maandag 24 maart 2014

Time for new wineskins!

The most common form of ‘’doing church’’ is in the form of the audience-stage model. We see this model in the New Testament in Acts 19:9-10 in Ephesus where the apostle Paul for two years preached daily in the hall of Tyrraneus in the centre of the city until everyone in the region of Asia had heard the gospel of Christ.  In Peter’s Pentecost gospel preaching in Acts 2 we find an outdoor variety of the same audience-stage model. We also see the same style in the gospel preaching in the temple in Acts 3:11-4:4. These examples show that there is certainly a place for organising Christian meetings that follow this model. However, about the normal spiritual family-life of the people of God we read that the broke bread in their homes and that when they met together everyone contributed something during the meeting: What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up (1 Cor. 14:26). In other words, the normal meeting style of the family of God was highly participatory. Of course even then there were special occasions where a visiting speaker would teach for a long period like Paul did in Troas when he knew he had to leave the next morning and so used the opportunity to teach until midnight (Acts 20:7-12). Nevertheless, this seems to have been the exception rather than the norm in the early Christian church. Until the Constantinian era Christians met in this way but with the conversion of Roman emperor Constantine in 312 AD things changed dramatically. 

Constantine and his mother, Helena, did like what all Roman emperors before him did, namely build places of worship in honour of his preferred deity all over the Roman Empire. Because of the Christians dislike for temples they followed the model of the common public building, the basilica, and build basilica in honour of Christ all throughout the empire as places for the Christians to meet. At the same time there were large numbers of pagans who now wanted to become Christians. Some with honourable intentions, others simply because it was now more beneficial to be a Christian than to be a pagan.  This influx could have virtually obliterated the churches' biblical foundation had they not found a way to instruct the new believers en masse in large meetings in the basilica.  The more personal discipleship course or catechumenate - the process to teach new believers the essentials of the faith- was shortened from three years to only forty days. In order to compensate the normal participatory meetings on the Lord’s day made way for lectures and sermons to an audience whose participation was now reduced to participating in the singing of hymns. This model has persisted as the dominant model ever since and even in churches that have home groups or cell-groups to provide some room for participation the Sunday meeting with the lecture is still seen as the actual going to church. While this style of doing church has certain advantages it also creates two classes of believers, those who are allowed to participate on stage and those who are not. Those who are on-stage are expected to perform well and otherwise can expect serious criticism, those who are content to be simply part of the audience are expected to follow the lead and participate in the areas where they are allowed to participate and listen attentively to what they are told. In some extreme cases the focus becomes the religious entertainment and gratification of the feelings of audience whereby those on stage basically have become reli-performers. We must ask ourselves the question whether our current model of doing church facilitates the working together of various ministries in the family of God to produce the mature believers that Ephesians 4:11-13 talks about? I suggest that we tend to perpetuate childlike dependency and spiritual immaturity and as a result people are tossed about by every wind of doctrine or new religious fad that Ephesians 4:14 warns against. In the light of this we must wonder whether it is not time to use different wine skins? More participatory ways of celebrating our family meetings as the people of God!

woensdag 19 maart 2014

Hurting people hurt people, but there is a way out!!!

One of Adam's descendents, Lamech said to his wives, Adah and Zillah, “Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!  For I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man for hurting me" (Genesis 4:23).  End of story.  We don't know anything else—but maybe we know more than enough.  When people are hurt they often hurt others, and when they are guided by unforgiveness and the desire to revenge they often hurt others way out of proportion too. Bitterness is lethal.  Hurting people hurt people. The sad, and often scary, thing is that most people don't consciously think like this.  They are not aware of how the pain, bitterness, anger, frustration of their past is sub-consciously still affecting them even if it his hidden deep down in our psyche (soul) out of sight.  But if something, an event, a feeling, even a smell, an expression on someone’s face or something said or done then the sub-conscious remembers our past pain and influences the way we feel and react.  Without thinking, we lash out or become unreasonably irritable and snappy with others—especially towards the one who (knowingly or unknowingly) hurt us.  

Our pain speaks out in its own defense; yet pain doesn't know how to speak rationally.  Our pain is also selfish, it does not like love does consider the other, instead it feeds on its own damaged emotions and only feels better when it draws the blood of another. If it cannot get back at the perpetrators it will find someone else to use as a scapegoat. It is the curse of all flesh. 

Thankfully God did not leave us to our own (wrong) devices. Initially he provided the law which regulated our sinful tendencies and desire for revenge by instituting the principle of ‘’an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth". A big improvement from Lamech and an institution that kept lawlessness and unbridled violence at bay in society, protecting the innocent. However, the law only dealt with the symptoms not with the underlying problem of unforgiveness, hate, bitterness.  In Christ God provided the cure: Grace and truth (John 1:17).  

Grace is not only divine, unmerited favour, that we can enjoy for our own salvation, it is much more than that, it is also a higher standard of morality which we are called to emulate.  Jesus therefore raises the bar for His followers: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matthew 5:38-39).  Easier said than done?  Definitely.  But grace not only raises the bar and instructs us, it also helps us do that which seems impossible: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.  For He gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.  If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48). 

Hurting people will continue to hurt people until they come to appreciate Gods grace for them and for others. In the pain of the moment, the voice of our flesh screams much louder than the soft, quiet whisper of God's Word and the gentle loving prompting of the Holy Spirit.  Wisdom is overridden by injury.  When we’re offended or wounded, pride jumps up from its subdued state and says, "This is my chance!"  Then, in the name of self-claimed justice, pride hides behind hurtful retaliation.  But Jesus said, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52).  In other words, retaliating in your pain will only cause you more pain. We must remember it is God who justifies and makes right.  He specifically asks us to let Him take care of situations in which we are wronged.  "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,'" says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:19-21).  

Of course this is not easy at all, we need divine help and the encouragement and support of others. By nature we all have the desire to be considered worthy of other peoples’ love, attention, and respect and if we feel we are not getting it, for example in a conflict situation or when we feel someone wronged us we may become very defensive. Such defensiveness attempts to maintain or build own positive self-image at the expense of other people’s needs and feelings but inevitably fails in this attempt as bringing others down never results in a better self-image, at most it vents our desire for revenge and provides temporary relief from the stress caused by our own pain and bitterness. But if we do not follow the example of Christ and stubbornly persist in our bitterness and defensiveness Jesus warns us in the parable of the forgiven man who refused to forgive that it will end very badly for us for God then will hold all our sins also against us (Matt. 18:21-35).

The question is: how does a person overcome their hurt with good?  (Again, easier said than done.)  The answer is love. For true love is forgiving and compassionate and no child of God lacks access to this love as God pours it out in the hearts of those who are His (Rom. 5:5). The fruit of His indwelling Spirit is unconditional and self-giving love, which leads to joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). If in Christ we have all we need to respond differently it boils down to a choice: Do I follow Christ’s example or do I continue to allow the flesh and Satan who manipulates it to feed on pain, bitterness and un-forgiveness, and so doing bring more pain to others.

If we know and truly understand that hurting people hurt people, love and compassion should be our focus.  When others speak harshly to us or spitefully use us, instead of immediately taking the defensive and getting angry, our understanding of this principle should bring about a different response.  We should choose to respond with love, compassion, kindness, understanding, keeping the instinctive retaliatory response of the flesh under control. Compassion is sympathy for the suffering of others, which often includes a desire to help.  When hurting people hurt you, the love of God will not take it personally (even if the attack was clearly meant to personally hurt you).  Instead, you will recognize that our battle is not with our fellow humans but with the evil spiritual forces that manipulate them and use their pain and weaknesses.  God's love within you will see the truth and recognize the other's need for healing. This is compassion.

But the most important factor that must be accepted, no matter how reluctant we are, is this: "All [of you] should be of one and the same mind (united in spirit), sympathizing [with one another], loving [each other] as brethren [of one household], compassionate and courteous (tender-hearted and humble). Never returning evil for evil or insult for insult (scolding, tongue-lashing, berating), but on the contrary blessing [praying for their welfare, happiness, and protection, and truly pitying and loving them]. For know that to this you have been called, that you may yourselves inherit a blessing [from God—that you may obtain a blessing as heirs, bringing welfare and happiness and protection to yourself]" (1 Peter 3:8-9, Amplified).

Let’s break the cycle of pain and abuse. I, for one, don’t want to be guilty of hurting another just because I’m hurting. Lord, help us all

This article is based on an article by Daphne Delay: 

woensdag 5 maart 2014


If for some reason you feel you have lacked the motherly nurturing you needed when growing up; if you have not received the affirmation you needed to feel confident in life; then you are in need of loving reparenting by the One who loves you more than anything and who believes so much in you that He wants to make you a member of His household. If you do not have your needs met by Him you may end up captive in a harmful relationship with someone who is self-absorbed and manipulative and uses your vulnerabilities to control you and make you do what they want. On your part you will ''voluntarily'' do it in the hope that your needs will be eventually be met as well and they will, just enough to keep you hooked but never really enough. This can happen in a personal relationship or family setting but also in a work setting or even a religious setting. Such people may appear to be able and willing to give you the care and validation you need but it is conditional on their mood and attitude towards you. Basically you are in bondage to please and serve them otherwise the affection, care, validation or love you crave will be withdrawn until you comply with their demands. Such people will praise you when you do as they please but do not really respect you as a person, nor will they respect your rights, nor respect your boundaries. Before you know you find yourself doing things against your conscience, ideals and beliefs. We must disentangle ourselves from such relationships by learning to protect our boundaries and have our needs met by God. At the same time we must forgive and not harshly condemn them as such people are usually so damaged themselves that they are unable to understand what they do to others.