Wednesday, December 5, 2007

MENDING THE HEART

My favorite preaching-writer John Claypool has written a brilliant little book Mending the Heart.

Here's his wisdom about how to deal with your woundedness:

Preface: First, we must accept the fact that our parents often neglect or mistreat their children in an effort to have their own needs met. We are all prisoners of childhood, and must do the work of mourning all that.

1. THE WOUND OF GRIEVANCE: `Look behind you: the trouble with parents is that they had parents too! Look within: there's a stronger person with your name within you! Look ahead: what will you do with your grievance? Martin Luther King used to say that the logical end of 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a blind and toothless generation'. Look up: Teresa of Avila asked God 'How can I ever thank you for all the blessings you have given me?' The answer came back: 'By showing love to those who are as undeserving of it as you are of mine.'

2. THE WOUND OF GUILT: Sometimes we deny responsibility for our bad stuff: alcoholics and other addicts know about this ('I don't have a problem with my drinking, you do!'). Face it, honestly: we do not break the laws of reality; the laws of reality break us. Or we blame others. Teacher to fighting children: 'How did this break out?' Child: 'It all started when he hit me back!' Or we punish ourselves: but remember God's willingness to forgive is greater than our power to sin. God is not a perfectionist, but a merciful nurturer.

3. THE WOUND OF GRIEF: John Claypool lost his little nine-year old daughter, Laura Lue, through leukemia. He was rescued from absolute despair in his grief by reading Gerhard von Rad's commentary on Genesis: 'I remember putting down the book that night as it dawned on me that Laura Lue had come into my life exactly as Isaac had come into Abraham's. I had never deserved her for a single day. She was not a possession to which I was entitled, but a gift by which I had been utterly blessed.' When something belongs to you and it is taken away, you have a right to be angry. But when something is a gift and it is taken from you, you use that occasion to give thanks that it was ever given at all. (You can read more on this in his brilliant book Tracks of a Fellow-Struggler.

And now his famous benediction (spoken when younger, as pastor of Crescent Hills Baptist Church):

)

Rowland Croucher

Sunday, October 28, 2007

BE COMMITTED!

The missionary statesman, Max Warren, wrote (in his autobiography Crowded Canvas) of his father: 'He had a strong puritan streak, which, among other things, took the form of refusing ever to use public transport on Sundays. When he had to preach somewhere in London he would always walk to the church and walk back. Sometimes the church would be in South London and it might be a ten-mile walk each way. I never knew him to break his rule or to think it in any way remarkable to have kept it.'

Saturday, October 27, 2007

THE GREATEST SIN (PRIDE)



There's a famous quote from James Denney, which most pastors/preachers know and, hopefully, many of them live by: 'No one can bear witness to themselves and to Christ at the same time. No (preacher) can give at once the impression that they are clever, and that Christ is mighty to save.'

Thursday, October 25, 2007

BE A POET/PROPHET!

The main task of a poet is to see. Poets are essentially people of vision. The vast majority of us can see; we all look out on to the same world. But it's possible to look without seeing.

The poet has a special sensitivity, a heightened awareness, an attentiveness which most people do not possess - or exhibit only at rare moments. Poets see what most of us miss.

Prophets are like that too. In fact, a common Hebrew word for prophet is 'one who sees', 'a person of vision'. Another word means 'one who raves', 'one who is beside himself'. (Shakespeare said something somewhere about the kinship between poets and madmen).

The Old Testament prophets (and Jesus) majored on two great evils: oppression and injustice, and idolatry/false religion: both of these sets of evils promote false religion.

Are poets/prophets born that way - or do they develop these sensitivities over time? The answer, I believe, is 'yes' :-)

More later...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

YOUR MIND MATTERS!

I read a quote today (by Dr. Paul Francis, Scientist with the Australian Gemini Project, Canberra) which got me thinking:

'There are two great theories of 20th century physics: relativity (which deals with massive things) and quantum mechanics (tiny things). There are only two situations in the universe where you need to use both, because they are both massive and tiny: Big Bang and black holes. Trouble is, the two theories mix like oil and water.'

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT



How To Be Filled With The Holy Spirit.

In his famous sermon 'The Wind of the Spirit', James Stewart notes that one of the marks of the Spirit's moving amongst us is that 'we hear the sound thereof'. 'This is the indisputable evidence of the Spirit. When the wind is blowing, it makes its presence felt. You hear its sound... When the Spirit of God stirs up a church or an individual or a community, there are palpable evidences of his working. Even the unbeliever becomes aware that something is going on.' The effects can be seen. The sound can be heard... 'The hard supercilious pagan world of Greece and Rome professed itself indifferent to the gospel; but it could not deny that wherever Christ's people went strange things kept happening... The world, says the Book of Acts, saw the evidences: it "took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus".'

It is easy for a church to settle down into a comfortable orthodoxy, with decision-making structures in place, constitutions formulated, activities planned for this or that purpose, and all we are doing is rearranging old wine-skins. Or we reduce salvation to justification by faith and forget that, as Moltmann pointed out so powerfully, 'Through justification the unjust person is led into the history of the Spirit... becomes obedient in hope and the practice of divine righteousness... Liberation leads to the liberated life. Justification leads to the new creation.'

Luke equates being 'filled with the Spirit' with moral qualities, goodness and faith (Acts 11:23-24). Being 'Spirit-filled' does not refer to a special experience as such, although we ought to be open to whatever experiences of the Spirit the Lord has for us. Sometimes, in Acts, people spoke in tongues when 'filled with the Spirit'; but Acts often speaks of people filled with the Spirit with no reference, explicit or implicit, to tongues (4:8,31; 6:3,5; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9,52). 'If being Spirit-filled without glossolalia was the lot of some, then, it may be God's path for some now' (11) However, you can't be 'Spirit-filled' without exhibiting fruits of the Spirit such as goodness and faith. They are the inevitable proofs of the Spirit's presence in our lives. So the term 'Spirit-filled' ought to be used to describe Christian character rather than a spiritual experience. Remember being 'Spirit-filled' is to be filled with God Himself! He is the 'Spirit of holiness'.

'Do not get drunk with wine, which will only ruin you; instead, be filled with the Spirit' (Ephesians 5:18). How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit? Paul in this text notes three things: first a comparison: being filled with the Holy Spirit is something like being drunk with wine. When intoxicated you lose your inhibitions, you can talk more freely; so the Holy Spirit removes our fear and gives us a new freedom, boldness and power. Then by way of contrast whereas drunkenness makes us lose control the Spirit helps us to be self-controlled; the drunken person is undisciplined, the spiritual person disciplined; drunkenness makes us foolish, the Spirit makes us wise. And note Paul's command: 'Go on being filled with the Spirit' the Greek language has it, literally. It's not an option, but a command.

So being filled with the Spirit is something you choose to ask God to do: it's a matter of the will. God does this work in you (Philippians 1:11) but you are not merely passive: your human personality is actively yielding to the Divine Personality (Philippians 2:12,13). You must want above anything else to surrender to the Spirit - hungering and thirsting to do what God wants (Matthew 5:6) ie. to be filled with the Spirit rather than be filled with self. Confess your sins, so that you can be forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:7). If a vessel is to be filled with something it must be emptied of what is already there: so if there is anything in your life which displaces the Spirit you must be willing for God to empty you of these things, so you can become 'poor in spirit' (Matthew 5:3). You must renounce the 'world, the flesh and the devil'. And all this is done with the same faith by which you received the Spirit in the first place, when you became a Christian (Mark 11:24).

For some, the Spirit comes upon them in an experience of power, love and deep emotion. With others, it is a quiet, determined, almost matter-of-fact transaction. The great saints in the past experienced the Spirit in many and varied ways. The reality of the Spirit's fullness is a matter of faith, and then discipline. Derek Prince tells of two neighbours, one with a beautiful garden, the next overgrown with weeds. The first watered his flowers with a watering-can, laboriously and regularly. The other had a hose, and a powerful water supply, but was slack, undisciplined. The question is not your experience of the Spirit in the past, but are you living a disciplined, Spirit-controlled life in the present?

Should I ask someone to lay hands on me to receive the fullness of the Spirit? Why not? Such 'laying on of hands' to receive God's gifts happened in the biblical stories. Just make sure the hands laid on you belong to someone filled with goodness and faith. Being filled with the Spirit is not a sideshow act!

As we read the book of Acts, being filled with the Spirit was a very definite experience (see 2:4, 4:8, 31, 6:3-5, 9:17, 11:24). It wasn't just for leaders but for everyone (Acts 2:4, cf. 2:39; 13:52). Being filled with the Spirit enables us to live a God-honouring life rather than one serving our own desires (Galatians 5:16). Being filled with the Spirit gives us power for service and witness (Acts 1:8). Jesus said ask, seek, knock; the Father wants to give the Holy Spirit to all who ask him (Luke 11:13).

Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me:
break me, melt me, mould me, fill me...


Rowland Croucher

Further Reading: David Watson, One in the Spirit, I Believe in the Church.

Friday, September 14, 2007

HOW TO HELP YOUR FRIEND - AND OTHERS


In one of his novels Somerset Maugham wrote this epitaph to some of the characters: 'These folk had done nothing and when they died, it was just as if they had never been." Christianity has always taught that the good deeds we have not done will damn us as much as the evil deeds we have done. What a waste - to have lived only one short life on this planet and to have lived it uselessly!

The greatest need in our time is not for preaching, nor for service on behalf of justice, nor for the experience of the Spirit's gifts. The greatest need of our time is for koinonia - to love one another, and to offer our lives for the sake of those in need.

An understanding of Christian concern for others begins with the character of God. Ours is a 'social God', relating within the community of the Trinity, and, in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, with the people on this planet. Jesus came with a mandate to preach, liberate and heal (Luke 4:18-19) and commissions his followers to do the same as he did (John 20:21). So the church, the body of Christ, does in its world what Jesus did in his: no more, no less. It adopts Jesus' stance towards others: that of a servant. And it will be called into account at the Great Judgment relative to the presence or absence of ministries of compassion to those who need what we can give (Matthew 25:31-46).

'Compassion' comes from the Latin pati and cum - 'to suffer with'. The church takes Jesus as its model for compassion. Twelve times in the gospels, Jesus or his Father-God are said to be 'moved with compassion' for worried and helpless people (for example Matthew 9:36). Our Lord sends his followers into the world to 'be compassionate as your Father is compassionate' (Luke 6:36).

How does compassion work? In the same way as God's does: Jesus is sent into the world to be with us. He emptied himself and became a servant (Philippians 2). That gives us dignity: we must be worth a lot if he is willing to be our slave! He says to us: 'I will be with you always until the end of the age' (Matthew 28:20). We are not alone.

So compassion is more than sympathy - 'feeling sorry' for others. It's not 'pity' for someone weak or inferior. Compassion is a 'doing verb' - relieving the pain of others, not just emoting about it. But it's more than 'helping the less fortunate' - that's elitist and paternalistic.


Compassion, says Matthew Fox, is the world's richest energy source. A few days before his death, Rabbi and scholar Abraham Heschel said, 'There is an old idea in Judaism that God suffers when we suffer... Even when a criminal is hanged in the gallows, God cries. God identifies himself with the misery on this earth. I can help God by reducing human suffering, human anguish and human misery'.

But there's so much pain - where do I start? In the Matthew text describing Jesus' compassion (9:35-38), our Lord then turns to his disciples and says 'There's so much to do, and so few do it, pray!' First, pray! Prayer tunes us in to the heart of God. Prayer helps us focus on others and their needs. Prayer turns frustration and anger into hope. A by-product of prayer is peace, without which we will never act appropriately in an unjust world.

We are called, to use an image of Thomas Merton's, motivated and empowered by the love of God to be involved in the sufferings of the world because it is the aim of God's love to reset the broken bones of humanity...

But humanity's brokenness is almost infinite. If a helper is not careful he or she will be 'spattered all over the wall of needfulness' as one therapist puts it. Shakespeare was right (in Measure for Measure): 'Good counsellors lack no clients.' An important habit for good counsellors is to find a time and a place each day, each week and each year for varying periods of solitude. Great people-helpers like Mother Teresa or Dom Helder Camara are great because of their disciplined private prayer. Have you ever noticed the remarkable statement in Luke 5:15-16: 'Many crowds would gather to hear Jesus and be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray'. Imagine that! The greatest healer of them all left people unhealed to get himself together alone in the presence of God. There's an important lesson there for us.

Now let's get practical. Here are some golden rules for people-helpers:

A caring friend is worth ten uncaring 'professionals': your help will make a difference! (But learn when you have moved beyond your expertise, and need to refer the other to a more skilled helper.)

You won't ever be an 'expert' on people's problems: a lifetime is too short to understand all that you should know about psychology and counselling.

A Christian counsellor has three roles - listening, befriending and 'shepherding'. As a listener you hear, deeply, what the other is really saying - especially any agenda 'behind the words'. As friend, you share your journey and your struggles - but only when you have earned that right and it is appropriate. A shepherd or pastor, with the proper authority and on the right occasion, may share biblical insights. The three roles are expressed as 'I hear you saying...', 'I want to say...'. 'God says...' ('what you think, what I think, what God thinks'). But don't be 'trigger-happy' with Scripture: don't use Bible texts as weapons (or as magic pills!).

And only rarely (and when you're more experienced) give advice: you are not God; you might get sued these days if the advice is lethal; and the person must 'own' their growth and changes rather than depend on your 'parenting' them. Your aim is to encourage the counsellee to stand on his/her own two feet as soon as possible, without your constant support. Some people are actually best helped by being left alone (particularly those who 'hug their hurts' and who are constant attention-seekers.)


Feed back words and phrases that indicate you're tracking with the counsellee: 'You're saying that...' 'What I hear is...' 'So you feel...'

Don't be judgmental: never be shocked; accept the person totally, even if you can't accept their behaviour. If something makes you very angry or anxious or fearful, there may be some unfinished business somewhere in your own life.

Watch for 'transference' (when someone dumps emotions on you that don't belong to you) and 'counter-transference' (when you respond by getting emotionally 'hooked' by the counsellee.) Check with a counselling supervisor.

Beware the 'redeemer complex' - getting in deep with others' problems to satisfy your own needs. Be 'empathetic' rather than 'sympathetic'. Sympathy may be a selfish emotion. If you're getting too involved emotionally, or if you are sexually attracted to a counsellee you may have to refer to someone else.

What a person tells you in confidence must not be repeated to anyone else (except to an experienced supervisor with the counsellee's consent.)

In a more formal counselling interview have some sort of understanding/contract/covenant. I sometimes find myself saying to someone who's never been to a counsellor, 'Feel free to talk about anything: but you don't have to if you're not comfortable. If I ask something you don't want to explore, you can simply "pass". I may not be the best person to help: but I'll tell you when I can't and when someone else might have different skills or insights'. (Incidentally, after about 16 thousand hours of pastoral counselling, this helper can't remember anyone 'passing'.)

Generally, experienced counsellors find the 'fifty-minute hour' best: most of the healing in therapy happens between sessions.

As a general rule, I would not advise counselling someone of the opposite sex alone: have someone else 'around' (in the next room, or with you as a co-counsellor.)

Pray for (and, if appropriate, with) your friend.

Finish every session on a realistically hopeful note.

Above all, become a whole person yourself. Get in touch with your feelings, your 'scripting', your motivations, your sexuality, your besetting sins. Ideally, see a spiritual director regularly. Get to know God. Learn to grow into the sort of spiritual maturity that is less and less affected by praise or blame: the less you expect, the less you'll be disappointed (saints expect nothing - or anything - and are rarely disappointed.)


One psychotherapist summarises the marks of a 'therapeutic therapist' as follows: they have found their own way; possess self-respect and self-appreciation; are able to be powerful; are open to change; are expanding their awareness of self and others; are willing and able to tolerate ambiguity; have an identity; are capable of nonpossessive empathy... They are alive! They are authentic, real, congruent, sincere, and honest; are able to give and receive love; live in the present; make mistakes and are willing to admit them; are able to become deeply involved in their work and their creative projects; are able to reinvent themselves; have the ability to be emotionally present for others; are in the process of making choices that shape their life; challenge unreasonable assumptions rather than submitting to them; and have a sincere interest in the welfare of others. (Gerald Corey, Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Monterey, California: Brooks/Cole, 1982, pp. 269-71)

May you live - and help others to grow - all the days of your life!

Excerpted from Rowland Croucher, Live! More Meditations and Prayers for Christians, Melbourne: JBCE, 1993, chapter 18.

For the full chapter visit here...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

CHILDREN SEE, CHILDREN DO




One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, 'My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all..

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.'

The grand son thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: 'Which wolf wins?'

The old Cherokee simply replied, 'The one you feed.'

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

LIVING WITH A DISABILITY


I think I'll make sure I don't grizzle about anything today!!!

Have a good day!

Rowland Croucher

WHAT AN AMAZING STORY OF THIS YOUNG (AUSTRALIAN) MAN'S INNER STRENGTH AND COURAGE!

[Video below...]


My name is Nick Vujicic and I give God the Glory for how He has used my
testimony to touch thousands of hearts around the world! I was born without
limbs and doctors have no medical explanation for this birth "defect". As
you can imagine, I was faced with many challenges and obstacles.
"Consider it pure joy, my Brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds."

....To count our hurt, pain and struggle as nothing but pure joy? As my
parents were Christians, and my Dad even a Pastor of our church, they knew
that verse very well. However, on the morning of the 4th of December 1982 in
Melbourne (Australia), the last two words on the minds of my parents was
"Praise God!". Their firstborn son had been born without limbs! There were
no warnings or time to prepare themselves for it. The doctors we shocked and
had no answers at all! There is still no medical reason why this had
happened and Nick now has a Brother and Sister who were born just like any
other baby.
The whole church mourned over my birth and my parents were absolutely
devastated. Everyone asked, "if God is a God of Love, then why would God let
something this bad happen to not just anyone, but dedicated Christians?" My
Dad thought I wouldn't survive for very long, but tests proved that I was a
healthy baby boy just with a few limbs missing.

Understandably, my parents had strong concern and evident fears of what kind
of life I'd be able to lead. God provided them strength, wisdom and courage
through those early years and soon after that I was old enough to go to
school.

The law in Australia didn't allow me to be integrated into a main-stream
school because of my physical disability. God did miracles and gave my Mom
the strength to fight for the law to be changed. I was one of the first
disabled students to be integrated into a main-stream school.

I liked going to school, and just try to live life like everyone else, but
it was in my early years of school where I encountered uncomfortable times
of feeling rejected, weird and bullied because of my physical difference. It
was very hard for me to get used to, but with the support of my parents, I
started to develop attitudes and values which helped me overcome these
challenging times. I knew that I was different but on the inside I was just
like everyone else. There were many times when I felt so low that I wouldn't
go to school just so I didn't have to face all the negative attention. I was
encouraged by my parents to ignore them and to try start making friends by
just talking with some kids. Soon the students realized that I was just like
them, and starting there God kept on blessing me with new friends.

There were times when I felt depressed and angry because I couldn't change
the way I was, or blame anyone for that matter. I went to Sunday School and
learned that God loves us all and that He cares for you. I understood that
love to a point as a child, but I didn't understand that if God loved me why
did He make me like this? Is it because I did something wrong? I thought I
must have because out of all the kids at school, I'm the only weird one. I
felt like I was a burden to those around me and the sooner I go, the better
it'd be for everyone. I wanted to end my pain and end my life at a young
age, but I am thankful once again, for my parents and family who were always
there to comfort me and give me strength.

Due to my emotional struggles I had experienced with bullying, self esteem
and loneliness, God has implanted a passion of sharing my story and
experiences to help others cope with whatever challenge they have in their
life and let God turn it into a blessing. To encourage and inspire others to
live to their fullest potential and not let anything get in the way of
accomplishing their hopes and dreams.

One of the first lessons that I have learnt was not to take things for
granted.

"And we know that in all things God works for the best for those who love
Him."

That verse spoke to my heart and convicted me to the point where that I know
that there is no such thing as luck, chance or coincidence that these "bad"
things happen in our life.
I had complete peace knowing that God won't let anything happen to us in our
life unless He has a good purpose for it all. I completely gave my life to
Christ at the age of fifteen after reading John 9. Jesus said that the
reason the man was born blind was "so that the works of God may be revealed
through Him." I truly believed that God would heal me so I could be a great
testimony of His Awesome Power. Later on I was given the wisdom to
understand that if we pray for something, if it's God's will, it'll happen
in His time. If it's not God's will for it to happen, then I know that He
has something better.

I now see that Glory revealed as He is using me just the way I am and in
ways others can't be used.

I am now twenty-three years old and have completed a Bachelor of Commerce
majoring in Financial Planning and Accounting. I am also a motivational
speaker and love to go out and share my story and testimony wherever
opportunities become available. I have developed talks to relate to and
encourage students through topics that challenge today's teenagers. I am
also a speaker in the corporate sector.

I have a passion for reaching out to youth and keep myself available for
whatever God wants me to do, and wherever He leads, I follow.

I have many dreams and goals that I have set to achieve in my life. I want
to become the best witness I can be of God's Love and Hope, to become an
international inspirational speaker and be used as a vessel in both
Christian and non-Christian venues. I want to become financially independent
by the age of 25, through real estate investments, to modify a car for me to
drive and to be interviewed and share my story on the "Oprah Winfrey Show"!
Writing several best-selling books has been one of my dreams and I hope to
finish writing my first by the end of the year. It will be called "No Arms,
No Legs, No Worries!"

I believe that if you have the desire and passion to do something, and if
it's God's will, you will achieve it in good time. As humans, we continually
put limits on ourselves for no reason at all! What's worse is putting limits
on God who can do all things. We put God in a "box". The awesome thing about
the Power of God, is that if we want to do something for God, instead of
focusing on our capability, concentrate on our availability for we know that
it is God through us and we can't do anything without Him. Once we make
ourselves available for God's work, guess whose capabilities we rely on?
God's!

May the Lord Bless you
In Christ,
Nick Vujicic




Or: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7668133414808372958

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

YOU CAN DO IT PAUL POTTS!



AND SO CAN YOU, CONNIE!



AND ANOTHER ONE:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

HOW TO COPE WITH STRESS



STRESS & BURNOUT

Here are the powerpoint notes for a seminar I've just prepared for Urban Neighbours of Hope (a missional group our daughter Lindy ministers with). They're in note-form, but you'll get the message):

1. WHAT IS STRESS?

Stress is pressure. We all experience pressure. It's how you manage pressure that's the key

Stress is hurry-sickness / Needing more than God

Why do we need more than God? Because parents / teachers / significant others told us we were not OK unless we achieved this or that

WHAT IS BURNOUT?

Emotional Exhaustion

Why do so many feel they’re ‘running on empty?’ Because they don't have a match-up between emotional input and emotional output

FAMILY-OF-ORIGIN EXPERIENCES ARE THE KEY TO LOVE, FAITH, HOPE: YOU CANNOT LIVE YOUR LIFE AS IF YOUR CHILDHOOD/ ADOLESCENT EXPERIENCES DID NOT HAPPEN

HOWEVER… CAN GOD SAVE/HEAL US FROM CHILDHOOD DEPRIVATION/ TRAUMA? YES… ‘IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO HAVE A HAPPY CHILDHOOD’… BUT AGAIN… ‘AS THE TWIG IS BENT…’
2. THE MAIN KEY: LOVE – FOR GOD, OTHERS

LOVING GOD (= WORSHIP): THE 9 TESTS

* We love God by loving other people (and you love God just as much as you love the person you love least!)

* Jesus said if we love him we will obey him

* If you love someone you'll want to linger in their company

* Our speech is an index of our loves

* If you love someone you'll love what they have created (yourself, this beautiful earth etc)

* If you love someone who is absent you'll long for their return

* The 'idolatry test' asks 'what other, competing, loves turn me on?'

* Loving another means you'll forgive them when they do something you don't understand

* The ultimate test is martyrdom: who or what am I prepared to die for?

0 God, I love thee, I love thee
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Not fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me.

And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesus, so much in love with me?
Not for heaven's sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst love me
I, I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my king and God. Amen.


Gerard Manley Hopkins

LOVE FOR OTHERS: If you were in a court of law charged with being a Christian, and one of the tests was 'love for others' what evidence would be used to convict you?
3. LOVE OF SELF

Love of Self for Self’s Sake
Love of God for Self’s Sake
Love of God for God's Sake
Love of Self for God's Sake

(The twelfth-century monk Bernard of Clairvaux)

VALUE? GIFTS? LIMITS?
4. EVIL

* PEOPLE OF THE LIE
* INJUSTICE
* MONEY / SEX / POWER
* EXTERNALIZING FEAR, GUILT, ANGER, GRIEF
5. MIND

THEOLOGY - spiritually healthy thinking about God

COGNITIVE RESTRUCTURING – changing your thinking (paradigm shifts)

6. PERSONAL GROWTH AND RISK-TAKING


20 ASPECTS OF MENTORING:

God helps us through others:
1. Father, especially in the area of self-esteem
2. Mother, nurturing
3. Spiritual Director, 'discernment of spirits'
4. Prayer Partner, prayerful support
5. Mate/spouse/siblings, intimacy, 'sharing'
6. Friend, support in life's trials and recreation
7. Mentor, skill-development
8. Supervisor, accountability
9. Counsellor, behaviour
10. Encourager, emotional strength for the journey
11. Role-model, life-skills
12. Small Group, mutual prayer, brain-storming, reality-checking
13. Ministry Team, vocational support
14. Coach, specific skill-development
15. Sponsor, opening opportunities for ministry
16. Teacher/Master, development of understandings
17. Consultant, advice from someone with a wider perspective
18. Bishop/Board, authority
19. Pastor, soul-nourishment
20. Faith Community, a sense of belonging
7. TIME

The Picture and the Frame (In Western cultures we often think of time as the 'frame' within which we achieve things)

The message of the Bible: there are four dimensions to time -

Chronos - measurable time
Kairos - the appropriate time
Aion - God's time in our time
Telos - the 'omega point', end-time

8. GOALS

One life: what do you want to see happen? If you aim nowhere, you're bound to hit the mark.

(But if you set specific goals and don’t reach them… what then?)
9. REST

See Luke 5:15-16: Jesus had something more important to do that heal or teach!

Sabbath-keeping: who do we think we are that we have to work harder than God?

Meditation/Contemplation: the practice of stillness

Sleep: you should, in an ideal world, get enough sleep not to need an alarm to wake

Diet/Exercise: the fuel you put into your body is an index of the worth of the gift of your God-given physical being. And exercise-to-perspire three times a week!

Hobbies: it's a good idea to have a pleasurable distraction from work (what's yours?)
10. JOKE

Remember: ‘A great evil in the world is people taking themselves too seriously’

Visit the humor section of the JMM website – 4,000 funny jokes/stories

ENJOY YOUR LIFE!
(YOU’LL NEVER GET OUT OF IT ALIVE!)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

MASTURBATION: A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

'Masturbation is nothing to be ashamed of. It's not something to be particularly proud of, either.' (Matt Groening)


There's a brand of milk in Australia called 'Big M'. On the 'Net, there's also a big M, masturbation. The following (from various newsgroups) are typical:

'Addicted To Masturbation'


*** 'I am a born again Christian and pornography is probably the one of the toughest issues that I and probably everyone else face. The Lord let me know that pornography was no longer something I needed nor was it EVER good for me. I used to be the guy with a drawer full of Playboys in the bathroom and I would masturbate every day! I also know that all of my friends have most of their problems when it comes to pornographic and other sexual issues. I am telling you that the Devil is really pouring on his attack right now and everyday it's getting a little easier to get your hands on some of the junk.

Although I threw out every shred of pornography and cleaned out my hard drive quite some time ago, I notice that my addiction to masturbation has in no way been broken. The Devil is sneaky and it's absolutely true that he attacks from behind and little by little people become enslaved. I am not concerned any longer about salvation (I am a believer and know the grace of the Lord - that is faith and not works)...

I have remained a virgin through all of this for which I am VERY thankful, but I know that Christ reigns in glorious victory and I wish to become stronger in His Spirit and I NEED some help all of this stuff.

The thing is that sex is everywhere!! I don't need to look at pornography. I can open a People magazine and start to masturbate although I may not EVEN HAVE ANY DESIRE to do some other then psychologically.

The truth is that I was on the Internet just about 30 minutes ago and I was running all over the place looking for some pornography. Just a naked body, that's all I wanted to see. I knew that it was certainly not a good thing, but I find more and more porn every time I look and after I was through masturbating I knew things were just not right and that I need some extra insight into this particular struggle of mine.'

*** And another: 'I have been wondering why God has made the mechanism of women having menstruations and men having wet dreams and yet call it "unclean" as in the book of Leviticus. I guess the "unclean" here refers to poor hygiene and not sin. Regarding masturbation, I know that lust is a form of adultery and thinking about the act before putting it into action may be a sin, but what about "fantasies"? Are fantasies sinful? And if it's just the action and mechanism alone, is masturbation still sinful? I believe some of you out there would think that God does not give boys penises to "play with themselves" but eventually make love with a women and masturbation is actually misusing the organ, then isn't sucking our thumb, bitting our fingernails sinful too? Men have sex drives and it is very very difficult to control it, and if the penis is only for sex alone (as well as urination) then why did God give us the ability to erect (babies as well) even if we are not having sex? Why doesn't he make it that only married men can have sex? Why does he give people sexual feelings before marriage?'

*** A single woman, in her forties, a staff-member in a fundamentalist church came for counseling. She'd been referred by her senior pastor, who didn't know her 'problem', and she didn't want to tell him, but she said she 'needed to talk to someone about something.' She sat nervously on the edge of the chair, briefly sketched some aspects of her history, and then paused for a long time. Eventually she stuttered: 'Actually my problem's a terrible one. My church preaches that I'll go to hell for doing this... It's the 'big M'.' 'Oh,' I said, 'masturbation'...

Read the full article here.

HAPPINESS



A YOUNG MAN ASKED ARISTOTLE 'WHY SHOULD I DO RIGHT RATHER THAN WRONG?'

THE PHILOSOPHER ANSWERED, 'WHOEVER ASKS SUCH A QUESTION SHOULD BE ANSWERED, NOT WITH A REASON, BUT WITH A STICK!'

Sunday, June 10, 2007

WE NEED EACH OTHER


Just up the road from my home is a field, with two horses in it.

From a distance, each horse looks like any other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing....Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him.

This alone is amazing. If you stand nearby and listen, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse's halter is a small bell. It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is, so he can follow.

As you stand and watch these two friends, you'll see that the horse with the bell is always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse will listen for the bell and then slowly walk to where the other horse is, trusting that he will not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the barn each evening it stops occasionally and looks back making sure that the blind friend isn’t too far behind to hear the bell.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way....

Good friends are like that... You may not always see them, but you know they are always there. Please listen for my bell and I'll listen for yours.

And remember... Be kinder than necessary - everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Jack the AZBeeman


*****

We need another to listen to us...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

LIVING WITH HELPLESSNESS





And at the end of your tether, sing along with this well-known hymn:


DROWNING


TIME

AM I GOING CRAZY?


HOW TO HANDLE FAILURE




My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
We are a success... even though we may seem to be failures.
What is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
Everyone has sinned, and is far away from God's presence... but God has shown how much he loves us - it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. Of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant.
He... appeared in human likeness. He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death - his death on the cross. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you... for I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you'.
So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.


James 1:2-4 NRSV; 2 Corinthians 13:7; GNB Luke 16:15 NRSV; Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8 GNB; Philippians 2:7-8 GNB; 1 John 4:18 NRSV; Psalm 34:4 NRSV; Isaiah 41:10, 13 NRSV; Galatians 6:9 GNB



'We regret we are unable to give you the weather. We rely on weather reports from the airport, which is closed because of the weather. Whether we are able to give you the weather tomorrow depends on the weather.' That, says Stephen Pile in The Book of Heroic Failures is an accurate transcript of a news bulletin in a Middle Eastern country. Pile's book is a salute to spectacular human failure. 'Success', he writes, 'is overrated. Everyone craves it despite daily proof that humans' true genius lies in quite the opposite direction. Incompetence is what we are good at...'

Abraham Lincoln experienced failure after failure - for twenty-eight years! In 1833 his business failed. In 1836 he had a nervous breakdown. He failed to be elected as speaker in 1838. He lost re-nomination to Congress in 1848, and was rejected for Land Officer in 1849. But he 'hung in there'. In 1854 he was defeated for the Senate. Two years later he lost the nomination for Vice-President, and was again defeated in the Senate elections of 1858. But he was elected President in 1860, and went on to become America's best-known leader ever. Failure is inevitable in our broken world. While we should not seek failure or despise success, a Christian is called to be faithful, not necessarily successful. Jesus was tempted to be a 'successful' Messiah, but chose rather to be a faithful and obedient servant. Those who cheered him on Palm Sunday had to learn he was not on his way to a throne in Jerusalem, but to a cross on Golgotha. (But the cross was the greatest victory in human history). And he promised his followers three things: constant trouble and constant joy (because of his constant presence). We moderns have been seduced into thinking that, properly-organized, life can be trouble-free. Psychotherapist M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled) says our society doesn't believe life should be difficult, or that solving problems gives life meaning. Neurosis, Carl Jung used to say, is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. It is difficult for most people to survive either success or failure. We (Western) humans have an inordinate need to demonstrate our worth by performance. We strive to be luminaries, rather than letting our light shine. We are what we do and achieve. And we have an insatiable appetite for approval: much of the way we behave is a veiled means of soliciting compliments. Many spend all their waking hours willing themselves to succeed or fearing failure. (Our dreams continue these themes).

I don't know who said 'It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game', but I reckon most modern sporting clubs wouldn't want that fellow in their team. We love winners. Remember Jack Dempsey, the 'Manassa Mauler'? He was the world heavyweight boxing champion, and he came up with the best definition of a champion I have heard: 'A champion is a guy who gets up when he can't'. Falling isn't failing, but staying down is... We are as good as our next performance, not our last one. In their analysis of the American ethos Robert Bellah and his colleagues wrote, 'The American dream is often a very private dream of being the star, the uniquely successful and admirable one, the one who stands out from the crowd of ordinary folks.' [Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life]. Jesus didn't buy into such a dubious notion, and doesn't invite us to either. You see, success and/or failure may produce spiritual health - or they may not. As Kipling said, they're both imposters. Indeed, in reality what is perceived as failure is often success, and vice-versa. Our world is like a shop after young people on Haloween night got in and changed all the price-tags around. The price and value of winning or losing don't necessarily relate. Winning isn't everything; we also need the faith to face failure. 'When I am weak, then I am strong', Paul wrote. 'I can do all things (even fail!) through Christ who strengthens me. Sometimes we give the impression we've 'got it all together'; or 'victorious Christian life' preachers leave us struggling in confusion and despair. The old hymn which says 'Standing on the promises I cannot fail' is dubious theology at best. The Puritans preached that 'success' results from God's blessing, or God's testing, or God's abandonment and judgment, or the devil's seduction. Only one in four was God's prospering. Here are some bits of anonymous wisdom from my files:

* 'You may not be what you think you are, but what you think, you are!' (Sports stars talk about 'imaging').
*'I don't know the secret of success, but I do know the secret of failure - try to please everybody'.
*'Success is not permanent. The same is also true of failure'.
*'The biggest reward for a thing well done is to have done it'.
*'Mistakes are to life what shadows are to light'.

Success is never really satisfying: God hasn't made us that way. We're not to settle down here permanently - not even on the top of a mountain. (Looking down on others isn't helpful spiritually; and you expend a lot of negative energy excluding others from the peak). The reward or prize is offered in the next life, said Jesus and Paul: in this, our badge of office is a towel, serving others rather than dominating them. Satisfaction is 'serendipitous' - it's in the journeying, rather than the arriving. The saints have a well-developed 'theology of gratitude': expect nothing, they say, and you won't be disappointed. So be careful of that imposter 'success'. You may succeed - but not in God's way. Your calling is to do his will, and if he grants you success, fine. If not, fine! God's will is that you shall not need to be successful to be happy. If you are elated too much by success or depressed too much by failure, you still have some maturing to do! And think about this: most Western pastors lead churches that are not growing numerically. Many feel they are failures. But they may be more 'successful' in God's eyes than others whose churches are growing, but whose growth is simply catering to their own egos. The vision of the church in James, Peter and the Revelation is of a suffering, patient, scattered people who are encouraged to face the hostility of the world without losing hope. In the church of the crucified Lord, one's esteem should not be a function of 'better' or 'smarter' or 'bigger'. The only valid comparison is not between me and others, but between my actual and potential: I should strive to do my best. 'Effectiveness' - the appropriate embodiment of faithfulness in given human contexts - is a better idea.

How can we sort out our motives here and learn to make weakness a source of creativity? First, ask honestly in your prayer, 'What is my desire? What do I think I need in addition to the Lord to be "fulfilled"? Why do I need those things?' Then, having written down the answers to these questions, talk them over with a trusted friend or spiritual director. When things don't work out the way you had hoped, don't berate yourself ('I'm a failure'). Rather analyse the situation, and believe it is possible to try your best and still have some factors beyond your control. Don't blame others (particularly parents or spouse) for failure: be mature enough to take responsibility for yourself. Don't nurture resentment or be too cynical: they are prime causes of stress, according to the experts.

Above all, as Winston Churchill told a boys' school assembly, 'Never, ever, ever, ever give up!' Didn't Edison experience 14,000 'failures' before he perfected the first light bulb? Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. It was his life-work, the fulfilment of a consuming ambition. He was once asked how he'd feel if the Pope suppressed the Society. 'A quarter of an hour of prayer', he replied, 'and I would think no more of it'. He'd cultivated a sublime indifference to temporal success or failure. The one thing that mattered was that Christ was honoured.

~~~

'Two dangers threaten the survival of Christendom. The one is mediocrity; the other is success.... Mediocrity... has come to characterize the behaviour of most people in most institutions. They live our their Christian commitment in a mediocre fashion within the context of churches that have mediocre programs... Holiness is excellence, so there is no excuse for mediocrity. Success is worldly, so there is no excuse for Christians pursuing it'.

Tony Campolo, in the Forward to Christian Excellence: Alternative to Success, by Jon Johnston.

A person may be famous but a failure. Fame has little to do with a person's emotions, intimate relationships, or qualities as a human being. To be publicly successful someone must be superior in some way - in beauty, brains, or brawn... Popularity, fame, influence, political power, rare creativity, enormous wealth - these mark the successful person. [But] God's standards of success differ from the world's. The Bible turns values topsy-turvy... praises the failure that is success and denounces the success that is failure.

Vernon C. Grounds, 'Faith to Face Failure, Or What's So Great About Success?', Christianity Today, December 9, 1977, pp. 12,13.

Fear of failure may be the strongest factor in driving people to violate their conscience and compromise their standards. Failure is a fact of life. It is not a matter of if we fail, but when we fail. And no failure is pleasant. Failure is hard, humbling, and costly. But failure is not final; rather it is part of a delicate process of growth and development in our lives... Remember that God is sovereign. When you fail, you may experience the temptation to doubt God's goodness. But God in his sovereignty always acts on our behalf. Even though you can see nothing in a failure that is your fault, be assured that God is at work in your life to deepen your character and to lead you in his perfect will.

Jerry White, Honesty, Morality & Conscience.

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial he makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.

C.S.Lewis, A Grief Observed.

One of the most painful aspects of failure is the feeling that I have failed to live up to my own expectations of myself. We have upset other people and disappointed God; these aspects we have to deal with in an objective way. But the subjective inner struggle to come to terms with the sort of people we really are must be faced with the aid of courageous questioning. Have I set myself realistic goals...? Am I a perfectionist, trying to justify myself by achievement...? Where have I learned my ideas of success and failure...?

Ann Fander, 'How to Deal with Failure'.

After the miracles in Galilee there comes the solitude of the cross. After the proof of God by success, there comes the proof of God in failure; a paradoxical proof, but how much greater, in fact, and more absolute, despite its apparently relative character.

Paul Tournier, The Person Reborn

...If you have ever been sickened by the crumbling of some enterprise into which you had put all your best effort and love of your heart, you are caught up into the fellowship of Christ's death and resurrection... God has dealt with our failure by himself becoming a failure in Jesus Christ and so healing it from inside.

Maria Boulding, Gateway to Hope

No failure need ever be final. No fall need end in tragedy. The only disaster that is without remedy is to quit trying. The difference between the one who has gone down in defeat and the other who has triumphed is not that one sometimes failed while the other never did. The real difference is that one accepted failure as final, [believed] there was no hope, while the other dared to start again. Simon Peter's life might haved ended as tragically as that of Judas had he not dared to start anew. The life of Judas might have ended triumphantly. Indeed, he might have been the most amazing miracle of the New Testament had he only dared to make a new start. The most painful wound this traitor inflicted upon his Lord was not his kiss of betrayal but his failure to trust him enough to make a new start.

Clovis Chappell, If I Were Young.

Again and again, I find that God brings me out of these pits [of discouragement]... Alone and exhausted with my self-absorption, I may sit and cry and admit that I am lost, bogged down, and wrapped up in myself. I can truly see that 'there is no health in me'. As I confess these conditions, I can often look back and realize that only in God have I known hope in my own past. Then, at last, I give up. I give up my self-diagnosis and my frantic efforts to avoid failure, either physically, psychologically, or materially. And I give up my dreams for success. I given them to him, finally being willing to have them fulfilled or not. And strangely, this is like dying, to give up these dreams of success in any venture, since my whole destiny seems to be riding on them. Then, since up I have given up the 'big' plans for my life... I am interested only in sanity for today. Paradoxically, it is at this point that I am ready to live again.

Keith Miller & Bruce Larson, The Edge of Adventure: An Experiment in Faith

If we think we are failing because of some fault in ourselves, we may have to work harder on our personal development. This is a situation in which we will probably need the assistance of a skilled spiritual director or therapist. It is almost impossible to see ourselves without talking with another person trained in matters of psychology and of the spirit, and it is almost impossible to walk the spiritual path alone. At some point everyone needs a companion on the way, someone with whom we can share openly and honestly, whom we can trust to hold our confidences, and who we know will not judge us, no matter what dark corners of our personalities we reveal.

John Sanford, Ministry Burnout.

Failures... more readily than successes, teach us to embrace the whole of our humanity and own ourselves without pretense, before God. Successes may lead us to believe that of course God must accept us now, look how he is blessing us! Failure tells us that God has accepted me anyway for he sent Jesus to taste my failure at Calvary. I am acceptable to God on no other basis than that he has demonstrated his acceptance of me already. And this cross reminds us of the balance we must maintain on the spiritual journey; it is rather like a see-saw. If we would go up and gain the heights in life, then at the same time there is the downward plunge into the dust of failure. Both the heights and the depths together, give us the balance we need for growth.

Russ Parker, Failure.

God sees 'success' and 'failure' more in terms of relationships than of achievements, more in 'being' than in 'doing'... Noah got drunk, Moses got angry and Gideon became scared. Peter could be inconsistent, Paul inconsiderate; Thomas doubted, Martha pouted. But God continued to love them and turned their failures into victories... The good news of the Christian faith is that failure need never be final.

Ron Elbourne, 'Parson's Pitch'

Success isn't the absence of failure. It is having the determination to never quit because 'quitters never win and winners never quit'. Almost every person who has achieved anything worthwhile with his or her life has not only experienced failure, but experienced it many times... God wants you to achieve something worthwhile - not necessarily spectacular... If you feel you have failed, be encouraged. Now's the time to give God a chance. 'He'll mend even a broken heart if you'll give him all the pieces.' For those who believe in God, failure is never forever.

'Failure: Never Forever', ACTS International.

I asked for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of others,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had hoped for - but everything I had hoped for.
Almost, despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am... most richly blessed.


Unknown Confederate Soldier




That's all very well, Lord, but the experience of failure is very unpleasant. It hurts! Bankruptcies, marriage break-ups, getting fired from one's job, teenagers going berserk, war in the Middle East, ethnic or tribal strife in various parts of the world - they're constant reminders of human failure. In my own life Lord, I have not lived up to my earlier ideals. I have let you, others and myself down. Sure, it's the 'human condition' - all have sinned, all fail, all make mistakes. So I need reminding today that most of your great people in the Bible failed, but came back stronger and more useful afterwards: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, Jonah, Peter, John Mark, Paul... Probably that's because their egos got in the way too, and the process of risking and failing and being humbled is needed before we can be of much use to you or others. Unless I have failed, I will never succeed. What looks like failure in a success-mad world may prove to be successful in the longer run. So forgive me, Lord, if ever I say 'I am a failure' rather than 'I have failed'. So, Lord, just as you did not cast away your people who failed in the past, but forgave them, restored them, and recommissioned them, so I, now, too, accept your grace. Remind me anew that while failure is always possible, failure is not final. Thank you Lord, Amen.

Benediction. In the sunshine and in the shadows, through the calm and the stormy days, when life is good and when it's hard, when things go well and when they fall apart, may you know deep within your spirit that God is still smiling, and all will be well. Amen

ENJOY YOUR WORK!

CREATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING


HOW TO DEAL WITH BULLIES

Sunday, May 13, 2007

LIVING WITH GUILT

Watch this space!

WHAT TO DO WITH A SENSE OF SHAME








Watch this space - for more cute animals and, also, hopefully, for some timeless wisdom!

LIVING WITHOUT REGRETS


The Lord says, 'Forget about what has happenend before, do not think about the past, instead look at the new thing I am going to do.' Isaiah 43:18-19

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

Philippians 3: 7-16, 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11, Romans 8: 28

PANG HUI'S STORY

The year I turned eighteen I eloped with a man from another county.[1]

Later, I gave birth to three daughters. My husband was a gambler and a drunkard and boozed until he was completely legless every day. When he lost money he'd come home and beat up his wife and children. One of those awful beatings three years ago made me determined to leave him, and that's how I started my life as a migrant worker.

I don't have much education and I couldn't find any decent job. I couldn't, and I didn't want to do those jobs where you had to sell body and soul, so all I could do was go to a construction site and cook for the workers there. Those construction workers were also migrants, living by selling their physical labour. The only thing different was that they were men. Each day I was responsible for preparing three meals for over a hundred people. The hard work can easily be imagined, but I wasn't really afraid of hard work. What I was afraid of was lack of respect from those men. Among them, some used filthy, disgusting language with me, some made passes at me, and some made a big show of urinating in front of me. During the day it wasn't so bad, but every night, lying down in the workshed, with the wind coming in from all sides, I never dared to take off my clothes, really afraid those men would do something to me.

Lying on the plank bed, I couldn't sleep, thinking about my family. I didn't want to return, but my three daughters were always on my mind. Would her dad be able to pay the school fees for the oldest girl? Had the second girl recovered from her epilepsy? And was the third one still wetting her bed?... Every night I would think about them for a long time before I went to sleep, and as soon as the sky grew light, I had to get up and prepare the breakfast. My wage was 150 yuan[2] per month, but for someone like me who had come out to work for the first time, it was quite a large sum. Four months went by and apart from buying three packets of sanitary napkins and one bag of washing powder, which cost me eight yuan, I kept the remaining 592 yuan in my pocket next to my skin. I hoped to use the money to pay for my older daughter's school fees and the second daughter's medicine...

After four months of life as a migrant worker, I gradually got used to the environment and came to understand those men. Even though they were crude people they were not bad. Their dirty talk was an outlet for their pent up feelings. It wasn't easy for them to leave home and come out to work either. So I was no longer on my guard. Occasionally I would answer back when they talked dirty. Not only did they not get angry, it would make them happy. Perhaps it was because there were too few women in their lives. I often helped them to mend and wash their clothes. And they used their spare time to help me fetch the water and wash the vegetables. Eventually I won their respect through my own efforts. Once, someone found me a job painting. The pay was better than cooking, but those workers would not let me go, no matter what. They said they only wanted to eat the food I cooked. If the money was not enough, they would be willing to make it up by each taking a bit out of their pay. So I stayed working on the construction site.

In the blink of an eye it was winter and the construction site stopped work. I decided to go home. I thought that after half a year of absence my husband would have changed, but I was wrong. When I got home, carrying my cherished money that I'd earned with blood and sweat, the first thing my husband said was: 'You shameless thing, how dare you come back. No old bags who go out to work ever come home intact. I'd rather be a bachelor than a cuckold. Even if we were dying of poverty, I wouldn't take the dirty money you earned. Get out!' I said to him: 'My money is clean,' but he wouldn't listen and pushed me out the door. I shook all over and it wasn't the wind from the mountains that made me shiver. I secretly gave the money to my oldest daughter who chased after me in tears, and once more took the road away from home. It was different from the last time. Having experienced life as a migrant worker before, I was no longer ignorant about the outside world, my steps were no longer as hesitant, and I believed at heart: no matter what happened, I would go on living, living without complaint, regret or shame.

I am a cloud, destined to float around in this life. I do not know where the wind will blow me next.

[1] Pang Hui's story was originally published in NongjianŸ Baishitong [Rural Women Knowing All], 8, (1999): 28-29, translated by Tamara Jacka and Song Xianlin. [2] One yuan = US$0.1.



WHAT IS REGRET?

'The Exploding Dictionary' on the Web says it's

'Pain of mind on account of something done or experienced in the past, with a wish that it had been different; a looking back with dissatisfaction or with longing; grief; sorrow; especially, a mourning on account of the loss of some joy, advantage, or satisfaction.'

Syn: Grief; concern; sorrow; lamentation; repentance; penitence; self-condemnation.

Usage: {Regret}, {Remorse}, {Contrition}, {Repentance}. Regret does not carry with it the energy of remorse, the sacredness of contrition, or the practical character of repentance. We even apply the term regret to circumstances over which we have had no control, as the absence of friends or their loss. When connected with ourselves, it relates rather to unwise acts than to wrong or sinful ones. --C. J. Smith.

Regret is an interesting feeling or state of mind. Some philosophers say feeling regret is irrational, or even immoral. But surely in some situations regret is appropriate. If we have done something wrong, or stupid, 'regret' is our conscience or mind telling us that we shouldn't do it again!

In general regrets may result from

# Guilt: bad things we've done, or good things we failed to do

# Shame: bad feelings about who we are

(Two big topics: we'll deal with these in one or two separate articles).

# Failure: despair over mistakes we made; or disappointment that we have not lived a life that anywhere near matched our earlier dreams.

The Christian Gospel has an antidote for guilt - faith and forgiveness; and for shame - love and grace; and for failure and despair - hope.



THAT'S LIFE!

Life wasn't meant to be easy... yes, yes, yes... but when you get to be in your 50s, 60s, 70s, (sometimes earlier than your 50s) one of the recurring disappointments haunting us is all about 'what could have been'... The self-talk begins with words 'If only... if only... if only...'

Or 'If I'd had more sense/luck/whatever, I should have...'

The Regretter's lingo is littered with 'would haves/should haves/could haves.' It's all right for John Powell to say 'Don't should on yourself', or for St. Paul to talk about 'forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on...' (Philippians 3: 13-14) but most of us can't forget stupid decisions we made in the past - or stupid things we said, or stupid ways we reacted to the actions and words of others - and these mistakes have altered our destinies.

We can't undo what has happened (or can we???) but those things haunt us nevertheless...

Recently my wife Jan and I took a leisurely four-month tour around Australia. We loved the desert-areas of our wide brown land. But it came as a reminder to me that in deserts throughout time and space not only is God there, but the devil is there too. All the 'Desert fathers and mothers' encountered demons in the desert.

One of the attacks these demons mount against us to destroy our confidence in God and ourselves has to do with regrets and disappointments.

For example, with nothing much else to think about, thoughts came to my mind about stupid things I've said from time to time. I can now think of about six Christian organizations or areas of ministry where I'll never be invited back because of a couple of mis-timed words spoken in my more youthful, exhuberant days. 'If only,' I said to myself, 'If only I'd been more disciplined/careful/gentle...'

The poet Ed Sissman wrote-

"Men past forty

Get up nights

Look out at city lights

And wonder why life is so long

And where they made the wrong turn."


[Gordon MacDonald, Midcourse Correction (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 20 00), p. xiii].

When I was a child I used to regret not having a bicycle. When a teenager I regretted that my father didn't know anything; and that I wasn't encouraged to play more sport. As a kid I regretted having to practise on the piano - but later I regretted those regrets 'cos I enjoyed playing the piano when I got better at it!

Perhaps you regret

# a decision made in haste

# an opportunity lost

# studying the wrong course at university (or not applying yourself to study at all!)

# words spoken or not spoken

# a relationship which ended in a mess

# a job offer you didn't take or the great job you left

# an angry letter or phone call

# not being more assertive

# not taking more risks

# passing on a piece of gossip that hurt a friendship

# not being home more with the family

# maybe marrying the wrong person.

Regrets are strange things. We regret some things we could not have changed; we regret things that are now beyond our control...

Chronic regret, wrote someone, is a maximum security prison. Its iron bars are forged from our memories, our guilty consciences, our grief. Regret is not just about the past, though it often begins there. Decisions or actions you made a while back determined where you are today and limit where you will be tomorrow. You wish you had done things differently or chosen a different path.

Regret may be a prison. But unlike most cells, there is no lock on the door. We are our own jailers. Regret is not always healthy and chronic regret is not God's plan for us. We can open that door and be free. We get one chance at this business called living: shame to spoil it with chronic regrets...

We have our childhood dreams: we're going to change the world, live a happy life; and we land into middle-age with a thud and realize the world and our histories have changed us in ways we don't like...

Guy Doud had a woman who sat in his office with her face buried in her hands. She was weeping and she was repeating over and over, 'If only I could turn the clock back. . . . If only I could turn the clock back.' [Guy Rice Doud, 'Living Beyond Regrets' (Colorado Springs,CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1997), p. 51].

(Have you ever wondered what went through Hitler's mind as he killed himself?)

A woman in New York sold her family's jewelry for a dime. She didn't do it intentionally. It happened after she took the precious gems out of the safety deposit box to wear to a wedding. The bank was closed for the weekend, so she put the jewels in an old shaving case and stuffed it inside another box. In time she forgot all about the jewels. When her friend was collecting items for a garage sale, she gave her the shaving case. By the time the woman realized what she had done, the valuable heirlooms had been sold to an unknown buyer for 10 cents.



HOWEVER...

The most dramatic suicide-through-regret in the Bible is, of course, that of Judas Iscariot...

But Judas' greatest mistake was not betraying his Lord. His greatest mistake was not going to the cross to ask for and receive forgiveness. Regret does not have to say the last word.

Living negatively in the the past is demoralizing. (Have you heard about the poor man in Denver who was stricken with a strange mental illness that forced him to walk backwards all the time?' Predictably, his form of hysteria ended him up in hospital).

God has arranged the universe to encourage creatures to start afresh. Almost everything is renewable. The motto of our little counseling practice is 'It's never too late to have a happy childhood.'

I read today of a book written by a 102-year-old African American who learned to read and write at 98!

In theological college I had a teacher who wrote on to the blackboard: 'Don't just do something, sit there! (Then do something!)' It's called the 'reflection/action' model. Always think before acting. It is better to sleep on what you plan to do than to be kept awake by what you've done. If you need to write a strong letter, write it, get it out of your system, then tear it up. Or check with an experienced Christian friend about its wording, and the wisdom or otherwise of sending it!



HOPE

The Bible's answer to regret over the past - for an individual or a church - is, in one word, HOPE.

Humans are 'hopeful beings'. Where there's hope there's life. That's because our God is a 'God of hope' (Romans 15:13). 'My hope is in the Lord' was the Psalmists' confident affirmation.

Hope is so much an essential part of Christianity that Paul says without it the Christian is the most miserable of all persons (1 Corinthians 15:19).

In fact, the notion of hope is woven like a golden thread through the whole fabric of God's creation. An experiment by psychologists at the University of North Carolina found that rats soon drowned if they were put in a large bottle without an apparent escape. But put the rat in a jar with the lid half cut away, and it will swim for about 36 hours before drowning from exhaustion!

Hope is more than optimism. The New Testament talks about the 'patience of hope'. Christian hope is deep; mere optimism may be shallow. Optimism may be a good natural trait - and have no religious connections at all. 'Hope', says John Macquarrie in his little book The Humility of God, 'is humble, trustful, vulnerable. Optimism is arrogant, brash, complacent... Our hope is not that in spite of everything we do, all will turn out for the best. Our hope is rather that God is with us and ahead of us, opening a way in which we can responsibly follow.'



YES!

'I don't know Who - or what - put the question. I don't know when it was put. I don't remember answering. But, at some moment, I did say Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.' (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, Tr. W H Auden and Leif Sjoberg, London: Faber and Faber, 1964, p.169.)

Have you heard of Jean-Dominique Bauby? He was a Frenchman, editor-in-chief of the magazine, Elle. In 1995, at the age of 43, he suffered a massive stroke that left him completely and permanently paralyzed, a victim of what's called 'locked-in syndrome.' Here was a man who had been gregarious and witty, who was now unable to move or talk. He was totally dependent on hospital staff and equipment for all his bodily functions, but his brain remained unscathed, and he discovered that the only muscle in his body still under his control was his left eyelid. By blinking with that eye in response to a special alphabet, he let the outside world know that his mind was alive and well inside its immobile body.

By blinking and through sheer determination and will power, Bauby shared what it was like to be in his condition. At one point he referred to himself as 'a working brain in a jar.' In addition, he wrote a book entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which is a wonderful tribute to the human spirit. He also helped form an association for victims of locked-in syndrome and their families.

Christopher Reeve, in his book, Still Me, talks about playing Superman, and the glib definition he used to have of what a hero was. In those days, he said: 'A hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences.' But since an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.'

I think he's right.

'The human capacity to fight back will always astonish doctors and philosophers. It seems, indeed, that there are no circumstances so bad and no obstacles so big that we cannot conquer them.' (Jean Tetreau ).



LIFE-DREAMS

Like most 15-year-olds, John Goddard had a wealth of heart-pumping dreams. One ordinary day in 1940, he bothered to write 127 of his life dreams on a pad of yellow paper. Most lists like that wind up in the attic with old report cards and letters from grandma. John's became a blueprint for life.

In 1972, Life magazine reported that, at age 47, he had achieved 103 of his original dreams. That article, entitled 'One Man's Life of No Regrets,' detailed his Master Dream List and became one of the most requested reprints in Life's long history. His list included a vast spectrum of dreams, including the following: visiting eight world-class rivers; studying 12 primitive cultures; climbing 16 of the tallest mountains; carrying out careers in medicine and exploration; visiting every country in the world; learning to fly an airplane; becoming an Eagle Scout; riding in a blimp, balloon, and glider; playing the flute and the violin; going on a church mission; teaching a college course; becoming a member of the Explorer's Club; and many more.

'When I was 15,' he told the Life reporter, 'all the adults I knew seemed to complain, "Oh, if only I'd done this or that when I was younger." They let life slip by them. I was sure that if I planned for it, I could have a life of excitement and fun and knowledge.'

Before editor and essayist Norman Cousins died, he wrote, 'The tragedy of life is not death, rather, it is what we allow to die within us while we live.'

What dreams do you need to actualize in order to live a life of no regrets?

Hope is not conditional upon trouble being removed. Hope means God is with us in trouble and in triumph. Resurrection hope means God is with us in life and death. Hope means the God who was with his people in the past will be with them always.

Christ has died, and we have died with him. Christ is risen, and with him we have passed from death to life. Inside that tomb with the grave clothes we have left our tears, our failures, our regrets, our long-cherished resentments, our broken promises, our shabby respectability. Easter is our personal deliverance from sin and death. It is the risen Christ speaking your name and mine.

The resurrection of Jesus is God's great announcement to us that life can begin again...

STALAG 3A

'In February 1945,' says one observer, 'I was one of hundreds of British and American POWs thrust into Stalag 3A at Luckenwalde, just outside Berlin. Unlike us, who rated some protection under the Geneva Convention, the Russians were helpless. Underfed, denied medical attention and forced to do hard labour, their death rate was staggering. Although we had no communication with their compound, each morning we watched in fascinated horror while a truck collected its daily quota of corpses.

'The days of tribulation ended on April 22, 1945, when we were all liberated by the Ukrainian army. Within hours, the Russian barracks in Stalag 3A were emptied; hundreds went off to fight again, while those too sick to volunteer remained behind. We then entered the Russian compound. It was a scene of indescribable horror. But in the heart of a barracks block they had wrought a miracle - they had built a church.

'We stood breathless. A great golden crucifix flashed from the altar, its radiance reflected in prismed chandeliers hung the length of the nave. The windows were a splendour of stained glass, and along the walls were the Stations of the Cross, fashioned in coloured mosaic. It seemed incongruous. How could starving, dying men have created so magnificent a place of worship? Then we looked closer and all was explained. The golden crucifix was two pieces of slim timber, painstakingly sheathed in gold-foil paper salvaged from the refuse dump. The chandeliers were creations of thousands of tiny slips of cardboard, each covered with silver paper and suspended by almost invisible threads. The stations of the cross were crafted not from Florentine porcelain tile but from bits of coloured paper snipped from magazines rescued from rubbish bins.

In the constant presence of death, and from scraps gleaned from the dump, they had built a church. God had illumined it with a divine authenticity.'


[Source Unknown: originally an article in The Readers' Digest].

BORDEN OF YALE

In 1904 a child of wealth, William Borden, heir to the Borden Dairy Estate, graduated from a Chicago high school a millionaire. His parents gave him a trip around the world. Traveling through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe gave Borden a burden for the world's hurting people. Writing home, he said, 'I'm going to give my life to prepare for the mission field.' When he made this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible two words: No Reserves. Turning down high paying job offers after graduation from Yale University, he entered two more words in his Bible: No Retreats. Completing studies at Princeton Seminary, Borden sailed for China to work with Muslims, stopping first at Egypt for some preparation. While there he was stricken with cerebral meningitis and died within a month. A waste, you say! Not in God's plan. In his Bible underneath the words No Reserves and No Retreats, he had written the words No Regrets. [The Daily Bread, Dec 31, 1988].


ISSUES FOR DISCUSSION

Choose some of the following:

1. Bible Study: Using 1 Peter 1:1-9 as your text, develop a sermon/study on the subject of hope. Here are some suggested headings: biblical hope is certain, living, a resurrection hope, and it's practical. Study the background of this epistle: to whom was the author writing about hope? What might have been their circumstances? How can we be encouraged to 'live in hope'?

2. 'Without the event of the third day, hope would have no grounds for understanding Good Friday as 'good' or Holy Saturday as 'holy'. Jesus would have been one more good man, swallowed up in defeat and death. But because of what we have come to call 'the resurrection', Christian hope understands the death of Jesus as the manifestation of God's transforming love touching our existence at its most hopeless point. Such hope understands his being dead as the power of that compassionate love to penetrate the depths of human defeat and isolation in order to engender a new creation.' (Tony Kelly, Touching the Infinite, Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1991, p.105).

Here's the best clue to dealing with regrets. Why?

3. Pang Hui: 'No matter what happened, I would go on living, living without complaint, regret or shame.' How do you get to be like that?

4. 'Stop a rumor or gossip instead of passing it on.' How can we learn to be more disciplined here?

5. Paul regularly reiterated his regretful pre-Damascus Road doings: see 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Galatians 1:13, Acts 22:4-5, Acts 26:11 etc. What can we do with the 'junk' in our lives before we found the Lord (or even _since_ we found the Lord, for that matter!)?

6. Try to make sense of Samuel Butler's statement: 'I believe that he was really sorry that people would not believe he was sorry that he was not more sorry.'

7. 'Let regrets be your instructor, not interrogator.' What does this mean?

8. A single woman comes to you for counseling. Her story: 'I fell in love with a terrific guy - he was sensitive, caring, a good listener. But after two years he told me he didn't "love" me, and didn't know why. In fact he didn't think he knew what "romantic love" was. We're still good friends, but after six months my heart is still broken. I regret sometimes ever getting to know him: he took me out of circulation for two years! Will I get over it?' How would you help?

9. 'To be free, to be able to stand up and leave everything behind -- without looking back. To say Yes -- .' Dag Hammarskjšld. How do you get to be like that?

10. Remember Esau? (See Genesis 25:29-34). He sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a pot of stew. Later he realized that he had bartered away something of great value, because in those days the firstborn received a double inheritance, and father Isaac had substantial assets. Exchanging something of great value for something worthless is actually quite common. Can you think of some examples?

11. 'Regret is what happens when reality collides with your dreams. But dreams are important....' Figure that out!

12. 'I wish I'd known then what I know now'. 'You can't put a wise head on young shoulders'. Can't you?

13. A psychologist writes: 'Living without regret requires difficult self-questioning. We must regularly ask ourselves these questions: What do I want? How will I know when I get it?' Why not share with the group your answers to these two questions?

14. Here's a little poem by Victor Hugo:

'Let us learn like a bird for a moment to take Sweet rest on a branch that is ready to break; She feels the branch tremble, yet gaily she sings. What is with her? She has wings, she has wings.'

How does Christian hope provide us with wings?

15. Found on an Internet newsgroup:

Written by Erma Bombeck at her learning of her terminal cancer (with some additional comments by the poster):

~ I would have talked less and listened more. ~ I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded. ~ I would have eaten the popcorn in the "GOOD" living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. ~ I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. ~ I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed. ~ I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. ~ I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains. ~ I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life. ~ I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day. ~ I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime. ~ Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment realizing that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. ~ When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner." ~ There would have been more "I love you's" and more "I'm sorry's" ...but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute.....look at it and really see it ... live it ... and never give it back.

[In honor of women's history month and in memory of Erma Bombeck who lost her fight with cancer]. What would you add to these?

16. Life, wrote Baudelaire, is a hospital in which patients believe they will recover if they are moved to another bed. (For pastors: substitute the word 'church'!). Your experience?

17. When things are really bad, when they can't get worse, think about what they did at Stalag 3A.



A PRAYER:

Help me in my unbelief, O God, and give me gifts of patience and hope. Make me more constant in my love for you and my trust in you. In loving let me believe and in believing let me love; and in loving and in believing let me hope for a more perfect love and a more unwavering faith, through Jesus Christ my Lord...

O God, I hope, each day, for the lessening of sin's hold upon my will; for my growth in grace and in true holiness; for a more perfect holiness, and when this earthly life is through, for an experience of knowing even as also I am known.

And until I experience a triumphant welcome on the other side, thank you for your comfort and protection in all the days of my life so far. Your blessings outnumber the leaves of autumn or the stars in the sky. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose loving kindness we have been born anew; born to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; born to an inheritance which will never perish or fade away, kept for us in heaven. Amen.


A BENEDICTION

May the eternal God, who has been the hope and joy of many generations, and who in all ages has invited men and women to seek him and in seeking to find him, grant you a clearer vision of his truth, a greater faith in his power, and a more confident assurance of his love.

May he who out of defeat brings new hope and new alternatives, continually bring you new life. For his greater glory. Amen.


A final blessing (adapted from a sermon by John Clapool):

May you travel from the place of despair to the place of hope. May you stop setting limits on what can and cannot be.

Behold our God! He can make the things that are out of the things that are not. He can make dead things come to life again. Neither empty wombs nor empty tombs are too much for him; which means neither are your problems, whatever they may be. Therefore, lift up your hearts. Be not afraid. He goes before us into the future. What are we waiting for? Let us go out in hope.


RESOURCES:

Use the keyword search for 'Hope', and 'Failure' (without 'quotes') on the John Mark Ministries website.



Rowland Croucher Originally written March 2001.