Hearing From God — Update: LC cancelled.

by Dr. Phillip Cary

Among evangelical Christians today, a great many people are anxious about how to hear God speak. Christians of an earlier era would have found this odd.

They assumed that when you wanted to hear God speak, you listened to his Word. You studied Scripture, heard the Gospel preached, and joined in Bible-based worship, singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as the apostle says (Col. 3:16).

That is what happens when the word of Christ dwells among us richly, which is the same thing as saying that a congregation is “filled with the Spirit” (compare Eph. 5:18-19). When the biblical word is spoken and sung and taught among us, then we are hearing what God has to say to us.

Different Ideas

And yet many Christians have recently been taught quite different ideas about hearing God speak—and a quite different practice of the Christian life. It is presented, in fact, as a set of practical ideas we are supposed to apply to our lives. We’re supposed to listen for the voice of God in our hearts, rather than in an external word like the Bible or Christian preaching and teaching.

We’re told that this is how we find God’s will for our life. Again, Christians of an earlier era would have found this very puzzling, back when children memorized the ten commandments and a great deal of preaching was devoted to the sermon on the Mount, all in order to know what is God’s will for how we should live.

Drawbacks

The new way of hearing God’s voice and learning God’s will has severe drawbacks. Above all, it’s new. Christians have only been trying to apply these ideas for a few decades, going back at most to the 19th century, which is not very far back in the Christian tradition as a whole. These are not practices you can find in the Bible, where no prophet is described as listening for God’s voice in his heart.

Overlooks the God Who Speaks

And these supposedly “practical” ideas are, frankly, bad for us. First of all, they get us used to thinking of an imaginary God, not the God who speaks to us in Holy Scripture, in the witness of prophets and apostles and Christ himself, all of whom address us in external words.

I can learn the words of Scripture by heart, take them in and make them part of myself, but they originate outside my heart, like the words of every real person who is other than me. To try to hear God’s voice as if it came from within me is thus to treat him as if he were not real. Think of the real people you love: if you want to know them, you have to listen to their words, which you don’t find by looking inside yourself.

Undermines Moral Responsibility

Secondly, these ideas are bad for us because they undermine moral responsibility. The new way of “finding God’s will for your life” assumes that God is supposed to make your decisions for you. It’s as if important decisions about career, marriage, and family were not really your responsibility but God’s. If this were so, then Jesus would have told a story about servants who wisely buried their talents in the ground until they received instructions for each investment decision they had to make. The Bible would have warned us against seeking wisdom and learning good judgment, as if that were a form of disobedience.

The truth is that the decisions really are our own, which is why we are responsible for them, and why learning wisdom and good judgment are important moral responsibilities (see Prov. 4:5-9).

Psychologically Unhealthy

Thirdly, these ideas are bad for us because they are psychologically unhealthy. In order to listen for an imaginary God we have to practice self-deception and get good at it. We are forbidden to recognize our own voices for what they are. Whereas the truth is that the voices in our hearts are our own, and that’s okay.

We should get to know our own voices, not because they are God speaking, but because self-knowledge is an important aim of the moral life and an important component of psychological health. It’s okay that the voices in our hearts are merely human; they don’t have to be God to be worth listening to.

We experience this every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: it is God’s Word we’re praying, but with our own voice. This happens also when we learn God’s Word by heart and pray it silently. The Word is God’s, but the inner voice is our own.

A Young Woman at Risk

Think of what happens when young people, who often don’t know themselves very well, try putting these ideas into practice. Imagine a young woman coming back to her dorm room after a long night, saying to herself in a loud, excited voice: “Oh, I love my boyfriend so much! He always takes care of me. He never wants to leave me alone. He never lets me out of his sight. I can’t ever get away from him. He’s always in control. He controls me so much sometimes I feel like I can never escape.”

And then her enthusiastic monologue trails off and a very different voice comes out of her, a quiet little voice that says, “I really don’t feel good about this.” No doubt that’s the voice of wisdom and responsibility, and probably chastity as well. The loud, excited voice was trying to convince her that she’s got a great thing going. But the quiet little voice comes from deeper in her heart, where she feels there’s something wrong before she knows what it is.

The sad thing is not that she listens to the quiet little voice, but that she can’t admit it’s her own. She has to label it God’s voice in order to take it seriously. Apparently she’s never thought of her own voice as something worth listening to.

Maybe she’s used to thinking her own feelings and thoughts don’t matter because no one has ever seriously listened to her. At any rate, in order to heed the wisest and most perceptive voice in her own heart, she feels it has to to come direct from God. She can’t admit it’s her own voice because that would make it unimportant. And that’s a shame.

Teach Maturity

The new practice of “hearing God” prevents her from developing moral and spiritual maturity, and it puts her in harm’s way. Trying to apply it to her life makes it harder for her to know herself, to recognize the wisdom that has already been given to her. It makes it hard to stand up to manipulative people like her boyfriend, who will no doubt assure her that it was God who wanted them to get together. (There are boys who actually do this at my university.)

Phillip-Cary
Dr. Phillip Cary

Instead of this, the Church should be teaching her moral responsibility and the pursuit of wisdom, which includes self-knowledge. And it should direct her to find the truth of who God really is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not in the thoughts of her own heart.

Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. David’s, near Philadelphia, PA. He also works as the Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College where he focuses on the history of Christian thought, particularly on Augustine and Luther. He is the speaker at SBC’s Leadership Conference on March 16-17. Early bird pricing: $60 (ends March 2). For information, contact SBC.

 

 

Dwayne and Shannon: Brazil, Quest Will Celebrate a 10-Year Anniversary  

by Dwayne and Shannon Klassen

BRAZIL – Recently we were challenged that 2018 would be a year of firsts, a year of new things. As we approach our 10-year anniversary of Quest’s ministry this coming March, this is exactly what we are anticipating in Brazil.

These firsts will be starting now in January when Quest will be holding the largest camps thus far. God has been building our Christian Camping ministry into what has become a model for the Christian Camping world around Brazil. It includes our eight-day intense volunteer staff training, healthy home-made menus, cooperative (instead of competitive) programing, and physical/emotional/spiritual safety all which support this evangelistic ministry.

Each year we also have an increase in invites for our itinerant ministry. Quest Brazil is regularly sought by churches to come run retreats for various focus groups. We prepare and run customized programing for each of these events built on the expectations and desired outcomes set by the groups’ leaders. Though churches account for the majority of our itinerant ministry events, we also provide this for schools and businesses.

As a ministry, we have also expanded our own events to include retreats for women, men, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and couples. We are looking at increasing this list to include events for young adults, families, and others.

Another huge thing we are looking forward to in 2018 is the completion of the first building of our ministry facility. The building process has been going the past two and a half years, with visioning and engineering work starting a number of years before that. Dependent on God providing the funding, the Panapaná building will be completed before the end of the year.

As a part of that process, the whole building, except the dining hall, will be tiled this January. And this fall plans are in works for a Canadian work team to work on the completion of this project.

With all this happening in 2018, a major milestone for our ministry and team is taking place in March. March 27 marks 10 years of Quest being a registered Not-For-Profit organization in Brazil. The weekend of March 23-25 we will be celebrating 10 years of God’s goodness and blessing poured out on Quest.

Dwayne and Shannon Klassen (CBF, Swan River) serve in Brazil under Quest.

Terry Smith: Why a Conference of Churches?

by Terry M. Smith

Why do we have a Conference of churches? Some say it’s because of missions; we work together to make disciples and plant churches. Some pastors, missionaries, and evangelists emphasize this. Yet, at best, it’s only partly right. We are a conference because of Jesus—a person, not a task.

Pastors Kevin Wiebe and Darren Plett spoke on unity at the recent EMC ministerial retreat. Kevin also recently reminded us that Christian unity exists because of Jesus (see his Reformation Reflection column online).

We exist as the EMC because of Jesus. We are one by the One who is our peace (Eph. 2:14). Our unity is in Christ: “just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all in and all” (Eph. 4:4-6). This is wonderful, enriching, foundational.

As we recognize our unity in Christ, we are to work together in many ways in the EMC and beyond.

What gets emphasized within the Great Commission? Going, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing them in the name of our Triune God. Yes, let’s send more workers and also plant more churches in Canada!

The EMC has plateaued in membership for 17 years. Numbers matter because they represent people—and people matter. Sure, some church starts will fail. But the more we plant, the more we will succeed.

Within the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), though, what is too often reduced in significance? It is “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Packed into a few words is much.

We are to teach believers to “obey everything” Jesus has commanded. What does “obey” mean and “everything” include? More than can be said here. That’s precisely the point. Jesus’ teaching by word and example reveals our calling, our mission, is many-sided (Luke 4:17-19, Matt. 23:13-25).

We are called to faith, discipleship, evangelism, community, charity, justice, and much more. Does any of this sound un-EMC? One hopes not!

Consider again what our Constitution says: “The purpose of the Conference is to glorify God by building His Kingdom. This is done by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ at home and abroad, ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of people, establishing and nurturing local congregations of believers, building and maintaining community among member churches, coordinating the concerns and resources of the member churches for the various ministries within the Kingdom of God, [and] forming affiliations with other groups within the body of Christ in order to carry out the worldwide mandate of the church” (page 20).

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

This is a broad calling—as local as next door, as wide as the world, as many-sided as there are ministries in God’s Kingdom. EMC churches are to work together to the glory of God and for His Kingdom.

The EMC exists because of Jesus. We are one in Him and called to follow, to be, to work in many ways (Rom. 12:4-8). How well does your local church reflect this?

Terry Smith: Membership and Wolves

by Terry M. Smith

Count me among EMC ministers who seek to protect sheep from wolves. This affects how some of us link local church membership and denominational distinctives.

Each branch of the Church in Canada has its tradition, history, and distinctives. For instance, Nazarenes have entire sanctification, Pentecostals have the baptism in the Spirit, Baptists have immersion, and Mennonites have pacifism.

Each denomination is protective of its distinctives: “We need to stay with the Word. Our leaders suffered for these truths. We have Scripture and history on our side.”

Ministers make choices within traditions, histories, and distinctives. I do.

Distinctives, as long as they’re biblical, are to be taught. It is wise, though, not to make a hard link between some distinctives and membership for non-leaders. (This isn’t an article about teaching standards for selecting pastors, deacons, teaching elders, and Sunday School teachers.)

The Christian Church is committed to Christ and to each other. We properly require a common, wonderful confession of faith in our Triune God (1 Cor. 15:1-8, 1 Tim. 3:9, Eph. 4:5). We are to be accountable in our faith and lifestyle (1 Tim. 4:19-20).

Still, let’s not multiply difficulties. Pastors know it is insensitive and impractical to limit membership to those who agree with all of our distinctives. Was anyone ever denied local EMC membership because they didn’t affirm footwashing as an ordinance? Probably not.

Local churches need to, and often do, take a broader view of their role. In a particular location, urban or rural, there might be a single evangelical choice—perhaps Nazarene, Mennonite, Pentecostal, or Baptist. Its responsibility to believers and the Lord extends far beyond its distinctive views.

Why? Sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many (Matt. 10:16). Jesus spoke of wolves (Matt. 7:15); the apostle Paul did too (Acts 20:28-29). Paul and other apostles warned of false leaders and false teachings (Gal. 1:6-7, 2 Pet. 2:1, Jude 4).

We are to protect the flock (Acts 20:28). Sheep, by nature, are to be together, and they are more vulnerable when alone. The Shepherd still cares about the single sheep (Luke 15:3-7).

As well, ponder a wonderful reality: Christians are members of Christ’s mystical body that spans continents, centuries, and denominations (1 Cor. 12:13; Heb.11, Eph. 4:4-5). How do we reflect this awareness when deciding requirements for local church membership?

Suppose a Christian, because of a distinctive, doesn’t become a local member. What if, through limited options and understanding, they join a group that has wandered from central truths? It’s precisely because of central truths (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-8) that we are to be sensitive as pastors (Jude 22-23).

Pastors observe the movement of God’s Spirit within a person’s life; we sense their gifts and capacities. Recognizing this, local churches do well to allow “pastoral exceptions”: for a Mennonite church to accept a non-pacifist; a Baptist church, an undipped member; a Pentecostal church, someone who hasn’t spoken in tongues; a Nazarene church, a member only partly sanctified.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Does your local church do this already? Perhaps. Probably. For sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many.

Of course, if a person doesn’t recognize our Statement of Faith as the teaching standard within the local church and becomes divisive (Titus 3:9-11), that’s another matter. The sheep need protection then too.

Irma Janzen and Heidi Dirks: Mental Health in the EMC, Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going

Mental Health Initiative 2018

by Irma Janzen and Heidi Dirks

Where We Have Been

Psalm 13 begins with these words, “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?”  We do not know exactly what the Psalmist’s circumstances were when he penned these words, but we do hear the agony, the feelings of God having forgotten him, of God hiding His face from the writer.

What we do know is that many people, maybe including most of us over the roughly 4,000 years since those verses were written, have echoed these words in times of terrible distress when it seemed as if God had either forgotten us or hidden His face from us.  It happens often when we pray and pray and pray and pray some more and yet we see no evidence of answers to our prayers or of the changes in the things we are praying about.

Many or maybe all of us have cried these words and some of us are people who are living with serious and long term mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, clinical depression or a variety of other neurological disorders. Then there is another larger group of us who have loved ones, family members, friends, fellow-congregants who have cried those same words because we feel so helpless in walking with our loved ones for whom life is mostly agony and despair. We are not able to help and it just seems as if God is nowhere within calling distance to come and bring us relief. Not even in the days of The Messenger, texting, and all the other wonderful ways in which we communicate today!

How Do We Respond?

How do we as Christians respond both to God and to our community in amid these realities?  Do we give up and say God is not doing anything so why believe in Him?  Do we reprimand our friends and family members for not believing or even by suggesting that God does not hear because we have sinned?  Do we walk away and say we can’t do anything and leave them to whatever happens?

Or are we as believers perhaps in a position to walk alongside and love and to bring a tiny glimpse of hope amid the darkness?  Are we able to sit in silence and to listen to their pain?  Are we able to hold their hand in the darkness?  Are we able to refer them to resources such as medical doctors, therapists, and mobile crisis units at the appropriate times?  Are we able go with them to an appointment they don’t have the strength to get to on their own?   Are we able to continue to walk with them through the many weeks, months or even years?

Understanding Needed

This takes a lot of understanding, understanding both of the illness and other issues with which the person may be struggling.  This takes leaving our fears with God and asking Him for wisdom as to how best to do this without giving simplistic answers.  This includes grace and humility on our part because we probably don’t have helpful answers to give.  This takes much prayer and faith that God is working in ways we cannot yet see and of living with hope for that which we do not yet see.

Many of us are not comfortable with things we cannot fix quickly because we are so busy and have many urgent things to do so we don’t want to become involved.  Maybe we not want to be too involved because it will take too much effort.  Some of us are scared because we feel helpless.  Some of us who have a mental illness are even scared to let others know because we fear stigma and rejection or even that we will be told we are weak or don’t have enough faith.

Younger Generation Sees Need

Having heard many stories especially during the 1990’s and early 2000’s when I (Irma) was working with the Mental Health and Disabilities Program for MCC Canada, I was so glad that the younger generation is seeing the ongoing and continuing need for more education and understanding of mental illnesses and how we are able to help. First, by seeking to help early on so many major crises can be stopped before they actually become crises; and second, also because of the ongoing support many people need now and will for years to come.

Where We Are Going

I (Heidi) am privileged to serve as a member of the EMC Board of Church Ministries, and we are excited to be starting a Mental Health Initiative with the support of several members of our EMC churches who are experienced and skilled in the field of mental health. We believe that it is important for churches to talk about mental health and how to support people who are struggling with mental illnesses.

A Need to Talk and Help

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, with 8% of adults experiencing major depression. Between 10 and 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness, with 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth experiencing a major depressive episode. These statistics are not meant to create fear, but rather to highlight the need for churches to talk about mental health and help individuals and families access appropriate care.

Abundant Springs

This need was especially clear to me while at Abundant Springs in May 2017. I was able to attend Abundant Springs as the campus counselor, offering to talk to youth and leaders throughout the weekend, and consulting with leaders when concerns came up about their youth.

Many conversations about mental health were sparked by the well-attended workshops led by Dan Dacombe (Heartland Community Church) entitled Faith and Mental Illness. Feedback from both youth and leaders was very positive, and many leaders asked for more resources to help them support youth who are struggling with mental illnesses.

Mennonite Central Committee has already done much work, as Irma has already described, and EMC churches are already integrating many practices that promote positive mental health. This BCM mental health promotion initiative aims to support churches in the positive practices they already have in place, and to provide information and resources to further develop these positive practices.

A Year-Long Encouragement

Articles exploring different mental health topics will appear in The Messenger in print and online over the next year. Our hope and prayer is that these articles will be an encouragement to those who are in distress, and provide practical information about mental health to support those who are caring for individuals who are struggling.

Irma
Irma Janzen
Heidi-Dirks
Heidi Dirks

Irma Janzen, MEd, MA, has served in education, as the coordinator of MCC Canada’s Mental Health and Disabilities Program, and as a pastor. She is part of Fort Garry EMC.

Heidi Dirks, BEd, MA (counseling), serves on the EMC Board of Church Ministries. She is part of Braeside EMC.

Mennville: Church Rejoices in New Pastor, Michael Vanderzwaag

by Luella Brandt

MENNVILLE, Man.—We are thrilled to welcome and also introduce to you our new pastor, Michael Vanderzwaag. He comes to us from the Cornerstone Fellowship Church in Swift Current, Sask.

It is heartwarming to hear the story of his journey and how God called him into ministry and then how that led him to Mennville. He has been with us for only a short time, but it is truly a blessing to see how he fits so perfectly into our lives. We are thankful for his youth and enthusiasm and his willingness to work alongside the present ministerial in our church.

The Installation Service was held on Nov. 12 and it was such a special morning for all of us here. He had his parents Pete and Gloria here as well as Grandma Lorraine for support. Michael, Gloria, and Lorraine also did special music during the offertory. It was beautiful. Thank you so much for that! We also affirmed Michael into the membership during the service.

One of the ministers here, Barry Barkman, chaired the service, and he said there were people to thank for getting us to this point. Thank you to the Pastoral Search Committee who worked hard to find someone and started the process of hiring someone. Thank you to the EM Conference who helped us connect with Michael and guiding and encouraging us. Thank you to the Mennville church family who prayed for this to happen. Thank you to Michael who obeyed the call from God to pursue this small country church called Mennville. Thank you to Layton Friesen, conference pastor, who helped us with the service. It is always a blessing and privilege when he “comes home.” Thank you to God who saw who and what we needed here and opened doors.

Although our numbers have declined in the last number of years because of post secondary schooling and families relocating to bigger centres, we are alive and well and trying to be a light in these troublesome times in our corner of the world.

May you have joy and peace as you serve Him in your corner wherever that might be!