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Thursday, May 31, 2018

For those who suffer in silence

Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash

On the same day as I attended training for dealing with abuse I met up with likeminded others to discuss the make-up of a conference for silent grief. Loss connects them both.
Loss connects so much of the kind of life we never thought possible — until we are confronted and then confounded by grief. And if grief has blindsided you, chances are high that you’re suffering in silence. In abuse, too. So often.
Suffering and silence are correlated.
They double the other’s effect.
They’re like identical twins.
They enmesh in grief.
But it doesn’t finish there. There is hope. It’s in silence, where we’re bereft of human contact or empathy (or both), where the opportunity’s pregnant to have a divine encounter.
But this article is not really about that — I write plenty on that subject.
This is about saying I hear you, and there are those out there who exist for you; yes, their whole life purpose is to enter that struggle and silence and suffering with you, if you’ll have them there with you. Not to advise you, but to make the journey a little less lonely and a little more meaningful.
For those who suffer in silence, there are plenty out there who do identify, and when you connect with these people, there is a light-bulb moment for the both of you.
Perhaps you enjoy your independence. Good for you. But even those who are independent face loneliness, boredom and the excruciating reality of grief when they’ve suffered loss.
There is a lot to be said for gathering with those you can depend on for your independence. This is about entering the fray of life and taking a risk to enter the lives of others. Only to the point of balance I mean. And you just might find someone who really wants to know how you are and how well (or not) you’re coping.
Maybe you’re suffering in silence and you’re not ready to venture out yet. Perhaps you really don’t see any hope. That could just be how you’re feeling today. You’re forgiven for feeling that. Nobody ought to judge you, and perhaps you can see if God doesn’t judge you for it, you can go a little easier on yourself, too. If you’re already suffering in silence.
You could be suffering in silence because you’re stigmatized or ostracised or forlorn or scattered. Perhaps none of the reasons outlined here identify with you at all, yet you suffer in silence; please know you are heard here, that I’m thinking about you, that my heart yearns for you to be met.
Suffering in silence takes a certain kind of resigned bravery. It takes the sort of strength many people have no idea about. It is strength in weakness. It is God’s strength, and whether you feel God or not, He is close.
Your heart is for those who suffer in silence.
I pray for grace and peace in the suffering and silence.
Enter them right now as they read this prayer.
Encounter them and revive their hope.
Give them every good thing.
In Jesus name.
And of course, my prayer is you’re able to break out from your silence… at the right time and in the right way for you.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Why biblical advocates against abuse deserve church support

Blessed is the church to have such resources as the above at its disposal.

I was perplexed recently when an advocate for victims of abuse said that ‘very few men and very few church leaders actively endorse and promote’ her work. As I pondered my response, God said to me, ‘There are too many reasons why this is all wrong. Write on that.’
So, this is an attempt to analyse the depth of the problem and the amount of reasons why there is a lack of support for this and other advocates for victims of abuse:
1.      This particular advocate is widely read, knowledgeable, biblically astute, with a wealth of personal and direct experience of others to draw from. This is true of most advocates. Because of what they’ve seen and gone through, they devote their lives to doing what they do. They live and breathe it. They leave no stone unturned. And they’re constantly learning and engaging with their network. The church needs people like this to lead, to be given a prophetic voice, for that’s what they are.
2.      Advocates stay the journey, for they believe they have a purpose in putting a spotlight on something the world and the church would rather pretend doesn’t exist. Advocates deserve a hearing simply because they bear a terrifically negative burden for the years of their lifetime. Advocates won’t go away. They simply won’t bow to the injustices that have and continue to take place. And they suffer the constant indecency of being undignified.
3.      Advocates are like prophets, and we know how poorly prophets are treated; we only need open our Bibles to discover this historical truth. The prophet’s voice is often received abysmally when it’s a rebuke. And despite the elements against it, advocates continue courageously delivering words from God. They deserve a hearing simply for the toll being ignored must take.
4.      It’s concerning that the church does not generally want to promote the work of a person who will inevitably speak into many lives. A church of 200 must have at least 30 people who’ve suffered abuse.
5.      Point 4 needs to be elaborated. The advocate I have in mind has not only had a long experience of domestic abuse, that account was exacerbated by worse than poor support from the church. Today’s church is being damned for its re-traumatisation of abuse victims through, in many cases, of not taking claims of abuse seriously and not investigating (though there is far more to it than this). So that is ever more reason for the church to endorse and promote this work. It doesn’t at its peril. It’s the role of the church to champion these kinds of issues.
6.      How can the most obvious reason fall to number 6? It’s easy to answer that. These are all obvious reasons. The most obvious reason is the support they lend to those who have similar if not the same stories. They’re guides for healing ultimately, but initially they’re human resource centres, sounding boards, confidantes, believers-in-victims, and even human shields. I know an advocate personally who has put her health at risk and on the line many times to stand in the gap for those individuals coming behind her.
7.      This is the last reason, for seven must surely prove the point. There are more, and I will add them as they come to mind and as I have time. The seventh reason is simply the recognition that for return on investment (normally a financial term) the advocate experiences far less encouragement and far more ostracization contrasted with the deeper work they do as compared with other ministers (and I mean deeper in the spiritual warfare realm).
It’s astounding when churches don’t give overt support to advocates for the abused, but I think this could be about to change. I thank God for the #MeToo and #ChurchToo campaigns. The church must advocate for the abused, not be part of the problem.
As the prophet Amos said, ‘But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream.’ (Amos 5:24)

Acknowledgement to Barbara Roberts, the advocate who inspired this article. She can be followed at: @NotUnderBondage and https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraRobertsNUB/ and cryingoutforjustice.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/A-Cry-for-Justice-196307250499415/

Sunday, May 27, 2018

White flag ministry for acceptance in failure and brokenness

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Dido’s White Flag (2003) came to be an anthem for me in a season of musical anthems. I can’t be sure whether the words resembled my heart or if my heart grew to accept the words of the song. Little did it matter.
What mattered, alone, was that the pain of accepting my loss was more pleasurable than the bitterness I could have chosen in resenting my ex-partner.
The very weird thing in this was the agreement I made with the will of God; the vulnerability of simply saying, ‘I give this person up who I so desperately want… I don’t want to give her up… but I must give her up.’
This is White Flag’s hauntingly committed chorus:
I will go down with this ship,
and I won’t put my hands up and surrender,
there will be no white flag above my door,
oh I’m in love and always will be.
This song is astounding in what it conceives as possible in the realm of emotional management.
The lyrics speak of a person so smitten with their ex-partner that they cannot war with them even though the relationship is over.
It speaks of the peak of love
in the peak of grief.
And the weirdest thing about the faith involved in balancing two seemingly opposed purposes is it’s possible, and not only that, but so very purposeful. It’s when grief takes a life all its own and energy is given instead of being sapped.
A white flag ministry is an absolute imperative
in a season of failure and brokenness.
Such a ministry is discharged solely between two entities — us and God — even if a third party is centrally involved. And it is God’s therapy to us in our aloneness, in our second-guessing, in our head-and-heart struggle, in our teary meltdowns, and in our narcissistic aloofness, that shows us that we must attend to this fractious and feverish season face up and head on.
The only way we can manage to do that
is through a courageous honest vulnerability.
This white flag ministry with God, where His Spirit ministered to me in a way no human being can, showed me that the only answer to the hell I was facing was to raise the white flag whilst refusing to show it.
In simpler words, I learned that I had to do two things that seem opposed at the same time: 1) give up on the relationship that only I wanted, and 2) not give up on my love for her.
And the only way to rationalise and reconcile the enigma presented in that was to agree to love the person I could not have. I would need to love her through my prayers in wishing for her the love she sought that I, at that time, was unable to give.
That kind of sacrificial humility can come only from God,
through trust, which necessitated the need to be close to Him.
We cannot give up that which we would insist on keeping
without drawing close, clung as it were, to God.
It takes a lot to recognise and reconcile our
human frailties in our human strength,
but it is easy to accept our human frailties
in God’s power and have Him change them.
That is why I say this white flag ministry is an absolute imperative. It’s why the gospel is needed in every person’s life. It’s why the world needs to know and be converted to Christ. Everyone ought to know that the secret to everything in life is that life must have been, at one time, lived authentically through loss. It is the golden gateway to the only proper selfhood.
Our conceitedness must be crucified with Christ
before we can live the Christian endeavour.
This gospel power makes reconciling loss in a way that’s possible — it turns what is impossible in human strength into a possibility through God’s power.
Here is White Flag in a YouTube clip.

Friday, May 25, 2018

A crisis of faith: when the religious bark heresy

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Oh, what a mess the church is in. But it’s almost always been in a mess, made all the worse when men try to tidy her up. Today, more visible than ever through social media, there are sides of religion that actively oppose and war with each other.
A case in point, the Royal Wedding sermon of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.[1] Many Christians have gushed about it, but many also cry heresy. The disagreements are pointed.
It would be okay if those disagreements could be had without slandering people; but we’re all so sin-stained that if we enter into unmediated debate it’s not long and we’re injuring one another.
One side presents the priory of the social justice gospel, missing other components of Jesus’ teaching. The other side majors on the ethics of God lost on the world, missing other components of Jesus’ teaching.
One side woos the world in a world-friendly way that seems to compromise too much. The other side spurns the world in a holy way that seems not to compromise enough.
There’s heresy on both sides if there’s heresy at all. And, of course, John Stott (1921–2011) said just that:
“[E]very heresy is due
to an overemphasis upon some truth,
without allowing other truths
to qualify and balance it.”
The church these days resembles the political arena. Some churches lean left, some lean right, whilst fewer and fewer are centrist, leaving the believing populace to decide in their individual hearts what school of Christianity they will lend their lobby power to.
One of the great distinctives of the Baptist denomination is liberty of conscience. That means that theological differences are to be largely respected. If only we could love one another in our disagreeing with each other. In doing this we would glorify God in acknowledging only God has all theological bases covered, ever.
There are religious on all sides of the spectrum, and I don’t mean ‘religious’ in a complimentary way. The religious seem devoid of the Presence of God to love, which is to be kind, gentle, peaceable, understanding with others to the extent of the second commandment — love one another.
They have their point; their point — their truth — is always paramount, come hell or high water.
For my way of thinking, the religious — whether they be on the left or right, liberals or conservatives — seem to awaken with a bee in their bonnet. It’s always about how life is so unfair or wrong; that people and systems need to be corrected. There’s always such an emphasis on correction and far less or none on commendation. I don’t see how that’s biblical.
The problem with that way of living life is relationships suffer for want of connection.
I’m sorry, but if you want to convince me, you’ll have to connect with me first; you’ll need to show you’re interested enough in listening to me too, and if you can’t, when I’ve listened to you, I’m sorry, but my walls go up. You’ve lost me.
A person convinced against their will
is of their same opinion still.
(Dale Carnegie)
Spewing our opinion over people, no matter how correct it may be, is tantamount to relational heresy.
Build connection first. Only then is influence possible.
But I do acknowledge this: we are all hypocrites and heretics sooner or later. A lack of acknowledgement of this is deception. We’re all wrong so often, but the religious don’t want to abide in that weakness.
Oh yes, I too have my biases.

[1] I think critics of Curry’s sermon may forget the context he was in. It’s a homily for a wedding ceremony.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Never comes when we Never Say Never

Counselling is like a mirror, and not just for the client. Even as I sit there and listen, God’s Spirit often tells me, ‘Yes, you relate with that, don’t you?’
I see it as a good thing. When it happens it means I’m not deceived by conceit. There’s an immediate empathy, because there’s some personal experience for their particular kind of suffering.
Over the years, I’ve counselled people who were lamenting in disbelief — ‘I never thought I would ever fall for something like that — I said I would never do that — and I never would have, but now I have!’ As I reflect, I can think of two life situations where I had said, without thinking it would ever happen, ‘I would never do that.’ And I did. On both occasions. Yes, twice. Both of these situations have involved major regret — both situations involved significant harm and railed me and my family onto tracks we would have preferred not to have rolled along.
These kinds of situations are what we routinely find in the counselling situation — shock and disbelief.
As human beings we’re so prone to believing our own press, which is the propagation of our own stories that we hardly ever challenge. To fall into a ‘never’ situation is just such a human thing to do.
If we say we’ll never divorce, we better ensure we do the kind of work on our marriage that means that possibility should never happen, and not simply rest on the idea that our partner holds to the same premise, because they don’t. I made the promise that we-would-never-divorce, all the while never doing the work that would have protected against that reality. The only way to never is to never say never.
If we say we’ll never have an affair, that’s fine, but we had better imagine how easily such things happen if we’re not continually guarding our hearts. Too easily do we all rest in the fact that our ideals say we would never, without realising we’re fallible beings prone to being wanted and needed. None of us are too far away from falling in love with something or someone totally inappropriate. The only way to never is to never say never.
If we say we’ll never take drugs or drink too much or end up addicted to something, we best keep ourselves to short account on any habit-forming behaviours, knowing that some behaviours ought never be engaged in. We somehow need to bear in mind that we’re never beyond addiction. By never putting ourselves beyond it we exercise the fear of the Lord. The only way to never is to never say never.
If we say we’ll never end up in prison or publicly shamed or bankrupt, we best not break the law in the first place, nor engage in unethical practices, nor take financial risks we shouldn’t take. But there are no assurances. We could easily find ourselves incarcerated. All it takes is a few seconds of impulsivity at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong people. It’s easy to be tempted into an unethical decision or three. And anyone can fall foul of bad financial circumstances. The only way to never is to never say never.
Of course, there are a million and more things we could apply this to.
The only thing that ensures an authentic vigilance against that shocking reality we would never see ourselves doing is to see ourselves doing it — often enough to enjoy the fresh motivation not to do it.
Seeing ourselves capable of falling into significant sin ensures we guard our hearts against it as well as giving us empathy for those who have suffered such a fall.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Royal Wedding on a Wedding Anniversary

In a comical turn of events, we find we now share our Wedding Anniversary with a Royal couple. Beyond the fact that we watched the event unfold, including that astonishing message from Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, this day taught us both something significant.
Eleven years is an important milestone for us in that we find ourselves simply enjoying each other. There is much humour about the way we do life, and a great deal of companionship.
The words my wife wrote in the card she gave me simply indicated that her life hadn’t been the same since I came into it, and her life wouldn’t be the same if we were apart. The card was marked with gratitude, and it evoked a visceral response. In the simplest terms, there’s no need to gush about how much we love each other. Our love is solid enough that we’re just grateful that we have each other.
Being eleven years in front of some Royal couple is no real achievement other than we’re enjoying the fruit of our labour (it took a few years before we could even work together in marriage).
And even if we’ve worked well together for most of our marriage, the stresses of years six through nine are now well behind us. We’re both happy as individuals, and the marriage has matured in that we don’t expect too much of each other.
As we watched the Royal Wedding it was interesting to see how my heart has changed. There was once a time when I would have mocked such an occasion. But my wife (like many women and men) enjoys these sorts of telecasts, and doesn’t she deserve more than my derision?
We’d planned to do something special for our Anniversary, but several factors coming together in the days leading up convinced us that this was not the year for a big celebration. The big day out became unattractive when we were invited to three separate other events that were about loving others. That’s more important to us these days.
Days beforehand it was clear our five-year-old son wanted to be with us when we were quite happy to have him babysat. The babysitting proved impractical, however, so we accepted that God had different plans for our celebration — at home with a Chinese takeaway meal watching the Royal Wedding instead of dinner out, movie, and night to ourselves.
But it was the best of days really. I worked from 5.30am in my part-time maintenance work and then arrived in time to assist my son’s school who were having a busy bee. I moved about 50 wheelbarrow loads of sand, dirt and mulch. I was sore! But content. My wife helped for a while with my son, and then they went to one of our son’s peer’s birthday party. Both my wife and I were busy today building relationships in the area God has called us to live and serve. It’s all we want to do. We then went and took our Anniversary portrait, even having to modify our plan for it, given that special equipment was missing.
We figure that married life must be intended to be a contented experience of enjoying each day enough to be grateful, being thankful to God for every minute of time spent together, being with and helping the other.

Friday, May 18, 2018

10 reasons why I’m a Student of Grief

Photo by 胡 卓亨 on Unsplash

From almost my earliest days in grieving I’ve had a curious relationship with it. I think this is because 1) I have faith in God, which has led me to wonder who God is within the grief process, why I was experiencing it, how I was to resolve it, and 2) I’m amazed at what the Lord shows me that I didn’t already know.
I’m a student of grief because:
1.      I find it helps give me agency to endure the season if I’m curious. In a tangible way, curiosity is its own healthy distraction to the polarising negativity of grief.
2.      I discover others on similar journeys along the road when I’m out there. There is a community of those who are grieving and those who’ve grieved. There’s incredible connection in such community. God inhabits such community. Some of our deepest and closest relationships are forged through the time of trial.
3.      I know God’s agenda is to mature us. Brokenness, as Gene Edwards puts it, is a university few enrol in, let alone graduate from. It is a crucible that burns off the impurities of our faith. It burns off fear, a lack of authenticity, doubting, denial, bargaining, anger, naivety, superficiality, etc. Grief teaches us to feel our emotions in their brutal rawness, which develops in us courage, faith, tenacity, resilience, and even how to ultimately tap into the fruit of the Spirit from there.
4.      I feel close to God when I’m pressing into my own grief or that of another’s. In fact, as I counsel people who are grieving, God continues to connect me to old and new lessons in the pain of it all. God never ceases to speak, as if via a megaphone, through that pain.
5.      I understand that God intends grief as a learning season. God brings good things of depth and transformation out of trials. Indeed, trials seem to be the Lord’s invitation to depend further on God’s strength to get us through our weakness. And, because we never learn this lesson easily, a long period of grief teaches us, that in pain defeating our hope, not to be flippant about hope in pain. God allows such pain not for our harm but to mature us regarding the role of pain in life.
6.      It gives me the capacity to help. Through grief there is a ministry for those who would receive it. There are things about ministry and service that can only be learned through suffering. Compassion is a gift that only those who have suffered can understand and apply. There are few exceptions to this.
7.      It tells me that is it meant to floor me. Grief is not meant to be handled well. God can even take us out of commission, which means the Lord can and will show us that we’re not indispensable but, in that, that we’re no less valuable.
8.      The rewards of heaven are in acceptance. We truly know God when we marvel at what the Lord can do through pain. There is always the sense in grief that we’re headed toward accepting this thing we cannot change. And when we can, there before us is God’s Kingdom in all its power and glory.
9.      I have learned there’s always something beyond the pain of grief. This is something that can only be realised by faith enough to be still in the eye of the storm around us. Indeed, simply believing there is something beyond the pain of grief gives us the capacity to endure it. Quickly we learn to accept this can only be done one day at a time.
10. I have accepted that if grief cannot conquer me, nothing can. This is the overcoming power of God: to know that in the world we’ll have trouble, but we can take heart, even in this and because of it, because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33) and all the powers that come against us. The paradox is, I can quickly be overcome by being overwhelmed, but because I don’t stay there I learn that Jesus has overcome for me. Our destiny is to develop through pain to ultimately overcome it, even if that can only be done one day at a time, which is the ultimate in overcoming, that we continue to bear up under our burden.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Three in Oneness in Marriage

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash
Bellowing and bawling, slammed doors, revving engines, speeding down the road. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this. Like many couples, we’ve lived it too. Conflict in marriage bears a common denominator: two disconnected entities, both insisting on their individual rightness. Where the glue of marriage has come unstuck.
It is not God’s vision of what He authored
in the institution of marriage.
There is a fundamental three in oneness
in marriage necessary to make it work.
This is not about the Trinity, but it is about the trinitarian nature of marriage, for a cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Those three strands are the (two) dimensions of each partner (one and two) and the oneness (third dimension) that binds their union.
Where the three strands come together is in a oneness that combines them — this is the constituency of two individuals and the dimension that combines them. That dimension that combines them can be thought of as a God dimension of the Holy Spirit, because it is what makes each partner bend toward the other in service — a revenant mutual submission.
We’ve seen it before in our own marriage; two dimensions without the third is ruinous. Two dimensions that pulled us apart without the third dimension that drew us together.
A marriage bears little hope for either partner until
they’ve both learned to love the other sacrificially well.
A marriage encapsulates hope to the measure of love
both individual partners can sacrifice for the other.
And it’s just so common in any couple counselling I’ve done. Partners bring themselves to the table of the marriage without thinking of the sacrifice that so centrally speaks of love, for love is little else than sacrifice in marriage. And sacrifice is raw act of will. Love is a decision, moment by moment, moment after moment, again and again, for the life of the marriage.
When there is no oneness in the marriage, not only is there a lack of thinking for the other partner, there is a comprehensive lack of behavioural regard for them, especially when it comes to pressure times of conflict.
Every couple needs to learn just how to bend toward the other in order to invoke the powerful third dimension that completes the oneness they need to feel their marriage is everything God ordained for them.
The more we lose our lives so our partner might prosper,
the more we will find our lives in a prospering marriage.