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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Pastoral prayer for nurses and allied health workers


The International Council of Nurses (ICN) issued an update that said: “World’s nurses facing massive trauma, immediate danger to the profession and future of our health...”

For those of us who can’t do anything other than support them with our thoughts and prayers, here is a prayer:

Gracious God

At times when there are many millions battling virus, there are health workers stretched to beyond breaking point.  Our nurses at the frontline are suffering silently, with support only from embattled colleagues and their families, and perhaps mental health and other services that are made available to them.

Our nurses know there is generic community support for their essential work, but that’s vague at best when they require concrete interventions for their support, rest and recovery.  Hear their prayers and ours.  Provide their needs, including enough income matching with their value.  Give them the assurance of substantial care.

This prayer is for the nurse right now who fears becoming ill, for the one who has succumbed to the virus or other disease, and for the one has lost colleagues or fears losing colleagues to any pathogen.

Give to our nurses and allied healthcare workers a compensation of peace that transcends their understanding despite their fear, and tangible comfort in their grief.

Help our nurses and allied healthcare workers to know how thankful we are for their service, for their cultural awareness and empathy for their patients, for their professionalism and care, for their attention to detail, tact and problem solving, for their time management, for the communication and compassion, for their capacity to bear stress and placate conflict, and for the many times they’re disrespected in the course of their duty.

For those experiencing everything from physical fatigue to compassion fatigue to burnout, we uphold prayers that their prayers would be answered, that they would receive the rest, the peace, the space, the replenishment that they need.

We pray that out nurses and allied healthcare workers would be protected and kept safe from the physical and psychological hazards and threats present when serving patients, clients and others.

That hospitals, medical centres, and employers of all kinds, would seriously and diligently manage safety so risks to employee and public health and safety are lessened, even eliminated where possible.  Where employees are listened to, respected, and honoured by action that secures their health and safety.

Finally, we pray that in every way our nurses and allied healthcare workers would know beyond doubt the incredible value they represent to our societies.

That they would experience pride for their contributions of blood, sweat and tears.

That all others, all of us, in our societies would sincerely recognise their crucial role through cooperating with them, trusting them and respecting them.

AMEN.

Photo by Vladimir Fedotov on Unsplash

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Forgive (the repentant) just as God has forgiven you (because you repented)


Response is key in the model of biblical forgiveness.  Though each and every single one of us stand forgiven by God through Christ, it is up to each and every single one of us to respond to that free gift. It’s there for our taking.  But if we decide to thumb our nose at God, the Lord will say, “Suit yourself in rejecting the divine peace that saves your life.”

The same principle applies to people-to-people transactions of redemption or reticence.  Those who seek to reconcile are blessed by peace, because they do all they can do to live at peace with others.

In the context of forgiveness, there are situations where we wrong people and we’re to seek their forgiveness — to apologise to the degree of setting things right.

It’s obvious that the reverse applies.  If others wrong us, and they seek to live at peace with us, they seek our forgiveness — they apologise to the degree of setting things right.

If a person refuses to own what they did — perhaps they see things completely differently — there is a stalemate, but at least there is no compulsion on the person wronged to forgive.  They cannot complete the transaction of forgiving the other person unless the other person comes and seeks to be forgiven.

Some people argue that a person coming to us and seeking to be forgiven is reconciliation, and I disagree.  A person can come, we can forgive them, and still, we both agree that we move on — is that reconciliation?  It’s agreement, that’s all.  We can forgive a person and not trust them anymore.

When a person has abused us sexually or spiritually or mentally or emotionally or physically or socially or financially — with far reaching effect — and that person refuses to own what they did, which is tragically all too common, we have a double or compounding abuse.

THE POWER IN A CONJUNCTION

When we read the words from Ephesians 4:32, “... forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” we may instantly think, “But, God!  Don’t you know what they did to me... and can’t you see how they’re spurning justice, refusing to own how they treated me?”

But now think of the word ‘just as’ from the above verse — the Greek word, kathos.  Such a simple word.  Packed full of meaning.  That’s right.  A simple conjunction.  And an important one!

If God has created a salvation-construct that relies principally on our response, we too can rely on another’s response JUST AS God has.  Indeed, we’d be remiss to ‘forgive’ another’s debt without their recognition of their wrong, just as we’d be unreasonable in expecting others to forgive our debt if we failed to recognise our wrong.

POWER ROLES AND MERCY

Some cite the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant as one failing the test of forgiveness.  Trouble with that is, that parable profiles the POWERFUL one doing the forgiving, not the one with least power.  That parable is completely inappropriate to use in the context of a less powerful person (one who’s been abused) forgiving their unrepentant abuser.

Also, note that the parable is more about mercy than forgiveness.  Note that if an abused person extended that mercy to their abuser, there would be no calling to account for the abuser and they could reasonably be expected to go on in their abusing people.  More people would or could be harmed.

In the situation of someone having been abused, it can seem to the abuser that the abused party has the power of accusation against them, but only one party has the power to extend a mercy that is befitting of truth and love in the realm of justice — a mercy that ends the iniquity redeems the good.

By an abuser’s apology they extend the mercy of the truth to their victim.  The injustice is over.  Finally, as they turn away from lies of denial, no longer dissociating from the truth — as they face it and what they did to their victim — they’re in a place of potentially being forgiven, JUST AS God forgave them when they about-faced to face Divine Forgiveness having repented.

But not beforehand.  To extend the mercy of ‘forgiveness’ to one who’s harmed people, BEFORE they had repented, would mean they’d learn absolutely nothing, and others would stand to be harmed as a result, and absolutely no healing would be experienced, only more nonsensical harm.

It’s a good thing when people herald the harm that’s occurred.  Unless situations like this are brought sensibly to a head, no justice will be done, which means the injustice will continue.  Harm continues to be felt and further harm is done.

‘IF’ IS ANOTHER IMPORTANT WORD

Nobody who claims to believe in and live for the gospel refuses to forgive those who earnestly seek to be forgiven.

It’s only those who never seek to be forgiven, who never repent, who make a mockery of what God instituted as justice from the beginning.  Jesus himself said, “if they repent, forgive them.” (bold for emphasis)

IF is an important word.

Finally, one further biblical example.  Just as God said the now famous words in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “... if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land,” God used that most powerful word ‘IF’, and we can know that God does not expect us to EXCEED the divine measure of grace.

The divine measure of grace is a repentance that: 1) humbles oneself, 2) prays, 3) seeks God’s face, and 4) turns from wicked ways.  THEN God forgives and heals, not beforehand.

God has created the divine measure of grace.  Who are we to go outside these guidelines?

Waiting on repentance in order to forgive harm done is not ungracious, because it is just, and justice matters where the vulnerable have been trampled.

Had it been the powerful who were harmed, justice would be executed swiftly, and possibly severely.  Look at those who wait on justice and may go a lifetime without it — it’s the vulnerable.

Grace abounds when offenders right their wrongs before they’re exposed.  Sadly, it so rarely happens.

And NONE of the foregoing says it’s beyond a person to forgive anything they feel led to forgive.  It’s just that there needs to be space for justice where harms have been done.

Monday, January 11, 2021

When people feel valued, they feel loved, respected, appreciated, and ultimately safe


I’ve been thinking a lot of late about the exhortation of Paul: “value others above yourselves” from Philippians 2:3-4.  Why: in recognition for what we’ve received.  How: through humility, only through humility is it possible.

In essence, we’re only able to value others above ourselves when we’re grateful.

Truly, people go the extra mile when they’re appreciated, and when a person feels appreciated, below it all, they feel valued.  They feel prized, important, worth the time and effort of kindness, patience, grace, compassion and gentleness.

When we value others, ultimately, we feel valued ourselves — by God.

Like joy is an inside job, so is every form of love that gives from an altruistic heart, and every true motive of love is from God.  It’s an inexplicable thing that exudes from deep within us, always without explanation so none of us can take the credit that belongs to God alone.

We can only ever be grateful for the love we’ve received which compels us to give.

Humility is a character trait that always gives back.  The more we sow in love toward others, the more we experience the depth of God’s love, and the more we see others grow in confidence, the more ours blooms, seeing the fruit of kindness flourish.

As hope abounds, peace endures, and joy abides.

The cause is love and effect is love, just as this thing called ‘valuing another above ourselves’ multiplies and keeps ever expanding, as ripples of rings of love serenely keep their pattern ever flowing outwards.  As people feel valued, they want to outdo the others’ love.

Anyone who feels truly valued will always respond by trying to return that love. 

Through the mere act of love, which gives as much as it can, a person feels valued, thought of, considered, and above all, worthy of such love, because love is gift that doesn’t need to be given, but is given through choice — 

“I do this because I WANT to; I CAN, so I DO.”

Very importantly, the yardstick of love is that the other person feels valued, treasured, precious, cherished, adored.

“I do this because I know you will feel loved,” because a loving act is considered by the person receiving it as loving.  If the person receiving the love doesn’t find it loving, it isn’t loving, even if the motive was loving.  The measure of love is the person receiving it feels valued.

This is why valuing others is the supreme way of loving them; feeling valued, even if it feels intangible, is about the best way to make love perceptible and real, and when a person feels valued, they know without a shadow of a doubt they’re loved.

There’s something indomitable about a love that works to the extent that a person feels valued; it’s a force that creates the urge to reciprocate.  The love of valuing others overcomes everything set against love, including demonstrative evils and every ambivalence.

There’s no better way of being human than of valuing others because we feel God’s love.

The love of being valued reminds us of the safety of feeling truly home, as if it were in eternity — our one true Home.  So many have had unsafe homes but feeling valued is close to the concept of feeling at home.  Such a feeling has the essence of sanctuary about it.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Opportunities abound not despite Losses but because of them


Many of us had certain lives that were cut short and curtailed whether we had something to do with it or not.  Loss takes us on that journey, and there are myriad forms of loss — death of loved ones is most obvious, but there are marriages, careers, homes, and sometimes a range of losses in one life event.

Regret is a big part of the journey of loss, because it’s inevitable we’ll have wanted to have done some things differently.  That’s as we look back.

But as we look ahead, we can soon still see cause for regret if our focus isn’t straight.  Sometimes we look ahead whilst still having half an eye on what’s been.

When we look back while looking ahead, impinged by regrets that mount up in the form of resentments, we begin to see what was done to us instead of what has become of us.

We don’t think of the life opportunities we’ve been presented since the moment everything changed.  We don’t figure that had life continued as it was, we wouldn’t have had the experiences we’d had, and we wouldn’t have met the people we now love.

I belong to a global survivor community, for instance, and had things not happened to me and my wife — things that should not have happened — I wouldn’t know these people.  I’ve got a lot of affection for many of these people, knowing their stories as they know mine, we’ve been in situations where we’ve provided a lot of empathy, support and care to each other.  It’s the same with the diagnosis and loss of our son, Nathanael.  We would never have had the opportunity to love and be loved by a global Pallister-Killian Syndrome community.  We’ve especially enjoyed the fellowship of the Foundation in Australia, including the opportunity for me to serve on the Board.

None of these relationships would have existed had we not been through the experiences we’ve had.

It’s the same with the experiences we’re given.  What seemed like the worst thing — the loss we could do nothing about — comes around as our gain when we consider the experiences we’ve gained, and many of these have taken us to the brink.

This is no sadistic jaunt into self-flagellation — to embrace one’s learning outbound of suffering is a biblical concept.

When James said, “Brothers and sisters, consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds,” he was speaking of a wisdom only those who truly seek God are given.

Suffering isn’t intended to crush us; it’s intended that through our weakness we would be strengthened in our inner being — that through being broken we’d become softer, more pliable vessels, humble, so that at the right time God would exalt us — the Lord’s doing, not our own.  And no less do we learn how strong we can be when our backs are against the wall.

When life takes a turn it never returns to where it was, and it can take years or even longer to finally walk on without regret or resentment.

Think of not that which was lost, but that which would never have been had it not been for the massive change in life circumstances.  As they old grieving hymn writer wrote, It is well!

Photo by Nathan Jennings on Unsplash

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

11 ways to guard your heart


One of the hard realities of life is it’s very difficult to protect ourselves from all manner of attack, whether it’s physical, emotional, verbal, spiritual or otherwise.

The fact is we live in a world that often brutalises the innocent, and unless the innocent ward against such potential ferocity, they’re left wide open to abuse.

Proverbs 4:23 says,

“Above all else, guard your heart,
because all your life flows from it.”

Here are some considerations for guarding our hearts to protect our lives and the lives of others:

1.             Acknowledge first of all that you can’t change anyone.

The hard thing with this is we know it but find it very hard to apply to ALL our relationships.

It’s understandable to have good desires for others, but when those desires blur into demands, transgression is inevitable; it leads to judgement and then punishment.  We save ourselves a great amount of frustration to accept people as they are, understanding that everyone is responsible for their own lives.

2.             Nobody has the right to expect they can change you — that’s right, no one!

The reverse of point 1 applies.  Biblically, it’s the Holy Spirit who changes us, with our will and cooperation.  The only time anyone changes is when we, ourselves, see the need to change.  When people persist in insisting that we change, it’s a signal that the relationship needs to change.

3.             Anticipate disappointments.

Try and be realistic regarding your chances.  The biggest disappointments are shocking setbacks that can prove really difficult to recover from.  We either elevate our chances upon a hopeful (or inflated) perception or we endeavour to have more “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).

There will be disappointments and they can be taken well, if only we don’t cast our expectations too highly.

4.             Keep your eyes peeled for red flags.

You don’t always need to draw immediate attention to them once you see them (you may want to be more strategic than that!), but it’s truly vital that you see those things in another person that will amount to future abuses.

When others have your interests truly at heart, listen to what they tell you.  Heed what your intuition highlights to you.  Experience is also a great teacher, but learning the hard way redoubles trauma.

5.             View every new relationship as a potential future betrayal.

The fact is, as fallible human beings, we fail one another.  Guarding your heart to this degree is about preparing yourself for at least two situations:

1) when in their betrayal, they do not acknowledge their wrongdoing — and this WILL occur to all of us at some point; and, 

2) when they seek your forgiveness having betrayed you — so you don’t hold them apart from their healing, having the grace to forgive where appropriate whilst protecting your boundaries.

6.             Design and implement boundaries for every relationship.

This means overcoming the fear that someone will be disappointed in you — or worse, feel betrayed — because you hold them at a finger’s length or an arm’s length.  We share more intimacy with people who are trustworthy, but we always need to be sufficiently careful — for them AND us — that we don’t remove all boundaries.

The absolute best of the closest most intimate relationships features utter respect for each other’s boundaries.  Boundaries are beautiful because they protect what is holy and safe about the relationship.

7.             Forgive yourself for your failures, embarrassments and regrets.

Life’s arduous enough as it is without living with the constant burden of pain we can’t do anything about.

Failure is either something that propels us to greater successes — “I CAN overcome” — or it continues to propagate guilt and shame within for baggage that hasn’t been processed and jettisoned.  Some of this is about how we’re wired, but we can always unwire and rewire to some extent if shame or guilt play too much a role.

8.             Hold expectations lightly.

We all have expectations.  When they’re higher or more exacting than they either need to be or should be, we make both ourselves and others miserable and the stress creates conflict.

Conflict handled poorly either hurts others or ourselves or both.

9.             Keep your word the best you can and promptly and sincerely apologise when you can’t.

Probably no better way to maintain good relationships over time.  Psalm 15:4 counsels us to keep our promises even when it hurts, but in the inevitable situation we can’t fulfil what we thought we could, the least we can do is make it right some other way.

10.          Don’t engage in gossip.

This is hard because gossipers abound.  I’m not talking about not being able to share what’s happened to us with trusted mentors and counsellors.  We need to do that to process the hurts, betrayals and disappointments.

It’s actually engaging in what shouldn’t be discussed openly, with obvious mischievous intent, and at times the most discernible gossipers are active within prayer meetings.  Hearts are protected when we ignore the overture to gossip.

11.          Don’t set impossible goals.

This is very important this time of year.  An impossible goal is something that is beyond your reach at any time.  It’s the kind of goal a mentor would advise us against committing to.  Life’s hard enough as it is without making it impossible.

~

A word to the wise: consider like boundaries that these points are within your humanity for you to organise for your life.

Be wary of the person or people — anyone — who separate/s you from the safety you have the right to, as a human being, to make you more vulnerable than you’re comfortable with.  That in itself is a red flag, and yet many people are startled to find how close people like this are within their lives.

No wonder there is so much heartache in the world.  As much as you can, carve out protective layers to shelter your life, because, as Proverbs 4:23 says,

“Above all else, guard your heart,
because all your life flows from it.”

The opposite rendering would be: “An exposed heart is open to the plunder of marauders and souls die under trauma.”

It’s up to each of us to guard our hearts the best we can.

Photo by Gautier Salles on Unsplash

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

What repentance really means


Real Christians are more often wrong than they are right.  Let me clarify that.

Real Christians acknowledge that they are, in Paul’s words, “sinners of the worst kind.”[1]  They are spiritually aware of their mistakes and misdemeanours and they put those things right by prompt use of the very tool God gave broken humanity for putting things right: repentance.

Repentance is what sets Christians apart. By repentance Christians call Jesus, “Lord.” By repentance, Christians worship Jesus in the Spirit and in truth.[2]  We cannot lie and worship in the Spirit and in truth.  Repentance as it is needed is proper worship.

If, at the moment we first proclaimed our faith in Christ, we acknowledged we were sinners, and were then saved from the CONSEQUENCES of our sins, we can see a heavenly transaction taking place.

We exchange our acceptance of who we actually are—sinners—for the saving grace of God.

Things have changed forever now.  Something has been changed in us.

Now that we’ve agreed to follow Jesus, we’re set to the task of learning and practicing worship.  Because we’re now committed to the one who is Spirit and truth, we now align ourselves to Spirit and truth, too, no matter what.

Being a Christian completely reformats our relationships.  We value others above even ourselves.[3]

It is a costly discipleship.  There is no cheap grace.  We cannot say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to his requirements.  Yet, all of his requirements could be summed up in the Spirit of repentance, which is to act on the conviction of the Spirit, which occurs in all true believers; therefore, the test of true believers is a fruit of repentance.

Repentance is a sign whether you’re a real Christian or not.

I lived my first 13 years in the faith not really getting it;
there was NO fruit of repentance in my life.

The moment we turn back and don’t live like those who were saved by grace—in other words, the moment we refuse God’s invitation of humility to repent—is the moment we turn our backs on that grace that saved us.  This may be of interest to those interested in things like eternal destinations.

The moment we’re called by someone to reflect on our actions toward them, and don’t acknowledge our sin, is the moment we can consider we’re out of favour with God.  We can postulate as much as we like about how wrong they are.  How we deal with their claim is, however, between us and God.

But this is where real Christians come unstuck.  They exhibit the fruit of repentance and they please God, but they may quickly find they’re in relationships with others who do not repent—other Christians.

Now, I’d use the term loosely, “other Christians,” because I believe the Bible teaches that the Kingdom of God lives in the heart of the believer, and if the person who says they believe doesn’t repent when they should, they’re treasonous.  Christians don’t go around hurting people and leaving them hurt.  It’s direct contravention of Matthew 5:23-24 and the Spirit of Jesus, which is a ministry of reconciliation.   Christians come unstuck when they live as they ought to—bearing a positive, daily fruit of repentance—but are then transgressed by other Christians who refuse to reciprocate.

Those who profess faith in Christ yet also don’t confess and repent when they’re wrong, not only do Christ a disservice, they live a lie.

If Paul could say he was a sinner of the worst kind, surely, we can see the purpose in his hyperbole.   We share the same heart as Paul.   It is tainted by sin.  But this is the good news!  

The very fact that we can’t save ourselves, heralds the fact that God in Jesus can save us, but only if we’re willing to acknowledge we need him, and we only do that when we see our sin—and the effects of our sin as it flows into others’ lives—as it really is.  As we live Jesus’ final command, “Love one another... then the world will know you’re my disciples.” (John 13:34-35)

Real repentance means this: I am sorry. Not just a little sorry, enough to say sorry, but even that’s not enough. Sorry enough to understand what we did wrong, and sorry enough to fully become aware. Sorry enough to change not only our mind, but to be challenged enough to modify our behaviour.  Sorry in our heart.  Sorry enough to convince the person or people we had wronged that we’re serious.  Sorry enough to want to earn that lost trust back.  Serious enough to warrant forgiveness.  Committed enough not to relapse.



[1] 1 Timothy 1:15.

[2] John 4:24.

[3] Philippians 2:3-4.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Grandiose narcissism’s deepfake grift and deception gaslighting


In preparing an article on the threats to good society that deepfake technology presents, suddenly I stared into a reality right before my eyes.  Just as deepfake technology deceives with majestic cunning, the grandiose narcissist deceives by believing their own fabrications so compellingly they convince others sublimely.

What occurs as a result is a pied piper effect — within such intellectual grand larceny, people are caused to believe strongly in lies.  They’re led a merry dance of deception beyond the realms of the rational and reasonable into comprehensive yet unknown jeopardy.

Lies are weaponised and truth appears impotent.

The audacity is unspeakable, as the scam is done in plain sight, as much so that people deny what their eyes show them plainly.

It could well be described as nonverbal gaslighting, just that there’s still a lot of verbal about it.  But when actions epitomise lies, all the while dressing as truth, ‘good people’ don’t feel justified challenging it.  Even when to do so betrays their sight.

We have one of the most visible examples performing before our eyes at this very time on the global stage.  Calling lies the truth with such consistency, he calls everyone believing in him to question and dismiss what can plainly be seen... and gets away with it.

Even when the whole world is shown irrefutable evidence, he calls it ‘fake news’, carries on with his absurdities, and gets away with it.  The more this happens, the less astonished we appear that he gets away with it, even as we’re all the more astonished that he does.

The more gaslighting goes on, the more we come to question truth and contemplate lies.

The rhetoric of this deepfake fiasco is enthralling.  It’s beyond the pale, and it’s exactly how the grandiose narcissist paints it.  He creates his very own reality and manipulates everyone else’s perceptions.  We all have front row seats as to how he works, yet insanely, we still may question some of what we see in broad daylight.

The victim of this one’s abuse has seen it all too often.  They’re desensitised to the lies, following the libellous tune to their peril, and only as they get away, do they see the criminality for what it is.

The further they go, the closer to healing they come, and the more they NEED to heal, for the disgust of such a deceit morphs, threatening to consume them, trigger upon trigger.

When the victim turns into a survivor, they convert the energy that twisted them in spiritual contortionism into a force for passionate advocacy, but they face a fresh frustration — they cannot and will not convince those being led off to the slaughter.

Vulnerable narcissists are certainly capable of leading such a merry charge, and perhaps the key component that’s spotlighted here is the grift of gaslighting.

Rather than try and define what we see when we may routinely begin to question it, we’re blessed most to simply see what we see and then name it, without playing it down through the ‘rationalisations’ of those who are either deceived or those bent on evil.

We need to reclaim belief in the witness of our plain sight.

Some people, we must now contend, lie to our faces with such authenticity they convince us to believe upon the lie.

We know when we’re in a deep mess when we begin to have our perceptions overturned and then we just don’t know what to believe — the object of gaslighting.  Evil swapped for good, good swapped for evil.

When we begin not to know what side’s right side up, we can know — if only we could stand back — that we’re being gaslighted.  Only the narcissist engages in such manipulative lunacy.

The only win is to get out.  The further we go, the more we see true.

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash