Sunday, September 30, 2018

Eating from the Tree of Life – Peacemaking Wisdom

Photo by Ullash Borah on Unsplash

When tragedy strikes it is a normal response to ask where is God in this? Possibly the commonest tragedy in life is the travesty-of-heart individuals experience when in conflict. But, as we have learned through resurrection out of grief, conflict likewise is an opportunity too good to pass up.
My wife and I have undertaken a journey with the peacemaking organisation, PeaceWise. And recently I was invited to become a trainer in peacemaking wisdom as part of the national PeaceWise team.
This article is a conglomeration of peacemaking wisdom that I gleaned in assisting national trainer, Steve Frost.
Peacemaking challenges the way we view results. It views the relationship as primary, results as secondary, given that, from a leadership viewpoint, people care about results only when they know we care about them.
Peacemaking is a challenge to the way we view ‘results’.
Not everyone means what we would say they mean. When we hear someone say something or we read their words, we do so through our own filters, never realising that our perception and their intention are two entirely different things. We assume we know, when it is always wise to check.
Not everyone means what we would say they mean.
The causes of conflict are the predictable misunderstandings we have, our differing values and interests, and competition over resources, poor relational skills, and our sinful attitudes and desires (see James 4:1-2).
The closer we get to someone, the more likely it is
that conflict will fracture our collaboration.
If we’re honest, our aims in conflict are not to view it as an opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow to be more like Christ. Our honest aims, that reveal the idols of our heart, are 1) conquest – how can I win? and/or 2) comfort – how can I quickly and most easily get through this?
When we put outcomes second in our
relationships, we can know the Father better.
Conflict is a discipleship growth tool. We’re shaped by conflict. Growth hurts.
Every minute is valuable from the context of discipleship.
Questions that grow us up:
-         How can I live through this conflict and make God known?
-         How to I bless and serve those who make me feel uncomfortable?
-         What’s God up to in this ‘bad’ or uncomfortable moment?
-         Can we contemplate an approach that says, ‘Even if you kill me I will die loving you’? — this is not referring to the actual practice of murder nor does it condone any form of violence.
Faith is about abiding and depending, in living a bewilderingly different way.
There is more potential to become more like Jesus in the terrible moment than in the wonderful moment.
The natural trajectory of conflict is not restoration but destruction. We must become a community tenacious for peace.
When we put outcomes second to the relationship it’s an opportunity to know our Father better.
It’s no good pretending it didn’t happen, however small it was.
Assisted peacemaking (mediation, adjudication, accountability) requires the trust of those these processes serve.
Peacemaking is less about being right
than it is about being in relationship.
To bring peace into the realm of conflict we must start with God.
We may not ordinarily see behaviour as a material issue, but behaviour can be a material issue.
Overlooking an offence is not always about denial or flight. The key test is, ‘Am I preoccupied about this matter?’ If our minds are not preoccupied, the matter is probably something we can overlook.
Jesus calls us to be wheat among the weeds, so let’s be as ‘wheaty’ as we can be.
It must be my modus operandi to endeavour to understand and bless those not like me.
Conflict invites us to move from comfort and conquest to Christ. Conflict makes us uncomfortable or it blocks our conquest, but neither of these is as important as making God known.
In conflict we must address the tension involved in the fear of hurting the other person as we redemptively confront the issue.
Abusive people weaponise vulnerability.
Will we insist on eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or will we partake in the tree of life? The former insists on right and wrong, while the latter seeks life and the abundance of life in relationships. The former is a small vision, the latter is a vision the size of the universe.
When the person we are in conflict with offers us solidarity they are inviting us to know them better, and their generosity is a blessing, and a win-win situation is in the offing.
People who operate out of wisdom partake of the tree of life, and they exemplify generosity of spirit.
Forgiveness is an invitation into the Father’s deeper revelation. Forgiveness always takes a deeper into the Father. This is because forgiveness requires more of us than we initially contemplated.
The deeper wisdom of conflict as there is always something more important than the conflict. The conflict is merely symptomatic of a deeper cause, and the wise discern the need to understand.
In conflict we must learn to say,
‘I need more trust, more hope,
more generosity, more faith.’
If my good desire is not met, I am tempted to demand that it be met, and if my demand is not met, I begin to operate out of the attitude of judgment, and very soon my behaviour punishes the person who has not met the good desire that has become a demand. This is the progression of an idol.
With people we are in conflict with, we have a backpack of stones, with each disagreement resembling one stone. With each genuine apology received, the commensurate stone need not be thrown. It is taken out of the backpack because it is appeased. But without genuine apology those stones are kept stowed just in case.
A good apology represents me well, to the point that the person being apologised to can see me. It opens up a fresh start to the relationship.
When it comes to apology, God already knows, and He’s already paid for it. It doesn’t get much safer than that, so just get on with it. Be generous. Make the apology. Get it done.
Asking for someone’s forgiveness places us in a position of vulnerability, which is always an investment in relationship.
In conflict, we must learn to remind ourselves that, ‘If I knew everything they knew, I would respond to this differently.’
Very often the most important thing a person says in a stressful situation is the last thing they say, which is also the hardest thing for them to say, which explains why it comes last. It is necessary to allow enough silence to enable the hard thing to be said.
Speaking the truth in love is about
speaking the truth in a way they know I love them.
The interests that underpin the issue and the positions people take are the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. We cannot sort out the ‘what’ until we understand the ‘why’. Negotiators must know this.
God’s Kingdom is not about lavish forgiveness for me and stingy forgiveness for you. It is all lavish forgiveness.
We are not called to forgive and forget. We must forgive but we cannot forget.
Forgiveness means I carry no more resentment.
It doesn’t mean I permit further abuse.
Forgiveness is about reaching out to others who are fallen like we are. We are no better than they are.
To forgive generously you enter the Great Forgiveness.
The Great Forgiveness is the forgiveness of God.
The ‘replacement principle’ of Philippians 4:8 is the secret to all success in the land of virtue.
People in pain don’t want to talk to people who aren’t trustworthy.
When all else fails we need to recalibrate our love, to lower our standards of love, so that we may simply love.

Acknowledgement to Steve Frost, a peacemaking guru I’ve been blessed to work with.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Three Ways to Ease the Prohibitive Conscience

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

If our key formative relationships featured manipulation, because it was an easy way to control us, we may have developed what can be termed a prohibitive conscience — a conscience based in fear, operating out of guilt. Likewise, if we have encountered people who are controlling, and we haven’t been brought up in such a way, such manipulation can be jarring.

From early childhood we are trained in the way we will go (Proverbs 22:6). If, as parents, we attend to our children’s training toward the goal of helping them build their moral warehouse, and we provide a fair and loving environment for them to grow, our children inevitably develop what Growing Kids God’s Way calls a positive or healthy conscience. On the other hand, if we grew up in a constant state of fear, usually in a relationship with one (or more) particular care-giver(s), we probably wrestle with a prohibitive or unhealthy conscience. It is not an inherently bad thing, it is just a consequence of development when a strong sense of true right and wrong was not instilled in us — when ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ wasn’t reliable and bred fear in us in not knowing how to behave. It isn’t our fault, but there is something we can do about it.
Truth be known, we can develop this kind of prohibitive conscience through traumatic situations we encounter even as adults. Indeed, a prohibitive conscience can be situational; it can be triggered.
Is a prohibitive conscience a guilty conscience? A prohibitive conscience is not a guilty conscience, but it is a conscience that works out of the platform of guilt and fear. A guilty conscience is situational, based out of doing what we should not do or not doing what we should do and knowing about it.
What creates a prohibitive conscience? Conditional love and conditional acceptance. When people intentionally make us feel guilty. And when punishment for behaviour is detached from moral reasoning, such that the consequences are uncoupled from a reliable sense of what to do or not do. In any relationship, these states leave us feeling very unsafe and emotionally compromised.
What can we do to ease the prohibitive conscience?
This is the most penetrating question of all. Like most things when it comes to therapy, similar rules apply.
1.      Awareness is the crucial impetus to action. Coming to an awareness, and then to an acceptance, we all find it empowering to get to work on self-improvement. Having come to an acceptance, part of the initial task is to truly understand why there is a bent toward a prohibitive conscience. This inevitably involves on packing our relationships with our parents and those who have been key role models throughout our formation. If we know why, we’re well positioned to do something proactive.
2.      Focus then on the Son of God. Truly understanding what Jesus did for each of us on the cross and understanding the life he brings us through forgiveness and resurrection, we begin to rebuild our identity, brick by brick, thought by thought, positive reflection by positive reflection. When we do what is right because we know it is right and loving, we reinforce this understanding as right and appropriate. What a wonderful thing it is when we can commend ourselves when we do what is right, whilst holding ourselves accountable for when we could have done something better, but without beating ourselves up about it.
3.      Take control of our behaviour. The third thing the Ezzo’s recommend, as part of the process for easing the prohibitive conscience, is to take control of the behaviour that the prohibitive conscience controls. This is the opportunity to learn how to respond out of the higher mind, which does not react out of emotion, in this case, guilt. The higher mind has learned to pause, to reflect, and acts out of wisdom. In committing to manage our behaviour better, we apply the replacement principle of Philippians 4:8. Whatever is excellent and loving, we do these things. We add love and don’t simply take away fear. We don’t do our right things out of fear, we do them because we can, out of love. It’s such a subtle shift in our thinking. But, crucially important. We also learn not to second-guess our decisions. We do an action out of love and think nothing more of it. And lastly, the book of Proverbs is a good place to reside for a while. I can remember in 2007 spending 18 months in Proverbs, one chapter every day, and I was able to cover the whole book each month. We partake of that virtuous wisdom, imbibing it slowly, and it does its work in rebuilding our moral warehouse. And we accept those relationships we have where our best isn’t always the best.
This article is a follow-up to an article I wrote in 2009, titled Guilty Conscience or Prohibitive Conscience.
Acknowledgement to Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo, Let the Children Come… Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way (Happy Valley, South Australia: Growing Families Australia, 2002), pp. 95-98.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A difference between a victim and a survivor

I don’t know who Candace Owens really is. I understand her viewpoint and try to help people who have a victim mentality overcome it. But I don’t think #MeToo or #ChurchToo is anything essentially about people being shackled to their victimhood. Like a great many people, I don’t have much of an interest in politics, but I do have an interest in people having a voice on important issues.
To me, the issue surrounds the matter that people who have suffered abuse behave like ‘victims’ for a reason. Nobody who is a victim of abuse likes the idea. They would prefer not to suffer from post-traumatic stress, etc. And through courage most victims will go on to become survivors of abuse. They survived it!
And that is our preferred term. Survivor. Not victim.
Of course, I know what Candace Owens is driving at. It can seem like we are our own oppressors. It doesn’t sound like Ms. Owens is a survivor (or a victim). She may be? It seems that her tweets on this matter, however, lack empathy. I gather she has a political persuasion to uphold. I understand her advocating for that, and I think I understand her position, but I do not understand why she has targeted all victims.
It seems a little strange to me. Surely the majority of the argument is related to the actual Cavanaugh case. I can understand her taking that position; taking the view that the allegation is false or irrelevant. (Let’s leave that issue alone for the purposes of this article.)
But why does she target those victims in the majority — those people who she says have become their own oppressor, because they have some kind of permanent view of their victimhood — in such a way that lacks empathy. Wasn’t the issue just about some kind of alleged false accusation?
I said that I don’t have a political preference, but I suppose I will be painted into the Left corner. I just have a concern for humanity; for fairness of the individual.
But the real point I want to make is there is a difference between a victim and a survivor. A victim is what we are, pre-recovery. A survivor, on the other hand, is someone who is committed to recovery, and many survivors become advocates, and I think it is this that irks those who have perhaps never suffered abuse; those who have only known power and privilege or have been so fortunate. Many people we call survivors are still victims if you looked at the ongoing trauma they continue to experience. Amazingly, they continue to ‘show up’ in life, and we ought to thank God for those lives who have long departed who suffered so much.
Empathy. This is what is needed. Just this. Only this.
It is important for people who have experienced abuse to be able to advocate against it, even by drawing attention to it in order to educate the uninformed or ill-informed.
So, there is a difference between the victim and a survivor. Victims will remain damaged and will propagate damage, making society worse. Survivors are committed to a new way, by following the road less travelled.
We ought to encourage survivors, because they have life experiences we should want to learn from.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Living Peacefully in an Age where Perception is King

Photo by Love Your Neighbour on Unsplash

How do we live in peace in a world where disagreement, indifference and ambivalence rule? How are we to reconcile living in peace with those whose perceptions differ sharply from our own? How is it that we even come to a day where these questions shape so much of our thinking?
It matters so much, it seems, to be able to influence others, to have our own say and to have others fall into line with our thinking. If I do it, and the next person does it, and we both disagree, futility reigns. It is a veritable insanity.
What happened to the kind of thinking that accepted
another person’s perception and let them be?
If I have a strong view about something, and I do have some strong views, and I make these views public, in this day and age, I can expect to be shouted down. I can expect to be abused. And the irony is the person who shouts me down has equally strong views that obviously differ.
There are some things that each of us will sharply disagree about
when it comes to every other person, with no exceptions.
The closer we are to someone,
the more threatened we become when they disagree…
unless there is already a covenant of respect agreed between us.
We could be best of friends, marriage partners, parents or children, and there are subjects and nuances that can fracture the relationship if we’re not careful.
I understand that there is such a thing as absolute truth. But the trouble with ‘absolute truth’ is its nuances can still be interpreted through the filters of our perception.
It is not a new idea that we each have our perceptions that differ markedly from even those we closely align with. Our perception is King. And if we are not aware of it, it remains a sovereign unchallenged.
We are responsible for stewarding our perceptions.
Only we can control our perceptions.
We have no control over another person’s perceptions.
And yet we take it upon ourselves to endeavour to change a person’s view. We take umbrage with what they say and we ‘school’ them in (our) right-thinking, never thinking in the doing of this that we are hypocrites. Who made us lords of truth?
Now it may be a different thing if we are working with someone pastorally, or counselling them, and leading them or guiding them in overcoming an issue. There is a role in helping. They have empowered us to help. We have both their trust and their permission. But even as we shepherd someone or counsel them, we do so gently, prompting them to ask questions that only they can answer, and in so doing, we get out of the Holy Spirit’s way. We equip them to change themselves.
Only as a person sees the need to change,
do they change and change their way of thinking into the bargain.
A person must be convinced in their own mind and heart.
What on earth am I thinking, and what right do I have, when I seek to change another person’s view? Especially in Western culture, we must expect poor results if that is our method. What about the sanctity of the person in our midst? What about the validity of their view? They have their wealth of experience that informs how they live.
If we cannot be bothered endeavouring to understand
how another person thinks, we have
no right of influence in their life.
People care little about what we think until they think that we care. Can we sit with someone and listen to them, and even as we disagree, still endeavour to try and understand why they think the way they do? Without thinking at the same time, ‘I need to change this person’s viewpoint.’
We need to come to the realisation that relationship trumps the issues we argue about. Never more have we believed as humanity that every human being deserves that sanctity.
We have far less influence in life than we would like to have. The quicker we accept this the better our lives go.
Yes, perception is King. It always has been. We just have a media these days that enables us to argue our nuances with complete strangers in a way that carts hurt everywhere.
The way forward is to respect
the perceptions that we cannot change,
have the courage to challenge and
change the ones we can (ours),
and have the wisdom to value the difference
between their good and our poor perceptions.
More fundamentally…
Respect the people you cannot change,
(everyone other than you)
challenge the person you can (you),
and be wise to understand and accept the difference.
Another way of doing it…
What is it to love someone?
Respect them for who they are,
for how they think and feel,
and take relating with them from there.
How do people feel safe to us?
They value us for who we are.

How are people to feel safe with us?
They will feel we value them without condition.

Friday, September 21, 2018

From a Door Slammed Shut to Resurrection Day

Photo by Salmen Bejaoui on Unsplash

15 years ago, today, September 21, 2003, was a Resurrection Day, not that I knew it at the time. I literally had no idea. It would take me months to even see it. It would take me years to believe it.
The paradox of the beginning of a fresh new life at the dawn of loss that cataclysmically broke me.
12 years ago, today, September 21, 2006, was also a Resurrection Day; a day I had long hoped for. It had finally arrived. Three years of hoping, and a miracle of new life hoped for. Three years apart, exactly, two entirely different days and seasons, yet a consistent hope joining them both.
Both resurrection days were entirely different.
Precisely 3 years apart, I think, is no coincidence.
Let me explain more about the details:
The first one was the day before my first marriage ended, which happened to be the very first day of 15 years of sobriety thus far. If you had have asked me on that day if I knew what the next 15 years would entail, you would have discovered that I simply had no idea. If I went back to that day, and only knew what was about to occur, there is no way I could ever see it as a resurrection day. Within 24 hours my life would unravel; I would lose my wife, free access to my children, and my home that I had invested so much of myself in. Everything of that life disappeared. It all changed in the blink of an eye. And yet, as I look back to this date 15 years ago, the very essence of the new life was germinating.
Not that I knew it,
but I was about to be reformed.
Even as I endured a kind of revenant experience,
(a death-of-self experience)
a door was being prepared for me
to be opened as an eventual resurrection experience.
The second day, three years later, just so happened to be the day Sarah and I held each other for the very first time. We count September 22, the day I asked Sarah’s father permission, as the commencement of our courtship. Three years I had spent as a single father, having grieved nearly half that time. I had ventured into the loneliness of a life that couldn’t pick and choose when I could see my children. And yet I was embraced by a community called the local church, and they showed me that God had a bigger vision for my life.
The first resurrection day was coincidently the day before a death, where one life died, where the door to that life slammed shut, and threatened my very existence. The second resurrection day was the completion of a barebones construction work; a man rebuilt for marriage, even if I still had so much to learn.
Doors slam shut in life, and it
always happens without warning.
We never see it as a favour done for us. We always resent the fact that we have lost control. But a door slammed shut isn’t the end of the story. And this is something we must hold onto amid the resonance of an impending hell.
There is no better example of a living hell than loss, but just picture Jesus descending to hell before He was resurrected. God becomes real in our lived experience when we continue to hope beyond the experience of a form of death.
Even as a door slams shut in our face,
with the hope of resurrection, we ultimately rise.
As much as we can, we must diligently trust for a better day to eventually arrive. If we can do that, and trust in the eventual resurrection day arriving, it will eventually arrive. Hope is pivotal. And such hope is a mirage without faith.
See how faith in God is important when
you find your life smashed against the rocks?
You may choose to trust in something other than God, and I would say good luck with that, because it is only in diligently following God that we are able to trust in a force that is good; that won’t ultimately wreck our chances at redemption.
I could not have planned the coherence of these two resurrection dates. Only as I looked back could I see that God was communicating His faithfulness through such a ‘coincidence’.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Your generous gift of kindness – how much it means

Image: Katie Sloan.

I am not always kind. I recognise that in writing on kindness at least part of what I write is aspirational.
I aspire to be kinder. I assume if you are reading this you esteem the value of kindness. You appreciate when kindness is given to you. We all do. Even those who do not respond to kindness do so because there was a lack of kindness given to them from the very start.
To be caringly kind is to recognise the deeper value held close to the human heart, which craves to be loved, and hates to be judged. This is the very closest explanation regarding the horrors we see in our world — those who lived in a void of kindness, who as children were shrouded in the darkest evil, may either never respond to kindness or they may be so committed to it that they are evangelists for compassion.
Whichever way we look at it, we are dependent on kindness from our fellow humanity.
This is because life is chock full of unfair surprises, confusing choices, outrageous circumstances, calamitous disappointments, and dramatic betrayals.
What life offers is a stinging reproach on the design for life that the original blueprint mandates.
Our human hearts
crave to be loved,
and hate to be judged.
Give your kindness generously because
you know how important it is to you,
so you know how important it is for others.
Our soul decree is that all should be well, but all is not well in this life.
This is why Jesus dying on the cross and being raised to new life gives many of us so much hope. It is a way of explaining how kindness wins the day; that is every day.
This Jesus came to ease our burdens, and to lighten that heavy load that we carry on our backs.
And only God knows how different our burdens are, one to another, and how different we are, yet how similarly we are emotionally arranged. We can certainly agree that our burdens are not that dissimilar, nor are our reactions, nor for that matter are our responses of discouragement.
The only way that our burdens are lightened is through the kindness of others, which we can see is a gift that, before God, we are worthy of.
If we are worthy of God’s kindness, we are worthy of another human being’s kindness, and other human beings are worthy of ours.
Burdens are worn many a different way,
kindness lightens them every single day.
If we are so different, and yet we all respond the same to overall kindness, there is hope for us in the giving out of a kindness. As we give out these little morsels of hope and of life, we experience the life the other gets in the receipt of kindness, and that feeds us spiritually.
When others feel fairly treated,
most of the time,
they treat us more fairly back.
And yet we can try something revolutionary.
We can simply be kind because we can.
In the very moment that we observe a burden in someone else, that moment we can choose to ease a burden with a little kindness. We are never told to give too much, but we are asked to give what little we are prompted to give. And in a moment of giving what we can give, without thought, we receive the spiritual blessing of life — the type of life that we could call abundance — a life that is more ours the more we give ourselves away.
None of us knows the burdens any of us are wearing. Even the people we’re in constant contact with, and even our marriage partners.
Only we, alone, can testify to the discouragement of life. If we’re discouraged, we know that others feel it, too.

We can do our generous gifts of kindness because we know how important kindness is to us.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dealing with those Depressed Days

I prefer to be honest. It doesn’t always serve me well. Like the jobs I feel I miss out on, when they ask for honest responses to questions like ‘have you ever been depressed or suicidal?’
How are you supposed to answer those kinds of questions?
If you’re in any kind of helping profession, it’s frowned upon that you might at times be unhinged. But I can tell you now I think you would prefer a pastor or a counsellor who can empathise with your depression and loneliness and anxiety. That is, without direct, first-hand experience it’s hard for those in the helping professions to serve well those who are suffering. Of course, competence should never be underestimated. It is a nonnegotiable. But there is a kind of X-factor in a trained helper who has been to hell and back, who healed along the way. And we know that it is up to us as helping professionals to show up to our duties fit for work. We just need to accept that sometimes, and it may only be a few hours, we need respite.
Having been to hell and back on several occasions
for months at a time, I can tell you there is life beyond it.
Nowadays, which is pretty much normal for me, I am in a monthly kind of cycle.
As I looked through the pages of an old journal from 2008, I was astounded as to how many red flags there were. Green flags for good days. Red flags for bad days. Some days are so bad there is nothing written in those pages. Like I’d vanished from my life. Other red flag days I was overwhelmed, swept up in busyness, fury, complaint, and the need to escape. Other red flag days there were external issues I couldn’t handle, perhaps the struggles my children have had. Still other days I was just unsettled in my spirit and confused beyond belief, full of a mental fog that would not lift for hours. Of course, some days were full of fear-and-frustration-intuiting conflict. And some days I was just so sick of myself for one or a couple of many reasons. There were so many red flag days in that year, but there are so many red flag days in every year, just as there are very many green flag days, but we hardly fear those. We are more likely to take those for granted.
In a monthly pattern of life these days there are at least two single days where I feel depressed. Where there is no hope nor life nor reason, and all vision of positivity simply vanishes. I put these experiences down to a mix of spiritual warfare, an unbalanced focus on my desires, and perhaps the return of past hurts and disappointments, as they fleetingly dare to dash across my psyche from my memory.
Some of these days it’s just a few hours. And some of these days are consecutive, but rarely more than two in a row. And still I hate smiling and lying about how I feel. It makes me more depressed, and yet if I know the person well enough who is before me, I aim to trust them in being honest about how I feel. I cannot add to their burden, of course, but I do recognise that many people are encouraged to know, that as a helping person, I have my own fragilities. We all do.
No matter what you do,
and no matter how you feel,
what you do and what you feel are okay.
Let no one take this away from you.
But try not to attack people because you, yourself, are low. Have the courage to be honest. Be vulnerable. We never know when our vulnerability will be an encouragement to someone. It’s always a good surprise to discover that. We are more likely these days than ever before to experience the empathy of friends and strangers alike. If you share with someone and they do not get you, try not to allow that to be license to spiral further downward. Adjust your expectations. In rejecting your invitation to know you more, which is a holy trust, they are the ones with the problem, not you.
If we have issues with our mental health, we have more community around us than we know, for we are all ‘normal’ until you get to know us. We don’t know who is struggling in our midst. And even those we look up to do not have the dream life that we often think they have.
Embrace the fact that life is an up-and-down exercise of endurance. It is easy for no one. Everyone finds life tough occasionally. And there is much more anxiety in the normal run of life than we ever realise.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Church for the people because God is FOR people

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Rather than pretend to be nice I’d prefer to be honest. Being a first-generation Christian, and a pastor and chaplain at that, I believe what I say here is relevant because I’m a relative newcomer.
You see, I’m ‘new’ to church; well, within the last fifteen years or so. I’m new and I still don’t fit. That’s a problem for many when it comes to the church. They just don’t fit.
Fifteen years may not seem new to you, but most people I know who I would call peers have been around a lot longer than that. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that I feel like I’m the newbie.
When I spoke with a couple slightly older than I at school when I picked up my son, and I mentioned what I did, they said, ‘Nothing good comes out of church these days.’ They weren’t being rude. They were referring to several things as it happened, not just about sex abuse and the abysmal responses of historical silence predicated on power and control. They were a nice couple, but they were unfazed by who I stood for (Jesus). Part of me wanted to celebrate the fact that they felt they could just be honest. But another part of me felt impotent.
What they were saying, in effect, was the church nowadays is in it for itself, which, decoded for us Christians means, they don’t see it as a Jesus movement. Many of us have a vastly different experience, knowing that it is all about Jesus. But not these people.
It reminds me of the time Graham Mabury said about his nightline days; Australians don’t have a problem with Jesus, but they have a problem with his retail outlets.
How is it that we have given our lives to the pursuit of Jesus, within the safe cloister of our churches, yet many people outside our walls see us as glorified clubs?
I’ve been praying about something over the past year or two, as God has undone the pastoral heart beating within my chest. This prayer has been something like, ‘How are you radically reforming your church, Lord? How are You making Your church a church for the common people, again?’ I’ve been praying on that old and tired term, revival.
Why isn’t the church the beacon it could be?
Because the church has been industrialised.
The little church I belong to, a church where I’m an elder, where I preach at, and where I support our pastor, and serve there with my wife, is apparently a dying church. It’s been dying for a decade or more. I say it facetiously, because I see it as the hope of the world. Yet, some bigger churches view our little church as a dinosaur, hungry to absorb what few young people we have. As a church we’re praying earnestly for revival and for God’s will regarding how to serve our community. We don’t so much want souls saved for Jesus, as if we’d cram whole persons into some Christian-sausage-making machine. We’re not geared for that. And that’s a plus I think. But we do want to make an impact in our local area. We want to be a tangible presence of Jesus, but in that we realise that people don’t want Jesus shoved down their throats.
They want what I wanted pre-Jesus:
for us to do our good works without strings attached.
The love of Jesus is done for love, not with a catch.
They want to see us put our money where our mouths are. They want us to be a people who put people first, not a people who have a reputation for exploiting people by getting them ‘saved’ and baptised and serving to build our ministries so we can have even more power and influence.
It still begs the question. How do we make our little contribution to our community in a way that our community can see Jesus through what we do? We need a way of getting involved in people’s lives, so it needs to be something worthwhile. We’re not the font of all knowledge. We’re not the service that everyone needs several times daily, like McDonald’s. We’re not some kind of innately attractive resource or material.
But, because of the love of Jesus in us, we want to be something by doing something.
Because of the love of Jesus, we want people to know that love, and they can only know that love when we move close to them. When we enter their world with kindness and grace to share. We need to find methods and mediums of tangible compassion and express ourselves in caring ways, not caring about insults that come our way. We need to be ready to roll up our sleeves, get dirty, lose ourselves in giving ourselves away, and trust God for the time when they might say, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ And yet not make much ado about nothing. Our lack of response will speak more volumes for our real motives for love than our clich├ęd words. Then, when enough relationship capital has been invested, and when they arrive at crisis, we’re ready to listen, support, encourage, and share our hope.
One person at a time.
That moment may never arrive. And that would have to be okay. We’re not ‘in it’ for a result.
This article isn’t the answer. The answer is something nebulous, and perhaps there’s many different forms of answer.
But we need to be a church for the people because God is for people.

I’m probably not the most credible voice even in my own city, but if my limited experience of church as a pastor is anything to go by, I can tell why the church is floundering. I have found more honesty and transparency and desire for real relationship outside the four walls of structured church. This is something we must ask God to challenge and change.