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.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

When Church Mirrors the Kingdom of Heaven

I must admit I only read the headline, because, like you possibly, I’m a bit tired of how often the church gets it wrong, or at least how often outrageous reports lace our feeds.
The headline read, “Church apologises after asking a boy with autism to leave its service because he was making too much noise.”
Good they apologised. Not so good they needed to!
It’s true, noisy children, off key singing, people talking during the service, and other things, are not the best things to contend with on Sundays when you’re focused on worshipping God. Yes, they are annoying. It is inconvenient, and these things can tend to spoil the experience.
I don’t know about you, though, but I find the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Get over it!” Whenever my attitude stinks, I find God doesn’t hesitate in the rebuke—“It’s not about you, Steve!” It’s not about any of us. It’s about the person we serve. It’s about the person who’s in our midst. The other person.
It is the inherent approval we give
to another human being for being human;
for being the person made in the image of God.
How good would church be if people with noisy disabilities were allowed to make their noises? What about children being children, and parents not feeling second or third rate, or worse, losers, when they can’t keep the children ‘under control’. And of course, there’s that time that has happened for all of us; we left our phone on and it rang during the service—it’s only happened once to me, but it was a funeral! Heaven forbid! Come on… how spoilt have we become. No, it is us, those of us who want to control our church environments, who have the opportunity to grow beyond having our own way all the time.
We need church to be messier. It’s got to be freer, realer, tastier, better for those who already don’t feel good enough. Surely it’s in the inconvenience and uncomfortableness and lack of control where we actually bear witness to the Christ inside us!
There have been times when we have all felt unworthy of God because of what happened, or what we did, or said, in a worship context. The Interesting thing is none of us can be ever unworthy of God, for our worthiness is in Christ. Nothing we can do can add to it, and nothing we do can take away from it. Grace is what it is, and yet we still put on conditions for who belongs and how they belong in the throng of corporate service.
Surely there is a vision for the ‘least of these’ to find a home in our church sanctuaries. I think of the prisoner who is lowly and must be dignified. They’ve made their mistakes and they’re endeavouring to live differently. I think of the person with cancer or Parkinson’s or dementia; the person who is but a shadow of their former selves. Don’t they deserve far more than we could ever give them? There are a thousand varieties of situations people are quickly plunged into, that are not their fault, where a tiny bit of grace would make a great deal of difference. Even those who have themselves to blame for their consequences they bear deserve to be dignified.
When you think about church do you think about the kingdom of heaven? Both concepts—church and kingdom of heaven—should be mirrored. One ought to be synonymous with the other.
What is it like in heaven? I truly wonder if it’s an upsidedown kind of place. It reminds me of the theme of the conversation I regularly have with an autistic man, least once a month. We both agree Jesus has a special place to special people in his kingdom, and, if that’s the case, the church needs to mirror that.
What are the opportunities your church has to make space, and even to elevate to royal status, those in the least-of-these brigade?

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Saturday, June 15, 2019

What the Church can learn from AA about being Church

I haven’t been to an AA meeting in over 12 years, but at my rock bottom AA was the ‘church’ that saved my life, and more than once, and in more than one way.
In an 11-month period in 2003-2004, I attended 159 AA meetings in various locations around my city, and called two particular meetings my ‘home’ meetings. The Mandurah Steps group met on a Wednesday night. My sponsor, a burly bloke named, Mick, was secretary of that meeting. And the Thursday night Kwinana Town group meeting was the place I eventually became secretary. I served in that role for six months until I felt led by God to ‘graduate’ from AA and go it alone at Mandurah Baptist Church, where I had already been accepted into leadership. I mention these details simply to hone into the role of secretary.
What of the best things about AA is its lack of power base.
Everyone is genuinely equal, but those with a long history of sobriety, whilst they don’t have power, command respect for what they’ve achieved, one day at a time. Nobody goes to AA thinking they’ve got their life under control. Everyone who enters those halls knows they’re in trouble, or they know they need it, to keep coming that is.
This accounts for egos. There is really no place for egos at AA, because it seems that everybody already secretly knows that ‘ego’ is a sign of weakness, of insecurity. No, AA is the place to be insecure, to show and to share your insecurities, and not to hide them.
I have never been in a church quite like AA for its ability to encourage its members to behave honestly and in humility. AA is a place where there is no need to have everything together. Indeed, any masquerade would likely draw sharp suspicion, but in that a certain resignation that the one holding the mask is on their journey, and to be gentle with them in speaking truth. There is no place for BS at AA. All good recovery programs bear this feature.
As secretary, I would arrive early to set up, to turn the lights on, to get the urns out and fill them, to arrange the cups and the biscuits, the tea and coffee, having bought the milk fresh. I would place the banners out, and ensure there were enough tables and chairs set out to seat the 20-30 people who would attend weekly, and then open the doors and greet people as they walked in. It was also my job to pick the chairperson for the night. Everyone got a turn. The chairperson would read through How It Works and the Twelve Traditions. They would also ask those in attendance to take turns to share their stories for up to 10 minutes. It may not seem long, but you can share a lot of your testimony in 10 minutes. Once the meeting had finished, I would pack everything away, clean up, turn the lights out, lock up and leave. I loved it!
The role of the secretary, as the group’s leader, was to serve.
Leadership was in the serving.
It was AA that taught me the value of service, not the church.
It was AA that also taught me the value of unity, not the church. My experience is a sharp distinction between unity in AA and unity in the church. What unifies AAs is the common bond of addiction and sobriety. What AAs have in common is all that really matters to them: sobriety, the steps, recovery, unity, support when needed, and meetings that serve to add structure to their lives.
What do people who go to a church have in common? Well, if you are going to compare church to AA, you would have to say that attendees of a church have sin in common.
Imagine if church was a place where sinners could be sinners. Where there was no judgement. Where there was no pressure to be perfect. Where there was encouragement to be honest, where acceptance and celebration occurred when vulnerability was expressed. Where speaking about sin was commonplace, but also where such speech was redemptive, empowering, reviving, where sin was spoken of in ways that bred humility and dependence on God.
Imagine the church stripped of the pressure to achieve, or perform wonderful worship services, or brilliantly revolutionary sermons that went viral on the Internet. Imagine the church devoid of the need to impress with fancy multi-million-dollar facilities. Imagine a body of believers intrinsically connected to Jesus and not disconnected to the Fellowship of the Spirit because of a thousand different idols that crowd churches these days.
This article could easily be read as me criticising the church. On the contrary, it’s the church that could be the best place to bring these qualities to bear. To be a safe place. To be a place where sin is commonly spoken about in non-judgemental ways. Where sin is the common standard of humanity. Where struggles are shared, and burdens are halved. And where the grace of God that forgives our sin is magnified. I do thank and praise God for the many churches around the world that do operate this way.
Over one hundred times at AA meetings I have said, “Hi everyone, I’m Steve and I’m an alcoholic.” Wouldn’t it be great if we greeted each other in church in the same way, saying, “Hello, I’m Steve and I’m a sinner.” Imagine if we kept this part about us central; that we’re flawed and liable to be wrong. Imagine the beautiful conversations that would take place where my sin is at the forefront of my interacting with you, and where your sin is at the forefront of your interacting with me. There would be far less narcissism and far more compassion and empathy.
It’s not only our sin that unifies us, but God’s grace that pardons us. The more we focus on the issues of sin and grace bilaterally, the more we’re unified in a commonality of purpose and oneness, and blessed to serve with delight.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A vision for the Church truly betrothed to God

Times are a changing, as they say. As I watch on with interest regarding the American evangelical church, and how it too is being drawn into why it has responded so poorly, like the Catholic Church, to many and variegated claims of abuse, I wonder if God is finally judging his church.
Like many, I find that judgement can’t come quickly enough. Of course, we don’t want people to be falsely tried by lynch mobs, but there is far more likelihood that there are an incredible number of hideous cases of abuse that haven’t yet seen the light of day.
My vision of a church betrothed to God is of a place, a sanctuary, humanity’s true home, where those who love God do what God requires, who are open to and welcoming of external scrutiny, who see that they are to be of service to God and are not to be served—as has become the case in so many situations to the shame of God’s true believers. My vision of a church betrothed to God is one of a place that doesn’t ‘manage risk’ to protect itself, but one that foresees risks proactively like a guardian would, and one that responds to risks that become incidents and to be open to thorough, third-party, expert and transparent investigation, to the pleasure of all stakeholders. My vision is that the church would view abuse through the lens of survivors and survivors’ families and friends.
This church would be happy to be wrong, just as the risen Lord Christ had accepted the betrayal of humanity, in being ‘wrong’ when he was never more right, just days earlier on the cross.
See the point? Our church needs to be willing to suffer for righteousness’s and justice’s sake. We need to be seen by the world as an organisation that can be wronged and, at the same time, respond appropriately. How else is the church to be trustworthy? The church must be an organisation that bears suffering well. Its leaders need to be prepared to be wrong, and regularly so. This demands humility, which is only possible through a fervent relationship with Christ himself.
But today’s church heralds itself in power. It lauds the Christian personalities that are famous, and these people are put on pedestals of integrity they cannot maintain. Do you see that we are part of the problem? Can you see how we have magnified our favourite pastor and our popular church and our ‘best’ denomination instead of Christ, himself? Can you see how we have made idols of our churches and ministers and denominations?
How is the church being reformed in this day? We are on the cusp of reformation; can you not see that? Can you not see the change that is sweeping the world? And this change is bringing the church into the 21st century.
Darkness ought never to have refuge to hide, in all organisations and communities, especially not in the church. The light of Christ ought to shine in every situation of abuse, present and past, and every abused party ought to have their justice. Every single one! This will happen in any event, but how much better for it to happen in our living days?
Shouldn’t every Christian and church be sick and tired of all the abuse accounts we hear? Shouldn’t it sicken us to the core that this would occur in any community attached to the name of God?
Yet, it’s not until we have suffered abuse, or a loved one has been mired in such a way, that we care as we should. Is not until abuse knocks on our door that we readily recognise how inherently it disrupts our spirit. It is the scourge of the evil one.
No church should be in the practice of defending abuse. Indeed, every church should stand as committed, that if even one person were to be abused, that it, contrite and true, would do everything in its power to repent, even to the point of being prepared to be ended. This surely is the language of the kingdom, whereby Christ always heralded ‘the least of these’! It is this kingdom that completely reverses the numbers game. One becomes important, just as God is one.
Even one person harmed in the name of God is a tremendous atrocity. One person made in his image, created as special as anyone ever created, has as much importance as anyone else. This is how important the church must feel about its humanity. Without its humanity it is nothing!
I crave the day when the church may be transformed to such a place that it is the holy vestibule, safe and surely sanctified, a cogent place to rest, and a place where God would truly reign, and the interests of its common humanity, represented in each individual person, dignified and respected.
Of course, these are just words! And words have been part of the problem all along. The reforming church will learn its place, it will learn when to be quiet and it will become a learner, interested in the interests of those with a claim against it. How dare any of us stubbornly refute the case of the aggressor and silence them! The true church befriends the aggressor by proving it is no threat; that there is nothing to hide.
Indeed, this new church will be fearless and humble, and it will embody a sacrificial character, reversing a nature that has too often in the past sacrificed individuals for the so-called betterment of the organisation. No, the way the church is the church is it heralds the sanctity of the individual. Then it has the Spirit’s power.
This is the church that I look forward to. This is the church that God is building. This is the church that all people will call the church. This is the church that won’t convert religious people into atheists. This is a church that Christ will call his own.

Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash

Sunday, June 9, 2019

How can I tell if my healing is on track?

June is PTSD awareness month, and I write this with the goal in mind to contribute in some small way, a reflective tool for the person in their recovery.
So, what are the signs of recovery? What are the affirmations of progress? I know one thing for sure; progress is not perfection, never was and never will be.
As we recover from whatever we’re recovering from we acknowledge in all humility that our times are a journey, a pilgrimage, a trek; from one place to another, whereby the whole point is the journey, the pilgrimage, the trek. There is no thought for destination, even if our soul yearns for it, as it inevitably will.
Here are some pointers of growth toward healing on the road to recovery:
1.   Your capacity to feel is improving. Little by little, you’re noticing anger, feeling depressed, anxiousness, fear, dread, and myriad other form of emotions, may not be felt less, but your reaction to them is a little more acceptable. You endure a little better the emotions that feel ugly on the palate of your countenance. And you count it as a gain in maturity. More and more, you can sit in the unpleasantness of grating emotions and accept them for what they are. Of a sense, this is because you have come to an acceptance of your reality. This is nothing to be scoffed at. It is a real possession of spiritual mastery.
2.   You can bear your analytical mind a little easier This is the key marker in our quest for a vision of our spirituality that has ascended on high with God. The key differentiation is the mind still analyses, but it hurts less, or the hurt may have disappeared altogether. Either way, it is a decisive victory. It is one of those things that God promised from long ago, but that you in fact doubted would ever happen. You are perfectly reasonable in your doubting. But somehow God has come through and has delivered you from significant cognitive pain. You may only be a little way there, but I want to encourage you; God will finish this work that has been started in you, and it will be complete in your lifetime.
3.   The gap between what happened and now marks a new season There comes a time, post trauma, where there is sufficient distance in time and space that delivers a certain perspective, and that perspective gives us what we need in terms of trying again. Whatever it was that traumatised us, we are now willing to try it again, but obviously with the benefit of having wisdom and a safer context. At this point we see that God has gone before us. He has in fact prepared the way. And the longer that time goes on, the more blessed is the perspective we gather and gain.
4.   We have learned to be gentler on ourselves This is a true wisdom; anyone who can draw upon compassion for themselves, especially when it comes to behavioural outcomes, like the things we do, has learned not just how to care for themselves, which is crucial life skill, but they are now also trustworthy to care for others. See how we don’t have the traits of being able to care for others if we cannot care for ourselves? This is an important correlation. And when we witness that we are gentler on ourselves without feeling guilty, and we know it to be right, suddenly me know it is right, and God encourages our heart with tenacity for life. This is especially pertinent when old scripting re-emerges. There is no scathing attack, no shrinking in shame, and no outburst toward others. Which brings me to my final point…
5.   Your relationship with perfection has matured. Note that I say that your relationship with perfection isn’t mature, just that it has matured, somewhat to a very great deal—along a sliding scale. You may even glory in the fact that you are imperfect, and the more you do, the less fear you feel, the more vulnerable you can be, the realer you are, the humbler the confidence you embody. You cannot threaten others and they’re no threat to you. What we’re getting close to is the absolute pinnacle of human experience. There is no need of false pretence, nor is there any need to covet the future or regret the past. All that matters is the present.

Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

Monday, June 3, 2019

Love and the Limits of Shock Absorption

If wisdom is the practice of living life well, then it becomes a consequence that wisdom has a way; a method to be practiced. There just has to be a process for the practice of wisdom that works in life.
God has been sharing an image with me today; it is a metaphor. The image is that of a car shock absorber. These wonderful car components are attached to the springs in the car, and where the springs give the car sufficient bounce and flexibility, the shock absorbers smoothen the ride. They take the shock out of the bumps. They cushion the journey. Yet they deal with the bumpiness of the road that cannot be hidden.
Shock absorbers deal in the truth,
yet their role is grace.
I think our role as loving human beings, hardly with the need to mention beings who love Christ, is to be shock absorbers within the contexts we’re planted. Our role, within the patience we display, as in the fruit of the Spirit, is to absorb hurt as much as we can, and indeed many of us have become past masters of this very trade. Many of us know what it is like to be abused. But when it comes to absorbing shock, there is a very godly trait in bearing with endurance many a common slur.
How else are we set apart? How else will people know that we love Christ if we cannot absorb a hurt? Again, I’m talking about hurts we may easily overlook; those that are not repetitive and not from the same person repetitively but hurts all the same.
It says in Proverbs 19:11, that it is to a person’s glory when they overlook an offence. Nothing will get us more positive attention from positive people than when we overlook an offence. The right people notice. The people we really want to be relating with will see the grace we exhibit in absorbing hurt, the bedrock of which is humility, and they will find us attractive, because they find us to be safe, and because we’re safe, we are trustworthy and worthy of investing friendship in. See how absorbing hurts wins friends; the right kinds of friend.
Of course, we don’t simply absorb the shock of hurt for one gain or another. We do it because it is the wise thing to do. We do it because it is the only modus operandi that works. It is both good for us and good for the other. It is a source of blessing and blessing is its food.
If anyone can feel at home, they can feel at home with a shock absorber. They know they can get it wrong and yet won’t be blamed. They know their failure won’t be held against them. They know there is grace because they have experienced grace. The shock absorber is someone who builds cohesive community. Wherever they go there is peace.
Here is a timely word of warning. There is a limit to the capacities of shock absorption. Wherever we run into toxic people and rub up against toxic relationships, our capacities for shock absorption will be taken for granted, and ultimately, we will become jaded. But that won’t be the end of it. With some we will be burned. It isn’t safe to be a shock absorber in a toxic relationship. Perhaps we may know this already, when we find we are in constant shock absorption mode.
But for the main, as a living priority, as a modus operandi for life, as a living deed, we can and should, for the glory of God, aim to be shock absorbers for those who come to rely on us, without allowing ourselves to be flattened by abusers.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash