Someone You Can Trust!

Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill

In today’s age of information, we all want to know who we can trust to give us the best and most accurate wisdom. I use the Internet to search for different things every day: recipes for healthier food that I can eat without stomach issues (growing older is not fun…), to see what is going on in the world of news, and even to see what the popular opinion is about any topic that I am interested in. But who can we trust to give us sound wisdom? Who can we look to for wise guidance? Who has proven themselves over time to be solid, stable, and thoughtful? Of course we ought to all have our own direct connection with Jesus and not put too much faith in any person (because we are all fallible), but there is one Canadian theologian/writer that I have found to be a source of thought-provoking wisdom over the years, and I just discovered that he is now closer to home!

Who is this person that I am speaking of, you might ask? Well, his name is John Stackhouse Jr., and while I have never met him, I have read pieces of what he has written over the years. His background involves education in both Canada and the US in the disciplines of history and theology. He has recently occupied the role of professor of theology and culture at Regent College (succeeding J.I. Packer, for those of you who are familiar with that name) but what a surprise I discovered just today—recently he moved to Moncton, NB to take up the role of professor of religious studies at Crandall University! What a great asset this will be for theological education and leadership in the Maritime provinces of Canada.

What kind of wisdom can you expect from Stackhouse? Well, he writes a lot about the evangelical church in Canada, and so I first encountered his writings as a seminary student in a class called Evangelical Thought. However, the most influential book of his (that still occupies an important spot on the bookshelf in my office) has been his book on gender and its implications for service in Christian ministry. The book is called “Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender,” and I love the sub-title: Why both sides are right…and wrong. This has been the best book that I have read on this topic throughout my entire career as a seminary student and over 10 years in pastoral ministry. If you struggle with questions in this area, this book will be a great resource. Not only will this book provide you with wisdom from Stackhouse, the bibliography will lead you to other solid resources for deeper investigation.

Who have you found in your life to be a constant source of wisdom? Who do you trust with answers to tough questions? We must always have people who are ahead of us that can pass on their lessons, and we must always have people following us to whom we can pass on the very lessons we once received. Not only does this sound like a great communications and marketing strategy, it is also biblical! Imagine that. 🙂

Take a moment to think and perhaps share the name of the person that you can trust. Famous or not it does not matter, what matters is that we are both giving and receiving—moving waters rarely become stagnant.

One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. (Ps 145:4)

God’s Direction vs God’s Voice

Written by: Nathan Hill

Whenever people come to me confused about God’s will for their life, I usually begin the conversation the same way each time. You see, some of what God has planned for our lives is the same stuff he has planned for the life of any Christian, and we can discover these things in the Scriptures. Jesus commissioned all of us to go into the world and create disciples, baptising and teaching them (Matthew 28:19–20). God also wants us all to live lives of holiness (Psalm 102:2), and never lose sight of the immanent return of Christ in everything that we do (Matthew 25:13). These are just a few of the many things we can find in Scripture that ought to characterize our lives. I call these God’s directions.

When it comes to God’s voice, this is something entirely different. This is where the uniqueness of our gifts and the way we were created comes into play, and through hearing God’s voice we are able to become more completely in tune with who we are—professionals would call this self-actualization, although they would not always list God as the source of this. Discerning God’s voice is a little different than hearing God through Scripture—it takes a sustained relationship with God and input from the faith community to accurately discern God’s voice. Oh, and God’s voice will never contradict God’s direction in Scripture…and so to the couple I knew from years ago who wanted to divorce and take new spouses because God’s voice and direction was telling them to “do a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19)…you’ve mistaken God’s voice for a lie and completely misread God’s directions in Scripture. We know we have stumbled upon something great when we find a synthesis between God’s direction in Scripture, the prompting of God’s voice in our hearts, and the confirmation of these two things from trusted praying peers in the faith community.

Elijah was a prophet that was well-versed in God’s direction and God’s voice. 1 Kings 18 records the story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al—they each built an alter to their god and agreed that the god who responded with fire and consumed the sacrifice was the one true God. If you have not read this story, beware of the forthcoming spoiler alert—Ba’al did not answer, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did. This is a wonderful demonstration of God’s sovereign power, and I have often felt envious of Elijah, wishing that I would some day have the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of God in a powerful setting of unbelievers.

I was reminded of something, however, when I recently read the Elijah story in 1 Kings. This showdown was not orchestrated by the genius of Elijah alone—rather, Elijah was responding to the voice of God directing him. God instructed Elijah to engage the prophets of Ba’al in this very way. This is important because when we want to take bold steps of faith and do things for God, we ought to make sure that we are hearing a combination of God’s direction and God’s voice. At times this will be easily discernable, but at other times we will need our faithful prayer peers it the faith to weigh in with their discernment as well. This is somewhat refreshing, as it simplifies our life—we just need to follow God’s voice.

Still, if we were called to do something in our world today like Elijah did with the prophets of Ba’al, we might find that obedience is more than just a simple matter.

A Partner for Life

Written by: Nathan Hill

…and the two shall become one flesh. This is a statement from Scripture that we read so often at wedding ceremonies and refer to often when we speak of married couples. Rightly so, since it finds itself penned by three different biblical authors in both testaments and across several genres of writing.

Obviously this cannot be a literal joining of flesh. When I get up and go to work in the morning and my wife stays at home with our children there is not some super elastic flesh that stretches the divide between my office and my house. Rather, this combining must be something less tangible, something more fundamental, something perhaps soulish or spiritual.

Life seems to have greater depth and meaning when two people share it together. A partner for life is not just someone who endures you forever. Rather, a partner for life is someone to share our daily activities with so that we can experience what John calls abundant life.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (‭John‬ ‭10‬:‭10‬ ESV)

In my life I have been blessed with a partner to share my life’s journey with. Our family’s call to ministry took place about the same time that we began to move our friendship towards marriage. Since then our lives have taken many twists and turns; however, we have remained of one mind and one flesh with respect to our call to ministry. Although my wife has pursued her own education and her own aspirations, our life’s primary focus has been shaped by God’s call. Even though I am the one with the title and the salary, there are many ways that my wife has shared discernment in difficult situations and has contributed her talents to the work that we share.

No matter what your life’s calling is, pursuing it together as one flesh with your partner for life will be more fulfilling and meaningful than pursuing it on your own. There is still room for individual pursuits and interests but the overall focus of your life needs to be in focus with one another.

Don’t just take my word for it, check it out for yourself! …and the two shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:8, Ephesians 5:31).

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☺.