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2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year: Child Arise! The Courage to Stand

B

I am priviledged to be one of the judges for the annual Australian Christian Book of the Year. We are pleased to announce that this year's award goes to Child Arise! The Courage to Stand: A Spiritual Handbook for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Jane N Dowling.

Here is the summary:

Knowing that God speaks to us when we read the Bible, Jane Dowling prayerfully applies God’s Word to the experience of living with the long-term effects of sexual abuse, including abuse by clergy. Her reflections are gentle, almost tremulous. Jesus shows her the way from ruin and despair to healing and hope. This is a handbook for survivors of sexual abuse and those who seek to understand and support them.  But because Dowling engages with the Scriptures in their original context, her book has application for all Christians who are living with painful experiences. This is a courageous and historic book. For a church yearning for healing and wholeness, Jane Dowling has performed a great service.

Visit sparklit.org to see the entire final short list of titles.


Baggage

Baggage

Nicole and I have recently returned from a few weeks overseas - for a conference and some holidays, as we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.

I love to travel. The very atmosphere of airports and airplanes energises me. I love visiting new places and meeting new people. However, my wife doesn’t get quite as excited. In fact, she starts packing a few weeks ahead of time, just to make sure she’s got everything she needs. I tend to pack in the last minute. 

You know, as we travel through our journey of life we all tend to carry various sorts of baggage with us. Some types of personal baggage from our past can become pretty tiring to carry after a while. In fact, the emotional strain can become overwhelming. Sometimes we have to make a choice to ‘let go’ of things, including situations in the past where we were hurt by other people, where we were disappointed by life, or maybe where we failed ourselves. 

What’s in your suitcase? What are you carrying with you right now? What’s dragging you down? Are there some things worth off-loading? Is there some baggage you’d be better off getting rid of? Doubts, questions, regrets, hurts ... maybe it’s time to let them go. Why not do that today ... even right now.

Baggage ... think about it.


Optimism

Optimism-breeds-optimism

Generally speaking, there are two types of people in the world – pessimists and optimists.

Pessimists:

  • believe that bad events will last a long time,
  • imagine the worst,
  • tend to see themselves and situations as ‘helpless’ give up more easily,
  • tend to ‘awfulise’ and ‘catastrophize’, turning mere setbacks in disasters, and
  • are more stressed than the average person,

Optimists:

  • see bad events as temporary and surmountable,
  • are happier,
  • and more content then other people,
  • have greater coping skills,
  • achieve better than pessimistic people, 
  • their health is unusually good, and 
  • they age well and live longer.

Of course, unrealistic optimism can be dangerous. Optimism must be balanced with reality. Otherwise you will end up in denial. However, after decades of research, not one good thing is able to be said about pessimism!

So we can see that our mind (or our habits of thinking) has a powerful influence on our body, our mood, and our entire life. That’s because there is never a thought without a consequence. And if the thought is optimistic, the consequences are better.

Optimism – think about it.


Jesus: I AM the Way

I AM 1080

John 14:1-7. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” NIV

Trusting God in Troubled Times (vs.1)

Difficult days lie ahead for the disciples, filled with uncertainty and confusion. Jesus senses their fear and their worry. He challenges them to not allow their hearts to be troubled but instead to place their trust in Him, just as they trust God. Jesus himself knew what it was to be troubled (see John 12:27; 13:21) yet he takes time to offer his disciples emotional and spiritual support, teaching them the importance of shifting their focus from the fear of intense circumstances to active faith and trust in God. After all, life is not ruled by luck, fate or chance. God is sovereign in the events of this world and Providence will rule the day.

Much of our world today is ruled by fear and this often causes troubled (worried and anxious) hearts. How apt are Jesus’ words for us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” You can choose to shift your focus from fear to faith.

An Eternal Home (vs.2-4)

Jesus is going away and his disciples are naturally anxious about where he is going and whether they will be able to follow him. So Jesus speaks of his “Father’s house” and hints of a new world - heaven and earth meeting together as God renews the whole world. At that time there will be room for everyone. Through this promise, Jesus is assuring his disciples that though he’s going away, it will be for their benefit; he won't forget them, he won’t abandon them. Jesus’ words reach out his first disciples and encourage us. These words are often used at funerals and we can understand why. We can’t see the way ahead and we need to know not only that there is indeed a way into the unknown future, but that we will be able to find it.

Heaven is a reality - another world, another place, where God lives. His home and our future home too. It is a place where God’s will is done and where there is no pain, no crying, and no sickness or death. Jesus’ emphasis is not the lavishness of the house or its rooms (“a mansion over the hilltop!”) but the fact that we will be with him – together, forever.

Jesus also promises to come back and take his followers to be with him (vs.3). His second coming will complete all that his first coming began. We know that there are various promises yet to be fulfilled before Jesus returns, then many things to happen at his return and also after his return. The challenge for us today is to live expectantly and ready should he return in our lifetime, yet with the wisdom and foresight that he may not return in our generation.

I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life (vs.5-7)

Thomas often had his doubts yet we can admire him for his desire for clarity from Jesus. He always wanted to be sure. He wanted the facts. Amazingly, his question (vs.5), “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” prompted one of Jesus’ greatest statements (vs.6): “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way to God the Father. He is the truth about the Father, being the ultimate representation of what God is like – “the Word made flesh (in human form)” (John 1:14). He is also the life of God.

As the way, Jesus does not offer us a map or a set of instructions of how to get to God. He offers us himself, as our personal guide to the Father. Through him we can come to the Father and become children of God.

As the truth, Jesus is the clearest illustration of what God is like. It is so easy to develop distortions of what God is like based on religion and the opinions of others. We need to constantly have a fresh look at Jesus, as revealed in the Gospels, to see him as he is.

As the life, Jesus is the purest example of life as God intended it to be lived. A life full of love, joy and peace. Earlier, Jesus had declared that he had come to give his followers life, and life to the full (John 10:10).

This statement by Jesus has been critiqued by some, because of its apparent exclusiveness – “No one can come to the Father but through me (vs.6).” After all, Jesus is not declaring himself as one god among many, but as the way to the true and living God. However, we must understand that Jesus did not come to exclude anyone but to include everyone. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” God is a hopeful universalist in that he desires everyone to be saved, not just a few (see also 1 Timothy 2:1-6. 2 Peter 3:8-9). However, people do have a free will, so their own choices in response to the grace of God will determine their future destiny. We have to believe that God is actively pursuing people with his love and that each person will be judged on the degree of knowledge or light they have received. In the end, God will do what is right with each person (Genesis 18:25). Our role is to pray and to reach out and join God in his mission towards each individual in the world. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the impact of fear in our culture today. What feeds fear and how does it affect us? What are the primary worries and concerns that you hear people talk about? How can we apply Jesus’ words and shift our focus from fear to faith (active trust in God)?
  2. Reflect on heaven. What do we know about it? How much should it fill our minds today? How can we avoid being “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good” yet also living with the realization that this world is not our ultimate home?
  3. Reflect on the second coming of Jesus Where is the balance between living with the readiness for Jesus to come at any moment yet also with the wisdom to keep preaching the Gospel and expanding his kingdom until that time?
  4. Consider the idea of the Christian life being a relationship with a Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Spirit – characterized by love. We come to the Father, through Jesus, by the Spirit.
  5. What are some distorted views or pictures of Jesus that we need to avoid today, that a reading of the Gospels provides a corrective for?
  6. Paul describes the fruit or evidence of the life of Christ in the believer as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal.5:22-25). Why are these qualities sometimes missing from the lives of Christians? What are some keys to living the life Jesus intended for us on a daily basis?

Your Story

Your-life-storyEvery one of us has a story to tell. 

Your life is your story. Your story is your life. 

Like a story, your life has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. There is a theme, characters, subplots (work, family, health, happiness, friendship), trajectory, and tone.

 What kind of story is your life?

  • A comedy?
  • A drama?
  • A thriller (horror) movie?
  • A romance or a love story?
  • An action movie?
  • A fairy tale?

In reality, each of our life stories is an EPIC. It’s a long journey with many scenes, experiences, twists and turns, characters, and smaller individual story lines.

I wonder what is the ‘theme’ of your life? Yes, life has many twists and turns, as well as highs and lows, many of them beyond our control BUT you can choose what the theme of your life is going to be. You are not a victim to your circumstances or to what other people say or do. You can choose how you respond to what comes your way. Don’t make worry, fear, anger, or bitterness the theme of your story. Why not choose joy?

Your Story – think about it.


Your Home Base

Sea-of-galilee-2-magdala

Luke 5:16. As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer. The Message Bible

This is an amazing description of how Jesus lived and did ministry.

  • He loved solitude - by the sea or in the country, on a boat or in a garden. 
  • This required withdrawal from people, busyness and activity. 
  • It was his home base - the place he continually returned to. 
  • He spent as much time there as possible. 
  • Out from here, he left to do ministry and serve the people God had sent him to.
  • His life was full of conversation with God - Father and Spirit; a dance of divinity. 
  • Maybe this was the key to not only his survival from the pressures of life and ministry and also his triumph over the pressure of life and the temptations from the devil.

What's your home base?

[Picture: The Sea of Galilee: View from Magdala]


How Politics Works

BillThe world of politics has been a bit of a circus lately, especially in Australia, the UK and the USA.

I saw this funny joke the other day, which has been floating around, and thought it was worth re-posting:

Dad: "I want you to marry a girl of my choice."
Son: "No!"
Dad: "The girl is Bill Gate's daughter."
Son: "Ok."

Dad goes to Bill Gates.
Dad: "I want your daughter to marry my son."
Bill Gates: "No!"
Dad: "My son is the CEO of the World Bank."
Bill Gates: "Ok."

Dad goes to the President of the World Bank.
Dad: "Please appoint my son as the CEO of your bank."
President: "No!"
Dad: "He is the son-in-law of Bill Gates."
President: "OK."

That's politics for you!

 


The Art of Loving Confrontation

The-truth-in-love-top-img

Life can be very rewarding and fulfilling. It can also be very difficult at times. Two of the hardest things to do are handling criticism and confronting people, not that we should love confronting people (!) but learning how to do so in a loving manner. The apostle Paul once wrote in Ephesians 4:15 that one of the marks of a mature church is the ability to “speak the truth in love”. Some people speak the truth but not always in a loving manner. Others are so loving that they never speak the truth. Finding the balance of doing both well is essential.

Being Lovingly Assertive

We all need to be lovingly assertive, when appropriate. Assertiveness is all about being able to assert your rights. Errors in this area can lead to a lot of relational problems. Christian counsellor Arch Hart notes that sometimes as Christians we have adopted a belief that says that it’s not right to be assertive. We should surrender our rights and even be willing to be wronged in the name of love. The key issue is how we define ‘assertiveness’. The truth is that you can be both loving and assertive. Of course, Christian love may involve choosing to sacrifice our rights when appropriate.

Over-assertive people lack tact and sensitivity, hurt other people, steam-roll their ideas and opinions, and tend to be autocratic (‘we’ll do it my way’). In contrast, under-assertive people can’t set limits, they can’t say “no” (without feeling guilty), they are easily manipulated by stronger people, they are unable to express feelings of anger constructively, they avoid conflict situations and shirk responsibilities, they are excessively apologetic (“Oh, I’m sorry!”), they can’t send clear and unambiguous messages, they experience anxiety and guilt when they do not assert themselves, and they tend to fantasise after the conversations (replaying the situation over and over). This often leads to passive-aggressive behaviour. They are always assertive in their imagination (fantasy) but never in reality. How many of us have said some real assertive things in our mind but never had the courage to speak them out! As a result, under-assertive people find that their relationships remain superficial, they develop other unhealthy ways of expressing their anger, and they are often the most stressed people around due to a feeling of helplessness.

There is a balance between ‘under-assertiveness’ and ‘over-assertiveness’. We need to avoid swinging unnecessarily or inappropriately between the two. If you are angry, you have forfeited the right to be assertive. When anger is involved, assertiveness is no longer a healing activity. Aggression is not what assertiveness is about. When you do it right there should usually not be offence.

A Few Thoughts About Confrontation

Confrontation is not easy. In fact, it is very difficult. Confrontation is difficult for a variety of reasons, including: we all fear being disliked, we want everyone to like us, we may be afraid of making things worse (however, usually it is the attitude in which you confront that makes things worse, not the confrontation itself), we may fear rejection, we may find it difficult to share our feelings, we may think that confrontation will destroy love and trust (actually, if done correctly, confrontation can build more love and trust into the relationship) and we may lack confrontational skills. Good leaders learn how to confront in love.

1. Deal with conflicts quickly. Deal with issues the moment they come up. Don’t save all your complaints and problems up and then dump them all on a person. When tensions arise, clear the air immediately and personally. When you let tensions continue without dealing with them, they usually get worse rather than better (Eph.4:26-27).

2. Confront with the right attitude. Don’t be either overeager or too hesitant to confront. Confront, not because it makes you feel good, but because you are committed to seeing people mature in Christ (2 Cor.10:1. 2Tim.2:24. Gal.6:1). Confronting with the right spirit comes out of having the right goal in your confrontation, which is: (a) a better understanding, (b) a positive change, and (c) a growing relationship. The goal is not to ‘win a battle’ or to ‘unload our frustration’. Think Win/Win.

3. Outline the problem clearly. Be open and honest. Clearly define what the other person is doing to cause you a problem, how this makes you feel, and why this is important to you.

4. Seek to understand their perspective. Encourage a response. Get the issue out, then let them talk as long as they need to. Their feelings need expression, so give them time to do this. People may feel shock, hurt or resentment. At this point, your goal is to understand their perspective on the situation. You want to learn and to gain understanding. Don’t automatically assume that you are right and they are wrong. You may not agree with them, but be sure you understand where they are coming from. You may need to repeat or rephrase their comments to ensure you’ve understood correctly.

5. Seek to resolve the issue whether it is an action or an attitude. Re-establish or clarify the issue and ensure understanding or forgiveness. Indicate the desired action be taken. Place the focus on the future at this point. Clearly define what needs to change and what your expectations are. Don’t mistake an emotional release for fixing the problem. Let it happen but move to a resolution.

6. Affirm the person and put the issue in the past. Be positive. Affirm the person, even if you don’t like what they have done (Eph.4:29). Thank them for who they are and what they contribute. Express appreciation for them and your desire to work together. Don’t bring it up again unless the problem reoccurs.

The biggest mistakes we make in confrontation are: failing to get all of the facts (relying on hearsay evidence or subjective impressions), confronting while angry (anger causes you to lose objectivity), being vague about the offence (know what you’re talking about by being - people can’t fix things they can’t see), failing to get the other person’s side of the story, and holding a grudge (don’t keep hostilities but let it go and move on).

Your success or failure as a leader will depend more on your ability to build strong healthy relationships than anything else. Unless you learn to get along with a wide variety of people, your effectiveness as a leader will be greatly diminished. Have the courage and the consideration to learn to confront lovingly.

Discussion Questions:

1. Reflect on a time when a confrontation you were involved in went really well (whether you were on the giving or receiving end). What were the contributing factors?

2. Reflect on a time when a confrontation didn’t go so well. What were the contributing factors?

3. What one insight from today’s teaching or discussion will you apply this next week?


Conflict Resolution

Wise-owl-2

Have you had a conflict lately?

When we are hurt by other people we all respond differently. 

David W. Johnson, author of Human Relations and Your Career, has identified five styles of conflict resolution:

1. Some people are like teddy bears. They keep the peace at all costs, even if it means giving up what they think or want.

2. Other people are like turtles. They withdraw when conflict comes and they avoid it at all costs.

3. Other people are like sharks. They respond to conflict by going on the attack, seeking to win at all costs. They often get their way as others withdraw from their assault, but they make few friends. 

4. Other people are like owls. They are very wise. They respond to conflict calmly and firmly. They do not run from it, nor do they go on the attack. They listen to the other person’s point of view. They put their case forward firmly and calmly and they seek to satisfy both their goals and the goals of the other party. Their aim is always to maintain the relationship. 

5. Other people are like the fox. Foxes are clever or skilful managers of conflict. They’ve discovered that always responding like a teddy bear, a turtle, a shark, or even an owl is not the answer. Different situations call for different responses. Sometimes it is best to be a teddy bear and give in to save the relationship; sometimes it is best to be a turtle and sidestep the problem, thus avoiding any conflict; sometimes it is right to be a little bit shark-like and to get angry and say a firm no; and sometimes what is needed is to be an owl. Sometimes a compromise is best.

Why don’t you see if you can resolve the conflicts in your world!

Conflict … Think about it.