Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Change is Coming!!!!

It's been several weeks since my last post and I'm not even sure when, or if, I will post again.  Time will tell....
In the meantime, I have made some wonderful connections with so many insightful and inspiring bloggers out there.  I have grown to love and appreciate the incredible diversity within the body of Christ. As frustrated as I have been with the Church, I have also grown to love the Church more than ever.  I have been troubled and shed many tears over my own narrow-minded ignorance on so many subjects which, quite frankly, I have never taken the time to truly understand.  

I'm learning what it means to listen, truly LISTEN.  This is an important discipline for me.  I don't want to be someone who has her mind made up before the conversation even begins.  God will not be mocked and he will not tolerate the boxes I have often defined for him. He is blowing up every one of our man-made boxes and doesn't need our permission to do so.  Hallelujah!

So I'm finding my place on the sidelines, cheering on and celebrating God's unfolding story, falling on my knees in worship of my wonderful Redeemer!!  This is all about Him!!

I've been growing increasingly restless with simply writing and exploring the changes I want to see happen.  I'm realizing that necessary change won't happen from behind the keyboard of my computer.  It may have begun here for me but it cannot end here.  True faith believes, speaks, and then actively lives out what it believes.  

This season of blogging has been somewhat of a catalyst for me.  It has contributed some essential fibres to the cocoon that now surrounds me, a cocoon wherein I am transforming and theologically evolving beyond anything I could have imagined even just a year ago.  When the cocooning process is complete, I believe I shall emerge with brand new wings adapted for a brand new flight path that God is now preparing for me.

Yet I must constantly encourage my impatient soul with the words of Hebrews 6:12:  That it is by faith and patience that we inherit the promises.  I am reminded that this journey will consist of prayer, faith, action, patience, all within the context of TIME...minutes, days, weeks, months, years, decades.

And then the Trumpet shall sound and my faith shall be sight.

There are still a lot of unknowns on this journey that lies ahead.
Yet this much I know:  God is doing a NEW THING!!
He's doing a new thing within our individual lives and he's doing a new thing within the larger context of the universal Church, his beloved Bride!!!

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1 Cor.2:9)

Change is coming, Church, so buckle up and get ready for the ride of your life!!!!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Desperate for Grace

Quite frankly, without a sense of desperation to intimately know the transforming power of God's grace, we will never be able to grasp the absolute impossibility of trying to live our lives without it.

Over the years, and through the ups and downs of numerous emotional and spiritual battles, my "soldier" heart has needed to regularly take a deep breath, be still in the presence of a mighty and holy God, and acknowledge to myself and to my Lord:  this "warrior" is just a child.  The children's song, Jesus Loves Me, says it best as it acknowledges my state of utter dependance: "I am weak but He is strong."

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 has been an anchor for me during so many seasons of my life.   It reminds me that I am a sinner saved by grace, that I have conceited tendencies that easily beset me, and that I have a tormenting enemy who God is somehow using to press me closer into His grace:

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surprising great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

If we isolate just the words that God spoke to Paul, within the quotation marks, we realize that God doesn't give details about Satan and He doesn't talk about Paul's problems.  Rather, He directs Paul's gaze back to His all-sufficient GRACE which alone can sustain a wounded warrior's soul.

Peter Scazzero's devotional, "The Daily Office", brings an important reminder to the subject of grace:

"The Bible does not spin the flaws and weaknesses of its heroes.  Abraham lied.  Hosea's wife was a prostitute.  Peter rebuked God.  Jonah was a racist.  John Mark deserted Paul.  Elijah burned out.  Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal.  Thomas doubted.  Moses had a temper.  Timothy had ulcers.  Even David, one of God's most beloved friends, committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband.  Yet all these people send the same message: that every human being on earth, regardless of their gifts and strengths, is weak, vulnerable, and dependant on God and others."

He goes on to say, "The pressure to present an image of ourselves as strong and spiritually "together" hovers over most of us.  We feel guilty for not measuring up; for not making the grade.  We forget that all of us are human and frail."

God's grace comes to us in 3 primary ways:
1) Above all, it is communicated to us through God's Word, demonstrated perfectly by Jesus Christ, and quickened within our hearts by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

2) Secondly, we extend grace to one another.  Fellow believers are not required to "earn" our grace.... nor are they required to prove themselves worthy to receive it.  We are to give it freely, as freely as we have received it.  We are to be known as a people of grace and truth.

3) Perhaps the most difficult application of grace is the grace we need to extend to our own souls.  The grace from God and the grace from others will be meaningless if we do not accept the gift and encourage our own hearts to drink deeply from it.  Feelings of unworthiness, guilt, self sufficiency, and pride often seek to undermine the FREE and UNDESERVED GIFT of God's grace.  Yet we must fight the fight of faith and cast the anchor of our souls deep into the ocean of God's unmerited favour.  We are to be rooted and grounded in the grace AND love of Christ.

Let's not live in denial by running from our weaknesses and failures.
Let's run right into them and find the Grace that awaits us!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

C.S. Lewis: Thoughts on Prayer

Having read numerous books from C.S. Lewis, it was a pleasure for me to actually hear him speak, accompanied by his delightful British accent.  This recording was heard on BBC radio during the War years and, along with numerous others, was formative in the making of his book "Mere Christianity".  Sadly, this is the only recording that survived.

In this particular talk, Lewis addresses a perplexing question that most of us have likely wrestled with:  How is God able to hear MY prayer when millions of people around the world are praying to Him at the same time?

Lewis says this:
"Almost certainly God is not in time.  His life doesn't consist of moments following one another.  If a million people are praying to Him at 10:30 tonight, He doesn't have to listen to them all in that one little snippit of time we call "10:30".  "10:30", and every other moment from the beginning to the end of the world, is always the present for Him.  If you like to put it this way, He has infinity to listen to the split second of prayer."

He goes on to say this, "The point I want to drive home is that God has infinite attention, and infinite measure to spare, for each one of us.  He doesn't have to take us in a line.  You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only thing He created."

Now that's the encouragement I need to keep on praying!!!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Wade Burleson: Only Servants and No Masters

Wade Burleson communicates the heart of true leadership in this excellent message entitled: Only Servants and No Masters. I trust you will be blessed as Wade "rocks your world" with his answer to the question, "How does a Christian lead?"
Only Servants and No Masters (Hebrews 13:7) from Emmanuel Enid on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Radical Obedience of Bonhoeffer and Rebekah

(For an updated version of this post, check out this link posted on March 30, 2014)

I have recently finished reading the biography of "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy" , masterfully written by Eric Metaxas.  It is a lengthy book that warrants a more extensive review than the references I will be making today yet I wanted to briefly draw attention to a few motivations and actions of Dietrich Bonehoeffer as they relate to one of my newest hero's in the Bible, Rebekah.

Bonhoeffer was one of history's greatest and most surprising of social reformers.  He had the prophetic ability to understand the days he was living in, the insight to recognize how the Word of the Lord applied to his battle to save the Jews from Hitler's hands, and he possessed amazing faith and courage to willingly pursue justice and righteousness, even at the cost of his own life and reputation.  

Bonhoeffer was not drawn as much to the "letter" of the law as he was to the "Spirit" of the law.  Metaxas writes, "It was the God beyond the texts, the God who was their author and who spoke to mankind through them, that fired his interest."  Bonhoeffer was willing to learn from other teachers in the established church but he always maintained a level of "intellectual independence" which allowed him the spiritual freedom to follow the voice of his Shepherd, wherever it would lead. 

Early on in his ministry,  Bonhoeffer would meet with a group of young men in his home to discuss various topics related to the Christian life.  One of the key ethical questions that Bonhoeffer's group discussed, a question that links his heart directly to the heart of Rebekah, is this question:   "Is there such a thing as a necessary lie?"

For those who know the story well, you will know that Bonhoeffer's actions ultimately answer this question more effectively than words ever could.  The decisions Bonhoeffer would make (in direct opposition to Hitler's regime and in order to save the Jews) would draw much criticism from within the broader church context.  The murmurings of disapproval and condemnation were difficult to endure but the social isolation and pain he felt would serve to represent another "death to self" for him,  a surrendering of his reputation and "good name" within the church, all for the sake of following Jesus.

By the end of his life, Bonhoeffer "had theologically redefined the Christian life as something active, not reactive.  It had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules.  It had everything to do with living one's whole life in obedience to God's call through action."

At the point in the story where Bonhoeffer had officially joined the conspiracy to murder Hitler,  Metaxas points out that Bonhoeffer "was not just telling little white lies...he was 'sinning boldly'.  He was involved in a high-stakes game of deception upon deception, and yet Bonhoeffer himself knew that in all of it, he was being utterly obedient to God." 

Now let me introduce you to Rebekah.  

Like Bonhoeffer, Rebekah's story contains a troubling account of lies and deception.  When the church has traditionally read the story of Rebekah, they have often been quick to jump to conclusions, criticizing Rebekah, and calling her actions "manipulative".  Many sermons have condemned her for her lack of trust in God and her lack of submission to her husband.  

I totally disagree with the historical portrayal given to this amazing woman.  
I believe that, like Bonhoeffer,  Rebekah has clearly and sacrificially demonstrated, with her words and with her actions, that doing the will of God always supercedes doing the will of man.  

We know from our introduction to Rebekah that she was a woman who was willing to submit to God's leading in her life.  Her family did not force her to follow Abraham's servant in order to marry Isaac, a man she had never seen before.  They left the decision totally up to her and her simple response was, “I will go”.  

It was Rebekah who later inquired of the Lord as to why the twins were jostling in her womb.  “The Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.’ ”  The firstborn was Esau, the second born was Jacob. 

It’s important that we understand, as Rebekah did, that the traditional primogeniture (the law of the firstborn) would NOT apply to her boys.  This fact of God choosing to turn TRADITION upside down occurs over and over in scripture.   

As we read on, we see that Rebekah accepted what God had said to her about Jacob while it was Isaac who would continue to rebel against God’s spoken decree by favoring Esau.   Interestingly, this puts Rebekah in full agreement with God according to Romans 9:13; “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.”

So, why did Isaac deliberately overlook the son that God had chosen to bless?  Why did he continue to give preference to the son who willfully violated God’s covenant by taking Hittite women as his wives?  Hebrews 12:16 calls Esau a sexually immoral and profane man “who sold his inheritance for a single meal”. 
In wrestling through these questions, we begin to see a different dynamic in the events of this story.  From a spiritual perspective, it was actually Isaac, not Rebekah, who was trying to manipulate the hand of God in trying to ensure that Esau got the blessing that rightfully belonged to Jacob.   

In Gen. 27:5, the narrative makes special mention of the fact that “Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to Esau” about going out to kill some game so that he could give his blessing to Esau before he died.  

This was “providential” information for Rebekah and it would seem that God actually wanted her to know what Isaac was scheming.  Hearing Isaac’s words would confirm to her that, even in his old age, Isaac was still stubbornly intent on disregarding God's revealed will.  Knowing Isaac’s intent mobilized Rebekah into action and her response to this information was actually facilitating God’s purposes for the future nation of Israel.

A key factor in this story is that the oracle was given to Rebekah, not  to Isaac.  It was entrusted to her by God and where God imparts such knowledge, He also imparts great responsibility.  Yes, including a woman!! 

Rebekah then tells Jacob to disguise himself and Jacob raises a legitimate question in 27: 12: “ What if my father touches me?  I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself.” 

Rebekah's response “appears” as though she is incriminating herself: “My son, let the curse fall on me.  Just do what I say and get them for me.”  Was her strong language an admission of guilt OR was it related to something else?? 

Amazingly, there is a biblical connection that shines beautiful light on what Rebekah is saying and doing here.  Like Bonhoeffer, Rebekah's course of action will not appear to follow the human standard for "moral obedience".  Even though Rebekah lived prior to the laws of Moses, her actions reveal that God's law for obedience was already written on her heart.   It was her love for God's prophetic word that will ultimately determine the moral compass that motivates her subsequent actions.  This is very important so follow this connection closely!!!

The very same language that Rebekah uses in vs. 13 is echoed again by the apostle Paul in Romans 9: 3: 
[Note: Every mention of "theirs" is speaking directly of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel]

Paul said: “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.  Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!! Amen!!” 

Do you catch the excitement in Paul’s words as he marvels at God’s purposes in choosing Jacob [Israel]??  Can you begin to understand why Rebekah was SO intentional in making sure the blessing indeed went to Israel and not to Esau??  

Paul’s willingness to take on a curse, in the same way that Rebekah did, reveals how this unusual phrase is being motivated by genuine love for God’s purposes.  Bonhoeffer's willingness to sacrifice his life for the Jews was motivated by this same love.  Jesus himself became a curse for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.  

Like the apostle Paul, and like Bonhoeffer, Rebekah longed to see the purposes of God fulfilled even if it meant that she herself would be cursed.  That’s not manipulation or deception.  Rather, we are witnessing her sheer obedience and love for the word which God had spoken to her heart!!!   If only Isaac had submitted himself to God’s purposes as Rebekah had done. 

Just 7 verses later, the link to Rebekah is completed when Paul refers to Jacob and Esau as “Rebekah’s children”.   If Paul had wanted to rebuke her actions or reprimand her for her insubordination, this would have been the place to do it.  But he doesn’t.  Instead he affirms her by using the same language she herself used.

After Isaac’s shocking revelation that the blessing had not gone to his beloved Esau, Isaac responds to Esau’s plea with this lame excuse:  "Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing."  Excuse me???  Isaac still didn’t get it!!  He was blind in more ways than one.  This blessing was never intended for Esau!

Returning to Genesis 27, there is one more significant detail in the narrative that clearly demonstrates Rebekah’s strong desire to see Jacob [Israel] walk in God’s blessing.  As providence would have it, once again Rebekah hears, from an unmentioned source, that Esau plans to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies.  Rebekah’s love for God, and her love for “Israel”, shifts quickly into protective mode as she notifies Jacob that he is in danger and must prepare to leave.

Not only is Rebekah aware of Jacob’s physical danger but she is also aware of his spiritual danger if he remains among the godless women that lived in their community.  Rebekah addresses her concerns to Isaac and complains about the state of ungodliness all around her:

“I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women.  If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”  

This was not an offhand comment made by a depressed and grumbling wife.  Rather, these words reflect a holy hatred for the same behaviors that God hated.  Her words reflect a zealous heart that yearned for Jacob to marry “in the Lord”, that he might choose a wife from within the family of God and that the blessings and promises of God would NOT be hindered by disobedience and ungodliness.  

As I continue to reflect on the amazing courage and spiritual leadership displayed by Rebekah throughout this story, I believe this is one story that it would greatly benefit the church to read more carefully.  Our voices need to join with the apostle Paul’s in affirming Rebekah’s love, not condemning her.  It’s a reminder to me that the patriarchal voices in various contexts of the church and home are not always to be trusted.  As women who follow Jesus, we must therefore find healthy ways of showing respect to those around us while making sure our obedience to God always comes first.  We cannot serve two masters.  

Like Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and Bonhoeffer, Rebekah has brought surprising clarity to what it means to live courageously  before an audience of One.  She
 inspires me to fear God, not man.  

[To read a similar story about another courageous woman who was sensitive to God’s leading in her life, read the story of Abigail and David recorded in 1 Samuel 25.]

Monday, 15 July 2013

Zimmerman Trial, Racism, and Gender Roles

In the wake of the recent trial of George Zimmerman, it appears the "not guilty" verdict is being perceived as yet another reminder of how racism still exists in America today.   Today's post on Thabiti Anyabwile's Gospel Coalition blog is a clear reflection of how a well respected and influential black pastor has interpreted the outcome of this trial.

I have not followed the trial closely enough to comment on wether or not justice has been served.  However, what did catch my attention is the passion and conviction that this trial has evoked in Thabiti's own heart.  This trial appears to have stirred a painful reminder to Thabiti that the reality and sting of racism is still alive and well.  The racial attitudes of the 1950's are not as far removed as he had hoped.

The paragraph that caught my attention is Thabiti's response to what he perceives as injustice and where he bares his soul, declaring fresh resolve to the following courageous quest:

"But what does my Bible tell me? And how does our fixation on “race” square with its pages? “From one man God made every nation (ethnicity) of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth…” (Acts 17:26). African-American fathers and mothers valiantly used that same passage to fight for the full humanity of both African Americans and every White people in this country. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “race,” a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of race-based theory, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “race” from ethnicity and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling class, privilege, and cowardice. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current categories they can’t imagine life differently. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view skin the way we do, most of us are already misunderstood. I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding".

This resonated so intensely with me because everything Thabiti reveals about his frustration with racism is exactly what I, as a woman, feel about the injustices and inequalities of the great gender divide within our churches.   I could not help but adapt Thabiti's words and make them my own even though my words are directed at a rather different but equally real and legitimate injustice.  It's an injustice that I don't think Thabiti himself recognizes just yet but I am hopeful that someday he will make the connection.  Perhaps using his own words and phraseology will help me clarify my point:

"But what does my Bible tell me? And how does the Church's fixation on "gender roles" square with its pages? From one man God made every nation of people (male and female), that they as men and women should inhabit and rule the whole earth… (Genesis 1 :26-28).  Egalitarians have  valiantly used this same passage (along with Galatians 3:28) to fight for the full humanity of both male and female. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “gender restrictions” , a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old traditional social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns of "Leave it to Beaver" on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of patriarchal theology, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity as a free and liberated woman in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “patriarchal ideology" from the church and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling hierarchy based on gender, privilege, and control. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current complementarian "gender role model" that they can’t imagine relationships that function on the premise of equality. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view the female gender the way they do, most of us bold, courageous, and egalitarian men and women are already misunderstood. I have nothing to lose so I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding."

Thabiti's final resolve is that he is thankful he possesses "the 2 most powerful weapons": prayer and preaching.  As a black pastor who is grieved by the effects of racism, at least he still has the privilege and "rights" to those 2 weapons.  As a white woman within my particular denomination, the weapon of "preaching"  is not an option for me.  It's not the color of my skin that disqualifies me.  I am disqualified because of my gender, something I cannot change any more than a man can change the color of his skin.   But I am allowed to pray and therefore I have one powerful weapon, not two.

Yet I am hopeful.  The pulpit may be "off limits" for women but in a twist of technological opportunity, many of us have found a "Platform" in the world of blogging.  God has made a unique and powerful way for us to get His message out there while our consciences find release to voice what the Lord has laid upon our hearts.  

For many women, a blogging audience is considerably larger than most pastors have in their pews on any given Sunday morning.  (For example, my first month of blogging reached almost 1,000 page views).   I know Thabiti follows blogs of women (as seen in this post about Wendy Alsup's New Wave Complementarianism) so he can vouch for the effectiveness of a woman's voice within this context. 

Thabiti's prayer (below) is also my prayer and I am empowered in my speech with the same Holy Spirit who empowers him to preach:

"But I can pray. And I have the privilege of preaching. And I believe those are the two most powerful weapons in the world. I believe God hears my prayers in Christ. I believe he makes my words powerful when I preach Christ. I believe mountains get moved, hearts get changed, hands are put to work, and heaven comes down again when I pray and when I preach. I’m so weak. I’m so foolish. I’m so limited. But God is not. The Lord is so strong. The Lord is all-wise. The Lord is unlimited, unstoppable, unshakable, unchanging, and un-anything else that might be a human handicap. So I’m going to God. Not as a means of escape or simply to lament and mourn. Lamentation and mourning have their place. I’m going to God because He is God. He can fix it. He does all things well. He is great. He reigns. And He will do all what I can’t. He’ll even do what I can do far better than if I did it in my own wisdom or strength. Actually, apart from Him I can do nothing. Apart from Him I don’t want to do anything. In fact, I don’t want to be apart from Him. So with faith and desire I’m going to God in prayer and gospel preaching.
No doubt there are better plans. Certainly there are folks with stronger feelings and louder voices. But this is what I can do living on a Caribbean island and looking for the coming consummation of the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns. Because He is coming, I’m hopeful."

I hope Thabiti and other Church leaders will be able to sense in their hearts the similar connection between racism and the gender divide.  Wherever we find ourselves on the receiving end of inequality, wether due to race OR gender, it's important to establish that the FEELINGS of inferiority in both instances are the same!! Any attempt to biblically legitimize "roles within the church and family" based on race or gender is an appeal to live according to the flesh, not the Spirit.

Church, it's time that we let go of the lies and make the necessary changes to walk in Truth!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Questions, Courage, and Vulnerability

Do we have the courage to ask the hard questions at the risk of sounding like a fool??

To me, there is something very exciting about a GOOD question.
Have you ever been in a class or meeting when someone raises one of those laser sharp, on the mark kind of questions that causes everyone to suddenly become alert with new energy?
All eyes are on the instructor.  There is a hushed silence, a pause, an expectation that this will be a defining moment.  This will be a moment of truth.

A similar situation is found in the story of the emperor who wore no clothes.

"A vain Emperor who cares for nothing except wearing and displaying clothes hires two swindlers who promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "hopelessly stupid". The Emperor's ministers cannot see the clothing themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and the Emperor does the same. Finally the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects. The townsfolk play along with the pretense not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretence, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but continues the procession." [summary taken from Wikipedia]

Everyone close to the emperor had questions about what was going on.  They could see with their eyes that the invisible fabric was a hoax but  "for fear of appearing unfit for their positions" noone had the courage to voice the question.

Asking the tough questions of ourselves and others makes us vulnerable because noone wants to look foolish or unfit.  We're told "there's no such thing as a bad question" yet when we encounter avoidance and indifference to the questions we're wrestling with, it can make our questions seem as though they are insignificant, disqualified, and "unfit" to be heard.

Sometimes we need to be encouraged to use our voices like the little child in the emperor's story.

Brene Brown is a research professor who has spent the past 13 years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame.  She poses this question: "How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?  How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough---that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy." [TEDX]

In a recent interview with Oprah, Brene discloses that she was an academic ruled by certainty, statistics, and facts but that she wasn't living and loving with her full heart.  Her best selling book "Daring Greatly" is about her journey into how we can make our lives more meaningful through vulnerability. (Reminds me of a previous post.)

Brene defines vulnerability as:  Being brave enough to "show up and let ourselves be seen". Vulnerability opens the door to intimacy....she claims it's the only door that can.

"My ego says to me:  'You have no inherent worth.  You've got to hustle for it, baby.  How fast you gonna run?  How high you gonna jump?  How many likes do you have on Facebook?'"

She also makes this astounding observation:  "The less you talk about shame, the more you've got it."
She adds this:  "Love and belonging are the irreducible needs of men, women, and children.  In absence of these there will always be suffering."

I've posted the TEDX link below because I think there is tremendous value for us as Christians in what Brene has to say here.  Towards the end of the video, she draws attention to the significance of being able to say "I am enough".  My initial response to these words was, "Wait, only El Shaddai is enough".
But as I tried to really listen to the heart of what she was saying,  I realized that what she meant by those words is actually true for all of  us:

We are each created in the image of God and as such we have immeasurable value just because we exist.
Each one of us is unique and special just as we are.  Unworthiness and shame often make us think we need to become like others in order to have value and worth.  When we don't love ourselves for who we are, we get pushed deeper and deeper into the crippling and fear-driven trap of "performance mentality".
Brene's point is this: Don't let other people define who you are.  You are who you are....and you are enough.

We are not complete until we find our completeness in the work that Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the Cross..... but we are enough just being and becoming all that God has called us to be. We have ALL we need in Him.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Anchored in Love

I recently had the privilege of partaking in a small group study of the book "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality" by Peter Scazzero.  There is SO much to be gleaned from both Peter and Geri Scazzero in terms of recognizing how our emotional immaturity manifests itself in various destructive patterns of thinking and behaviour.

One of the sections that made my own heart skip a beat and do a double-take was a section entitled The Gift of Anchoring in God's Love.  

Peter begins by saying that "Christianity is not about our disciplined pursuit of God, but about God's relentless pursuit of us.   Most of us believe this intellectually....Experiencing this infinite love in our hearts is another matter.   The sinister voices of the surrounding world and our pasts are powerful.  They repeat the deeply held negative beliefs we may have learned in our families and cultures growing up."

Peter identifies a few of these sinister voices/lies in List #1:

"I am a mistake.
I am a burden.
I am stupid.
I am worthless.
I am not allowed to make mistakes.
I must be approved by certain people to feel okay.
I don't have the right to experience joy and pleasure.
I don't have the right to assert myself and say what I think and feel.
I don't have a right to feel.
I am valued based on my intelligence, wealth, and what I do, not for who I am."

Peter goes on to describe in List #2 what the self-talk of an emotionally healthy individual would sound like.  To be honest, at first glance, I actually thought I was reading the bad list, the list of what we're NOT supposed to think about ourselves.  My gut reaction immediately categorized what I was reading as "Prideful" and therefore catering to the "entitlement mentality" so pervasive in our culture today.  Yet it was this reaction, in and of itself, that revealed to my own heart that I still have a ways to go in my journey towards emotionally healthy spirituality.

"I hold myself in high regard despite my imperfections and limits.
I am worthy to assert my God-given power in the world.
I am entitled to exist.
It is good that I exist.
I have my own identity from God that is distinct and unique.
I am worthy of being valued and paid attention to.
I am entitled to joy and pleasure.
I am entitled to make mistakes."

If we spend most of our time thinking, feeling, and defining ourselves according to the first list, it's no wonder that the love of God seems so distant and far removed from our souls.  It's no wonder that "freedom of spirit" alludes us.  It's only as I began to meditate on the second list, allowing those truths to filter down into the deep recesses of my soul that I caught a fresh glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you FREE."  It was in my sheer acknowledgement, "Hey, these truths are true of ME", that my spirit found wings and soared right into the loving arms of God.

The command to "love our neighbour AS we love ourselves" will be better lived out if we can all learn to lovingly declare these truths over ourselves as well as over others.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Faith like Noah

Hebrews 11:7: By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.  By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

I've been thinking a lot about Noah.
And I've been thinking about how faith can sometimes feel like risky business.
Oh, I know, true faith in God isn't risky at all, at least not from His vantage point.
God knew He would finish the work He began in Noah's heart.
God knew His loving grip on Noah's heart would be sufficient to carry forth the work of construction to completion.
There was no Plan B, only Plan A...and Noah was it!!!
God had faith in Noah because God is Faith-ful!

But on the ground here, where the winds of doubt swirl and the storms of disillusionment and fear threaten, faith can feel pretty risky, even to the most stoic and courageous of heart.

Noah must have had his share of risky feelings.
Mankind had never experienced a single thunderstorm or rainfall, nor did they even know what rain looked like, yet God told Noah to build a boat, a vessel that would be carried by waters that no-one even knew existed.
Scholars can only guess how long Noah was busy building but the estimations range somewhere between 50-75 years.
That's a LONG time to be busy building something that everyone around you would consider absolutely useless.
The patient endurance required of Noah over the course of these long and lonely years is unfathomable to me.
The nagging questions and incessant remarks from onlookers must have taken their toll on him, likely making him the greatest laughing stock of all time.

And then perhaps the questions from the shadows of his own heart:

"Why bother, Noah?
Are you sure you heard God right?
Are you sure he meant for you to do this?
Doesn't it make sense for you to spend more time evangelizing these sinners rather than building a boat and leaving them to drown?"

Yet Noah obediently continued the unwanted and prophetic work he was called to do.
In holy fear, he knew God's warning was no idle threat.
His faith, obedience, and hard work prove that he and God were on the same page.
Change was coming and it was Noah's job to prepare the way of escape.

Noah's faithful life is a beautiful picture of what it looks like, and feels like, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

There is so much more that could be said about Noah and the theological significance surrounding this story.
For now, though, my focus is on the "risk" of obedient faith.
I think this poem captures some of the swirling feelings we often experience when we follow where God is leading.
We hear His voice calling but we can't see the pathway before us.
We walk by faith, not by sight....one step at a time....one "yes" at a time!!

To Risk (by William Arthur Ward)

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk being called sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk showing your true self.
To place your ideas and your dreams before the crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
That person who risks nothing, does nothing,
has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow, or live.
Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
The pessimist complains about the wind.
The optimist expects it to change;
The realist adjusts the sails.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Following Family or Following Jesus?

It was April 1987.  I was in my mid 20's, married with 3 small children and recovering from a challenging and confusing season of postpartum depression.  After several years of struggling to grasp the reality of Jesus' presence in my life, God had finally broken through the darkness and made himself wonderfully real to my heart.  I felt like I had been born again....again!  With the help of a wonderful Christian counselor, I had recommitted my life to the Lord and was learning, for the first time, what it meant to focus my life on Jesus.

It didn't take long, however, before I learned that something within my internal compass still needed some adjustments.  As the Holy Spirit would teach and instruct my heart in the way he wanted me to go,  my mind always seemed to process the new information through a "family filter" that had apparently existed since my childhood.  This internal "filter" would subconsciously take the new data from the Holy Spirit and would direct my mind to consider how the most influential people in my life might respond to the news:
"What will mom and dad say if they knew I was considering this?  How will my siblings respond to these changes?  How will my church family feel about the new approach I'm leaning towards?"

The turmoil in my soul was overwhelming.  I felt the pull of the Holy Spirit calling me to trust him by putting Jesus first in my life but at the same time the obligation and expectation of family around me pulled me back towards what had always been "safe" and "comfortable" for me.

I was advised by a good friend to seek out the counsel of a very wise and gentle United Church pastor (who I'll call Bernie) known for his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in how he helped others break free from bondages.

The particular issue that we dealt with, the one that relates to this post, was the need for me to recognize that I had formed "soul ties" to people in my family which were hindering me from freely and whole-heartily following Jesus.  The greatest command we are given is to love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, soul, strength and mind and then to love others.  The biblical order for our love and allegiance is always to be Jesus first, others second.  I was guilty of reversing this order.

Although I would have said that Jesus was my first love, my actions revealed that any decision I made always looked for the approval of family before I looked for the approval that comes from God alone.  This was at the heart of my problem and it explained why my soul was so vexed.  I was allowing other people to play the role of Holy Spirit in my heart.  I now echo the words of Psalm 119:  "It was good that I was afflicted that I might know your ways."

I don't remember most of what Bernie prayed but one key point is still crystal clear for me.  He took me to Hebrews 4 and explained that soul ties are formed when we allow ourselves to make unhealthy, sometimes subconscious, vows or commitments which links the struggle of our souls to other people's souls.  We set ourselves up with sayings like "If my parents or church leaders don't agree with it, then it must be wrong" or "Keeping peace in the family is more important than being honest and obedient to Jesus", or "I want them to love me so I better not do anything they wouldn't approve of".  (If both parties are operating with unhealthy soul ties towards each other, this disorder is commonly referred to as Codependency.)

Bernie then explained that, by the power of God's Spirit, we would pray to sever the unhealthy soul tie with the SWORD of  God's TRUTH.  By the end of this prayer, and by the grace of God, the Truth had set me free!

Ungodly soul ties should not be confused with the godly soul tie that is made between a husband and wife, linking their bodies and souls together as one flesh, "till death do us part".  But an ungodly soul tie is harmful in that we make vows and allegiances to people whose opinion of us becomes like an idol to our soul and distracts us from following God alone.  Instead of being helpful for our spiritual growth, these vows and soul ties actually choke our spirit and cripple us in our ability to hear and obey the voice of our Shepherd.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 10:34-36 clearly reveal that the SWORD of Truth in our relational interactions does not always reap peaceful and happy relationships, nor should we expect it to:

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household."

Matthew 10: 37 also warns us that if we love father or mother, son or daughter, more that we love Jesus then we are not worthy of following Him.  These are hard words for us to wrestle through as they challenge the most foundational relationships in our lives.  Yet we cannot truly understand discipleship until we have counted the cost of obedience as it relates to the relationships closest to us.  We are called to be living sacrifices and slaves of One Master, the One who bought us with His precious blood and loves us with absolute, unselfish LOVE!

There are times that we, as the Family of God, can also exert undue expectation and obligation over one another.  It can be in the form of what we call "legalism" or it can be a more subtle version of simply projecting a silent sense of disapproval towards someone in an attempt to make them feel guilty for thinking differently that we do.   We still have much to learn in regards to what it looks like to "agree to disagree agreeably" and in a spirit of love and grace.

A dear prof of mine, whose theology of women I don't fully agree with, often closes our discussions with these encouraging and loving words:  "Anne, let's keep the conversation going".  His words acknowledge that our dialogue together is still not accomplishing what we may have hoped it would but, because we are family, we are choosing to keep a door open for the Lord to merge our paths, perhaps a little further down the road....even if it takes till heaven to agree fully.

In our own family of 4 adult children, two of which are married, Martin and I have similarly tried to let them know that the decisions they make are THEIR decisions, between them and the Lord.  We may feel impressed to express our thoughts, views, and concerns to them but we have tried to intentionally release them from feeling bound or obligated to our approval as parents.  Of course we want them to take our advice...but, at the end of the day, I don't want them to feel bound to do so.   I want them to feel free to disagree with us and to do what THEY think is right.  Even if they know we're initially not happy with their decisions, I want them to know "Hey, we'll get over it!!!"  Our approval is not as important as God's approval and I don't want their souls to be in bondage to an unhealthy soul tie to us as their parents.

I love that the Bible includes stories of people like Paul and Barnabas who strongly disagreed on how the work of ministry should be done, leading them both to a season of separate, yet effective, ministry. Some time later, though, Paul seemed to have a change of heart.   It's not a sin to disagree or even temporarily part ways with family or other believers.  Sometimes these boundaries are necessary to allow everyone involved to accomplish the goals that each feels led to accomplish.  True Christian love is best recognized by the ability to extend such freedom to those with whom we differ or who simply need "space" to discover God's purpose for their life.  It's easy to love those we agree with.  The real challenge is loving those who genuinely love God's Word but simply interpret the data differently.

I'm not going to lie, maintaining a healthy tension within the broader context of the Church requires a rich supply of the Fruit of God's Spirit to guard our hearts against bitterness and discouragement.  Yet, with all my heart I do believe in the power of Jesus to fulfill the promise of his Word: "I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

So, as we press on in the sure hope of our Saviour's soon return, I pray that we will each prosper in the liberty of obedience, even as our soul prospers in the liberty of being FREE to become ALL that God has called us to be.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Trinity: Explaining the Mystery?

I recently learned about Steven Tracy, a complementarian who has written a book called "Mending the Soul" (a well-researched overview addressing the subject of domestic abuse within the church).   Although I haven't read his book, I just finished his 16 page lecture entitled 1 Corinthians 11:3 : A Corrective to Misunderstandings of Male Headship which he presented at the Evangelical Theological Society.

Let me first say that I commend Steven for the significant work he is doing to bring much needed attention to the abuse issue within leadership contexts like ETS.  Steven is aware of the many ways that "headship" and "male authority" are being misinterpreted and misapplied and he is therefore attempting to bring some much needed clarity to what headship is, and what it isn't.

I need to confess that I actually read Steven's paper backwards, starting on pg. 16 and working towards the beginning. (Hey, some people read their Bibles that way.)  That should help to explain why his concluding statement is what sounded my first alarm: "The most instructive model for male leadership is the headship of the Father over the Son".  [italics my own]

Steven's use of the word "instructive" is problematic for me since it is a word that is somewhat synonymous with the word "explain", something we've been taught NOT to do when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity.  We all know how teachers give "instruction" and "explanations" interchangeably and so we have to be very careful when applying the word "instructive" to how we talk about the Trinity.  Although the word "Trinity" itself does not appear anywhere on the pages of scripture, there are sufficient biblical references where God refers to himself in the plural form (such as "Us" and "We") to warrant its use by the Church.

Most theologians and teachers who tackle this subject first clarify 2 key reasons why the early Church fathers felt that it was important to establish the doctrine of the Trinity in writing:
(1) They wanted to protect the Doctrine of the Trinity from heresies that were infiltrating the church
(2) They wanted to "preserve the mystery" without trying to "explain" the mystery.

These clarifications are extremely important since the Church has always recognized our human incapability of fully comprehending the relational dynamic between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Can we actually instruct people on how the Divine Community functions?  Have the intimate details of this Divine relationship been revealed to us?  My answer is "No", and it's exactly because of God's transcendent nature that we are exhorted to preserve the mystery and not try to explain it!!!  We need to let God be God and stop trying to figure out the mechanics of His God-ness.  He forms an exclusive category all by Himself and the great mystery of His Triune-ness is what sets Him apart as God!

(I'm not sure to what extent the early Church fathers tried to make the same connections to gender roles that Steven is trying to make but, if they did, their "traditional" views of women would likely not even fit within what most complementarians would consider a biblical view today.  For more info on this, see my post:  Is the Traditional View of Women a Biblical View?)

In light of these cautions to "preserve" and "not explain", I came away from Steven's paper with a sense that "trying to explain the Trinity" is precisely what he was doing.  Although he was attempting to bring some necessary balance to the lopsided heavy-weighted patriarchy that still exists in the home and church, he kept a surprisingly big stone in his back pocket which he slid back onto the scale in his closing comment.  By saying that "the most instructive model for male leadership is the headship of the Father over the Son",  he caused the scale to shift dramatically back towards an ambiguous imbalance of male power, layering that imbalance with some pretty presumptuous and faulty logic.

When we talk about "instructional working models" for relationships, I think it's fair to assume that such a model should be clearly understood and defined.  That's what a "working model" is.  It is tangible, explainable, and therefore able to be reproduced.  However, we've already established that the Trinity's "working model" is one that cannot be explained in tangible terms that will make sense to our human minds.  Our limited information only takes us so far.  That's why we're supposed to leave the "explaining" part out of the discussion.

Yet Steven's argument seems to suggest that our relationships can indeed be "instructed" by a model that we cannot explain.  He is basically telling men that their "role model" is the Father and the woman's "role model" is the Son.  Ok, so what does that look like in human terms that can be "modelled" into our relational dynamics??  How does the balance of power and authority work itself out between the Father and the Son, the husband and the wife?  How does the the Son's usage of his authority "instruct" the wife how to use her authority?

To add to my frustration, after 11 pages of "fleshing out" a biblical interpretation of male headship and authority (by reminding men that women are their equals and are to be given delegated authority as the Father delegates authority to the Son), Steven's words suddenly drop off the page without telling us what a woman's authority actually "looks like".

On page 11 he writes:  "While it goes beyond the scope of this article to flesh out the full extent of female authority...."  Say what???  Why is he running out of words and paper right when it comes to a woman's part in all of this?  I'm holding my breath here, wanting and needing to hear what authority women DO have but the discussion gets tabled right in this moment.  I need to know how far reaching IS a woman's authority and power, which is apparently being modelled after the authority and power of the Son.

But, alas, there appears to be no more time or space left to "flesh out" this very important matter for women.  The ambiguity of silence strikes again!!

It is precisely this ambiguity and deafening silence related to "working models in marriage" that leaves the door wide open for inequality and the imbalance of relational power.  Interpretations and suggestions of hierarchy within the Trinity are now being used by leaders to argue why the female gender is ontologically subordinate to the male gender....both in this life and in eternity to come.

With all due respect, my reason for playing devil's advocate in this post is to help complementarians see the foolishness of trying to turn the mystery of the Trinity into a "working model" for marriage.  I am not a scholar and I will not even try to climb into the apostle Paul's brain to see what he was really trying to say in the 1 Cor. 11 passage.  All I do know is that it cannot mean what complementarians are saying it means.  They are trying to micro-manage a text that needs to remain part of a much broader and mysterious illustration. I feel they're trying way too hard to hold onto some illusive notion of hierarchy over their wives, and women in general, and they're using the "unexplainable" doctrine of the Trinity to stake their claim.

I'm assuming that this is why Steven Tracy has chosen not to "flesh out the full extent of female authority"....perhaps he realizes that his illustration can only be taken so far.  Any attempt to put a "working model" on a woman's authority, modelled after the authority of Jesus, will likely come back to bite him and so he has chosen to leave this instruction for another day.  It is perhaps in light of these "theological stretching tactics" that Gilbert Bilezikian responded with his well-known argument (from March 1997) entitled Hermeneutical Bungee Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead.

As much as Steven has tried to help the cause of women, his silence on the authority a woman DOES possess is a glaring omission on his part (and on the part of other complementarians who promote the same "working model").   Many complementarians seem to have forgotten that men and women, husbands and wives, are ALL being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ the Son.  Jesus called ALL of us to "love one another as I have loved you".  We are ALL called to wash one another's feet as Jesus modelled so beautifully for us.  Jesus is the God/Man that BOTH genders are to model their lives after.

Galatians 3 :28 completely levels the field within the Christian community as it declares so beautifully: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Our mutual status and position in Christ overlaps in profound ways as the Bible affirms that  every woman is a son and every man is a wife and a Bride.

I also find it rather significant that the verse just prior to the I Cor. 11:3 discussion describes the "working model" for ALL believers as being one that imitates the Son.  In  1 Corinthians 11:1  Paul says, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."

I personally do not believe the Trinity can be stretched into an "instructional model" for the roles of men and women but if someone is able to flesh this out for me, it might help me make some sense of this argument.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Gender-cide: Why are 200 million girls missing?

The three deadliest words in the world:  "It's a Girl"

Film-maker, Evan Grae Davis, has dedicated his career to advocating for social justice and is the man behind the camera in the gendercide documentary, "It's A Girl."  In this TEDx talk, Davis describes Gendercide as "the deliberate destruction of a gender group" and "the direct result of a strong cultural preference for sons driven by centuries-old tradition that says that boys are more valuable than girls."

In India alone there are 5 million girls selectively aborted annually, the mortality rate is 75% higher for girls, and there are 107,000 dowry deaths of women/year.

In China alone (where male preference is combined with the 1 child policy) there are 37,000 more men than women and there are 1 million more boys than girls.
This severe gender imbalance has created an epidemic of sex trafficking and there have been 70,000 child bride kidnappings.

Here is a short preview trailer of what you can expect to see in the "It's a Girl" documentary:

Davis asks the question, "How do I respond to this?"

The thought that keeps reverberating on my own conscience is this: "The Church of Jesus Christ is called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, living out our lives as "good Samaritans" to this lost and broken world.  How will WE respond?"

Here are some of the powerful statements Davis brings to his packed audience as he follows up on his own question:

"It's those in authority who establish the standard of justice for every family, society, or nation."

"We as parents and grand parents are the ones who determine the generational patterns of behaviour that define the future."

"If we are ever going to see an end to this social evil of gendercide, it's going to require all of us to find a whole new way of thinking, to find a whole new way of education, to find a whole new way of defining and defending equality and justice."

"What might our role be in creating a new future for the girls in India and China?"

"Can we at least all agree to stand together against the devaluing of women in our cultures and become Culture Changers?"

"Would you consider lending your voice to the women of India and China who have no voice of their own?   Together we can make gendercide become a distant memory of the past."

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Heart of Forgiveness: "You Owe Me Nothing"

"Transitioning from the wreckage of abuse to the freedom of forgiveness will require honesty, courage, and an incredibly sponge-like capacity to CHOOSE to live in the light of God's healing love.  Do we REALLY want to be free? Do we REALLY want to be happy?  Then the journey towards our freedom and joy must begin at the Cross". 
(A continuation from my last post.)

The wreckage of abuse comes in many shapes and sizes.  How it manifests in our lives will depend on the severity, the source, and the secrecy of the abuse. Without exception, anger and hostility towards our abuser, and often towards God, is a symptom that we are still processing our pain, still trying to make sense of what has happened in our past.

The context of this blog is not a place for full disclosure of my personal story but let me just be honest enough to admit that anger has been a problem for me.   It wasn't until about 6 years ago that the truth of God's Word finally broke through and gave sweet release to anger's punishing grip.  Instead of love and truth, anger had become the defining filter that would determine my actions and propel me forward in one destructive direction after another.  

It was while reading 2 pages in Nancy Leigh DeMoss's book: Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free that I was finally brought face to face with my anger.  For the first time in my life, I recognized that my anger was directly related to my own emotional pain and frustration about people, about life, about my own insecurities and fears.  Getting angry was my way of declaring to the world and myself that "I have the right to get upset about this.  That person has hurt me and that person is going to pay".  In a twisted kind of way, I had given myself permission to behave like a 3 year old, to have a full blown temper tantrum,  and to just get the anger "out of my system" while lashing at others with my words.   My anger was MY entitlement and no-one was going to take that "right" away from me. 

Even as I write these words, within the context of numerous posts about abuse, I need to acknowledge that I too have been an abusive individual.  There were times in my past that I have used abusive words and actions to bring emotional harm to those closest to me.  As odd as this may sound, abusive personalities most often hurt those they "love" the most. 

The hardest thing about confession is that there is absolutely nothing we can do to erase the charges and offences against us. We are guilty as charged!  We can't pay our way out, cry our way out, over-achieve our way out, or even preach our way out. Our only hope, our only prayer rises from the ashes of a broken and repentant heart: "Dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner."

And in the humble acknowledgement of such a prayer, the precious blood of Jesus wiped away the stains on my blackened heart and washed me whiter than snow.  Jesus paid the price that I could never pay. His love canceled my debt completely and He set me free to love him, to serve him, and to follow him all of my days.

So the stage is swept clean and life is good....until a new character speaks out and I don't like the script.  Here we go again!!  I'm being ignored, misunderstood, and misrepresented. However, this time I can feel the brakes beneath my feet as my renewed "filter" searches for deeper truth than what my eye can see.  In light of the debt that Jesus canceled on my account, how will I move forward without lashing out in my old, familiar, and angry ways?

It's now that the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18 begins to tighten it's application over my heart and the anger that was quickly rising begins to subside.  This parable is all about how our sin is like currency.  The words of the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors", conveys this same sense of a debt that is "owed" and a debt that needs to be "forgiven".  We have all either said these words ourselves or heard others say them: "I'm going to make them pay" or "It's pay-back time" when we want to get even with someone who has hurt us.

So as my anger rises, I am instantly confronted with this choice:  Will I demand full payment from my offender for what has been done to me?  Or will I release them into God's hands so that He alone, as a faithful and righteous Judge, will deal with them as He thinks is best?  
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[a]was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[b] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Living in a world full of sin, brokenness, and abuse, we can be assured that our journey on this earth will be full of experiences with people who will disappoint us, people who won't meet our often faulty expectations of them, and even people who are actually intent on doing harm to us in one way or another.  There will be so many times that we will feel angered, we'll want revenge, and we'll desire to "pay others back" for what they've done.  Yet God's word makes it clear that we're not to go down that dangerous path of pay-back mentality.  We are encouraged to feel our anger, recognize it for what it is, sometimes let it motivate us towards making healthy changes, yet at the same time we are to dig deep into the Spirit's reserve of self control.  The warning against holding onto anger indefinitely is equally clear:  "in your anger do not sin, and do not let the sun go down on your anger".

There are 2 absolute essentials I desperately need working in my life if I'm going to survive this journey without bitterness and anger taking root in my heart:

The first essential for living in freedom is a solid, biblical understanding of healthy, relational Boundaries.  Townsend and Cloud have written some excellent resources on this subject for all ages and all types of relationships, including Boundaries in Marriage (highly recommended reading). Establishing healthy boundaries in my own life has helped me identify where my responsibilities begin and where they end and it has given me permission to say "no" without feeling guilty.

The second essential is actually more important than the first but it ties into my concluding thoughts, so I'm putting it last. The most influential truth that has kept my unhealthy anger from becoming a root of bitterness has been learning to prayerfully surrender the perceived "offences" of others over to the Lord while declaring to the offender, silently in my own heart, "You owe me nothing". These 4 simple words are spoken with the understanding that by these words I also mean, "You owe me no apology, no changed behaviour, and no kept promises".  By these words I also acknowledge to my own heart that my hope and expectation is in the Lord alone!!  I know that people will continue to disappoint and let me down, as surely as I will disappoint and let them down.  Yet I am to release the "debt" of others IN THE SAME WAY AS my own "debt" has mercifully been released.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled ALL that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

Teachings on forgiveness, such as this one, should never be misunderstood as saying that every offence should ONLY be responded to with forgiveness. Forgiveness is all about keeping ourselves free from wanting to become the judge and jury over the one who has offended us.  Let me make it very clear that there are times when courts and justice systems MUST become involved and sins must be dealt with harshly and publicly so that the perpetrators will be stopped and hopefully brought to a state of repentance themselves. In the meantime, healthy boundaries need to be enforced to protect our own hearts as well as the vulnerable and the weak.