Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Why forgiveness is the ultimate revenge

Bobbie, a reader, and someone I know personally, said recently, “To seek forgiveness, to apologise, without expectation, is pure humility.” Such an astounding wisdom stops us in our tracks, because, quite frankly, such humility is unfortunately so rare. Yet, it is human mastery because it is human maturity.
If only there were more people who sought forgiveness rather than situations where those trespassed against had to find the resources and wherewithal within themselves to forgive, when forgiveness is a relational construct. It does not work when one party refuses to play.
It can seem so unfair that forgiveness is such a mutuality, where the malevolent person propagates injustice, and in never seeking to be forgiven, they may extend the pilgrimage of the other one’s healing to an unreachable place. They care not one iota for the principle ascribed in Matthew 5:23-24, whether they call themselves Christian or not.
If they think they owe you nothing,
and you think that’s wrong,
by the testimony of your heart
they owe God something.
You forgive them by transferring their debt
to the ultimate debt collector.
If someone owes you a significant amount of money, you don’t chase after them yourself; you employ a debt collector. You put the business of reconciliation into more skilled hands.
Notice also what happens in the dynamic with your abuser when you forgive them. They have only anticipated a fight, like for like. They play that game well. But genuine grace bamboozles! Mercy for those who deep down don’t believe they deserve it does them in; if not immediately, please, trust the years. No word of God returns void. But this extension of mercy must come from the heart.
God has said, “It is mine to avenge, it is mine to repay.” To take God’s Word for it, is the power and practice of faith. And there is no substitute. What we must get used to is the idea that justice will not come for years. We’re playing the long game. But, we always hope for a miraculous justice, yet trust in this reality of life: true justice is always slow in the coming. And in the meantime, time is not wasted, and justice grows closer with each dying day.
Meanwhile, we take notice of the precious daily or intermittent interactions we have with our protagonist. We take good note of the fact that, when we practice a forgiving interaction—and forgiveness verily is one interaction at a time—their response is different. We can not only be focused on being scandalously (I really do mean ridiculously) gracious in forgiving the person who doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, but we can also focus on what their response is. Observe it as if you were a student. Get curious as to what makes them tick. This too may do them in. You may be blessed to develop a compassion on someone who refuses to budge, for what kind of human being does that?! All the while, we keep ourselves safe. If our scandalous grace doesn’t affect them at all, they probably have antisocial personality disorder. Sociopaths will refuse to care and psychopaths simply don’t, and neither will be guilted into a dance toward you.
Take note how the person may respond more congenially to your hand of grace. Even as your graciousness throws them! Suddenly the light goes on in our minds; we are the ones who, perhaps for the first time, have control over the relationship. And over the months and years our impact is likely positive. We may even begin to believe that we’re developing power that may eventually soften their hearts to the truths they cannot yet see.
Forgiveness is the ultimate revenge and it reveals that revenge is the ultimate in self-destruction. If we have any hope that the other person might be influenced, and changed for good, even if we think it is impossible, we open space for the Holy Spirit to work, even in spite of our own reticence to forgive them.
Forgiveness is the ultimate revenge in a relational game we don’t have full control over. We’re truly blessed to accept this. Whatever cannot be changed is best accepted. That’s half of all empowerment! And in the acceptance is also the acceptance that God can move and work according to God’s prerogative.
It won’t happen with all people, but with some recalcitrants, particularly narcissists, there is a distinct dislike, perhaps even a hatred, for a level of control that forgiveness affords the abused party.
And remember that forgiveness does not absolve the wrong that was done. There will still be an accounting. Justice is still in play, whether we have forgiven the person or not. But as we forgive them, I wonder if divine mercy sees the humility in our heart and rewards it with a justice that only God can do.
Forgiveness is the ultimate revenge
because the Lord will ultimately avenge.

Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Those days after we received our death sentence

Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it; the title. But that’s how it was. Being in the Gold Team exam rooms having yet another ultrasound, waiting with bated breath, “It’s not good. He’s not going to make it I’m afraid. He deserves comfort and respect.”
Those words, “He deserves comfort and respect,” those words… they had gravity. They ended up having even more gravity when he received neither during the delivery, but that’s another story.
Those days after we received our death sentence—those days after three weeks hoping he’d be okay—were polarising. In some ways, a prayer had been answered. We knew what we had to pray for: a miracle. We knew we had to ready ourselves to lose Nathanael. But on July 18, 2014 a chain reaction started, much of it grief-laden, but some of it good, all of it touched by God—so present was our Lord with us, by our faith and others’ prayers.
Those days after we received our death sentence, that he wasn’t going to make it, in receiving the palliative care plan (never a nice document or process to deal with), in preparing for things we never choose to prepare for, we just keep stepping out the process of our lives. There was no rocket science in it, and it certainly wasn’t complicated, but it sure was hard.
We met further external challenges the best we could; an abject lack of compassion from a certain critical quarter that absolutely did our heads and hearts in, and absolutely interrupted our grief process so many times. Suddenly, with everything going on, we felt two things constantly—the absolute presence of relentless spiritual attack, with God’s incredible, palpable presence.
Those days after July 18—a bleak Friday evening having received news our boy had Pallister-Killian Syndrome, a very rare and complicated diagnosis—were full of experiences uncharted for us.
The days and weeks and months ahead; only God knew we could do it one day at a time. It’s all we did. Nothing complicated. We cried when we felt we needed to. We stared into space at other times. And just held each other when it was all too much. We found dark humour alleviating and necessary in dealing with circumstances that were, all together, completely off the wall.
At any rate, it helps reflect five years on. How did we do it? Doesn’t matter. We did. That’s all that matters.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The spiritual abuse of, ‘Oh, you just need to pray more!’

More abuses are done when people open their mouths than we realise. Take the case of someone ailing in grief, or someone triggered into a post-traumatic stress response, or someone who just cannot beat the suicidal ideation circling in their mind. The phrases, ‘Oh, you just need to pray more,’ or ‘trust God more,’ or ‘stop thinking about it so much,’ are at best unhelpful, and at their worst they are stigmatising, traumatising, and therefore abusive.
When a caring person says such things, we can say they’re misguided, spiritually immature, and lack a significant portion of life experience.
But frequently people say these things because they do not care, even if they think they do care. These people are the most dangerous, because they refuse to see what must be seen. They are ignorant to the possibilities that they could be wrong.
Sometimes people say these kinds of things because they themselves are tired, and compassion fatigue has driven an ability to care far from them. Their discernment in such a season has gone awry. Perhaps they have cared too much for too long. There are many reasons why good and caring people become too tired to care.
It can surely help anyone on the receiving end of abusive advice to consider why their advisor has given such poor counsel.
Perhaps the only thing that can alleviate the hurt and betrayal experienced because of such abuse is to attempt to understand and empathise just why the other person has said what they’ve said. There is always a reason why they have said what they said. Maturity on our part suggests we at least attempt to understand their position.
Let’s now deal with the facts. Are any of the complex issues of life actually fixed with prayer, in and of itself?
Prayer is something we are called to do as an act of faith.
Even to imagine that prayer can change something that we want changed, in other words, that we have control over the things we pray about, makes of prayer a way to manipulate God.
Think about it for a moment. If anyone suggests that anything that happens to us happens because we don’t pray enough, or don’t pray the right things, or don’t pray in the right way, makes of prayer some human divination—that by our prayer we can bring about our own will, and conform God to this will.
Think about how silly this is. The will of God will never be changed. We are fools if we think we can manipulate God to our own ends. The testimony of life attests to this.
Does prayer in and of itself solve the complex, or even the simple, issues of life? No, it can’t. It’s not the purpose of prayer to cavort with fortune. The fortunes of life much of the time are but an enigmatic anathema. We only need to suffer loss to understand this. Anyone who has travailed with mental illness, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depressive and anxiety disorders, and many other complex health issues knows that prayer is futile as a reliable change agent.
But the faithful pray to God,
because the call of faith is to pray anyway.
Engaging in prayer has nothing to do with changing God’s mind, yet it has everything to do with acknowledging that thanks and praise are due to God no matter our circumstances. Prayer is an admission that we’re not in control. It’s also our opportunity to petition God, but we submit our plea in utter dependence. Prayer is a language we use to communicate how desperately despairing we feel when change and loss and grief occurs to us. Prayer is the way we’re comforted. We feel God hear us. Do we pray believing God can act miraculously? Yes, of course, but we juxtapose such an attitude of prayer with an acceptance we can’t twist God’s arm.
Whenever anybody says anything to us about our role in disconnected misfortune, they are engaging in spiritual abuse; for example, accusing parents of being at fault for having an autistic child; that it was their ‘sin’ that caused it. Such a thing said is positively abhorrent. How on earth would anybody have anything to respond to that? Anyone hearing such garbage would be forgiven for being left jaw ajar. Such things said warrant no response, for people who say such things won’t be convinced otherwise. Unless we can say something to make them reflect, the cause is pointless.
Whenever you hear something like, “Oh, you just need to pray more,” you have just heard someone totally discredit themselves spiritually.

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

Sunday, July 14, 2019

You must BELIEVE in your Redemption Story

Amid the turmoil of loss, it’s such a temptation to panic, to lose it, to say to hell with it all, or to avoid, run, depart. To the worst extremes, temptation exudes power, convincing us its way is right.
But the temptations of attack and escape never work out. The third way is the only way. The third way is to believe in the narrative spoken deep into our heart of a hope that can transpire if only we give God the room to move, to work, to gently and patiently grow something from nothing.
It seems nothing will ever work out. I know this. I’ve been there. I’ve tasted that kind of season twice in the past sixteen years, and both times I had to insist on holding to the vision God had given me of redemption. In both cases, redemption took three years to the day (which I’m not suggesting is the way it will be for others, just that God has shown me divine faithfulness to this level of specificity.)
Let me take you deeper. Both times, my worst year was absolutely foundational and pivotal, but only as I looked back with the wisdom of hindsight. I was fortunate in one sense, that the first of these times I did sense that every time I gave something up materially, I was somehow blessed spiritually—that God was faithful to the degree that I have rewarded spiritually even in the dearth of a calamitous season.
We cannot not hope on our hope but when that hope is shattered, it leaves us in a situation we never thought would occur. It is totally foreign to not believe in our hope, and the effect is it makes us into tyrants of a temptation’s manipulation.
None of us, backs pushed against the wall, willingly go the third way, which is to reject the overtures of temptation to run and hide or attack from unsteady footing. But we must overcome the grappling desire to have things righted our way, in our time, exactly to the degrees of comfort and satisfaction we demand.
See how that’s a good desire; to have justice done; to have our day of redemption; to be restored. God wants to restore us, but when we get in the way of the passage of divine grace, we destroy the Lord’s plan—thankfully, our Lord is patient, and none of us have cooperated anywhere near perfectly. Yet it works out for our good and for God’s purpose.
In the between time, we must continue to hunt with the passion of the truth-bearer, honestly sacrificing, through godly sorrow, our own desires for the better will of God, who wants the best for us, but in ways we hardly reckon are even good.
We must stick with God, trusting divine purpose in the madness of moments we have no control over. Sure, we must stay safe and not be around toxic people. God blesses our healing when we strip away negative influences that only goad us into reacting and wrong responding. We cannot recover if others continually assert themselves abusively. We do need a clear way.
Trusting in the reality of our own redemption story is believing upon a hope that seems strangely disconnected from what even seems possible, but which is in fact intrinsically and divinely connected, and which must surely come to pass.
But remember we’re dealing in the realm of God, and God is in the business of doing the impossible. Believe the ‘impossible’, be steadfast and true, and God will do it. We simply need to allow the Lord to do what must be done and that usually takes a significant period of time.
Be as faithful as you can be in the meantime.

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Friday, July 5, 2019

Managing anxiety through continual God consciousness

I can only tell you what works for me. You may try it and have varying levels of success. All it takes is the commitment of self-discipline (recall this is one of the godly attributes of 2 Timothy 1:7) to embark on the journey. And if you see sufficient early progress, you may be encouraged to continue to grow in your experience of continual God consciousness.
Indeed, what I am encouraging you to do is what I did when I taught myself how to nap. It took a year or two to learn how to relax my eyes into unconsciousness, such is the muscle control required. Learning a continual God consciousness is similar in many ways, particularly regarding the journey of early commitment, tracking progress, and seeing it through.
It is essentially about being prepared to change practices, and in this regard, have God change the way you think.
Firstly, I must say that in practising a continual God consciousness there is never any more need to practice a structured devotional life. That must sound hideous. And certainly, any pastor who heard that could be abhorred. What I mean is practising a continual God consciousness becomes your devotional life. You are of a practical sense, praying continually, as Paul urged us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. When you are practising a continual God consciousness, that mystery of having a ‘relationship’ with Jesus—the one and only true living God—is settled once and for all. Suddenly we understand what having a relationship with the Spirit Jesus is all about. And by the Holy Spirit you are led, to go left or right, to the persons to interact with, to the book and page and paragraph to read, and even to what to do in most situations. You could very well call continual God consciousness a prayer life and a devotional life wrapped into one. Continual God consciousness drives the prayer life and the devotional life.
But there is more. This continual God consciousness is not just about being a faithful follower of Jesus. It is but a fundamental start to all of life itself.
Secondly, and I’ve already mentioned this, what I’m suggesting can only be learned through practice, over the years, and honed over the decades. If you’re willing to give it a go, if you really want to taste and live the abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10b, you’ll make the initial and ongoing commitments.
The mechanics of this practice are simply about carrying a connection with God in our minds all the time. Wherever our minds go, our minds are conscious of God being there with us, about God speaking to us through his Spirit about what we are experiencing. Through all our senses we experience the world with God, aware of his presence, being fully accompanied through life with this God of our creation. We can certainly get to a point in our continual God consciousness where we see there is no other way to be.
Thirdly, you might be asking by now what has this got to do with anxiety?
For me, anxiety would sometimes dominate my thoughts, and there are anxieties I feel in my body. Knowing that the root of many maladies emanates from the mind, we can use our minds to soothe our minds and bodies. Certainly, also, anxiety stems from trauma and other causes that are insidious. These are specialist areas that this article cannot delve into because of its brevity.
Using the replacement principle from Philippians 4:8—“whatever is excellent… think about these things”—using the soundness of our minds, we begin to exercise control over our minds. I am not for one minute saying that this is the only thing you should do, but what I am saying is this can be the basis from which all other things you do can be founded.
When we use the replacement principle, we may commonly find, that as light shines into the darkness so that the darkness cannot cohabit, with our minds positively engaged with God there’s less room for thoughts that overwhelm us. This is not to say that all anxiety will be removed. There is such a thing as existential anxiety, which is common to the human experience of living. This is the anxiety that makes us aware that we are alive, thinking and feeling creatures. To be rid of this form of anxiety would also be to agree not to experience the heights of joy. No, we should not be threatened by our thoughts and feelings, even when they are sometimes difficult to cope with.
Managing anxiety through continual God consciousness really does help, because we are more or less able to check in with God on everything, and the more we do it, the more seamless it becomes.

Photo by Lauren York on Unsplash

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Heights of Transformation from Valleys of Repentance

Those who think they have arrived never actually do. But those who realise they’ll never arrive are right in the lap of God’s will. This is a beautiful and golden paradox that has all of humanity shouting, “Amen!”
Everyone appreciates humility, but pride divides.
The world cannot stand boastful Christianity. And neither can Christians who espouse the importance of the cross. We did nothing to earn salvation, and there is nothing we can add to it, either.
Too many of us have made an idol out of discipleship. We have manipulated God just so we might bear visible ‘transformation’, after all, for some, we are hardly true disciples unless we have something to show for it. But if we take this past God’s power, we use God to make ourselves look good. (Oh, always for God’s glory, of course!)
No, the very best Christian faith recognises human paucity and the magnanimity of God. It recognises that the fruit of the truest transformation is borne not on the wings of our own victories, but on the victory already won for us in Christ. This most fundamental transformation occurs in our mind. Of course, it has an outworking in our behaviour. But it has its genesis and its blessed daily operation from our mind.
Once we have been transformed by the renewing of our mind (yes, that’s from Romans 12:2), there is a very real ripple effect that occurs; one that we cannot stop. Not one word or action from this anointing will return void. 
Connected to the Vine, as branches,
we emanate fruit of the Kingdom.
True transformation is therefore nothing ever of our own effort, but it comes as a result of the God work being done in us. Therefore, nobody can take credit, because all the credit goes to God. All we could possibly gain credit for is the decision to follow in the first place.
But there is more.
The heights of transformation come from the opposite experience. To go up, we must go down. To be transformed, on a living basis, one day and one interaction at a time, we must be in touch with God’s Spirit, and then we must do what God’s Spirit says. And no human being can definitively discern this work other than our own discerning, but the key indicator of our followship is always in the fruit—what we and others see. And the fruit of the highest transformation comes about having walked as much as we need to in the valley of repentance. Many times, the highest transformations come as a result of remaining in the valley of repentance.
This is not about staying in our guilt or our shame or feeling condemned. This is simply about being prepared to walk with the Lord. It surely has very little to do with our own performance, the pressure is off, more praise to God.
The deepest work that God wants to do in us requires our devoted pledge of allegiance to simply walk in the ways of the Lord. This is no harder than giving up what is eternally irrelevant for what is of everlasting relevance, which for us human beings is actually hard.
We all too quickly become entrapped in attitudes and behaviours that keep us from walking with God. And this is okay, if only we can admit that it does occur, and truly it always does.
When was God possibly most pleased with David, the king? Not long after he had sinned with Bathsheba. That would be my answer. When we’re honest, especially in brokenness. A broken and contrast spirit God does not despise.
When we most feel we have disappointed God,
God is most pleased in us, for us, through us.
This is because we are truthful in a brutal situation. We have done a simple thing and a hard thing simultaneously. We turned back to God (which is both easy and hard) and realised—and this is the case all along, God be praised—that God never does turn his back on us.
In the valley of repentance, in what seems a dark and destitute place, where it looks to be full of discomfort, we actually find we’re catapulted to transformation.
And let us not discount the losses we endure in the face of tyranny. Sometimes these very losses gain for us what the world cannot touch. But we must keep repenting in faith, bending our will to God’s, prepared to lose many battles to win the ultimate war—which is the fight for peace.
This, I think you’ll find, is the truth:
The heights of transformation
are ascended from valleys of repentance.
To go up, we must first go down.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Egalitarianism and faith for the future

Ignorance is something we are all wise to guard against, and in writing this I sincerely pray for the wisdom required with which to do these topics justice. This article is not really about the theologies of complementarianism versus egalitarianism, but it does contrast the two in a general sort of way.
First of all, I need to say as an egalitarian, I believe that men and women have vital aspects to contribute to society, and both are equally important in giving society the diversity that society requires.
If society is to become safe and ecumenical for all, it needs representation and voice from the common mind and the minority alike. And this is distinctly biblical, because Jesus issued the sharpest challenge around the concept of how we treat the least-of-these (see Matthew 25). Jesus, of course, was drawing on an abundance of Old Testament tradition, where the Law spoke of the favour-of-provision to the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner or alien. It is implicit and explicit in the Bible that we care for those who need help; to do this well, they need a voice. I know that there is a negative connotation to the phrase ‘social gospel’, but the fact is we cannot separate the gospel from God’s love of people—after all, God is inherently a social God (think, the Trinity).
The reason why egalitarianism is faith for the future is because it’s a fairer and safer way of leadership in a social construct that forms cohesive society. I believe egalitarianism removes unnecessary power structures, where under other constructs of leadership there are power rules that are implied that divide people’s rights at a level beyond merit. In other words, wherever we have to accept what we have to accept because those are the rules, without there being obvious reasons for the rules to all, those rules are a tyranny.
I believe that with leadership comes responsibility. Nobody would dispute that. But when you give one gender a particular kind of leadership, just because they are that gender, it can seem nonsensical to the other gender, and it puts too much pressure on many within the gender set that has been given the leadership.
There are many men who think they are great leaders, but their philosophies don’t always meet with their behaviours. I know mine don’t. Sure, there are men who are exemplary in terms of virtue, just as there are women whose characters seem unequivocally good. But the vast majority of us have our flaws, and so many couples and teams would be better served to lead together, to collaborate, and to work out solutions to problems in a way where everyone has an equal voice, not unlike the words of the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15:28, where those leaders said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” because consensus had been achieved, even after vigorous debate. There has to be unity in reaching decisions for the decisions to be godly decisions.
Of course, decisions must be made, but does it need to be a man who makes such decisions? Surely the person we need in the decision-making role is someone who is capable of weighing the input, discerning the voice, and good at making decisions.
The more obvious issue I contend with, in terms of the need of a more egalitarian faith for the future, is the simple matter of respect for the sexes.
Both men and women have opportunities to exemplify respect for the other, within the overall realm of the concept of respectfulness. Respectfulness is simply a godly attribute, whereby we actively go about our lives not offending people.
Yes, I know there is this thing called freedom of speech, but freedom of speech is not an invitation to be lazy, and to say what we darn well feel like. Everything we say needs to be kind and considered, just as an adult behaviour is reasonable, reliable, logical, realistic, and rational. God is calling us to a respect that meets the divine standard, where we treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12), which is just as much about treating others by the same standard that they apply, and not by our own standard.
I think the biggest thing that is missing in our social media world from a faith perspective is that sweet reasonableness of empathy for the other person in our midst; the person who, as Paul would say, we are to die for, so that they may live (2 Corinthians 4:10). This is why the gospel is so captivating! We cannot help but convince people as to the goodness of God when we ourselves are prepared to go to our own crosses in becoming like Jesus in our social situations—for the other person.
Can you see how inimitable the example of Jesus is when we portray his example in sacrificing ourselves and our own wants for others and theirs? Others go first. That’s leadership!
We desperately need a leadership construct for faith that oozes respect for all, and one that especially gives priory and voice to those who have no (or less) priory and voice.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Why we may Pity ‘the Powerful’ now and forevermore

Every time I meditate on Psalm 37, I’m astounded as to how much peace I receive. This is a song that’s all about overlooking the effects of injustice that oppresses us. None of us want to accept that injustice happens in our lives, but because it does happen, we need a proactive way of resolving it so we can enjoy the peace of God in our hearts. The peace of God is necessary if we’re to live as peacemakers in our world, loving others, and shining the light of Christ for God’s purposes wherever we go.
Here is something else to meditate over:
“When humans are caught in sin, they will say anything to make it better, including using biblical language to keep life running normally, especially when there is a lot at stake.”
—Diane Langberg, PhD
Can we, for a moment, repel the temptation to slink into self-righteousness? Can we admit that the first thought that goes through our minds when we are caught in sin is, “How can I save my skin?” (Come on, let’s just be honest!) 
As Christians, of all people, we should be able to admit we’re sinners; indeed, isn’t that the precursor in coming to a saving faith? Now, we may not act on that temptation to self-protection, but we can all admit that none of us like the pain of shame, of exposure, of embarrassment, and worse potentially, of consequences, some of which are dark and dire.
There is another powerful element to the Langberg quote, and it relates to the powerful; to the ones who have more to lose. In the context of Psalm 37, we who may have little, and perhaps not much power at all—comparatively speaking—stand to be strongly encouraged. It’s a psalm of strong encouragement to the weak who are discouraged. The point is, we haven’t become used to a life of privilege. The powerful might have the world as their oyster, but they have all that to lose, and the mere thought of such loss is calamitous.
And it gets worse for the powerful, for they are the ones who are tempted most to cover their sin, and to keep the propaganda flowing, especially in response to bad news.
They might not even recognise this: that the sin of covering up the initial sin or series of sins is on a scale far worse than the initial sin. From what looked bad, initially, now from the viewpoint of response, looks deceptive and ugly and indeed, evil. All because the powerful could not bear the thought of losing what they stood to lose. For some, depending on the sin, it can be everything.
Now, the thought of losing everything, for those of us who have had a taste of that, and for me that was over 15 years ago now, it is a season of being peppered with temptation—to go easy on ourselves, to become distracted and wasteful, to lose ourselves in addiction, to rail against ‘the enemy’ with fury, to deny it’s even happening; to warrant myriad form of escape or attack.
Any of us can empathise with the terror of loss. It is the hardest thing that can happen to us in life. But it is still no excuse to respond the wrong way, even if 99 people out of 100 resist the narrow way that Jesus alluded to in Matthew 7:13-14:
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (NLT)
Whenever we are caught in sin,
it isn’t God catching up with us to hurt us,
it is God catching up with us to help us.
But it requires faith to believe this, and it requires faith to run with this, and such faith will drive us into the very heart of God, and such a place of vulnerability is the cusp of transformation. And no one is transformed without first becoming vulnerable. This is a costly discipleship that affords us entry into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called costly grace.
The only chance we have of retaining our credibility of character when we are caught in sin, is to be honest, and to confess what we have done, and to make no excuse, and to give such a full apology as to leave everyone feeling that justice has been done. That they can say, “he or she understands the wrong they’ve done!”
And having done this, and without us requiring even one iota of it, what is usually extended to us is the mercy of God through a humanity that is simply relieved that truth has been told. Forgiveness is easier when justice has been done.
The world desperately needs to see more Christians willing to lead the way in confession and repentance. If we think parading our righteousness is the way to win the world to the Gospel, the enemy has confused us.
The way that the world will see Christ in us is when we’re honest, and vulnerable, and willing to see justice done, no matter the personal cost.
If we love God, then God must have all our love. And it will cost us at times.
The powerful have a big disadvantage: they have more to lose. Privilege is something the powerful often desire to protect, and such a temptation can cause the powerful to do what a normal person might consider is foolishness.
One advantage a sufferer for Christ has over the powerful one who is tempted to hide their sin is they’ve learned that loss neither defines them nor destroys them. They’ve learned they can trust God with their honesty.

Photo by Jasmin Ne on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Around the Anniversaries Come, Always Arriving on Time

I’m thankful these days for the anniversaries. Five years ago, we had no idea what was coming at dawn, and we certainly didn’t know it would come with mourning.
After the pain of grief is gone, there is a sweet reasonableness in the arrival of anniversaries that mark precious remembrances that deepen appreciation for life.
But it never changes the reality; what was lost is lost for all time. The baby we lost to stillbirth was still a baby who was part of our lives for the eight months we knew of his existence, and though he was stillborn, as I was reminded today, he was still born. It still happened. We still knew him. He still had character. And we were still blessed to know him for such a limited time.
I have learned to appreciate with acceptance the anniversaries as they’ve arrived. They’re always timely, as remembrance is now the cherished compensation for our loss that endures. Each of these remembrances is, as the days are, so different, like shards of reality, and as distance greets the dimension of time, a variegated nostalgia is added. And the course for healing continues.
And yet there is the undeniable fact that there is something missing in our lives; there is a ‘someone’ missing from our lives. But he’s there every time I go into a kindergarten class. He has given me, my son, and a dear friend, strength. His memory reminds me of a painful season compounded by another tragic thread of losses that most people that were close to us have no idea about. But most importantly, God used Nathanael to teach me so much about the nature of life, loss and love.
As I think about this week, the first of the anniversaries of that time, I think of that ill-fated Tuesday morning when a stormfront drifted in nonchalantly enough to catch us out, saturating us in numbness that resonated for days. It was the first of a series of fronts that bashed our reality and crashed our hope. And yet, due faith, the very hope that seemed dashed simply grew in the nature of hope that, in love, never fails.
June 26th, July 1st, July 18th, August 12th, September 1st, September 4th, September 8th, October 4th-8th, October 29th, October 30th, and every day from that day until November 7th (Nathanael’s funeral); and several dates beyond. And in between all these dates there are random memories that intercede.
Not all these dates are great. In fact, most of these dates involved varying degrees of devastation and trauma. But there is the witness of healing as I gaze back from the safety of God’s Presence, and indeed the antithesis of what could and would meet my countenance and overwhelm me.
As the cycle of anniversaries approaches, I’m given to the thought that this season of the year is no longer the hell it was. It is now more of a heavenly that God promised from the beginning. As I look at my wife, the person who carried our son so lovingly, diligently and faithfully, I’m so blessed to have experienced this with her; the highest and lowest of times we’ve had the honour of sharing with each other.
So much of life has changed in these intervening five years—three of which were the toughest we could have imagined. And yet, had it not been for these years that stretched us, we would not have known of the faithfulness of God to get us through.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

This is Where the War Ends!

I’m not usually one to proclaim declaration. But this is where the war ends.
Over every voice of derision, whether within and without, we cast over them the power of Jesus that smothers judgement with love. This is where the war ends.
Over every worry or concern, founded or unfounded, we cast over them the faith of Jesus that exonerates judgement over fear with perfect love. This is where the war ends.
Over every reality of treason or prison or image of captivity, established or promised, we cast over them the truth of Jesus’ words: “I have overcome the world.” This is where the war ends.
Over every sickness and disease, whether viral or threatening, we cast over them the assurance of healing, by the powerful name, blood and anointing of Jesus—the One who was and is and is to come, King of kings, Lord of lords. This is where the war ends.
Over every statement against us, whether in print or imagined, whether meant or implied, we cast over them the love that fuels peace—a light that darkness cannot overcome. This is where the war ends.
Over every lament and sorrow and regret, endured or about to be, we cast over them the sure and apparent knowledge that God is good in the midst of them. This is where the war ends.
And though we cannot overcome in the definitive sense, our Jesus has overcome in the eternal sense, and this is what we come again to, today, afresh, as a gentle smile pervades our countenance. This is where the war ends.
Truth is, the war ended a long, long time ago. Indeed, retrospectively, we can see that the war ended at the beginning. That moment, theologically, that God designed a peace plan to redeem a fallen humanity from its crimes against itself and God. The war ended officially at the nailing of our sins to the cross of Calvary. But the war truly ended, prophetically speaking, when God spoke creation into reality.
Yet we know a reality that is far too hellish to contemplate without God. The injustices of hell seem to reign all over the earth. The expectation of the kingdom coming can seem futile. We may lose all hope. And yet this is why we need to be reminded that this is not our war; and that this is where the war ends; as we have our Lord who battled and battles for us. This is where the war ends!
Whatever you are warring with or against, I call you to encouragement, to the blessedness of the One who may remind you that the war is done. And though you may still be in the trenches, know that it ends well. That is assured.