The Struggling Pastor’s Best Friend, Why Are Teenagers So Sad and Anxious?, and High Praise for Songwriter Mark Heard – Points of Interest for August 15, 2022

John Calvin: The Struggling Pastor’s Best Friend

“Since unceasing spiritual battle is the reality of ministry, all who would be pastors “should carefully consider with themselves, whether or not they were able to bear so heavy a burden.” Ministry will always be filled with difficulties and sufferings, so the frank assessment of one’s ability to bear those difficulties is an essential part of examining one’s call to ministry.”

“Pastors who look to the love of Christ will be enabled to forget their comforts and reputations and be able to persevere in a work that so often costs them those comforts and reputations.”

Why Are American Teenagers So Sad and Anxious?

“Kids need millions of experiences of conflict, getting lost, struggling with something, failing in a low-stakes environment. That’s what play is all about, play is what develops our brain. But what we did beginning around 2009 was we put all of our kids on experience blockers.”

Mark Heard: Treasure of the Broken Land

I quite enjoyed this essay on one of my favourite songwriters, the late Mark Heard. I made a playlist of some of my favourite songs. Have a listen.

“Heard’s reputation is built primarily on his last three albums. That’s where his poetic promise flowered and he finally shook loose of the Christian music industry that had never wanted much to do with him anyway.”

Pray for the foothills
Home to the drones of power lines and rock doves
Mountains gray as velvet
Field for dots of yucca, white with jacarandas
Facing the sky as the day burns away is a desert in mourning
Sheltering the dead stones
Cradle of the lost bones
Home of eternal comings and goings
(“Another Day in Limbo”)

“When an artist dies in his prime, the temptation is to mourn the art he never had a chance to make. And that’s doubly true for Heard, who’d really come into his own as a singer and songwriter only a few years before he died. But we should be thankful for the music he left behind…Heard’s work will stand the test of time, I am sure, even if only a few thousand people ever hear it.”

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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)

Books Worth Reading: “Present Shock – When Everything Happens Now”

“Our society has reoriented itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always-on. It’s not a mere speeding up, however much our lifestyles and technologies have accelerated the rate at which we attempt to do things. It’s more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now—and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.”

― Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

Deep Sorrows Are Rarely Overnight Guests

There are periods in our lives when we experience little comfort, when refuge seems out of reach, when “but joy comes in the morning” seems but a faint hope. Joy always does come on some morning, but it does not come every morning, and we should not try to pretend that it does.

In Psalm 88, unlike many others, there is no silver lining, no bright light at the end of the dark path; it is sorrow and woe from beginning to end. The cause of these morose reflections appears to be a loss of friendship. “You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them” (v8), and “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” (v18).

The psalmist suffers in anguish: “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (v3); “Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves” (v7); “my eye grows dim through sorrow” (v9). And then in one final exasperated utterance:

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together. (v14-17)

Deep Sorrows

Deep sorrows are rarely overnight guests and the anguish of enduring a disaster-in-progress is sometimes an experience of months or even years. We sit watching as if we are captives – gagged and bound with eyes propped open – powerless, defenceless, hopeless.

Often when this happens we tend to make self-condemning declarations. We indulge in the self-pity of believing that we are to blame for every small negative detail of a complex situation. Indeed, we may be partly to blame for our predicament, but we must guard against taking undue credit.

For in this frame of mind, we would look at the man born blind and tell him he must have sinned – either him or his parents. We would sit with Job and offer long monologues of very bad advice. These responses betray a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty and a deficit of trust in his clear promises to us.

Enough Already?

As I make my way, reading and reflecting, time and again through the psalms, I sometimes think, “Isn’t it enough already, all these reflections on sorrow and weakness and trouble? On feeling alone and abandoned and low? On the betrayals of friendship and on sins of my own?” But I write only in response to what I read, and the psalms are full of these themes. 

Not only should we learn to expect these emotions to surface in our souls, but we should embrace them as often as necessary; we should not suppress them the way we sometimes do. Rather, we should use the psalms as the starting points for our expression and conduits for our own sorrow. 

We need to learn to sit in the sorrow, to let God do the chisel work he intends to do without constantly trying to dodge the bevelled edge. What does that look like? On many days, I’m still working that out.

  • I know it means applying faith to my anxieties, thus halting the endless cycling of my negative thoughts. 
  • I know it means denying the false relief of digital distractions to alleviate my tired mind. This only makes my mind more tired.
  • I know it means to cease striving for comprehensive self-invented solutions and admit that I cannot change the hearts of those for whom I pray. What I can do is ask God to change my heart and then comply with the often painful process.

How Does This Add Up?

In John 9, where we find the story of a man born blind, Jesus says the purpose of his blindness was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. In John 11 he says something similar about Lazarus: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Blindness, sickness, and all manner of disorders and diseases – who does not want to be relieved of such afflictions? But Jesus, then and now, has full authority and is capable of arranging these events in such a way that our faith is strengthened as God is glorified. 

The events of our lives may seem paradoxical or sometimes even counterproductive to us. They often may not seem to add up, but Jesus knows and understands exactly how they do.

Photo by Michael Krahn on Unsplash

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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)

A Christian View on Psychedelics, Should Pastors Have Friends?, and How to Spot a Wolf – Points of Interest for August 8, 2022

Pastors Should Have Friends in Church. Do They?

This is an oft-reported problem in churches. I am grateful that I pastor a church in which so many of the congregants are also my friends. Clearly, this is how it should be, but too often it is not. Give this article a read to understand why.

“Yes, pastors and their wives should have close friends within the church, but this doesn’t mean they will. Such a sentence is hard to write; it is an even harder reality to face. Friendships within the church are so often difficult for pastors and their families. The loneliness is even enough to drive some to despair.”

A Christian View on Psychedelics

There is increasing interest – and therefore conversation – about the use of psychedelics. This article takes a look at the phenomenon from a Christian perspective.

“The Judeo-Christian heritage… teaches us that there is danger in such things, and that practices such as the ingesting of psychoactive substances put us in contact with a world of spirits that is not our assigned place. And yet Christianity fully validates that longing for a connection to the spiritual. The Scriptures make clear that this God-given hunger for the transcendent is meant to be satisfied by God himself, through Christ his Son, as mediated by the Holy Spirit.”

How to Spot a Wolf: Three Signs of False Teachers

Any seasoned pastor will find much to affirm in this article. When you see the signs listed below (and in the rest of the article) ring the alarm bell until somebody notices. You may be seen as the “bad guy” in the situation at first, but you will end up saving the church a lot of time and hurt in the long run.

“Watch for a pattern of pursuing church leadership positions that seems unhealthy. Watch for a charming charismatic personality that in the past has left a disproportionate number of disillusioned and wounded people in its wake. Watch for claims to and apparent demonstrations of the kinds of spiritual power valued in the church, but which encourage a troubling dependency on and loyalty to the leader(s). Watch for a group forming around a leader, noticeably comprised of susceptible, spiritually weak members, that begins to manifest distrust in godly church leaders. Watch for a pattern of conflicts with godly leaders and resistance to submit to leaders in general.”

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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)

Books Worth Reading: “The Coddling of the American Mind”

“A culture that allows the concept of ‘safety’ to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.”

– Lukianoff, Greg; Haidt, Jonathan. The Coddling of the American Mind (p. 29). Kindle Edition.

Trust the Process – Even When It’s Painful

Although he is a younger man, Elihu is the one wise advisor to speak to Job in his time of trouble. (There is an excellent article written by John Piper on Elihu here.) One of Elihu’s challenges to Job is this: 

“Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’? For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.”

Job 33:13-14

Do you see that? God answers us in ways we cannot perceive, although we often perceive and comprehend (and express gratitude!) for these answers later.

We rage against him when the unimaginable becomes a full-blown reality. “Where are you, God? I demand answers!” we cry. And he is answering “in one way, and in two” though we do not perceive it. Sometimes it is not for us to know at the time but it is always for us to submit to God’s timing, his plan, and his wisdom.

And yes, we can cry out and question and struggle and wrestle with all of this in the meantime. If you are crying out to him today, he is undoubtedly answering – sometimes in the moment, but often in ways you cannot perceive.

You asked him to humble you but didn’t expect humiliation.

You asked him to save your son or daughter but you didn’t expect a prodigal period to be part of the plan.

You asked to be financially blessed but didn’t expect bankruptcy to be one of the stops along the way.

We want shortcuts but he wants what’s best. We want immediate relief from our struggles but he is shaping us by way of our trials. We want to be sanctified, but we don’t want the chisel of providence chipping away at the hard parts of our hearts.

Trust the process – even when it’s painful.

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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)

Our Fumbling Steps as Faithfulness

Psalm 3:6 contains one of many aspirational statements we find in Scripture: “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” We should not hesitate to make similar declarations. 

King David at times did have many people who had set themselves against him. He was afraid for his life; he was not always calm under pressure. His faith was not perfect. He sometimes struggled to see the value in his afflictions. He pleaded for vindication from God when he was falsely accused and judged. 

But through all these experiences he kept striving for and desiring perfect faith and full trust. God described David as a man after His own heart, not because David was the most perfect human who ever lived – he certainly wasn’t! –  but because he kept pursuing God’s heart.

Even our fumbling steps in God’s direction are counted by him as faithfulness. 

On the day we receive our commendation, he will not say, “Well done! You completed the course perfectly and in record time!” He will say, “Well done, you faithfully pursued me. You clothed yourself with the righteousness of my Son. You repented when you sinned and cared for those in need. Enter your rest.”

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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)

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“O God, You Know My Folly”

There are two passages of scripture that regularly come to mind as I go about my life and work as a pastor. These are warning flags and reminders of the sacred trust and serious responsibility I hold due to the work to which I have been called. 

One passage is Hebrews 13:17, where it says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” As church leaders, we carry a weighty responsibility; we will be held responsible for the spiritual well-being of those placed in our care.

The other passage that regularly comes to mind is Psalm 69:5-6:

“O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.”

Accusations and Revelations

The news cycle in the Evangelical world of late seems like a never-ending series of painful revelations of past and/or ongoing grievous sin in the lives of those who lead churches. Some are not big surprises while others result in a wave of new doubt, anguish and grief because they are so shocking.

In Psalm 69, David pleads with God that his past follies and sins will not result in shame for those he leads. That those who seek God would be brought to dishonour on his account is a thought that grieves him.

Here he’s not asking God to prevent him from further folly and sin; he’s asking that no harm will come to those he leads and loves due to his past folly and sin. To be clear, he is not asking God to give a free pass to sins for which he has not repented, but to minimize the damage that might come from sins already committed, repented of, and forgiven. Elsewhere he asks God to restrain him from sinning in the future: “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!” (Psalm 19:13); but that’s not his plea here.

Sinning Leaders

We are continually reminded of the sorrowful plight of churches, organizations and movements that are led by people of poor character and dark, even if subconscious, ulterior motives. Many are put to shame through the careless and often callous sinning of these leaders who will not heed warnings, receive correction or repent, even when they are found out and exposed.

Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs in some disgraced leaders’ post-fall stories. Tullian Tchividjian is known for, among other things, being a grandson of Billy Graham and a formerly prominent speaker and pastor in the Reformed Evangelical world. In 2015, he resigned from his church after admitting to an extramarital affair. More recently, he wrote of that experience with sober reflection:

“You would think that after all the damage my wickedness caused to myself and countless others I would fall down to my knees in confession. But I didn’t. Instead, I ran. I ran from honesty, I ran from repentance, I ran from God. Rather than feeling sorry for my sin, I was feeling sorry for myself. As is often the case when we get caught, things got worse before they got better. Flight from God oftentimes accelerates before it stops.”

The trajectory he describes is not uncommon; what is uncommon is to hear one who engaged in such denial and deception admit to it and express genuine remorse and repentance.

Now, not to be overly cynical, but who knows, he might currently be living one thing and writing another just like he did before. Only those who live in close proximity can validate this repentant tone. But it is a hopeful sign nonetheless, and a more refreshingly biblical response than the usual denials and obfuscations that often follow in the wake of a newly-revealed scandal.

Sober Reflection

Regular sober reflection will serve us well in preventing future catastrophes. As for follies already engaged in and sins already committed, we can do nothing more than confess, turn continually from ever doing the same again, and receive the forgiveness that Christ offers. 

We can pray for the Lord’s protection, as David did in Psalm 19:13: “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!” And we can pray for the Lord’s grace in sparing others from any shame or dishonour that might come their way due to our past follies and sins. 

“O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.”

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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)

God’s Plan Was Better Than My Plan

 As we read through pages of the New Testament, we uncover stories of the lives of the first Christians and discover that even when people are clearly called by God to a specific mission, this doesn’t guarantee the kind of success they hope to have. This is still true: God calls us to a mission, but he doesn’t always call us to tangible or predictable results. 

I imagine Paul and others were, like we are, sometimes a bit discouraged about this. “Yes, I have my clear calling from God! I know what his plan is for me! This is going to be great!” And then the dreams you dreamed about how everything would go don’t come to pass. You discover that God has ways of bringing about his plans that are very different from yours. 

God’s Plans and My Sanctification

When God called me into full-time ministry 15 years ago, I had no clue what I was in for. I was not the Lead Pastor then but the Pastor of Worship, a role I thought would have me playing music, doing coffee, and generally spending pleasant time with people. And there was all of that, but I didn’t know at the time that our church was heading into a period of unprecedented upheaval. 

I didn’t know that I would see the highest highs and lowest lows of the church’s life. 

I didn’t know that I would be wiped out by a burnout that would take 8 weeks of rest and intense counselling to recover from. 

I didn’t know that I would experience almost constant anxiety over the state of the church and its people. 

I could not have anticipated the slander and opposition and spiritual warfare that awaited me. 

I didn’t know that there would be so much pain. 

But it’s also true that while all of that was happening, I didn’t see how God was using every moment of that pain to draw me closer to him and help me to become more like Jesus – a process that is still underway and one that progresses more slowly than I would like.

I didn’t know any of that. 

Answering the Call

All I knew was that God had – out of the blue – called me to become a pastor, and as I followed that call it led me to a place. It wasn’t a place I expected to end up, but in retrospect, I have no doubt that it was what God had planned for me. And despite all the hardship, I do not regret answering the call.

The same kinds of things will happen to you as you answer God’s call. And although you can’t see it while it’s happening, his plan will accomplish far more for him and in you than your plan ever could. 

These two things are true for anyone who wants to pursue God’s mission: First, God IS calling you to serve him; that is not in doubt. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have a mission. Second, you should know that if you follow where he’s leading you will find yourself in hard places and difficult situations. 

We Need Not Fear

But here is what’s also true: Jesus knows the fears of our hearts, even the unspoken ones. He knows the anxiety, the discouragement, the cynicism that creeps in, the sin that seeks to trip us up and bind us, and he speaks to all of that with a comforting precision. He loves us; we are his and we need not fear because he is with us.

Armed with this affirmation, this reassurance, this ultimate security, we should continue to go boldly forward with the mission to which he has called us. 

In the words of Elisabeth Elliot: “The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem much worse, but in the end, it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.” 

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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)

Deconstructing My Deconstruction

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

Psalm 13:1-2

Look at all those questions! While in the New Testament we find more propositional statements, in the Psalms we find many questions and displays of uncertainty. It is a restrained uncertainty that retains its core of faith, but it is uncertainty nonetheless. 

Deconstruction Stories

For many years I have been a student of deconstruction stories. Deconstruction in a religious context is the taking apart and examining of one’s faith, sometimes then reconstructing it but often not. This has become quite a mainstream phenomenon in our day.

At its heart, deconstruction is taking apart your existing engine, inspecting the components, cleaning up or replacing the parts that are worn out or not working, and then putting the engine back together again. It’s like taking apart an elaborate Lego structure that has been built up in pieces and sections over years, laying all the pieces on the table, and then putting all the parts back together, getting rid of some and adding others, into a more coherent structure. 

Some decide the entire engine or Lego structure is a sham and they need to start from scratch. In some cases, that’s not a bad idea; in others, a lot of good components are needlessly discarded.

Are My Questions Welcome?

It saddens me that what is often mentioned in stories of deconstruction as the fuel for the journey is some version of being raised in a church where questions were not allowed. Questions were dangerous and needed to be put on a shelf. In reality, based on my experience, this was often the advice of Christians and church leaders who have not themselves contemplated many of the deeper aspects of their faith. 

In conversing with atheists, initially around 2007 (when I was making my way through “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins) I discovered that there’s a bit of an unofficial test applied among atheists where within 4-5 questions they can stump and scare off most Christians. It’s a bit of a game and according to my atheist interlocutors, a game they most often win. These were fairly rudimentary questions about the Christian faith, the answers to which did not require even an undergraduate degree in philosophy.

Set Up to Fail

As with many other reasons people deconstruct and don’t come back, I am appalled at this one. But what did we expect to happen to a generation raised on shallow entertainment-based Christianity that often encouraged idolatrous and unholy alliances with politicians and their parties? What did we expect to happen to people who were given pools of theology to wade into that didn’t even rise to their ankles?

They asked hard questions of their churches and received a tsk-tsk, a finger-wag, and a “Don’t do that again!” in response. Many were not even given the courtesy of a reply they could disagree with. They turned elsewhere and received more information than they could consume – and off they went, often never to return. Sadly, they learned that there is precious little time for important theological questions when the bulk of your time is dedicated to winning a culture war.

And all of this has led to as much nominalism as it has apostasy. Well, maybe apostasy is not always the right word. People sometimes deconstruct what never should have been constructed in the first place, and that is not a bad thing. But often in their confusion and disillusionment, they end up throwing out what was good along with the bad. 

Deconstructing my Deconstruction

I had my own experience of deconstruction around 2005-2007. My journey was unlike those of many today. Rather than leading me out of the church, mine led me deeper into the church, but I was really out there for a while. I had all the pieces on the table. I took some pieces off the table and left them there and others I later put back on. It was a difficult time for me and my family, so if you’re on the same journey, I understand what it’s like!

In the end, I seemed to be mostly cured of my pervasive cynicism about Christianity. To be more accurate, I ceased to feel guilty about applying a cynical eye to the many intentionally shallow and bogus manifestations of Christianity that are commonplace today. This allowed me to see and embrace the more genuine and serious expressions of the faith that have been tested by time and found to produce disciples of Jesus who look like Jesus.

My confidence in Christ and his church grew – not because I looked at church history and refused to believe all the bad things that had been done in the name of Christ. Not at all. It was by taking an honest look and processing what I saw that my faith was nursed back to strength.

The End of the Middle of the Story

In the end, after years of hard struggle and deep contemplation, I was able to reconstruct the basic framework of my faith almost completely with the pieces I had been given by my parents. But now no longer was I living in my parents’ house; the house was now my own.  

The point is that all of this came about because I asked questions. I was never told that it was wrong to ask questions; I was encouraged to ask, to jump into the deep end and learn to swim.  

As a result, I became a strong swimmer – which is a good thing because I find that I still encounter deep waters and dark waves. 

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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)

Header photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash