wrote a great book a few years ago on this very topic.  You can find her book “Sacred Pauses” here: https://www.amazon.ca/Sacred-Pauses-Spiritual-Practices-Personal/dp/0836196856.  She also does quite a bit of blogging on this topic at her personal blog: https://aprilyamasaki.com
  • Consider seeing a spiritual director.  I have seen a spiritual director on and off for a number of years now.  This can be a very helpful tool in allowing you time to pause, reflect, and think about your spiritual journey, your calling, and your priorities.  It is different than counselling in the sense that a spiritual director does not look to fix a specific problem, but to journey with you through life’s peaks and valleys.  It is probably more akin to spiritual life-coaching and can be valuable whether for a few sessions or on a more on-going basis
  • If you’re having a difficult time keeping Christ as your priority – spending time FOR Him instead of with HIM, consider asking a close friend or ministry colleague to keep you accountable.  When God sent me as a missionary to Scotland, I had a friend who held me accountable to read the Word 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.  I used to email her to let her know if I had done this and it really helped to keep me going on days when I was so stressed with work that I could easily have neglected it, had it not been for having to report to another person.  Soon it became a habit and so much a part of me that I was able to do it without sending her constant messages, but to get my feet off the ground and running it definitely helped for the first little bit. (NOTE OF WISDOM: If you miss a devotional time, don’t worry about letting your friend or even God down.  Don’t read the Bible for 2 hours just to make up for it.  We all make mistakes and we all get busy.  Brush yourself off, and start again.  Trying to “make up” time is likely just going to overwhelm you and make you resentful and you’ll be more likely to quit)
  • Finally here’s a blog I wrote a while ago that might be of benefit to you: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/5-prayer-practices-for-preoccupied-people/

Self-care can be a difficult skill to master and the journey can be quite demanding and challenging at times, but it is always so worth it.  When you feel good about yourself and your ministry, it will trickle down to all those you are serving and you will become a much more effective minister of the Gospel.  May God bless you, lead, guide, and direct you on this exhilarating mission!

Expecting Big Things From God (Mennocostal: IHOPKC Onething 2013 Series)

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The New Year just rolled in a week ago and already I am finding it hard to keep the resolutions that I have made.  It’s not like I made any goals which were beyond grasp.  Rather, I thought back to all that I had learned during my week at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City and from the sermons, worship, and personal prayer times gathered three items which I felt God impressing on my heart.  These items were: to do the night watch twice a week, to fast from all forms of social media once a week, and to read the Bible 15 minutes every day.  Yet, even though my heart remains willing, my flesh stays weak.  It is hard for me to have the same vibrancy in worship even though only a week ago I was on fire for Christ.  It is hard to not be surrounded by that same culture of prayer but to continue to be steadfast and secure in the Word.

Yet, as I was worshiping and reading the Scripture last night during my night watch, I realized that we can spend so much time making New Year’s Resolutions, and there is nothing wrong with that!  It honours God when we try to maintain our physical bodies in a way that edifies Him.[1]  He rejoices when we conquer temptations which once controlled us.  He loves it when we dedicate time to figuring out more of who He is.  He even loves it when we are willing to spend more time being better financial stewards.  But in the end of the day, it’s really not so much about our goals, it’s about what God’s dream for our life in 2014 is.  What His dream in our marriages and families is and what His dream in our church is.  It’s less about our will and desires and more about His mission for our lives.  When we offer up our lives and our churches as a prayerful offering to Him we are letting Him know of our desire to have Him build the house/ministry so that we don’t have to keep labouring in vain![2]      

Making 2014 a Year Covered in Prayer: Every great ministry begins and ends with prayer.  Every great ministry is surrounded by a group of people who support it through prayer and who offer encouragement to the intercessory missionaries who surround it.  It is through prayer that we are able to discern God’s will and direction for our personal lives and for our churches.  It is also through prayer that God gives us the grace to accept failure and to know when a certain ministry is to be completed.

How powerful it would be, how much change we would see – even mountains moving if EACH believer, each church, each community of faith, each ministry, gave even a dedicated small fraction of each day to Christ.  Even if they didn’t feel like it.  The prayers of the struggling and the cries of the doubting are often the most precious and meaningful to Christ.[3]  How great would it be even if we only started with one hour, even just 15 minutes a day.  We would see God accomplish great things.  We will see our attitudes change.  We would see the hearts of the nations be moved and stirred.[4]

It can become easy to be discouraged with the concept of prayer if you always think about prayer as being a prolonged time with Christ.  I want to say to you: God loves and needs BOTH the short and the long prayers.  He needs the breath prayers, because as one of my best friends says, “they make prayer as real as breathing”.  He also needs intercessors who will pray the night watch dedicating an entire working shift to the work of the Kingdom.

In the end of the day, it’s definitely more about the quality of time rather than the quantity.  One can sit with Christ for 3 hours accomplishing nothing and having no real and intimate expression of worship.  Likewise, in half an hour, someone can have gloriously divine fellowship with the Creator.  Yet, there is still something to be said of the immense effort and dedication of spending a significant block of time with Christ.  It calls for a challenging of former priorities and a shifting of what is truly important.  If you want to gain maturity in Christ, it will only happen through spending time with Him.  The more we get to know Him, the more we fall in love with Him.  The more our lives begin to reflect more of who He is in and through us.

The Bible tells us that if we have faith we will be able to see even mountains move.[5]  There can be a temptation to take this verse literally.  To literally believe that God will move physical objects.  I don’t doubt the power of Christ and the fact that He could devote His energy to that if He wished to.  Perhaps that truly is the case in some countries.  HOWEVER, in the North American context I have come to interpret this in a different light.  God promises that with faith, we can move mountains – insurmountable barriers and obstacles that others face.  Areas of our lives that we’ve tried to change and addictions we’ve tried to break, but can’t.  Moving those areas of oppression and bondage of habitual sin and unholy desires out of the way by the instruction of the Holy Spirit and through the power of the Love of Christ so that they (and we) can catch just a glimpse of Christ’s incredible mercy towards us!

THE LORD ACCOMPLISHED GREAT THINGS AT IHOP

Corporate Worship

One thing about IHOP that I just could never get out of my mind was the fact that over 30,000 young adults were joined together in one building all worshiping and praising the same Lord.  People often wonder where the young adults in the church are.  They believe that the institutional church is dying out.  Yet, when you see the size of a small city gathered together you are able to become encouraged!  You know that faith still abounds.  You know that God is not finished with this generation yet!

The Prophet Isaiah writes that in the last days, nations will STREAM to the house of the Lord, and yet we resist this.[6]  We are afraid to see it happening.  We hold it out at an arm’s length.  Sometimes when thousands are worshiping we label it as brainwashing.  Even a cult.  Why?  Didn’t Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Wesley and others witness thousands of salvations in a single week?  Did not the Holy Spirit use the ministry of John the Baptist and of the early church Apostles in the book of Acts to fill thousands with the Spirit?  Every day the Lord added to their number![7]  Why should that change?  Why are we afraid to enter that dance?  Why do we doubt the supernatural love of Christ that wants to see all people and all nations come to Him?  The love of the One who said that He is willing that none should perish, but wants everyone to experience an indwelling of His eternal Spirit?[8]

The young adults of this generation grew up in a “me-centered” culture which says that they are number one.  From a young age they are taught to get to the top at any cost.  They are taught that it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world.  Yet, here at IHOP, I saw 100 nations and over 30,000 young adults[9] willing to give up their vacations and school breaks to go to a church conference.  In an individualistic, entitled world, this is pure craziness!  Many people think the church is dying, but there are still thousands of faithful young men and women heading God’s call for real relationship on their life.  30,000+ people worshiping in Kansas City, MO.  The American Midwest.  What if movements of this magnitude sprung up everywhere?  If thousands of young adults and teenagers who love Jesus gathered weekly, even daily, to worship and pray all over the world?  What a movement would start!  How incredible the Holy Spirit’s outpouring would be on our generation!

A Personal God Even in the Midst of a Great Crowd

One thing I just could never get over during my time at IHOP was the sheer magnitude of the effect that this prayer movement has had on this global generation.  It’s super intense to think about how God greatly impacted these 30,000+ people.  We were all together to worship the same God, and yet God, because He is creative said 30,000 different things to us.  He inspired us in 30,000 different ways.  He gave us thousands of different callings.  But it’s all for the same God, for the same purpose, and for the same mission – the mission of bringing His reign to this earth!  30,000 different experiences and 30,000 separate spiritual encounters.  It’s just incredible how the Holy Spirit works.  How’s He can call so many people to the same mission in so many different contexts, cities, and nations, at the same time.  After experiencing such a thing there is no possible way I could continue to doubt Christ’s love for the church and His heart for this world! 

It is incredible beyond comprehension to think that Jesus knows every single person who attended this conference by Name![10]  He loves each one with an everlasting love.  He never gets tired of loving because He IS love.[11]  Not only does He know everyone’s name, but He knows everything about them.   He knows all of their ups and downs.  Their weaknesses and victories.  And He LOVES them even despite what they have gone through in their lives.  Even despite their vilest sins.  He has given each one a unique personality and unique abilities – no one can take their place.  He has placed each one on this earth at this time to impact this generation.[12]  In my lowly humanity I can’t even comprehend knowing 1,000 people or even 500 people to half of the extent that God knows each one of His children.  I can’t even imagine loving 100 people to half of the extent that God loves the one stray sinner who is lost in their world of grief.[13] 

On December 31st, 2013, all 30,000 of us ushered in the New Year and that was truly an incredible experience to be a part of.  So many people celebrate New Year’s in ways that don’t honour Christ.  Their celebrations include partying, drinking to heavy excess leading to drunken mobs, and strippers.  There are people who are flippantly make resolutions with no resolve to keep them, having change as the farthest idea from their mind.  Some entered the New Year feeling incredibly lost and confused.  Even hopeless.  Left out and abandoned.  2013 did not bring many good things to them – only high medical bills, loss of employment, or the death of a close relative or friend.  But here, at IHOP, over 30,000 young adults gathered in one place ushering in the New Year with an outpouring of tongues and cries of the Spirit.  Here 30,000 people sat and stood ministering to the Nations in incredible ways while the world moved on unrelentingly gratifying the flesh.  What a ministry!  Just like a Song of Song says, we are called out to be lilies among brambles![14]  And that’s exactly what we did that day as we sang and proclaimed the love of Christ over the Nation and over the world!

A Personal Understanding of Greatness in the Spirit

If IHOP taught me one thing, it’s that as long as you are open to the Holy Spirit He will heal, restore, and manifest Himself in miraculous ways.  The Holy Spirit manifests Himself to the extent that we allow Him to.  He accomplishes as much through us as we permit Him to.  If we don’t see evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it’s because we don’t expect greatness from Him.  We don’t have because we haven’t asked![15]*  Had we but simply have asked, we would see even greater things than these in our generation![16]  The Word tells us that God knows how to give good gifts to His children.[17]  These good gifts include intense manifestations of the Spirit, spiritual gifts, and blessings beyond comprehension.[18]

As Misty Edwards shared in one of her sermons, “lukewarmness is the greatest danger of our age.  It’s a subtle indifference in our churches even though we still use the language of Christ – it’s the exact opposite of the person of God.  We cannot survive lukewarm.”[19]  Misty encouraged us that with Christ we either go in the whole way or not at all.   Lukewarmness leads us to a certain numbness.  As Misty boldly proclaimed, “you cannot survive lukewarm!”

Although Misty had so many great applications to her message, I found the historical significance to be the most interesting.  As a student of Theology this kind of stuff just grabs my attention so quickly and I eat it up.  As Misty stated in no uncertain terms, this writing was to the church of Laodicea.  They were a church who had a great reputation for being on fire for the love of Christ.  So this message was not being written to the lost, the sinners, the pagans – it was being written to a core group of believers who had just experienced the revival of the early church![20]  Even though people all around them saw them as being zealous for Christ, God saw them as little more than rotten out corpses.  He used harsh language – He said they made Him SICK!  Have you ever thought of that before?  Being indifferent to the love of Christ and His reconciling mission to the world “makes God ill”.[21]  Watching the poor go to bed hungry and not caring makes God come down with flu-like symptoms (which is just a polite way of me saying… it makes God throw-up). [Hey, St. Paul used this kind of language himself often in the Scriptures].

Our nation has confused ideas about what real man-hood is.  They think that being a man is about being powerful, being mighty, and being able to have control.  They also have confused ideas about what true woman-hood is.  They think a woman’s identity is solely tied up in her beauty, her looks, and how much of a feminist she can become.  Do you want to know what true man-hood is?  It’s being able to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and keeping yourself pure in a world that tries to lure you in to sexual sin and temptation![22]  Do you want to know what being a true woman is?  It’s being able to have a quiet spirit![23]  It’s being able to have a good name and have inner beauty![24] 

You cannot be lukewarm and be a true man or a true woman after Christ!  If you want to be a man [woman] after God’s own heart, then you have to KNOW God fully.[25]  Just like He knows you fully.[26]

Our world often teaches us that we need to BEWARE OF EMOTIONALISM.  Yet, our emotions are so precious to God.  When we experience emotions we are alive.  Pouring out our hearts and crying out to the Father may be as far from my ESTJ personality as Kansas City is from Toronto, but still if I want to grow in my faith and mature in the way I view God, I can’t push it to the side.  Instead I must embrace it.

Our culture is obsessed with short-term success – but that glory and fame easily fades to God.  Banning Liebscher (member of Jesus Culture) preached a sermon to us about how LONGEVITY MATTERS TO GOD.[27]  He told us that when God first calls us it’s easy to get passionate.  Fired up.  But then it’s easy to forget about the love we first embraced the call with.  That’s lame man!  It’s like the immature boyfriend who gives you a ring then takes it back the very next day.  It’s like the person who looks in the mirror, fixes his hair, and fiddles with his tie then goes out and forgets what he looks like.[28]  He forgets if his eyes are blue or brown.  If his hair is black or blonde. God is calling us to more than that!  He’s the Lover who wants us to remain faithful to Him and His calling no matter how hard it gets.  No matter how steep the path is.  It’s easy to start.  It’s easy to catch the vision.  What’s hard is persevering.  What’s hard is “burning longterm”.[29] 

Let’s be honest.  No one cases how many Facebook friends you have.  How many blogs I’ve written.  In the end of the day, God’s not going to be like, “whoa!  You wrote a lot of books” or “you recorded a lot of albums!”  That isn’t success!  Success is hearing the phrase “well done, good and faithful servant.”[30]  Success is knowing your heart is so intertwined with God’s that it’s inseparable.  If you accomplish great things for God, which you will, if you reach the nations, which you will, if you acquire any measure of earthly success, which you will – it’s only because of Christ!  He uses you to the extent that you are willing to let Him use you!  It’s not about people remembering you – it’s about pointing people to remember Christ!

Success is an attitude of the heart.  It’s not about small or large scale projects.  Showing love to your family and closest friends is just as important to your success as a missionary as showing love to the world.  That’s why when we start ministering we need to begin by praying for revival within our own families, within our own marriages, within our own dating experiences, BEFORE we can even THINK about praying for revival in our nation and in our world! 

There was one day when I was in the prayer room at IHOP and God came to me and very clearly told me “read the Song of Solomon.”  I was like, “that’s random, God.  Are you sure?”  God’s like, “yeah”.  Then as soon as I start reading, the worship team begins singing the Song of Songs![31]  As soon as that happened I was just sitting back and thinking “whoa! This is a Word from the Lord!”  Then as I read the words to this ancient love song every verse comes alive, speaks to me, makes me lovesick for Him!

Do you want true success?  True success is when that happens not just once but more often than not.  When you and God become so tight that when people speak to you, you hear Christ in them.  When experiences happen to you, you see the finger of God in them.  When you read Scripture you feel like it’s personally edifying and speaking a word into your soul.  A word of encouragement you needed to hear which you can no longer ignore.  When that starts to happen, you know that you have become a successful person.  Even if people a world over still don’t know your name and even if your bank account hasn’t grown exponentially.  You are still a successful person in God’s eyes and in the end of the day that’s all that really matters.

A Final Word

Finally, I leave you with a final word of encouragement that I received from one of the teaching outlines in our conference handout book by IHOPKC leader, Stuart Greaves.  His teaching simply states, “there is coming the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29)[32] that will result in a unified and glorious end-time church (Ephesians 5:27)[33], the preaching of the Gospel with power to all of the nations (Matthew 24:14)[34], the greatest release of signs and wonders (John 14:21)[35], and the salvation of Israel (Isaiah 62:7[36]; Romans 11:26[37]).”[38]

If what you just read in Greaves’s quote makes you want to see this change come about in our world and in our nation all you got to do is simply trust God that it will happen.  When you love Christ and when you pour your whole heart and ministry into Him THEN you will see the King of Glory high and lifted up![39]


[3] From “Better than a Hallelujah” By: Amy Grant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm5kx3xqmg0

[9] These numbers do not even begin to include those tuning in to the conference via God T.V. and online webstreaming (bringing the numbers up by several more thousand)

[15] http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James%204:2-3&version=ESVUK (* If you think God isn’t doing great things in your life is it because He isn’t doing great things or because you aren’t ALLOWING or believing that He will do great things?)

[19] Sermon by Misty Edward at the OneThing IHOPKC Conference

[21] Illustration used in Misty Edward’s OneThing sermon

[27] Sermon by Banning Liebscher at IHOPKC Onething 2013 conference

[29] A phrase Banning used in his sermon

[31] One cool thing about IHOPKC is that they literally SING the words of Scripture.  They have the passage on the screen and accompany it line by line, word by word, to musical scores.

[38] “Standing in the Watches of the Night” outline to Stuart Greave’s sermon at IHOPKC OneThing 2013 conference, found on page 73 of the “2013 Teaching Notes” Handout Book

[39] From the song: Hosanna by Hillsong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgJYNlDhY-4