Monday, April 30, 2012

A Holy Act of Violence

The older I get, the more I see trust in God as an act of extreme violence. Brennan Manning called it “Ruthless Trust,” an unwavering, relentless confidence in the love that God has for me. The reason it is violent (and necessarily so) is because the enemies of love (the world, the flesh and the devil) become increasingly violent in their opposition to encroaching love.

Sanctification could be defined as receiving the love of God our Father more and more broadly and deeply as we age and face more and more situations of need. The love we received yesterday or last year won’t do in the face of the newest threat; we must have a fresh supply, or we won’t make it. This is the Christian life! His mercies (necessarily) are new every morning.

The faithful ragamuffins who tenaciously cling to the bloodied and broken Christ as their only sure sign that God loves them, are the ones who do acts of extreme violence to a world that values strength, power and success above all else. These are citizens of a different kingdom, a “world of love” as Jonathan Edwards called it, who increasingly find no home here.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Authority and Abuse Within the Church: Some Thoughts

I just posted my final blog for April at the Society for Christian Psychology. Here it is:

Recently several high profile ministries have come under increasing fire for alleged abuses (not going to go into specifics here, for we will be talking generally anyway). Documentation and stories increasingly emerge online and it seems to have a polarizing effect. Those faithful to these ministries feel a need to defend them and those like them; those who feel they are victims feel that they need to be heard so that others can know and be warned; others join in and the circle grows wider, all the while the Church becomes more fractured. Each camp cries, “foul!” without really hearing what the other is trying to say. It is helpful to think through what needs to be acknowledged and affirmed in the midst of these situations. I will begin by making some affirmations then some suggestions on how to move forward.

1. There is legitimate biblical authority in elders that is to be respected and obeyed (Heb 13:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-4). Similar to the parent-child relationship, there is a responsibility (and authority) to care for those under their charge (shepherding authority)

There is a danger though in thinking that those who feel abused by the church are merely being rebellious and are in need of church discipline. There is also a danger in rejecting all forms of authority as abusive.We need to acknowledge that shepherding authority can be abused, and that other people can be used for our own purposes of narcissistic control.

2. There are legitimate cases of spiritual abuse going on that need to be addressed with great wisdom and care. Similar to parental abuse, deep relational wounds are created in the abuse of authority in the Church. The position of authority does not give one the right to abuse. Outside help is often needed to address the situation.

Here there is a danger in coming to believe that all authority is abusive, and there exists no place for church discipline within the local congregation. Also there is the possibility of associating the theology and offices of the church automatically with abuse.

Further, we should note that there is a difference between the perception of abuse and actual abuse. The former may be due to our own pathology getting stirred up. How do we tell the difference? Does our reaction outweigh the apparent offense? Is this reaction a pattern in my life?

3. The way we navigate through these issues will determine if the church is built up or torn down; it will also determine what kind of witness we have within our culture. The world is watching, as well as many wounded Christians who are desperate to believe that authority in the Church can be used for their good and not their harm.

4. Very rarely does putting the dirty laundry of the church online do any good, rather the opposite. There is a disturbing trend today where those offended by their local church air their grievances online instead of going directly to those who have wounded them. This should be a very last resort, when all other attempts at private reconciliation have failed. Some people feel that they have no choice, that the church leaders involved are so “unsafe” that making it known online is the only way to warn others. This may be the case in certain situations, I don’t know.

Lastly, I offer some meager suggestions for those who feel abused by the Church:
1) First you need to know that you are loved. Any and all abuse of God’s authority breaks his heart, and you need to know his heart is broken over your pain. God’s Shepherds will have to answer to the Chief Shepherd one day. He will settle all accounts.

2) Following Matthew 18 is still the best option, when available. Sometimes a third party (mediator) may need to be involved.

3) Before “telling your story” online in a public setting, seriously consider a) why you are doing it, and b) what good it will do the church.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Dangerous Freedom

I just finished writing my third April blog for the Society for Christian Psychology website. Here it is:

In this blog I want to reflect on a chapter from Steve Brown’s recent book, Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad At You (Howard Books, 2012). In this excellent book Brown effectively uses the phrase “Three Free Sins” as shock value to wake Christians up to the fact that we not only have three free sins, but unlimited “free sins” because of what Jesus has done on the cross for us. If you have doubts, I encourage you to give it a read for yourself. This is not cheap grace, but rather awe-inspiring grace that truly frees the soul.

Specifically for the purposes of this blog, I want to look at chapter six where he describes some of the implications of this radical grace.

1. If you have free sins, you don’t have to wear a mask anymore (p 102). Brown quotes Nate Larkin here who says, “A false self can never rest. It looks like a real person, but a persona is actually just a hologram, a projected image, and it requires constant energy to keep that image up. A persona is afraid to go to sleep, because to sleep is to die.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton, “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy” (New Seeds of Contemplation).

In Luke 12:2 Jesus says, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (ESV). We stand naked and completely known before God; further, what is known (all our sin) has been taken care of, paid in full. What holds us back from being open and honest with God and others? Why do we still pretend? He is both the holiest and the safest place for us to bring all our darkness, pain, sin and  shame.

It is exhausting to wear a mask all the time, to be constantly “on alert” for how others might or might not be perceiving me in affirming ways. The false self is based in fear and is an attempt to exert control over others and how they see and relate to us. The gospel frees us from all false selves.

2. If you have free sins, you don’t have to please anybody but Jesus (p 104). Sometimes we are so driven we need to ask - what are we trying to prove? who are we trying to please, to impress? Is our activity grounded in the soul rest of being loved or in the incessant need to make others love us? I have to say that most of the time I am striving to earn something that is already freely given in Christ.

3. If you have free sins, you are free from the need to be perfect (p 105; cf. Rom 8:1-2; Isa 1:18) Perfection is an illusion in this life. The only “perfection” we will experience in this world is alien perfection, God’s perfection. Now the wonderful irony is that the only perfection we can claim is the perfection of Jesus on our behalf (perfect death, perfect life). We don’t have to be perfect, because God already is - for us. The gospel means that God treats imperfect creatures as perfect in Christ.

4. If I have free sins, I recognize my value to the One who assigns value (p 106). God says we are beloved because we are in Christ. This frees us from all performance, good or bad. Our acceptance is entirely based on the person and work of Jesus. If we lived in the full light of this, we would be dangerous people indeed!

Brown summarizes all this in a way far better than I ever could: “If I have free sins, not only do I not have to wear a mask anymore, not have to please anybody but Jesus, and can quit trying to achieve an impossible state of perfection, but I can also begin to recognize my incredible value to the only One who has the right to assign value. With all the humility I can muster, I’m pretty incredible . . . and that makes me dangerous” (106).

Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 08, 2012


WANTED: Younger, less mature Christian to fix my problems for me. Empathy and compassion are optional. Must demonstrate competence in spouting memorized verses of Scripture in order to control the lives of others.

Must have experience in judging others as less mature than yourself. Candidate should see the Christian life through simple black/white categories and be able to communicate these categories through quick judgments and trite advice giving.

Must be experienced in the subversive art of using guilt and manipulation. Spotless church attendance and service record required. Candidate should be proficient in name dropping, so that the proper respect is maintained in the relationship.

Compensation will be decided based upon conformity to the criteria above.

Preference given to Seminary students (especially those named Eliphaz, Bildad or Zophar)

Jesus the Sufferer

(I just posted this blog for the Society for Christian Psychology website)

Imagine you’re about to meet someone for coffee. You mentioned some of the struggles you are facing in your small group, unsure if anyone would understand. This usually quiet person approaches you afterwards and want to get together for coffee. You tentatively set something up. Now,  here you are, about to meet with them, unsure of what the meeting will look like. Will they simply dump advice on you? Will they give you steps to take to fix your problems? Will they judge you?

Now, how would you feel if at the last minute you found out that Jesus himself was meeting you for coffee instead of this person? What is your first reaction, your gut response? Would Jesus be a friend and ally in your suffering, or just another person who has  “got it together” who will make you feel even more like a failure? Being perfect, would he even understand? Would he berate you for not trying hard enough, not believing enough, not doing enough for his kingdom?

Is Jesus an ally to us in our suffering? If so, how so?

What is the relationship of Jesus to our suffering? We must turn to the cross to find an answer, for nowhere else in history do we see the sovereignty of God and the suffering of mankind in such clarity. In the cross of Jesus we see the sovereign God over all sin and evil, but we also see an incarnational God who comes down to experience the full brunt of that evil/chaos. God the Father predetermined the cross to happen, and God the Son submitted himself to its’ cruelty and misery.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22-23 ESV)

Recently tornadoes tore through the small community of Henryville, Indiana just about an hour north of where I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I can only imagine what suffering these people experienced. Where was God in their suffering? With hushed humility, we must assert from the Scriptures that God allows such things, but that is not the entire story. He also willingly enters into the very suffering he allows! This is what separates him from every other so called “god.”

In the case of the recent tornadoes, it would be like saying that God ordained the tornadoes and then came down to Henryville and let his house and family (and maybe his own life!) be swept away! He bore our tornadoes on our behalf. Only with this contrast does "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me??" make any sense. It is this often missed aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry that gives ample room for sufferers like Job and you and me to bring our pain to a sovereignly scarred God. Jesus allowed the tornadoes, and he was and is fully identified with those who have lost so much from the tornadoes, all for the purpose of clearing every possible obstacle in our way home.

I also remember when "Jesus wept" at the sovereignly ordained death of Lazarus (John 11). He allows/ordains the evil, then enters into the full experience of it on behalf of his people. What this means is that whether we are looking at the events through the lens of detached abstractions or into the tear stained face of a sole survivor of a deadly tornado that claimed his/her entire family and all possessions, Jesus is there. He is in the pain, at the very center of it; he is also in control of the events and all abstractions. Maybe that's his purpose all along - to create a world where his willingness to suffer for us and with us is most clearly on display, because nothing demonstrates his glory and his love like that.

Any thoughts?

Friday, April 06, 2012

A Good Friday Meditation

I encourage the listening of this presentation by Rick Gamache (Sovereign Grace pastor) entitled, “The Father’s Cup: A Crucifixion Narrative.”

The list of sins is especially compelling; I am amazed and undone with this narrative of what Jesus did for me, for me.

I live in this today:

In Christ alone who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Til on that Cross, as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
(Song: “In Christ Alone (I Stand)”)

Thank you, Jesus.