Refuge

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

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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sailing to New Horizons - Part 1


            So, when was your last sabbatical, personal retreat, or just a few days of vacation?  Failure to balance work with appropriate rest is one of the most common reasons people in leadership and service professions are forced to quit.  Here are a few tips.
            In a book called The Life God Blesses, Gordon MacDonald tells the story of an expert sailor named Michael Plant.  In 1992 he set out from the US east coast to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat with the best equipment available and the experience of having done this routine many times before.  About two weeks into the voyage, his boat was found floating upside down in the sea with no signs of the man.  MacDonald tells this story to point out that "we're all in the same boat" (pun intended), and that success in our life's journey is much like the metaphor of sailing. 
            Have you or someone you know experienced a hard-to-explain sailing accident or shipwreck?  By wreck or serious accident I mean burnout, psychological breakdown (depression, anxiety, etc.), addiction, moral failure, suicide, homicide, or other criminal actions.  Demands of life seem to create stressors in greater numbers and intensity than ever before in history.  Professional achievement, accumulation of wealth, and outwardly happy marriage and family life do not automatically translate into a successful voyage. 
Hard work ethic, good friends and family, latest technology, and even strong faith are sometimes not enough to navigate the storms and trials of life.  Storms happen.  Disruptions occur.  Only foolishness makes us think we are immune to bad things destroying our lives. 
            Plant's boat capsized mainly because a four ton weight had detached from its keel.  MacDonald mentions, "I discovered this much about sailboats as I read about Michael Plant’s tragedy. I learned that in order for a sailboat to maintain a steady course, and in order for it not to capsize but to harness the tremendous power of the wind, there must be more weight below the waterline than there is above it. Any violation of this principle of weight distribution means disaster."   Although not visible, the boat's keel beneath the waterline is the most important part of the boat.  Plant's sailboat was found upside down because of failure of its keel.  Our lives get turned upside down when we fail to maintain our keel (soul) beneath the waterline (unseen inner person). 
            A sailboat must be properly maintained to ensure it can withstand the stormy seas.  Over time joints crack, bolts rust, wind-driven structures shift, and the salty sea water requires replacement of parts and reconditioning of other parts.  The only way to do the necessary repairs is to dry dock  the boat.  Dry docking is removing the boat from the water so the parts beneath the waterline can be accessed.  Without dry docking, safety is compromised, and the boat is guaranteed to fail at some point, likely at a most inopportune moment in stormy seas.  
            Sailing to new horizons in our life requires occasional "dry docking."  Depending on your circumstances and type of work this may mean vacation, debriefing, extended time off, sabbatical, personal retreat, re-training, rehabilitation, or a major re-evaluation of your current path.  Sometimes life above the waterline gets too busy keeping the business, church, organization, service, or ordinary roles and expectations  moving along.  Good appearance may become a higher priority than genuine soul care.  Our inner being beneath the waterline so-to-speak, is overlooked.  When our reliances, rewards, and relationships are only at a surface level, we are in great danger of "cracks" developing in our soul.  
            Cracks expand into compromised life structures.  For example, an unhealthy habit may turn into an addiction.  A "difficult person" to deal with may trigger old forgotten wounds making it impossible to feel at peace.   Or, a stressful situation may turn into a traumatic event because it is the third major stressor in a short period of time.  Cracks in our soul will eventually break us, likely in the most inopportune time,  wrecking our lives, and often, many lives around us.  Dry docking our activities, specifically for the purpose of inspecting the condition of our soul, is a necessary part of life.  
            A Proverb says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23).  The core of human experience is the inner being.  Most of the actions people take spring from the hidden unconscious level.  Relatively speaking, very few decisions are made at the conscious level.  Humans are creatures of habit, always preferring the familiar over the unknown, even if the familiar is unwise, treacherous, or  dangerous.  Gaping cracks develop in our soul (and remain unseen beneath the waterline)  because we tolerate the small cracks which make us increasingly vulnerable.  Most people who have an affair, for example, don't set out to have sex with someone other than their spouse.  The "play around" with flirting and one emotional attachment upon another sails them on a voyage of no return.  Things like pornography, drugs, and work-a-holism happen the same way.  Sometimes the only way to "guard your heart" (as the proverb says) is to dry dock and discover excesses (or omissions) in your behaviors. 
            The invisible keel of your personal life (whether you call it your soul, heart, core-self, inner person, spiritual center, or whatever), guides the course and quality of your entire existence.  Are you giving your keel the attention it needs?  Are you feeding your soul a healthy diet?  Are you protecting your heart from as much harmful influence as you know how?   Are you dry docking long enough to ask these kinds of questions?  Are you being transparent with someone close to you for evaluation and assessment of your true condition? 
            You may be a great "sailor" (skillful leader or well-qualified manager), have a great sailing "crew" (staff and volunteers), and even have successfully navigated difficult "voyages" in the past (persevered through trying circumstances).  The fact remains, to keep your "vessel" (personal life) sea-worthy, you must make "dry dock" (rest and re-evaluation) a regular and intentional part of your "sailing" (life journey) experience.  Taking a respite from your primary work or service project is not a sign of poor leadership, weak resolve, or lacking in mental, emotional, and spiritual stability.  Making a choice to dry dock is your only hope to develop resilience needed for the long haul. 
            It's even okay to admit you need help repairing your keel.  There are people who specialize in repairing of cracks,  re-alignments. and recalibration of the soul.  Good counselors help people live psychologically healthy lives from a whole person perspective.   Emotional health is another topic I discuss in many articles on this blog site.
            Three years ago I wrote an article to lay out specific actions people helpers can take to practice self-care.  It is called Taking Care for Care-Givers at:  http://authoredhersh.blogspot.com/2014_03_01_archive.html .  Since that writing I have become aware of at least a half dozen significant leaders in our community who have wrecked their lives and many lives around them.  Their offenses include murderer and other actions that have taken them to prison.  Through my counseling I am indirectly connected to dozens more of similar cases.  Sometimes the most difficult thing to grieve in these losses is the surprise element.  Many are "good people" giving no indication of their deepest struggles.  Successfully sailing the seas of life takes much more than good works and strong will power.  Dry docking our sailboats must be taken more seriously.  If we are going to sail far enough to see new horizons, we must first look into the hidden parts of our being for new strength and vitality.  My next article will be a part 2 with more specific ways of dry dock. 
            One more comment to those who follow God as their source for inner strength and peaceful sailing.  God has done his part in providing a Savior for us to experience rebirth and spiritual renewal.  It is up to us to surrender our hearts to him for his inspection and periodic dry docking for spiritual health.  Spiritual leaders are particularly prone to the perils of sailing without adequate attention on the keel.  My prayer is that dry dock becomes more an accepted practice for the journey.  I make myself available as much as I can to assist.  Have a great voyage! 
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Birthday Robbery

             A Presidential election is upon us once again.  Political issues come and go, but some issues go far beyond the realm of politics, into existential realities of life itself.  
            One such issue is the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion.  The procedure is carried out on late-term unborn children who are in most cases able to survive outside the womb.  After the combined decision of a mother not wanting the child and a medical professional who executes the procedure, the baby is killed in the birth canal.  After labor is induced and the baby's head has already appeared in the world, an abortion practitioner uses an instrument to crush the skull.  Then the remaining body of the baby is removed from  its mothers body.   To add to the cruelty, groups like Planned Parenthood (PP) have been caught selling the slaughtered baby's body parts.  PP uses these funds for aborting more babies,  propaganda campaigns disguised as "sex education," and further degrading of women.  This kind of treatment of human beings is barbaric.  It is birthday robbery for thousands of children in the US each year. 
            The debate last week between the two top candidates for President addressed this topic.   Can you believe the activities described above are proudly endorsed by one of the candidates?   The democratic party candidate (with the initials HRC) claims to have a history of advocacy for children.  But her party platform states in writing, and HRC strongly verbalizes her support for partial-birth abortion and PP.  Advocating for children by wishing them dead  is a double standard.   Framing PP as a health-care provider and ignoring their activities of extortion and cover-up is fraud.  This is also called deception.
Franklin Graham has called HRC out on this by saying, "You can't say you've spent your life standing up for children, when you support killing them in the womb." 
            Robbing children of their birthday is only one type of thievery HRC actively participates in.  The corruption of her thirty year political history is too great to list here.  Like never before in the history of Presidential election campaigns, HRC has been in collusion with  national press to influence public opinion in her favor.  The mainstream media has one-sidedly promoted HRC in her defense of PP and partial-birth abortion (and many other issues).  That is a specific type of deception.  It is called propaganda. 
            This powerful lobby doesn't have the final say.  The voters have the final say.  Your vote is your voice on this matter.  If you are  a person who cares about justice for all, I hope your voice will be heard.  Please do not turn your back on the voiceless children, but make sure your vote is counted to support life whenever you have an opportunity to vote.   A Proverb says,
"Rescue those being led away to death;
    hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
    Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?"
Proverbs 24:11-12
            To NOT vote is a vote.  Not voting is a vote for death.  If you are one of those people who says they don't like any of the candidates, then vote WITH the one who has the strongest stand for life (if you feel you cannot vote FOR them).  Voting AGAINST the greatest evil, is better than not voting at all.  Besides, the names on the ballot aren't as important as the party platforms they represent (see my previous blog May God Be Made Great in America, Again).   When a candidate (and platform) confuses a barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion with "reproductive health," that must be called evil.  The ancient Israeli prophet spoke these words, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness ...  Therefore ...  their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel."  (Isaiah 5:20,24).  Simply put, rejecting God's created design for human life and natural order, creates chaos and irreversible disorder.  
            If you care about America, there are some additional things you can do about this.  First, you can pray.  Humble yourself and seek the face of God Almighty and turn from whatever ways are displeasing to Him.  He responses with healing and forgiveness when hearts are surrendered to Him (see 2 Chronicles 7:14).   Another thing you can do is turn off your TV and refuse to subject your mind to the propaganda campaign.  Abstaining especially from what they call "news," will clear your mind to receive truth in better places (particularly the Bible).  Then, encourage your friends and family to resist the temptation for propaganda as well, and vote for candidates who truly have a record of supporting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  
            Oh yes, and one more thing.  That same candidate that equated infanticide with advocacy for children also called everyone who disagreed "deplorable" and "irredeemable."  So, am I deplorable if I choose to think about how to avoid doing evil for good and good for evil?  I think not.  I think you are not either.  As Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing."   If fighting evil is called deplorable, I'd rather be labeled as such than to do nothing.   
            Irredeemable?   If there would be such a thing as an "irredeemable person," who would decide how to define it?    No person should be declared irredeemable.  Even people who align themselves with a gruesome practice like partial-birth abortion are redeemable.  If one person is declared unworthy of redemption, then the entire human race is equally irredeemable because we are all made of the same stuff.   Thus, when HRC condemned people as irredeemable in her speech, she declared herself, and her own supporters as irredeemable. 
            Do the Democratic party leaders believe in a kind of government that needs to control people in order to  "purify" the population from people they deem as deplorable and irredeemable?  Yes, we heard it directly from the mouth of their candidate running for President and their platform is full of such language.  This is called fascism (belief in a purified superior race).  We need only to look back in history as far as Nazi Germany to see what kind of horrific robbery this imposes on peoples lives.  By the way, PP's founder Margaret Sanger had strong ties to the Nazi leaders and comes from the same philosophy. 
            Politicians may use words to spin people's thinking in a particular direction, but the final authority lies with a higher power.  There is always hope in the Redemption of God's amazing grace.  God's mercy and justice are perfect.  God's actions do not have to satisfy political correctness because they exemplify absolute correctness.  God's vote is the final vote. 
            The One who came into the world to redeem the world (see John 3:16-17) has the final say on this.  True redemption is spiritual.  It is a supernatural event and process.  The primary goal of evil is to steal our redemption.  Jesus himself said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).  The true nature of the battle against evil is in the spiritual realm.  Jesus came and won  that battle.  The spiritual world has a mirror image in the physical world.  Jesus uses imagery of a thief  seeking to rob a person of life in contrast to the fullness of life he offers as a free gift to all who believe in him.  The thief is the enemy of our soul.  The thief  tries to make people believe they are irredeemable.  The thief tries to rob people of re-birth into an eternal life with God. 
            "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him ..." (John 3:16) is not irredeemably condemned to hell, but will have eternal life.  Surrendering your heart to him washes away guilt and shame.  Even the shame caused by birthday robbery has been taken care of  by the death of Jesus on the cross.   Christ's death resurrection gives each person the chance to be redeemed.  My hope is that you will receive that redeeming power today.   You may disagree, but you are never irredeemable.  by Ed & Stephanie Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry