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Thursday, November 23, 2017

The gospel of forgiving the past

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash
RECONCILIATION could be one word that describes the gospel. And that’s about forgiving the past, so the future could again be emblazoned with hope.
Consider this wisdom:
“Jesus talks about the past in terms of forgiving it. Some say forgiveness is central to his whole message. Jesus tells us to hand the past over to the mercy and action of God. We do not need to keep replaying the past, atoning for it, or agonizing about it.
— Fr. Richard Rohr OFM
Isn’t it amazing how much the gospel of forgiving the past aligns with our own instinct?
We know how much our lives would improve if only we were equipped to forgive the past — to reconcile it. We know the power in this truth, but it’s engaging this power in our lives that seems so elusive. But we can teach ourselves the practice of forgiving the past.
We do this by tapping into our conscious minds; becoming mindful of the repetitiveness of replaying past trauma, judging and condemning our past acts, and reliving the pain — keeping it alive to the detriment of the life seeking to emerge from within us.
The past is five seconds as well as five or fifty years behind us. Attributions of harshness are unhelpful, whereas attributions of health in seeing reality as it is help. We improve by gaining awareness and insight; awareness through drawing unconscious thought to consciousness, and insight by prayerful contemplation with God over the days, the months, the years.
Insight is where we hear God and believe and then apply what He says we ought to do.
Our mental, emotional and spiritual health all rely heavily on how we manage and view the past.
God does not want us to view ourselves in a harsh light, unless it’s for the purpose of a momentary ‘godly sorrow’ for which is useful in confession and repentance.
But beyond this godly sorrow, which leads to healing, God knows there’s no point in rehashing regrets of past.

We can learn over time to let go of everything God would not wish for us to carry.

Monday, November 20, 2017

On the elusiveness of forgiveness

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash
THIS is not about saying forgiveness is impossible, but it is a concession that forgiveness depends on many factors.
Times of the year, seasons in all our lives, situations of fortune and misfortune, all provide either impetus or constraints on forgiveness.
Some situations a miraculous level of grace is gifted to us, and we forgive reminiscent of God’s forgiving us in Christ. The world simply cannot understand what only God could achieve through us.
Other situations, even what seems petty is difficult to forgive. Such a confounding of an otherwise merciful heart is designed to humble us. The Lord invites us to be curious in discovering why. He helps us understand that forgiveness is always a miracle of grace so that nobody can boast.
Forgiveness is at essence about acceptance. Only the heart can truly accept, for what the mind thinks, and the body does, in sustained ways, is always generated from the heart. Forgiveness comes from the heart of acceptance.
But this article is not centrally about how elusive forgiveness is for us to do. It is more about the elusiveness of others’ forgiving us.
People don’t forgive us because they think they must let us off the hook. In other words, the issue is trust. Their views of us have become fixed in what we did wrong. All associations they have of us tend to be framed by this newer negative view, which eclipses what could otherwise be an unblemished record.
However unfortunate this is, we must accept it as it is. It does us no good to continue to regret what we did and/or how they saw how we performed. Perhaps we have burned our bridges. Maybe there is no turning back. What they are giving us, however, are fresh opportunities to nurture relationships with others.
Many times, God has not yet gifted the party who cannot forgive us with the grace to do so. It’s between them and God. That’s where we leave it, always as we hold them aloft before God, in our kindness. We only complicate matters when we’re anxious to be forgiven.
Don’t doubt that if they could see why we should be forgiven they would forgive us.
Sometimes (i.e. not always or even most of the time) people’s circumstances change in such a way as new opportunities at reconciliation become possible.
In the meantime, our quest is to remain faithful, so space is held open for grace to enter.
Sometimes the easier way to forgive someone is to see why we need their forgiveness.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Greatest Gift to Give a Child – Teach Empathy

Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

SITTING with a little girl in tears, Aaron, himself just a little boy, doesn’t say a word. He just sits there with her, trying to imagine how she feels. She soon felt a little better.
Aaron expressed empathy in a very simple and profound way. A significantly foundational character building block, empathy is possibly the greatest gift a child can receive.
One of the key barriers to empathy in children, however, are social biases that all people tend to experience, like the in-group bias that suggests we tend to favour those we like; those we’re already in community with.
A 2014 study from the Netherlands found that such an in-group bias can be overcome by inducing empathy in a child toward another child in need of help.[1] In this study, children aged between 8 and 13 were asked “How do you think [name of recipient of help] feels?” A control group of children were not asked this question. Both groups of children were asked, “Would you help [name of recipient of help]?” In a significant number of situations, children overcame the in-group bias and were prepared to help out-group children when they were asked the simple question to induce empathy. This suggests that empathy overcomes social barriers in a powerfully positive way.
In simple terms, if we want children to help other children, we ought to realise that empathy helps. We should want our children to help other children, because it helps quantify the status of their moral compass. The practice of empathy helps draw out helping behaviours. When we know how someone feels we are more likely to help them.
Sierksma et al did not explore children’s empathic responses to disliked or stigmatised children. Perhaps the suggestion is that help given to such children may highlight an enhanced skill for empathy in children who would be prepared to help. Sierksma et al do note that empathy “has a critical role in morality… [and is] a powerful intervention strategy early in life.”[2]
Probably most significantly, Sierksma et al show that, through empathy, typical group boundaries can be transcended, simply by asking a child how another child feels — whether they are in the in-group or not.[3] Additionally, another study has shown how empathy in adults helps them value the person in need of help more.[4]
So, to teach empathy to a child can be as simple as asking them frequently how they think other children (or animals or adults) feel. This is an attempt to connect them with their own feelings, for our own feelings are always important to us.
Teaching empathy to children is powerful in their development, because empathy is shown to transcend social biases all humans struggle to overcome. And, because empathy is also a vehicle for empowering a person along a forward trajectory, it gives back to the person giving it out. What parent would not want this for their child?
When children are empathic they show kindness, care and compassion that overcomes barriers to helping. They witness a virtuous power emanate from within themselves. This occurs even as a child asks how another person feels.

[1] Sierksma, J., Thijs, J., & Verkuyten, M., “In-group bias in children’s intention to help can be overpowered by inducing empathy” in British Journal of Developmental Psychology. © 2014, British Psychological Society. Vol. 33. Issue 1. March 2015. pp. 45-56. DOI: 10.1111/bjdp.12065. The abstract states, [E]ncouraging children to imagine how a recipient of help feels might thus be a useful strategy to prevent peer group-based biases in children’s helping behaviour.”
[2] Ibid. p. 53.
[3] Ibid. p. 53.
[4] Batson, C.D., Turk, C.L., Shaw, L.L., & Klien, T.R. “Information function of empathic emotion: Learning that we value the other’s welfare” in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1995, 68, pp. 300 – 311. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.68.2.300.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What might Jesus say on the Same-Sex Marriage survey result?

WITH around eighty percent of eligible Australians having taken part in the SSM postal survey, it’s clear that most consider it an important issue. So significant, in fact, that it almost appears that the bell curve of views is inverted — everyone believes passionately at either side, fewer remaining middle of the road than ever. It can make for social war.
The result, therefore, polarised many of us. Many were elated and many, though fewer in number, were exasperated. Both the elated and the exasperated have the opportunity to conform back to the thinking of Christ.
Jesus challenged almost everyone he ever engaged with. Some were challenged for their encouragement. Others were rebuked, given cause for reflection. Others again received God’s wrath for the audacity they showed in abusing the powerless (i.e. chief priests and scribes). Few people are well at ease with the historical Jesus, except the powerless or those for whom life had crushed, who were also humbly ready to be nearer to God.
God does not change. Jesus does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, forever (Hebrews 13:8). His nature is how the Holy Spirit works. We stray off-line a tenth of a degree and the still, small, silent voice of the Lord counsels us back to the true and ancient path (Jeremiah 6:16).
I’m not entirely sure what Jesus would say. I’m not sure others can identify with precision what the Lord would say either. But I’m sure he would have many things to say — all truth-filled, balanced, wise, and challenges for us all to mull over. As we read the gospels, he was actually amazingly unpredictable in what he said, when he said it, and to whom he said what he said. Sure, we can say what he said makes so much sense, but wisdom is always logical from hindsight.
Simply posing this question helps us Christians check ourselves, before we respond — in the tradition of Psalm 139:23-24. In such a case, we might be counselled by the Holy Spirit to do what is always blessed and resist what is only occasionally blessed and at other times harmful.
Acting justly, being kind, and walking humbly —
these are always right.
It is good to ask unanswerable questions. They get us to stop and reflect into the mystery of life, which is God. And where we arrive at isn’t a set viewpoint, but acceptance for what is. That is God’s blessing for us, today and every day. It is great to know that we don’t know.
A safe position we as individuals can arrive at on complex matters like SSM is:
·      acknowledge it’s complex, and that none of us owns every corner of truth on this issue or any other issue;
·      understand our role is to act justly, be kind to others, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), which means:
o   we bear one another, our differences and inclinations, in mind, with respect;
o   we watch what we do or say to avoid hurt and augment healing;
o   acknowledge our opinions are just that — filtered through our limited way of seeing things;
o   and, by doing these things, we hope to glorify God, which is our chief aim.
It’s good to avoid certain subjects socially so we can simply focus on being present with people. And if we really need to process the issues, it’s good to go to someone who will lead us to relief; someone who will listen, validate what we feel, but not fuel the fire.
We do not have to have something to say on every issue.

When everyone is respected, no matter their opinion or the strength of their view, everyone is loved.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

5 feelings we hate feeling

Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash

ACCEPTANCE, understanding, appreciation, inclusion, and being valued; all states of feeling we crave for in a social world. But the world is also a harsh place where we all get to experience the opposites of these five states of feeling.
Five feelings we hate feeling:
1.      We hate feeling rejected – the feeling of rejection is akin to abandonment, which speaks of the absence of care and/or conditionality in love. If a person needs to do something specific to be loved, they quickly discover they’re not worthy of love on their own terms. Acceptance on the other hand is about unconditional love.
2.      We hate feeling misunderstood – this was a particular weakness I had that I felt quite vulnerable about — until I met a biblical counselling professor who suffered the same weakness. I discovered we all suffer it to some degree. None of us like it when people assume they know us or understand us when they don’t. Understanding a person is one of the quickest ways of building intimacy in the relationship.
3.      We hate feeling unappreciated – everyone does things that are appreciable. Being recognised, or having our work recognised, is important. When others are recognised and we are not we cannot help noticing the partiality. Appreciating people for the small things they do is a great way to elicit respect.
4.      We hate feeling excluded – like feeling rejected, not being included sends a clear message we’re not good enough. The Pharisees loved their exclusivity. And anyone playing the same game reveals their insecurity. Note the paradox: the insecure exclude others, making them feel insecure, to feel better and more secure about themselves. Secure people on the other hand have no problems including others, especially the outliers.
5.      We hate feeling undervalued – nobody is worthless, for all have supreme worth, but we can be made to feel worthless. It is good to discern those who have worth issues and find ways to truly value them.
The simple message is this: when it comes to other people accept them, understand them, appreciate them, include them, and value them.
Wherever possible, as far as it depends on us, we should surround ourselves with people who are about acceptance, understanding, appreciation, inclusion, and valuing people. Such people are breath, hope, light, and life.

The more we recognise the need of positive feelings in ourselves, the more we’re prepared to invest positive feelings into others’ lives.

Broken lives that break windows are NOT the enemy

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash
BROKEN windows are annoying anytime, but when someone deliberately smashes a window annoyance melds into anger.
But the anger doesn’t fix anything, certainly not the window.
Damage occurred recently to our church, and as with all facilities that are vulnerable to such events, we may wonder where or if it will ever end. But isn’t that the wrong mindset? Wouldn’t it be better to surrender our predilection for asset protection for a grander eternal goal? Couldn’t we replace the focus on what’s broken with a focus on the broken who created the mess? To be open to helping them reconcile the mess within themselves and to augment a desire that they would want to restore themselves?
Relational upsets are key opportunities to minister within Kingdom windows. The perpetrators may and in fact often do have their own backstory of dysfunction where nobody cared, especially those who should have.
Maybe God brings them to damage the church in order that they might experience mercy; if indeed they’re up for it. I know they need less of the hard arm of the law, and more of the grace that listens curiously into their hang-ups and hurts. Certainly, they still need to face the consequences of their actions. But let that occur secondarily within the frame of a love that seeks to reconcile and restore. A love that enables them to take responsibility for their lives.
The broken need a merciful encounter with God’s risen one. They need to find within us who bear Christ’s light, willingness to help them change the narrative. They ought to be presented with the opportunity that breathes hope into a flagging life. We should not say their ‘no’ for them.

Those who break windows for fun are not the enemy. The damage they do is scarily symbolic for the damage that is within them — a damage we believe only Jesus can fix. We know, because that damage was within us, too! Some are ready to turn from the page of despair to read about hope for a better life. And all must be given the opportunity.

Friday, November 10, 2017

He who made you will make a way for you

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

IF you’re battling today, to hold it together, or to take that next step, or maybe to simply halt that slide backwards, consider this… whatever happens, whether you succeed or fail, you’re dearly loved.
If time has overwhelmed you, and you don’t know where you’ll get those precious, weighty minutes to do what you need to do, consider this… whatever happens, there will be more minutes granted to you tomorrow.
If finances are a strain, and you owe so much, bills keep coming in, and income is scarce, consider this… whatever happens, God will provide. He always does.
If for the life of you, you can’t understand why a person would do something like this to you, when bitterness erodes peace and anger replaces joy, consider this… whatever happens, you have the capacity in you, right now, to forgive. You need it as much as you can give it.
If you’ve prayed prayer upon prayer and not ceased in your praying, and there is still no answer, consider this… whatever happens, God will answer other prayers, particularly the ones you haven’t yet prayed. And you probably haven’t yet thanked Him for those ones.
consider this… you’re not alone… He who made you is with you.
faith makes what seems impossible, possible… do not give up.
He who made you will make a way…
He who sustains you is also with you. But, of course, that’s easy to say, and so flippant to think. When life is down, the last thing we think of is God’s living Presence with us.
Yet, when life is down, faith is never more important.
Hope can only fly when it has wings. The wings of hope are faith. Only when you have nothing left will faith fly free. When all you can do is hope. As disappoint ushers desperation.
With nothing to lose, we have everything to gain.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Marriage, the journey of 20,000 re-commitments

Photo by Will Oey on Unsplash

FOLLY is all I can call it. Tolerance is all I can call the response. The day I married Sarah I said in my speech that we were going to have a “first-class marriage.”
What little did I know. Idealism, for me, was off the scale.
Fast forward one week and the brittleness of newlywed marriage was all too clear. Two weeks later and I was sinking into a depression.
Mapping idealism is important for partners entering marriage. Very often one partner is highly idealistic, and it spells trouble. Worse if its both partners.
I was so idealistic that I plunged into a two month season of depression. A midlife crisis, no less. All because Id not truly thought ahead to the realities of marriage.
I had no idea that I didnt know my wife.
I thought I knew her through and through. How wrong I was. And she really didnt know me like I thought she must. It took until we were married to really begin to know each other — and that process never stops. Suddenly we had to decide whether we even liked each other or not. And we had done everything possible to plan ahead our marriage — the best counselling, dozens of discussion dates, wise counsel of mentors, and we were both pastors. Surely this was to our advantage? Not so. Certainly not as much as we thought it would be beneficial.
The structures of trust and respect had to be constructed from the basement up. Suddenly love was not so easy. Intimacy was a daily challenge. So many times we hurt each other, yet rarely with intention. We missed each other a thousand times, without a hint of exaggeration. But we stuck at it.
The years have taught us that marriage is a daily commitment of overlooking offenses. Marriage is ultimately only as strong as each one of those twenty-thousand re-commitments — if we’re fortunate enough to marry early enough in life, and to stick at it long enough, to be married 54.75 years.
And marriages only get stronger by the day. We must have faith in that. It’s always up to both partners. And it’s always about our partner.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What, ESP isn’t an ability I can expect my marriage partner to have?

Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

EXTRASENSORY perception (ESP), I have learned the hard way, more times than I care to admit, is not a gift married couples receive when they wed.
One of the first times I discovered this was when I tripped over a beanbag on a loungeroom floor and accused my then-wife of having either put it there or of not removing it. Little did I realise she had no idea that I would even attempt to walk over it! How could she not see this? … that was over twenty-five years ago.
Then only recently, in helping load the car with shopping, I shinned the tow bar on the car. Writhing in pain I was so tempted to sound off at my wife for having put the trolley so close to it. Of course, she had no idea that I’d approach the task from that side. But shouldn’t she have read my mind? As I surveyed the day, this was the third of such events where I caught myself seriously wondering why her ESP was not only failing, but non-existent! Why was she deliberately trying to harm me like this?
ESP is like a sixth sense that would be really helpful in marriage where communication failures occur multiple times daily.
The fact is living with another person makes for efficiencies at times that can lead us to think we’re advantaged. Those very same dynamics conspire against us, however, when one or both assume something of the other, that something was communicated and wasn’t, or where expectations are just plain unrealistic.
It happens. In the common marriage it happens a lot. And it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
When we rediscover the folly in expecting our marriage partner to exercise ESP, we begin to own our own errors, and instead of seeking an apology, we begin to seek their forgiveness.
Marital success is due mostly to the nurtured ability to practice the overlooking of offenses.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Speaking the truth in humour

MY father-in-law has a spiritual gift that involves speaking the truth in humour. He’s been such a good exponent of it over the years that it’s proven instructive.
One thing I’ve heard him say frequently — one example of his speaking the truth in humour — at times when I’ve had an opinion that might be judgmental, is, “Yes, that agrees with my prejudices, too.” In other words, he communicates two important things: 1) that he agrees with me, but that 2) it isn’t all there is to account for. And the truth implicit in his communication has genius because humour is a foil that allows truth space without it appearing as a sneer.
Speaking the truth in humour isn’t a gift that can be used always, however; only sometimes. Not when people are suffering, for instance. At times like this, truth hardly has a place if it’s said in jest. The only time truth is prized in grief is when the truth is etched with, and said in the grain of, compassion. And humour often won’t work if there’s insufficient relationship between protagonists.
Speaking the truth in humour is a relational wisdom that communicates a strong message without being confrontational or brusque. It’s particularly useful if we know people will perceive the truth veiled enigmatically. And doubly purposeful if we know people will appreciate the creative way the truth comes across. Indeed, the creativity of speaking the truth in humour is its genius.
Speak the truth in humour so potential offense is turned into an absurd grace that paves the way to change.
Speak the truth in humour, but resolve to get it right. And we will only get it right when our hearts are right about why we wish to communicate truth.

Speaking the truth in humour can be one sure way of speaking the truth in love.