Spirit of Fear

Written By: Nathan Hill

Are you afraid of something? You probably are; or at least you should be. If you say you are not afraid you are probably lying. Everyone is afraid of something.

For me, I am not the biggest fan of flying in an airplane. You can ask my wife what it is like…I get antsy, sweaty, thirsty, cold, cranky, hot…and that is while we are sitting at the gate. Once we take off my fear subsides a little and I settle back into my semi-comfortable chair (Air Canada really does have the most comfortable chairs!) and I wait until we can land. If we happen to hit turbulence I tend to get a little excited all over again.

Does fear control me sometimes…maybe. Should I allow it to…probably not, since my faith in God tells me that he has not given me a spirit of fear (or timidity if you use the NIV) but a spirit of love, peace and of a sound mind. That is easier said than experienced however.

In the book of Matthew Jesus preached what has become known of as the “Sermon on the Mount”. In the middle of this sermon he reminds the listeners that we need not worry about anything; today, tomorrow, our clothes, our food, our life, our future. The rationale is this: we see how the birds of the air and animals on the ground have their needs cared for; how much more will God care for our needs then? Instead of worrying or being fearful we ought to simply “seek first the kingdom of God”. We ought to have the confidence that what we do not see is still yet able to become reality. We need to realize that God our creator does love us more than we can imagine and is walking right there beside us during our fears.

Some fears are huge and some are small. Some fears are more difficult to overcome than others. Sometimes we allow fear to control our lives…and other times we realize that we can overcome not by our strength alone but with the strength of God within us.

If fear is controlling you to the point of anxiety and/or panic it has gone too far. Talk to people you trust and start the journey back to peace and joy.

Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”

Bygones be Bygones

Written by: Nathan Hill

As I was reading chapter 10 of “Keep It Shut” this week, I was drawn to one of the nine tips that Karen Ehman shared for keeping our words productive. This tip was “don’t get historical.” In fact, when I first read this phrase I thought it said, “don’t get hysterical.” I thought that was solid advice—no one really ever has anything great to say when they are hysterical. Then, I read it again and realized what it really said—don’t bring up history when having a discussion, especially in conflict.

I am the kind of person who likes to focus on the moment at hand and the days and weeks and months that are ahead. I rarely enjoy looking back, especially at moments that were less than stellar. My thought is just let bygones be bygones and plan for a better today. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen that love does not keep a record of wrongs—love does not get historical. We often read that passage in Corinthians in the context of romantic love (i.e., it is read at every other wedding I am at). However, the word used in this passage is more general and applies to the love that Christ has for us and that we should have for each other.

Don’t get historical.

When there are things that are bygones, let them remain as that. What is a bygone you might ask? Things that you have already discussed, things where there has already been an understanding established, things that have been dealt with already, things that have no more words necessary—these are bygones. And so, if you want to have a productive conversation that moves you and the other person forward in positive ways, do not dwell on bygones.

There may be some historical things that you want to bring up. This might seem like a contradiction, but bear with me. Sometimes there may be difficult things that are historical where words have not been shared. Perhaps you have not discussed this, perhaps there is no understanding, perhaps it has not been dealt with, and perhaps words are necessary. In this case, follow all the other guidelines—choose your timing, believe the best, temper your tone, and trade places…imagine how you would feel on the other end.

Once you have the historical conversation and reach a settlement, file the conversation under bygones. Let bygones be bygones.

Today and tomorrow will have enough troubles to talk about. Keep a short account, deal with the past quickly, and then let bygones be bygones.

Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Ephesians 4:26 “…do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”

Chapter FOUR: Prayer Requests and the News Feed

Written by: Nathan Hill

Have you ever taken a look at the prayer bulletin at your church? I am not sure if your church still does this, but many churches will have a comprehensive list of all the prayer needs associated with church members and adherents printed in their bulletin each week. The idea behind this is to help the congregation know how to pray for each other and to help the prayer team and prayer meetings to be more focused.

I wonder, however, if anything would change if we called this list the weekly news feed instead of the prayer bulletin? If you have an account with Facebook—almost 2 billion people do—you will be familiar with the concept of the news feed. Each time when you log on to Facebook, you get to see a detailed list of everything that your friends have posted throughout the day. And, by some complicated algorithm, Facebook just seems to know what content will draw you in the most. For many people, even people savvy with the Internet and their time, the Facebook news feed can draw them in and keep them captive for far longer than they realize.

My point is this—does the prayer bulletin function as an information update on everyone’s lives that will then pass through the daily conversations of many people, or does the prayer bulletin function as a tool with which we actually sit down and pray? I’ve noticed that prayer bulletins are usually vague and centre around requests for healing from physical conditions. Rarely would I read, “Mr. and Mrs. B request prayer for their marriage” or “Mr. M requests prayer for his struggles with pornography.” These are valid prayer requests, but we would rarely see them in a prayer bulletin. I understand the desire for privacy, but I also wonder if this is because the prayer bulletin might function more as an information update and weekly conversation tool than an actual prayer tool.

Karen Ehman encourages us this week to zip it and pray—talk with God before others. That may be easier said than done. Some of us like to share other people’s news under the guise of a “prayer request” because this helps them to feel justified in sharing the information. Be careful about this:

Proverbs 10:19 “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”

Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” Daniel was a man of prayer, and we see in his life that he was able to maintain a strict diet and religious routine even while living in a foreign country. Moreover, he had the peace about him that God would deliver him from all adversity…and even if God did not, he would not relinquish his faith.

There is a place for talking with others—the Christian life was not meant to be lived alone. But here is something wise that I often share with my children when they are prone to tattling: Tell me about you, not about someone else. I challenge you to share your deepest prayer requests with others before you share news about other people—I bet this will help you to zip it and pray more often.

Everyday Faith

Written by: Nathan Hill

I am sure that you find there are many voices attempting to grab your attention on a daily basis. In my life there are dozens and dozens of voices demanding my attention from the very moment I wake up in the morning—my wife, my kids, my email, people at the church, ministries I have been involved with, letters promoting the next greatest thing, my alma mater wanting more money (haven’t they received enough from my tuition!), and many others.

Therefore, I have to admit that many times I toss lots of email and snail mail without even giving it a second thought. However, there was one letter from my denomination’s International Office that caught my attention a few years ago and it has remained with me ever since. This letter was describing a new campaign that has been operating silently in the background—as it should—but holds the keys to the spiritual vitality of every Christian person.

This campaign is called “Everyday Faith” and it challenges Christians to incorporate four small practices into their routines every day in order to achieve huge results.

Here they are:

Read Every Day: We have a crisis of biblical literacy in our culture today—in our church culture I mean! What is even more puzzling for me is people who say they do not read anything at all, least of all the Bible. I know that our culture is bombarded with multi-media images and sounds and motion pictures—but we still need to read. There is a component of our consciousness that only comes alive as we process the words on a page. There is an art form of communication that only comes alive in our lives as we expose ourselves to the writing of others. So, we need to read—and we need to read the Bible. No matter how little, read the Bible every day.

Pray Every Day: This should be fairly easy because prayer is like a portable power pack, and today we like things that are portable. More then just praying on the fly, we ought to set aside even 5 minutes of God time each day to pray. It cannot be that difficult, can it? I tell the students I minister to that if nothing else take a 5-minute bathroom break in the middle of a dry class and pray while on the toilet.

Give Every Day: Be generous. Fill another’s bucket. Give away blessings to people. Buy something for someone else. Instead of looking for more of what we have, share what we have with others and reap the blessing of it coming back to us pressed down and running over. It works—but that is another blog post.

Share Every Day: Has God so impacted your life that you talk about him regularly with the people around you? I know its easy for me to talk about God at work because I work at a church. I get that—which is what makes this challenge more challenging for me than you! Start easy with softballs, telling people you will pray, or thanking God for your lunch before you eat. Share what God is doing in your life with other people—every day.

I am glad I opened that envelope that day. What I’m even more glad about is that this was not just a one-off idea—it is still running in the background and will hopefully continue to shape the way the ministers in my denomination disciple their churches.

Live your faith every day.

The Art of Doing Nothing

Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill

My wife has a new favourite saying, and it goes like this: “Not my zoo, not my monkeys.” She uses this phrase as a way to say that she is not planning to meddle with things that are none of her business, and that is sound wisdom. I have often told young pastors that I work with to pick their battles wisely, and only fight the ones they know they can win or are prepared to die for. I think everyone knows someone who has a tendency to stick their nose into everything—and I think we all find that equally annoying.

There are times, however, when it is our zoo, they are our monkeys, and it is a battle that we should die for. In these cases, the art of doing nothing is neither wise nor expedient. Rather, it is destructive and foolhardy.

The book of 2 Kings, chapter 15, records the story of Azariah, King of Israel. As king, it was his responsibility to ensure that Israel was well-managed in terms of resources, defense, and religious practices, just to name a few. We learn here that Azariah was a godly man—“he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”—yet he did not remove the “high places.” These “high places” were pagan alters where Israelites would offer worship and prayers to gods other than Yahweh as well as engage in sexually immoral behaviour. Although Azariah himself was not involved in these practices, because he was a godly man, members of the nation of Israel that were under his reign continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense on these pagan altars.

They very next thing we learn about Azariah is that the Lord afflicted him with leprosy until the day he died, and because of this his son Jotham had charge or the palace and governed the people of the land. The text does not explicitly say “because Azariah did not remove the high places, the Lord afflicted him with leprosy,” yet the implication is there and I believe it is a responsible interpretation of what happened. Though Azariah was a godly man, his lack of action in areas under his influence and responsibility caused him to be set aside (by illness in this case) and another person was given charge of Azariah’s kingdom.

The wisdom of Solomon from Ecclesiastes is pertinent here: there is a season for all things under the sun. There is a season to be quiet (i.e., when it really is none of our business), yet there is also a season to speak and act (i.e., when we have been given the authority to do so, or we are prompted by God to respectfully offer a new perspective on things).

Ultimately, the changing of hearts is the business of God by his Holy Spirit, and so we have dispensed our role once we speak or act, regardless if the words or the actions are taken seriously. When we act responsibility within our channels of authority and influence, or when we respectfully offer a new perspective when prompted by God, there should be very little room for offense (at least directed at us and the way we handled the situation), and we should have no need to become defensive of our stance if we are truly hearing the voice of God. Our role is simply to make the change, share the perspective, and then live the change with integrity.

The rest is up to the Holy Spirit—and that is really quite a relief, don’t you think?

Don’t Give Me Grief

Written By: Nathan Hill

There is a scene in the movie “Contagion” where Matt Damon looses his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) to the deadly contagious disease that eventually infected 1 in 12 people across the world. The doctor is explaining to Damon that his wife has just died; they did all they could to save her but her heart just could not keep up with the virus that was racing throughout her body. Daemon’s repose to all of this was: “…when can I go talk to her?”.

While this may have been a source of comic relief in a film that had some intense moments, this was also quite an accurate portrayal of the emotions that many people feel when they are grieving. Denial is common; so is anger, and Damon exhibited that emotion as well not too long after his somewhat ridiculous request to speak with his dead wife. In fact, those who study human behavior have stated that denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance are all ways that we as humans respond to grief.

A while ago, our junior high students explored the friendship between Jonathan and David from the book of 1 Samuel in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jonathan’s father (King Saul) was opposed to this friendship for a variety of reasons and eventually caused the friendship to be completely severed…or else he was going to kill David. Jonathan and David expressed some of the classic behaviors of grief as they journeyed though this difficult time. As time passed and Jonathan realized that it would not be safe for David to return to their land, he discreetly sent a message to David telling him to leave forever. The two friends hugged, cried and then eventually accepted the reality of the situation and departed; each in their own direction. Much later on, when messengers came to tell David that Jonathan and his father Saul had been killed in battle, David asked, “How do you know?” Once David realized that he could not deny his friend’s death any longer he became angry and killed the messenger that brought the bad news…(ever hear the expression, “don’t kill the messenger”?)

There are a variety of emotions that will accompany grief, especially if you are experiencing a significant loss in your life for the first time. Many of these emotions are normal for a season of time and when kept in proportion to the loss experienced. (In your anger it is never right to kill or injure…David was not acting as a great example of faith in this example).

The most important thing to realize with grief is that you can express these things that you are feeling and that they will pass once you are able to accept the loss. Everyone grieves at a different rate but you can hold onto the truth that you will emerge on the other side with the help of God and the help of your friends. If you are grieving right now there is no need to grieve alone; speak with your friends, pastor or a trusted counsellor.

Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Hebrews 4:15 “This High Priest of ours (Jesus) understands our weakness, for he faced all the same testing we do, yet he did not sin.”

Church Leaders are not Experts in Everything

Written by: Nathan Hill

Having been a pastor for over a decade, I have experienced my fair share of odd requests for guidance from families and individuals. In fact, you might be surprised at some of the things I have been asked. It is as though people expect that by virtue of being a pastor I have insider knowledge on divorce law/lawyers, the ethics of reproductive technology, parenting kids, parenting teenagers, marriage counselling, handling conflict with in-laws, how to invest money, what school options are best (i.e., private, home schooling, public)…and so many other things.

Oddly enough, my seminary training involved biblical studies, Greek, preaching and communication, theology, spiritual disciplines, music, pastoral visitation, and just enough counselling and family therapy to know when I am in over my head. That’s all she wrote folks! And, truth be told, pastors should not be experts in all of the other areas (and neither should they pretend to be!), and congregants should not expect that their pastors are expert in anything other than what they have been called to do: preach the bible and provide practical wisdom for life from a biblical worldview.

So, if you were to ask me about divorce, I would open the Scriptures and direct you to Matthew 5:32 & 19:9 as well as 1 Corinthians 7. If you were to ask about reproductive technology, I would remind you of the inherent value in all of human life and that we are known and identified by God as persons even in the womb (Psalm 139:16, Jeremiah 1:5). If you ask me how to handle conflict, I’d direct you to Matthew 18. If you ask about parenting, I’d remind you that God is quick to love, slow to anger. Jesus was firm on his kingdom principles, but loved people despite their actions. He pointed people in the right direction, saying go and sin no more. Even those who were to backstab him were still permitted a place around his table during meals. He never turned his back, offered lots of consistent correctives, and at the end of the day some of his closest people walked away from him—which was their choice and not a failure on Jesus’ part.

Basically, we point you to Jesus. That’s all we’ve got, and scripture tells us that is actually enough. Please do not expect us to be scientists, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers, human resources consultants, business-minded entrepreneurs, or professional counsellors—some of us have training in some of those areas, but we are not experts because our professional practice is pastoring and that is primarily what you will get. And when we pretend to know more than we really do…just smile, graciously thank us, and ask us to pray for you. That should help get us back on track☺.

Balance vs. Rhythm

Written by: Nathan Hill

There seems to be a new buzzword finding its way into the conversations of young families these days (and older families too I am sure): balance. Life is busy, but we must achieve a perfect balance of all activities—work, kids, marriage, faith, recreation—in order to reap the maximum benefit from life and to live in the most holistic and healthy way. And so we set off to create the perfect schedule for life that has slots for everything that we need to do. Personally, I love this planning process—spreadsheets, numbers, organization, they are my thing. It’s the implementation of that process that gets a little murky in my life.

You see, the enemy of balance is those pesky little things that do not have a finite category but still take up time in our lives. The computer crashes during the very hour that I have scheduled to do the family finances—I get the computer working again but then I have to rob time from TV night with Mandy to do what I was supposed to do earlier. Or, our son gets sick and throws up all over me and our bed in the middle of the night, and so my plan to get up at 5AM to go for a jog is thwarted because I was up from 2AM–3AM cleaning barf out of my hair, his hair, his bed, my bed…and so on. Maybe I’m extra tired, maybe I have a headache, maybe I just want to sit down and do nothing, maybe I had to work late, maybe I got a flat tire—these things really mess with my perfectly balanced schedule and sometimes throw things into a real tailspin.

The antidote to all of this is to build more time slots into the balanced schedule of life that will accommodate these sporadic events. Yet, once I do this, my attempt to live a simple balanced life becomes really really complicated.

I have been reading a book for the past two years by Mark Buchanan (a Canadian pastor from the West Coast) called Spiritual Rhythm. I have been reading it for two years because I want to soak up everything it says, and so I have seasons and spurts where I read and seasons and spurts where I reflect on what I have read. If you have been shaking your head in agreement with anything I have written here so far, you’re gonna love this—Mark Buchanan encourages us to avoid balance and embrace rhythm. Life is always going to be tilted in one direction or another, toward one thing or another, and so its insane to fight the tilt and attempt to restore balance. Rather, a better way to live is to lean into the tilt and find out where the tilt intersects with what the kingdom of God is doing in your life at the moment.

Sounds inspiring, right? But what does it mean in practical terms! What in your life seems to be demanding the most time at the present moment? Is it your marriage, your kids, your job, your church, your health, your finances…the list could go on. Whatever it is, lean into it and find out what God is trying to do in you and through you in this tilt. Rest assured that the tilt will change as sure as the seasons change, and something else that life throws your way will make you tilt in a new direction before long.

I cannot say that I have this all figured out, but this message seems to resonate with me. I’ve always been a little inconsistent with things in life. I have a tendency to run with motivation when it is there in the moment and to become excited about a new path or activity when it presents itself. While there are things that cannot afford significant inconsistency (like paying bills or telling your wife you love her) I think that Mark Buchanan is really on to something here. Recently I have been thinking more about the rhythm of the season than the balance of my entire life. And so, I would encourage you all to do the same and see if this help you escape the untenable trap of constantly seeking that perfect, elusive balanced life.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Late for Church!

Written by: Nathan Hill

My wife’s family has a tradition of showing up on time everywhere they go. I soon discovered, however, that their definition of on time and my definition of on time included slight discrepancies—about 30 minutes to be exact☺. My wife’s family considers themselves late if they have not arrived at least 15 minutes before the scheduled appointment or start time. Prior to marrying into this family, I would define on time as showing up at some point near the scheduled time, and fashionably late was just fine as well. Late, however, is a four-letter word in my wife’s family that is right up there with…well, the editorial team will not allow those other four-letter words to be published here.

So, accommodating to this new standard of time keeping has been somewhat of a challenge for me. Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where my wife and I are flying somewhere and the flight leaves at 10AM. As a 10AM flight is certainly not red eye, I would assume that we could sleep in and arrive at the airport at a civilized hour. Wrong. Let’s do the math backwards together. We must arrive at the airport two hours early, which means that we should aim to be there around 7:45AM. Therefore, accounting for traffic, weather, and the potential for terrorism we should leave home around 6:45AM. This also means that we should be loading the cars by 6:30AM, which means that breakfast is scheduled for 5:30AM and the bathroom schedule begins at 4:30AM with a 15-minute rotation. Next time we’ll take the evening flight so that we can at least sleep in until 8AM or so.

Now, in all seriousness, there are some great lessons that one can learn from this principle of always being on time—or always being 15 minutes ahead of schedule—and despite how it has cut into my sleep habits I am grateful that after 13 years I am finally catching on. This principle of always being 15 minutes early proves quite a practical thing when it come to the way that we interact with our local church. I have a unique perspective of time at my local church because I am on the platform twice each month leading the worship gathering. Therefore, I get to see who is early at church, who is there at start time, and who arrives near the end of the music. Arriving at the start time or even into the worship gathering means that you have missed potentially encouraging and vital interactions with the church family. The unfortunate habit of being last in and first out means that you do not get to know others, and they do not get to know you either. This is a loss for both you and the church.

Imagine you were invited out to someone’s home for dinner and they said the food would be served at 5PM but you can arrive early to visit. What time would you arrive at their house? 5:15PM? (I apologize if I have ever done that before!) It would be much better to arrive at 4PM so that you can visit and enjoy each other’s company. So, lets try to apply this principle to our church attendance. Try arriving at your local church at least 15 minutes before the start time each Sunday this summer and experience what it is like to know others and to be known. I trust that this will be a beneficial experience for you.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Greater Things

Written by: Nathan Hill

Have you ever wanted to do greater things than you are currently doing? Maybe you wanted to have a larger audience for your writing, a better showcase for your artistry, a more exciting career that used all your hidden talents, more elaborate adventures, more mastery of the supposedly simple things like being married and raising kids. In the church context—especially in Pentecostal/charismatic contexts—we can hear lots about doing greater things. Greater depth with Christ, greater clarity of direction, greater effects from our prayers, greater.

I believe Paul when he says that God has given the church gifts, and we are to use these gifts to edify or build up the body. This is important but not the whole picture of what God wants us to be doing—and I discovered this when preparing a message several years ago on the famous but often misunderstood passage from John 14:12: “…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…”

As any good teacher of Scripture knows, it is important to establish the context for any passage that you read. In this section of John’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they will do the works be has been doing, and they will do greater works. So, the first order of business is to determine what works Jesus was doing—we assume they were the miracles because our 21st century mindset equates “greater things” with “miracles,” especially when we are talking about Jesus. Flip back to John 13, however, and read about the works that Jesus was doing right before he said this to the disciples—this totally changed the point of my message that day.

John 13 is the story of the last supper…Jesus washed Peter’s feet…Jesus broke bread as a symbol of his soon-to-be-broken body…Jesus shared wine as a symbol of his soon-to-be-shed blood. What a letdown this was, to think that the greater things Jesus was talking about were not miracles at all, but instead acts of humility. Really? Then again, when asked about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, what did Jesus say? Oh right, the one who is the least. Again, nothing about miracles. Rats.

The prophet Micah touches on this idea of humility as well—“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

I still firmly believe that God does and can work miracles through you and me. His word confirms it and our present experience of miracles affirms it. But, miracles are things that God does of his own sovereign will to display his greatness. We do not own miracles, we do not create miracles, and we cannot replicate miracles. We should expect, anticipate, and even pray for God to move miraculously. However, what can we do that depends on us to achieve greatness and live the kind of life that says to God we are ready for him to move through us?

You guessed it. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. This is the stuff of greater things.