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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Jesus Addresses the Cycle of Abuse

I love it when people ask me questions regarding the Bible and theology. It forces me into research mode and I am always blessed by what I learn. Today, I was asked about Matthew chapter 18. Indeed, it is intense!

Quick Review: In chapter 18, Matthew tells the story of the disciples arguing about who is the greatest and Jesus calling them out. He pulls aside a child and uses said child as an object lesson. 

whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Then Jesus amps it up a bit and issues a warning to those who would cause a child to sin. 

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Just in case it wasn’t clear how serious Jesus is about this topic, He ties it up with, 

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.


My first question was, “Why does Jesus transition from ‘the least of these’ to ‘cutting off your foot is better than sinning with it’?” As any good theologian would, I looked to see if the other Gospel writers recorded these words. Sure enough, versions of this story are also recorded in Mark and Luke. Do they all follow the same pattern and include all parts of this teaching?

Mark is close. Most of the pieces are there but an additional story (if they are not against us, they are for us) is sandwiched in between. 

Luke includes only the first part in a grouping of stories. He also includes the “if they are not against us, they are for us” teaching.

The one thing all three Gospel reports have in common is the timing of this teaching. This conversation happened when they stopped for a breather in Capernaum.  A very significant event had occurred just a few days before. While Peter, James, and John were hanging out with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, the other disciples tried – unsuccessfully – to provide deliverance for a man who had been strongly demonized since he was a young boy.

You can imagine, after years of effective ministry, the disciples were confused when they could not cast out the spirit. Then Jesus showed up with Peter, James, and John and did what they could not. It is not a surprise that this incident led to a discussion about who is the greatest.

Recognizing that the intense teaching in Matthew 18 follows on the heels of this deliverance story brought me to a new revelation. Taken as a whole, I believe Jesus is specifically addressing abuse here. Possibly child abuse, but likely abuse against any of His children.

For those of you familiar with deliverance work, how many children have you encountered (or even heard of) who were this severely demonized without having been a victim of some form of abuse? I know of none. And, whether the disciples realized it or not, I don’t think this detail was lost on Jesus. I think His heart was broken over one who had been tormented at such a young age.

While the disciples were busy worrying about who was the greatest, Jesus was mourning the reality of abuse in this world.

The crux of the Cycle of Abuse is power and control.

Jesus addressed this cycle brilliantly. He turned the abuse cycle on its head by using a child to illustrate how status is achieved in the kingdom of Heaven. Whereas the Cycle of Abuse makes others “low” in order to make the abuser feel powerful, Kingdom Power is gained when we make ourselves “low”.

Just in case current or potential abusers are tempted to minimize this teaching, Jesus ups the ante. If they continue causing harm, they should be forcefully stopped (drowning with a millstone around one’s neck), or the body part that causes them to “stumble” should be cut off. 

I am not suggesting that we go out and starting drowning abusers or cutting of body parts. Indeed, our job is to find the power to forgive them (release them from our own judgement and trust God to follow through with His discipline).

I am suggesting that God is not ignoring the abuse so many have suffered. Through Jesus words, He acknowledged it must happen in this world but did not condone it, “Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

Jesus did not, nor does He now, take abuse lightly.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ms. Bossy-Pants

This blog originated as a Facebook Live post.

I was reading 1 Corinthians chapter 12. A familiar chapter for many of us, though possibly not as familiar as chapter 13. In this chapter, Paul is talking to the church in Corinth about spiritual gifts and how they work together. He calls the Church the body of Christ and asserts that every member of the body is important.

As a counselor, my thoughts on spiritual gifts soon turned to thoughts on personality traits. While many of our personality traits are shaped by our early environment, we are born with many of them in our DNA. Anyone who has raised (or even been around) siblings can attest to how different they are from birth. For example, I have a brother who was given up for adoption at birth. We reunited with him when I was in my early 20s and, though he had never before met the rest of the family, we shared many family traits. His wife even wrote a poem about how it was so clear that some of his traits (physical and personality) were a result of shared DNA.

Our personality traits are not inherently good or bad. We know that God created and shaped us as individuals and we are all important. There are bad habits and unhealthy choices and patterns but not a bad personality. As with so many other things, it is all in how it is used. Our personality can be used for amazing Godly things or that same personality can wound, divide, and bring all kinds of destruction into the world.  

Let’s be still for a moment and reflect on the fact that, whether we like who we are right now or not, we are valuable. What God has placed in you is valuable. What God has placed in me is valuable. Sometimes, we need to be still and just take a moment to remember that we are created with purpose and we are gifted with blessing.

 I recently attended a writers’ conference where I was blessed to learn from the lead editor of The Upper Room, a devotional magazine. She used the word didactic. Isn’t that a fun word? She said, “I am a teacher and therefore I am quite didactic.”

My initial thought was, “I'm going to have to go home and look that word up I don't even know what it means.” 

She continued, “That means that I come across as bossy”

I know what that word means! She spoke about how our bossiness can show up in our writing. Now, if one is a personable speaker, one might be able to get with a little bossiness.  When we write, however, bossiness can work against us. It creates a divide between author and reader that does not necessarily need to be there. She warned us to be wary of the use of the word “you”.
Now, I know that I am bossy. Anyone who has known me for long knows that I can be bossy. I decided I had better go through my latest manuscript and check for “you”. The first section of the manuscript is on Grace. It is all about helping people see how important it is that we love one another and are willing to share the burdens of those in our community. How we must walk with people through their failures. This chapter was designed to bring us together – and it was full of “you”. 

Ugh! I campaign against the “us vs them” mentality and yet I had used language that created a similar divide – in my chapter on Grace! 

As I mentioned before, I am a bossy person. If I see a child misbehaving, I am likely to discipline them. Yes, someone else's child. (In my defense, I try not to do it in an obvious way but more like, “I see that you're hitting little Susie let's come over here and play with blocks instead.”) I use the excuse that I was a teacher for so long. In truth, I would probably do the same thing even if I had never been a teacher. This is part of the personality God knit together in me. If I walk into a room and no one is directing traffic, I default into a traffic director. It's innate in me.

And while it is a character trait that I sometimes need to reign in, it is also a valuable part of who I am. I'm learning that my bossiness is not something to cause shame. I shouldn't have to say, “I'm a horrible person because I'm a bossy person.” Granted, if I'm bossing people around to get my own way that's not healthy or helpful. If my bossiness results in others not being heard or if it strong-arms people into doing things they do not want to do, it needs to be called out and reigned in. 

But somebody has to direct traffic, right? 

We need bossy people in the world! We need individuals who can get us all moving in the same direction. Individuals who are willing to step out and say, “I need you to get up and take care of xyz.” 

I understand that not everyone reading this is a Ms. Bossy-pants (or Mr. Bossy-pants). As Paul explained to the Corinthians, we all represent different parts of the body and we need to celebrate those differences. Each of us are treasured in the kingdom of God. 

As with my bossiness, we each have traits that need to be reined in from time to time, but let’s not allow that knowledge to paralyze us. It is nearly impossible to steer a ship that is not moving. Let’s move forward with authenticity and confidence in who God created us to be. If we have grace for ourselves and one another, He will be faithful to steer us.

Postscript: About a week after I released this video on Facebook, I ministered at a women’s retreat. I shared my struggle with being a Ms. Bossy-pants with a few of the ladies. On the last evening, I felt led to pray over one of the attendees from the front. It was one of those times when authority just flows and you know that God is behind the blessing He has asked you to impart. As I prepared to leave the property, one of the ladies I had shared with earlier stopped me and said, “I saw Ms. Bossy-pants tonight. She is powerful. Please don’t keep her locked up.”