“Where will I carry my shame?” asks Tamar as she frantically rebuffs her half-brother’s seductive advance. Within a matter of seconds, this beautiful princess is overpowered and tragically raped. After the violent assault, it is recorded in 2 Samuel 13:15 that, “suddenly Amnon’s love turned to hate, and he hated her even more than he had loved her. ‘Get out of here!’ he snarled at her.’ ‘No, no!’ Tamar cried. ‘To reject me now is a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.’ But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her. He shouted for his servant and demanded, ‘Throw this woman out, and lock the door behind her!’ The servant did as he was told.” Devastated and disgraced, the sobbing princess rips her long flowing, exquisitely embroidered robe, desecrating the vestment that signified her nobility and virginity–an act that speaks more deeply of the splitting in her own soul. She places ashes on top of her long flowing hair and begins moving with the gait of a wounded animal as tears stream down her checks. Continue reading
“Frankly, when I study evil, I see so many similarities to myself that it sends chills up my spine.”
These words were the honest reflections of a client struggling to flee years of relational bribe-taking to maintain her credulity and ensure her silence. The cost had been the destruction of her marriage, her own soul, and failing her husband by hiding behind self-protection to avoid his anger. Evil grows in the fertile soil of myopic self-interest.
I’ve always wondered how it is that generally good and decent individuals (all endowed with a proclivity for self-centeredness) could so easily participate in murder. Whether it’s actually pulling the trigger or acting as a passive accomplice who simply looks the other way, mankind’s propensity for evil is evident in the slaughter of six million Jews, in voyeuristic crowds watching the rape of a young woman on a busy sidewalk and in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by military guards. Our capacity for evil is greater than we think.
Jesus says, “You then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children (Matt.7:11).” Because we are gloriously made in the image of God, we have the capacity for good. We are also marred and for that reason more easily make choices to benefit ourselves than for a higher good. Our predominant commitment to self remains even in the most intimate of relationships. We routinely commit evil. Continue reading
As the dawn streamed its illuminating rays into his hotel suite, Stan sleepily squinted through the fog of last night’s festivities. Thoughts of yesterday’s corporate battles danced in his mind. Never had he been so eloquent, so sharp or so persuasive. His honed and strategically planned marketing presentation was executed with the precision of a stealth bomber, landing him the biggest deal of his career and financial rewards which included a handsome bonus and a promotion to president of the southeast region. He was sure to be envied by his peers, hated by those who couldn’t make the grade, and noticed by senior management. Champagne and well-wishes flowed that evening and he had even interrupted the effervescence to call his wife and brag about his spoils of war. Her response seemed distracted and less than supportive, subduing the conquering hero’s enthusiasm. Then her ensuing questions and accusations of neglect toward his family disarmed his boyish bravado, leaving him angry and powerless to respond. Hadn’t he conveyed numerous times that his additional travel was for the good of the family? Sure, he hadn’t had much time for his wife and he didn’t even know that his daughter just turned three, but after all, he was doing this for those he loved. Why couldn’t she understand this, just once? He hated her nagging and wondered what life would be like if the badgering ended and life wasn’t so complicated. Interrupting his mental debate came the sweet aphrodisiac of “Good morning, Stan.” It floated into his consciousness, striking a compelling contrast to his wife’s irritating tone. He turned over and glanced at Cynthia, his administrative assistant. She looked warm and inviting. Their relationship was so easy and unencumbered, he thought. She was a passionate sexual partner, unlike his wife who thwarted his advances by turning her back and saying, “I’m too tired.” He felt like such a warrior at work, a terrific lover with Cynthia and an absolute failure in his marriage and phony at church. Stan slid out of bed with a nagging uneasiness about his reentry into his other life and hastily began purging himself of the vestiges of moral indiscretion. Continue reading
<p>Secrets by their very nature are powerful, untold realities. Their energy lies in their governance and mystery. Acting much like a rudder and sail, secrets steer human behavior while their covert nature fills and billows with potency. All families have secrets. And they serve to bind humanity together for we all share the same secrets. One classic family secret is that of the favorite child.</p>
<p>Phrases like the teacher’s pet, boss’s protégé, and Daddy’s little girl all smack of partiality. It is a common tool used in reality TV shows to heighten drama. Competition is fueled as one contestant is offered a privilege–be it a coveted date night with an eligible bachelor or a free pass that promises safe passage through a maze of obstacles. Partiality chooses one and un-chooses the other. To those excluded it increases the desperation to scrap and crawl to the top of the heap. Literature abounds with stories of the favored child who struggles against the hatred of their own flesh and blood. The narrative of Joseph chronicled in the Old Testament is one example.</p> Continue reading
Reaching the Heart Conference
RMI and seven local churches came together to help sponsor Dr. Larry Crabb’s two days Reaching the Heart conference held in Tallahassee at the end of October. Pastor Scott Graham has written a short article on his experience while attending this community event. We would like to thank the following churches for their financial and volunteer support: Agape Life Fellowship, Four Oaks Community Church, Killearn United Methodist Church, Northwoods Baptist Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and Wildwood Presbyterian Church.
How Does My Heart Need Reaching?
Surprise, enlightenment, repentance, hope, and joy–all parts of my experience as I sat under the teaching of Dr. Larry Crabb during his Reach the Heart Experience. Good teachers invite, challenge, and leave you coming back for more. As he described the radical shift needed in our hearts to have authentic community and live in transforming relationships, hunger and hope were ignited with a slight bit of trepidation, knowing the cost of what lay ahead–seeing my tarnished and ugly motivations. Real community and spiritual formation aren’t pipe dreams. To give us a vision for how true community functions, God reveals it through the unity and sacrifice of the Trinity–the intimate dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we are all invited!
As I listened some questions came to mind: How does my heart need reaching? Do I have a sense of what the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are doing in my life? Is my heart open to receiving a divine, yet untamable love made available through Jesus’ sacrifice? And am I sharing that valuable life-giving Spirit-supplied energy with others? An honest evaluation of our hearts is needed if we are to become the community of believers that God has designed. Continue reading
School has started, daylight grows shorter, and Labor Day is upon us—all reminders of the waning days of summer. Change is in the air. Soon the scorching heat will give way to lower humidity and fall’s reprieve.
Whether subtle or jarring, the momentum of change shifts our balance, disrupts our routines and rattles our repose. It impacts our lives and we are never the same. Our response to change can either be to submerge into lethargy or open our hearts to the breath of life, like a screaming new born baby. Change and its ensuing chaos can be less of an enemy and more of a friend for it can heighten awareness, shatter certainty, and engender perspective, while stirring our hunger for an authentic relationship with God.
We are taking a different tack with our book recommendation, and instead are highlighting a new thought provoking and enlightening journal. It has become a treasured guide in my own spiritual journey and a resource for growth and inspiration, not to mention more clicks on Amazon’s website for new books to read. Continue reading
“My father passed away this morning.” As I wrote these words in an email to some friends who had been praying for him and my family, I was still in shock and disbelief. Though it had been a year since Dad was given the diagnosis of terminal cancer and the sad challenge from the surgeon “to get your life in order,” I struggled to comprehend a world without a father who was bigger than life. Dad was a man of strong character. He was known by many for his kindness and integrity–a rare commodity of having the same public persona as he did at home. He not only loved his family, but delighted in us. We never doubted that we were more important than his practice and the patients he so passionately enjoyed. Somehow the pleasure he felt being with his children transformed going on rounds at the hospital into a special time just with Dad that usually ended with a treat at the hospital’s cafeteria.
Wesley C. Bernhart, MD (January 5, 1920 – April 3, 2003)
My father had faults, one in particular his temper. It could erupt quickly after a long day when met at the door with the latest broken household item or having to negotiate a fight between two of his four children. Yet, he was humble enough to allow his family to joke about his overreactions. Continue reading
It’s recorded that God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary and coming to her he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus…” And Mary said, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:28-38 NAS).
By saying, “Yes” to God, Mary takes the inevitable path that leads to humiliation and misunderstanding as she submits to the inconceivable will of God. Her tiny womb becomes the incubator for something larger than the whole world. Though Protestantism relegates Mary to the Christmas story and holiday decorations, she has much to teach us about how to surrender to love and endure shame for the hope and glory of incarnation.
Mary would have little idea of the personal cost implicit in her “Yes.” This teenager would suckle and sing to the child-Messiah and then one day watch his body bleed for all humanity. And with the words, “Be it done to me,” the favor of heaven calls Mary to suffer, sacrifice, and live with hope. An internal transformation will take place as her compassion is increased through the labor of seeing her son suffer; a deeper sensitivity to pain will cause her beauty to swell; and as she literally gestates the sacrificial love of the Father, she will become an instrument for showing forth his goodness and mercy. Continue reading
“Let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will not mine.” cried Jesus. These words were echoed the morning of September 11th as I watched the news stations relay photos and estimates of innocent lives lost to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. How does one describe such a heinous crime? Evil played his hand, yet redemption reminds us that our Nation has lost its fear of evil. Will the vilest of acts awaken the slumbering giant of freedom, lulled to sleep by prosperity and success, prodding her to remember the author of murder and the capacity of the depraved human heart? Auschwitz and Dachau are vivid memories of the witnesses of evil–the gas chambers and Hitler’s regime–but mere stories to the majority of our population. Philosophers remind us that history repeats itself to those who don’t remember the past.
Yet, amid the destruction and slaughter, arises beauty–God’s image engraved on mankind. Reports flash across our screens of courageous hostages aboard airplanes bound for destruction, heroically struggling undaunted by terrorists, knowing their fate, and yet willing to protect others on the ground from a similar doom. Working valiantly and facing mortal danger, firefighters risked their lives to find survivors trapped among the twisted steel and rubble of the twin Trade Towers and the Pentagon. Estimates are that over 200 of New York’s finest have paid the ultimate price for preserving the lives of others.
Laid deep in the soul of mankind is the imprint of nobility’s longings that resonate from the throne of the Creator. Theologians have termed God’s image upon our souls “dignity” and what misses the mark of God’s glory, “depravity.” Our deep longings are reminders of God. G. K. Chesterton viewed our dilemma as if we had been shipwrecked on a desert island. Fallen humanity was likened to a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure scattered about. The artifacts are from a civilization that he faintly remembers. In search for meaning, he recovers each relic–a compass, some gold coins and various pieces of fine clothing–and tries to ascertain their significance. The natural wonders of this world, and the attributes of love, joy, faith, hope, valor (dignity),–all bear traces of their original design, but each is subject to perversion and misinterpretation (depravity) from humanity’s amnesia. Yet we wander this earth, says Chesterton, with “vague and vast impressions that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.” Continue reading
Good morning, Mom,” I said, opening the blinds to let in some sunlight. “Oh, good morning Honey,” she responded. “What day is it?” “Today is Monday.” “And the season?” “It’s almost the beginning of fall and even today I can feel the shift in the humidity as there is a slight chill in the air.” “Oh, the fall, that’s wonderful,” she said. Just at that moment Sable, my portly black and white Siamese wandered in and lumbered up onto the bed, and landed with a thud. “Oh, Sable has come in to join us,” she exclaimed. “Well, I’m ready to get up. What’s for breakfast?
I could barely believe my ears. For the past few weeks Mom had been bedridden, saying little, and seemed more engrossed in the past than the present. “Is there anything you would like? Shall we do the usual?” “Oh, that would be fine, Honey,” she said.
I walked out of the bedroom and around the corner as I could hear the caregiver coming in the backdoor. She looked a little puzzled as she met my stunned expression. “She is awake and alert, I can’t believe it. She wants breakfast and was asking to know the day of the week and season.” Anita quipped brightly, “Sounds like the Mrs. Bernhart I knew a month ago.” I motioned her into the kitchen and asked her to hold off bringing breakfast, until I got a chance to talk with Mom. I had been hoping for an opportunity to have a conversation. The moment was here and I felt tension grip my chest. All I could think of was how fleeting my mother’s days were here on earth. Continue reading
Unless you have been living without electricity, most likely you have heard of Extreme Home Makeover. A family, overcome by catastrophic events that threaten to suffocate all hope and life, is selected to have a beyond-their wildest-dreams custom home, outfitted to meet their special needs. In the process, the old home is demolished, the family goes on a week-long, all expense paid vacation and what rises from the ground is a spectacular, every modern convenience, mortgage paid off—Home Sweet Home. As the tears of gratitude flow and the music fades, we experience with the family a taste of heaven’s redemption. Continue reading
No book of the Bible is more fascinating or confusing than Revelation. Unlike other scriptures that record the words of God, this Apocalyptic writing is God himself speaking to the seven churches in Asia in the midst of their suffering and oppression. He encourages them to persevere in devotion and good works as the fulfillment of His redemptive plan is at hand. Jesus Christ will be revealed, not as the suffering servant veiled in human flesh, but as a mighty warrior who will crush evil and suffering forever. At long last, we will see God face-to-face. As His resplendent bride, we will be invited to the grandest of all celebrations–the wedding feast of the Lamb. Revelation’s portrayal of the end times offers a glimpse into God’s continual pursuit of His people and the purpose of suffering. It reveals how we are to live our lives caught between two worlds– “groaning and suffering the pains of childbirth”(Rom. 8:22), and waiting for Christ’s return. Just like the early church, we are in need of hearing these same words today. Continue reading
“It’s all about me,” my good friend Terrie laughed. “It’s always more about me than I’d care to admit when it comes to relationships.” Paul said the same thing, when he declared, “I’m the chief sinner of all” (1 Tim. 1:15). Even Socrates acknowledges, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” This brings up two important questions: How do we acknowledge our brokenness without drowning in introspection and self-loathing? And how do we pursue spiritual growth and healing without making it a remedy for our brokenness? If we live with the assumption that God will help us get it all together, then we have seriously underestimated our condition and the nature of the gospel. The gospel message is that I am far worse than I imagined and simultaneously more loved and accepted by God than I ever dared hope or imagine. Our brokenness will not be resolved this side of heaven; however Jesus’ words on the cross “It is finished,” changes the facts—I am no longer a prisoner of my condition. I am a glorious wreck, forever loved and accepted, being shaped into a unique reflection of God, himself. I can now offer to others what I have undeservedly been given—an unimaginable love. Summarizing my friend, self-interest will always abound. Yet Terrie’s uncompromising depiction of herself, offered with winsome laughter, and an unguarded heart, sings and aches with gospel hope. Love looks inside so we can look out.
To wait–the phrase is tantamount to torture for me. Few trials elicit more anguish than longing for something, only to have its fulfillment impeded. Even the Psalmist states that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Ever been dehydrated to the point of wanting to pay a ridiculous price for some cool libation? How about needing to be somewhere in a hurry only to find yourself behind a driver who feels it’s their civic duty to meander slower than the speed limit? Have you ever fallen in love and yearned to have your feelings reciprocated? To thirst, yearn, and desire all have the quality of hoping for something just beyond our reach. Often, I’d prefer to be pro-active–trying to avert the uncomfortable tension of an anticipatory situation. So I play “dodge the slowpokes” at the grocery store by detecting the fastest bagger and checkout clerk, only to be derailed by a customer who wants to write a check or has an item with no price.
Now, waiting has similarities to being suspended in motion and that is not always a bad thing. I like to rest and the thought of a lazy afternoon relaxing in a hammock with a cool glass of iced tea and a good book with no interruptions is something akin to heaven. Rest without anticipation leads to relaxation and eventual sleep. But waiting by its very nature requires rest with expectation, alertness and availability. This is where we must embrace the “want” of the desire and the tension of fulfillment’s “not yet.” Now, couple the word “wait” with the phrase “for love” and we have upped the ante. “To wait for love” is a wager that leaves us feeling vulnerable, anxious and exposed. It is similar to an actor who delivers a well rehearsed punch line and pauses for the audience’s reaction–the perspiring palms and breathless seconds seem like hours. The more we hope by opening ourselves to the vulnerability of waiting with anticipation, the riskier life gets. Continue reading
Everything is turned upside down. Life is the opposite from what it should be — what we deeply long for. We are catapulted from the secure, soothing cadence of a mother’s heartbeat to startled breath, bright lights and cold air. By design we adjust to our new environment with insatiable curiosity, exploration, wonder and awe. Moments are magical, days longer than 24 hours, dreams so profuse it would be easier to capture all the stars in the sky. Imagination turns clouds into animals, raindrops into pearls and sunbeams into rays of tiny dancing ballerinas. For the child the simple becomes sacred. Fairy tales, magic wands and ruby slippers speak of the hope, dreams and desires that live inside each of us – a sacred hope that lies beyond this world.
Within a few short years the drama of the playground begins to rival fairy tales with not so happy endings. We are not chosen for a team because of our looks. We are bullied and picked on for no apparent reason. Our best friend rejects us or, worse, betrays our secret confidences. Emotionally, most of us are not that far from elementary school and life has not changed since those impressionable years on the playground. To survive the painful realities of a broken heart, we grow up becoming polished with an aplomb that exudes confidence, yet less penetrable, less honest, more chameleon-like and superficial. And sadly, we extinguish the dreams and wonder of childhood. The desire to rest in relationships, a hunger for acceptance and a longing to be transparent are seen as the naive musings of a child. And because of the dilemma of living in a diabolical world, we choose a variety of approaches that satisfy our illusion that we can control life and thus evade the pain of desiring, hoping and risking. Would it not be fair to say that we become less than human? Continue reading
When love beckons to you follow him Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so he is for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
From The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
Moving day had come and there was just barely enough room to squeeze the last of the boxes into the trunk of my old burgundy Catalina Pontiac. As cars go, this one was akin to maneuvering the QE2 and it was always taking on water. Its trunk leaked when it rained and my father had the novel idea of punching holes in the tire wells to allow the water to escape so as not to submerge what few earthly possessions I owned. As a last precaution I threw a thick sheet of visqueen over the top and shut the trunk. I turned to say goodbye to my parents and gazed into their tender, loving and sad faces. I had received their blessing, yet their devotion to seeing my dreams come true would come with a piercing price—the sorrowful severing of the umbilical cord that bonds parent and child together. We embraced through the tears and for a moment time was suspended. I felt like a little girl who was suddenly struck with a panicked desire to call the whole thing off, unpack the car and say, What was I thinking? As the consequences of my decision came hurtling into focus, the fact that I was the last to leave the nest, but the first of my three siblings to relocate only inculcated the thought to reverse course and stay. Adding to the pressure was the uncomfortable prospect of having to admit defeat and move back home, if this adventure went up in flames. What helped stay the course that day was an intuitive Yes that marked the dreaming, praying and planning phases and resonated through every minute detail. I hoped a larger sovereign plan was afoot. Standing there that day in the surge of emotions was a glorious and honorable rite of passage; I was being lured away from the only family I had known into the mystery of larger open waters. Time came to close the door on my life in Northern Virginia and to drive south down I-95 to make a new life in Tallahassee, Florida. I grew up on the inside that day. Continue reading
We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment. –C. S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters
Narcissist is not a word Ben associated with himself. Rather, he saw himself as an innovative plastic surgeon with a calling to emancipate beauty by giving new life to children taunted for their deformities, hope to teens whose faces met unforgiving windshields, and a fountain of youth to Baby boomers searching for longevity. When he wasn’t injecting toxins into facial fissures, tucking and tying, his thoughts acquiesced to financial opportunities and flashes of cosmetic brilliance. Conversing with others was often a bore as it collided with his mental obsessions, requiring him to carry on two conversations at once-his thoughts and appearing engaged with others. Though his eyes dulled while listening to others, they shimmered with the indebted accolades of his patients. His monetary benevolence to his alma-mater and political organizations allowed him to rub shoulders with the elite as he called them, people like himself. His subdued strut at church veneered his self-importance, which was nourished by the attention of the pastor and parishioners alike. His status, influence and power only reinforced his inflated and fragile ego, fueling his sense of omnipotence. It didn’t hurt that his wife and son helped maintain his successful image. Continue reading
Christianity Today talked with Dr. Larry Crabb–well known author and speaker–about Christian counseling.
CT: What’s the first thing you would suggest to Christians who want to become counselors?
CRABB: The first thing I’d suggest is that they ask themselves what they fundamentally believe about the root purpose of counseling. What are they trying to accomplish when they sit down with a client who is anorexic, in a bad marriage or whatever. What’s their root thinking when trying to get a girl to start eating again or a marriage straightened out. All are worthy ambitions, but they must be secondary.
Our highest purpose as human beings isn’t to try to make this life work. It’s to reflect the character of God–of our Creator, Savior and Lord–in the middle of a life that doesn’t work. About the first thing Cain did after God judged him and told him he was going to wander around the rest of his life was to build a city. The implication was–forget this wandering stuff, I’m going to build myself a city and make my life work. God says in Hebrews that he’s ashamed to be called the God of a people who are looking for a better city than the one they’ll ultimately have in heaven.
CT: Is it wrong for Christian counselors to ask God to take away the pain in their clients’ lives?
CRABB: The Bible says our primary focus is to glorify God. If you have any compassion at all for your fellow man, of course you want to relieve the pain. But there’s a danger that god will become someone to be used rather than Someone to worship. He becomes useful for putting your life together–the way you want it. The tricky thing is, there’s nothing wrong with wanting your life put together. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good marriage, enjoying your kids and managing your money in a faithful way.
A new year has brought a new look to our newsletter. We are hoping this new format will allow for more features you have requested and enhanced graphic images, while making the newsletter easier to read. We would love to hear from more of our readers on suggestions for the newsletter content and composition. You may e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the holidays I encountered a formidable foe, in the guise of blood clots in four veins in my left leg. Though I enjoyed considerable bed rest and was waited on hand and foot, it was not the kind of rest one enjoys on a holiday. This experience had some extraordinary moments and some dark ones as well. Given the incredible opportunity to have surgery in Virginia to eradicate the clots coupled with significant surgical risk, made the successful outcome even sweeter. In the midst of this ordeal, many issues became clearer and priorities more focused. One of these that was illuminated for me was how I can more effectively use my time and finances to support the causes I deeply believe in.
Have you ever been around people who are constantly spewing anger over every conceivable issue? They bash the government for how their taxes are spent and the church for not doing its job. Though their observations may have some validity, you walk away feeling you know what they are against, but have no clue as to what they are for. It is much easier to be dogmatic than thoughtfully moving toward solving the problems we all grapple with. Dogmatism thrives on the illusion of a black and white reality and struggles to master control of life through a process of thought that is blind to seeing both sides of an issue. It’s stiff and defensive, not open to reason, and engenders bigotry. We can be just as opinionated about theology and unwilling to read the biblical text as it is written, omitting the portions that contradict our position. The Bible, like life, cannot be reduced to a systematic formula, for God has instilled a measure of mystery in both to call forth humble dependency upon Him. He is a God who will not be put in a box. Continue reading