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I was watching the newly released movie “Contagion” this past weekend with my wife, two of our friends and a couple of dogs…why am I telling you this? There was a scene in the movie where Matt Daemon 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 Daemon 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 Daemon exhibited that 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.

At Monkey Barrel last week the 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 express some of the classic behaviors of grief as they journey 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 a teenager and 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, youth leaders, parents or others that you trust.

 

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.”

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In the spirit of Valentine’s week we of course talked about love and dating that Emergency Ministries. While the younger students focused more on loving one another as Christ would have us love, we dove into relationships with the older students.

Inspired by a book written by Kris Vallotton entitled “Purity”, the main challenge of the night was this: anyone can get sometime expensive, but it takes sacrifice to get something valuable. To put it more poignantly, anyone can have sex, but it takes sacrifice (and many other things) to experience love and a healthy relationship.

Think of it this way: if I REALLY REALLY wanted an iPad, I could just save up and buy one. Now, I do really want an iPad…but just not bad enough to bump my other priorities. So, in essence, I am sacrificing my iPad to attain other things more valuable (like a new house for my growing familyJ).

When a sports team fights their way to the finale and eventually earn the title of champion it is not really the trophy that they are after, is it? I was informed this week by a student that the Vince Lombardi Trophy is actually made of platinum whereas the Stanley Cup is only made of silver; even still I doubt the excitement over the Super Bowl is all about platinum versus sterling silver. Instead, a sports team is fighting for the right to say that they had worked hard, achieved their best, beat their enemies and emerged on the top. That is valuable to them; and it took sacrifice to earn it.

Anyone can get something expensive, but it takes sacrifice to get something valuable.

I gave the students several challenges this Valentine’s week 2012. The first was that they would beat the odds of our culture and achieve relationships that last. I challenged them not to give into immediate satisfaction of their emotional desires but instead to sacrifice that in pursuit of ultimate love. I challenged them to define love less as a feeling in their stomach and more as a decision to make with their heads.

I reminded the students that everyone drops their trophy sometimes; everyone makes mistakes. It takes bravery to pick the trophy back up, dust it off, and carry on in the direction that God has intended for us. If it was easy everyone would do it…but because it takes sacrifice only the brave step up. In the end, however, it is worth it because….anyone can get something expensive, but it takes sacrifice to get something valuable.

 

Song of Songs 2:7 “…Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

 

Are you afraid? 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 is 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.”

This week at Monkey Barrel and Emergency Ministries we discussed two separate topics: Monkey Barrel students explored fear and Emergency Ministries students explored depression. I will tell you a little about our depression talk in this blog post and next week I will write about our fear talk.

The slogan of the talk was this: depression…it does happen. I was at a meeting of the board of our local Youth Centre just this past week and heard a young lady talk about her experience of teen depression when she was in grade 8. What she said went something like this (I’ll paraphrase):

I don’t know why I started feeling that way. I was not a high-risk teen and my family did not display terrible dysfunction as you might expect of teens with depression. It just happened.

Thankfully this young lady was able to find the support she needed from our local Youth Centre. With this talk my aim was to instill hope in the students present that they and their friends can get through prolonged periods of depression and they can always talk to trusted people in their lives about this.

The reality of the situation is that we all get sad sometimes. There are things that get us down. Most times these feelings go away; however, sometimes we begin to think that we deserve to be sad because of some terrible thing that we have done. Sometimes we believe that the situations will never change. Sometimes we put our head down and stop looking around at all the beauty of life around us. When it gets to this point we likely need help finding our way back.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells a story about a tower that fell on 18 people and killed them. The question Jesus asks is whether these 18 people in the wrong place at the wrong time somehow deserved to be there. Were they bad people? Is this why they died? Was it Karma? The answer Jesus gave was a resounding “NO”.

Bad stuff happens and that is just a part of life. The law of Karma states that what comes around goes around; if you dish out something bad you cannot escape the bad that will come back to you. The reality is that if you are a thief you will likely go to jail and if you are a jerk you will likely have no friends.

Even though we joke about Karma all that time…this is NOT some natural law of the universe. What comes around does not always have to go around; Jesus came to the world to break the cycle of sin, death and destruction. The Apostle Paul reminds us in his book to the Romans that “…the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Moreover, the Gospel writer John said, “…the thief comes to steal, to kill and to destroy. Jesus comes to give abundant life!”.

Jesus gives hope that tomorrow can be better than today….no matter how bad today was and no matter how many mistakes we made today. Jesus asks us to lift up our heads and look at all the wonderful beauty of life around us. There is more to life then things that bring us down. Once we break free from cultural misinformation like the supposed law of Karma and the message that for some people things can never change we can begin the journey back from a life of depression.

If you have felt sad, down, or blue for several weeks and nothing seems to bring you out of this you might be stuck. Faith in Jesus can help bring you back…and Jesus often times uses people to bring his hope. Talk with your youth leaders, youth pastor, school councilor or other trusted people and start the journey back!

 

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.  (Psalm 31:5-6)

 

NOTE: Wednesday February 8th 2012 is national “Let’s Talk” day about depression and other mental illness. On this day numerous high profile individuals will open up about their battle with depression.

 

Make sure you talk that day as well.

This past week at Emergency Ministries and Monkey Barrel we talked about how to handle…anger. When channeled properly anger can motivate us to cure injustice and accomplish great things. When left to its own devices anger can tear us apart from the inside out. That is the difference between controlled anger and controlling anger.

There is a story in the Bible that goes something like this…

Once upon a time there was a guy named David. He and his men were out working and they ran out of food and provisions. So…they sent some people to ask a friendly neighbor if he could provide them with what they needed. The friendly neighbor turned out not to be so friendly after all. Nabal turned away the messengers and sent them back empty handed.

David was angry…and he decided to kill Nabal and all of his family. Not the best course of action but that is what he decided to do. Abagain was Nabal’s wife and she was a little more generous than her husband. Although she was angry that her husband was bringing David’s anger upon their family she decided not to take it out on her husband but rather to make the situation right. She loaded provisions on her donkey and rode them out to meet David…while he was on the war to murder her family.

David received Abagail and her provisions with happiness; his anger was subsided. Thanks to God, said David, his anger would not longer cause him to murder an entire family.

The moral of the story is this: Abagail controlled her anger, David allowed his anger to control him. Abagail did what was best with her anger, David was on the verge of murder.

There are going to be many things that anger you throughout your life. Anger is not a sin but rather it is a natural reaction to situations that are not pleasing to us. The way he handle anger is where the problems lie. Anger that controls you grows inside of you like mold on last week’s lunch leftovers. It spreads to other areas of your life and makes you angry at those things too. Though your anger might start with a teacher is can end with you angry at friends, school, studying, exams…all the way to the crossing guard on the way home.

Control you anger… “…in your anger do not sin”. If you find yourself in an angry situation take a moment to read what the book of Proverbs says about anger and then, like David, allow God to redirect your anger in a positive direction.

 

A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted (Prov. 12:16)

Happy New Year! It has been a while since I have posted…however, Emergency Ministries and Monkey Barrel are now back up and running!

In true New Year’s fashion I shared with the students several New Year’s Resolutions that I have concerning our youth ministries. I know that many times such resolution are just a verbal attempt to make a positive change and tend to last about as long candy at Christmas; however, my hope is that these resolutions will define our ministry efforts well into 2012

Here are my resolutions:

1. We will get to know each other’s stories.

Too many times we life we ‘know’ people simply as a name, a face, a co-worker, a barber, a bank teller…but do we really know them? Do we know their greatest fears in life? Do we know what is going on in their heart and head? Would you be on the list of people they would celebrate the joys of life with or share devastation with? If not you probably do not know their story.

The book of Revelation 12:11 gives us a glimpse at the power of someone’s story. Read it, you’ll see. When we get to know each other’s stories – the deepest parts of our heart – then we will really get down to ministry as God uses us to encourage and to be encouraged.

2. Take our knowledge of God and turn it into action.

There is much that can be known about God and faith…we also know that too much fast food is not good for our bodies. However, if we do nothing with this knowledge we are no better off (or worse!). The Bible states that when we come to Christ we become a new creation; the old is gone and the new is here! We are changed, washed, renewed…that sort of thing! In 2012 I want the students of Emergency Ministries and Monkey Barrel to raise the bar and turn their faith into action! If you’re not convinced then just read James 2.

3. Hear from God.

Finally, in 2012 I want students to take a proactive approach in hearing from God. Yes, I want them to pray. I want to them to pray at home. I want them to pray at school. I want them to pray when they are walking to and from class. I want them to hear from God themselves. It can be tempting to let the pastors and leaders do the praying and the spiritual stuff on your behalf. Many people in our culture allow the religious professionals to take care of spiritual things and only visit once a week for a light snack. This is not what I want our students to do in 2012!

Now that we know what I want we need to know how…and I have some ideas about how we are going to make this work. But that is another blog post; looks like I’m off to a great start in 2012!

Would you believe in an addictions councilor who was arrested for drug trafficking? Would you believe in a marriage councilor who was getting divorced? Would you believe in a fireman whose house burned down or farmer who never harvested a crop?

Would you believe in a God who does not always do what you would expect him to do? Would you believe in a God who allows some people to choose eternal separation and torment (i.e. hell)?

Would you believe in a God who created some people destined for destruction…all so that he could demonstrate to you and I the blessing of a relationship with him and the peril of lacking that relationship? The apostle Paul asks this question of the church in Rome.

This line of questioning has become quite popular these days especially within the writing of Rob Bell and others and I think that it is having a damaging and confusing impact on our faith. These questions play on our natural sense of morality as they cause us to question what WE think is good and loving…which leads us into dangerous grounds.

I once thought that our natural sense of morality was evidence of God’s fingerprints on our lives. I think we can all agree that things like violence toward children is one of the most depraved things a human being could engage in…God would agree. But I now see how cursed even this seemingly good moral sense is for it tricks us into being sympathetic for the things that WE deem moral with no regard for whether God has said it is moral or not.

I dare say there are many in the church today, even good God fearing people, that when pressed on some areas of morality in our society today would find it very conflicting in their spirit to uphold God’s morality when our own morality seems to just make more sense.

Some Christians and other well meaning people wonder why we are so down on same-sex marriage and abortion; can we not just go with the flow on these issues? What is so wrong with loving whom you want to and choosing to have a baby (or not to) when you want? Is not the right to personal choice and unique personal expression a fundamental aspect of human freedom?

The problem with this line of questioning is that it puts us in God’s place and makes us the supreme judge of what creation was made to be and what potential it has to become. Do we really think that we know enough about love and enough about God to fill in for him from time to time?

Paul says to the Roman church, “But who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who form it, ‘why did you make me like this”. (Romans 9:20) God speaks through Moses in the Old Testament when he says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Ex 33:19)

God did not say we would always understand everything about this world and everything about Him. However, he did say that he would always be good and in that we can have faith.

Romans 8:28 “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you are ever confronted with the “how can you believe in a God who…” line of questioning you can tell them that your faith in God does not mean that you can always understand all of God’s ways. Having faith in God does not always mean that what seems logical and good to you is what is best for creation.

Instead, our faith is such that we trust that God’s ways are still good even when we cannot understand them!


Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death”.

Imagine that a little boy went to school one day and in his art class he decided to make a very special craft just for his mom. The little boys poured all kinds of energy, love and attention into this craft and finally completes his masterpiece. That night when he gave it to his mom she was overwhelmed with the amazing display of love that her son has shown to her. The little boy went to bed feeling very content with himself.

The next morning the little boy woke up and went downstairs for breakfast. When he walked into the living room his heart sank into his chest; there was his piece of artwork abandoned on the living room floor like a piece of trash. Why would his mom do this to something that was so special? Why did she not put it in a safe place?

The little boy was very sad; however, he came up with a plan. He was going to make special pieces of art for his whole family! Once his mom saw how happy these things made others she would realize how carelessly she had treated her own. Day, weeks and months went by and the little boy made many special pieces of art and gave them to his aunts, uncles and grandparents. Some days his mom noticed what he was doing but other days she seemed not to notice anything different at all.

Finally one day the little boy ran to his mom, jumped into her arms and said, “Mom, it’s your love and attention that I want, not everyone else’s. It’s because of you that I have made all these presents for everyone else. It’s you they were for!”.

The little boy’s mom finally got it; all the pieces of the puzzle came together. She hugged her little boy tightly and said, “I’m sorry I have not realized this sooner. I was so caught up in being so busy with life that I forgot that you were always right here with me. I guess I took you for granted; but I promise that I will not anymore!”.

You might be wondering what purpose this story has? The entire fall at Emergency Ministries I have been asking the students one question: What is the message of the Bible? The message of the Bible is much like the message of this story.

The history books in the Old Testament tell us that God created the world and all that was in it; he did this and gave it all to humankind as an amazing present. We, however, did not always regard our relationship with God as something to be cherished and so we often have discarded it much like the little boy’s mom discarded his artwork.

God’s plan at getting our attention was to pick one group of people and bless them beyond what they could ever imagine; once the rest of the world saw the amazing blessings given to these people they would certainly restore their relationship with God. The little boy thought that by giving presents to his family members his mom would realize how special her present was.

The prophetic books in the Old Testament show us that although God blessed Israel they did not always embrace that blessing and relationship with God. The little boy in the story found that his family members were not always that thrilled with his artwork; in the end all he wanted was his mother’s attention.

The gospel books of the New Testament show that God decided to remove the barrier between him and humanity; he came to earth as Jesus Christ. He died and miraculously rose again to demonstrate that he was God and that there was never anyone like him before. The rest of the New Testament shows how whole towns and individual people were changed by their relationship with God.

The little boy in the story finally ran into his mother’s arms and confessed the truth about what he had wanted all along.

God wants our attention. He wants our hearts. There is no sitting on the fence.

Joshua 24:15 “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Talk to a youth leader or a pastor today; give God your attention.

And so the plot thickens? No, not really. I guess a better way to say it is that the plot is plodding along at a somewhat slow and still confusing pace. No wonder Canadian media have not picked this up. Although, a news report today stated that this is part of Iran’s policy. That is, the constant waffling regarding the charges facing this man is actually part of the clear straightforward policy of Iran. The intention is that people will get so confused that they will simply allow Iran to manage itself and in the end they can do whatever they want.

In some twisted way that might be the truest new report I have heard throughout this whole process. What I know now is that the execution order has been removed. Some in the Iranian government have said that there never was a verdict and that the case was in the investigation stage only. What asked about why the appeal if there was not a verdict, Iran stated that the accused could appeal at any stage in the investigation. Others have said that the rendering of a verdict is now being handed over to another individual in the Iranian legal system.

In summary, Pastor Yousif does not appear to be facing execution this week. He could perhaps face it next month or next year…or whenever they finish the investigation into the charges that some say has not even gone to trial yet.

For now, there will be no execution. That I can say for sure, I think. In the meantime continue to think of and pray for this situation that it will continue to come to a fair resolution.

I have continued to scour the media regarding Pastor Yousif’s pending execution. As I mentioned before, there is much confusion and controversy associated with this as Iran seems to have changed their mind about why they are intending to execute this man…only after there has been public outcry from the western world.

The final verdict was supposed to be handed down today but I read in a report earlier this morning that it will now be delayed until Monday. Will Pastor Yousif be hung for apostasy, rape, running a brothel…and combination of this? Who knows…

I guess that this is still a waiting game for the international community and those interested to continue to follow.

p.s. I am still disappointment about the lack of interest in this man’s life demonstrated by Canadian media…we seem to be the one of the only nations not regularly reporting on this.