Category Archives: Culture

Wise… and gentle

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Wise …and gentle

As would be wholly expected, there is a growing swell of backlash and criticism of those using #MeToo and #ChurchToo to draw attention to sexual misconduct in our culture.  I get it.  I even agree with some of it.

There is little doubt that there are those who are (ironically) abusing it for personal gain or even vendetta.  False reports of sexual assault are rare, but every false allegation is wrong and should be dealt with accordingly.

Additionally, within the ranks of Christendom, we tend to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything with origins in the secular mainstream.  There are some angry, foul-mouthed, inarticulate, illogical voices in the #MeToo choir, but as both a leader in the body and a victim, I’m asking the church to listen anyway – to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

The problem is messy … really messy

Like trauma, #MeToo and #ChurchToo are messy.  It makes sense that this dam of silence would break open with a wild, reckless torrent that is slicing through society.  Whatever you think about all of this, one thing is sure – this involves a lot of people.  This is not a movement being led by anyone – it’s a phenomenon of individuals publicly declaring that they have been the victims of everything from unwanted sexual advances to gang rape and childhood sexual abuse – and that they have been largely silenced by the very systems of power perpetuating the abuses.  Also like trauma, it is a confusing deluge of stories that will take time to sort out and make sense of.

It’s going to take patience and wisdom, and a great deal of truth-seeking, but I contend that all sexual misconduct is inherently wrong, and it is, therefore, worth wading through the mess in order to pursue righteousness.  I also contend that despite the inarticulateness and offensiveness of some of the voices connected to #MeToo and #ChurchToo, that we should listen discerningly.  Any problems associated with the way things are coming out are worth sifting through to seek to understand what victims are trying to say.  Someone angry about their abuse should not be chastened because of their anger – they should be listened to in spite of it.  It will require godly insight for hearers to get past the bitterness and hurt and listen to the message behind it.

I’ve heard men complain that they are afraid of being wrongly accused no matter what they do or don’t do.  I’ve heard them complain that harmless flirting is now being called sexual harassment, and that they are afraid to help children in distress for fear of being labeled a pedophile.  I’ve listened to concerns that believing victims without due process will lead to witch hunts.  And though sexual misconduct is almost never committed publicly, I’ve even heard it (absurdly) suggested that allegations not be taken seriously unless there are at least two witnesses.  Brothers, I understand these concerns – they spring from rational objections and need to be taken seriously, too.  I’m not advocating that your concerns be dismissed, but you may need to get used to feeling uncomfortable with some of this process.  It may actually be the means God uses to increase your compassion for those who have been treated so unjustly and insensitively.  These things are worth working through with reason and compassion – wisely and gently.

The problem is massive

We have a massive and, until recently, largely unaddressed problem.  The church has the problem, too.  Until we address it with honesty and humility we will effectively continue to contribute to it rather than offer any real solutions.  None of the concerns that men have – no matter how valid they might be (and they are) – should be used to dismiss or silence the women crying out for justice.

No arbitrary “grading system” of severity – with unwelcome sexual advances being at one end of the continuum and violent sexual assault being at the other – should be used to dismiss anything on that continuum.  They are all wrong and no one should be pressured into tolerating any of them.  Not all of these offenses result in trauma, but all of them are inappropriate and unacceptable – and they have been rampant.  The lumping of all the offenses on the spectrum together into one complaint might be confusing, but the reason for this is actually pretty straightforward:  all of these offenses involve the abuse of power for sexual gain.  Period.  And no Christian anywhere can make a case for this being acceptable – ever.  In fact, we absolutely must say just the opposite.  But we can do it with wisdom and gentleness.

This is going to be incredibly difficult for a long time

I know that listening to story after story of sexual abuse is wearisome.  But it is necessary because defending the vulnerable is right, and we cannot begin to understand the magnitude of both the offenses and their impact without listening to those affected.  It might be helpful to remember that the weariness in listening to the stories – even thousands of them – cannot compare to the agonizing burden being borne by the ones living them.

Jesus told his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16)  Snakes sense danger coming a long way off.  They constantly monitor their surroundings for the approach of predators and effectively ward off both stealthy and brazen attacks with decisive and effective offensive abilities.  I can’t help but think that this is an appropriate choice of analogies when considering confronting sexual predators hiding in sheep’s clothing.

Likewise, at the same time, we are to be gentle – innocent, harmless – as doves.  Also an apt analogy when considering caring for the abused.

Jesus really can redeem this

There is an answer to this.  This is not hopeless.  The evil involved in this is incomprehensible – but greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.  Beloved church, let’s not be dismissive or fearful of a messy – but necessary – call to attend to the scourge of sexual misconduct, crimes, and abuses in our midst.  There are many things that need tending to in this – calling perpetrators (and the complicit) to  account, tending to the wounded who have been violated, addressing the larger issues of systemic power imbalances, and looking for ways to teach little boys and girls, teens, and adults how to interact with one another in ways that honor God and his image-bearing likeness we all share, are just a few.  But please don’t let the enormity of the problems tempt you to try to ignore that they exist.  Jesus does provide answers for all of us – victims, perpetrators, and those on the sidelines whose heads are spinning because of the confusion and overwhelming size of it all.  He will give us wisdom when we ask for it.

Let’s help one another be wise… and gentle.

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How Could This Happen?

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I wept as one young woman after another came forward and bravely faced him. I silently cheered them on as the tears freely fell down my face and onto my shirt – I didn’t care who saw me. These brave women faced the demon who had tormented them and they survived. They will remember that moment, too, and it will strengthen them when the black memories seek to haunt them – and they will. Along with many, I look forward to hearing their stories of victory and grace that surely will be told.

Besides the sheer weight and magnitude of the evil done (which, in truth, is incomprehensible), a number of things have struck me hard with this story as a result of questions that are being repeatedly asked. In an effort to help the church become better equipped at walking alongside abuse survivors, I’m writing today to both educate and, hopefully, equip the body with tools of understanding and discernment to use when facing abuse in their midst. The questions I’ve repeatedly heard are, “Why didn’t they tell someone when this was happening to them?” “Why didn’t the other adults who knew do something?” and “Why was it so easy for this guy to convince people he wasn’t abusing anyone even after credible allegations were made years ago?”

Why didn’t they tell?

A common thread through almost every single testimony was that of the victims not knowing what was happening to them when the abuse took place. It’s difficult for many people – people who have no history of abuse – to comprehend how someone could not understand where moral, ethical, or legal boundaries ought to be when it comes to touch, behavior, demands, or even language. People tend to imagine themselves in the shoes of a sexual abuse victim and believe they know what they would do. They think – rationally, calmly, and from the safety of their homes and abuse-free lives – that they either wouldn’t put up with what these victims endured or that they would report it immediately. But that is so far from the experience of a victim that it is neither realistic nor reasonable to expect.

It was clear from these testimonies that all of these girls and young women were vulnerable to ongoing sexual abuse because they did not know that what was happening to them was abuse. They were expertly lied to. Little children simple can’t know that what is happening to them is inappropriate adult behavior until someone explicitly tells them so. They are dependent on the adults in their lives to teach them what is right and what is wrong. When a trusted adult abuses them and tells them that this is a “normal” procedure (or some other lie), they can do nothing but believe them and to accept the behavior as normal and right. They might know they don’t like it. They might know that it hurts. But child victims don’t know that what is happening to them is wrong. Because it’s usually done by someone who is trusted, it is accepted.

But even young women can be easily convinced that the abuse that is being perpetrated upon them is something they must accept. Abusers always enjoy a position of power over their victims – if they didn’t the victim wouldn’t submit. There is vulnerability inherent in abuse, no matter what kind it is, and no matter how old the victim is. But there is another dynamic going on for victims as well. Unless we are given specific information about what abuse is, where the boundaries are, and when to tell, we tend to generate a personal definition of abuse as “something worse than what I am experiencing.”

Seeing one’s self as a victim of abuse is repulsive. As noted above, child victims simply don’t know that they are victims, and the truth is, adult victims rarely see themselves as victims until someone else points it out to them. In fact, it typically takes a long, long time to come to terms with the fact that someone you love and trust is hurting you for their own pleasure, gratification, and/or satisfaction. A long time. It presents as a cognitive distortion of such magnitude that it is very difficult to come to accept as truth. This was also evident in many of the testimonies given last week.

Additionally, and not insignificantly, victims are not stupid. They know full well what it will cost them to openly accuse their abusers of their crimes. The goal of coming forward might be to get abusers to stop, but it often doesn’t happen because of how difficult it is to make abuse charges stick, and to be believed. It is a very common experience for telling someone about abuse to come at an indescribably high price to the victim. Victims have already been terribly wounded by the abuse – not many want to open themselves up to wounding again by the shaming, blaming, and attacking that will surely come if they tell.

Why didn’t adults do something?

A second question I’ve heard surrounds the incomprehensibility of adults knowing that something was amiss with this man and yet they did nothing to stop him. It is hard to detangle the complex web of complicity, cover-ups, and failure on the parts of so many adults in authority, but it is clear that many had opportunity to do something to protect the vulnerable but failed to do so. Complicating the very disorienting truth of not understanding what was happening to them, victims did tell, but what we know from testimony after testimony is that they were not believed, or that their stories were minimized or ignored, or worst of all, they were made out to be the ones doing something wrong by calling a trusted adult’s character into question. This is a very common experience for abuse victims – both children and adults, and the damage done by this is incalculable.

Authority figures of all sorts – parents, coaches, administrators, trainers, and medical personnel knew about this man’s abuse and did nothing. They were dismissive. They were indignant at the accusation (rather than the abuse). They worried that they would forfeit their positions, be cut off from the sport they loved, or miss out on the gold medals (ie – their glory) they coveted. They were willing to sacrifice child after child on the alter of fame, power, and prestige. Some didn’t want to make waves. Some thought they wouldn’t be believed. Some didn’t think it was bad enough to make a stink about. All of them are culpable. All of them bear a heavy weight of responsibility. And the same will be true for each of us if we suspect that abuse is taking place and don’t do all we can to stop it.

The only appropriate response to a report of abuse is to move heaven and earth to make it stop. Period. Nothing else is more important. Not protecting the perpetrator’s reputation, not waiting to try to figure out if the victim’s story makes sense, not protecting a system’s reputation, or a complicit adult’s aspirations, wealth, or career – nothing. The betrayal of the adults in these girls’ lives and their failure to protect them before and after the abuse is every bit as bad as the abuse itself. I’m glad to see that this is not ending with one man’s sentencing because there are many who failed these girls. And this is a very common experience for abuse victims, too. We would do well to listen to their excuses and examine our own hearts very closely to see if there is any similar thinking lurking there. Any time we “don’t want to be bothered,” or “don’t want to make a fuss,” or want someone else to take care of it, we are doing the same thing that these complicit adults did.

How did he get away with it for so long?

The third question I’ve heard many ask is, “Why was it so easy for this guy to convince people he wasn’t abusing anyone even after credible allegations were made years ago?” As all abusers do, this perpetrator went to great lengths to cast doubt on his victims’ claims. Even after he was convicted, he continued his attempts to try to excuse his behavior, explain it away, or deflect attention away from what he did in order to try to minimize both the charges against him and any possible consequences he might need to pay. His tactics ranged from distorting the truth and calling abuse a “medical procedure,” to calling into question the veracity of the testimony of his young victims.

As I was scrolling through social media to see what people were saying I ran across a very encouraging series of Tweets from Wade Mullen (@wad3mullen), professor at Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Pennsylvania which address this issue head-on. Mullen offers a list of 12 tactics abusers use to disorient and confuse both victims and those trying to make sense of what is being said when a victim comes forward with an allegation. These are classic abuser tactics, and Mullen puts them into a concise form so that we can learn to recognize them when someone is trying to deceive or confuse us.

Mullen’s list is below in its entirety. It is excellent. It takes a messy, confusing set of tactics abusers use to discredit their victims and obscure the truth and helps us see what’s really happening. Clarity, above all else, is needed when dealing with those who consistently distort and misrepresent the truth. It is encouraging to hear Christian leaders speak truth into this topic. It often takes a long time to realize what is really happening in many cases of abuse – perhaps this helpful list will make it easier to clear a way through the fog in less time. As I’ve written before, trauma stories are often disjointed and messy when they first come out. It is easy to become frustrated with a victim’s lack of clarity and the way the details come out in “bits and pieces.” It is the nature of trauma to render victims speechless, but Mullen’s list helps explain the things abusers do to make it even harder for victims to be clear enough for others to understand and believe them. Hopefully you will begin to understand why those walking alongside need to be patient – and careful – to listen well to victims of abuse.

Here is Mullen’s list of 12 ways abusers attempt to redefine what they’ve done:

“Lately, #metoo and #churchtoo and now #175years victims have been emboldened to share their stories. In response, some abusers have issued statements in an attempt to define the “incident” in the way they want everyone to define it. Here are 12 of the many tactics we’ve seen recently:

  1. The details of a victim’s story are disruptive to the image of the abuser. Therefore, abusers will give it a label and say nothing more about it. Her details may destroy their definition of the “incident” and reveal coverup of a crime, not a mistake which the abuser regrets.
  2. Although he was an adult in a position of authority and trust, the abuser gives the impression it could have been consensual and typical. This tactic is called blurring and hides the truth without putting the abuser in the indefensible position of telling an outright lie.
  3. Abusers take every opportunity to mention the abuse took place a long time ago in a place far way. We tend to care more about recent harm done to those close to us (our own children). By amplifying these gaps in time and place, they create distance between you and the story.
  4. Abusers place great focus on their “redemptive process.” By using qualifiers like “full” to describe responsibility and “every” to describe the steps taken, they promote themselves as exemplary models of redemption. We should then trust them when they say it was “dealt with.”
  5. a) Abusers use a very subtle tactic I call polishing. Just as your shoes look better after you polish them, which in turn improves your overall appearance, abusers polish the people who have known about their abuse but have nonetheless supported him. b) By stating the behavior was known by other leaders and relatives who have continued to support him, abusers use them as a witness to their narrative. Now followers will have to reject the witness and credibility of their leaders and friends if they are to reject the abuser.
  6. Even though the story is about pain inflicted on the victim, attention is given to the abuser’s pain & how saddened he is. This is called supplication and it causes his followers to pray over him, applaud him, and call him worthy. Sadly, he receives what the victim never did.
  7. Abusers can be quick to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” but real apologies include a full and complete confession without explanation or excuse and an offer to accept penalizing actions. Restitution begins immediately with the victim and includes cooperation with the law.
  8. When abusers can’t refute a story, they try their best to dilute it. Diverting attention away from the crime and toward the perceived positive outcomes like lessons learned and the good they have done since, causes followers to view negative events in a positive light.
  9. When abusers state how uncharacteristic this behavior is of them, that they never engaged in similar behavior before or after the incident, they are trying to convince people they should not be linked to this kind of behavior. It may be true, but it doesn’t need to (be) said.
  10. Abusers may make a big deal about their pursuit of forgiveness and make it more important than the pursuit of examination. However, truth must precede confession which precedes forgiveness which precedes change. Forgiveness is exploited when it prevents discovery of truth.
  11. Abusers will try to conform themselves to the side of the victim, so as to keep people from taking sides. When they claim to be on the side of the victim and offer healing, but avoid the truth, they put the victim in a trap. When she doesn’t concede she’s seen as unforgiving.
  12. Abusers will abuse the Bible by quoting passages on mercy, love, compassion, grace, and forgiveness. They boost teachings that will serve their cause and belittle teachings that threaten their image (truth, justice). It’s another trap that seeks to pit you against Scripture.

“Abusers who engage in this complex process of managing the impressions others form of them will always confuse their targets. It is easier to manipulate and control confused people. The abuser will then influence their thoughts so that they voluntarily act according to his plan.”

The only thing I would add to this helpful list is that when the abuser’s attempts to reframe the story fails to convince anyone that the victim isn’t telling the truth, he will go to great lengths to smear her reputation, and call her sanity and trustworthiness into question. This, too, is a classic tactic. These are good to know and understand as you wade through the many, many stories coming out into the light. All of these are common experiences for victims of abuse.

What can the church do?

Believe that abuse takes place in all the places you would never suspect. Believe allegations of abuse – the incidence of false reporting is rare, and it should not be used as justification to not pursue the truth. Protect the vulnerable, seek justice for those who have been oppressed.

And, beloved church, as we seek to minister to every sinner – abusers included – let us not focus on the things abusers say, but much more on how they conduct themselves over the course of time and through the testing of stress, struggle, and consequences. Abusers who are truly repentant will abhor all that they’ve done, not seek attention for any of it. They will seek the victim’s well being – even if it costs them much. Abusers need to be held accountable because the temptation to abuse again will be incredibly strong, and will be a life-long battle.

Victims, on the other hand, need much care. They will almost certainly need counseling with qualified counselors, and a lot of patience, love, and compassion as they try to learn how to carry their stories of abuse with them for the rest of their lives. As Christians, we love stories of forgiveness and redemption – and we should. Our Savior bent low to rescue us from our own filthy messes. But when it comes to abuse, we must not be easily fooled into believing words of repentance and change. As C. H. Spurgeon noted, true repentance can be seen when we dread our sin “as the burnt child dreads fire.” Until that is evident in an abuser’s life, we would be wise to question everything.

May God be glorified, church, as we arm ourselves with knowledge and seek to find ways to respond that bring no further harm to the vulnerable, even while seeking to call the guilty to repentance.

Enough with the #MeToo stuff already

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jilbert-ebrahimi-33575Enough with the #MeToo stuff already, right?

It’s not going away, is it?  Every week more men are being confronted and exposed by angry women.  Enough already, right?

Christian women are among those reporting, too, however, we, the church, are very uncomfortable with angry people.  We want things quickly tied up into neat theological packages.  We think that because we can read from the “angry” parts in our Bibles to the bits that talk about settled trust in God’s righteous dealings with wrongs in the space of (maybe) ten minutes or so, that our anger, grief, or pain should be dealt with in about the same amount of time.  Sometimes we’ll give it a week or two, but that’s about our limit.  We know that’s silly, but still, we recoil when we hear someone express how the crimes of those in power have impacted their lives and made them angry.  So enough with the angry women and all the tiresome dredging up of old wounds.  Just move on, right?

Beloved church, it’s time to wake up.

John 13:35 says that people will know we follow Jesus because of our great love for one another.  But the very, very sad truth is that a woman can call a Domestic Violence hotline and get more care and compassion than she can from far too many churches if she tells someone there she has been victimized.  They believe her story – we want her to prove it.  They listen to her halting, disjointed words that are almost impossible for her to get out – we get frustrated because she doesn’t make sense.  They ask questions that help her think – we don’t say anything because we don’t know what to say.  They offer real and material assistance to help her get safe and get out of the destructive relationship – we debate whether or not she should go.  They follow up with her to make sure she is stable and safe, they offer counseling, and make sure her children are ok, too.  We… usually don’t.

We have no excuse.  We are wrong to ignore this – painfully, willfully, persistently wrong.  We can no longer claim ignorance.  #MeToo won’t let us – neither will the statistics that reveal the church has the same problem the rest of society has.

When the #MeToo movement hit social media I wondered what the response in the church would be.  To my great disappointment, it has been largely a continued silence or a collective whine about how angry all these women are.  (Individuals are crying out for justice, but churches are not.)  There was even an article touted by people I respect called #MeToo, But God, which was a call to neatly (and quickly) tie up the package of pain that these women bear into tidy theological boxes that make us feel more comfortable but actually increase the pain of the already wounded.

I think that a part of our problematic response is that things like #MeToo lump all manner of sexual misconduct into one complaint.  We publicly agree that all sexual misconduct is wrong, but we privately acquiesce to some of it.  Sexual innuendo in the office doesn’t really seem that bad to some.  “Harmless” touching doesn’t seem like something to really get that upset about – women have been dealing with that sort of thing for millennia, right?  Well, I would argue that is part of the problem.  But even if you think those sorts of claims can hardly be categorized as “sexual harassment” please be careful of your blanket responses to the “lumped together” complaints, too.  Many of the #MeToo participants have been attacked, abused, and treated as worthless garbage by those who exercised positions of power or authority over them or were supposed to love and care for them.  They have been traumatized and typing six characters on a social media post is the closest they’ve ever come to telling anyone.

These are your family

Beloved church, we cannot continue to have so callous a disregard for the broken and the suffering in our midst.  We must learn what we need to know in order to come alongside the hurting in a way that actually offers comfort and care.  These women are our sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends.  They are sitting in the pew next to you.  They are teaching your children, holding your infants, and helping you love Jesus.  They are your family.

I agree that the only hope in all of this is God’s redemptive work, but I also know the desperate struggle of wrestling with the dual realities of the abuse of power and God.  The agonizing wrestling that seeks to reconcile a good God knowing about the abuse and him doing nothing to intervene is not as simple as adding ‘but God’ to the end of ‘me, too.’  Think about how difficult it is to get to the place where you might be able to say, “I was molested, but God,” or, “he raped me, but God”… Try to fill in the rest of that sentence  “… had a perfect plan for my life that included violence that radically changed everything and distorted all that I believed before”??  While this might be true, I hope you can see that it is an intensely difficult truth to grapple with – one that requires a great deal of wrestling with God over a long period of time.

Adding, ‘but God’ will make you, the listener to the story feel much better. But it won’t help the woman in your church fighting for faith.

Grieve with those who grieve without insisting they say things in a way that helps you feel more comfortable with their pain. If you can do that, you may indeed comfort them and eventually have the standing in their lives to help them discover the ways they can include the, ‘but God’ parts – when they’re ready to do so. Taking them there because that’s what you want to hear is neither comforting nor helpful. You end up being like Job’s friends and have the potential to add more pain and do significant damage to an already wounded person.

Let them be angry if they are angry – you probably would be struggling with anger, too.  But don’t stop there – ask them if they would be willing to tell their story, then listen way more than you speak.  The story may come out in bits and pieces, it might not seem to make much sense, it may be fuzzy and unclear (kind of like the #MeToo narrative) – listen anyway, and don’t draw conclusions about where you think she ought to be. Just be there and listen, and try to imagine the gravity of what she is telling you.  She has witnessed evil incarnate and that is no small thing. Please be gentle.

Redemption will be revealed, but not by you

There is redemption to be revealed in every one of these stories, but the victim needs to uncover it.  But listening (or not) will reveal something about us, too.  Standing with someone in pain is also painful. None of us wants to stand there for very long without relief.  Your presence in their pain communicates a great deal.  Do not underestimate this.  But ignoring it communicates something, too.  It communicates that their grief does not matter to us, that their painful wrestling with God is not significant, and that what we value most is theological accuracy and not the human being wrestling with it. I have been blessed by a few faithful comforters along the way.  But I have encountered far too many who have lacked the strength and courage it takes to walk alongside suffering well.

This coming Sunday is Right to Life Sunday.  It is about the dignity and value of each life.  It is not essentially about life vs death, but it is about the inherent value and worth of each human being made in the image of God.  Sexual trauma shatters that image for each victim.  We see ourselves as worthless, invisible, and discarded.  And part of that message comes from being silenced into obscurity.  You can help restore it if you simply listen and seek to understand.

Jesus showed us how when he entered into the grief of, and wept with, Mary and Martha over the death of their brother, Lazarus.  He went to them, and he wept with them, knowing full well that the very next thing he was going to do was show them, ‘but God’…

The Incredible Gift – and Power – of Being There

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I have seldom heard such crushing news that I couldn’t bear listening to it.  I have heard many hard stories.  But this one broke my heart and almost made me run – almost.

I sat and listened as a woman told of her journey that began as a Christian physician in a worn-torn, Muslim-majority country which weaved its way through bombings, bullets, and resettlements as a refugee.  Her journey brought her to the US, where her faith in Jesus strengthened her yet again to learn English, a strange culture, and to start life over again as an adult.  It was all too much for her husband who left her with a young son to care for, so now she’s doing it on her own.

But none of this is what broke me.  None of this was new to me, and (hopefully this doesn’t sound callous) none of this surprised me.

Since she told me she was a believer, I asked if she had been able to connect with a good church here – had she found community among other believers in the US who were helping her cope with the arduous task of beginning again?  Her answer is what made me catch my breath and try (unsuccessfully) to hold back tears.

She said, “I go to a good church.  The people there – they have been kind, very kind.  The Word is preached, and they have been very generous.  They have helped me find a home and work.  They have helped me with my bills.  They have helped me figure out how to go to school and how to get needed help for my son.”

And then it came…

“But they leave me alone.”

She said, “In my country, if I was having a very hard day – 7 or 8-hour surgeries where I didn’t know if the patient would survive, babies born dead, limbs shattered because of guns – anything – I could call my brothers and sisters in Christ and they would be there.  They would dodge bullets if they needed to – THEY DID!  They would come to me and be with me.  They would let me cry and let out my anguish without running away from it.  I could endure all of that because they were always there.”

She went on, “You asked if I have found community with my church here.  Not like in my country.  People here don’t know how to sit with someone in pain, but my brothers and sisters there did.  They knew they couldn’t take your pain away, but they weren’t afraid to sit with you in it.  My church here is kind – but they run away from things that are not comfortable.  And my life – my pain – is not comfortable for anyone.  So, they leave me alone.  I am very alone.”

If that doesn’t break your heart, there is something very wrong.  I felt overcome with sadness for my new friend, but also a deep, deep sense of shame and grief for my beloved brethren here.  I know that what she said is too true.  We don’t know how to sit with people in pain.  We don’t like being uncomfortable.

I found myself asking, “What kind of suffering does it take to wake us up?”  If a refugee who has been so terribly traumatized won’t do it, what will?  If abused women and children won’t do it, what will?  If death and disease and trials that brake us won’t do it, what will?

Beloved church – dear, kind, generous church – we must wake up to the tremendous power of our presence in another’s life.  We don’t need to know the answers – most of them are unknowable!  But we do need to show up.  We need to let people cry and pour out their anguish and pain.  We need to be patient when they need to do it again and again until the storm is past.  Suffering doesn’t care about schedules, and no sufferer will trust you with their story if you can’t first sit in the presence in their pain.  We need to be there – and stay there while the storm rages.  And since the weight of suffering is so great, sufferers usually need multiple helpers.

We don’t like to make ourselves vulnerable to the discomfort of much of anything really, let alone sitting in the presence of unrelenting suffering.  None of us wants pain.  We don’t know what to do with it.  We don’t know how to just let it be.  But we’re called to bear one another’s burdens – it’s what makes us different from the world around us. It’s how we demonstrate Christ’s love.

What keeps us so distant?  Work?  Sports schedules?  School plays?  Ministries that keep us running around with zero time to spare?  These are not bad things, but none of them is good enough.  We are called to die to ourselves for the sake of the gospel.  If a brother or sister is naked or hungry, we feed them well enough, which is good.  But if one is in prison (and what sufferer wouldn’t describe intractable pain as prison?) we are told to visit thembe there. 

We all needed flesh incarnate to understand the love of God.  We see it in Jesus – Immanuel – God with us.  But we learn it from one another.  We learn it from someone demonstrating it to us.  God uses us to reveal his incarnate presence to others.  Think about the awesome privilege that is:  you, a frail and faulted human being have the honor of representing the living God in this way to a hurting soul.  This is a powerful gift to humanity.  Take it up – cheerfully, gladly, reverently.

Who is there in your life right now that you can give some of yourself to?  Who is there right now who is suffering and lonely?  Who is there who is aching for another human soul to simply show up and be there with them?

Go.  Be there.

The design of chaos

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confusion

When we lived in England I witnessed a scene of purposeful chaos.

It took place in a convenience store and was unsettling to say the least.

We had stopped to fill up on petrol and grab some beverages before heading out for a day of soaking up and reveling in the local history.

My husband was filling the tank and I went in to buy some drinks and pay for our gas when suddenly a large group of loud and very excited people pulled up between the store and the pumps in 3 or 4 tall vans – all with no windows.

Guessing, I’d say there were 30-40 men and women who poured out of the vehicles, into the store, all speaking a language I couldn’t understand.  They pushed and shoved each other, and those of us in the store. There were about 8 of them who stood at the counter shouting at the clerk  – it seemed like it was over candy bars.  The rest bullied their way through every aisle, shouting and demanding that people get out of the way while the shouting continued at the counter.  And then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they took off.  It was as if a switch was flipped and in unison they rushed out of the doors, into the vans, and sped out of the parking lot.

Dumbstruck, those of us who had been in the store stood in open-mouthed shock at what had just occurred.  The silence was interrupted when my husband, who had no idea of what had taken place inside, came in to see what was taking me so long.  I said, “Did you SEE THAT?!?”  Because the vans had blocked any line of vision into the store, he hadn’t seen much of anything except that the vans were there, and then they were gone.

I was rattled, but I couldn’t even really explain why.  In probably what was less than 10 minutes a whirlwind had just occurred in our midst but none of us could think of a single word to describe what had actually transpired.  It was just a bunch of people in a convenience store.  So what if they were loud and rude?  Nothing really happened, right?

Wrong.

We found out later that the convenience store had actually been robbed – not at the cashier, but from the shelves.

The chaos that ensued in those moments was designed to distract us from what was actually happening all over the store.  It was confusing.  It was unsettling.  It was scary!  And it was meant to be so.

The thing that struck me was how successful the chaos was in keeping all of us from seeing what was really going on.  We were in the midst of the crime scene and we didn’t recognize that a crime was taking place!

I’m telling you this story because I think that the evil one is using the same tactic right now, fairly successfully against God’s people.  Things are chaotic right now, and it’s so easy to focus on the chaos and miss what is actually taking place in front of us.

The issues are important – racial tensions, immigration laws, economic policies – I get it.  They affect real human beings and I’m not trying to diminish the significance of the impact of what people in power do.

But let us remember that, for those of us who follow Jesus, we serve the King of Kings who holds the nations (and their leaders) in his hands and who does with them as he pleases.  Let us remember, that he is redeeming for himself a people – from every tribe and tongue and nation – to enjoy his fellowship forever.

I am finding that the anxiety that the chaos is designed to produce is effectively turned into peace and joy by lifting my gaze to the One who holds the whole world in his hands.

NONE OF THIS is out of his control or outside of his will for us.  EVERY EVENT AND CIRCUMSTANCE we are experiencing is both for our good and for his glory.  ALL OF THIS – is for good purposes.

Do not let the chaos of these days distract you from what is really happening!

As we each seek to be good citizens of the lands of our birth, let us more fervently, more ardently, more rigorously seek to be good citizens of the Kingdom in which our true citizenship lies forevermore.

Let us refrain from adding to the din.  Let us not allow the chaos of these days distract us from the purposes God has called us to.  Let’s not be sidelined from following hard after him and telling others what great things the Lord has done for us.  Do not let the turmoil of kingdoms that will be blown away as dust is from the scales, trouble you in the slightest, but keep your hearts and minds stayed on the solid Rock – Christ Jesus.

Remember to Whom you have been called.  Remember to Whom you belong.  Remember the promises of true and lasting peace and justice which have been given to us by the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe.

Remember and don’t forget, for we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

Satan may love to stir up chaos that is designed to distract, confuse, and even frighten us, but remember, God delights in taking chaos and making order out of it.

Stop Teaching Your Children to Be Nice…

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You’ve heard it, I’m sure, a thousand times – “be nice!”

Most of us have contributed to the chorus of mothers and fathers bending low, looking their little ones in the eye, and in the face of some conflict with siblings or peers instructing them to, “be nice!”

STOP IT!

Webster’s defines “nice” as:

          Pleasing; agreeable; delightful.

         To behave in a friendly, ingratiating, or conciliatory manner.

Those are all “nice” ways of behaving – of interacting with our fellow human beings.

But are they good?

If we consider the messages that these words convey we will start to notice a nasty trend…  At the root of each of them is people pleasing.  What we usually mean when we tell our kids to “be nice” is to give in, yield, capitulate, surrender.

If they are simply defending their own selfishness, then yes, by all means, encourage them to yield to righteousness.  But there are better ways to instruct them in that then simply saying, “be nice.”  Calling out their selfishness is a great place to start.

But all too often, what we want when we tell our children to “be nice” is for them to stop whatever behavior is taking place so that they (and we) avoid conflict.  Have you ever interrupted your child telling auntie that she needs Jesus because you know that auntie is a dyed-in-the-wool God-hater who has already raged in furious indignation over your “arrogance” in telling her how to live her life?  What if God is pleased to use the voice of a little child to disarm her fury and penetrate her heart of stone?

What we do when we tell our kids to “be nice” is interrupt a different lesson that ought to occur.  Even if auntie decides to rage at your little one – isn’t that a good (albeit hard) lesson to walk through with your child?

We know that God often teaches us the most profound lessons through the hardest things.  Why do we want to take those things away from our children?

Following are five reasons I can think of – I’m sure there are more.

We teach our children to “be nice” so that…

  1. Conflicts will either stop or not arise at all rather than teach them how to resolve conflict in a God-honoring way (which is harder, takes more time, and more prayers for wisdom than we ever dreamed we’d need!).
  2. They will be well-liked among their peers.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being well-regarded amongst one’s peers, but if we give the message to our children that this is our goal rather than the pleasant outcome of living with integrity, we have simply begun laying the foundation of building up little Pharisees rather than Disciples of Jesus.  We are teaching them to care more about what others think about them than what God thinks about them.
  3. They will be well-liked among our  Our children see to the heart of this pride with laser-like accuracy.  We might not say it out loud, but we say it loud and clear nonetheless:  “it matters more to mom (or dad) what my friends think of me than the person you are turning out to be.”  (ouch!)
  4. They will climb the social ladders set before them.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being successful in relationships – that’s actually a good gift from the Lord.  But when we teach them that climbing social ladders is important we distort and pervert the true nature of God-honoring relationships. Rather than being willing to invest in the life of the other person because they have value and worth as image-bearers of the Almighty, we actually train them in manipulation techniques; I’ll be nice to you if you give me social standing – I’ll give you social standing if you “stroke” me by being “nice.”  Incidentally, these are the “friendships” that crumble in the face of hardship, but understanding what they are based on makes it clear why they collapse when “nice-ness” is gone.
  5. Because we want them perceived as those who get along, don’t rock the boat, keep things smooth and so on.  We want to save our children from the heartache of trials and tribulations.  We want things to be easy and comfortable for our kids… because that is what we really want for ourselves. (ouch again!)

Our culture has elevated “nice” to a place of pre-eminance.  We demand that “being nice” rule our public discourse.  We demand that “being nice” rule our educational institutions.  We operate in a way that places “being nice” as the highest form of virtue and have ceased to tolerate anything that disrupts the peace and harmony of “nice-ness.”

But is this what the Bible teaches us to value?

In a singular and resounding word – No!

Here is what the Bible says about our expectations of “getting along”:

  • If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

Living as believers guarantees that we will not be well-received.  Let that sink in.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not to go looking for conflicts, strife, and persecution.  They’ll come along just fine on their own – trust me.  And when our troubles are caused by our own foolishness or wickedness, we need to own the consequences, repent, and learn the lessons we can from them.

But in the course of living lives defined by the transformation of the Gospel within us – lives marked by Spirit-given gifts – we will not always be perceived as being “nice.”  And as parents, it’s our job to prepare our children for the blows that will come as a result of being a disciple of Jesus.

Standing against sin will always bring with it trials of various kinds.

Rather than teaching our children to “be nice” how about if we use words like these as each situation demands:

Be…

    • Loving.
    • Kind
    • Strong.
    • Of good courage
    • Forgiving.
    • Merciful.
    • Truthful.
    • Patient.
    • Gentle.
    • A man/woman of integrity.
    • Compassionate.
    • Humble.
    • Generous.
    • Wise.
    • Someone who stands up for the widows and orphans among you.
    • Holy.

Each of these things will require you to take the time to explain them to your children according to their understanding.  You will need to show them, for example, why avoiding a difficult conflict is not actually good for the other person – even when confrontation opens us up to false accusations and gossip.  You can help them see how God is providing an opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ by allowing them to experience insults, and malicious claims against them the way Jesus did before he was crucified.  You can help your child learn to bear the weight of other’s sin in this way because Jesus did it for him – and you will be, at the same time, helping your child to love his Savior all the more as the realization of the cost of the Cross becomes clearer to him through his own suffering.

We are not called to be people-pleasing, ease-and-comfort seeking survivors of this world.  We are called to be God-glorifying, disciple-seeking, victorious citizens of the next.  Let’s help one another teach our children how to do the same.

Bee Inspired…

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Bee Inspired…

When my son, Joel, was around 8 or 9 years old he started asking if we could get some bees and learn beekeeping.  My answer was swift as sure as it was firm –

“Ain’t gonna happen, Sparky.”

Sparky – that’s one of my many terms of endearment – don’t ya just love it??

Undeterred by his mother’s seemingly iron-clad negative response, he continued.  It’s not that he was whiny or nagging.  He just kept asking.

Finally, when he was 14, I paused a little when he asked…  “He has been interested in this for a long time,” I thought to myself.  “I shouldn’t allow my reluctance to voluntarily expose myself to tens of thousands of angry, stinging insects on a regular basis to snuff out a genuine interest he has…. Should I…???”

We started going to the county Beekeepers Association meetings (did you know they existed?) just to see if this was something we could even consider.  We were not even novices – we were novice wannabees.  But we kept going and learning what we could.

Joel was a trooper sitting through countless hours of men and women with PhD’s in apiculture (beekeeping) drone on and on about pest management and bee diseases… He really just wanted to get on with it.  But perseverance was becoming a strong suit for him and he kept going so that I could feel more comfortable with this whole idea.

To make a long story short, I relented, and we finally got some bees.  We started out with two hives, which both died the first winter.  Undaunted, we bought two more packages of bees (a small crate about the size of half a cinder block containing approximately 3lbs – or about 12,000 bees) to try again.  One of those survived this past winter.  And we got two more packages this year, for a total of three hives.

Our apiary (beehives)

Our apiary (beehives)

Can I just take a moment and be the voice of that excited five-year-old who has just lost her first tooth….  BEES ARE SO COOL!!!!!!

When I first found out that there are men and women who have PhD’s in a variety of things having to do with bees, I thought, “Oh come on… That’s a little ridiculous.  That’s like getting a PhD in basket weaving.”  But now that I know a little something about bees and beekeeping I realize that not only is there enough knowledge to legitimately earn a PhD in beekeeping – I WANT ONE!!!

These little creatures are AMAZING!

Their bee society is amazing.  Their body structures are amazing.  Their honey production is amazing.  Their hives are amazing!  I mean it – the more I learn the more I am in awe.

But not with the bees, really.  Though I find them fascinating to ever increasing measures, I am in awe of the One who made them.

I cannot help but to praise God every time Joel and I go out to work with our bees.

Recently we attended a lecture at our local Beekeepers Association meeting and the professor – who openly gushed about how awesome she thought bees were – said multiple times, that bees and the flowers they pollinate are “so smart – amazingly intelligent!”

Joel and I looked at each other.  Huh?

As cool and amazing and fun and educational as we both think bees are… we’ve seen the size of their heads that enclose their even smaller brains.  “Smart,” is not an adjective either of us would use.

And flowers…. Last we knew, they didn’t have brains at all.

So what gives with this professor of professors trying to earn PhD’s in apiculture calling flowers and insects “smart?”

This woman, who knows so much about the created order, has carefully constructed a world view that tries to deny a creator.  But she simply cannot deny praise!  Her research and experience all point directly to awe-inspiring design – yet, who can she praise if she denies a designer?  She is left to relegating her praise to the created things – as absurd as it sounds – because surely these are praiseworthy!

Bees are not smart.  Flowers are even less smart.  But bees and flowers and birds and mountains and oceans and stars are all awe-inspiring.  They don’t inspire awe because they’re so clever.  They inspire awe because they each, in different ways, give a clue – a small hint – to the AWESOME character of the God who created them.  Their beauty, design, majesty, power, light, and order all tell us something about Him.  They remind us how small we are and how mighty He is.  They speak of his delight in color and strength, tranquility and grandeur, and even in his humor (have you seen the size of a bee’s wings compared to its body size??) in the unexpected.

Look around you – His handiwork is everywhere.  And everywhere there is cause to praise Him!

Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

let the field exult, and everything in it!

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.  Psalm 96:10-12

Imagine our delight to open up this hive this year to find it BURSTING at the seams with bees and honey!

Imagine our delight to open up this hive this year to find it BURSTING at the seams with bees and honey!