Toxic Loneliness and How to Break Out

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There is an interesting phenomenon in Western society; in the words of one comedian: “Everything is amazing, and nobody’s happy.”

We live in the most wealthy, technologically advanced society that has ever existed in the history of the world, and at the same time there are incredibly high rates of depression and mental illness which lead to suicide and acts of violence.

One key question many people are asking is: Why?  What is the cause of the increase in depression and mental illness in developed countries? 

The late Dutch psychiatrist J. H. van den Berg wrote and researched on the topic of psychopathology and he wrote a highly regarded book on the subject titled, A Different Existence: Principles of Phenomenological Psychopathology.

In this book, van den Berg uses a case study to analyze several common conceptions about psychiatric illness, and in the end he draws his conclusion from his research: that psychopathy is related to the experience of loneliness. Among his thesis statements, he declares:

“Loneliness is the nucleus of psychiatry.”

“If loneliness did not exist, we could reasonably assume that psychiatric illnesses would not occur either.” [105]

This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that it is generally recognized that Western society is experiencing loneliness at higher levels than ever before.

See: “A Culture of Loneliness and What to Do About It”

Our Society is Lonelier Than Ever Before

A survey taken by Harris Poll in 2016 showed that almost three-quarters (72 percent) of Americans experience loneliness.1

Our time has been called “the age of loneliness.” Although we are more connected than ever before via the internet, the internet itself is exacerbating the problem.

In January of this year, the United Kingdom appointed its first “Minister for Loneliness”, who is tasked with helping to combat what Prime Minister Theresa May called “the sad reality of modern life.”

Loneliness is Literally Killing Us

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a 75-year study of men, concluded that loneliness is toxic. Loneliness is contagious, and the more isolated people are, the less happy they are, and brain function declines as well as physical health. 2

Medical studies have linked loneliness and social isolation to heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes and suicide. Vivek Murthy, the former United States surgeon general, has written that loneliness and social isolation are “associated with a reduction in life span similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” 3

How Do We Break Out of this Toxic Cycle?

One really important factor is that we must recognize that Western society has been sold a bill of goods related to individualism and the “autonomous self”. American culture, in many ways, is permeated by a culture of fear and an obsession with privacy. We have been told since the Enlightenment that this is the ultimate path to happiness, but the above data shows just how much it has left us in tatters.

The gospel shows us another way:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

When a person embraces the gospel, they become part of the people of God. Sinclair Ferguson put it this way:

 “We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people, and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died.”

The Apostle Paul makes this point as well:    

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God  (Ephesians 2:19)

In other words: part of God’s work of salvation through Jesus includes saving people out of individualism, calling them into redeemed community which has a mission and a purpose bigger than any individual member. Clearly this presents a powerful antidote to the modern pathological phenomenon of loneliness and isolation. The gospel is a holistic remedy which addresses the greatest needs of the entire person: soul, mind and body. It is truly good news.

Why Martin Lloyd-Jones Matters Today

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Recently I have been reading a book about Martin Lloyd-Jones and the influence of his preaching. What I find most interesting is how relevant his approach to preaching is to our day. Here are a excerpts from the book to help you see what I mean:

Martin Lloyd-Jones began his ministry in a time when biblical preaching was considered irrelevant. The common thought of the day was that people are not interested in nor have the ability to handle anything but short “homilies” or “sermonettes”. Churches around the UK were in decline and it was thought that things such as clubs, activities and entertainment were needed to attract people to churches. Martin Lloyd-Jones did not agree with this; he felt that the greatest need in the church was for strong, biblical, doctrinal preaching.

Peter Lewis writes,

“Amidst the spiritual decline in post WWII England, this gifted expositor stood virtually alone in his commitment to biblical preaching.”

Having grown up in church (Calvinist Methodist {I didn’t even know there was such a thing!}), Martin Lloyd-Jones claimed that he was only truly converted at age 25. He later described this turning point in his life:

“For many years I thought I was a Christian, when in fact I was not. It was only later that I came to see that I had no inner Christian, and became one. What I needed was preaching that would convict me of sin, but I never heard this. The preaching we had was always based on the assumption that we were all Christians.”

This experience had a profound impact on the way he preached later on in his ministry; he was always doing the work of an evangelist, because he knew what it was to be in church but not be in Christ.

Martin Lloyd-Jones’ definition of good preaching was: theology coming through a man who is on fire.

Preaching, he believed, was God’s method, the primary means by which scripture is to be made known.

In this way, Lloyd-Jones stood with the Reformers and Puritans who insisted that preaching is the chief means by which the grace of God is administered to the church.

Hughes Olifant Old, one of the foremost experts on the history of preaching, states,

“the greatest impact of Lloyd-Jones on the English-speaking pulpit of today is the recovery of expository preaching.”

The attitudes and trends which characterized the times in which Martin Lloyd-Jones began his ministry seem very similar to those of today. Thus, he stands as an example of a different, and may I say: better way.

Author Steven J. Lawson concludes,

“The hour is upon us for faithful men of God to step into pulpits around the world and preach the Word. The need has never been greater. In a day that clamours for churches to captitulate to the spirit of the age and use entertainment in order to draw crowds, the primacy of biblical preaching must be restored wherever the people of God gather to worship. As it was the need in the time of Lloyd-Jones, so it remains the need today for preachers to herald the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to feed the flock and evangelize.”

See also: Preaching While the Bombs Fell

Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 2

In case you missed Part 1 of this post, you can read it here.

There was a BBC article published this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death.

According to their survey:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story contains some truth, but only 1% believe it is literally true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

While someone like me looks at this and sees an incredibly dire situation, the article says that Church of England officials were actually quite encouraged by it! Here’s why:

  1. Because it showed that “many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs.”
  2. It showed more regular church attendance amongst younger Christians than older ones.

Maybe it’s me, but in light of the survey it seems like a bit of stretch to say “many” and to say “core Christian beliefs”. Is literally believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead not considered by them to be a “core Christian belief”?

What’s interesting about this is that the Bible directly addresses those who call themselves Christians and yet do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul speaks first to those who call themselves Christians and do not believe in life after death, and then he speaks to those who deny that Jesus literally rose from the dead. It’s almost like this chapter could have been written for 31% and 25% of British Christians respectively.

The first point Paul makes is that the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead is and has always been a central tenant of the gospel: the core of Christian belief, and it is only by believing this gospel that we are saved. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The second point Paul makes is that not only was the death of Jesus foretold by the Scriptures, but so was his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

The third point Paul makes is that there were hundreds of eye witnesses still alive at that time who could attest to having seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

Then Paul goes on to say (Vs 12-15) that if there is no life after death, then all of the apostles and Christians were liars, because they told people that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him.
If they had lied about this, they either did it knowingly or unknowingly. If they did it knowingly, then they are intentionally conning people and they should therefore not be trusted. If they lied unknowingly, that means that they are delusional and should not be followed, because they are, to put it crassly: deranged.

Next, Paul says that if there is no life after death, then Christian faith is pointless, and they have just been wasting their time and believing in a fairy tale (Vs 17-18) – and ultimately there is no hope, and no good news. And if this is the case, that Christianity is just another form of moralism and empty rituals, then Christians are the greatest fools in the world. (Vs 19, 30-34)

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

But… if Christ is truly and literally risen from the dead, then that means that God has broken a hole in the pitiless walls of this broken world, and made a way for us to be saved! And Jesus is the first fruits of those who will be resurrected from death to everlasting life.
And the day is coming when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

And because that day is coming, we can have the confidence in whatever circumstances we may face in this life to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is an integral and indispensable part of the good news of the gospel: the core message of Christianity. The hope that we have as Christians is based on it. To deny it is to deny Christian belief and to try to change Christianity into a form of moralism full of empty rituals which encourages condescension towards God and towards other people of faith, but which leaves you as a person worthy to be most pitied because you are without hope in anything greater than yourself.

If however, you believe in God, then let me ask you the question Paul the Apostle asked the crowd at his own trial: Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26:8)

It would be incredible if you or I raised someone from the dead, but if God is God — the creator and sustainer of life — then such a thing is neither impossible nor even difficult for him.

May you be filled with true belief this Easter season, so that you may believe, and in believing have life! (John 20:31)

Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 1

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What does it mean to be a Christian? Most people would say that it means that you are a follower of Jesus or that you believe a certain set of doctrines.

The BBC published an article this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death. The report corresponded with some comments I made this past Sunday about how there is a correlation between rising standards of living and a decrease in religious adherence in many societies of the world, and what some of the reasons for this are. You can listen to the audio of that message here.

Here are some of the statistics listed in the article:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story is true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one that I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

This brings up a very important question: What do you actually have to believe in order to be a Christian?

Or to put it another way: Are there any things which, if you don’t believe them, you can no longer legitimately call yourself a Christian?

When I was 16 years old, one of my Christian friends from school told me I wasn’t a Christian. I was offended – because, you see: I grew up going to Lutheran school. I was catechized and confirmed in the Lutheran church, and I sincerely believed in God’s existence. In fact, I believed that Jesus was God the Son and the Son of God and that he literally died and rose from the dead just as the Bible describes.

So how dare she say that I was not a Christian, right?

But she was right. I wasn’t a Christian.
And I knew it.

Here’s the text she turned me to if you’re interested: Matthew 7:21-23

But here’s why, in spite of believing the biblical doctrines were true, I was not a Christian: because that is not the kind of belief by which a person is saved and becomes a child of God.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12)

Because here’s the thing: the Bible says that the devil also believes all of those things about God: in God’s existence, in the fact that Jesus was God and that he lives, died and resurrected on the third day. (James 2:19)

The word “to believe” in Greek is the word πιστεύω (pisteuo).
It doesn’t mean less than believing in something’s existence or acknowledging that something happened, but it does mean more than that. It means: to trust in, to cling to, to rely on, to adhere to, to commit to.

This is the kind of belief that the Bible is talking about when it says:

  • But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12)
  • these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
  • Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

I have a few more thoughts to share about this, but I’ll save them for tomorrow.
Stay tuned for Part 2.

Back to School

Yesterday I received my letter of acceptance from London School of Theology, where I will begin my postgraduate studies starting this September to get a Master of Arts in Integrative Theology.

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I will be studying via distance learning, which means I won’t have to travel at all and will be able to make my own schedule, both of which are important to me since I’m a full-time pastor and have a family at home. I looked into a local school in Colorado, but I prefer the British approach to education. Also, British schools are more affordable than US schools when it comes to studying Christian theology because in the US it is only taught in private universities because of the separation of church and state – whereas in the UK public universities can have theology departments. I would recommend Americans who want to study theology to really consider looking into studying via distance learning in Britain.

I’m excited to go back to school and continue my theological education. It’s been nice taking a year off, but I am ready to get back into it.

I am still in Kyiv; I fly home tomorrow morning. Today I got to visit Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary and speak to the students and staff.

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The faculty and students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary

Several months ago I met a couple who live in Berthoud, CO who run an organization called Ukraine Orphan Outreach. It was through them that I got connected to people at the seminary, and as it turns out there are several people from Calvary Chapel in Ukraine who work and study there.

I was impressed with their school and its mission: “To strengthen churches and transform society” – as well as the work they are doing to accomplish that. Having an interdenominational evangelical seminary in Ukraine is a great asset to the church here.

The school has many students from outside of Ukraine, and recently they started a second campus of their school in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They also operate several mini-campuses in cities around Ukraine, for people who want to study with them but have difficulty coming to Kyiv.

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A class at UETS

I’m praying that God uses and blesses the work of UETS to raise up and train many ministers of the gospel to work in this country and the former republics of the Soviet Union.

Preaching While the Bombs Fell

Just a few blocks from Buckingham Palace and a short walk from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey is a building which has been used to influence London and the world greatly.

Westminster Chapel, pastored by G. Campbell Morgan and then by Martin Lloyd-Jones has served as a light to the city of London and to the UK for over 150 years.

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It was G. Campbell Morgan who invited Martin Lloyd-Jones, who had studied to be a medical doctor rather than a minister, to come and serve with him and be his successor at Westminster Chapel.

Lloyd-Jones was from Wales, and had been serving at a small village church there. At the time, doctors were considered the true heroes of society, whereas Christianity was already in steep decline in Britain. To give up a career in medicine to pastor a small church was considered a fools errand by many, but Ll0yd-Jones’ decision to become a pastor rather than work as a medical doctor had been aided by something he had witnessed from one of his mentors as he was studying to be a doctor:

He witnessed a doctor who was at the top of his field, the most respected position in that society, who supposedly “had it all” – and yet he had fallen into despondency, hopelessness and depression because of a failed marriage. Having witnessed this, Lloyd-Jones would later say, helped him to decide that he wanted to help people in a way that went beyond just caring for their physical bodies, he wanted to be a doctor for the soul.

Martin Lloyd-Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel in 1939, right before the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The people of Great Britain knew what was coming: they had seen the aggressiveness of the German military, the how the Luftwaffe had no qualms about bombing highly populated areas. They knew that soon the war would probably come to London, and they were right.

In 1939, Martin Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons which prepared his people for the war. He told them that whether the German bombs killed them or not, they should be prepared to stand before God, and he urged them to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ as their hope.

Throughout the war, as people evacuated London, Martin Lloyd-Jones continued to preach to those who gathered at Westminster Chapel. On one occasion, a bomb fell only a few yards from the church during a service, causing the plaster from the roof to fall on the heads of the congregation. When the bomb hit, Lloyd-Jones was praying. He paused for a moment, and then finished his prayer, and went on to preach his entire sermon.

Theologian J.I. Packer sat under Lloyd-Jones’ ministry and called him “the greatest man I ever knew – not just brilliant, but wise.”

Westminster Chapel continues its ministry in its efforts to be “a prophetic voice to London, the UK and the nations.” Their website here.

A documentary was made about Martin Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry a few years ago called Logic on Fire. Here’s the trailer for it:

Frontier Church and Beyond

I do my seminary studies in England, and I always find it interesting to read about American culture, politics, etc. from a British perspective.

This semester I’m taking a class on History of Christian Worship, and one part of this describes the development of different ways of “shaping Christian time” in worship.

Here’s an excerpt from my reading about the “Frontier Church model”:

Frontier or Revivalist Groups

This term is used by White to designate a type of Protestant worship widely recognised in North America which spread to the UK. As already indicated, it is a nineteenth-century form of the Service of the Word in which worship became simply equated with evangelism. Its roots were Puritan, Reformed and Methodist, and it was born out of a prevailing spirit of its Victorian times – didactic, stripped-down commonsensical. To meet the challenge of how to mediate Christian faith to the scattered and independent people moving west across the North American continent, evangelists developed a pragmatic, free-style, anti-tradition form. This kind of worship had one purpose and that was to make converts.

The service had a three-part form:

  • 􏰂the warm-up or preliminaries – easy-to-sing emotional hymns;
  • 􏰂 the Word – the sermon, preparing for;
  • 􏰂 the harvest – altar call, an emotional appeal for conversion.

Frontier-type worship is evident in evangelistic ‘crusades’ and in many independent church services and Pentecostal meetings.

Sound familiar?  This gives interesting perspective to the “common” way of doing church in America today.  I know that this is the MO of many mega-churches. However, the question is begged: where is the discipleship? I know of large churches which have no strategy for discipleship beyond their Sunday morning preaching times, which are focused on proclamation of the Gospel with a focus on evangelism.

On the other side of the spectrum, I was speaking this weekend with friends in Canada who told me that the services in their church are focused wholly on the people of God and are not at all evangelistic (something they regretted to admit).

This seems to be one of the big questions: Who and what is the church service designed for? Discipling believers, or preaching to unbelievers for conversion?  But what if everyone is converted already?  Do you just keep preaching the same invitation to receive salvation to the already saved, because there just might be 1 or 2 unsaved people?  Or is it then always an invitation to “re-committ”?  Where does the instruction of believers come in?  Is that really “church”?  BUT – if you never preach and invite people to respond to the call of the Gospel to commit themselves to following Jesus, then what happens when new people come? Is your service simply not for them?

Clearly every church is trying to find this balance. I find that teaching through the Bible systematically, like we do at White Fields, is one of the most effective ways of both instructing believers and giving calls to action and to repentance. I also believe that having Christian instruction outside of the Sunday morning gatherings is an important way of doing this too. One of the things I’d like to start at White Fields is something along this line, because after all, we are called to not only make converts unto Jesus Christ, but disciples of Jesus Christ, teaching them to observe all that He commanded us (Matthew 28:20).