Thursday, October 31, 2019

The power in telling it as it was, how it shaped you, and how it will no longer

There is a story I tell when I learned the power of story, that as I told it, the story itself unravelled and became what it was; a fiction.
The reality with the story, of course, was real. I made meaning of it, so I’d made of it a reality; one that stood up wholly by the testimony of my nodding yes to it.
I had a story that was filled with words and lines and paragraphs and pages for what I thought others thought of me. Their facial expressions and gestures and even their words would at times fill my mind. They stayed for a long time. Even now, they sometimes make a little cameo… before I bid them farewell once more.
We all have stories. Most of them are very unhelpful. And it’s only when we get into a room with a trusted confidante or counsellor, where we’re asked to pour the contents of our story out onto the table, where we put labels on the pages, that we see the plot.
As we tell the stories of what actually happened to us, somehow a miraculous thing happens. Even as tears flow and we trust our quivering chin to the words that teem forth, a beautiful therapy is taking place; those things that happened to us, we find, no longer define us. They happened, but only what happened, not what we made of them. The harrowing power dissipates and dissolves.
Even as we utter things we had resounding on our hearts for years or decades—those utterances that were destined to be converted into sound waves.
And into the ether of a physical world, those realities are sieved. The real remains, and that real is us. The terror that threatened to interminably torment us rots away, because there, in the telling, is God’s way of restoring us to who we were always made to be.
The power in telling it as it was, how it shaped us, and how it will no longer, is part of the one conversation, and the less power we give our past the better. We stop enabling it. It was how it was, sure. It has shaped us, most definitely.
And that shaping process, of all things, we can be thankful for, because we would not otherwise find ourselves challenged to the point of searching for the truth if not for that which has shaped us.
Our stories cause us to search; they manacle us to faith in search for hope; through such trauma, they’re the vehicle of redemption, and they will take us all the way to our restoration.
See how God has purposed to restore us
THROUGH what the enemy did to destroy us?
God redeems us as we expose the devil’s schemes.
Fear not the story. Fear only the silence. Find words for what might feel indescribable. Settle for gibberish if that’s what comes. Smile at the enemy and know you have his measure.
That story wasn’t formed in you to crush you; the story graced you so that it would motivate you to move toward freedom.
Your story is not destined to keep you where you are. It’s destined to get you where you’re going. And where you’re going is into others’ stories, where your redemption connects with theirs to give them hope. So, thank God for your story.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Monday, October 28, 2019

The demand of forgiveness is a form of spiritual abuse

A reader question: “Can forgiveness be demanded? What I mean is, can what the Bible says about forgiveness (e.g. Matthew 6:14-15; Colossians 3:13) be used in a way that isn’t biblical, or doesn’t glorify God?”
It’s a great question, with such a simple answer; an answer worth time explaining.
I think of the situation where an abused person is forced on stage at church to “forgive” their abuser—yes, this happens!
Here’s my answer: anything in the Bible can be misused, misconstrued and abused. Where the heart and the Spirit is taken out, it is no longer the Word; it’s just words. That’s the general answer that helps us understand the premise behind much spiritual abuse.
Now to the specific question through the lens of scenario:
If I go up to someone and apologise to them very sincerely, and as part of that apology, seek their forgiveness, can I then expect them to forgive me? Whilst it’s so important to own our own part in conflict, and to do the heart work of apologising fully and sincerely, including asking for forgiveness, it’s not appropriate to expect to be forgiven. No matter how well I repent and make restitution, I cannot demand forgiveness. Any other understanding is not biblical, because love never makes demands.
A second scenario: If the wrong thing is done to me, and someone in reverse offers the same apology as above, very sincerely, even deserving of forgiveness, am I duty bound to forgive them? No, I’m not. This is because forgiveness is in the domain of the heart. Sometimes it’s because we’re still hurt (or, if it’s in the reverse situation, they are), or we need time to pray on it. Sometimes it’s also the recognition that we’re trying to discern what to do. Sometimes it’s that our heart doesn’t feel it. Sometimes it’s a spiritual mystery. For the time being.
Forgiveness is the domain of the heart.
The heart cannot be fooled.
The heart feels what it feels.
We betray our hearts to our peril.
In other words, we cannot deny
what we feel at the core of who we are.
The heart can discern what the mind
can occasionally fail to know.
A third scenario: What about if a wrong is done to us and there is no apology, no admission of wrong, no confession, no repentance (or veiled repentance), no right of challenge or any correspondence entered into? That’s abuse, of course. The first act done—the initial wrong—may or may not have been an abuse; the second act—the failure to acknowledge the hurt—certainly is, without any doubt, an abuse. Do the “rules” of forgiveness still apply? What if someone demanded we forgive the abuser? Would that ever be a kind, loving way of them serving us—to polarise and spiritually confuse us? No, it would just indicate a lack of compassion or empathy. It would reveal a legalistic expression of faith.
Now, the chances of forgiveness being granted are high when full and sincere apologies are given, such is the nature of humanity’s common desire for reconciliation.
Forgiveness is a sacred gift. It is given for free by a heart offering it unconditionally. It is received in a likewise spirit. It cannot be forced. It cannot be coerced.
Forgiveness is the supreme gift where God gives freedom to both the giver and the receiver of the forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is, of course, the true mediator of all forgiveness.
Like all acts of true love, forgiveness is an act of the free will, and where the will isn’t free, the act falls short of forgiveness, and unlike love, it will fail. The “forgiveness” won’t stick.
Forgiveness cannot be legislated, nor can it be mandated. Neither can forgiveness be the product of influence, unless it is by the Holy Spirit’s conviction alone.
Now, to withhold forgiveness can also mean there is a problem within the heart of the person withholding, and again that’s a matter between them (or us) and God.
It is a correct teaching of the Bible that we must forgive. But this teaching is held in perfect tension with the equal and opposite truth—the facts of the heart, which oppose decree, must be honoured. The facts of the heart are incontrovertible.
The Christian knows they must forgive, but how and when and why is between them and God.
The word “demand” is a trigger word for what is unhealthy at best and abusive at worst. Whenever we demand anything of others, we stand on thin ice relationally. Whenever others make demands of us, they breach a subtle and sacred boundary.
When Christians TELL other Christians “you MUST forgive” they at once speak truth with an abusive heart. They do not speak the truth in love. They miss the mark. They sin.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

5 Biblical Reasons Why Women Must Preach and Lead

I think this will be a boring article, because it just seems so obvious. God must wonder why we put shady doctrines together that deliberately exclude one section of any community from participating fully in it. No, actually, on second thought, I think it must really anger our Creator, who made all humanity to rule over creation (Genesis 1:26-28).
Here are five obvious reasons, reflected biblically i.e. they reflect God’s heart as reflected in our Bibles and through plain observation, why women must preach and lead:
1.    Women are human beings just like men are.
There will be many no-brainers in this article, and this is the first one.
Honestly, how on earth are men supposed to be more appropriate, better, or more authoritative preachers and leaders? With 90% of domestic violence propagated by men? The best leader I’ve seen in any arena was a woman. Not saying I haven’t had great male leaders; I have. But there is nothing a woman can’t do that men can do.
The more we know about humanity, the more we realise that men and women have similar if not the same capacities of thought, emotion and reason, and barring anatomical and hormone differences there is no significant physiological difference between men and women that suggests men speak or lead better, or even that they have a societal role to be the “head”. That being the case, why would it be that men should preach and lead and women not?
2.    Women are safer, statistically speaking, than men are.
A simple Google search will tell us that narcissism is more a problem in men than it is in women. According to that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, there is a significant difference between the sexes. It cites research that indicates 7.7% of men have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), whereas with women it’s only 4.8%. But that’s not all.
More specifically, the variety of narcissism in men is a big concern in terms of leadership. Of the three aspects of narcissism measured on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) — (1) leadership/authority, (2) exploitative/entitlement, (3) grandiose/exhibitionism — men significantly outnumber women narcissists in the first two of the three aspects. These have quite obvious implications, and are directly more problematic, regarding abuses of power in the church.
Very sadly, we know that pastors are quite highly represented in terms of narcissism (Ball & Puls, 2017). We can see why. It’s a position that affords incumbents in the ministry authority, favour, notoriety, adoration, access to the vulnerable, etc. If narcissists are attracted to a career in ministry, statistically more women preachers and leaders can translate in less narcissistic pastors overall.
3.    The world needs to see that the church is a champion for equality.
I didn’t grow up in the church. I’m from a non-Christian family. It makes no sense to me that women can’t do this, and women can’t do that. I wasn’t brought up that way. Why is it that parts of the church undermine women? The unchurched think like this. And more so these days than ever.
Those outside the church EXPECT those inside the church to run the church with exemplary standards of integrity and justice. Any sense that any group of people is favoured means that there are groups of people who are marginalised. Unchurched people know within their bones that the church should be a champion for the marginalised, not be setting up structures within it that create marginalisation.
Those watching on in the world — those who would be tomorrow’s converts to Christ — are watching us in the church. Their BS meters are piqued and they’re looking for examples of BS, ready to say, “Look, there you go, hypocrites!”
The unchurched and the dechurched are looking for authenticity. My wife, for one, preaches with such economy of words, together with a gentleness that is unequivocally authoritative, that what she says reminds me of the economy of God. God speaks succinctly and there is weight to what God says. Women seem to make far fewer assumptions when it comes to the pulpit than men on average do, for they truly appreciate that it can’t be taken for granted. This makes them work harder on average than men do, because, let’s face it, men like me have never had to face the idea that we can’t preach. Even though I’m an ordinary preacher, I’ve never given it even a passing thought — like I know a lot of women have — that some or many churches just wouldn’t have me preach; because of my gender. The fact is I’ve always been welcome in many different churches. Because I’m a man!
4.    Women have more to teach men than men have to teach women.
Women are more marginalised in more parts of the world than men are, and it’s traditionally been this way. There is an innate humility that comes within the biology of women as opposed to men, and “privilege” is one word that is commonly used to describe the instinctual expectation for favour in men. As men, we expect to be well treated. We feel entitled to it. I see it in me, and I see it in other men.
God is the God of humility, and we’re called, biblically, to live a life of humility as we walk out each day of our lives with God (Micah 6:8). We all need to be taught humility and we all need to be ensconced in it.
Women are in humbler positions throughout life than men are, where they’re inherently more vulnerable themselves; to physical and sexual abuse by men, and to serious dangers bodily through pregnancy, to name just two of what would be an inexhaustible list. Women have more to teach men about the plight of the vulnerable than men have to teach women. Women have more of a lived experience of vulnerability than men do, in general, and all pulpits need more of this.
5.    Men and women are missing out when they don’t have access to wisdom from God from any and every single one.
Another fundamental idea. Both men and women, all humanity, miss out when they only hear from one gender; when only one gender preaches and leads. Half of all the wisdom is automatically cut off to us. Half of what God is saying we don’t have access to. Half of what is right and just and fair about life is quashed. We only get mens’ slant on things.
Both men and women profit from being “under” the preaching and teaching of women preachers. Men get insights they would not get from men preachers, because women preachers can say some things that men probably can’t. Women get encouragement they wouldn’t get from men preachers, because there is an inherent authority and integrity in a woman teaching another woman. Plus, the woman who hears another woman preach discovers what she too can do.
Let’s face it; anyone can preach, and anyone can lead.
Given what I’ve laid out above, it is either lineball that both men and women are equally righted and placed as far as preaching and leading is concerned, or it may actually be argued that women overall are MORE qualified to preach and lead. They are safer and humbler, overall. And they have wisdom and life experience that men just don’t have. Both men and women prosper when both men and women preach and lead, according to their individual gifting.

Photo by Forja2 Mx on Unsplash

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A ‘weird’ conversation with a narcissist

This is fictitious but humour me.
An interaction takes place between a man and a woman who are acquaintances.
All seemed fine if not icy until, after some further awkwardness, and out of the blue, the man says to the woman nonchalantly, “Wow, aren’t you feeling a little silly for looking the way you do? Gee, you seem a lot weird to me.”
The woman checks herself and tries to imagine whether she’s actually heard what was said; whether she’s offended, or her heart’s just been ripped apart in a second, or both. And so much more. She’s a strong woman and normally quite unfazed by the typical insensitivities of people. She normally laughs them off, thinking people are not being themselves in their unkindness. She’s a benefit-of-the-doubt kind of person.
But she’s genuinely thrown by what she’s heard. Not one to be broken down to tears in an instant, she melts all over the table right there and then.
The man shrugs his shoulders, thinks, “Well that’s weird,” and continues to look vacantly out the window. Within a few seconds the woman gets up and leaves the room. She seeks solace in a friend. At her friend’s insistence, she lets her friend know what happened. As the friend listens, the friend is perplexed, because the woman she knows is quite stoic; kind and gracious, but stoic.
The friend hears the whole story and she’s quietly livid.
She wants to go to the man and challenge him on his behaviour but is wise enough to take another friend with her. Between them they decide that they want to take their hurt friend with them to encounter the man over his words.
They all go to the man and seek to have a conversation about it.
Once greetings are disposed of, it goes like this:
Friend: did you say, “… aren’t you feeling a little silly for looking the way you do?”
Man: not quite. I didn’t say it like that… and I didn’t use those words… she did look a bit funny to me, though [in a way as if to say, don’t you think this, too?].
The man’s response is unflinching, no sign of remorse, trying to confuse the line of questioning by answering the one question in many and potentially contradictory ways. He’s appearing unflappable with no case to answer. Here’s a warning of a slippery fish—he’s not going to be ‘caught’ easily.
Friend: what do you mean by saying all that? [getting caught up in his tactic to confuse the conversation, but then…] Actually, let’s come back to whether you said that or not. Did you?
Man: what bit? What bit are you asking whether I said… or not. Have you asked her [pointing at the hurt woman] if she’s got her story right? She probably misunderstood me. Happens all the time…
Again, the man is confusing the conversation, engaging in gaslighting, throwing them off track with diversions and distractions, normalising the abnormal, and still no sense of remorse for possibly having hurt someone; no empathy.
Friend: [seeing through the evasion] can you just answer the question? Did you say, “… aren’t you feeling a little silly for looking the way you do?” If you did, can you see how hurtful that would be?
Man: I guess so. It didn’t mean it. It’s just that the moment was strange, and I thought I’d change things up.
Wow. The moment was strange… he thought he’d “change things up.” What he’s saying is that reducing his boredom is more important than her feelings or her being hurt for what he said. That’s a sociopathic lack of empathy right there.
Friend: Wow, so you said it, but you don’t sound very sorry… [now being cut off]
Man: … wait a minute, I didn’t say I said it… if I did, I’d be sorry. Sorry [words betraying body language and gestures].
Friend: I’m confused. You said you didn’t say it, and then you said sorry. Did you say it or not? Are you saying sorry or not?
Man: well, no… [silence]
Friend: well, no what?
Man: well, no, I’m not sorry because I’ve done nothing wrong… [and around the merry-go-round they all went again.]
The reality of this conversation is the friend never got to ask about the second part of the question (Did you say, “Gee, you seem a lot weird to me?”), which was equally upsetting, because the first question was never answered.
She never got the first part of the conversation resolved, and narcissists will find a way to confound reasonable logic. They won’t be pinned down unless they want to be. When they are pinned down, they will make it out that they were the ones doing good. And there will be no sign of remorse and no capacity for repentance will be shown. They may say sorry, but they never mean it.
Another reality about this kind of conversation is the power to destroy a person in merely two sentences. Think of the fact that women and men in abusive relationships will hear confusing and hurtful language and be subject to soul-eroding communication regularly, and that’s not even conceiving the narcissistic presence that a narcissist has about them, which ranges from awkward to feeling unsafe to feeling violated for simply being in their presence.
Narcissists will classically deny, deflect, distract, diverge, de-identify, delay, and slowly destroy every challenge from people who desire honest dialogue.

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Attacked, silenced, ignored, because you spoke up?

There are two sides to controversy; the side of peace and the side of truth. Those committed to peace, no matter what, may find all manner of excuses to skirt the issues. Those committed to truth, no matter what, may find all manner of reasons to combat every dubious matter.
But do peace and truth really reside there, in those camps? Honouring lies gives no real peace. There is certainly truth in not entering contentious debates where love ran clear from those buildings long ago.
But there does come a time to speak up. There is an occasion for clearing one’s throat and readying one’s voice. There is an opportunity for each of us as the world opens its window in anticipation of what we have to offer.
We don’t always take the opportunity that is offered. Sometimes it’s fear, and at other times we’re not sure if our discernment is right, so we politely decline for further consideration. We want to be sure.
And then there are times when we are desperate to speak; to take our place in the public square. We know it’s not easy, but the burden to speak for justice outweighs the fears we have to protect ourselves.
Having discerned truth and knowing that we can be at peace for deciding to enter a controversy, even if the conflict leaves us estranged to peace, we enter under the cover of much prayer.
So, then we say something. It might not sound like much. But people listen. Some are thankful. Others are livid. 
Whether you’re attacked or not, you may feel attacked. Whether you’re silenced or not, you may feel silenced. And whether you’re being ignored or not, you may well feel ignored.
Voices that speak the truth are not automatically given a stage before a cast of a thousand adoring fans. Most often it’s the complete opposite; attraction has been brought to the elephant in the room, and most people, whether they agree with us or not, are muttering under their breath, “Far out, why that… here… now?” Most people, basically all people, most of the time or all of the time prefer their peace, even if it comes with a dash of falsehood, laced with a lie.
Much of my life I’ve been an evangelist for reporting truth, usually as a safety guru who has uttered “you must report incidents” thousands of times.
One thing we must acknowledge is there are some things that people (all people) value having reported, but there are also some things that some people do not value being reported.
But if we’re committed to God, we’re duty bound to report what needs to be reported, so that in justice prevailing we see accounts being called, reparations made, issues reconciled, learning gleaned. If love is to abound, truth must win, for why would we waste our time with falsehood (unless we’re motivated by what we can get out of it).
If a ‘thing’—any kind of thing—happened, it happened, and it ought to be called for the fact that it happened. And if it happened and we found ourselves pressed from within not to ignore it, as we shouldn’t ignore it, and we prayed about it, and finally found the courage to speak up about it, then we can still be quite surprised that in speaking up we get responses that we would hardly expect to get—including the responses that even our own minds generate.
Speaking up, whilst it’s a duty in many cases, is fraught with all kinds of danger, because we’re vulnerable, especially given that we traffic in fear. It makes good sense to want to protect one’s self. None of us enjoys pain.
So, if when you spoke up, you were or felt attacked, chided, silenced, or ignored—or there was some other kind of response—you will feel especially vulnerable and anxious. This is the outworking of the fact that we hate feeling bullied.
God is the Lord of truth, and truth is the basis of justice, and justice is the basis of love, and love is the basis of life… this is why we’re commanded to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
We need to speak up, so truth is advocated for, so justice is advanced, so love is enacted, so life is experienced. That abundant life that Jesus offered to one and all, in his name.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A prayer in godly sorrow for repentance

O God, my Saviour, Lord and King
I come to You desperately but passionately; highly motivated to set the record straight, not to clear my name, but to make right this wrong if at all I can; sorrowful not for myself, but for the other who I have wounded; with a heart happy never to be forgiven, completely at the mercy of the one I hurt, because I have no right to insist I be exonerated, but with the desire to reconcile.
This may not be a big thing to others, but I know it’s a big thing to the one I’ve hurt, and it’s a big thing to me, because it is wrong.
As I track back, I know I wasn’t in my right mind, even if I thought I was at the time; to see things as they were, misguided as much as I may have been, I’m sorry before You that I discerned it incorrectly. And even if I was in my right mind, I acted inappropriately. I should have known better.
My prayer, Lord, is for the one I hurt; that they would experience joy in abundance; not simply because they have received justice through this prayer of apology, but that You compensate them for the sorrow I caused. My prayer is that hope would rise, and that peace would return to them. May they receive the recompense of faith for the justice that has come to their door today.
I’m thankful, Lord, first and foremost, that Your Spirit has made the truth clear to me, and I’m even more thankful that You’ve done this sorry work in my heart; that the truth is more important to me than me saving face or not having to face the consequences. Only You could have done that work in my heart, and I’m supremely thankful that You have changed me for all time to seek justice, whatever the personal cost. I’m thankful that this burden has lifted and been transformed into the will to act so You would bring Your peace to them, and that in that, You are glorified.
So, I pray that today and tomorrow and for all the days coming; that You would give me the steps and the words and the heart underpinning all this, to make my apology and make good on the promise You’ve unfurled in my heart.
I pray that the apology I give will make the difference it needs to; that it will bring the freedom and release and peace that it needs to; that genuine and full recompense would be possible, and that their heart would know absolute relief. And give me compassion in the instance that they’re not instantly relieved.
I know Your Spirit goes before me, Lord. Help me if and when I’m tempted to defend myself; when my flesh gets in the way; help me to see if and when pride rises. Help me be solemn and insightful, and full of love and unswerving in my commitment to truth for serve the person I’ve let down.
I don’t pray for the future in this case, Lord. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Help me stay in this present, where I know what to do; where my guilt has been transformed by You into the desire to act for justice; but I do pray I would not cause more harm.
Go with me, be with me, be with us, Lord,
In Jesus’ Name,

Sunday, October 20, 2019

How your abuser hurts you most

How your abuser hurts you most is how he makes your loved ones feel for the very fact he’s in your life. For the fact of how he makes you feel. For the fact that you stay with him when he mistreats you like he does.
For the facts of the pain he causes you in myriad ways, that always seem to catch you by surprise; some so cruel as if to cause maximum pain. And yet you can’t seem to end it.
For the facts of the vicarious trauma that your dear loved ones’ face as they ride the hellish journey with you, always willing to do whatever they reasonably can; it’s just that all viable options to act seem beyond their capacity to do, for they are thwarted. To do anything, or to say anything, would only hurt YOU more. And they want to reduce your pain, not increase it.
For the fact that they can see your health plummet and your state of being eroded by the month or week or day. They watch on, prayerful and hopeful, but with each concession to your abuser, that hope begins to wane, and they find themselves in that in-between place of holding unacceptable tensions as they seek to find some way to resolve it for themselves.
But just how does one reach a place of acceptance when a loved one is being abused?
Your loved ones want your relationship over, but they feel they can’t say a word. Anytime they try and say something it backfires. They feel completely hamstrung. Indeed, they may feel like you; immobilised and unable to act even though a thousand potential actions circulate through their minds constantly. And to add insult to injury, fleeting thoughts arrive for the joy this torment may give to your abuser: “That’ll teach them! Mess with me and you pay!”
So, the way your abuser hurts you most is something you may have often considered. 
It’s the vicarious impact of an ever-extending ripple of your pain into others’ lives you care most about, as they carry the tension and stress and ambiguous loss in themselves and on their own backs.

Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash