By David Wise
Sunday’s sermon about idle thoughts was something that’s been ruminating in my mind for years and years. I have struggled with idle thoughts since I can remember being conscious of my own mind. The variety of thoughts I’ve struggled with is widespread and deeply rooted in my past. Like many people, I have made many mistakes throughout my young life, but the issue of my thought life that has had the most negative impact is that of pornography.
I realize that even the usage of that word will be harsh or offensive to a number of people, but there’s no point in dressing it up to make it sound prettier or more acceptable than it was. Pornography is a word that is almost as harsh as the content it encapsulates. Even the mention can make people wince, blush, or grin depending on background and previous experiences. In my opinion, pornography is one of the most debilitating external influences when it comes to idle thoughts and is one of the most pervasive sins Christians struggle with in the 21st century.
Due to the private nature of the sin and struggle, there are many people who try to minimize the impact of pornography on the mind. There is a mult-billion dollar industry capitalizing on the minds of men and women, young, old, and everywhere in between. Time posted an article recently that referenced an independent web-tracking company that said, [one] explicit-video-sharing site, says that it gets 2.4 million visitors per hour and that in 2015 alone, people around the globe watched 4,392,486,580 hours of its content[.] That is a staggering statistic but the damage doesn’t stop there. Pornographic content is not viewed and then discarded. Often those images come back into the minds of participants and continue to wreak havoc on the person’s thought life.
As a man who was exposed to pornography at a young age, there is possibly even more danger in the impact on the developing brain. Scientific data is hard to find because research funding is limited due to the explicit nature of the content. From personal experience though, I can tell you that what you view does not just affect your eyes, but twists your thoughts, distorts your desires, and calluses your heart for years to come. What’s viewed in secret does not stay in the darkness of the room or on the dimly lit computer or phone screen. Those thoughts can begin to distort friendships, damage family relationships, and possibly destroy marriages (present or future).
After Natalye and I were married, we had to work through the reality of the impact of teenage and young adult years spent viewing pornography. The impact doesn’t end when the screen goes black, the images replay (even at times unwillingly) and what is thought of as secret or private becomes a battlefield of the mind. Unfortunately, people are not often open with their struggles with pornography. Many Christians fear being portrayed as a pervert or creep, others simply want people to believe that they have it all together when they’re actually a mess under the surface.
In order to work through issues of idle thoughts, we have to be more than just transparent. Its one thing to share a struggle or sin you’re battling, it’s another thing altogether to ask someone to help you fight against it. Matt Chandler, a pastor in Texas, once said that we have to go beyond transparency and into vulnerability. To be vulnerable means that we’re willing to experience pain because of our failures and that we’re willing to work toward a resolution regardless of personal discomfort. The church needs transparency when it comes to the issue of our thought lives, but we also have to move beyond just being transparent and into the arena of being vulnerable.
For me, this began by finding friends who I could be vulnerable with. This goes beyond sharing about downfalls or struggles, and into accepting challenges and rebukes from those who want to see you grow in Christ. In addition to accountability, there is an incredible amount of free software available to filter and monitor Internet activity. Having Christians for support and accountability, and software for filtering, has been instrumental in my journey to take captive every thought and make them obedient to Christ.
Although it’s been a few years since pornography has been an issue, it is still something I have to guard against and work to be proactive at protecting my thought life. I continue to be thankful for friends that have journeyed through this battle with me, a wife who has been faithful and forgiving, and a Lord and Savior who is constantly gracious and merciful. For those of you struggling with your thought life, let me leave you with the words of Paul to the church in Corinth.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
By David Wise
Personal weakness is not something we like to admit or talk about. As we talked about obedience in weakness yesterday it was necessary to think through my past and process weakness in my life, but as soon as the sermon was done then it was time to move on to the next chapter and a new theme or concept. Except that isn’t happening. As we’ll discover this week in chapter 8 of The Story, obedience in weakness is a continuing theme and will run throughout the Bible as a whole.
Weakness is not bad, it’s just uncomfortable and difficult to be open and vulnerable about. I’ve talked about it before, but weakness is one of those things that we’re willing to admit after the fact. We share a weakness that we used to have (even I was guilty of that in yesterday’s sermon), but sharing weakness as we’re struggling against it is not often bridged as a topic. The truth is though, I am currently weak.
Whether it’s self-induced stress, worrying about everything, discouragement, frustration, or bitterness, I am struggling constantly in my weakness. Even today I have felt discouraged and I can’t figure out why. Usually I would sink into a mild depression and hide that fact from everyone around me, but today I decided to reach out to some friends and simply ask for prayer. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to ask for prayer about discouragement and depression, but even that simply task is hard for me. I think that as a pastor sometimes I’m supposed to have it all together, but I don’t and the sooner I can share that with those around me the sooner God can work through my weakness.
By sharing the need for prayer in the midst of my current weakness, I was forced to take down my own walls and admit where I’m at right now and I had to acknowledge that I can’t do this on my own. That was a small example of what needs to happen more often and on a larger scale. I realized that I don’t admit my weaknesses very often, and even if I admit them I don’t allow God to work on them.
To work through weakness, the first step seems to be acknowledging those weaknesses. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is the most constant weaknesses that I’m faced against. I struggle with discontentment constantly: there were distractions during the morning or things didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped and the sermon didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would, the church hasn’t grown enough and I wonder if I’m the reason new people aren’t coming or staying, I still snap at the kids over little things and feel defeated as a father, I don’t support Natalye like I want to and make her feel devalued, I don’t feel like a good enough friend, a caring enough pastor, and the list goes on and on.
Those are not past weakness, they are current ones and they are difficult to admit, but trying to hide from them (or simply hiding them from others) does not solve anything. I’m learning that as I acknowledge my weaknesses (both to God and to others) that the Lord comes alongside me and provides His power to cover my weakness. God also uses those around me to help me work through those things. This isn’t just a theory but something I’ve seen recently as I’m learning to bring my power to an end and to rest in my weakness.
Over the past few weeks as I’ve opened up about weaknesses I’ve seen God bring people alongside me to help with my shortcomings. At times it’s been the elders who are constantly helping me be a better pastor, the staff who have stepped up to take responsibilities in areas where they are stronger and more proficient, my friends who are faithful to listen and pray through things with me, and the congregation who is much more graceful and loving than I deserve. I’m learning that when I acknowledge my weaknesses that people don’t lose respect and trust for me but they seem to find comfort in knowing that I’m human but also it becomes an incredible opportunity for different people to minister in their strengths and above all God is glorified through the process.
Whatever it is about our society that devalues weakness needs to change and allow people to acknowledge their weaknesses. Until we’re able to be vulnerable and open, we’ll walk around thinking we’re the only ones who don’t have it all together and we’ll continually fail while trying to make things happen in our own power. God is capable of working through the weak and when we allow Him to work in us and through us in our weakness then God is able to receive all glory, honor, and praise. Thank God that I am weak and praise God that He is strong.
By David Wise
As I sit on the first leg of my journey to Israel, the anticipation is beginning to build as the trip finally feels real. Up to this point there has been so much going on that I haven’t had time to focus fully on what I’m going to do. I’ve spent the last few months looking over the brochure, reading the books provided by the tour company, outlining ideas for videos with our staff, and talking about the trip to whoever was interested; but I haven’t thought much about the personal impact this opportunity will have.
In just over 24 hours I will be driving through areas where the Son of God walked, performed miracles, talked with friends, shared meals with acquaintances, and prayed to His Father on our behalf. Although I don’t believe that some areas are more holy than others, to be present where God took on flesh and walked among His creation, to feel the weight of this reality, is an experience of a lifetime. Although I should have been living with greater anticipation for the trip up to this point, I found myself weighed down by the worries, struggles, distractions, and frustrations of the day.
I wonder if that’s why more of us don’t reflect more often on eternity. Maybe it’s not that we don’t want to think about heaven and being united with God forever; perhaps it’s just that the day-to-day issues we face take precedence because they’re directly in front of us. Although the reason this happens is understandable, it seems to be an incomplete way of living. If we wait until we’re dying to reflect on the reality of heaven it seems like we’ll miss so many opportunities around us.
As we spent our time Sunday answering questions about things leading up to eternity, I found myself convicted of not living in light of eternity. I don’t ever want to focus so much on heaven that I neglect to live my life fully for God here and now, but I feel like I don’t anticipate heaven nearly enough. I wonder if part of the reason I don’t anticipate it is that I don’t think of the reality of heaven because the things happening today overshadow what’s waiting, or if I place more value on things of this world than the things of eternity.
I know that every time I hear someone use Jesus’ words about storing up treasures in heaven, I worry about a talk on money. I don’t think Jesus was speaking financially though. I believe He was directing our attention and our focus toward heaven to remember the reality of what’s waiting. If I thought more about treasures in heaven (not financially) and being united with God, walking with Jesus, seeing as many people as possible there and as a part of God’s family, then perhaps that would help me to anticipate heaven more.
I realize this isn’t a new thought. I’m not sure there are any original thoughts anymore, but it’s something I believe we need to cling to and live our lives by. We should not focus solely on the myriad of events happening in our lives and around us, but pause and ask ourselves, “Does this impact eternity?” Perhaps then it would put issues in perspective compared to what’s waiting for us. By realizing that eternity is bigger than the day-to-day distractions and frustrations we can better understand the importance of living for God here and now. Only as we’re able to look past everything directly in front of us will we be able to anticipate heaven. As we anticipate eternity with God then we’ll see the actual importance of our individual issues, frustrations, distractions, and worries. This perspective puts things into proper order and allows us to experience things here and now in light of how they affect eternity, just like looking back at everything happening before my trip is now put in a different perspective in light of what’s waiting for me.
What your life look like if you viewed everything now in light of what’s waiting?
As we started our Questions & Answers series, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t answer your questions without providing resources for further critical engagement. If we, as elders, pray, study, and answer Biblically, but we don’t spur further involvement by the congregation then we haven’t fulfilled our pastoral responsibility. There is no shortage of answers to any question, but finding answers is not the only important aspect. Understanding an answer is the only way for our faith to truly grow.
I’ve met many Christians who don’t know why they believe what they believe. Throughout their lives, they’ve heard countless answers and explanations for questions they’ve had, but repeating someone else’s answer is not the same as actually understanding the possible answers and forming an educated opinion on their own.
Over the next few weeks as we look to Scripture to answer difficult questions, my hope is that each member of our church will dig further after every sermon. If people walk away agreeing with everything presented but don’t take the time to further their own study, then the series will be a failure. There are too many Christians who know someone else’s answers to a list of questions, but they wouldn’t be able to articulate why they actually believe those answers. That’s not only troubling, it’s dangerous.
One of the reasons that young people leave church after high school is that “their faith” was never actually their own. The faith was borrowed from a family member, friend, or pastor, and when they get on their own, the answers they believe are not deeply rooted; they are shallow and lack proper grounding to flourish through adversity.
This isn’t just a problem in teenagers any more. It’s one of the reasons we see young adults leaving churches in favor of something else. Faith has to be interpersonal. There must be ownership, and to have ownership there must be understanding. We cannot take ownership of that which we do not understand. This is the case for faith, church, the Bible, and even God. This is why it’s so important to question everything and not to accept one person’s answers without searching on your own so that the answer becomes yours.
This is our hope over the next month: to make our faith our own, to understand how the Bible is the inspired word of God, how God works in the world and through sin, how we respond to a holy God, and what happens in the end. Each week we’ll provide the list of resources we looked at, but don’t just look at the list, interact with the books we mention, read them and question their content, meet for coffee with those who understand things better than you, grow deeper in your faith, and make sure it truly is yours.
Welcome to the questions. Let’s jump in and search for truth together.
In case you missed the sermon, here is the video:
Bibliography from Questions and Answers Week 1
Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1.
Geisler, Norman L. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1974.
Sailhamer, John. How We Got the Bible. Zondervan Quick-Reference Library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub., ©1998.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994.
Information about the Gospel of Barnabas
Information about the Gospel of Judas
Information about the Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Information about the Gospel of Thomas
David Bowden Spoken Word “I Believe in Scripture”
By David Wise
Yesterday we wrapped up our series through the book of Acts. We had a special service at Lost Creek Lake for outdoor worship and a few individuals from the church shared how God has been moving in and through them. I love opportunities for people in the church to share, but even more than that, I love when people in the church view the church with personal commitment and a shared sense of ownership. Each of the three people who shared are at different stages of life but they are all a committed part of the body of Christ. This is their church and they’re excited to be a part of what God is doing.
Wrapping up the book of Acts is always inspiring to me because there is no “The End” at the end of the book. The final scene ends with Paul continuing to preach the gospel at every opportunity, even while under house arrest in Rome. This reminds me that the church age began when Jesus ascended to heaven and it continues until He returns. Each of us has an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves as individuals. We’re all called to be a part of this thing called the church, and even if there are problems, issues, or differences, we are called into community for a purpose: so that we do the will of God. To do God’s will we have to work together as one body and fully engage in the work of the church. Hearing the three people share at the lake was a great example of what it means to be a part of the church, but I was also reminded of something I observed while on an anniversary getaway with my bride.
A few weeks ago, we were in Bend celebrating our 9th wedding anniversary. I got up early and went to a local coffee shop. As I was standing in line at Thump Coffee, I noticed that there was only one guy working behind the counter and the line before him was overwhelming him. Three regulars asked him what they could do to help and at first he brushed it off. They asked again and he admitted he was desperate for help. They jumped up and started unpacking bagels, taking orders, giving change, and helping him. They made the long line dwindle in a matter of minutes. It was one of the clearest cases of community I’ve ever seen. The regulars weren’t forced to help, but they love that coffee shop and they had been there enough that they had a vested interest in the community they’re a part of.
What a perfect picture of how churches should all operate. No one person can lead everything and thus there is a need for people to surround the leadership. It doesn’t matter if it’s worship, the lead pastor, kids, youth, grounds crew, janitorial, or first-impressions. We all should have such a vested interest in the church that at first sign that we can help we jump in. This means we have to be willing to ask for help and to accept assistance. The coffee shop worker turned the help down once or twice and then he realized that he needed other people. I’m sure these three guys would have rather sat and enjoyed their coffee. Instead, they gladly served and they made a difference, not just for the worker, but also for me to see their visual demonstration of what it means to belong to something. Simply beautiful.
This is what the church should look like: everyone jumping in together for a reason and with a purpose, so that we can do the will of God. We are all called to be a part of the church and that means more than just showing up to something once a week. A while back I got an email from a member of the church and she was sharing her thoughts about what it means to be a part of the church.
I was praying this morning for babies, adoptions, fatherless children, single moms, moms of drug addicted children, grown children, pastors, church leaders, and myself, of course….whew…the list was long, I even pictured God pouring himself another cup of coffee. OOPS, that was me who poured myself another cup of coffee. Anyway, this is what I believe it is to be a covenant member of RVCC:
“I don’t go to RVCC because they have good music. I don’t go to RVCC because they have a young pastor that reminds me of my son and inspires me to be a better person. I go to RVCC because it’s MY church. It’s me. I am the church, and it is my family. I am intricately interwoven into the very fabric of that body of believers, and that body does not actually function effectively unless I am a part of it.”
We don’t simply gather together to go through the motions. We gather to be the church, the body of Christ, to do the will of God. We may not always all agree and get along, but we’re called to participate in the work of God and that happens through the church. As God moves us as individuals, He moves us into community and outside of ourselves. We cannot fully be everything He desires of us if we’re not actively engaged in community and that happens through the church. As we MOVE for the rest of our lives, may we continually jump in and serve wherever there is a need. May we take a vested interest in what the church is doing, and may we share what God is doing with those around us.
Last month I was in Portland for seminary and one of the days I was walking through downtown when I walked by the Justice building. This large stone structure jutting up amongst all of the other other buildings in this concrete jungle, but this one had something that caught my eye. One of the edifices had a quote etched into its side.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Martin Luther King Jr.
Last summer we went through the book of James and one of the most moving sermons I’ve ever preached was in the midst of that series. We read James 5:1-6 and talked about the personal application.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
James 5:1-6 (NIV)
At the time, the sermon was so personally convicting that I changed purchasing habits, becoming more concerned about everything we purchased. A friend’s crockpot went out so we bought them a “new” used one because we couldn’t be sure where the new ones were made. I wanted to buy all of my clothes used to avoid sweat labor, we switched to all fair-trade coffee, chocolate, and anything else that might be supplied from unethical sources. The passion continued through Christmas as we made conscious shopping decisions and participated in Advent Conspiracy (Worship Fully | Spend Less | Give More | Love All).
A year later though, things were drifting back to the beginning. Although coffee and chocolate is still fair trade, I’ve found myself buying more clothes on impulse, for the kids and me, without thinking about the source and the consequences of my purchases. This has been a slow and steady shift away from conscious decisions and into mindless consumerism. Although I fight against the pull, it happens so naturally and injustice takes a place on the shelf, gathering dust next to all the former passions. This should not be.
The Gospel calls us outside ourselves to the needs of others and that includes the physical ones. Jesus didn’t just come to earth to reveal Himself as the Messiah, He came and healed people (theologically we can argue about the reasons for those He healed) but he provided something physical for those in need. He continually talked about taking care of the least of these and he reverberated all of the cries for justice found throughout the Bible.
The truth is, injustice is all around us. Perhaps it manifests itself in different forms, but it is pervasive and seems to be all-consuming. Whether it’s in the single-parent who can’t escape from poverty, the working family who can’t afford healthy groceries, the person denied for insurance because of a pre-existing condition, the 11,000 children who will die today from preventable causes, the children with malaria or parasites who are lacking access to the $4 pills that we could make readily available, the sex slaves sold into prostitution and forced into deplorable conditions and situations, the wife and children abused physically at the hands of cowardice, or the people held under the oppression of civil strife and unjust governments. Whatever the injustices, they are everywhere (even in our own backyards), the question is, “what are we doing about it?”
Last week Natalye and I took a weekend to Bend for a late anniversary trip. While we were there we had some great conversations and one of them was about buying ethically made products. Her question was how we move beyond talk and into action. While on the trip I think God answered it, at least the beginnings to a more complete answer. We found a Patagonia store. They sell clothing and outdoor equipment and they are a company that strives for fair treatment of their entire supply chain. Although their clothing is more expensive, they guarantee it for life, offer free repairs, and replace damaged goods. They make sure their raw goods are ethically produced, and they pay their garment workers fair wages.
We could buy all of our clothes from Patagonia, or one of the other few companies who strive to the level they do. The reason we often don’t is money. We’d rather spend less on shorts that wear out but were a “good deal” than to make sure workers receive fair wages. The same is true in every sphere of our lives: electronics, food, household items, and even investments. We often don’t think about the source of items and how justice is involved in our consumption, but this has been a calling that I am beginning to respond obediently to.
Instead of buying whatever we want when we want it, my family has started thinking about where things come from. If we can’t be sure about the ethics of the source, then we can wait and find a fairly made product. That can’t be enough though to simply work toward ending one form of injustice, my life has to be about bringing justice to all through whatever means possible. While in Bend we found a picture with a Bible verse on it, we hung the picture above our television so that we’ll be reminded of this core value in our lives.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
All of us might be passionate about ending a single form of injustice, but injustice is more than just the single side of the visible manifestation, injustice is all of it and the Bible makes it clear that injustice has no place in a gospel-centered worldview. We have to realize our responsibility as the church to end injustice and help the least of these, as the gospel changes us the Holy Spirit moves us. How are you moving? Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. How can we work toward bringing justice to everyone?
By David Wise
The majority of Sundays each year I get to share thoughts, insights, and application on passages of Scripture. While every sermon is preached from a deep personal conviction, some sermons spur something inside me.
Yesterday’s sermons was about the apostle Paul being called to Jerusalem, Christians persuading him not to go, a prophet warning about prison and hardship, but Paul staying faithful to God’s calling and going to Jerusalem. As the book of Acts records, Paul was beaten, arrested, and everything predicted came true, yet Paul stayed true to God’s calling in his life.
The story is almost so large that many of us downplay God’s calling in our own lives. “I haven’t been called to prison,” “I didn’t see Jesus and get called overseas to be a missionary,” or “God hasn’t called me to give away all of my possessions and live in poverty.” Whether we realize it or not, we have a hierarchy of what we consider to be more “worthwhile” callings. I don’t believe the “size” of the calling is what matters though; I believe it’s our response in the midst of those callings.
Last night in LifeGroup we were discussing callings that we’ve felt God prompting us toward. One of the women in the group admitted that she has been feeling God call her and her husband to get rid of their debt. The calling has been constant over the past few years, but she honestly admitted that she had ignored it. She wants to stop ignoring the calling and to obey God. Obedience, in her case, means that finances will be tight and there will be less spending money, but she and her husband feel it’s what they’re supposed to do. Listening to her share so openly was refreshing and encouraging.
There are two callings that I’ve felt from God for a while now. The first is the call toward honesty. As I shared a few weeks ago, I feel like God wants me to practice vulnerability from the pulpit and in my personal life to demonstrate the need to be real with each other. This is something that moves me so much that I write about it in my free time and am trying to find more ways to open up and allow honesty to be seen both in church and in our day-to-day relationships.
The second calling is one that I’ve felt for over a year now and I’ve gone through varying stages of obedience and denial: justice. I’ll be putting out another blog about justice later this week, but I feel like God is calling me to practice justice in every area of my life.
I have long struggled with investing in companies that profit off of cheap labor and unsafe conditions. My justification has always been that I can’t check every company and know enough about them to make sure they’re a good company, but that’s really a copout. The truth is I can, I just don’t want to take the time. With God calling me toward justice, I feel like it’s all encompassing and that it demands my response and obedience. This morning I sold all of the stocks in my retirement account that I can’t verify are working justly. There are mutual funds that are socially responsible in their investing strategy and until I can research them to make sure I’m seeking justice then I will simply not invest. At some point my ignorance is not an excuse if I remain ignorant on purpose.
All of this is not to highlight my own passions or prove how good I am at obedience; the truth is I’m slow at following God’s promptings. I make constant justifications and I second-guess God’s calling continually.
Studying the life of Paul the apostle though has given me strength to obey regardless of the cost. Paul went to prison and would be transferred from jail to jail for the rest of his life. Who cares if my retirement account doesn’t grow as quickly as someone else’s? Obeying God’s specific calling is so much more important than the assets I accumulate. It shouldn’t matter if God’s calling is for you to get rid of your debt, change careers, sell items, downsize the house, or engage the difficult neighbor. It’s not the “size” of the calling that matters; it’s our response in the midst of it.
What is God calling you toward and how can you be obedient?