Refuge

Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Four Barriers to Better Living


            If you are a Christian,, (or just want to know God better), and honest enough with yourself to admit you don't have it all together yet, this article has something for you.  Like me, I'm sure you struggle at times with allowing the spirit part of your being to become greater, and the physical taking a lesser role in the soul. Our soul is the intersection of two distinctly different realms; the spiritual (supernatural) and physical (natural).  Our personhood is designed by our Creator for these two realms to work together to make the journey of life more complete and successful.
            However, many of us spend a significant portion of our lives in "brokenness."  .  First of all, we are all born into a broken world, so we are born broken.  The spirit part of our being is made alive when we believe in Jesus.  Following Jesus begins a process of change in our soul, whereby the spirit part of our being should influence the physical part in greater and greater measures.  The process is given terms like transformation, sanctification, healing, and inner person change. 
            But sometimes this process of change becomes very difficult.  I have found in my personal journey that the simpler I can make things, the easier the journey becomes.  Volumes have been written about each of the following four difficulties, but hopefully here are some thoughts about each you find helpful in the direction of simplifying. Quality of life is determined by how well these four factors are navigated.
1. Sin
Sin is an ugly word. Whether you call it transgression, wrong doing, offense, or rebellion  against God, sin is the ugliest barrier that keeps us from experiencing connection to God.  We are created for eternal connection, but sin created a disconnect.  God sent his one and only son Jesus into the world so that whoever believes in him is saved from the eternal damnation (see John 3:16).  For those who believe, life on earth is a constant process of change to be governing more and more each day by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus announced when his work on earth was completed.  The Holy Spirit works with our personal spirit and soul to accomplish this change through repentance and forgiveness (see other blog posts for more on that). 
            All sin offends God.  There is no such thing as "big sin" and "little sin."  There is, however,  obvious and not-so-obvious, sin.  The Bible calls the devil the "father of lies."  Deception is a key factor we'll talk more about a little further down.  Even the most discerning people sometimes have difficulty allowing hidden heart issues to be exposed.  Jesus consistently through his teaching identified the heart as the source of sin.  The contents of our heart determines our actions (good or bad), and people around us see our actions and not our heart.  Although our actions cause us to appear guilty, when we offend, it is God who we offend the most (because of our resistant heart condition). 
            Many definitions for sin have surfaced, but a simple way to discover it is anything within our being that resists God.  It's not a sin to have a bad thought.  It's sin to grow (harbor, explore, expand, etc.) bad thoughts.  A bad thought is any thought that condemns yourself, God, or another human being.  Bad thoughts produce bad feelings and attitudes of heart, which produce bad actions.  When we accept Jesus as the solution for our brokenness, we agree to allow God to break down walls our resistance piece by piece.  He then reshapes our parts so they fit together as a better-functioning "whole" person. 
2. Legitimate Unmet Needs
            In crisis situations meeting immediate physical and emotional needs is of primary importance. However, in the day-to-day physical world, too much "stuff" can create distraction.  A TV or the latest technology device is not a "need."  Getting by with less stuff simplifies life.  So too in our psychological and  emotional world, expectations that are set too high will set us up for deeper disappointment.  For example, it's okay to expect people to treat you with respect and dignity.  When you feel like you are treated without respect and love, taking the hurt to the Lord and asking him to fill your need for love and respect may be the answer.  Depending on the relationship, this need may indicate more work to be done in communication and acceptance.  A spouse, for example, though no spouse is perfect, should be providing for needs of love and respect at the deepest level possible in a human relationship.  Working things through to have legitimate needs met is very important. 
3. False Beliefs
            The more whole we become, the more free we are to be who we were created to be.  Believing falsehood is an obstacle to freedom.  Jesus declared, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  Many people quote the second sentence and conclude that knowing the truth sets a person free.  Knowing truth does not necessarily mean you believe truth.   In the verse quoted above, the word "then" makes it only true when the preceding condition is true.  Being a disciple of Christ, as evidenced by holding to his teaching, is the Truth that sets a person free.  Mentally agreeing with Christ's teaching isn't enough to overcome engrained patterns of bad thought and destructive habits. 
            Practicing Christ's teaching is the measuring stick for belief.  Jesus simplified the ten commandments into two.  Jesus said, "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’" (Matthew 22:37-39).  Loving God with your whole being and showing it by loving yourself and other people is the core of Christ's teaching.  To the degree we hold to this truth, we demonstrate that we really believe it.   Love (acting in the best interest of another) is a solution to removing barriers.  
            The problem is, the broken world we grow up in, forms our core belief system with bits and pieces of Christ's truth, at best.  Our default natural condition forms beliefs about God, ourselves, and other people which are false (and unloving).  Chief of these false beliefs is that we can decide for ourselves which beliefs are true or not (good or evil), and we don't need God's help to decide.  We also conclude things like "people don't like us if they don't give us what we want," and "I'm not worthy of love" if someone criticizes something we do.  Most of these beliefs come from our parents (or primary caretakers), but we cannot blame them for how we behave as a result of adopting false beliefs. 
            Correcting our misperceptions caused by believing things not true, is a bit like putting on new glasses with new prescription lenses for better eyesight.  We may still have "blind spots" and not see perfectly.  Our glasses still become dirty (creating distortions) and need regular cleaning.  But the pair of lenses is the tool we need to focus our gaze on our surroundings.  The tool we need for focusing on Truth is the Bible.  It is called God's Word because it is the final word.  The Bible is the recorded history of God's people living out the combination of the natural and supernatural realm (see also Hebrews 4:12).   It is the lenses through which all our beliefs need to be filtered for complete vision.
4.  Psychological Pain
            The two distinct categories of pain I wish to mention here are: self inflicted pain, and pain inflicted by others.  Self inflicted pain means your own personal sin, unmet needs, and/ or false beliefs are the primary source.  The most common types of feelings of pain are rejection and shame.  Sin creates guilt for behavior which can be corrected.  Guilt then is a positive motivator.  Same on the other hand, is based on a false sense of guilt and has no solution.  Guilt says, "I did bad," whereas shame says, "I AM bad."   Shame causes rejection of self and the God who created the self.  Self-rejections fuels bitterness, resentment, and blame in the deepest part of your core being. 
            The pain of shame can be very hard to identify, but this obstacle is common in every human being.  Shame is impossible to resolve without finding the source where a person has rejected self.  Remember, resisting God is sin.  Resisting who God made you to be is resisting God.   Dissatisfaction, discontent, and rebellion against who God made you as a person, is an offense against God.  So, self inflicted pain may require repentance and forgiveness to become free and return to wholeness. 
            Pain inflicted by others causes different kinds of issues.  This is emotional damage caused by abuse, violence, traumatic injury, or some type of injustice for which a reason cannot be explained.  Injustice is part of our broken world, but our broken soul has no way to justify it.  Jesus came not only to save the world from sin, but to heal the world from the consequences of sin (see Isaiah 53 and 61).  Jesus can heal the broken heart caused by injustice. 
            In summary, God does not expect you to remove these four barriers before you can have his favor.  In fact, he implores us to come to him for help on the journey.  He says, "Come to me .... and I will give you rest" (see Matthew 11:28-30)  ... rest from trying to perform your own way around these barriers.  So, I sometimes ask, "Why is it so hard to make/ keep things simple?"  I haven't come up with a good answer, but I know the enemy of our soul wants nothing more than to have us believe the way to God is about working instead of resting. 
            God is not accessed through religion, but through relationship.  Religion can become a barrier of its own  that hinders a relationship with God.  Religion can encapsulate all four of the barriers listed above. 
A simple cry of the Psalmist heart is,
"Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
            May this be our heart's cry to God.  I can speak from my experience that as I surrender more of my heart to God's search light, I encounter less resistance from these barriers. 
            If you are facing struggles you feel are overwhelming you., seek out the help of a counselor.  If I can assist you, drop me a line.  I tell people,  "I'm not a medical doctor, but I am a heart specialist."   You can also check out some of the other articles on the blog site to see how to practically walk out the inner person change for successful living. 
            I end with a link to a song.  This song meant a lot to me decades ago when I was beginning my journey, and I still find it's simple message inspiring today.  The song is "He Loves You" by 2nd Chapter of Acts:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9ksIsp58pg

by Ed Hersh, BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Words Matter for Leaders


            Topics in the previous (part 1) article discussed euphemism,  political correctness (PC), and abuse by the media.  Reading it will help provide a foundation for what I address here to leaders and specifically Christian speakers.   
            In the book of James a warning is given that, "we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1).   I believe that part of this judgment involves the words we use and the care given to choosing biblical correctness over political correctness (see also 2 Timothy 4:3). 
            Inaccurate speech dilutes and devalues the message.  I used the example of the word "choice" in the previous article.  Another example is the word "gay."  Gay has become a euphemism for the word homosexual.  In addition, attaching the word gay to the word marriage makes it a much more complicated issue.  Every time the word marriage is used to describe a homosexual union, the true biblical definition of the word marriage (and the Word of God) is down graded and  defamed. 
            I agree with the comments of psychologist and author Dr. James Dobson in this video following the June 16, 2016 US Supreme Court decision:
http://drjamesdobson.org/media/parenting-and-marriage-videos/dr-dobson-on-the-definition-of-marriage .  Marriage is a God-ordained institution and cannot be redefined by a man-made court.  Our speech must uphold the godly definition.  Christ himself says, "at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,  and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’" (Matthew 19:4-5).  If we believe Christ's words there is absolutely no way to justify using the term "same-sex" to describe a marriage relationship. 
            It grieves me deeply every time I hear a pastor or Christian leader use the words "gay" (or "same-sex") and the word "marriage" together to describe the unholy union of homosexual relationship.  A position of leadership and influence requires a closer scrutiny of the words used to speak truth and wholeness for personal and community well-being.  This terminology is a crafty twist of the truth conceived by the enemy of our souls.  A Proverb says, "A fool’s mouth is his ruin, And his lips are the snare of his soul" (Proverbs 18:7).  Words matter.  We should not be foolishly repeating words we picked up through the media (or any other source) when they so blatantly defy the Truth.  
            Dr. Dobson and others warn of the dangers of redefining marriage.  Whenever a word (like marriage) is misused, the true meaning is diminished.  When "same-sex marriage" is spoken, the biblical definition is degraded and disavowed.  Words matter.  They speak life and support of true marriage, or they speak death and detract from the true meaning of marriage.  
            As the moral climate of our culture deteriorates, examples of these kinds of misuse of words are on the increase.  We must be vigilant to recognize the falsehood, and use alternatively accurate words to ensure integrity of speech. 
            In case you still think I'm making a big deal out of nothing, consider further what the Bible has to say about words.  In the context of prayer and communicating with God, Ed Kurath in the book I Will Give You Rest writes,  "For some reason, God set up the universe in such a way that words have power. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light (Genesis 1:3). The words that I speak bring my thoughts into reality. Once they are spoken, it is as though a legal contract has been signed, or a legal event has happened, in the spiritual realm. The words can be "bad" and bring about difficulty (for example judging), or they can be "good" and bring about life (for example blessing someone)." 
            A spoken word has great power.  In fact, we call the Bible "the Word" of God because it carries the authority of God.  God's authority is supreme authority.  God's authority is revealed through a number of human beings recording His words throughout a period of time to be included in the cannon of Scripture.  Consider what is recorded in the Bible about God Himself.  John records in his gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5). 
            Jesus came as the Word.  Our very life depends on the Word.  Every person's soul is doomed to darkness without the light of the Word.  The Word speaks life.  The Word speaks light.  To be called disciples of Christ, we must speak the Word.  We must speak light.  We must speak life.   
            My purpose for writing this is not only to raise awareness of language used toward evil ends, but to encourage speakers of truth to redeem the spoken language.  We must be careful not to use strictly PC speech, and let people know why we are using terms which speak truth.  It's not enough to use "biblically correct" language ourselves, but we must teach other disciples of Christ to do so as well.  If Jesus is the Word, we must represent Him with our words.  If the Bible is the Word, we must use words that speak Truth.  If Jesus matters to you, words matter.  If the Bible matters to you, words matter. 
            Please understand I am not advocating using inconsiderate, insensitive, or deliberately offensive language to make a point.  With love as our motivation (see Ephesians 4:25), we must demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our speech (Galatians 6:22).  Because ultimate Truth rests with God, there will always be some people offended by the Truth (see 1 Peter 2:8).  Some will label Truth speakers as intolerant, bigoted, and phobic.  We may even be called "deplorables" and "irredeemables" (if you remember the 2016 political candidate using those terms). There will always be those who consider the Truth to be "hate speech."  Hatred of the Word is what put Jesus to death. 
             Proclaimers of the Word are not called to be trendy, relatable, or relevant as a first priority.  Considering our audience or delivery methods is not as important as considering who owns the message we have to deliver.  Jesus himself says, "The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work" (John 14:10).  Jesus says this in the context of explaining that He and the Father are one.  Christ's message is Father God's message.  As Christ's disciples, our message is Father God's message. 
            The phrase "same sex marriage" pollutes the atmosphere with a false, ungodly  message.  Never, never, say it!  By speaking the words we are  participating in the acceptance of the practice of homosexuality.  Worse yet, we   are speaking death to marriage.  Next to our relationship with God, marriage is the most sacred relationship mankind can know.  Marriage is God's creation from the beginning and provides the foundation for human existence.  The definition of marriage cannot be tampered with. 
            A message is made of the words used to deliver it.  Words matter. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart; be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).  May this be the prayer of our heart, and the motivation for the words we speak. 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Words Matter


            Words have the power of life and death.  Words reveal wisdom and foolishness.  Words we say can either help or hinder.   As the Proverb says, "The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly" (Proverbs15:2).
            As Kevin Hall explains in his book, Aspire: Discovering Your Purpose Through the Power of Words, words are the basic material for communication.  Stephen R. Covey says in his foreword to Hall's book, "words have an inherent power, a force capable of lighting one′s paths and horizons. Used correctly and positively, words are the first building blocks for success and inner peace. Used incorrectly and negatively, they are capable of undermining even the best of intentions. This is true in business, in personal relationships, and every other walk of life."   Words create thoughts ... thoughts create ideas ... ideas linked with feelings create actions ..., and actions produce results (good or bad results).  Words paint mental pictures of reality, and set the forces into action to bring the picture alive. 
            This becomes very important because a person's reality is determined by what he believes to be true.  A person's beliefs may be based on truth, or beliefs may be based on falsehood.  Beliefs based on truth produce constructive actions.  Beliefs based on  falsehood yield destructive results.  Every lie contains enough truth to make it believable.  Discerning truth from falsehood is not always easy, especially when words are incorrectly used to intentionally confuse or mislead the hearer.  
            Euphemism is a common technique used to hide the truth.  The dictionary definition of the word "euphemism" is, "the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant."  Because of the human innate bent toward the negative, the truth is often disagreeable with our natural inclinations.  But whether we agree or not, the truth is the truth.  If the truth survives our self-made test of "agreeableness," then it faces our emotional condition also bent toward judgmentalism and taking offense.  Many times the truth hurts.  But trying to hide the truth in order to avoid disagreement and pain undermines (destroys) accuracy and trust in communication. 
            Euphemism is commonly used by people trying to engineer social change.  Socially acceptable terminology is crafted to sensitize acceptance of otherwise unacceptable practices.  Words become the weapons for the battleground of debate.  Over time, the meaning of some words are intentionally (and unintentionally) altered in attempt to shift a "new normal."  One such example in my lifetime has been the word "choice."
            Americans place a high value on choice.  Options are a good thing.  But options have no value without life itself.  The truth is that life trumps choice.  Any falsehood trying to discredit this truth would exalt choice to a higher value than life itself. 
            Thus, the word "choice" has become the key to the debate for or against abortion.  But the real issue is life vs. death, not pro-choice vs. anti-choice.  Abortion does not give a choice to the baby whatsoever, but it claims to be "pro-choice."  This is a lie made believable by denying the life of a baby.  So, never should a person who supports the rights of a baby's life use the term "pro-choice" to identify abortion advocates.  In reality, abortion means babies have no choice.  In reality abortion is pro-death, and makes mockery of the word "choice."   The pro-abortion movement uses the "pro-choice" label in an effort to hide their true pro-death actions.  Hence the word "choice" is used to twist the truth by hiding an unfavorable action to highlight a more acceptable idea.  
            For pro-lifers to use the term "pro-choice" is speaking agreement with destruction of  life.  The debate is defined by the words used to describe the ideas.  Use the correct words (to describe the truth), and the debate can be won.  Use the wrong words (in agreement with the  opponent), and the debate is lost before it begins.  
            The recent presidential election demonstrated more than ever that the establishment media is one-sided on matters relating to politics and social issues. In my opinion, the establishment media has become mostly propaganda at the hands of skilled deceivers.  I believe this because words are used over and over again to manipulate the truth and influence people's minds with falsehood.  When lies are used to hide, ignore, or twist the truth, you have deception.  When deception is used to hide, ignore, or twist the facts, you have propaganda.  As someone has said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to the wrong facts." 
            The major so-called news outlets have often abandoned factual reporting for sensational scoring.  They have proven themselves inaccurate and untrustworthy communicators.  Their misuse of words and ideas to negatively influence their hearers' thinking and behavior  is very destructive.  A number of books have appeared recently written by journalists and others who have been stonewalled in bringing the truth to the public.  One such book is by Sheryl Attkisson called The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote.  Attkisson goes into much greater details than I can here. 
            My point is not to bash the media, but to raise our awareness that words matter.  "Political correctness" (PC) ranks high on the list of enemies of the ideals our nation was founded upon.   PC is a favorite media technique.  PC devalues words and the imagination of the hearer.  PC devalues free speech and communication.  PC devalues individual thinking and expression.  PC must be recognized and eliminated from our conversation.   Another Proverb says, "Using the speech of a fool makes you one too. Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him" (Proverbs  26:4).
            My hope is that those reading this will make a choice for truth over falsehood.  Euphemisms like casual sex, affair, and gay are replacements for the truth of fornication, adultery, and homosexuality (respectively).  "Fake news" is deceptive propaganda.  "Gender identity" is a term often used for gender confusion.  The phrase "separation of church and state" was crafted to limit religious speech and faith practices in the public square.  The phrase has no origin in the US Constitution and no legitimacy for preventing people to practice their faith.  The list goes on ....   What terminology can we think of right now that would be another example of word manipulation to hide, ignore, or misrepresent the truth? 
            Words matter.  After we discover the incorrect use of words, the next step is to re-program our minds to use the correct words in our speech.  Make a choice to buck the trends of "political" correctness, and simply speak correctness.   Whenever we hear words put together in a way we haven't heard before, we should stop and ask ourselves, "What is the REAL meaning behind these words?" 
            Will we pay attention to words and language we use to communicate, or will we let others dictate our thinking, speech, and behavior in a negative direction?  Let us make our choice of words ring truth and life!
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Big Debt Forgiven


            One of the most life-changing stories in the Bible is found in the 18th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.  May I encourage you to take a few moments to read Matthew 18:21-35 before you read the rest of this article (click here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matt+18%3A21-35&version=NIV). 
            Jesus told a story in the context of answering a question from his disciple Peter asking,  "how much debt (sin, offense, wrongdoing, fault, transgression, crime) should a person forgive?"  The story was told in a time when people were put in prison for financial debt owed.  An analogy is made between financial debt and the "debt" of peoples' offenses,  and reactions to offenses, in the broken world in which we live. 
            The story has two main characters; Big Debt and Small Debt.  Big Debt is a transgression so large it could never be repaid in a lifetime of service to pay restitution to the person offended.  Small Debt is an offense which creates problems and annoyance, but can be recovered with corrective action.  Big Debt is not humanly possible to restore.  Small Debt may go away with some human effort. 
            The story begins with Big Debt begging for mercy because of his huge debt.  The Master grants mercy and releases Big Debt from prison (forgives) everything he owed.  But somewhere along the line, Big Debt forgets just how big his debt was, and he cannot forgive Small Debt for a relatively tiny frustration to Big Debt. Small Debt wants to make amends, but Big Debt is so enraged he insists on imprisonment (lack of forgiveness) for Small Debt.  When the Master calls Big Debt to account for his inconsistency, he places him back in prison, in worse condition than he was originally.  
            The story ends by Jesus saying,  “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:323-35).  Being unwilling to forgive never has a happy ending.
            The real message Jesus intended to reveal in this story is found in the last sentence.  Forgiveness must be from the heart and not just a decision of the mind. 
I write about forgiving from the heart in another article: (see http://authoredhersh.blogspot.com/2014/01/forgiveness.html). 
But the first word ("this") in the sentence  points back to the previous sentence.  The Master handed Big Debt "over to the jailers to be tortured."  Rejecting forgiveness comes at a great price.  Let's look now at the consequences of failing to recognize our "Big Debt" condition. 
            Big Debt became so pre-occupied with the small debt that was owed him, that he was not able to remain grateful for the big debt he was forgiven.  The self-serving human condition makes us all guilty of Big Debt's trespass.  Most of us reading the Matthew 18 story identify first with  Small Debt.  Thinking of people who have offended us is easier than thinking of people we have offended.  Thinking of a person who "owes" you an apology usually comes quicker than thinking of a person you "owe" an apology.  Thinking of how other people have failed you, takes your mind off how much you have failed God and other people. 
            Each of us is the Big Debt person.  Sometimes we may be the Small Debt person as well.  Our debt to God (offense we inherited from the original sin of man) is too great to even think about paying back.  God the Father designed mankind to live a debt-free existence, but Adam and Eve's choice to rebel against God's authority created a debt (offense) for which every person in the human race became responsible.  God knew this debt is way too big  for mankind's ability to re-pay, so He made a way for a person's big debt to be forgiven.  Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).  Believing in Jesus as the only Way for our Big Debt offenses to be forgiven.  One of the ways we demonstrate how much we really believe this is by forgiving Small Debt (our offenders' debt) when they offend us. 
            After Big Debt refused to forgive Small Debt (in the story Jesus told), the Master threw Big Debt back in prison.  Refusing to honor the Gift of forgiveness Jesus gave us, by not forgiving those who trespass  against us, locks us in a condition of confinement.  Our minds and hearts condemn us to "prison."  This happens when we do things like focus on the hurts we sustain from others short-comings, hold anger, nurse grudges, harbor bitterness, entertain resentment, consider retaliation, and obsess on revenge.   Dishonoring, condemning, judgmental, and slandering behavior puts your mind deeper in prison.  The lack of peace in your heart festers and torments you into deeper and deeper bitterness, resentment, and blame.  Forgiveness is the only way out of this prison. 
            Small Debt wanted to pay back the debt he owed, but he understood there was no way he could currently pay it back.  He didn't even ask for the debt to be wiped out, but only asked for more time to pay it.  But Big Debt wrongfully judged Small Debt as unwilling or unworthy to pay back the debt owed.  When we are unwilling to forgive, we offend God by not aligning with the value He places on forgiveness.  We de-value Christ's work to accomplish the forgiveness of our personal debt (offenses both inherited and non-inherited).  This offends God, our Master, and commits us to the prison for torture. 
            Are you feeling unhappy, discontent, discouragement, or a lack of peace or joy?  This story is something you should consider.  Because offense is not something we like to think about, these debts of unforgiveness often fester for a long time.  Perhaps stress, trauma, or an unexpected event triggers a reaction that surprises you.  Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and addictions often have some sort of unresolved root of unforgiveness lingering as a source of torment.  These are often symptoms of an imprisoned mind and a tormented spirit.  Understanding and practicing forgiveness may not be the solution to all your problems, but setting your mind and spirit free could be the hurdle you need to overcome to find the real answers to problems with which you're been wrestling.
            This story is as real today as it was when it was recorded about 2,000 years ago.  It's up to you to apply it to your own life.  May I encourage you to get your debt forgiven so you can enjoy life as God meant for life to be lived;  debt-free! 

Note:   A book I authored Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses truth for dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom through forgiveness (from a Christian perspective).  See more about the book by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm . 
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Born Again - Part 2


            You can read Part One to see the difference between false hopes and the real deal experience of being born again.  Born again is an event to surrender control of your life to God, but it also includes an ongoing commitment to inner person change in becoming a disciple of Christ.  Being "born from above" is a journey of radical and continuous transformation that cannot be fully explained in the natural realm. 
            In the natural realm, we consider maturing into adulthood a positive thing.  In the spiritual, however, "adulthood"  becomes a hindrance to transformation.  The better off we think we are, the less open to change.  The more we think we know, the less likely to be open to renewing our minds with God's truth .  The more mature we are in our own understanding, the less likely we are to choose God's wisdom over our own.  I think Jesus had this in mind when he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter  the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3; NIV). 
            Jesus didn't say we must become better adults.  He said we must become children.  Being "born again" means we must consider ourselves babies, and continue the process of "growing" and learning the remainder of our lives.  There is no "full grown" adulthood in spiritual life.  We grow, and the spirit part of our being has a greater influence on our character, but never reach an "old age" phase in spiritual life.   Growing spiritually means we surrender more and more of our natural (physical) being over to God's control.  
            Spiritual re-birth doesn't automatically fix the problems we face in our natural world existence.  Struggles in a marriage, for example, always involve two people, and only one person changing will not automatically make the marriage better.  Relationship problems are generally complex, and may even be aggravated by oversimplifying with a weak claim of God's intervention.  If you have a bad habit before you "meet Christ," you still have the bad habit (or at least the tendency to revert) after you "come to the Lord."   A pastor friend of mine says, if you're a dummy before you "get saved," you're still a dummy after you're "saved."   "Believing in Jesus" is not a once and done thing.  Believing the message of the gospel includes entrusting your life to the Author of the message for daily application to your circumstances.  Some phrases in quotes above, often become expressions people use to hide behind their ongoing need for surrender to God.  
            Sometimes after deciding to surrender to God a particular behavior or relationship issue, it may even appear as though things are going backwards instead of forwards.  Complying with God involves re-aligning our life path with to His wishes.  If we've  stepped into a path that leads further away from God, it may mean a short backtrack to get on the right path.  The natural world principle of sowing and reaping may apply to our physical circumstances (see Galatians 6:7-9).  But if things seem to be betting worse instead of better, take heart in the promise that, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth ..." (James 1:17-18).
            For most of my life I thought of born again from the conversion "event" perspective only.  Recently, I've been challenged with "accepting Christ as Savior" to be a day to day, moment by moment context of continual surrender.  In my counseling I work with many people who have experienced great pain because of false beliefs and expectations about being born again.  I've watched many Christians flounder with lack of identity and purpose in life because they haven't fully embraced the need to surrender more and more of their heart to the Holy Spirit's work to change.  The prophet Isaiah describes them as "who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf" (Isaiah 43:8).  Spiritually opened eyes and ears are just the beginning of a journey of newly inspired action on what is seen and heard.  Born again means your vision and perspective are ever aligning more and more with an outlook from above.  When this alignment happens, seeing and hearing more clearly will produce more positive results, or at least better responses, to your natural world existence. 
            The prophet Isaiah prophecies of rebirth in his writings. Isaiah continues, "See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 43:19).  Think of your heart as the wilderness and your mind as the wasteland.  Being born again is for the purpose of restoring your connection with God at core of your being and for the refreshing waters of life to renew your thinking processes and belief systems so that your resulting actions bear "good fruit" (see Galatians 5:22-23).    The Apostle Paul reiterates this theme many times in the New Testament.  He plainly says that born from heaven into life in Christ is, "to be made new in the attitude of your minds;  and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:23-24; NIV).  This change begins as a Holy Spirit work in your heart and continues as a Holy Spirit work throughout your life time. 
            Hell is real.  Believing in Jesus will save you from hell.  But that is the LEAST it will do.  We are put on this earth to enjoy God and worship Him by surrendering to the wonderful gift of life he gives.  Our eternal life, begins at conversion, and the "forever with God" part starts then.  The "living forever" part includes the rest of our earthly lives to give new invaluable  purpose and meaning on a daily basis. 
            Are you facing challenges that don't seem to get resolved no matter how hard you try?  It could be that you're trying TOO hard.   Or perhaps you're at the other end of the spectrum feeling powerless to do things you know are right, so you don't take any action at all in the direction of godliness.  In either case, the root issues are the same.  True change can only happen through surrender of control to God.  The messages that converts the heart is the same message that empowers the ongoing conversion.  The gospel that saves from sin is the same gospel that mends brokenness that still lies within.  Come to Jesus and keep coming.  Never stop coming.  That's what you've been born to do!  
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Born Again - Part 1


            This article is written particularly for those who consider themselves Christians, although anyone desiring truth might find it helpful.
            Jesus himself used the term "born again" in John 3.  Jesus instructed Nic that following God has  nothing to do  with a particular family of origin, religion, culture, or belief system.  Scholars believe the term "born again" can be more accurately translated in English as "born from above."   Jesus explains, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.  So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it wants.  Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8; NLT).
            We exist in a physical (natural) realm, but the spiritual realm (supernatural) cannot be understood in the same way.  Heavenly Truth is not always understandable with earthly paradigms.  The earthly paradigm of birth is event driven, human effort intensive, and results subject to natural laws of earthly existence.  When a baby is discovered in his mother's womb, he is given a due date.  Pregnancy is a labor intensive process with a climax of the new born breathing on its own.  The new life is now part of the family of origin and human race made of the same stuff as the very first human created in the natural world. 
            The heavenly paradigm of birth from above, however, is much different.  It has no earthly timetable, all effort is God's, and the changes are mostly in the inner invisible realm (likened to the wind).  Each individuals response to God is unique in terms of a conversion experience.  The Holy Spirit reveals the Light of Jesus to a darkened spirit part of our being.   Being born from above is predicated on acceptance of God's love as demonstrated through Jesus Christ dying on a Cross and being raised from the dead.  The Spirit of God continues to breathe life into our spirit to renew and recreate our being from the inside out.  This inner change of heart comes as a result of surrendering the natural body, mind, and soul to the supernatural power of God.  Spiritual growth occurs with an increasing compliance with this process of surrendering to the ways of God.
            The birth of a baby is nothing short of a miracle.   As I witnessed the birth of our three natural-born children, I was each time reminded of the absolute wonderment of God's gift of life.  Natural birth is a miracle.  How much more then, is spiritual birth a supernatural process.  We are each born with a personal spirit, but the spirit part of our being is not fully awakened until it is born from above.  When we surrender to God the right to rule our being, the rebirth of our spirit begins.  In order to reach the maximum potential as the person we are meant to be, this rebirth process must continue throughout our lives (discussed more in a Part 2 article).
            If you’ve been around the Church for any length of time, you’ve heard someone talk about “decision for Christ”  in reference to a “conversion “ experience.  But, being born again is more than acknowledging a need for a Savior.  A decision of a natural mind is not enough.  You may also have heard someone talk about “accepting Christ into your heart.”  Although the heart is where the action is, mere acceptance of a message of truth is not enough for rebirth of spirit.  Accepting and deciding may be a good starting point, but in order for the spiritual realm to intersect with the natural realm, it always requires yielding of the natural.  Surrendering control of your inner person is the key issue. 
            What might surrender look like?  Again, the finer details of surrender may look different for each individual, but here are some possibilities.  It means submitting beliefs and values to a higher power and being willing to re-align to a God-defined standard of Truth.   It means giving up control of the ability to decide for yourself right from wrong.  It means letting go of a self-made identity in exchange for God reshaping of who you are as a person.  
            The transformation is somewhat of a mystery, but over time the practice of surrendering control will become evident in the natural realm.  For example, you may come to an understanding of family that includes a desire to grow your relationships closer without feeling like you are losing your identity as an individual.  Your value for healthy life recognizes the harmful affects of smoking cigarettes, so you give them up without it becoming a sacrifice.   Your concepts of love, happiness, and fulfillment become more in line with what God has already outlined in the Bible.  Your employment, standards of sexual morality, living arrangements, or consumer habits may need to change;  not simply because you made a decision to change your behavior, but change occurs because the "wind" of the Holy Spirit is working a change of heart.  It is also not a result of "trying harder," but surrendering at and cooperating with God's work at a deeper level. 
            The Psalmist penned the following words two thousand years before the message from Jesus quoted above.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
 Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.  ....
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God"  (Psalm 51:10,11,17; NLT).
The ancient King David cried out for God to change his heart.  He recognized the necessity of supernatural intervention.  We see here that brokenness and repentance are part of what accompanies a cleansing of heart.  Repentance simply means to turn around.  Surrendering to God requires turning away from human control to divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  When a person surrenders internally, the external behaviors follow.  Many people face great frustration because they try to change their behavior without being fully surrendered in their heart.  
            John writes, "Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6; NLT).  Jesus is the way to be born from above.  Believing in Jesus and following his example of surrendering to the will of the Father is the way to awaken the eternal part of your being and have eternal life (John 3:16).   It is not about trying to become good enough, holy enough, strong enough, or any change of behavior.  Born again is simply believing in Jesus to transform your life.  If you make it more complicated than that, you are likely believing something that is not true.   Adding things that are not true may quickly lead to disappointments, false hopes, and missing the divine call on your life.  It may also lead to falsely believing you are a Christian because of your good deeds rather than having a heart surrendered to God. 
            My experience in Christianity goes back about six decades. I recently came to the conclusion that much of my understanding of "born again" was superficial or incomplete at best.  I had a born again conversion experience in my childhood and served in leadership for many churches over the years.  I even have a doctorate degree in Religious Studies from a conservative Christian school.  However, I recently discovered deeper revelation that being born from above is also a journey of radical and continuous transformation that cannot be explained in the natural realm (discussed more in Part 2). 
            Are you "born again?"  If you are not absolutely certain you can talk to God right now and be sure.  You may wish to read Part 2 of this article to discover the ongoing process of rebirth.  
            If you need another human to talk to about this, please contact me and I would be glad to discuss this more. 
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sailing to New Horizons - Part 2


            Part One focused metaphorically on the dangers of trying to sail through life without proper care for the soul.  Dry docking the boat is a sailing term for taking the boat offline to inspect and re-enforce stressed or weakened parts as a result of traveling the seas. Dry dock (downtime) is essential for ensuring stability and mobility through the storms of life guaranteed to test our vessel (personal being).  This Part Two focuses more on the practicals of dry dock. 
            There are many aspects of soul care which contribute to a healthy quality of life.  Sailing a boat requires knowing how to harness the power of the wind to navigate in a particular direction.  So too in life there are truths and principles that create predictable results.  Good ethics, character development, life skills, and virtuous living all help for things to go well in life.  Our performance-based culture rewards our focus on these kinds of activities.  But a truth frequently forgotten, is that good performance is predicated by how well we ”perform”  in our private thoughts and inner world. 
            As we noted, the main purpose of the keel, beneath the waterline, is to balance the boat.   When the keel is weakened or broken, the ship is in severe danger of losing its  balance in the slightest storm conditions, causing the ship to capsize with no chance to survive.  Balancing the time a ship spends sailing on the sea with time spent in dry dock to maintain its seaworthy condition, is crucial for survival.  Balancing the time we spend pursuing our duties in life (as a parent, employee, leader, member, friend, etc.), with time spent temporarily putting those duties aside for rest, is imperative for life to go well.   
            True rest is the balance that keeps your sailboat sailing. Proper rest is designed to renew and restore life.  There is no way around it.  Rest is the activity that keeps you active, creative, and productive.  Let's briefly consider four types of rest.  To help us remember these four types, let's unpack an acronym to sail (S-A-I-L).  The S is Sleep.  The A is Activity.  The I is Inspiration and Inspection.  The L is Listening intently.   
            1.  Sleep.  Sleep is the activity that completely shuts down our conscious mind for about one third of every day.  Yes, we sleep about one third of our lives.  Sleep is a huge and fascinating topic too big to explore here,  but two points are worthy of mention.  Although opinions may vary as to how much sleep is enough, making the decision to do what it takes to get enough sleep is the only way you will get enough sleep.  You must decide your sailing vessel (body and soul) cannot sail without it.  Secondly, sleep is not just for the body to rest, but also for the psyche to rest.  Especially for those in people helping activities on a daily basis, sleep  is important to maintain psychological sharpness and stability.     
            2. Activity.  In order to maximize the rest factor, consider better management of your daily activity.  Make the most of the types, durations, flows, and intensities of routine tasks.    Avoid extremes and practice moderation.  Maybe your employer controls a great deal of how your time is spent on the job, but you can limit stress by making time for sports, hobbies, music, reading, playing games with family, and other things you find relaxing.   Make "play" an intention practice in three areas: physical (eg. sports), spiritual (eg worship), and psychological (eg. reading).  Be aware of circumstances that sap your "emotional energy," and counter them with something that fills your "emotional tank."   
            3. Inspiration and Inspection.  This type of rest is meant to "feed" the spirit part of your being.  Humans are designed as spirit beings, and thus need spiritual food as desperately  as they need physical food to nourish the physical body.  A dictionary definition of inspiration is, "a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul."  Spiritual food may include time spent alone with God (getting to know Him better),  pursuing God together with other people, or anything with the goal of inspiring faith, hope, and love with divine qualities. 
            Inspection works hand in hand with inspiration to keep us honest about our true spiritual condition.  We need self-evaluation and input from other people to stay true to our core identity and purpose in life.  Our natural tendency is to try to make life work without God's help.  Even those who consider themselves God-followers have a leaning to "do life" under, over, from, or for God, as compared to living "with" God.  For an explanation of how this works, see Skye Jethani's excellent book called With: Re-imagining the Way You Relate to God. 
            4. Listening intently.  The fourth type of rest, and the most engaged form of dry dock, is listening intently.  Listening could be thought of as an extension of both inspiration and inspection described above.  I use the term listening to emphasize an active receiving mode.  It is not merely "hearing," or passive intellectual or emotional stimulation.  The goal of listening is to transform (for the better) who you are as a person.  It is not to evaluate performance as much as it is to uncover and strengthen your inner being.  The ultimate response of listening involves surrender.  The real secret to rest is complying with a definition that was given about 2000 years ago in Christ's words,  “Come to me all of you who are tired from the heavy burden you have been forced to carry. I will give you rest.  Accept my teaching. Learn from me. I am gentle and humble in spirit. And you will be able to get some rest.  Yes, the teaching that I ask you to accept is easy. The load I give you to carry is light”  (Matthew 11:28-30; ERV).  Listening acknowledges our need for help outside of ourselves. 
            God's voice of truth is all around us.  God speaks words of life.  We can only hear them, if we are listening.   Listening postures may include intentional quiet, complete silence, reflection, meditation, journaling, recording, and waiting.  Every so often, it is imperative to get away from ALL distractions for personal retreat.  Listening is rarely practiced in our culture.  A big reason is our lack of success at filtering out distractions.  Eliminating the hindrance of "noise" is the first step toward listening. 
            Noise is so commonly tolerated that its hard for some people to imagine an experience in life without it.  Sheer busyness (over-scheduling) is a huge source of noise.  Noise is somewhat dependent on background and culture.  A New York City dweller is adapted to noise more than an Amish farmer in Lancaster, PA.  A hearing impaired person is more likely confused by background noise, when  holding a conversation in a crowded room.  An example of psychological noise may be your inner voice telling you lies about who you are (or are not) as a person because of past hurts or wounds.  This kind of baggage noise causes excess weight to make sailing your ship even more difficult.  Whether it be circumstantial, physical, or psychological noise, the more noise, the less listening is possible.  Less listening means less rest.  Without the dry dock of rest, your ship (life) is more likely to break down when storms rage like job loss, close relationship loss, health loss, or financial  loss.     
            To the degree that you practice dry dock (these types of rest) you will be best prepared for the stressors of life when they come.  Your ship is made ready to S-A-I-L. 
            From time to time in my own life, I am forced to make some decisions needed to help me sail.  One example is my use of the cell phone.  I have chosen to limit my use of the phone for voice communication and not access the Internet.  I do a lot of my work on the computer, but do not want my computer on my phone.  The distraction would be too great.  I consider "texting" too great a temptation for distractibility as well,  I do not text.  I'm not a technophobe.  I spent 17 years developing software for my employment.  I simply cherish the "listening time" I maintain without the greater level of  noise.
For me, convenience is never a good enough reason to go with new communication  technology.  Research is starting to show the great danger in over-stimulation caused by recent technology.  I'm not saying that my personal boundaries should be adopted by everyone, but everyone needs designated personal time with their communication devices turned off completely.     
            In the Christian community, statistics are huge for burnout among church workers, pastors, missionaries, and leaders.  A variety of things may contribute to a shipwreck incident, but one of the greatest failures is the lack of dry dock.  I am committed to the value of rest in my personal life, and I want to see others become better sailors as well.   Personal retreats, sabbaticals, debriefings, or extended times to focus on inner strength should be considered normal procedure in the concept of ministry.  There are resources available to help.  I have linked with a group of care providers to offer personal debriefing for missionaries.  The Le Rucher model of debriefing has  helped thousands over the years.  For more information see  http://leruchereastcoastusa.org .   I have also helped many pastors and leaders through the counseling and spiritual coaching at the Blue Rock Bed and Breakfast.  Upon request, I tailor retreat activities based on time available, ministry setting, and specific needs for renewal. 
            Reading Gordon MacDonald's book called The Life God Blesses inspired me to write this article.   I encourage you to read his book, and consider dry dock an essential part of your work.  If you're not taking care of yourself, it's only a matter of time until you won't be taking care of anybody.  If you contact me, I would be glad to assist you in finding a better way to S-A-I-L to new horizons.

Note:  If you are reading this and you also provide ways to dry dock for struggling Christian leaders, please contact me so we can get acquainted.  Referral sources and mutual support is welcomed for this type of care.

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry