Thursday, April 28, 2016

Counselling, Abuse, and the Image of God

When we're abused, there are three aspects of the image of God that get seriously messed with; relationship, voice, and power. I learned this from Diane Langberg's excellent book, 'Counseling survivors of sexual abuse.'

Here's what I've distilled from Diane's book along with my own counselling experience.

Relationship: Someone in relationship to us has broken appropriate boundaries, and related to us in an inappropriate way.

Voice: Our voice becomes silent in many ways: We get silenced when we resist, we get silenced by people who later don't believe us, we get silenced because its feels impossible to put to words what has happened.

Power: Someone used power over us in an inappropriate way. We became powerless, unable to stop their corrupt power.

Knowing this, helps us to know how to help people dealing with the pain of past abuse:

Relationship: We need to reach out to people in love. Providing them with a safe relationship in which they can be assured boundaries won't be broken. They need to know that they won't be used or abused in this relationship. They especially need to know that they won't be rejected or abandoned when they share what's happened to them. They need to feel safe. If we do this well, we also teach the wounded soul how to reach out to others in loving relationships.

Voice: We need to let them use their voice. We need to pray for them, and encourage them to put a voice to the unspeakable things that have happened. We need to use our voices, in a way that encourages them to use their voices. Most of the talking needs to come from them. We need to bear witness to the things they share. Its very healing to say out loud what's happened to you, and then have something bear witness to the wrong of it. Its also very healing to know that after bearing witness, the person still wants to talk to you, and be in relationship with you. If we do this well, we help the wounded soul to find their voice again, and to use their voice to bless and heal others.

Power: We need to be careful that we use our God given power in a loving way. God has given us power to serve and protect, and to set the captives free. If we use our power to fight for the abused in prayer, to stand with them, to listen to their stories, to validate their pain, and to provide healing words to them, we help them to see the rightful place of power in a relationship. If we use our power well, we help the wounded soul to correctly use power to serve and protect others.

I am so grateful for the person who used their voice and power to start a relationship with me, and taught me how to use my voice, power, and relationships to bring healing to others. And I'm even more thankful for Jesus, who used his power to save me, who used his voice to speak healing words of truth to me, and who has entered into an eternal relationship with me, where he is not ashamed to call me his brother.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Boldly approaching God

I still remember a few years ago discovering that I couldn't do anything good for God without his grace empowering me. Sometimes in the Bible, the word 'grace' refers to God's special assistance, as in Hebrews 4:16
'Let us then boldly approach the throne of grace,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.'
This verse was a real game changer for me. It changed the way I did life. I began to trust less in my own strength, and spent more time asking God to help me live for him. It also changed the way I preached: At the end of my sermons I now warned the congregation that we can't obey God without him empowering us to do it, therefore, we should cry out to him for help.

Because it was such a game changer in my theology, I wrote a song about it for us to sing. Songs are a great way for us to not only learn theology, but also to beat it down into our hearts.

I initially wrote the song from memory, without looking up Hebrews 4:16. But after a while, I thought, 'hang on a minute, surely we can't boldly go into God's presence, isn't that rude and presumptuous?' So, I looked up the verse, and then looked at it in Greek, and realised that, Yes! We really can BOLDLY approach God! Isn't that amazing, that as his children, we can boldly approach him. We don't have to fear him being annoyed or angry at us. Jesus took all that annoyance and anger at the cross. What a wonderful God!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Father Knows Best

Romans 8:28 has been one of my favourite Bible verses for years. Although it's been memorised in my head for years, I have to daily beat it into my heart too.
And 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 NIV
In my brain, I know that whatever happens in my life, God uses even the bad things for my good. But in my heart, I get worried whenever something bad happens. I worry as if the situation is out of control, as if it's not really in the hands of my loving heavenly Father. This worry, and subsequent stress, are signs that I'm not believing this verse deep down in my heart.

So I've set my prayer app to regularly remind me to pray Romans 8:28, under the prayer category of 'Unbelief'. I pray through this verse, asking God to help me believe that he's in control of every detail that goes wrong, and that he'll use these things to make me more like Christ. Each time I pray this, I'm beating this biblical truth deep down further into my heart, and growing in faith in my heavenly Dad, who lovingly manages all the troubles in my life, in a way that is for my good and His glory.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Biblical Importance of New Worship Songs

I've heard people I respect say that we should only sing the psalms, or the old hymns.
The Psalms themselves however tell us to sing new songs:
 2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

                                                                                                Psalm 33:2-3 NIV
The following song originally had a harp instead of the piano that's replaced it. I wrote it back in 2007 with a basic hip-hop feel to it. It's a contextualised urban worship song, following the biblical principle of making music to God with the harp, and singing a new song (Ps 33:2-3).

Monday, April 04, 2016

Street Essentials Video: 'Alone' on Vimeo

I just got an email from YouTube saying that they had removed the audio track from one of our Street Essentials videos. I've subsequently re-uploaded it onto Vimeo, and embedded it below.

BTW If you want to see any of the other Street Essential videos, the playlist link can be found at:

'Alone' Street Essentials, by Duncan Forbes from Duncan I Forbes on Vimeo.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Helpful Blog Posts on Gossip - but what is Gossip? [UPDATED]

Today I heard an excellent podcast Thom Rainer did on gossip, its well worth a listen:

His podcast was prompted by an excellent blog post by Chuck Lawless outlining why gossip's so destructive to a church:

Both of these links are well worth reading/listening to.

Heart Issues:
I really appreciate both posts pointing out the heart issues behind gossip. I learned last year that it makes me feel good when someone else is listening to me telling them information about someone else. I get to pontificate on that person's life, whilst people hang on my every word. It comes down to the pride in my heart. 

Thomas Rainer does a good job of pointing out how damaging to church life gossip is. I can personally testify to this. He even says we should teach about it in church membership classes, have it mentioned in our membership agreements, and then do church discipline when it happens. 

A Definition of Gossip:
What I would have loved to see added to both posts was a definition of gossip. I think this is important because people often claim they're not gossiping when actually they are. People tend to have a narrow definition of gossip, whilst the Bible's definition is very broad and includes the following:

1) Betraying a confidence: 
The parallelism of Proverbs 11:13 shows us that betraying a confidence / telling a secret is gossip.  
'A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.' Prov 11:13
If someone said something to you in confidence (which is often assumed when people share sensitive stuff), then it's gossip to reveal that to others.  A question to ask ourselves is, 'if this person was in the room, would they be shocked that I'm saying this? Am I telling someone's secrets?

2) Spreading a False Report about someone: 
Exodus 23:1 NIV "Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.'
This happens because: 

  1. We misread a situation/person, and then tell others, spreading a false report that we think is accurate. They're not present in the room, so they can't correct your false report.
  2. By the process of chinese whispers, the story changes as it goes round, leading to a false report. Unfortunately, the person being talked about is not present to give their version, so others are left with an unchallenged composite image of the person that is in fact a lie. A question to ask ourselves is, 'If this person was in the room, would they agree with what I'm saying?' Another question to ask is, "Are they in the room?" If not, maybe we should keep our mouth closed.

3) Being a Busy-Body:
1 Timothy 5:13 ESV 'Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.'
We can become obsessed with what's going on with other people. Finding out information about other people, and then passing on that information to others. The internet makes this all to easy doesn't it? When I'm getting obsessed with what's going on in someone else' life, that's a sign that I'm becoming judgmental, and not doing enough reflection of my own heart.  
Matthew 7:3 NIV "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?' 
It's also a sign that the next step is going to be talking to others about the person I'm obsessing on.

4) Being two-faced:
1 Timothy 3:8 ESV 'Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued (NET 'two-faced'),' If we talk to someone's face as if we're friendly with  them, but behind their back say bad things about them, we are being two-faced, which is a type of gossip.

[UPDATED with points 5 & 6 on 02/06/16]

5) Falsely accusing someone

(Pro 17:15 NIV)   'Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent-- the LORD detests them both.'
We often do this when we assume what someone's done and rush to have a go at them without asking the questions first.

6) Stirring up conflict
(Pro 6:16-19 NIV)  16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:
...  19 a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Sadly, we too often pass on information to others that stirs up trouble in our churches/friendship group etc.

How should we use our voices then?
Of course, if holiness in the Bible involves taking off the old and putting on the new, our goal should not just be to avoid gossip, but to move in the opposite direction, and use our voices for building others up. 

Ephesians 4:29 NIV 'Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.'
There's an excellent blog post on this by Justin Taylor on the Gospel Coalition site:
'What would it look like if Christians took the ninth commandment seriously.'

But how can we do this?
Once I learned what gossip was, I found that although I knew it was bad, it is very hard to not do. This is because deep down in my heart I want to be important. I can appear important by gossiping, because 
1) others like to listen to it, and therefore appear to view me as important, and 
2) by putting others down, I elevate myself. So I've found the following things helpful:

  1. To daily meditate on Scriptures about not being judgmental.
  2. To pray that God will help me to not be judgmental
  3. To pray regularly that God will help me use my voice the right way, to build others up.
  4. To quickly confess when I'm not using my voice right. Rather than covering up, to admit it, knowing that Jesus' death has paid for this sin, and his righteousness means that I'm right in God's sight regardless of whether I've gossiped [though I still need to repent]. These gospel truths free me up to be honest about my gossiping.
  5. To have a spouse and friends and church who know what gossip is and that is wrong, and that it's a heart condition. This way they can help me stay on the straight and narrow instead of helping me cover up and even grow my sin.
  6. To daily meditate on being God's son. With this Biblical sense of importance, I'm less likely to want to seek importance through gossip.
  7. As these gospel truths soften my heart, I find my gossip decreasing, and my voice being used in better ways. But, the power of indwelling sin is no less, I will still gossip, and still badly need the cross each time.

To a Friend Fearing Failure

Dear friend,
I know you've been told in the past you're a failure, and it has been a marker that you have tried to avoid for much of your life. Please let me share with you something that I hope might free you up in this area:

There's no way that you and I can do everything right. As Jerry Bridges put it,
'Even the good works we bring to God are in themselves defective, both in motive and performance. It is virtually impossible to purge our motives completely of pride and self gratification. And we can never perfectly perform those good works.' Holiness Day by Day, Week 46, Thursday.
That means, because of indwelling sin, when we do good things, they probably won't be good enough, and we will probably have some mixed motives as we do them. So, all of us humans are bound to fail. If you fail bro, you're just like the rest of us, we all fail. I fail at being a good husband, parent, and pastor. I hate that I fail in these areas, I want to work harder to not fail, but even when I work harder, I still fail.

But here's the good news. Jerry goes on to point out the following verse,
'you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house  to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.' 1 Peter 2:5 (NIV) 
Even though you and I are failures, God has chosen to make us into stones that he's building his house with. He's hand picked you bro as one of the stones he wants. He is making us failures into a holy priesthood. 'Holy?' you say, 'I don't feel very holy'. Well check out the next bit:

We offer sacrifices that are acceptable to God. Even though we're failures, the things we do for God, are accepted by God, even though we fail in them. How come? Look at those final three words, 'through Jesus Christ.' So, the failed things we do, are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the lens through which God looks at the things we do for him. Although we don't do them properly, and although we have selfish motives whilst we do them, shone through the lens of Jesus, they look like acceptable offerings to God.

This is so freeing to a failure like me. I'd like to be the perfect husband, father, and pastor - and I can be through Jesus Christ's filter. He filters out the bad, and all that's left is a good work pleasing to God. This means that whilst I might look like a failure in many ways, in my heavenly Father's eyes, what I do in my marriage, parenting, and pastoring pleases him, all because of Christ! I don't need to be the perfect success, Jesus gives it to me through his life, death, and resurrection!

Think about that filter bro, think about that lens, and be freed up from the fear of failure, and live your life as a living sacrifice to God, acceptable through Jesus Christ.