zondag 30 november 2014

Our persecuted and suffering family members

Today, we stand with all those who because to seek to obey and follow Christ are suffering persecution. some are ridiculed, others are refused unemployment, some are mistreated or lose their jobs because of standing for what is right in Gods eyes. Remember also to pray for God's grace and strength on all the Christians around the world who are in prison for Christ. Intercede for all those who are suffering torture, deprivation, and hostility for Jesus. Ask the Lord to provide for the widows and children of Pastors who have been maimed for life or have been martyred. Pray for healing for those men and women who suffered severe physical and emotional humiliation as their bodies and souls were degraded. Pray for the victims as well as those who are traumatised as a result of witnessing what happened to their loved ones at the hands of their persecutors. Pray especially for the children. Pray for courage and strength for all those who have suffered so they may be able to forgive the perpetrators and let go so that no bitterness may delay their own inner healing and that they may not become contaminated by the hatred and evil that infected their persecutors.  Cry out to God for mercy for His people and also ask Him how you may help! Hebrews 13:3 “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

woensdag 26 november 2014

Responsible living

1 Cor. 3:10-15

10 God was kind and let me become an expert builder. I laid a foundation on which others have built. But we must each be careful how we build, 11 because Christ is the only foundation. 12-13 Whatever we build on that foundation will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. Then everyone will find out if we have used gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw. 14 We will be rewarded if our building is left standing. 15 But if it is destroyed by the fire, we will lose everything. Yet we ourselves will be saved, like someone escaping from flames.

Christ reminds us on many occasion that it is our obligation to love all humanity, everywhere in the world. We are responsible for the well-being of our fellow humans, not just within the nuclear or extended family, locally or nationally, but also globally. That is why He said we should be His witnesses globally and help people of all people groups to become His followers. Therefore violence against one human being is violence against us, and neglecting one human being's welfare is neglecting us. We are all part of one family of humanity and if God so loved the World of humanity that He sent Jesus in order to save them from their self-destructive path (John 3:16), so should we who profess to be His followers do all we can to be a positive influence locally and globally.
Of course this can be really difficult. Life in a fallen and imperfect world means that there will always be some stones thrown at us or that we find them as obstacles on your path. The outcome of this depends on what we do with them. Do we use them to construct a Wall or a Bridge? - Let us remember that we are the architects of our lives. Christ is the foundation but its up to us how to build on Him.

dinsdag 18 november 2014

Count the cost

Luke 14:26-33

26 You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life.
27 You cannot be my disciple unless you carry your own cross and come with me.
28 Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. What is the first thing you will do? Won't you sit down and figure out how much it will cost and if you have enough money to pay for it? 29 Otherwise, you will start building the tower, but not be able to finish. Then everyone who sees what is happening will laugh at you. 30 They will say, “You started building, but could not finish the job.”
31 What will a king do if he has only ten thousand soldiers to defend himself against a king who is about to attack him with twenty thousand soldiers? Before he goes out to battle, won't he first sit down and decide if he can win? 32 If he thinks he won't be able to defend himself, he will send messengers and ask for peace while the other king is still a long way off. 33 So then, you cannot be my disciple unless you give away everything you own.

It needs a lot of courage to follow a different script for one's life performance in the theater of every day life and social interaction than the script prescribed by society and enforced by formal and informal sanctions. One has to be willing to pay the price. Jesus calls us to break away from the wealth and personal comfort focused mindset of the world and follow Him by giving away everything we own to Him and allow Him to decide what to do with it. Not keeping our possessions and maintaining our status and popularity but obediently following Christ is The Way He holds out to us. He reminds us to truly make up our minds if we are really willing to pay the price and go The Way all the way!

woensdag 12 november 2014

The aroma of Christ

2 Cor. 2:15-17

For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

The greatest and often most dangerous opponents of the disciples of Christ are people who go to church but actually mainly strife to become rich, powerful or influential in order to be someone in their own eyes or in the eyes of others. Or because they seek to serve themselves and their self-interest. Our focus on Christ, and on faithfully and humbly obeying Him no matter what, even if it means poverty or hardship, is a threat to their little 'kingdoms'. To hear the truth pains them enough, but to witness the truth of what it means to follow Christ in front of them invites down-right hatred as they do not like to see themselves in that mirror. Its sad but a reality every true follower needs to learn to live with. For some we are a fragrance of life and a living signpost pointing at the Way. For others we will be the stench of death itself. Not a signpost to the right way to live in this world but in their eyes we are a sign of their own condemnation. A signpost they would rather destroy then take serious, let alone follow the Way. Yet it is not us, but their own conscience which troubles them and until they stop their efforts to silence its voice and stop with hardening their hearts they will not know inner peace.

vrijdag 7 november 2014

Knowing Gods love will cast out all fear from our lives

1 John 14:17-18:

17 Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on the Judgment Day; and we will have it because our life in this world is the same as Christ's. 18 There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment.

I know this from personal experience. For many years even as a believer I thought that the fear of the Lord is to fear punishment and condemnation. But when I came to a deeper knowledge of the unconditional love of God for all people, sinner and saint, I realized that the fear of the Lord means not to fear Him or being rejected by Him but to fear indulging in sin that separates me from Him. To know Gods love naturally results in one no longer wanting to allow anything to cause one to drift away from its comforting presence. This leads to a hate for sin and a love for sinners. As even the Old Testament records:

Proverbs 8:13 (NKJV) - The fear of the LORD is to hate evil

donderdag 6 november 2014

Harmful family patterns and the counselling of female victims of emotional neglect and incest

Harmful family patterns and the counselling of female victims of emotional neglect

Emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect in the home is very harmful for family relationships and all people involved. The same applies to false accusations of sexual abuse in the home. For example mothers who are very insecure may become jealous of their daughters and may consequently seek to destroy the relationship between the (step) daughter and her father, sister and brothers, by labeling their mutual love and interest in another as sexually inappropriate. They may drop hints, if not out rightly accuse other family members of abuse or neglect in order to destroy their relationship and assert their own control over the males in the home. In most cases the males withdraw once the wife/mother starts to subtly or less subtly accuse them of sexual abuse. In other cases she causes the daughter to withdraw from the father by hinting that he has an inappropriate sexual interest in her. In both scenarios the daughter is left without positive male affirmation from her father, making her vulnerable to sexual exploitation and promiscuity later in life as well as the fear of abandonment by men.

In another scenario the mother’s jealous behavior is directed at the daughters whom she sees as competitors for her husband’s or son’s love. Often this occurs when the daughters become teenagers. Instead of seeing them as children who have the need and right to their father’s love and male affirmation, the mother sees them as a threat to her relationship with her husband and/or son. She should deal with the underlying anxiety and related issues in her life but for personal reasons decides not to do so as she fears losing control. Instead she externalizes her fear and self-hatred in the form of anger and rejection and labels her (step) daughters as promiscuous and bad. In order to protect her interests she may now withhold love, care, mistreat them and may try to make them look bad in the eyes of the father and/or brother. She may downplay anything good the daughter does and highlight every tiny mistake and blow it out of proportion. In some cases they may even go as far as making up false accusations. Ironically such behavior may actually have the opposite effect and drive the daughters into inappropriately close relationships with the males in the home. Brother and sister, or father and daughter, who now no longer are treated with love and respect by the wife/mother may in their distress and need for love, affection and affirmation try to find love and emotional fulfillment in one-another and cross appropriate boundaries.

A loving and caring father who emotionally withdrew out of fear from his daughter due the emotional onslaught of their wife may not have done anything illegal as in the case of a father who became in appropriately close with his daughter, but he may not have caused any less harm. The father who for whatever reason withdrew from his daughter has unwillingly communicated that she is not important, not valuable, not lovable and not worth fighting for. He has communicated that she can be abandoned at any time by a man due to the influence of another woman. Even if the daughter herself due to the influence of others feared her father's sexuality, he should have explained his could intentions and not have withdrawn emotionally. In cases he did feel some sexual attraction due to biological factors he should have controlled these feelings but still continued to show love in an appropriate manner and affirm his daughter in her women-hood. Withdrawing emotionally from your (teenage) daughter is also a form of emotional abuse regardless of the reasons. It results in feelings of inferiority, lack of self-love, lack of self-worth, fear of abandonment and inability of forging a deep emotional connection with a man due to these underlying fears. In counselling these fears need to be identified and put in proper perspective. The daughter may need help in forgiving both parents for their errors and be helped to understand that even if her earthly father emotionally abandoned her, he did not do so voluntarily, or because she was not worth it, but because of his own weaknesses. In Christian counselling it is also important to stress that our heavenly Father never abandons or forsakes us and that He values us, loves us and believes in us.

Some pastoral guidelines for responding to post traumatic stress injury

Pastoral Responses to Post Traumatic Stress Injury

The concept of burnout is pretty well known among pastoral counselors but about post traumatic stress injury or post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) there is still a lot of ignorance. Because the symptoms between a severe burnout and post traumatic stress injury are somewhat similar the two at times get confused but they are not the same. To use a metaphor, a burnout can be compared to a repetitive strain injury in a ligament while a traumatic injury actually involves actual trauma to the ligament for example in the form of a wound. Post traumatic stress injury is an actual psychological wound and just like in a physical sense wounds can come in various forms and sizes. The deeper the wound, the longer the needed recovery time.

Post traumatic injury, just like any physical wound, can have multiple causes but usually it is a major traumatic event in a person’s life which was experienced as a major threat to his/her very existence as a person and emotionally so overwhelming that he/she got deeply hurt and distressed. Persons who were already emotionally weakened due to other stress factors, including physical and environmental factors, are particularly susceptible to major traumatic stress injury.

A seriously wounded person is usually not in full control of his/her emotions and this is equally true for psychological injury. It is common for people to just express their pain without giving much thought to how this affects people around them. As in the case of a serious physical injury following traumatic psychological injury people may be totally numb, confused and depressed. Silence in such a situation is not a sign of the person being in control but indicates deep grief. The victim may also suddenly cry, scream, shout, fight or express their pain in other ways. It is important not to take this personal. The person is in serious pain and overwhelming distress and not in full control of his/her emotions.

Dealing with people who are emotionally out of control is not easy and requires a lot of patience, compassion and wisdom so we do not worsen matters! To tell them that what they do is wrong or evil is not going to help but will act like throwing salt in the wound. To tell a seriously injured person to stop whining, to keep quiet and to stop complaining is counter-productive. Even worse if we shame and blame the person by telling them to stop playing the victim role in order to get sympathy. This is not just unloving behavior, it is downright cruel! Unfortunately I have personally encountered many pastoral counselors who said such hurtful things. The same applies for apportioning blame by telling the person what he/she should have done or should not have done. Who are we to decide such things, do we know all the facts? To do so is not only unprofessional, it is also a sign of arrogance and pride. By saying such things we suggest that we would have done things better in their situation. Such behavior is a serious violation of the Law of Christ which requires us be humble and gentle and to do unto others as we would like to have done to us.

When a person is suffering, wounded and out of control they need our compassion, comfort and competent assistance. One does not tell a bleeding accident victim to stop crying or complaining or tell that he or she may be to blame for the accident. Even most non-Christians would be shocked by such inhumane behavior. Like ambulance workers and medical professionals we must help all suffering people in their distress and give them the best care possible whether we think they are guilty or not! This includes among other things that we:

1. Make sure the person is in a place of emotional safety (a spiritual sanctuary) and away from being exposed to further (verbal/emotional) abuse.

2. Make sure basic needs are taken care of. For example a homeless person or anyone in an unstable life situation cannot focus on healing as their focus is own basic survival.

3. Shield the person from further injury, including well-meaning but incompetent counselors

4. Help the person talk and show empathy and avoid any form of coercion, condemnation or suggesting blame or culpability.

5. Nurse the person back to full health. It is not your task to play the role of judge, accuser, witness who testifies against the victim or be the executioner of some form of punishment. If you feel you need to play a role in psychological/spiritual law enforcement and accuse people of their wrongs and tell them what to do or what not then you have no place whatsoever in counselling.

6. Help the victim talk about their experiences, their feelings and their concerns. Make sure you communicate compassion and empathy, love and concern.

7. Be very cautious in giving advice as it can easily be experienced as you imposing your view and opinion on the situation which gives victims the idea that you don’t take them serious.

8. Only offer advice when requested and even then do so very gently, avoiding adding insult to injury by blaming or shaming the victim. Stress your love for them and your faith in them. Stress Gods love for them and Gods faith in them that with His help they will get through this, not just as mere survivors but stronger and better as God uses all thing for the good of those who love Him.

9. Take note of self-undermining, self-condemning and other self-defeating thoughts and help victims to be more compassionate, forgiving and understanding towards themselves just as God is very compassionate, forgiving and understanding. Very often psychological injury is compounded by spiritual infections such as a low-self esteem, low-self confidence, lack of proper sense of self-worth and self-condemnation. Often these are the result of old untreated emotional wounds. These issues need to be addressed in a loving, gentle but firm manner because if allowed to fester they will hinder inner healing.

10. If in the counselling process the victims become aware of certain things they could have done better or wrong things they have done then do not downplay these but also do not encourage wallowing in guilt and condemnation. Instead they should be allowed to explain what wrong they think they did (confession) and then be helped to ask and receive Gods forgiveness, and turn away from doing such things again (repentance) and work on this area in their lives so that they can grow stronger (sanctification) which may include bringing to light underlying issues that created the vulnerability or temptation.

11. Bringing to light what traumatic events have actually happened and how the victims have interpreted and experienced it is very important.  These things must be acknowledged and validated and not be dismissed as invalid or wrong. We must not conclude too quickly that a person has misread or misunderstood a situation. After all they were there in that situation and we were not. Often it takes time for the whole story to surface and even then some things may be too hard or too painful to express in words. Also victims may still out of a sense of loyalty, fear or concern partially still protect the perpetrators who harmed them. However, even if we become aware beyond any doubt that the victim is misinterpreting some things it is far better to help them reach that same conclusion by asking questions that increase their own insight in the situation than telling them that they are wrong and should adopt our interpretation. From a Christian point of view we better help the person to focus on Jesus and then trust the Holy Spirit to convict people of what is wrong, right, and how to judge/distinguish between these.

These few basic guidelines for pastoral care to victims of post traumatic stress injury are also important for dealing with people who suffer from other psychological (stress) injuries. It is my sincere hope that they will contribute to better and more sensitive pastoral care to wounded people in the church and our community as too many have been left so broken and hurt that they have turned their backs to the church and sometimes even to God who was misrepresented by behavior of the people around them. By providing better pastoral care we may prevent the spiritual death of many.

dinsdag 4 november 2014

Our values

Implicit and explicit values

Most of us have been explicitly taught that the spiritual values of helping others, protecting the weak and downtrodden and doing unto others as we want to have done to us are very important. We also may have been taught that it is important to have a meaningful philosophy of life to live by. Very few of us have explicitly taught that material wealth, and the power, influence and success in obtaining access to it outrank other values. Much socialization in the home and in school in fact teach other values. Nevertheless materialism is nonetheless transmitted to most of our children implicitly as our priorities in life show that materialism is the religion we live by. Even if we confess otherwise with our mouths, our actions, our priorities, our use of time, talents, abilities, resources and energy speak much louder than words. These quietly communicate where our real allegiance lies.

God seeks people whose lives are an act of worship by being in alignment with the Spirit of Christ and the truth we believe and confess. 

maandag 3 november 2014

Materialism, individualism and the decline of social coherence in society

Romans 12:2

Don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.

The culture of materialism is based on the positive meaning given to the accumulation and hoarding of worldly goods primarily for the benefit of oneself and one’s immediate family. It goes hand-in-hand with hedonistic individualism, the quest for personal pleasure and immediate gratification. Materialism is wrongly considered a sign of prestige and living the good life as it in fact demonstrates a very wrong way of life and a mindset which is diametrically opposed to the mind of Christ who He shared his wealth with others and freely opened his home for them. This mindset is also detrimental for society as it leads to an ever widening gap between the have’s and have-not's, leading to suffering, oppression, resentment, anger and social unrest. Left unchecked and uncorrected it will eventually destroy the very fabric of our societies leading to chaos and violence. The values of materialism are simply unable to provide the social cohesion necessary for a stable society.