Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Spiritual Friendship Pact

A Spiritual Friendship Pact

St. Teresa looked upon human friendship as a joint journey, a spiritual pilgrimage to the fatherland. To four trusted friends she extended this invitation:

“I should like the five of us who at present love each other in Christ to make a kind of pact that since others in these times gather together in secret against His Majesty to prepare wicked deeds and heresies, we might seek to gather together some time to free each other from illusions and to speak about how we might mend our ways and please God more since no one knows himself as well as others who observe him if they do so with love and concern for his progress. I saw we should gather in secret because this kind of talk is no longer in fashion.”

Not Only in Her Day

It was not only in her day that gathering for spiritual friendship was no longer in fashion. How seldom we gather for such purposes in our day.

What does it take? According to Teresa:

1. A Pact: A communicated commitment.

2. A Plan: A gathering together. Connecting.

3. A Purpose: To free each other from sin's deceitfulness, to mend our ways, and to please God.

4. A Passion: To know each other deeply enough and with enough care and concern to be able to provide loving feedback leading to self-awareness.

5. A Person: Jesus Christ. Human spiritual friendships always point to the ultimate Spiritual Friend--God.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ministerial Abuse

Ministerial Abuse

In our current church climate, we often read of ministers abusing parishioners in one form or another. Less often, we read and ponder the abuse of ministers by their own parishioners and by outside critics.

History is replete with such accounts. The famous Baptist pastor from London, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, faced vicious criticism throughout his ministry, and it often led to severe bouts of self-doubt and spiritual depression.

Life and Death Are in the Power of the Tongue

Early in his ministry, his preaching became so famous, that his church could not hold the crowds. So his congregation rented the Surrey Music House. The first night someone yelled “Fire!” Some in the crowd fled in panic, with seven dying and dozens injured. Spurgeon urged everyone to stay and continued to preach, unaware that several people had already been crushed to death. Moments later, another panic arose. This time Spurgeon fainted and had to be carried away. Many even thought that he had died.

Experiencing guilt, and battered in the local press, Spurgeon plunged into depression. His wife, Susannah, wrote about their resultant mutual despair. “I wanted to be alone, that I might cry to God in this hour of darkness and death! When my beloved was brought home he looked a wreck of his former self—an hour’s agony of mind had changed his whole appearance and bearing. The night that ensued was one of weeping and wailing and indescribable sorrow. He refused to be comforted. I thought the morning would never break; and when it did come it brought no relief.”[1]

The ensuing days were no better, as Susannah recounts. “The Lord has mercifully blotted out from my mind most of the details of the time of grief which followed when my beloved’s anguish was so deep and violent that reason seemed to totter in her throne, and we sometimes feared he would never preach again. It was truly ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ through which we then walked; and, like poor Christian, we here ‘sighed bitterly’ for the pathway was so dark that oft times when we lifted up our foot to set forward, we knew not where or upon what we should set it next.”[2]

Recuperation and Healing from Spiritual Abuse

Friends took Spurgeon to the country town of Croydon where he stayed in the house of Mr. Winsor, one of his deacons, with Mrs. Spurgeon and their one-month-old twin baby boys. Mrs. Spurgeon’s biographer writes, “It was hoped that the rest and change of scene would aid in the restoration of his mental equilibrium, and although at first his spirit seemed to be imprisoned in darkness, light at last broke in.”[3]

Susannah shares her account of her husband’s recovery. “We had been walking together as usual, he restless and anguished; I sorrowful and amazed, wondering what the end of these things would be; when at the foot of the steps which gave access to the house, he stopped suddenly, and turned to me, and, with the old sweet light in his eyes (ah! how grievous had been its absence!), he said, ‘Dearest, how foolish I have been! Why! what does it matter what becomes of me, if the Lord shall but be glorified? And he repeated with earnestness and intense emphasis, Philippians 2:9-11.”[4] By an amazing inner working of the Holy Spirit, Spurgeon was able to take his eyes off his own agony, placing them instead on God and His glory.

Though Spurgeon began to recover his mental and spiritual equilibrium, upon his return to London even more critics began to write even more critical articles about him and his ministry. Spurgeon actually collected every critical article into a book, on the cover of which he wrote the title Fact, Fiction and Facetiae.
Of these, Susannah said years later: “At the time of their publication what a grievous affliction these slanders were to me. My heart alternatively sorrowed over him and flamed with indignation against his detractors.”[5] Every ministry spouse can relate.

Spiritual Healing through Scriptural Enlightenment

Caring deeply for her husband, Susannah set about the task of ministering to his soul. “For a long time I wondered how I could set continual comfort before his eyes, till, at last, I hit upon the expedient of having the following verses printed in large old English type and enclosed in a pretty Oxford frame: ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you’ (Matthew 5:11-12). The text was hung up in our own room and was read over by the dear preacher every morning, fulfilling its purpose most blessedly, for it strengthened his heart and enabled him to buckle on the invisible armor, whereby he could calmly walk among men, unruffled by their calumnies, and concerned only for their best and highest interests.”[6]

Amazing. What men meant for evil, God wove into good.

How do ministers (pastors, counselors, teachers, missionaries, lay leaders) survive sadistic slander? Through confidence in God and God’s Word. Through the supernatural empowering and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit who teaches them that these falsehoods and lies result in great reward in heaven. Through spiritual friends who use scriptural insight to create a glowing neon sign reminding them that their present suffering is not worth comparing to their future glory.

[1]Charles Ray, “The Life of Susannah Spurgeon,” in Susannah Spurgeon: Free Grace and Dying Love, Carlisle PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, p. 165.
[2]Ibid., pp. 165-166.
[3]Ibid., p. 166.
[4]Ibid., pp. 166-167.
[5]Ibid., p. 168.
[6]Ibid., pp. 168-169.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Put Up the Cross for Your Sail

Sail On

Have the winds of life ruthlessly railed against you, blowing you like straw in a tornado?

Sail on.

Amma Syncletica left a life of luxury in the third century to face a life of storms in the desert. Known as one of the "Desert Mothers" of the ancient Church, she was born in Alexandria into a well-respected Christian family of Macedonian heritage. Well-educated, Syncletica had a reputation for her beauty.

Her two brothers died at a relatively young age and her sister was blind. At the death of her parents, she sold her possessions, giving them to the poor. She then moved with her sister to the family tomb outside Alexandria where she lived into her 80s.

Put Up the Cross for Our Sail

Offering sage spiritual direction toward the end of her life, Amma Syncletica provides us with fortitude for our journey.

“If you have begun some good work, you should not be turned from it by the enemy’s attempts to hinder you, indeed your endurance will overthrow the enemy. Sailors beginning a voyage set the sails and look for a favorable wind, and later they meet a contrary wind. Just because the wind has turned, they do not throw the cargo overboard or abandon ship; they wait a while and struggle against the storm until they can set a direct course again. When we run into headwinds, let us put up the cross for our sail, and we shall voyage through the world in safety”

Sail on!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Day(s) After Easter

The Day(s) After Easter

After Easter, then what?

For Thomas, the disciple most like some of us, doubt.

Yes, even after Easter, Thomas doubted.

Even after being told by at least a dozen (ten disciples, two Marys), Thomas still doubted.

Even after the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied the resurrection.

Even after Jesus predicted His resurrection.

Thomas, like some of us, admitted his doubts.

Is Doubt Sin?

We chastise Thomas.

We think Jesus chastised Thomas.

Jesus did not.

Challenge him. Engage him. Invite him. Yes.

“Then Jesus told him [Thomas], ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29).

For Thomas, “seeing is believing.” In fact, “touching is believing.” He required tangible evidence that demanded a verdict.

Jesus gave it to him. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).

For Thomas, and those like him, empirical evidence is part of the wrestling match of faith.

Those who can believe without any empirical evidence, they truly are blessed. That childlike faith is wonderful.

Not all have such faith.

The Welcome Mat Out

Jesus understands.

He offers evidence that demands a verdict. He welcomes intellectual seekers. He invites exploration. He does not chastise doubt; rather, He enters it.

The act of inviting Thomas to touch His side signals that Jesus is keenly aware of the place of doubt in faith.

Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote “There is more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds . . ."

Doubt is not the opposite of faith.


Because faith is not certainty, or it would not be faith.

Faith is committing to believing when other competing beliefs still exist, still abound.

The Christian life, this side of heaven, is, for some (like Thomas), an ongoing candid, honest, intellectual conversation between faith and doubt.

Don’t check your mind at the door marked “faith.”

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter: Holiday or Holy Day?

Easter: Holiday or Holy Day?

Growing up, Easter was about coloring eggs, chocolate bunny rabbits, marshmallow eggs, and toys from my Aunt. For much of Western culture, that’s still the “essence of Easter.”

Easter Meaning

As holidays go, for Americans and most American Christians, Easter is simply second-rate.

For me, now as a believer, Easter has more meaning than even Christmas.

Easter is not a holiday. It is a Holy Day.

Journeying the Ancient Paths

Evangelicals would do well to engage more of the historical traditions around the “Easter Holy Day Season.”

Forty days of focused spiritual disciplines . . .

Palm Sunday . . .

Passion week . . .

Maundy (or Holy) Thursday solemnly commemorating the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Good Friday and somber remembrance . . .

Holy Saturday and the day of waiting . . .

Easter Sunday and the day of celebration . . .



New life.

Eternal Spring.

The Chronicles

In The Chronicles of Narnia, the White Witch cast her spell and “it was always Winter but never Christmas.”

In The Chronicles of Christ, because of Easter, we live in anticipation of the day when “it is always Spring and forever Easter.”

Friday, April 06, 2007

Nameless Saturday

Nameless Saturday

We have names for days leading up to Easter from Wednesday to Friday.

Evangelicals don’t have a name for Saturday.

The in-between day.

The day of waiting.

The day of faith-testing.

Never Ending Saturday

Imagine it, for the first time all over again.

Your Saviour has been brutally crucified. Your hopes dashed. Your heart sick.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Time ticks away but time does not heal all wounds.

Friday ends.

Saturday comes. Saturday seems to never end.

Perhaps we could call it Never Ending Saturday.

Or at least it feels like it.

Saturday Living

Life on planet earth is Saturday living.

The day in-between.

The day we wait.

The day before we see the reality of our faith.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

What's So Good about Good Friday?

What’s So Good about Good Friday?

Good Friday. The day Christians memorialize death. God’s death. Christ’s crucifixion.

What’s so good about that?

In Evangelical Protestant circles, Good Friday is rarely seen as “good.” In fact, it’s often ignored. No services. Nothing.

I can recall establishing the first ever Good Friday service in my first year as Sr. Pastor. The church had a continuous history of over 200 years. Not only did we start a Good Friday service, we ended it in somber silence.

People were shocked!

“What? Where’s the Resurrection!”

My response . . .


Like the Apostles had to wait.

As Mary the mother of Jesus waited.

As Jesus waited.

What’s so good about Good Friday. The obvious answer is that without Christ’s death we would have no salvation.

The less obvious but equally biblical answer is Good Friday reminds us to wait in humble, sad, somber, convicted silence. It reminds us just how horrible sin is.



Tuesday, April 03, 2007

In a Coffin in Egypt

In a Coffin in Egypt

Consider the contrast between the first five and the last five words of Genesis. “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1a). “In a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26b). Life east of Eden and this side of Heaven is guaranteed to be replete with suffering.

Though we intuitively and experientially recognize this reality, for some reason we shy away from it theologically. Theologians have developed well thought through models of Creation (anthropology), Fall (hamartiology), and Redemption (soteriology). Notice what’s missing? Sufferology—a biblical theology of suffering.

Of course, a brief e-news snippet is not the place to present a fully developed theology of suffering. But perhaps it could be the place today to whet our appetite, to encourage each of us as biblical counselors and soul physicians to delve more deeply into a practical theology of suffering.

In the early 60s, British Christian psychiatrist, Frank Lake explained that “clinical pastoral care has, as its introduction, the task of listening to a story of human conflict and need. To the extent that our listening uncovers a situation which borders the abyss or lies broken within it, we are nearer to the place where the Cross of Chris is the only adequate interpretive concept” (Clinical Theology, pp. 18-19).

Is any place closer to the abyss than a coffin in Egypt? God creatively uses suffering, separation, dying, and death to form us into His image. Walter Wangerin, in his healing book, Mourning Into Dancing, expresses more insight into death than any mortician. “Death doesn’t wait till the ends of our lives to meet us and to make an end. Instead, we die a hundred times before we die; and all the little endings on the way are like a slowly growing echo of the final Bang! before that bang takes place” (p. 26).

So why would our Good Shepherd shepherd us with suffering and sorrow? What are these “guides” supposed to teach us? Throughout Mourning Into Dancing, Wangerin explains that suffering and death are meant to teach us our need again. All the mini-casket experiences of life are God-sent invitations to depend upon the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.

The Apostle Paul says its best. “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Life’s coffins cause us to cling to Christ and to celebrate His empty tomb.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reconciliation Triangle

Reconciliation Triangle*

On 9th December 1999, as its final act of the Millennium, Liverpool City Council unanimously passed a motion apologizing for the city’s role in the Slave Trade, linked to a commitment to policies that would end racism and work to create a community where all are equally valued.

International Conference

In December 1999, at the invitation of President Mathieu Kérékou of the Republic of Benin, an International Conference was held in Benin, attended by people from Africa, the Americas and Europe affected by the Black Diaspora, including representatives from Richmond, Virginia, and Liverpool. The President apologized for his country’s role in selling Africans to the slave traders.

Racial Healing

At the Benin Conference Lord Alton of Liverpool presented a small maquette of the large public sculpture ‘Reconciliation’ created by Liverpool artist, Stephen Broadbent, which already stands in Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow along with a statement signed by the Liverpool’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Joe Devaney and the Leader of the Council, Mike Storey.

In April 2000 a ‘Ceremony of Racial Healing‘ attended by 4 Government Ministers from Benin, took place in Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A. The intention was to extend the process of reconciliation.

As a next step, with encouragement at senior government level in Benin, Liverpool and Richmond, it was decided to raise funds to donate to Benin a 4 meter high bronze edition of the ‘Reconciliation’ sculpture, with specially designed panels by young people in Liverpool, Richmond and Benin. It was also decided that a further casting of the Reconciliation sculpture would be made to be sited on the slave trail route in Richmond.

The site for the sculptures erection in Benin was identified, a specially designed ‘Reconciliation Garden’ in the city of Cotonou was to be built. President Kerekou said “that it would establish a meaningful international connection which would reflect the infamous slave triangle. The three statues would be a physical and symbolic manifestation of a process of bringing together in an expression of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation - the descendants of those that profited from the evil trade, those on the continent from which they were taken and those now living in the place to which many slaves were taken.”

Project chair, Joe Devaney was invited to an International Conference in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2001. The ‘Connecting Communities’ delegates welcomed the Reconciliation Triangle Project as a major initiative in the understanding and healing of slavery’s wounds.

Joe and artist Stephen Broadbent both visited Richmond in 2001, addressing the City Council and presenting the Mayor with a model of the original Reconciliation Sculpture. Representatives from Richmond visited Liverpool on three occasions. The city fully supports the project.

Broadbent, the sculptor, worked with fellow artist, Faith Bebbington, along with children from six of Liverpool’s inner city schools to incorporate new low-relief scenes on the four flat sides relating to the slave trade between Liverpool, Benin and the Americas.

The final sculpture, based on these designs, was finished by Liverpool artists Broadbent and Bebbington. The sculptures were then cast in bronze ready to be shipped to Benin and Richmond. In Liverpool it is hoped the bronze reliefs will be mounted and exhibited adjacent to the existing Reconciliation statue.

Beyond the Suffering

In October 2004, at a Civic ceremony hosted by the Maritime Museum on the dockside in Liverpool, a finished 'Reconciliation Sculpture' was handed over to representatives of the Benin Government, this significant event was also attended by a representative from Richmond. The leader of Liverpool City Council, quoted the words, ”the only way to bring reconciliation is to face the pain of history with courage, and then to change.” He went on to say, “We have begun that process of change, and this reconciliation initiative is one more step on that journey.”

*Article adapted from: