Refuge

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

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Champions Are Made Through Change


            The 2016 summer Olympic games ended last month with the top medallists taking gold as their  prize.  Great effort and sacrifice precedes a slot to compete.  Olympians and professional athletes do not just show up at an event and expect to do well.  Athletes understand the need for practice, in order to change an unconditioned body into a body fit for Olympic competition. 
            Mental and spiritual transformation requires similar conditioning and change to live a fruitful life.  Jesus told many stories that illustrate the need for conditioning our soul.  At conversion we are given a new personal spirit.  The need for change in our mind and heart continue through our whole life.  The more we welcome and pursue this change, the closer we arrive at championship living.  
            In the book of Matthew chapter 22, Jesus compared our life in the Kingdom of God to a person preparing himself for a banquet feast at a wedding. 
“ … and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.  “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  “For many are invited, but few are chosen.””  (Matthew 22:10-14).  Wow, this seems like a harsh treatment for a seemingly minor offense of not dressing properly.  Although additional interpretations may apply, "dressing" in (changing into) proper clothes seems to indicate the necessity of proper heart attitude toward preparation and conditioning for our life's journey.  Remember, this is a parable (story) Jesus used to make a point.  I believe his primary point is that He is interested in having disciples committed to a process of change of heart and not just showing up for an exciting experience. 
            Pious people also asked of Jesus, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [the undesirables of the day]  On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:16-17).  Doctors are called on the diagnose health problems of sick people.  Jesus uses this picture to show that he heals the "sickness" of undesirable behavior (and sin).  I believe we can also infer from this that unless we consider ourselves "sick" (unprepared and unconditioned) our hearts are not in a place to receive the completeness of the healing Jesus has for us.   The healthiest thing we can do for ourselves is admit our need for further change and conditioning to live a more abundant life.  This involves examining inner attitudes and motivations (avoiding the extreme of being overly introspective).
            All throughout the teachings of Jesus, he connects the physical (tangible) condition with the psychological and spiritual (less tangible) condition.  Later in the book of Mark, Jesus speaks of this sickness as a problem of the inner person.   "Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'"  ...  He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.'  For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean'"" (Mark 7:14-23).  The point of this list is not as much to try to identify specific behaviors where we may fall short, but to reveal that each person has an "unclean" heart that needs to be re-conditioned by a process to clean it up. 
            Most people think of  preparation, conditioning, and change in terms of behavior.  Examples might be bad eating habits changed to good nutritious eating, negative talk changed to positive speech, or an addiction/ bad habit totally wiped out.  However, behavior is merely an indicator of a belief system.  Bad behavior (fruit) comes from bad thoughts and beliefs (root).  If you really believe using illegal drugs are wrong and bad for your health, you won't use any,  If's that simple.  Changing behavior requires a change of beliefs.  Trying to justify smoking weed in certain situations, demonstrates double minded-ness, and threatens any positive steps you've made toward re-conditioning your thoughts ad beliefs.  For another example, if you use pornography, you really don't believe in the dignity of women (or men), nor the value of purity, fidelity, and loyalty.  A change of heart is needed to re-align behavior with a healthily growing value system.    (Note: I am generalizing here, and please understand that trauma and serious mental haalth conditions may create exceptions).  
            Behaviors reveal beliefs, and beliefs reveal who you are on the inside.  Who you are on the inside is the real you.  The only way to change and condition yourself, is to change your thoughts and core beliefs.  If you claim to be a disciple of Christ, you will "dress" for the banquet with him, let him treat/ heal your "sickness," and surrender your "unclean" core being to him for him to change.  This is the miracle of salvation.  This is the progressive work of salvation.   This is essential in receiving the full impact of what Jesus did for us through his death and resurrection from the dead.    
            Change and heart conditioning is what we are called to as Christians.  It won't work to show up in heaven one day unprepared.  When Jesus taught us to pray that Father's will would be done "on earth as it is in heaven,"  could it be that he had the conditioning of our hearts in mind?   Honestly ask yourself a few more questions to help you live a championship life.  Am I  "dressed" as a champion?  Am I "dressing" (readying myself for the banquet) so my inner being is prepared for greater things?  Where could my heart be more given to "cleaning" and surrendering to the progressive work of change and conditioning?  Do I have a habit or pattern of behavior that needs to go?  Might there be something destructive in my life that I have been excusing as a "part of my personality?"  What thoughts and beliefs may be keeping me from further surrender?  Do I need to ask God into my heart to show me the need for surrender?
            God  designed you to be a champion.  Let the change begin, and continue, until your gold medal is presented in heaven!  And, let the heavenly results begin now while you live out champion lifestyle here on earth!

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry 

             
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_

Sunday, August 7, 2016

May God Be Made Great, in America, Again!

         For decades some history writers have been trying to minimize the religious heritage of the founders of the United States of America. The truth is, America's success (or failure) is directly connected to it's citizens' view of God, and their actions based on relationship with (or without) God.
         An individual doesn't have to be a God-follower to reap the benefit from freedoms guaranteed by the founders' intent in the Constitution. The privileges we enjoy as a "free society" are evident in all areas of life including family, commerce, church, education, entertainment, and government.
         The founders based their view of government on principles found in the Bible. When these principles are honored, things go well. When God is dishonored by not granting supremacy to his ways over human ingenuity, things fall apart. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 33:12). It doesn't take long to make a huge list of problems in America today. Each problem on our list can somehow be traced to a further distance from the original design (although not perfect) for our government. We are paying huge consequences for forsaking godly principles.
         The solution to America's problems is not in finding a "perfect" political leader. America could be made stronger by shrinking the size of bureaucracy, wiping out our national debt, and re-empowering our military to accurately identify and fight our enemies, Putting our hopes in one person to achieve even the most noblest of goals is futility. America can only become great again if the hearts of its people honor God's greatness. John Adams (2nd President of the USA) once said, "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
         If you are a person of moral and/or religious conviction, it is imperative you participate in our system of government wherever possible. At the very least, make sure you vote in the upcoming election. There is absolutely no reason not to vote. "I don't like any of the candidates," "They're all corrupt," "Both parties are equally at fault for our problems," and other similar comments are all lame excuses. There maybe some elements of truth these statements, but our system is designed to work, one vote at a time. America needs your vote.
         You're not just voting for one person. Yes, the "office" of President is held by one person. But, our system of electing that person includes that person belonging to a larger organization of like-minded individuals called a party. The candidate who wins the office of President selects a "cabinet" of key persons who also hold offices of top leadership in the government. This cabinet also selects key persons to serve in leadership to carry out the mission of its respective function of government. Generally all these top positions of the government are filled by people from the same political party as the top office of President. A vote for a presidential candidate therefore, is a vote for what is called the party platform.
         The party platform is the formal statement of values and beliefs held by the members of the organization. The two main parties in the US (Democratic and Republican), have each adopted a platform at their respective conventions last month. These two platforms have never been more divergent in our history as a nation. Since all the top leaders of our government will come from one of these two parties, it becomes very important to understand the contents of each platform in order to make an intelligent vote in the election. A vote in the Presidential election coming in November, is more a vote for a set of values in the platform than it is about voting for one person whose name happens to represent their party on the ballot.
         The platforms are quite different on social issues, friendliness towards Israel, free enterprise, religious liberties, and morality. The people helping the President to select the next few Supreme Court justices will be representing one of these two platforms as well. The choice is very clear, although watching the “mainstream media” you would never obtain enough truth to make a good decision.
         So for at least three months, turn off the television. TV has become a propaganda tool promoting ideologies very destructive to Americans.  Even so-called "news" broadcasts,
often defy standards of common sense.  The aim of propaganda is to distract you from thinking for yourself. Don't fall for it. You can think. You can make good choices. And if you allow God (who designed your personhood) to influence your decisions, you can make “God” honoring (godly) choices. That's really how God can be made great in America, again!
         If you like living in America, whether you believe in God or not, your best hope for America to thrive is for God to be made great in America, again.

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, July 3, 2016

Boehms Chapel Healing


            Most of the earliest European settlers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, were Anabaptists fleeing religious persecution in their homelands.  In 1725 Martin Boehm was born into a Mennonite family several miles from our current residence.  Boehm became a pastor and bishop in the Mennonite church, and his heart for God to be glorified, and passion to see people encounter God in a deeper way, drove his desire to unite Christians beyond denominational boundaries.   His widely successful efforts got him in trouble with his own Mennonite bishop brethren, and he was excommunicated in 1800. 
            Martin and Eve Boehm's son Henry became a minister and a prominent leader in the early Methodist church.  The Boehm family dedicated some land from their farm and built Boehm's Chapel in 1791 on the current site of Boehm's UMC church in Willow Street, Pa.  On June 26, 2016 my wife and I attended the 225th anniversary celebration at the Boehm's Chapel.  The ceremony was attended by people representing many Church denominations.  The service included reminders of the importance of understanding heritage, comments from current UMC and Mennonite leaders, and honoring of those who have worked on the present-day restoration of the chapel. 
            At the end of the service in the chapel an invitation was given to gather around the grave site of Martin Boehm just outside the building.  For those with Anabaptist heritage, and I believe for all people living in Lancaster County and beyond, a most significant event took place.  Several Mennonite bishops and local pastors were present to comment and read a resolution adopted by the Mennonite Board of Bishops in February of this year.  The proceedings rescinded Martin Boehm's excommunication 216 years earlier, confessed to sins of slander etc. of a servant of God, repented and asked God's forgiveness, and requested and declared a spirit of reconciliation to bring restoration and healing in the Body of Christ.    
            Why is this significant?  Because forgiveness and reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel.   Christians are commissioned not just to study and talk about forgiving and reconciling, but to practice and grow in it as a way of life.  As Bishop Weaver recognized, "we took prideful comfort in the areas where Holy Spirit had traction among us, priding ourselves in our singing, giving, charity and clean living. But the Scriptures are quite clear that “what is not of faith, misses the mark.” The blessed apostle said in his first letter to the church in Corinth: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Therefore, we renounce our pride, which was the cardinal sin of the enemy, and embrace the humble way of Jesus Christ."  When we practice Christ's commission not only as individuals, but as a corporate Body, we build a foundation that no enemy can tear down, not even the devil himself!   
            Most significant of all is the impact of forgiveness and reconciliation on the spiritual climate of a region.  And the spiritual climate is the most important element in forging positive transformation in a community and culture.  I heartily thank all who helped make the event happen at the chapel.  I also thank other forerunners like Dr. Robert Doe who (over the past two decades) have brought together representatives  of past generations (both offenders and those offended) to facilitate healing of old wounds.  Dr. Doe reminds us of William Penn's vision in the Foreward of my book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart, "The Kingdom of God was to be reflected in the society of Pennsylvania. In Luke 9 and 10, this is revealed to be peace, healing, deliverance and new life. In addition to religious and political liberty, Philadelphia was also the site of the first institutions of healing in the New World. The first hospital, medical school, pharmacy school, mental hospital, nursing school, osteopathic institute and other medical centers were developed in southeast Pennsylvania as the first of their kind in the United States. Therefore, it could also be expected that healing ministry and practical new models of Christian medical care should be a fruit of the historical blessing of our region."  Lancaster County has been at the heart of William Penn’s vision to see Kingdom of God principles expressed in community life.  Healing of broken relationships between individuals and groups of people is essential for the transformation (healing) and fulfillment of a destiny of a community.    
            Many pictures can be used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in transformation;  ie. doors opening, gates unbarred, river waters flowing, holy fire falling, purity fire consuming.  Only God knows precisely which doors are opened and which gates are unbarred to advance God's purpose and Kingdom in our region through the Boehm's Chapel event.   May we continue to follow the leading of Holy Spirit and obey the call of God for our destiny both as individuals and as a corporate people of God.  May God release a fresh anointing of inspiration, initiation, innovation, and trend setting in holistic living and spiritual revival to spread across our land.  As in the days of ancient Israel, our attention to God can make a difference as recorded, " if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). 
             
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 info. by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm . 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, June 5, 2016

How to Rest from Stress


            What you don't know about stress, CAN hurt you, right? Absolutely.  But what if I tell you that a bigger problem may be what you ALREADY believe about stress. There are many myths about stress.  Here are four essential things to practice and understand about stress.

First:  Stress is meant to be our friend.
            Stress in its truest form, is a physical response to avoid harm.  Rapid breathing and increased heart rate, for example, help prepare the body to respond to a threat.  Stress protects by initiating a fight or flight response to danger.  Stress is what kicks in when you encounter a big bad wolf on the way to grandmother's house.  Stress is what causes you to react to a careless driver by stepping back up on a curb to avoid getting run over in the city. 
            Stress-free living does not exist.  We must re-think stress, not as a burden, but something to be mastered for our success.   Toxic stress occurs when our imagination is more active than is warranted by the reality of an event.  For example, fear of failure will rob us from stepping out in new areas if we allow our mind to dwell on all the possibilities of things going wrong rather than enjoying the creativity and innovation of the moment.
            Toxic stress kills many people, but living toxic-stress-free, CAN be possible.

Second:  Resolving unwanted stress must focus on the inner person instead of externals. 
            Unwanted stress is not caused by circumstances, but by our response to the events and  people associated.  I first encountered this truth through a book called The Stress Myth by Richard Ecker. The back cover of the book reads, "Problems add up and the pressures of life get you down. This complex, uncertain, fast-paced world inevitably takes its toll. Right? Wrong.  This myth about stress, according to Richard Ecker, is as incorrect as it is widespread. The battles of life do not have to make us casualties. Many experts mistakenly emphasize coping with stress. But prevention, says Ecker, is the key. It begins with an accurate view of God, ourselves and the world around us. Ecker also helps us understand how unwanted stress affects us at home and at work, giving sound counsel on how to have peace during trying times." 
             More recently I discovered an e-book by Ecker called The Emotional Survival Training Manual in which he describes more about the true meaning of stress, and why stress should not be looked upon as an unnecessary or even undesirable response.  Ecker says, ”We may not encounter big, bad wolves on our way to see grandma these days, but the highways we drive to get to grandma’s house offer equal risk of physical harm— careless drivers, poor visibility, mechanical failures— all of which create conditions which we will be better able to deal with when we are under stress. But, if stress is such a necessary human reaction, how can anyone have any hope of avoiding all of those unpleasant and health- threatening consequences that we have come to associate with the experience of stress? The fact is, none of those unpleasant consequences have to occur at all— even when stress levels in the body are very high. The unpleasantness of stress occurs only when the body has no need for it and no physical outlet for it. Stress becomes a problem  only when you require your body to produce more stress than it needs to satisfy its immediate physical demands. For example, if you did encounter a big, bad wolf on the way to grandma’s house, you would probably experience a substantial stress response. It would be needed to equip your body to deal with the situation— that is, to prepare you for fight or flight. Both of these options require immediate and intense physical effort. A high level of stress is always required to prepare your body for that kind of effort. But, let’s say that your situation is much less life— threatening; perhaps a bitter disappointment in your work, to which you have reacted with anger and frustration. If your reaction in this situation produces as large a stress response as the one produced in reaction to the wolf, most of that stress will be unnecessary to equip your body to deal with it— simply because your body does not need physical preparation to deal with non-physical demands. So, if your circumstances do not call for a physical response, then stress is always an inappropriate reaction. And, any stress that your body is required to produce above and beyond the amount needed to prepare it for an appropriate physical response will be what we can call “excess stress.” Excess stress is what people find unpleasant. Excess stress is what can be harmful to their health."

Third:  All unwanted stress is related to a self-image problem at the core.
            Toxic stress (unwanted, or excess stress as Ecker calls it)( is produced by the same mechanism in our bodies as good stress produces to combat a threat to physical security. The perceptions that cause our bodies to produce excess stress arise from threats to our emotional security— more specifically, threats to our image of self.
            Our personality and emotional makeup is shaped by our background (the sum total of all experiences up to the present moment in time).  Ecker says, "Fueled by prior experiences, our personalities help us interpret life events so that we can undertake an appropriate response. If our personalities are abundant with resources, few of these interpretations will credit events with having any influence on our identity, and we will not then view them as emotionally threatening. But, if our personalities are abundant with conditions, many of the life events we experience will be interpreted as having a negative influence on our concept of self— and will be considered emotionally threatening for that reason."  The conditions Ecker speaks of are created by our core beliefs and value systems.   When we perceive the reality of a situation to be different from what we value, our self-worth inevitably comes into question.  Sometimes it takes a great amount of effort to discover our faulty belief systems, and separate our identity and worthfulness as a person from our performance on a task, social skill, or failure to measure up to some standard or so-called normal.   But, the more comfortable we can become with who we are asa person, and even more, who God created us to be as a person, the greater the degree of resolution  t unwanted stress we will experience.

Fourth:   Ridding your life of unwanted stress begins with a choice.
            Morton C. Orman, MD has authored a book called The 14 Day Stress Cure.  In  an article I found online, he addresses 5 most common myths about stress.  Orman says, "The most damaging belief we have today is that the best way to deal with our stress is to manage it. While stress management experts are quick to point out the positive benefits of exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques, few will inform you of the negative side to these same coping strategies.  ... But the biggest drawback to managing stress is that it only deals with the symptoms of our problems. It rarely helps us to clarify or deal with the underlying causes of our difficulties. This means that managing stress--even when we do it well--CAN CAUSE MANY OF OUR PROBLEMS TO PERSIST OR EVEN GET WORSE! Since we never correct the root causes of our problems, they will continue to occur, over and over again."   
            I'm certainly not advocating that you  abandon all coping strategies you have discovered to de-clutter, de-stress, and simplify your life.  Techniques to improve time management, communication skills to enhance relationships, and other self-help strategies can add value to your life.  But, human doing can never be enough to satisfy human being.   You are a human being, and you must decide to focus on inner person change as the core solution to lifting the heavy burden of unpleasant stress.  The person you were created to be is awaiting the freedom inspired by self-acceptance, self-confidence, and a value-filled self-concept. 
            God offers us the unconditional love our hearts so desperately crave.  Total acceptance, validation, and affirmation of  our value as human beings is available to us by choosing to receive it from Him.  Wheher we yield to God's help or not, the only way to avoid excess stress is to examine our hearts to find the roots of bitterness that grow into destruction.  Where I live, we are once again at the beginning of the growing season.   We plants the seeds and hope the produce healthy plants for an abundant harvest.  But, inevitably, the weeds seem to greow faster than the good plants.  Weeds must be pulled, but they keep growing back.  They must be pulled again and again, so the good plants stay healthy.  Like the growing of a fruitful vegetable garden, the weeds of our inner person must be pulled on a regular basis. 
            So, when you feel physical or emotional pain, stop and take a brief inventory of your problem circumstances.  Be honest with yourself  to discover the loss, disappointment, failed expectations (imposed on self or by others), critical judgments, or false beliefs causing the pressure.  Read some of my other articles on how to change from the inside out.  It's often the closest people in your life who you feel the most toxic feelings towards.  Discern what you can do to change yourself, stop blaming circumstances or other people for the unpleasant stress you feel, and begin the  journey to stress-free living. 

Note1:   Please note that "chronic stress" is not what I am talking about in the article.  If you have experienced a traumatic event, or are living in very difficult circumstances for a long period of time, you should seek the help of a counselor to figure out what "normal" might look like. 

Note2:   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 info. by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm . 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Truth for Success


            I attended a seminar last week with Andy Andrews.  The thoughts expressed here are sparked by things he shared.  Mr. Andrews has written some books you would find worth reading.  One book called The Traveler's Gift is a motivating  allegory  presenting  these seven principles of success:
 1.  The buck stops here.  I am responsible for my past and my future.
 2.  I will seek wisdom.  I will be a servant to others.
 3.  I am a person of action.  I seize this moment. I choose now.
 4.   I have a decided heart.  My destiny is assured.
 5.  Today I will choose to be happy.  I am the possessor of a grateful spirit.
 6.   I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit.  I will forgive myself.
 7.   I will persist without exception.  I am a person of great faith.
            Much of what Andy shared centered around the theme that anything worth experiencing in life must be based on truth.  There is great truth in each of these seven dynamic principles, but in order to find it, we must be transparent and completely honest with self.  We all have garnered belief systems that get in the way of truth.  Our ability to change inaccurate beliefs is limited because we don't know what we don't know.  And, what we don't know, CAN hurt us! 
            Sometimes our application of what we believe to be true, gets in the way of the real truth.  For example, it is very true that diligence and hard work lead to success.  However, work-o-holism or working to extreme without proper rest will lead to burnout and perhaps blowout.  As another example, it is true that compassion and empathy are necessary in your relationships, but the truth is that any relationship without proper boundaries will lead to disappointment for one or both parties. A good question to ask ourselves sometimes is, "Am I falling short of the truth, by holding on too tightly to something partly true?” 
            Another false assumption is that more knowledge makes things better.  Knowledge and wisdom are quite different.  Truth may be attained through knowledge, but truth can only be applied with wisdom.  Wisdom exercises discernment which comes through a process of transforming the way we think and feel about things that shape our core belief systems.  That explains why some people who are well-informed and educated can make serious errors of judgment.  Education does not always translate into positive transformation. 
            Success is something we all desire, but few are willing and able to submit to the process to attain it.   Truth is always true whether you believe it or not.  Your reality is based on your perception of truth which is shaped by your beliefs.  But your beliefs never become reality unless you act on them.  In that sense, you are in control of your own destiny.  You can choose to be happy, to forgive, and to have faith by persisting even when success seems to have eluded you for the moment. 
            I'll wrap up with a few more questions.  If the truth sets us free from ignorance, error, and pain, why don't more of us want more truth in our lives more of the time?  If you are believing something that is not true, it may be limiting your path and faith for future success.  If something you believe is obstructing the truth, do you really want to know what it is, and how to get past it?  Sometimes finding misbeliefs and falsehoods take you on what seems like a detour, but there are people ready to help you along the way.  We all carry baggage that makes it harder to seek the truth. 
            Are you ready to take responsibility for clearing a path for truth to reveal itself in your life?   Are you ready to apply the seven principles above to keep you moving in the right direction?  Since human nature is rarely able to be honest with self, "Are you willing and able to truly hear what other people perceive in your speech and actions?  I ask you these questions because they are some of the ones I used to try to keep my own journey on track.  I wrestle with the challenges to be truthful with self, and I don't always win, but success is very rewarding.  Give it a try.  The truth is; only YOU can do what is true to the purpose for which you were created by the God who defines Truth.   May truth be a blessing for your success today! 

                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.  See more info. by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm . 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Cross of Christ

      Have you ever wondered why Catholic symbols of the cross have Jesus hanging on it, and non-Catholics show the cross as two intersecting lines without the Christ? My background is not Catholic so I believed the "empty cross" was the best way to emphasize the risen Lord, and not get hung up on the suffering Lord. After all, we serve a God who is alive, not dead, right? Certainly our Lord is resurrected, and not overcome by the grave, but some verses in the Bible (such as the that shown below) help us appreciate both the humanity of Christ and his divinity.
      The following verses recently challenged some of my thinking. In chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, the writer discusses what is commonly though of as the "heroes of the faith." Here is the last verse of that chapter and the first 3 of the next. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,  since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 11:30-31, 12:1-3). Our Christian faith is based solely on what Jesus has accomplished on earth, culminating on the Cross, and in heaven, bulminating on the Throne. Jesus extends perfect mercy, while ruling with perfect justice.
      The phrase "fixing our eyes on Jesus" jumps out at the center of these verses. Our perception of Christ will determine how we live out out faith. There are two extremes to gravitate towards. One over-emphasizes mercy, and the other over-emphasizes justice. One over-extends the human activity, and the other over-extends the divine. One dignifies the human to diminish the divine, and the other devalues the human to over-spiritualize the divine. Our gaze on Christ should not be either human or God, but both human and God. The words used in the Scripture above are "pioneer" and "perfecter" of faith. Faith is "perfected" in the human condition, and faith is "pioneered" in the heavenlies. The physical and spiritual realms are both active together accomplishing the purposes of God.
      How does this work out practically? Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Because of our confidence the spiritual reality, we can act with assurance in our physical world. For Noah, it meant bulding an ark to protect from floods, even though the world had never known rain before that time. For Abraham and Sarah it meant trying for a promised child though Sarah had not been able to bear children and they were well beyond child-bearing years. For Moses, it meant leading his people out of Egypt even though the king's army had the ability to wipe them out with little effort. For King David, it meant many incidents of courageous battle in the face of overwhelming odds against him. For Samson it meant returning to God for a second chance, even though he had lost his strength to wild living.
      The cross of Christ is more than a symbol. It is the intersection of the divine and the human. God desires relationship with his created human race. He wants humans to know him. Religion does not produce relationship with God. Religion emphasizes human self-effort to perform good works for gaining favor with God. Contrary to what many believe, God is not impressed with good works. Religion has a way of erecting barriers to nullify the Cross. Relationship, on the other had, breaks down barriers. Relationship accepts the Cross for what it really means. Jesus paid the debt owed by the human sinful condition. No matter where you are in your relationship with God, the Cross can have more power to resurrect your circumstances. If you already know Him, great. By surrendering more of your heart to God, his divine ability to wash your soul clean of shame and guilt becomes more real. If you don't know God at all, it's never too late, or too soon, to start to get to know Him. "Fix your eyes on Jesus" and you're sure to find God. Jesus is a safe refuge. The cross is our refuge and hope.

Note: The book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses themes of dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom in forgiveness. This book is designed to help people (especially in the Christian faith) to discover and dislodge things in life that lead to defeat. Don't miss out on your chance to use this book as a helpful tool in discovering Refuge in Christ. It can be purchased by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm . If you get anywhere near Pennsylvania for vacation or on business, be sure to look us up for lodging at http://bluerockbnb.com

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The 15 Omissions


            Two previous articles focused on surrendering to God the ultimate rights of judgment and  mending broken relationships after people mess up.  These actions are called forgiving and reconciling.  I showed how the gospel of John calls this the Great Commission of the Christian faith. Yet, the spirit of offense, unforgiveness, and unreconciled relationships are so commonly tolerated among Christ-followers.  So, what causes us to fail at the Great Commission to create this Great Omission? 
            The simplest answer would be the removal of the letters “C” and “M” from the word commission to be left with omission,  C is representative of the Christ, and M represents  his Mission.  Christ's Mission  makes the difference between commission and omission. For the Christ follower, forgiveness and reconciliation  must be Christ-Missioned (Christ-centered) in all ways.  Following are some thoughts about how to make this more practical in your life
            Here are  15 contributors to the Great Omission.  These are things that routinely get in the way of true forgiveness and reconciliation. 
            1. Settling for second best (striving instead of thriving).
Striving to succeed in a performance-based culture devalues our needs for rest and reflection time.  Pragmatism (making things work) is valued over prudence (making things right).  Bitterness, resentment, and blame are considered “normal.”   This high emotional pain tolerance can only be reversed through vulnerability and risk.  However, thriving mentally, emotionally, and spiritually makes it possible to thrive in all areas of life. Why settle for less than God's best?  We are each worth more than our current level of perceived striving (or thriving)! 
            2.  Performance-based living and decision making.
When we reduce forgiveness merely to a decision, we become reliant on our own will power to forgive instead of relying on what Jesus has accomplished for us.  We don't have to forgive and then come to Christ.  Our decision must be to cooperate with what Christ has done for us.  That puts Christ in control, and not us.  It also makes Him the achiever, not you.      
            3.  False beliefs about forgiveness
Here is a partial list of myths about forgiveness I discuss in my book,  Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart.   Forgiveness is NOT: simply  remorse, forgetting, excusing, trusting, letting go, letting time heal, a feeling, reducing unforgiveness, hinging upon an offender to make a gesture of repentance. Not everything you hear and read about forgiveness is true.  You may have to commit to unlearning what you already believe about forgiveness, and learn the truth.      
            4. Demanding “quick fix” rather than process.
When seeking the help of a counselor, people often say, “I just want to get this problem behind me and move on.”  What they really mean is, “Don't tell me I have to change something about myself, and I sure don't want to face my pain.”  Whoever said, “No pain, no gain,” had it right.  Acknowledging and surrendering our offenses (and offensive behaviors) is a growing process.  Growth always involves stretching and new learning by definition.  Because offense is inevitable in a broken world, at any given point in time, we are only one step away from our next lesson in forgiveness.
            5. Trying to go it alone
When we value self-sufficiency and independence above interdependence, we rebel against our innate design for human relationships to provide mutual support for dealing with the many challenges of life.  Accepting help is not a sign of weakness, but merely an acknowledgment that you are human.  I've heard it said, “Since we are hurt in relationship, we must also be healed in relationship.”  We all have “blind spots.”  We are very weak in self-critique.   We need others to point our short-comings so we can improve our character.  We must be teachable to benefit from constructive criticism. 
            6.  Lacking commitment to inner person change
Resisting change is our default nature.  Intentional change from the inside out, is necessary to conquer, rather than simply manage, undesired (and sinful) behaviors.  Confession and repentance is God's way to initiate this change. That simply means we verbally admit the error and turn our heart in the direction toward God (away from self). When we make this a regular pattern, we can build up resilience by increasing inner  capacity to handle losses and failed expectations.  Then  unforgiveness has less, or no place to take root.   
            7.  Excusing bad  behaviors.
When we complain, blame, or justify the bad attitudes of our heart, we short-circuit the “weeding” process to remove the bad roots.  Our behaviors all begin with our thoughts, and our thoughts are largely governed by our standards and core beliefs.   Bad fruit is produced by bad roots and bad soil. Sowing good seed in good soil will yield a good crop of fruit. Choosing to focus on (good) thoughts, placed in a (good) heart of surrender to God, will produce (good) behavior. 
            8. Clinging to poor self-concept
Many fail to see the link between how they act and how they think about themselves.  Second only to our thoughts about God, our thoughts about ourselves are the greatest influencers of our actions.  Do you, for real, believe from the bottom of your heart, that you are worth forgiving and being forgiven?  The value God places on your being is totally disconnected from any ability, or lack of ability, you have of earning it.  Your perception of innate worth shapes your self-image and how you react or respond to life.
            9.  Trivializing the so-called smaller offenses.
In 2006, world-wide attention was drawn to an Amish school-house shooting just miles from where we live in Lancaster County.  Forgiveness by the Amish toward the shooter and his family was a major theme of media stories.  Pardoning the horrific actions of shooting ten innocent school girls is a noble thing, but truly forgiving from the heart is demonstrated by the daily, sometimes moment by moment, surrendering to God our ultimate rights of judging.  Often times these are unintentional actions (and attitudes), of a human being that cause our judging.  That human could even be yourself if self-condemnation or self-rejection is part of what needs to be surrendered.  So-called smaller offenses and losses can be harder to reckon with than the larger ones.  An example may be unkind words from a close friend or family member, betrayal by a spouse, or attack on your integrity by a church member.  These routine interactions may not be dramatic enough to grab media attention, but they are the essence of what true forgiveness and reconciliation is all about. 
            10.  Failing to take full responsibility for your part in an offense.
Even if an offense is 90% the fault of another person and 10% your contribution, you must take full responsibility for your 10%.  For example, if an alcoholic spouse mistreats his or her partner, and the offended spouse retaliates without taking appropriate steps to resolve the conflict, the offended spouse must ask God's forgiveness for offending God by  condemning the offending alcoholic.  No person can change another person.  A person can take responsibility for his or her own actions, but not the actions of another. 
Shaming another person, no matter how offensive their behavior, will only continue a cycle of unforgiveness and make you an offender against God. 
            11.   Forgetting about restitution.
One way to define forgiveness is to release the debt of a debtor.  When debt is caused by an offense, and the offender repays the debt as part of reconciliation, that is called restitution.  Restitution helps the offender demonstrate his understanding of the damage or hurt he caused the person he offended. 
            12.  Fear of conflict and confrontation
Conflict is necessary for healthy relationship.  Confrontation is often necessary for reconciled relationships.  These are two different things, but I include them together because they both have to do with uncertainty and potential disruption of security in relationship.  Fear is a powerful motivator, and often keeps people from taking the action they know to be right.
            13.  Judging (over-reliance on your own expectations and perceptions of reality)
Critically judging inevitably brings criticism back on the one who critically judges (see Romans 2:1-2).  This is a rule of life, as certain as gravity pulling a brick to the ground, dropped from a 10th story window.  Condemnation crashes in on the one who condemns. Shaming another, shames yourself, because we're all made of the same stuff. 
            I think this is the chief contributor to the Great Omission.  Condescendingly judging, and failing to recognize when we do it, is offensive to Almighty God.  When we attempt to devalue a person to whom God has given innate value, we pretend to be Judge in place of God.  It is okay to condemn (judge) behavior, but not okay to condemn the person.  So, what is the difference?  Condemning behavior says their actions were bad.  Condemning the person says they are a jerk, good-for-nothing, damned, loser. 
Believe me, I've felt this way about many people (and sometimes still do), but I pray God shows me quickly when this is happening, so I can repent and surrender my heart to God for him to change. 
This bad judging can occur by making assumptions without the facts, prejudging, misjudging, misunderstanding, misinterpreting, or misperceiving the intent or motivation of a person.  The more secure we are about our own innate value to God, the less inclined we are to condemn. Accepted and validated by Father God, we have no need to try to put down others, in order to build up ourselves.  
            14.  Involving a third party unnecessarily.
What often happens when a person is hurt by an offense, instead of confronting the offender to reconcile, they go to another (third) person to seek validation for their victim role. They condemn the offender, rather than try to correct and make it right.  Condemning judgment becomes even more damaging when it is taken to a third person. 
That is called slander.  Gossip is when, for example,  a person can't resist putting a negative spin on  a comment (or outright “trash-talking”) about someone not present to defend themselves.   Slander and gossip occur frequently and do not get recognized for what they are, the damage they incur,  and the contribution they make to the Great Omission. 
            15.   Spiritual disconnection
The book of Hebrews in the Bible describes people as not being able to find rest in their hearts when they harbor bitterness, resentment, and blame   There is no joy and peace  for the soul that does not surrender unforgiving and contentious motivations.  Self-honesty and humility are per-requisites for opening the lines of communication with God and connecting to the true power of forgiveness and reconciliation.  
            For each of the contributors above, ask the question, “What is one Christ-centered action I can take to reverse this tendency in my life?”  Then, begin taking that action right now, take that action tomorrow, and each day for a week.  Review your progress in a week, read this article again, and continue taking the actions necessary fulfill the Great Commission in the fullest way God created you to BE!

                Note:   The book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses themes of dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom in forgiveness.  This book is designed to help people (especially in the Christian faith)  to discover and dislodge things in life that lead to defeat. Don't miss out on your chance to use this book as a helpful tool in discovering Refuge in Christ. It can be purchased by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm .  If you get anywhere near Pennsylvania for vacation or on business, be sure to look us up for lodging at  http://bluerockbnb.com 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Reconciliation: Making Things Friendly


           Forgiving is not the same as reconciling.  In researching the topic of forgiveness for a doctoral degree a number of years ago, the discovery of the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation was the single most life changing discovery of the project.  Remember, forgiving means surrendering to God the right to judge (an offense).   Forgiving restores relationship with God, whereas reconciliation restores relationship human to human (the offender. with those offended).  The good news for the offended is that the  freedom of forgiveness is not tied to the offender's ability (or willingness) to reconcile.  Another important thing to learn is that trying to reconcile before forgiving may actually cause more harm to a relationship than not attempting to reconcile at all.  Forgiveness prepares your heart and helps make your attitude more responsive rather than reactive.  Let me explain more here. 
            First, let's define reconciliation.  According to Webster's dictionary it is “the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement.”   Reconciling is often not an easy choice.  It may require humility and vulnerability to let other people see who you really are on the inside.  It usually requires confrontation.  The self-confrontation involved in forgiving is one thing, but confronting another person because of an offense can be very scary.  The lack of willingness to confront is often the greatest barrier to reconciliation. 
            Like forgiving, reconciling is not an option for a Christian. It is a mandate.  We must take very seriously the responsibility of attempting to "set things right."   In the previous article called The Commission to Forgive (posted 11/1/15), I quoted a passage from the Apostle Paul's letter to the first century Corinthian church which includes the statement that Christ himself “has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation” (see 2 Corinthians 5:15-20).  So, what might the results of this ministry of reconciliation look like?  I encourage you to read the entire fourth chapter of Ephesians to get a good snapshot of an answer to that question.  Some of the phrases that jump out are these, “live a life worthy,” “be completely humble and  gentle,” ”be patient, bearing one another in love,”  “keep the unity,” “speaking the truth in love,” “grow and build up,” “put off your old self,” “put on the new self,” “be made new in the attitudes of your mind,” and “do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  Summarizing the chapter, “ Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  ...  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29:32).   Reconciling is meant to benefit not only the offended, but the offender as well.  When relationships are restored and functioning well, the community at large will also benefit.  Church, business, government, and other organizations thrive on healthy relationships between individuals.  
            It takes at least one party to initiate reconciliation.  It takes two parties to obey the mandate for completing reconciliation.  One of the most common reasons for relational breakup and disunity is a disagreement, disappointment, or offense that has never been processed through.  It is not okay to walk away from a relationship, group, or situation just because you become angry or hurt by things that didn't go your way.  It is okay to have desires, preferences, and high expectations of character  (remembering that no one is perfect), but it is not okay to avoid healthy confrontation of brokenness that causes relational separation and division.  I discuss healthy conflict in a separate article. 
            In the previous article I stated, “Surrendering your right to judge doesn't mean you are surrendering your rights for justice to be served.”  In fact, when the “heart work” of forgiveness begins to produce its good fruit, it requires the action steps (toward reconciliation) to deliver the results to the world around you.  Forgiving an offender does not mean the offender is relieved of due consequences to be paid for an offense.  For example, in the case of abuse, forgiving an abuser is different from holding the abuser accountable for his or her actions.  The safety of the victim must be established and if the abuser's actions are criminal behavior, the laws must be enforced to protect from further victimization and give the victimizer an opportunity to turn away from the sin of abuse and be restored as a person with worth and dignity.  The abuse victim may or may not ever be reconciled to the abuser, but the power of forgiveness can free the victim of the damage caused by the victimization.  The more completely forgiveness is achieved, the greater the degree of freedom to be lived. 
            It is also true that the more completely forgiveness is achieved (the more an offense is surrendered to God), the more prepared an offended person is to attempt reconciliation.  It only takes one party to forgive.  It takes two parties to reconcile.  Remember, there are two sides to every offense (the offender and the offended), and you may find yourself on either side at any given time in a relationship or circumstance.  If the offense seems unintentional on the part of the offender,  forgiveness may be exercised by the offended, but for reconciliation to be complete, the offender may still need to become involved.  Perhaps for example, a minor miscommunication of traveling directions by Jane causes John to be late for an important appointment.  John may forgive Jane and decide it's not worth mentioning Jane's mistake to her.  John may even hold himself responsible for not double checking or using a different source to find the information he needed.  But then another similar incident occurs between Jane and John, and John has a harder time to forgive and the need to reconcile becomes more evident.      
            The teaching of Jesus addresses the issue of repeat offendenses among brothers and sisters in Christ.   One reference is in Matthew 18:15-17.  I'll not go into detail here, but when reconciliation is attempted by the person offended, and the offender wants nothing to do with reconciliation or justice, it is time to get help from a friend or advocate.  Forgiveness, without pursuing reconciliation or justice, may only make the situation worse for everyone. 
            Sometimes offensive behaviors get excused as personality traits, styles of leadership, attributes of  professionalism, or “everybody does it” generalities.  They may even pose as necessity to keep the peace, tolerable as long as no one is getting hurt, or as a short-term loss to achieve a long-term benefit 
However, the truth, requires pain with gain, no short-cuts to relational integrity, confrontation to achieve inner peace, and trustworthy character to facilitate trust.  Leaders can fall into the trap of offense as quickly as anyone else.  Look at Moses for example.  One of the strongest leaders of the ancient Israeli people, witnessed an incident of severe injustice against a kinsman.  Although his intentions were good in trying to help his fellow Hebrew brothers and sisters, his attitude and behaviors that led to killing an Egyptian slave-driver back-fired.  Moses had to escape and live in hiding for 40 years as a result of his mistake.  Attempting short-cuts, when it comes to forgiving and reconciling,often erect negative relational walls that create confusion, erode authenticity, prohibit collaboration, and ultimately destroy trust and  trustworthiness.
            People are not the enemy.  People's actions (offenses) are the enemy.  We have a great Enemy who uses offenses (people's actions) in an attempt to divide and conquer.  We must be wise to this tactic and vigilant to resist the trap of offense.  People align with  the enemy when they refuse to reconcile. 
            Sometimes you can become an "enemy" of  yourself.   A person's perception of low self-worth and poor self-concept is at the core of all human problems.  God gave his only Son Jesus as our saving grace to reconcile us back to the Father.  Father creates worth and value into each child born into the human race.  The broken pieces of the human heart are reconciled back to Father through Jesus Christ (again see 2 Corinthian 5:15-20).  Your true value is based on who God made you to be as His son or daughter.  It's not based on what you have done or failed to do.   Believing in Jesus and surrendering your heart to God means you are relying on Christ's completed work of reconciliation.  It does not mean you have to come up with the strength to forgive and reconcile, but rely on the strength God gives you (see Matthew 11:28-29).  You have a choice to rely on the power of God every time you are offended.  Why not do it?
            Some offenses seem more difficult to forgive and reconcile than others.  Examples might be infidelity of a spouse, murder or other crime against a family member , or severe injustice of a tribal nature.   When God's power is invited into the situation, hope is much more free to win over a hopeless cause.   After reconciling with God (receiving his unconditional love), reconciling with fellowman becomes easier.  This is a continual process.  Christ's work is complete, but our work of cooperating must be ongoing. 
            May I encourage you to take the following steps toward deepening a commitment to reconciliation as a more common practice in your life.  First, identify an area of unforgiveness or unreconciled problem you have toward another person.  Next, if forgiveness is not complete, make a list of all the actions that caused offense (hurtful words spoken, mistreatments, negligence, transgressions).  Be as specific as possible.  Pray, confess, repent for any of your own reactive judgments, and forgive. Next, (if you believe you have surrendered your judgments to God), pray and discern strategy to address the offense with the offender.  Go in a spirit of humility and empathy, recognizing the flip side of offense is in your own life as well.  Keep the circle of people who know about the offense as small as is necessary to bring resolution.  Do not engage in slander or gossip to make yourself become  an offender.  After completing the actions you believe are necessary to bring resolution, and there still is no resolution, commit to following the path of asking an advocate to go with you (as outlined in Matthew 18:15-17) if the offender is a brother or sister in Christ.    Otherwise, pursue the matter  with the appropriate systems of justice to bring resolution.   Obviously, in cases of abuse or endangerment, the above steps should be abandoned to seek help immediately, outside the inner circle of the problem. 
            If you believe you've tried the steps outlined above and you still feel "stuck," it is probably time to get the help of a trusted friend or counselor.  Try going back to step one and examine forgiveness.  Be willing to allow God to show you a deeper level of forgiveness.  God is most glorified when we allow him to lead us through this process.  If there are numerous situations in your life that need to be reconciled, start with a small one, work it through to success, and don't become overwhelmed by trying too many, too soon. 
            One more tip is to discern whether the offender needs to be involved at all.  The offense may be small enough for you to simply need to forgive.  If you are 100% sure of what you are letting go, and totally certain the efforts of attempting to engage the other party would outweigh any potential benefits, let it go.  Misunderstandings, errors, and accidents are just part of our broken human condition.  Take the Beatles' advice and "Let It Be!" 
            When it must be, be a reconciler.  A real friend will want to be reconciled.  Be a friend, and  make things friendly again. 

                Note:   In Chapters Seven and Eight of the book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart, the topic of reconciliation is discussed in more detail.  This book is designed to help people (especially in the Christian faith)  to discover and dislodge things in life that lead to defeat. Don't miss out on your chance to use this book as a helpful tool in discovering Refuge in Christ   More can be discovered by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry