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I usually share bits and pieces of my testimony whenever I speak at women’s retreats and conferences. (If you’re curious, you can hear my testimony, a Christmas keynote on “Peace at the Holidays,” and a bunch of other teachings for free on this “FREE AUDIO DOWNLOADS” page of my website.) And afterwards, I am almost always asked the same question:
How did you ever START to build a real relationship with your (mentally ill, addict/drunk) mother who (sometimes intentionally but more often than not inadvertently) treated you so neglectfully / abusively / just downright terribly for so many years?
I have thought and prayed for YEARS about a blog series on this topic because a three-minute response in a Q&A or a drive-by chat in a hallway after a session just never really gets there re: my mother’s and my real story. So I began this year to think hard about what it REALLY took to motivate me to move towards my mother in love and mercy, and I’ve tried to summarize a “big-picture” story arc with the three words that I also used in my 2013 PCA Women’s Leadership Conference and 2013 Peacemaker Conference keynotes:
- Duty – God made me.https://youtu.be/qz3nxoSYXpA
- Depravity – Compared to Jesus, I was just as big a wretch as she was. So who was I to judge her?
- Destiny – I knew I deserved Hell, but instead God gave me Himself in Heaven! And deep down. I really really didn’t want my mother to go to Hell.
(I don’t think my PCA keynote is available online, but you can see my Peacemaker Keynote here:
I took a stab at the first subtopic, duty, in this post last month:
(Subtitled: How to Love Your Mother, Who Did the Very Best She Could, but Who, Like You, Has Many Weaknesses in Addition to Her Many Strengths and Who, Like You, Sometimes Turned to Not-the-Healthiest (Physically and Spiritually) Substances and Means to Deal with Her Suffering and Temptations and Fallenness, Including Self-Medicating with Scotch for Many Years and How to Love Your Mother Who Had Exactly the Same Amount of Neediness for the Savior as You, and How to Get Off of Your High Horse and Stop Judging Her and Instead See Yourself as Being More Like Her than Unlike Her So That You Can Enjoy the Best, Most Real, Most Intimate Relationship that Your Sin and Fallenness and Her Sin and Fallenness Will Possibly Allow)
If you want to begin at the beginning, you may want to click on over and read that post first. But I don’t think that’s 100% necessary or anything because today I’m jumping OUT of sequence to talk about subcategory 3: Destiny. Yes. Yes. Merry Christmas. I want to talk with you about HELL.
Some of you might not be all that happy with a blog post about torment and utter darkness (to use the words of the Westminster Confession) during this season of jolly and merry. But this morning I woke up remembering what it was like to have a hard heart that wasn’t interested AT ALL in moving towards someone who had habitually, repeatedly and routinely disdained, disrespected, attacked, abused, maligned, mistreated, criticized, judged … well, pretty much hated me even while CLAIMING to love me.
And that’s when it hit me: That’s the key. The linchpin, I think, for why I am so prone to be such a FRAUD scam-of-a-Christian in these difficult relationships when people treat me so wickedly and hurt me so deeply. Over and over again. The truth is, just like way back in 1985 when God saved my soul and (in response to this eternal kindness and love) all I wanted to do was stay as FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE from my mother, there was really only ONE reason why:
I didn’t care one whit about her soul.
Oh. Sure. I prayed for her salvation and tried to pull her along to Luis Palau stadium events so she would “get saved” and then “get the heck as far away from me as possible” because all I REALLY wanted to do was to fulfill some sort of religious duty towards her, get her eternal fire insurance fully in place, and then RUN because my life was easier and more pleasant whenever I didn’t have to deal with all of her drama and neediness and lies; her financial mismanagement, unemployment, homelessness, hospitalizations, and creepy relationships; her sappy pathos-laden, overly-intimate, inappropriate-for-a-child words when she had some sort of nostalgic wave of “love,” and her ice-cold, bitter, jarringly-cutting, inappropriate-for-a-child words when she was riding the wave down into the cesspool of ugly, lashing-out, hatred. You know, HER. The truth was:
I cared about my mother’s soul in the ABSTRACT. But I didn’t care about her.
I did not genuinely love my mother (or have any interest in loving my mother) because all I cared about, deep down, for real, was ME. My happiness. My comfort. How I was spoken to. How I was treated. I don’t like being told over and over again what a terrible (person, Christian, daughter, mother, wife, sister, friend) I am. It gets really really old to be constantly compared to (my sister, “good little girls,” loving people, kind people, gentle and caring people who aren’t worldly and materialistic and who actually try to feed the hungry and clothe the poor) only to be found lacking because I am such a selfish, materialistic, worldly pig. Maybe I am! But then, it seems to me, what I really need is prayerful, loving, Galatians 6:1 rescue and Matthew 18 redemptive, relational rescue — not just a constant verbal onslaught listing over and over again all of the many ways I just don’t measure up.
It gets so old. It wears me down. I just want to run away and hide away and stop being a verbal punching bag for mean people who think they are the only NOT-mean people in the world. (Grrrr!) I’m hurt. I’m tired. And all I can think to myself is:
I don’t deserve this.
Ah. Therein lies the rub. The eternal rub that pierces even a tired, stony, self-centered heart like my own and begins to soften me towards the truths that really matter.
Do I deserve to be maltreated? No. Probably not. Definitely not like this.
It is unjust to be constantly on the receiving end of another person’s meanness—all the more so when it is a parent treating a child in this way.
It is not beautiful. It is not good. And we should definitely be prayerful and intentional about looking for ways to try to help people when they are caught in these habitual sins and destructive relational patterns.
But HOW we go about helping them matters. Our attitude matters.
And please listen! This is important. If we are not careful, we will treat THEM with the same gracelessness and disdain with which they treat US.
Isn’t that all of our temptation? Someone is so AWFUL to me, so I will be awful to her in response. He treats me TERRIBLY! (So watch me treat him terribly.) Or, if I’m feeling particularly godly, watch me just AVOID HIM and think mean thoughts about him but not say them, of course, because I wouldn’t want to be caught revealing the graceless jerk that I am.
Oh. Oh. Oh. Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ. We do not have to remain stuck in this terrible pattern of cruel judgment and merciless, arrogant pride. We don’t have to treat people as they treat us. We can repent! We can turn away from SELF and turn towards the One Who knows what it is like to be maltreated by people close to Him. To be spoken to in unjust, wicked, mean ways by people who should have not only loved and protected Him, they should have WORSHIPED Him.
You see … Jesus is the Only Person Who didn’t deserve the shameful and painful death of the Cross—yet He endured it. Jesus is the Only Person Who didn’t deserve to be separated from the Father—yet He endured it. Whatever the injustice in our lives? It doesn’t come close to the injustice that Jesus suffered and it doesn’t come close to the justice that we deserve: Hell.
And this is how we repent. It’s how I began to repent and move towards my mother in mercy when I was a teenager. It’s how I (try to) repent and move with mercy towards people who currently are hurting me. I think about Hell. I think about how much I deserve Hell. I think about how much I don’t want anyone to go to Hell—especially not the people hurting me. (Because the truth is, they are only hurting me SO MUCH because I ACTUALLY CARE about them. If I didn’t care about them, it wouldn’t hurt so much.)
And then I think about Jesus. The Second Person of the Trinity. Eternal. Uncreated. Perfect in Glory. Great. Good. Being mocked and spat upon. Cold and thirsty. Neglected, betrayed, and abandoned by those who should have loved Him best. Including me.
He could have called down legions of angels to (rightfully) defend Him. (How often have I created conversations in my own mind wherein I—wrongly—defend myself and “WIN” the argument.) But He answered not.
He didn’t deserve the accusations. (All accusations against me, even graceless ones, usually have multiple elements of truth. Blech! My heart!) He bore them all. For you. For me.
There is no suffering in this life that He cannot understand—and He has experienced suffering that I will never experience.
This leads me to worship Him. To adore Him. To fall down and kiss His feet and wash His feet with my hair.
Forgiven so much! Who am I to gracelessly refuse to forgive others?
May God help us all.
With love from your friend who is smack-dab right in the battle with you yet again—
[A re-post from 2013.]
Even on a normal day, I am not very active on social media, so “viral” things usually pass right by me, unnoticed. On Mondays, however? I am even LESS likely to notice something “out there” in the land of memes and hashtags, etc. because my Mondays are spent with a classroom full of teenagers discussing the topics that I assume you all know are easily the most favorites for teens: Philosophy of Theology, Epistemology, Worldview, and Apologetics.
(If you think I’m kidding about how much teenagers love these topics, you are mistaken. Teenagers are natural philosophers! But back to my goal with this article …)
Today I could not help but notice all of the #MeToo posts on my dearest friends’ FaceBook pages. There were so many that I stopped to read the backstory on this tragic, good, horrific, and beautiful hashtag. And finally. At 10:00PM, I added my own #MeToo to my public FaceBook page with a link to my posts on my sexual assault and recovery:
A few minutes after I posted it, however, I was overwhelmed with a desire to reach out to any recent survivors of sexual assault who may be suffering in particularly acute ways this evening.
The truth is, I had to pray and think before I posted my story today. But it didn’t hurt me to share it. Sure, it certainly isn’t pleasant to talk about. But oh! I would guess that for some of you, just trying to type the six characters of #MeToo was like having rusty nails scraped over your chest and acid poured immediately on the wound. I get it. I really do.
Please hear me! You are not crazy. You are not overreacting. Fear. Pain. Fury. Numbness. Whatever you are feeling? Feel it. If you are not yet ready to feel anything? That’s OK too.
When someone overpowers you or takes advantage of you when you are in a vulnerable state—
When someone who has no right to even come close the private parts of your body and the most intimately you parts of your soul, pierces you—
When you scream and no one hears; or you are silent to just try to survive, but the violation only increases—
If you have furiously tried to scrub your body and bleach your mind—
You may be feeling like there is NO hope and there never will be any hope ever again.
If this is you, PLEASE. I beg you. Please HEAR ME:
It gets better.
Not right away. Not all at once.
Not necessary with the people you would have previously sworn would be the people to love you, pray for you, care for you, believe you. Some of these people are going to break your heart by their indifference. Silence. Or literally by just walking away from you.
LET. THEM. GO. You can’t force people to be faithful and kind. Plus? You never know how a person is suffering. They may be extremely faithful and kind—but your assault may have triggered something deep inside of them—something their mind hasn’t allowed to conscioussness since a slumber party in junior high, 30 years ago. A bus ride. A roller rink. Their own childhood bed.
People will love you imperfectly. So first turn to your Heavenly Father who is the only One who can and will ultimately comfort and vindicate you. Restore you. AND who is the One who will bring into your life people who GET IT. People whom he has prepared in advance to LOVE YOU TODAY. To not abandon you in this, your hour of most profound neediness.
Right now, there are men and women whom God is going to bring into your life who understand you and help you to understand you.
People who know that this wicked, warped, intentional violation of rightness and goodness and beauty and light will be answered for—and they are committed to helping you to know this, too.
You may not see it now. But even if you never have complete justice in this life, there will be ultimate justice for this crime against your body and soul. Your assailant will NOT get away with it forever.
This assault will not define you for the rest of your life.
You will laugh again.
You will not always be afraid.
You will stop vomiting. You will stop shaking. Hot tears will not constantly flow.
If there are words that you think you will never say again. Parts of your body that you think are forever distorted by the ripping of this violation. Don’t believe it! You will regain your voice. You will find peace with your skin and the thought of your beloved touching your skin.
Yes, you are going to have to do some hard work. But real friends will help you. Real friends will be there for you. Imperfectly, but faithfully. And I truly believe that new friends will come into your life. At just the right moment. In just the right way.
For most of us? Friendship alone will probably not be enough. Most of us need to reach out for professional help.
For me, I have benefited from trauma counseling, medical help, and biblical counseling. Oh. And GREAT lawyers too. Man! There is nothing like having the protection of an advocate stand between you and those who would further take advantage of you in criminal and civil matters.
I remember the very day that I went from being a woman alone trying to survive the unsurvivable to a woman under the protection and shield of a counselor at law.
With one letter, my lawyer stopped ALL of the unwanted contact. No more harassing telephone calls or emails. No more FEAR of harassing telephone calls or emails.
Someone bigger and stronger than us comes over us—but this time, not to hold us down and violate us, but to protect us.
We get help and we learn to breathe again. We get help and we find an anchor for our otherwise spinning mind.
A good lawyer. Wise counselors. Faithful friends. All gracious provisions by the One we need the most.
And so. I pray for you HOPE. Not hope as the world gives—but hope that is founded on the Eternal, Perfect, Holy, Compassionate God. The God Who Keeps His Promises. The God Who Sees. Cares. And one day, will split the sky in two and forever right every wrong. Forever ensure that #MeToo is over.
No woman. No man. No child. No adult. No college student, teenager, infant, preteen. No human being will ever be hurt in this way again.
Praise God and Maranatha! We long for that day. We NEED that day.
It will come. Guaranteed by the One who makes the covenant and keeps the covenant.
In the interim? Remember the words of C.S. Lewis:
“Courage, dear heart.”
Oh. And if you can’t have courage right now? That’s OK. No problem. Let your friends and family encircle you and protect you and hold you up and give you time. Every day for this rest of your life will NOT feel like this. Things will get better. YOU will get better.
Those words might sound ridiculous to you today. That’s OK!
Courage, dear heart. You are not alone.
With much love and many prayers—
Your fellow survivor,
The painting at the top of this post hangs in our home and reminds me every single day to have hope. It was created by one of my dearest friends in the world, Samara’s beloved husband, Taylor Lynde. Please enjoy more of his work (and consider a commission or purchase) on his website.
I needed to re-read this today! The Grace that Saves is the Grace that Leads Us Home (by Kevin DeYoung)
THE GRACE THAT SAVES IS THE GRACE THAT LEADS US HOME
I know, I know. The horse is already dead, so stop beating it.
As far I know my own heart, I’m not trying to pile on, dig in my heels, or even win an argument. I would like, however, to be clear.
I believe with all my heart in justification by faith alone. It is the “main hinge on which religion turns,” as I explain here and here. I cherish beyond words that because “it is finished” (John 19:30), I can know true comfort, trusting that Jesus Christ “has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil” (HC Q/A 1). I gladly affirm the scandalous nature of free grace. I need it every day. As God gives me strength, I will preach, and pray, and sing, and shout of the wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus as long as I live.
I am also compelled by Paul’s example and by Holy Scripture to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
Which doesn’t mean we move past the gospel or leave grace behind. The gospel never ceases to be relevant. We are never not dependent on grace.
In fact, grace is so amazing that there is more than one thing to say about it. By grace we do wonders (Acts 6:8), by grace we are justified (Rom. 3:24), by grace we exhort (Rom. 12:3), by grace we build (1 Cor. 3:10), by grace we work hard (1 Cor. 15:10), by grace we give generously (2 Cor. 8:7), by grace we use our gifts (Eph. 4:7); by grace we are strengthened (Heb. 13:9), and by grace we are saved (Eph. 2:8). Every good thing we do, every true thing we believe, every bit of resting, every bit of striving, every mercy and every effort is by grace (James 1:17).
If there is one central area of confusion surrounding progressive sanctification, I think it has to do with the role of exertion in the Christian life. Is there any place for God-infused effort as we “grow in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18)? When we meet people whose hands and feet cause them to sin, can we only tell them of justification by faith, or can we also implore them to cut it out and “cut it off” (Mark 9:43-47)? Might that word of warning and exhortation be a grace to them?
If we are faithful parents, faithful mentors, and faithful preachers, we will gladly teach with all our might that Christ made propitiation for the sins of his people (Heb. 2:17), that we can with confidence draw near to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), that Christ is the mediator of a new and better covenant (Heb. 9:15), that Christ offered up his body once to bear the sins of many (Heb. 9:28), and that we should not be sluggish (Heb. 6:12), that we must not go on sinning deliberately (Heb. 10:26), that we must run with endurance the race set before us (Heb. 12:1), and that we should strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Legalism, self-righteousness, glorying in our own strength—these are dangers we must always guard against and constantly preach against. The greatest grace champions can be graceless in real life. The strongest proponents of holiness can be worldly to the core. We are all leopards whose spots do not change as easily as we would like or as noticeably as we think. We need to hear of grace to the day we die.
There is no plausible way to read the Bible and conclude that God working in us absolves us from working hard, no responsible way to think that exhortation and exertion are anything other than essential to a life of discipleship.
- 1 Corinthians 15:10“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
- Philippians 2:12-13“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
- Colossians 1:29“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
- 2 Peter 1:5“For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge…”
The Bible clearly teaches that God works in us so that we might work out. This is taught by Calvin:
As it is an arduous work and of immense labour, to put off the corruption which is in us, he bids us to strive and make every effort for this purpose. He intimates that no place is to be given in this case to sloth, and that we ought to obey God calling us, not slowly or carelessly, but that there is need of alacrity; as though he had said, “Put forth every effort, and make your exertions manifest to all.” (Commentary on 2 Peter)
And by the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do, of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them. (16.3)
This effort is not by our own strength, and it merits nothing. But as Christ works in us by his Spirit through the gospel, we are called to striving and effort. To make this effort is not a return to Moses, and to call others to this striving is not antithetical to the gospel. In an attempt to safeguard what is true, let us not proscribe a bevy of doctrines that are not false. Nuance is not the enemy of faith. Saying everything Scripture says does not have to weaken any one thing that Scripture does say.
If as a preacher I tell you that you can be justified by works of the law, I should be damned (Gal. 1:8,9; 2:16). And if I never tell you to flee from sin (1 Cor. 6:18), never warn you about persisting in sin (1 John 3:4-10), never implore you to no longer keep on sinning (Heb. 10:26), never plead with you to pluck out your eye (Mark 9:47), never let you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9), never urge you to lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:12-17), then you may be damned.
God uses a multitude of indicatives and a host of imperatives to save us and sustain us. It’s all of grace, of course, but grace does not always look or sound the same. There is grace to run and grace to rest. And we need both.
I’m not feeling very peacemake-y these days.
If I feel anything at all re: certain relationships, it’s pretty much just anger and disappointment. But honestly, I’m so tired and sick of things, that mostly, I don’t feel anything at all.
(Not good. I know. Very not good.)
But there is hope! Even for weary people like me. Listen to how Thomas Brooks describes it:
“Ah! How does the God of peace, by his Spirit and messengers, pursue after peace with poor creatures! God first makes offer of peace to us: ‘We pray you in Christ’s stead, be you reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
God’s grace first kneels to us!
God is the party wronged, and yet he sues for peace with us (Isaiah 65:1).”
Listen to those truths, my tired friends, and I will join you as together we strive like gladiators to pursue peace (Ephesians 4:1-3) because we are listening to God’s Word more than our feelings or circumstances.
Eyes up! Off of our screens, our abandoning spouses, the “friends who only pretended to be friends” (Proverbs 18:24).
Hearts fixed on eternity! Together, let us bear our pain for this day. Decade. Century. A mere blink, and this life is OVER.
But we have this tiny season, this miniscule mere breath, to share in sufferings of our Elder Brother (1 Peter 4:13). Because we have been wronged, then today we get to “forgive just as in Christ we have been forgiven” (Colossians 3:13).
There will be no more suffering in Heaven! No more need to forgive in Heaven! But today. This day. We get to pick up our cross and follow our Savior. How? By remembering “the sweetness, the freeness, and the riches of God’s grace as they break forth and shine upon our poor souls.”
I’m going to try with all of my best efforts to be peacemake-y today regardless of how I feel. What does that mean? Again, let us listen to Thomas Brooks:
“Christians, it is not a matter of liberty whether you will or you will not pursue after peace—but it is a matter of duty that lies upon you; you are bound by express precept to follow after peace. ‘Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man can see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14).
The Greek signifies that peace and holiness are to be pursued after with the greatest eagerness that can be imagined. So the psalmist: ‘Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it’ (Psalm 34:14).
The Hebrew word that is here rendered seek, signifies to seek earnestly, vehemently, affectionately, studiously, industriously. ‘And pursue it.’ That Hebrew word signifies earnestly to pursue, being a metaphor taken from the eagerness of wild beasts or ravenous fowls, which will run or fly both fast and far rather than be disappointed of their prey.
Ah! You forward, sour, dogged Christians … ‘Let us follow after the things that make for peace, and the things wherein one may edify another’ (Romans 14:19).
Yes. That’s me! Sour and dogged. He’s speaking to me—clearly. And so, I will try. Not because it’s easy. Not because it’s comfortable, pleasant, or even anywhere near the REALM of something I WANT to do.
But “in view of God’s mercy” (Romans 12:1); mindful of just how much “we hated God in our hearts” (Romans 5:10); meditating on the Perfect Son of God being abandoned by his closest friends (Matthew 26:40, Luke 22:54-62) … perfect in every way, without sin, yet taking on flesh so that he can sympathize with us, with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).
Because this is our God! And we are the people of his pasture (Psalm 95:7), we will follow our Good Shepherd, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4)—even through the valley of the shadow of relational pain we never, ever thought would come to our (marriage, church, parenting, THIS friendship, THIS group of godly, mature, Spirit-filled, Christians) … the relational pain we never thought would come to us.
This is how the world will see that the Father sent the Son! (John 17:20-23)
This is how we will show ourselves to be true disciples of Jesus! (John 13:35)
Oh. And also? This is how our lives will be protected from the acidic destruction of the bitterness of judgmental unforgiveness and gracelessness.
We cannot change the past. We cannot change the other person’s heart. But we can respond in ways that are OUT OF THIS WORLD! Shockingly redemptive. Obedient to our duties–which are not vague in Scripture, by the way. To walk humbly, repent, confess, forgive? These aren’t “wisdom calls” or “debatable matters of liberty.”
You call yourself a Christian? I call myself a Christian? Well, then, love isn’t optional. Not for our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:35); not for our enemies (Luke 6:27); not for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are feeling like enemies.
God is the party wronged, and yet he sues for peace with us?
Let us then “leave our gifts at the altar” and even ahead of worship (!), make every effort to be reconciled (Matthew 5:23-24).
Thanks for processing through all of this with me. You’ve really encouraged me. I truly send you my very best regards and I pray that God will help you re: your most disappointing, discouraging, shockingly painful relationships.
With love from your sister in Christ,
Please note that this blog is a re-post from 2014. Also, the quoted excerpts and parphrases are from Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, emphases mine.
If you’re interested in reviewing my peacemaking video series or adding the audio files to your ipod, we now have that technology on our site. Specific sessions are only $1.99 (audio) or $2.99 (video) … or the entire series including the study guide is only $9.99 (audio) or $19.99 (video). Click here to download today!
Also, we recently unearthed videos from a women’s retreat that was simultaneously translated into ASL (sign language) and we are making those videos available for download, too. (In general, there is a small $2.99 charge to help offset the costs of hosting all of this online, but if you use ASL or if you have a ministry that uses ASL, our family wants to give these videos away for FREE. Plase just contact me and I will send you codes to access the videos for no charge.)
One of the most common questions that Dave Edling and I receive about church conflict has to do with how to evaluate a third-party church conflict consultant. This is such an important topic that we have an entire Appendix on it in our book. And today, we want to give it away for free to you:
We hope that it is an encouragement and help to you as you seek to redeem your church or other organizational conflicts.
Dave & Tara
A THREE-PRONGED RESPONSE TO ATTACKS
by Ajith Fernando
How should Christians who are a minority in their land respond when fellow Christians and churches are attacked? I have thought about it a lot because churches are often attacked in Sri Lanka too. One thing is certain—never should our motivation be one of tit-for-tat or revenge. I want to suggest a three-pronged response.
LOVING OUR ENEMIES
We live in a region where the understanding of the concept of honour requires that if someone hits us we must ht back. In some countries the so called ‘honour killings’ are even sometimes ignored by the authorities. This is totally different to the Christian understanding of honour. Paul said: ‘Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all’ (Rom. 12:17). In Christianity the honourable thing is not to hit back.
Then there is the fact that Christ has asked us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). So the general response when we are hurt is to love our enemies. This is a teaching that is repeated over and over again in the Bible (Matt. 5:43, 44; Luke 6:27, 35). We are told, ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’ (Luke 6:28 ). Referring specially to persecution, Paul says, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them’ (Rom. 12:14). Paul says of himself, ‘When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure’ (2 Cor. 4:12b). Peter writing to a church suffering persecution said, ‘Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing’ (1 Pet. 3:9). Note that in this last verse a blessing is promised if we bless our persecutors.
This is a pretty strong case for loving and blessing those who persecute us. I believe the witness of history is that the reaction of Christians to persecution left a strong impression on the persecutors. After painful initial suffering, they left such a powerful impression upon their persecutors so that large numbers of people ended up coming to Christ. This is our dream for our nations. We want large numbers of people to come to Christ. It may seem impossible now, but that is how the conversion of the Roman Empire looked to the small persecuted band of Christians in the first century to whom the passages I quoted above were first written.
When people in our nations get tired of the endless cycle of violence coming from revenge, may they be challenged by seeing Christians refusing to take revenge and loving their enemies. When they get tired of the corruption that is ruining our chances of progress, may they be challenged by seeing Christians willing to suffer loss and taking on poverty because they refuse to break their principles. When people realise that all their wealth has not given them satisfaction may they be challenged by seeing Christians truly happy and contented by living godly lives and realise that the life we have in Christ is the greatest gain (1 Tim. 6:6). Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:16). That is our ambition for the church.
Actually the persecuted Christians in the New Testament era looked forward to nothing short of world conquest by Christ. They saw their sufferings as temporary means towards achieving that end. That is how we see our sufferings too. So knowing that Christ is the truth, yearning for our nations to bow their knees to Christ and believing that Christ will conquer the world in the end influences our attitude to persecution.
Of course only a pure church where people truly love God can react this way. The churches in South Asia are anything but pure. This is a much more serious problem than the persecution we are going through. We must pray that God will use this persecution to make our people truly holy which is the biggest need in the church today—a much bigger need that the need to avoid suffering.
SEEKING LEGAL RIGHTS FOR CHRISTIANS
Now that is one side of the coin. The other side is that the Bible shows that the early Christians did all they could to win legitimacy for Christians. In Philippi, when Paul and Silas were released after being unlawfully beaten, they did not meekly leave the prison. They protested that they had been treated like that even though they were Roman citizens (Acts 16:35-39). They wanted it recorded that Christians had been treated in an illegal way. Luke is careful to record that the proconsul in Corinth Gallio who was from a famous family and was a well-known figure in the Roman empire gave a verdict very favourable to the Christians (Acts 18:12-17). The early Christians did all they could to achieve a legitimate legal standing for Christianity and for evangelistic activity.
In the same way today Christians need to use the court system to appeal for our right to practice Christianity. When something illegal is done against Christians we may need to go to the courts to agitate for our rights or against the actions that have harmed Christians. This is so that people are warned against the repercussions of doing it and will think twice before trying it again. In this way we help the whole church, not just ourselves.
If Christians are being denied a basic human right like access to the village burial place, it may be necessary for Christians not to give in when they are stopped from using the cemetery. They may need to grapple with the authorities until permission is granted. This has happened a few times in Sri Lanka.
Sometimes it may be necessary to apply pressure on the authorities by using the pressure of foreign interest groups and governments. It may be necessary to highlight in the press nationally and internationally the injustices meted out to Christians.
Like the great thinkers in the first few centuries (whom we know as apologists), we must produce great thinkers who will devote their energies to producing material in defence of Christian belief and practice. This is a long-term strategy. We need Christian people who will grow in stature to become respected lawyers, politicians, journalists and economists. They can represent Christ to the nation better than we preachers can. This is a long term strategy, but we must be thinking about this and urging people in this direction.
MINISTERING TO THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN ATTACKED
There is a third thing that needs to be done at this time: those affected by the attacks need to be comforted. Physical attacks are very hard to endure. They humiliate the person; they produce fear of another attack; and they can produce severe anger over the way the person’s body or property was violated.
Indeed we have seen people like Stephen who have reacted with wonderful faith when attacked. But my experience has been that some time after the attack people go through all sorts of difficult feelings. They become vulnerable to Satan’s attacks at this time. They could get over-discouraged and lose heart. They could become angry and develop vengeful feelings.
Another need for outside help from Christians is that in times of persecution Christians could act rashly and in an unwise way. Sometimes persecution is triggered by unwise behaviour of Christians when they antagonise others by things that were not necessary to do. An example is having loud worship which disturbs neighbours. Another is unwise ways of distributing material aid to the poor and needy which gives opponents the impression that we are using unethical lures to coerce people into becoming Christians.
This, then, is a time when those who have been attacked need the support of the body of Christ. We need to be close to them and help them regain some balance as they go through different emotional moods. When Peter and John were told for the first time that they must not speak in the name of Christ again, the first thing they did was to go ‘to their own people’ (literal translation) or ‘to their friends’ (ESV; Acts 4:23). If they cannot come to us we must go to them. Leaders must ensure that those who have been attacked are personally ministered to.
So my answer is a three pronged one. Firstly we are committed to radical personal non-retaliation. We will not resort to violence to achieve our ends. Instead we will demonstrate the power of the gospel by exemplary lives. Secondly, we are committed to using the existing structures to present a case for the legitimacy of Christianity. Towards this end we develop strategies that will be effective and leaders who will be qualified in presenting the case for Christianity. Thirdly, we care for those who have been attacked.
May we be faithful at this time.
If you ever want to see who your true friends are, struggle through trauma therapy after being assaulted. Man. Real friends can BRING IT. Love. Anger. A text that actually makes you laugh out loud moments after you were just wondering if you’d ever laugh again. Prayer. Presence. Sure, an occasional link to a helpful article or sermon. Cards, books, and one friend in the last two years even sent a meal! (Big T!!)
But really, the mark of love for me has simply been when people felt the awkwardness of what happened to me and then the REALLY awkward reality of my physical and emotional collapse—and they didn’t necessarily know what to say or do, but they NEVER pulled away. They never gave up. They pressed in. Love pressed in. Even my introvert friends (most of my closest friends are introverts) didn’t choose silence and distance for their own comfort. They remembered that I existed. They told me that they remembered that I existed. And just by remembering me, I knew they cared. I knew I was never alone.
Please. If someone you know is suffering and you have no idea what to say, don’t say nothing. Stumble and fumble and even just say, “I don’t know what to say! But I love you. I care. I think about you and I want to put the person who (violated, attacked, abandoned) you IN THE GROUND. I want to gently care for you and sacrificially try to protect you from future pain. I know I can’t completely, but I sure would like to try!”
The fact that you care is what matters. My pain causes you pain? This means I am loved!
Oh. And when it comes to the debilitating, chest-crushing, anxiety related to all of this suffering, I have been most deeply helped by one piece of advice in one article. I encourage you to read this and see if any of it might help you—or someone you love who struggles with debilitating, life-altering anxiety and fear:
(Stupid limbic system. Yes. Yes. I know. Helpful at times. Necessary for life even. But when it goes haywire from PTSD? Grrrrrr. So. So. SO annoying. And painful. Distressing. Devouring.)
Be helped, I pray! Help someone else! Enjoy.
Facebook just reminded me that it was one year ago today that The Gospel Coalition & 9Marks endorsed David Edling’s and my book, “Redeeming Church Conflicts.” What an honor! And even more importantly, what a JOY that so many people facing the misery of church conflict have received biblical hope and practical help.
If you haven’t yet read it, you can order the first edition of “Redeeming Church Conflicts” through my website for only $10 with free shipping (within the USA).
And I’ll close with just a few summary endorsements:
Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, as published in the 9Marks Journal – “Barthel and Edling suggest we have much to learn from Luke’s account of the meeting in Jerusalem to redeem the early church’s first major conflict … They are exactly right. Barthel and Edling have done the church a vital service in applying biblical counseling principles to the realm of congregational conflict. Don’t wait until you find yourself in a relational mess to consult this helpful resource; read and benefit now.”
Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher and author of the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible Study Series – “This book delivers exactly what is needed in church conflict: a wealth of biblical wisdom and professional expertise as well as an unflinching challenge toward self-examination and away from angry entrenchment and graceless condemnation. But best of all it offers a huge dose of hope that what is so hurtful and seems only destructive will be used by God to conform his church to his image for his glory.”
Robert Kellemen, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, Author of Equipping Counselors for Your Church – “Tara and David’s guiding concept of ‘responding redemptively’ deeply resonates with me. Their understanding that the Bible provides not a formula for redeeming church conflict, but a biblical, relational roadmap, equally resonates. I’m encouraged and equipped, as I believe you will be, by their practical, scriptural wisdom.”
Megan Evans Hill, pastor’s wife, pastor’s daughter, writer, speaker, author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches – “Experienced conciliators Tara Barthel and David Edling offer a warm, biblical, and careful roadmap for navigating church crises. Through exposition and application, they bring the truth of God’s Word to direct suffering churches toward healing. Through practical case studies, they illuminate the way with specific examples. Perhaps surprisingly for a book about sin and its fruits, these pages are also filled with hope … whether your church is currently in the midst of strife or proactively seeking to avoid it in future, this book is an excellent guide.”
Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal – “Barthel and Edling tackle a subject most would prefer to ignore yet all have to face … Multiple case studies provide nice balance to the theology and advice. The book is theologically rich, seasoned with wisdom that comes from years in the trenches of church conflict. The hope here is powerful: even our conflicts become opportunities for the gospel’s redemptive work.”
Carolyn McCulley, author of Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred – “Tara Barthel and David Edling have written a wise and tender reminder that our Lord’s redemptive purposes extend even to today, even to the most fractious church bodies. Whether you are an ordained leader or a new church member, Redeeming Church Conflicts is a must read. It will give you hope that whatever conflicts you are currently in, or will encounter in the future, can be resolved in a holy and purposeful manner, to the praise of God’s glory.”
Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker and founder of Relational Wisdom 360 – “My friends Dave and Tara have served dozens of churches that were teetering on the brink of destruction … having gained a passport into the hearts of individuals and opposing factions, Tara and Dave became channels of God’s reconciling grace. I pray that you will study this book carefully and apply its principles in your church.”
Thanks and blessings!