Saturday, July 20, 2019

You don’t know me (or I you) and that’s GOOD news

I’m truly sorry to say this, and I know you’ll understand once I explain it, but you cannot possibly know me. Not in the way you think you know me.
We are limited via our own finite frame of thinking, being that we only have one line of experience, one set of eyes and ears, and truly one way to perceive the world. We cannot undo our filters. We are forever constrained by our biases, and they rock others most when we are unaware that they are even impinging, just as others’ biases rock us most when they, too, are ignorant.
Do you know why there is no absolute truth in relationships? Because the concept of absolute truth makes fools of us all. Discuss anything long enough, and no matter how like-minded we are, we all eventually end up in disagreement. (You may disagree with anything I say here and the point I’m making is proven; either we don’t understand each other or our communication is misshapen.)
We like people because they’re like us, and they like us because we think like they do. Birds of a feather flock together, as they say.
It is rare for anyone to enjoy the company of those who consistently disagree with them. Those who say they are exceptions to this we ought to be really guarded about. Sure, they could be exceptional, but it’s more likely that pride compels them to project a persona that’s not truly theirs. They want to appear ‘special’, stronger, more impervious to criticism.
One of the threats to deep relationships, and certainly marriages and other long partnerships like businesses are good examples, is they are forever vulnerable to a pattern of conflict that separates close friends. Don’t believe me? People are separating all the time, and usually because they believed they knew each other. But what they were really in love with was a persona that worked with their way of seeing the world. As soon as we begin to disagree, there is a test:
“Do I love this person enough to bear this incredible discomfort, fear and rage welling up from within, that they vehemently disagree?”
It is a very mature relationship that can bear disagreement—and it certainly needs two parties both accepting that the relationship is only as strong as the last conflict managed well. All that matters is how the present conflict is being handled, let alone the skeletons of past that lie dormant in the closet of resentment, ready to gunnysack the other into relational oblivion; those conflicts that were never handled.
The trouble with conflict, of course,
is it opens up the matter of choice
as far as response is concerned.
Woah, if conflict is bad,
a poor response is infinitely worse!
Again, it is a rare person who responds willingly, first time, as a peacemaker; who resists shutting down and refusing to engage, and also resists attacking the other with criticism and threats.
The conflict is one thing,
but the response afterwards
usually redoubles the offence,
but it can bring the relief of peace.
People are far more likely to be offended by the way we responded to the conflict than they are offended by the conflict itself. The response to conflict truly is the opportunity to exhibit grace, patience, kindness and gentleness.
But we all feel threatened in conflict, which is why it is so important to remind ourselves that we don’t know how another person, no matter who they are, perceives the present issues, within the context of the world they are perceiving them from.
Don’t we wish we knew each other little bit better? Don’t we wish truth was a little less abstract? Don’t we wish we could get inside their head and heart and stomach and in their inner experience to understand what they’re really feeling and thinking? If we did, we wouldn’t want to fly away or fight with them as much. Truth is relative because we are dealing with human beings, and there are myriad filters within perception that must be catered for.
You cannot know me, and I cannot know you. This means we must unequivocally respect one another. There is so much I would miss in arguing ‘my truth’ with you, because I cannot possibly see all of the truth, because your truth is hidden from my sight. We cannot even communicate that effectively, though we are seriously blessed in the trying.
Because we’re handicapped in this realm of relationships, we must offer the benefit of the doubt to each other, as we offer forth a generous portion of grace, even when I feel you are being flat out offensive, or you think that of me. We can only hope to learn more about others and what they are really thinking and feeling when we open our hearts to the possibility that we might be wrong. Ah, that’s humility, can you see?
When we accept that we cannot know each other, a strange phenomenon takes place. We begin to desire a freshened understanding of the other person we cannot understand. It’s only when we know we cannot know someone that our interest is piqued, and we can become intently curious from a pure motive, because all of us hate being unaware as much as we hate feeling foolish. We want to know. But first we must admit we don’t know, and we must suffer the indignity of that to be of true service to others.
It is a good thing to approach relational life from the context of unknowing.
When I know I don’t know you, I make fewer assumptions, I attempt more clarifications, and I may appear more respectful, and I may actually be more trustworthy. And this is good news!
If only we could imagine what it feels like for the one who is hurt, disappointed, feels betrayed. If only we sought to understand before seeking to be understood. If only we valued the interests of others, acknowledging they’re as important to them as ours are to us.

Photo by Edi Libedinsky on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

testimony of epiphanies, evidence of transformation

Since my world broke beyond my own repairing it, in September 2003, I have experienced four significant epiphanies. One within days of the calamity visited on me when my first marriage fell apart. The second one, four years later (2007) as I climbed out of clinical depression. The third one was five years after that (2012) when I came face to face with a truth God had for me to stare down. The fourth one came in 2016, when, at the bottom of my being, my worst year ever, I had to face how I am when I’m weak and reliant on my own strength, without God’s power.
Each of these epiphanies was a crossroad. Each was a crisis. Grief in the first. Depression in the second. Identity in the third. Entitlement in the fourth.
The first epiphany I call ‘the material versus the spiritual’ epiphany.
I had it at a school sports carnival of all places. I had already attended my first two AA meetings the two previous days. The day prior to that my world had fallen apart; marriage collapse with, for me, no warning. Suddenly, it hit me as an interminable gift; the more I gave up what I had materially, the more God gave to me spiritually. It was a powerful moment, possibly one of the most fundamentally spiritual moments of my whole life, which was an eternal gift of God’s provision, given I was about to endure the fiery pit of marital death that would utterly consume me (over the weeks and months ahead). I was filled with a purpose that I truly wanted to give everything away to receive something that would be given and never could be taken away—spiritual grace the harvest given for generosity and kindness sown. I had the answer. I had the gifts of the Spirit. The whole bag. And the marker of this epiphany has run with me to this very day. This truth remains and pushes me onward. The transforming outcome of this epiphany is I’m committed to giving away what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose; to give away the material is to gain the spiritual. To accept loss is to gain our soul.
The second epiphany involved discovering the value of an 18-month self-directed daily focused study—of the biblical book of Proverbs.
The least likely time to become clinically depressed, immediately after I had married again, I slid into an unprecedented darkness I simply had no answer for. I was approaching 40, newly married and trying to work that out (a horrid season for my new wife and I), wondering what I had ever achieved in my life—a midlife crisis if you like—and suddenly my confidence dipped to an all-time low. I had no idea how to extract myself. I got onto antidepressants, for they’d worked for me four years previously, and slowly I righted the spiral and headed it north. The thing that was central to that process was the new found vigour I was given for studying the biblical Proverbs. The more I nourished my mind with these pithy sayings, the more my heart was healed. I was ultimately given material for an eBook that was published in 2011. Once I had this epiphany, days after my 40th birthday, the dread of my depression was cleansed with God’s purpose. My confidence returned. I had the answer. The transforming outcome of this epiphany is the practice that started—writing devotionally for publishing—continues to this day… 12 years and 8,000 online articles later.
The third epiphany I call ‘learning the value of men in my life’ epiphany
This epiphany arrived on an evening in July 2012. I had been referred to a secular sociological book, Iron John: A Book about Men by Robert Bly (1990), and having read it, I heard God’s Spirit usher something uncomfortable into my soul! But the trepidation I experienced when I came to admit I was scared of getting close to other men was cleansed with purpose within thirty minutes, for now I had the answer. God had been pursuing me gently for years. I was one of these men who ‘didn’t need men in my life,’ and what I learned convinced me I could never be a good pastor until I overcame my disinterest in what I thought was the superficiality of men. I’ve since learned there are so many men ready to go deep in a spiritual way! And the irony of this epiphany is that it was a secular university post-graduate course, a secular lecturer, a secular psychoanalyst, and a secular book that God used to get me back onto God’s agenda. I am so glad of the fears I had that were exposed through my counselling training; also, through a brave female faculty member who had no qualms in telling me straight what I needed to do to be any good; to her suggestion that I embark on a course of psychoanalysis therapy sessions. Eight sessions later and I was prescribed a medicine; the epiphany lay within its pages—I was a fearful man and the key to me overcoming my fear lay in investing myself in other men’s lives. The transforming outcome of this epiphany is I’ve continued to involve myself deeply in many men’s lives, and practice never saying no when opportunities come.
The fourth epiphany I had was ‘the entitlement cure’ epiphany. (Credit to Dr John Townsend’s book, The Entitlement Cure.) 
I’m not narcissistic by nature, but I definitely had a grief-and-abuse-laden season that left me at my absolute weakest spiritually, susceptible to responses of pride, because I was in environments that for me became caustic. Within a week of our world falling apart again in late February 2016, I had the epiphany—March 2, at about 7.30pm, in a sleepy south-west town on the beachfront. I was reading a book about ‘pocket entitlement’ (those areas in all our lives we feel entitled about) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. What were the things I could finish the sentence “I deserve…” with? God put his finger on three of them. I deserved respect. I deserved understanding. I deserved recognition. Oh, what a humbling moment! I sought my wife’s feedback. All she said was, “I think there’s something in that for you.” Ouch! But my dread was cleansed with purpose within thirty minutes, for at least I had the answer. I learned to despise the phrase “I deserve,” preferring instead to acknowledge that whilst I had needs (like all of us do), I could never demand my needs be met exactly how I demanded them to be met. The rest of that year I spent repenting of this. Indeed, the outcome of this epiphany was there were many important conversations with the appropriate people as I owned what threatened to hold me at distance from spiritual freedom. I also made a lifetime commitment to keep the knowledge of my pocket entitlement at the forefront of my mind.
The fifth epiphany, what and when will it be? It’s due in the next year or two. All this reminds me that I’m not there yet. And that’s okay. None of us arrive… until we do… when we pass from this life into the next.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Prayer for the safety and the saving of the Broken-hearted

There comes a time in all our lives when we seek for others to have what we have tasted, and that time has come for me. I sure know that hurt people hurt people, so too do healed people heal people. I am so thankful for the healed persons that worked on me, so today I can be a healed person who works on others. And all this work is done through your Spirit, whether we give you credit and thanks or not. YOU are the Great Healer!
My prayer is for the safety of those who are hurting just now; the one who is reading this who is broken-hearted and overwhelmed by betrayal and grief. This person’s dilemma starts at confusion and has no obvious end. They exist and yet they don’t know why. Father, you know that I have been there, so my prayer is that that person will hold on and won’t give up even though there are dozens of times when they will be tempted to. I pray by your Holy Spirit that you impel such a person forward by a hope they cannot explain but just must believe in. So, my prayer is the safety, that this person will be kept alive and saved from physical death. Provide a powerful word into the forefront of their minds when they are tempted to end their life. Give them another alternative when they are tempted to self-harm. And I also pray that they won’t become prey to spiritual abuse at any time. Make it so that they would never be judged for behaving inappropriately when they are so vulnerable that inappropriate behaviour would be expected. Stop the words from the mouths of hurtful ministers. And give empathy into the mind and heart of would-be helpers.
For the one who is calling to you, answer them, Lord, by a powerful sign that they know can only be YOU. Make it that they cannot help knowing you are the true and living God. Give them a salvation experience whether they’re ‘saved’ already or not. Take them deeper into the journey of the grace and of the provision and of the knowledge of you. Indwell them with a hope beyond any semblance of despair, to know that if they cannot be conquered in this heart-break, they cannot be conquered, period. Make it so that this thing that is supposed to completely demoralise them actually becomes the impetus for their purpose now and forevermore. Give them a taste of the phoenix that always rises from the ashes; better still, the risen Lord Jesus having suffered on that nailed cross. Most of all, give them a human voice that speaks to them as God speaks. Give them such an indelible hope as if to say, “I will live to fight another day!”
Blessed be YOUR name, God, for all power and all glory and all blessing are YOURS.
In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash

Thursday, July 4, 2019

We never speak louder than when we remain silent on abuse

A revolution is coming. A resistance is being mounted. A reformation is on its way. And it will fly in on the wings of empathy, as the world—sick of accepting abuse from authoritarian institutions—schools the church. Many of us in the church eagerly await the arrival of this day! And yet, still too many cannot see the need for it. Sigh.
As the old saying goes, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” And it is ironic that it’s usually women’s voices that must finally speak up, when all the men, often very good men, have remained silent for too long. I concede that I too have been a ‘good man’ who has too often stayed silent. Lord, give me courage.
Let me tell you a story. I can remember sitting in a meeting with another man, a Christian leader, a good man at that, but the only trouble was he was following a narrative. He was going with the institutional flow. Everybody was at that time. Not that any of his challenges did me any harm; God worked for my good and for his purposes. But it was an uncomfortable and an unjust 90 minutes. There is no question that spiritual abuse occurred in this meeting. I came away under no false apprehension, knowing and accepting where I stood, but the confusion, guilt and shame were telling—and these feelings lingered for days and into the weeks.
This is why spiritual abuse is so subtle. Here I was telling myself that my confusion, my guilt, and my shame were caused by my sin. That’s been the narrative against survivors of abuse—they are the ones who have sinned, or they have an ‘identity’ problem, i.e. it is their weakness! No; they’re just feeling the burden of a sin done to them, with no way out of the lonely condemnation they feel. I did the best I could in this season, but it wasn’t good enough that everyone remained silent and stuck with the groupthink.
It’s only years afterwards that we even recognise how much harm is done in one meeting where a person who’s been on the receiving end of abuse is further abused by a pastor believing a narrative who then admonishes the one who was abused. Spiritual abuse without even knowing it. Spiritual abuse for my own good. Sorry, I’m not buying it. There is a big difference between correction that motivates better performance and correction that shames.
I am so thankful that, even though these were the worst days of my life, I had already survived about the worst grief the common human experience could provide, twelve years previously. Grief has been a most valuable training ground in preparation for spiritual abuse.
I’m so thankful that I had the support of an excellent psychologist at the time. This therapist framed reality for me. Yes, reality. This person heard my excusing of others, saw my heart, took me at my word, and told me how it was. Profoundly simple, but tellingly necessary.
The way I am geared, and the way many survivors of abuse are also geared, is we think it’s our fault. And we stay in that lane. “It must have been me; that’s what I’m being told.” Somehow in this, the community around us believes what we are believing, and little support is given, and we suffer alone. And there is no care in that. Only more confusion, guilt and shame. And so perpetuates the cycle.
The confusion, and the guilt, and the shame should be an important cue.
The narcissist never truly allows themselves to feel these things; they project these things onto others. And it is significantly worse when good people, people who are not narcissistic, begin to believe a narrative that is just wrong; a narrative that is spun by the narcissist. It is easier to go with the flow, there are less feathers ruffled that way, because good people want to be good people.
But such good people are not often good defenders of those in weak situations.
Here are some hints on what to look for when we encounter someone who is suffering. We must remember that the narcissist never suffers, though they may feign suffering. Being master manipulators, they will hoodwink just about everybody.
But if someone is genuinely suffering constantly, we can believe that person. They’re probably not putting it on. There is a way we can tell whether a person is putting on suffering for a show. You cannot give someone who is suffering what they want, because their problems can’t be fixed that way
In other words, there is a certainty to the suffering. Genuine suffering, like grief and trauma, cannot easily be alleviated. If ever you are the source of alleviating someone’s suffering, i.e. that alleviation depends on you alone, it may be manipulation and not suffering in that person that you’re dealing with. (You have to be careful though, because if someone receives genuine care, it can alleviate suffering in that moment.) The polarising exception to this is in the reverse—someone who is surviving abuse cannot change the one crucial factor, the behaviour of their abuser, and this is both tantalising and agonising. But for one factor—the stopping of the abuse—life could be significantly better, even sustainable. But the pattern narcissistic abuser never changes.
My dilemma has so often been, do I protect the people who have done abusive things to me or do I expose these experiences? It’s taken me a long while to realise that it’s not about protecting people who do the abuse. It’s about doing all I can to stop the abuse now! (Even if I don’t have a lot of impact.) That’s what God wants. God’s not after protecting egos. God’s after the protection of the vulnerable, and of people who find themselves in vulnerable situations. The effect of vulnerability is humility, and God’s heart is close to the humble. That’s God’s prerogative.
If we do the wrong thing, we do the wrong thing. We repent. It’s simple. But abusers don’t play by those rules. They defy God.

Photo by Jessica F on Unsplash

Monday, July 1, 2019

The practicalities of love after divorce

It’s an enduring image to me: my wife sitting with my ex-wife, both of them wearing the same colour blue dress, both smiling and chatting, swapping notes about me. It was about ten years ago. If there are two people who know me well, it is these two people. (They weren’t swapping stories about how brilliant a husband I am, and that was fine with me.)
I have been married again now about the same amount of time as the first marriage lasted. I have been divorced from my first wife longer than we were married, and that was a significant 13-year period. So much water has passed under the bridge—a 30-year journey.
When my first marriage dissolved overnight, though it was not an overnight process for my ex-wife (because it had taken her much longer to decide), I was in unforeseen territory. I didn’t see it coming, and I never imagined myself divorced. It was just never happening to me, until it did!
The initial few months were terrible for us all, as I struggled to make the adjustments. It was the worst pit of grief I have ever experienced. But somehow, in renewing my faith in God, and through many AA meetings and the guidance of sponsors and my parents and others, I quickly came to terms with the fact I needed to forgive my ex-wife. That was easy, in fact, as I considered my contribution to the marriage failure. There was much that I had to change. And change I did.
The mediator helping us separate must’ve thought it was the easiest mediation she had ever done. We used just two sessions to decide everything, and the spirit within the mediation process was one of cooperation, and it kind of symbolises our working operation as we have sought to parent our three daughters as friends, trusting each other and giving grace to one another. Our daughters were 11, 8 and 5 at the time we separated.
It hasn’t always been easy. There have been times when we have disagreed. When we were at loggerheads, I would tend to just give some space and try not to say anything to make it worse—to get out of the way. (I definitely have the capacity to make things worse with what I say.) But there has been a constant thread of mutual respect between us. For our daughters
We are so different, but we still share a laugh, and can even poke fun at ourselves for features in our marriage together from 1990-2003 and beyond. When we were married, my ex-wife probably didn’t feel she had the voice she has with me now, and I’m both sorry for that (that she didn’t have it then) and happy for it too (that she has it now). Somehow, I always felt compelled by God to really want the very best for my ex-wife—even that she would receive a love that I was never able to give her.
I say with genuine gratitude, that at the hardest time of my life, when work was seriously hard to come by in 2016, my ex-wife reached out and gave me a job delivering chilled meals for the catering business run by her and her husband, a skilled chef. To be honest, it wasn’t my first-choice work; it was hard, and it stretched me in ways I truly disliked, and it was stressful. But never was there a time in 10 months working for them where we even came close to conflict. It always felt as if they were reaching toward me and I was reaching toward them. There were numerous times I made mistakes, yet my ex-wife and her husband always dealt with me compassionately. And God taught me a lot in that job!
We have had all of our daughters’ 18th and 21st birthdays, and other significant events, at their place and at other places, and always the whole family is invited and welcome, and being caterers we’re all so very well fed! These are big gatherings, with step parents and step grandparents and stepsiblings everywhere. Not everyone has gotten on all the time, but at these events there is always a genuine mood of appreciation and celebration, where we call to mind positive memories and funny anecdotes.
Along the way, my ex-wife and I found our niches in providing for our girls. We both were able to provide different things and were never threatened that the other was giving something we wanted to give. I think we were just grateful that we had different ways of giving, and that we gave different things; that we gave what we could when we could.
To My Wife
My wife helps me live as the husband I desire to be; the husband I need to be. She and I are both keenly aware of who I am, including my faults. We both know what we cannot allow me to get away with. Let’s just say that the spirit and skill of prompt and sincere apology is truly respected in our household. I would not be as capable a husband, and of course I’m still not perfect, without my wife. My wife deserves the full accompaniment of credit for her half and more in our marriage. She does not goad me nor will she be goaded. Besides, my wife was always prepared to not only be my wife, but to be a step-mother to my three daughters. And to succeed in that endeavour demands humility.
This is an article I’ve wanted to write for years. Now, as we’ve all eventually become grandparents, all four of us truly appreciate each other in this bigger than normal functional family with its normal dysfunctions.
There are practicalities for love after divorce, not least for the children, but for all concerned. What we didn’t get right in marriage, we have a second opportunity at in divorce.
I am so grateful for the relationship I have with my ex-wife and her husband. The spirit of cooperation between us over the years is inspiring to me. Our relationship is proof that good outcomes are possible when people who have disagreed in the past start to work together.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The difference between a Battle and the War

Perspective is a game changer in life. It is literally the difference between hope and despair. When we have perspective, joy is never far away—and where we find joy, hope and peace coalesce with it.
There is a big difference between a battle and the war. Words like ‘a’ and ‘the’ help us to emphasise the difference.
The battle is what depresses us, whereas the war is our purpose. If we are so short-sighted that all we can see is the mountain before us, we are defeated before we start. If only we can see the other side of the mountain, then we can mount our ascent with purposeful poise and a considered determination. This next step, though it is important, and even if it is a misstep, it does not define me. I just keep stepping.
With sight only for battle we are easily outraged, whereas tactical patience helps sustain our efforts the whole war through. There is no end to the myriad issues that concern us in this day. And particularly how stories are spun. Just think how precious your time is. Whenever we fight on the wrong hill, we come out disadvantaged in the overall war. We need to be strategic in what we get outraged about. The trick is to discern which hill we are prepared to die on. Yet we do need to be outraged by the right things.
Battles are intermittent, but constant is the war. If our time seems peaceful there is but a moratorium in the shelling. Of course, we must be battle-ready, and the more battle-ready we are, the less we are compelled by manipulation to compete in a battle that isn’t ours. Note the paradox. Being battle-ready means we are less likely to fight in a war that isn’t ours.
If your focus is constrained to the present battle and you are defeated, what happens to your bearing for purpose? It is easily shattered, and then it must be recovered before you are ready for the next battle. That is a waste of your precious energy reserve. Would it not be better to stand atop a mountain to gather in the vista of the war overall—and to go to the battle the General is commanding you to go to? The best strategy by far is preparedness. We must gird our loins and guard our hearts. It’s a long journey, life.
Ready for the battle, committed for the war, we know that one battle’s defeat does not define us, and we gain confidence in the resilience that nothing can conquer us if the battle cannot. Do you see how defeat is turned to victory through a simple change in mindset? All that stands before us is a decision. Will we enter this impossibility driven by the end in the forefront of our minds?
Today there will be a battle, just as there was yesterday, and just as there will be tomorrow. Battles change, but the war does not. If you step out from a yesterday of defeat, gather confidence, for today’s battle may be decisive victory. Keep doing good.
Of course, we don’t battle against flesh and blood, we battle against the powers and principalities of another world. Just remember, they have already been defeated.

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Monday, June 24, 2019

Evil often comes cloaked as Righteousness

“The terrifying thing about evil is that it so often believes that it is righteous.” –Amanda McClendon. Don’t we just live in a horror day, where those who most often wear the royal garb are most often found projecting righteousness from a belly full of evil.
This is nothing new. Jesus encountered the Pharisees and the scribes, those first century do-gooders, who completely missed the plot, who completely missed the mark, and who completely missed their Saviour. These were so busy finding a legalistic structure for every known practice, they completely missed God and the kingdom that God was, is, and will be creating.
Instead of serving the vulnerable they decided to place a burden on their backs.
Instead of granting full access to the courts of the Lord, the Lord set about removing all barriers.
Instead of seeing God in Jesus they saw the power of Beelzebub in him.
Instead of them seeing God at work in a new man in a new way they saw blasphemous treason.
These spirits of evil cloaked in righteousness are at work in our day. And we must be discerning. Just as the Pharisees did, anyone can use God’s name in vain, simply by accusing others of doing that very thing. The difference is the spirit of control that subverts every empowerment of humanity to bring the Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, by God’s power—for God’s glory—for the notion of a sovereignty from this world. This spirit of control is nasty; it feels nasty, it tastes nasty, it sounds nasty—it is nasty.
Darkness tries to hide itself in light, and it denies it most vehemently.
It puts itself forth as the hope of the world, deceiving many comers and would be faith-doers, as it sets out an agenda, in a word, to ‘lobby’ over a chosen, select set of ethical issues, ignoring other ethical issues that would be just as important to God, and doing so abusively.
This darkness thinks nothing of using its privilege with which to gain leverage and advantage. It cries foul when ordinary people cry foul about what the privileged set are trying to get away with. It hides behind a ‘freedom of speech’ argument, lobbying to win the masses, and yet the masses are far smarter than the lobbyists have imagined. The masses can smell something’s off from a long way off.
The world, thank God, has moved on in many ways, and there is a compassion sweeping the globe, to God’s glory and praise. Finally, there is some hope that those that have been oppressed will get their day in court. Finally, it is the religious elite with the case to answer.
Think for a moment, the phrase ‘religious elite’ is an abhorrent oxymoron.
It should never be. And yet this is precisely how evil has always deceived us. It cloaks itself as righteousness, trusting always in the ideal that it will fool the common believer. See how spiritually barbaric privilege is? See how arrogant it is that it believes it can pull the wool over our eyes? It is even a more pervasive evil that believes it is doing the right thing when the vulnerable are being crushed under foot without a care in the world from them, when they seem to be the cause.
Jesus never hid himself in privilege, and always chose to model the servant’s role. If Jesus criticised only those replete with privilege, and always advised the taking of the humblest seat, and said that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted, we can know all by their fruit.
The one you can trust is the one not trying to manipulate you for any reason. They don’t have something to gain from you. They are there to gain nothing from you and to give you something you cannot lose. These are there to bless you if you will be blessed. Their love is compelling, because it is trustworthy.
POSTSCRIPT: there are people who will read this and see that my views are the views of evil cloaked in righteousness, or even that my views are misguided. All I can say is I feel it’s the Holy Spirit’s conviction to write what I’ve written. The fact is, our views may be more similar than what we think. I just think the way we deploy our passions is important. We cannot honour God and abuse people (or people groups) at the same time. We cannot deliver God’s message and hurt God’s message at the same time, and worse, by believing we’re doing a good thing. And yet I recognise that there are people who may see I’ve done this here. God have mercy.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Friday, June 21, 2019

Today… is the opportunity

It doesn’t take much to inspire me. If you relate, you may detect it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit that causes us to ascend. It’s what God nurtures within when we devote ourselves to God. What I’m about to say is nothing about some happiness, name-it-claim-it mumbo-jumbo.
The spiritual experience in Christ is about depths unfathomable and imperceptible. We never can gaze into heaven’s courts without having had some direct knowledge and experience dealing with the heat in hell’s kitchen. The deeper we go there with Christ at our side, the higher we go with him in his kingdom.
Today is the opportunity, just as tomorrow is tomorrow’s opportunity, just as yesterday we either took or did not take our opportunities.
God is faithful and just and continues to give us opportunities, and especially where we don’t take them immediately, he gives us second chances. Until our time is up.
None of us know when our time is up, which is why our opportunity awaits just for today.
Today is the opportunity to learn. As human beings we’re geared to learn. It has been set in our nature. It’s the way we are stimulated. Learning brings us to life. Life is the learning ground. When we learn, we grow.
Today is the opportunity to grow. We can grow as much as we want to, knowing that life is a choice to grow or to recede. Plateau is recession, and growth is survival, and those who grow certainly thrive. But God has ordained a pace with which to grow, and that we must accept.
Today is the opportunity to accept. To accept others, to the degree that we honour their lives, in and who they are, in their very being. This is a major undertaking, and certainly much harder than the following task of change, even if it seems easier. The first job we have is to live harmoniously, at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on us, despite how they choose to live, trusting God has their lives in his hand as he has our lives in his hand. It is hard to accept when people do things against us, but it is easier to accept this when it happens, when we understand we cannot change people. They can only change themselves through God’s power. If we have the power to accept things we cannot change, we also have power to change the things we can.
Today is the opportunity to change. Nobody can do the change apart from us. And this presumes that change is about what we need to change; nobody else. We can change no other human being, and we never ought to covet the changing of another human being. That would be manipulation, and there is far too much of that goes on in God’s name. Yet the God imperative in our lives is to go and be God’s disciple, to be holy and set apart for the Jesus purpose alone. We’re called to take responsibility for our lives and our lives alone. Acceptance and change are grand, but the difference between the two is not always easy to discern. Wisdom is in the discernment.
Today is the opportunity to discern. Never more relevant is this opportunity before us; the key to living the wise life. Our affections are constantly being held to ransom, and our biases and vices and prejudices, where we don’t acknowledge and rectify them, will cause us to sin. Every time we align ourselves with anything but God, we ought to be aware of what we’re doing. But be aware of this: be especially careful of aligning yourself with things in the name of God that truly don’t represent God’s interests. We’re pawns. The more we can see the world clawing at our affections, the better chance we have of doing the will of God.
We must discern the will of God before we can do the will of God.
Today is the opportunity to be at peace with the past, to take the present as it is, and to trust God for the future. In this trifold state, we may quickly realise it is a humbling reality to live life truthfully. It will never be easy, but it will perennially be worth it.

Image by Darren Deloach on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Teachers, Theologians and Trolls

Readers will have differing views on whether patriarchy and complementarian theology are linked with abuse and violence against women or not. I certainly see a link, and I do not think it is a long grasp from one to the other.
Take a look at the quote featured: how on earth can it be read in any other way but derisive to women? Thankfully, what men could get away with 50, 30 or even 20 years ago, fewer and fewer men will get away with these days. We simply cannot let these attitudes propagate, because derisiveness with women is the disrespect which is the antecedent of violence.
I look at the profiled quote and I think of the author not as a theologian or teacher—for what they purport to be—but as a troll. Surely, he must be stirring up trouble. That must be his aim; to goad those with counter views into vigorous debate, and preferably to the point where they cause offence, so the goader can then say, “There you go! Look at how disrespectful THEY are!” I know it runs both ways. Nobody provoking a reaction should get away with it. But surely those vouching for equality as God in Jesus would espouse are simply putting forward a just case.
Look at how contemptuous the profiled attitude is! Surely it is nothing like the attitude of Jesus, who, for gospel history’s sake, had a high view of women, even by today’s standard, and given that he was a first century man, it is all the more remarkable that Jesus esteemed women as he did. You can’t read the four gospels and deduce it any other way.
When men treat women as second-class citizens and major on the concept of submission in marriage, particularly where Paul talks directly about mutual submission also in the very same chapter of Ephesians 5, what are these men saying about their mothers and daughters and sisters? What are they saying about half of the population made in the image of God? What are they saying to themselves, these who were born XY and not XX by pure ‘fortune’ completely beyond their will? How can they bend scripture, to the point of a few isolated verses, to their advantage, only to miss their own sin? Why is it that power must be foisted over women to the degree of insolence? Can they not see that such attitudes propel such behaviours as violence born of a disrespect hardly conscionable of a caring human being?
The profiled quote will infuriate many a reader for the authoritative nature of the aggression set before them. Very few women will read these words comfortably, because the woman and the man of gentle sense will read something in these words that incites the soul to division. To insinuate that women’s problems are due to their own stubbornness, and that they create their own problems to the ends of needing biochemical therapy is insane! This sort of ‘wisdom’ weaponises words against wives by abusive husbands.
These are the words of a troll—someone whose role it is to rile and to goad and to annoy; to draw some negative reaction, and then to, at some point, hold one’s hands in the air as if to say, “I’ve done nothing!” These are hardly the actions of a mature man.
But the far more serious issue is the intent of the message, which downgrades women, and out of a public superiority, ascents itself above all humanity that is not masculinity. I imagine there are men who would publicly or privately agree with the author of this quote, and surprisingly, there would be some women in this camp too.
Be rest assured, that such attitudes of gender superiority are at the roots of a power base that asserts itself above others, to the ends where power disequities will surely occur to the ends of abuse. The world is, and has always been, far too patriarchal, and the common problem with patriarchy is inequity, and inequity amongst common humanity is about power, control and abuse.
When will men come back to God, and instead of bowing to the idol of misogyny, bow only to the one and only true living God, Jesus.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Stillness at the Foot of the Cross

Photo: mine, taken at Boshack camp, Western Australia.
Running hard all our lives in our own efforts produces nothing, and yet we need to lose it all to realise that nothing starts before we sit, broken, at the foot of the cross, and contemplate what has been done for us, that we could never do for ourselves.
Do you ever sit or kneel at the foot of the cross? Do you ever sit or kneel there and let God’s grace wash over you? What I mean is, can you sit there, adding nothing to the cross, and accept this grace-gift, or even begin to comprehend it?
The grace that the Father gave combined with obedience of the Son is both unconscionable and incomprehensible.
Many people in this hurried, manic life so seriously want stillness as an elixir for the dis-ease of anxiety and stress. We will run after many different ‘antidotes’, quick fixes, snake oil recipes, work, work, more work, substances and mountains of pleasure and achievement, and we still won’t find the peace of God.
The peace of God is not found in doing things.
Just as we cannot add anything to the finished work of the cross, we cannot add anything to establish the peace of God. The peace of God was established at the cross. From there it’s all academic. From the cross life gets simple. It’s all upside.
Nothing left to earn.
Nothing left to prove.
Nothing left to do.
Nothing left to be added.
We take Christ’s finished work and we cannot make it more by our own impressiveness, which is such a shame given that we have the internal wiring to do things which we equate to God’s requirement of us.
Actually, no, I think deep down inside we know that God doesn’t require this of us. But we require it of ourselves! We are the cruel taskmasters.
Somehow, we find ourselves undeserving of grace; as if we know better. We judge ourselves far more harshly than it works out that God does. How can it be that God has let us off the hook? How can God do that, when we, mere mortals whose best interest is served in letting ourselves off the hook, can’t do that?
Well, God has done that. It is finished. And when we find ourselves in a place where we can finally accept this, we are blown away by it, which comes completely unexpectedly.
Suddenly we are awash in a flood of praise. Suddenly there is an emotional connection that never was there beforehand. Suddenly, deep down inside of us, a stream begins to flow; a stream of righteousness, of integrity, of humility; a stream that keeps flowing; a stream that wells up with power for good works.
The works we might do for God
are as filthy rags if they aren’t done for God.
Many of our works, if we were to truly analyse them, might as well be done for our own gain, because we have done them so well that we hardly needed God in the first place. But these works in our own strength are pitiful, and certainly nothing more than a waste of time.
But good works are different; from the God core, with his heart, we do them, and when we do we do them out of rest.
God desires to bring us to stillness; to the foot of the cross; where we have no answer; where all about us is a flurry of wonder.
If we can stay at the cross,
we can stay in stillness.
We’ve tried everything else and
we’ve also mastered trying too hard.
It’s time to stop trying.
It’s time to start trusting.