Adult Children of the Mentally Ill (ACMI) as cross cultural workers

June 17, 2014 1 comment

narrow passagewayI knew that I was an ACoA (adult child of an alcoholic) but I did not know I was an ACMI until I read Vicki Hornung Reyes, “A Closer Look at Children of the Mentally Ill in Missions in the April issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly.  Apparently California psychotherapist Eva Marian Brown created the term “adult child of the mentally ill” (ACMI) to describe people who had grown up “with a parent suffering from a serious psychological impairment that profoundly affected the functioning of both the parent and the family.” You can read more about Brown and her book, My Parents Keeper on her website.

Reyes asked the following question, “How do adult children of the mentally ill react in cross-cultural settings?” As an ACOA and an ACMI, I would love to see more research done on this topic. As I discovered in my dissertation, we don’t have an overabundance of research on missionaries to begin with.  Again, Reyes says, “Although it takes effort to uncover research about other types of adult children involved in missionary service (such as adult children of alcoholics), it is extremely difficult to find any specific research on adult children of the mentally ill in a cross-cultural situation.”

Reyes provides the following definition of “Mental illness” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI),

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning…Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. (2013)

I would classify myself as an ACMI because of major depression episodes in one of my parents. Again Reyes says, “Offspring of the severely depressed also seem to be very prone to depression, as well as other serious mental illnesses, according to a longitudinal study done by Marian Radke Yarrow and fellow researchers (Radke-Yarrow 1998, 192).” And she cited the following, “Those with at least one depressed parent had about a threefold higher risk for developing mood disorders (mostly major depressive disorder) and anxiety disorders (mostly phobias), more than twofold greater risk for alcohol dependence, and sixfold greater risk for drug dependence. (Weissman et al. 2006)”

Healing the blind man by Edy-LegrandReyes provides ten characteristics of Adult Children of the Mentally Ill

  1. They often have painfully low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness.
  2. They are often victims of abuse.
  3. They have experienced a “lifetime of losses.”
  4. They are often “parentified children” (Brown 1989, 1).
  5. Many have felt alone growing up.
  6. They are usually very compassionate.
  7. They often have a great need for structure and predictability (Brown 1989, 128).
  8. They have probably not been able to share their story with others.
  9. They are generally very hard workers.
  10. They dislike artifice and are usually painfully honest both about themselves and what they observe around them.

According to Reyes, “ACMIs can make very competent workers.”  She lists some of potential positive characteristics

  1. ACMIs who are accepted by mission boards have proven to be very resilient.
  2. They are “copers”—those people described by Agnes Hatfield who make efforts to “master conditions of threat, harm, or challenge when the usual strategies are insufficient”.
  3. They have found the healing love of God, the Perfect Parent, and want to share this love with others.
  4. ACMIs usually have the gift of compassion and can empathize with the many victims of abuse and trauma worldwide.

into-the-caveAs expected, being an adult child of mental illness may lead to struggles on the mission field some of which Reyes suggest.

  1. Because of a lack of normal social experiences, support-raising may be initially awkward
  2. Relatives may not support the ACMI, either financially or emotionally when he or she leaves for the field.
  3. The ACMI may feel guilty for leaving the care of the parent to the spouse or other siblings
  4. The ACMI’s poor self-esteem may plummet when he or she arrives on the field until he or she feels confident using a second language and living in a new culture
  5. The ACMI may feel isolated because he or she is unable to share his or her story with many people.
  6. The ACMI may struggle with the chaos of living and working in certain cultures. •  The ACMI may overreact when there are church splits or mission upheavals because of his or her background of chronic loss and abandonment.

As an ACOA and an ACMI, I wish I had taken the time to process my family of origin issues before becoming a cross-cultural worker.  Perhaps, in 1985, when I became a missionary, missionary organizations were not as aware of mental health issues and member care  was a fledgling field of study.  I suppose in a lot of ways, I have ended up in the area of member care because of my own journey as a missionary processing my family of origin issues.

I do like the way Reyes concludes her article.  May this give hope to other cross-cultural workers who are ACOAs or ACMIs. Reyes writes, “ACMI missionaries can enjoy a successful and joyful ministry, but they may require time to recognize how growing up with a mentally ill parent has affected them. If childhood trauma is recognized before leaving for the mission field, ACMIs can focus on healing and may avoid attrition in the future. With the support of mission leaders and member care providers, these resilient, compassionate gospel-sharers can help bring hope to a hurting world that so desperately needs to know the love of a perfect Father.”

Generosity is an antidote to envy

June 9, 2014 2 comments

from istockphoto

Gratefulness and generosity are two spiritual disciplines that can free us from the bondage of envy.

Kevin Woo in an article on August 16 2011 of the weblog of Sound Mind Investing tells a simple story in which one act of generosity began to release he and his wife from envy’s grip. Kevin says, “We are still learning and believing God to transform us into more generous givers, trusting His faithfulness.  Be encouraged. Generosity is an antidote to envy.”

You can read Kevin’s article on the SMI website (a site I have been a member for a number of years now), AND, Kevin references an article by Tim Challies, which is also a reflection on envy.


Challies discovered the evil of envy in his own heart when he began to begrudge another person blessings that came into their life. I suspect there are others out there who may struggle like Challies and myself in applying Romans 12:15, “rejoice with those who rejoice.” Why is this so hard?  Challies suggests the problem is envy in our hearts.

Envy for Challies is “a deeply private but destructive form of covetousness. . . . Envy is evil, competitive and selfish.”  He provides some helpful quotes from Os Guinness and C.S. Lewis.  For Challies, the cure for envy is contentment.



Here is a link to a previous post I made on Envy after reading Michael Mangis book, Signature Sins.  According to Mangis, the antidotes to envy are “contentment, gratititude, joy and satisfaction.”

Here are a few passages from Scripture about envy

  • “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” (Proverbs 14:30 ESV)
  • “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Eccl 4:4 ESV)
  • “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;” (1 Cor 13:4 ESV)
  • “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”(1 Peter 2:1 ESV)

Come Clean

June 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Here is a short meditation as I have been thinking about 1 John 1 and reading the poem, Cleanse the Thoughts by Walter Bruegemann


Why do I try to hide

my secrets,

my sin,

When I am already fully known by You?

The Nakedness of Adam by Alan Falk

My secrets ooze out of the pores of my life,

despite my best efforts to keep them hidden.

My shame keeps me

painfully isolated

from You,

from others,

from the help that I so desperately need.

Your wooing voice cries out to me,

“Come clean.

Allow yourself to be known.

Join in the celebration with the saints,

our blood-bought victory,

our bondage-breaking liberation,

our friendship-restoring redemption.

Allow yourself to be known

by Me,

by others;

And to be loved

as a less-than-perfect

image-bearer of the King.”

Why are Christians not more generous?

June 6, 2014 Leave a comment

time or money by esperantista

Many of you have probably heard the quote the Jesus talked more about money than heaven and hell.  I am not sure that is particularly helpful but I think the point intended is to remind us that the stewardship of our financial resources is both reflective and symbolic of our obedience.

1Tim. 6:17-19 is an exhortation to those of us with the means to give, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”   Giving generously is a matter of discipleship.

Through our giving, we participate in the ministry to which we give and we as givers are the ones who are blessed! Paul praises the Philippians because of their generosity in Phil. 4:14-17,”Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” This verse has made it so much easier (note I did not say easy) to raise funds as a missionary!

generosity photoPaul says as we sow generously, we will reap generously in 2 Cor 9:6 and following.  Why then do Christians not give generously? Matt Bell in a blog post on Sound Mind Investing wrote a blog post today, “Why are we more generous?” He is reviewing the book Passing the Plate and quotes the author as saying that 77% of Protestants who regularly attend church give less than 10%  Why is that?  Here are four reasons Christians are not generous with their giving from Passing the Plate that Bells cites.  I place them here with my own words describing what these reasons mean

  • Objective resource constraints—we lack the means to give generously
  • Subjective resource constraints—we think we lack the means to give generously (need to save more, build up our retirement, pay off debt etc.).
  • Unperceived Needs—we are unaware of legitimate needs.
  • Normative ignorance—we do not understand that giving generously is a key element in our life with God.

Next Monday, I will redo a post on how generosity is an antidote to envy.

If our desires are known, why do we try to hide them?

May 20, 2014 Leave a comment

During my retreat last week, I meditated upon and ended up memorizing the following portion of a poem called, “All Desires Are Known,” by Walter Brueggemann in his book, Prayers for a Privileged People.  Maybe it will encourage others of you as it has me.


Easter Screech Owl by Graham McGeorge

We spend our energy managing our desires,

waiting on them

investing in them

trying to hide them.

But you know,

and you know by your presence how to change our desires,

because in your presence,

our desires lose their power

as we receive again your look of love,

your powerful embrace,

your steady summons,

and then we know our desires

are all too self-indulgent,

interrupted by the precious Psalmist,

“Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth

I desire other than you.


You have made us to desire only you,

you, our beginning and our end,

you, our food and our rest,

you, our joy and our peace.


Turn us from our desires that obsess us.

Unburden us that we may know

our true desire and end in communion with you,

you, who desire us as companion and lover.

Longing and Desire (part two)

May 15, 2014 Leave a comment

red_light from

A repost from 2011

Many Christians seem to be afraid of longing and desire. Perhaps for good reason.

Many of us know where longings and desire may lead us.  Trust me I know!

  • Lust
  • Greed
  • Pride
  • Pursuit of power
  • Control
  • Corruption
  • Anger
  • Hatred
  • Murder
  • Abuse

And we could go on and on.  We all know the verse, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” found in Jeremiah 17:9. After thinking about this, I decided that I need to go back and re-read Eldridge’s book, Awakening the Dead since I can’t find any notes on his book.  Eldridge deals a lot with the heart. The Bible talks a lot about the heart!!

Another problem with desire is found in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.”

And finally, I thought of James 1:14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

green_balls from

No doubt what Gary Thomas writes is true, “Pleasure divorced from God leads to pain and misery. . . Pleasure divorced from God’s governing hand becomes treacherous.”  A rampant pursuit of our desires ends up in destruction.  We must avoid both ego inflation and ego deflation according to David Benner. In ego inflation, “The first way of responding to eros is to pursue the gratification we desire without much or any attempt to channel the energy. This is a life of hedonism.”

But, neither do the following work:

  • Denial of our desires or ego deflation. More from Benner, “While ego inflation inevitably involves being burned up by passion, ego deflation involves slow death by boredom or depression. Shutting down our passions also leads to alienation from our selves, others, and our world.”
  • Repression of our desires
  • Ignoring our desires

So, what is the alternative?  Understand our desires, feel them, embrace them and direct them towards God.  Refuse to allow my desires to be satisfied by ungodly means.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

I need to be aware of what quenches my thirst, fills my hunger, and satisfies my desires.  A big problem is deception, is it not?  If we deny our desires, we will look for them to be met elsewhere, some place that is not healthy. Gary Thomas writes, “We become most vulnerable when we are desperate—and that’s precisely when we need to take the most care about our choice of pleasures.”

Consider the five love languages and what happens if we deny or ignore our longing for love expressed in a way that meets our need.

  • Words of affirmation: if not met, we may try to manipulate and perform so that others will express these words.
  • Quality Time: if ignored, we may tend to cling, smother, or otherwise gain the time we long for.
  • Gifts: when they don’t come, perhaps we may become possessive, hoard, go on impulsive shopping sprees or covet what others have.
  • Acts of Service: when we are not served, do we tend to nag, demand, manipulate?
  • Touch: if touch is our love language and we pretend it is not, we may become vulnerable in many inappropriate ways.

So what should we do?  When I feel desire or longing, I need to identify the root of deeper longing behind that desire.  Am I really looking for intimacy? Relationship? Community?  Respect?

Finally, I guess we need to know what we do when our desires are not being met and ask ourselves if our actions are appropriate? Ideally, our desires and longings drive us towards God, the one who most deeply and ultimately meets the longings of our soul.


The Importance of longing and desire in the spiritual life

May 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Reading over the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” has led me to thinking about longings and desires again.  Jesus is saying in the above verse that the things that we long for others to do to and for us, we are to try to see these longings met in others. As I thought about this a few weeks ago, I wrote in my journal about my own longings.  “Consider your own longings–longings for relationship, longings for significance and security, longings for respect, peace, love, kindness, touch, affirming words, a sense of meaning, longings for contentment, delight.  Yes, these are good and to the extent that I long for those from others, I can turn and invest these into others.”   I went on to journal about the darker longings but that is for another post.  For now, I want to repost these words attached to a slightly edited blog post from July 2011.

I am so glad that Christianity is not all about eliminating desire!

David Benner in Opening to God says, “The most typical evidence of grace at work within us is not awareness of duty but awareness of desire. You can trust your deep desires because they are a gift of God.” As Christians, God wants us to be aware of our longings within and His Spirit helps us to do the same. Benner challenges, “Pay attention to how the Spirit is kindling your desires. This is the source of prayer. Allow prayer to take the form that God gives you at this moment, and keep attentive to the leash of longing that will draw you further into transforming union with God.”

As I have spent the week in Psalm 37, verse 4 has captured my attention, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” A similar phrase is found in Psa. 20:4-5 “May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!”

“Mish’ala is Hebrew for desires or petitions and is “rich with expressions of desire and longings of the heart.” ‘Anag or delight brings “A close interplay exists between ‘delight . . . in the LORD,’ and ‘desires of your heart’ . . . The path to true self-fulfillment does not lie in a preoccupation with self but in selfless preoccupation with God. When the psalmist sets his heart on God, God reciprocates by making him truly fulfilled. The sense here: ‘take great pleasure in.’”

Some parallel expressions in Psalm 37
• Trust in the LORD 37:3, 5
• Commit your way to the LORD 37:5
• Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him 37:7, 34
• Delight in his way 37:23
• Law of God in the heart 37:31

Result of a delight in Yahweh
• Inheritance in the land—9, 11, 22, 29, 34,
• God gives the desires of the heart 4
• Delight in shalom 11
• Not put to shame, abandoned 19, 33
• Does not fall 24, steps do not slip 31, holds onto God’s hand 24, 17
• Has a future 37
• Salvation, refuge, deliverance 39-40

But for the wicked or evildoers they
• just “fade away” 3
• will be “no more” 10, 36
• are “cut off “9, 22, 28, 34, 38 (same word used for divorce) and so the idea of being abandoned, forsaken, not part of the covenant

Gower Peninsula, Wales

We must pay attention to our longings within. Here are a few more quotes from David Benner in Soul Spirituality:

  • “Desire is right at the center of the spiritual life. A sense of obligation may sometimes be enough to keep you going to church, but only desire will keep you open to God and still seeking when your experience in church is filled with frustration and is irrelevant to your deepest spiritual longings. Guilt may be strong enough to motivate religious behavior, but only desire can lead you ahead on the spiritual journey. The absence of desire means the absence of spiritual life”
  • “Spirituality has enormous potential as an integrating force. And it does this by allowing us to embrace rather than repress our deepest longings and passions and then to draw the energy from them to live life with abundance and resilience
  • “Any spirituality that is life-giving will also put us in touch with our deepest longings and will move us into the world in a way that makes our life meaningful.”
  • “Willpower may be sufficient for superficial behavioral changes, but only desire is capable of leading you toward deeper authenticity and integrity. No one drifts into such a life without intentionality, commitment, and a persistent desire to become more Spirituality is, first and foremost, our response to these deep aches of the soul. Although it may be frightening to trust our desires, they are always fundamentally spiritual.”

I also appreciate Mark Buchanan in Spiritual Rhythms:

  • Prayer commits us at a heart level to what we endorse at a head level. Prayer mingles our tears and our longings with our observances and our assessments
  • Righteousness, to put it succinctly and a little simplistically, is Christlikeness. It’s where your thoughts, your desires, your attitudes, your actions, your character are more and more conformed to his

 And I find Gary Thomas in Pure Pleasure to be very helpful:

  • But I believe I have a responsibility to recognize that God created me with a desire and even a need to enjoy certain pleasures. I want to consciously choose the ones that most serve his cause and the life to which he has called me rather than try to deny a legitimate need and then collapse into an unhealthy, sinful binge.
  • In other words, while I ought to know what truly gives me pleasure, I also need to know my obligations and responsibilities. In certain seasons of life, a person’s personal desires must give way to the greater good of those around him.
  • Be honest about your desires and realistic about your ability to live with frustration. Has denying your soul left you vulnerable to deceit and illusion? Have you put your integrity, ministry, and family in jeopardy by living as though you can go 24–7 without a break, without any fun, without any true pleasure?
  • Desire divorced from God becomes decadence. Decadence, in turn, chases away true, godly pleasure.
  • When I surrender my pleasure to God’s design, my desires become a reflection of his.
  •  Faced with lewdness, don’t become a prude. Faced with luxurious materialism, don’t become grimly abstinent and ungrateful. Faced with the unleashing of any and all desires, don’t become merely dutiful.

Comments? Questions?

Grateful I follow a risen Lord

April 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Resurrection by PIERO della FRANCESCA

Resurrection by PIERO della FRANCESCA

On this Monday after Easter, I am grateful that I follow the Overcoming One.  By His resurrection, He has removed the fear of death that must inevitably come for all of us and His resurrection life is a foretaste of our own future resurrection life.

Heb. 2:14-15 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

1Cor. 15:19-22 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

1Cor. 15:52-58 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.


Aging well

April 18, 2014 1 comment

fishermanI admit that I am getting older, there is no point in denying it is there?  My body takes longer to recover after two hours of tennis;  I cannot stay up late at night and still function well the next day; it takes a little more care to get down on the floor and even more energy to get up.  But at age 58 (soon to be 59), I am far from being old!  But being in a home church with two-thirds of the group under the age of 30 and working in teams in our mission in which I find myself to be the elder of the group, the unmistakeable fact is–I am aging. But, am I growing in wisdom as I age?  Now that is a better question.  I remember sharing with a couple of the young men in our group this year about some of the fears I have and they seemed shocked that at my advanced age, I still struggled with such fears (fear of failure being one of them I am sure but I can’t quite remember).  I do enjoy our home church since it is multi-generational with about half of the group being college students, a quarter being twenty to thirty-something grads/young professionals and the last quarter being on the mature side with most of us being over 50–the eldest over 80.  We learn from one another how to gain wisdom from life’s experiences.

In the most recent version of Conversations Journal (my favorite of all the journals I read), the topic is Wisdom and Aging.  Tara Owens has the opening article and I was struck by something she said today,

Growing in wisdom is more often than not a product of learning to walk well through adversity, something aging brings us in abundance.  In order to age well, we must learn to appreciate those things that we might not otherwise choose, and come to see the blessings and love of God in the midst of even the most bitter circumstances. We must learn to number our days well, to live like we’re dying, in order to embrace all of life as it is now–the sweet and the savory, the bitter and the spice.”  The Blessing of the Bitter by Tara M. Owens Conversations Journal 12.1

My question for you all, myself included, “what have you learned to appreciate in your later years that you once did not?”


“We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable.”

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

bridge out to houses on water

Photo by Viktor Bors

After wandering around without a (Bible reading) plan for several months, I finally decided I had to do something and began to read in Matthew, intending to read through all the gospels by Easter.  With lots of travel, that idea has been blown out of the water but I am back in Matthew and trying to journal daily.  I could not exactly remember how far I had read up to in Matthew but the sermon on the mount seemed about the right place.  A most challenging place to begin and the following passage out of the ESV is one of the most difficult for me to understand.

Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
Matt. 5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matt. 5:40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matt. 5:41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Matt. 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Where to go for some help on understanding this incredible sermon by Jesus.  I turned back to Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, published in 1993.  Here is what Dallas says what we are to do when we are trying to decide what kind of action to take when faced with those who may be tormenting us,

We will decide, as best we know how, on the basis of love for all involved and with a readiness to sacrifice what we simply want. And in every situation we have the larger view. We are not passive, but we act always with clear-eyed and resolute love.

We know what is really happening, seeing it from the point of view of eternity.  And we know that we will be taken are of, no matter what. We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable.  And once we have broken the power of anger and desire over our lives, we know that the way of Christ in response to personal injury and imposition is always the easier way.  It is the only way that allows us to move serenely in the midst of harm and beyond it.

Lest anyone think that Dallas or Jesus is suggesting that we tolerate abuse (sexual, emotional, verbal), that is not what they are saying here. As Willard says, “We must always be alert boatman on camiguin 2for acceptable ways of removing ourselves from the situation.  In the case of abuse of any kind, one should begin by involving others, and especially appointed authorities.” As people who live in the love and under the rule of the King of heaven, we are able to respond in unexpected ways to personal injury and to requests for help. We have embraced and continue to experience the self-giving love of our Savior.  These are not words of law that we blindly obey or burden others with. Again to quote Willard, “Of course, in each case I must determine if the gift of my vulnerability, goods, time and strength is, precisely appropriate. That is my responsibility before God. As a child of the King, I always live in his presence.”

As I read these words from Dallas Willard and from Jesus, I realize how much self yet dominates me–selfishness, holding onto my things, my time, my rights.  Yet I am grateful that the solution is not law but an abiding relationship in his love.  Here is perhaps the most profound and liberating statement from Willard in this section of his book, “He calls us to him to impart himself to us.  He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.”  I am reminded of Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”


Why we have cultures of silence

October 30, 2013 Leave a comment


I am reading Crucial Conversations–moving very slowly through it and it is excellent.  They provide video links to illustrate what they are saying in the text (a bit awkward if you are reading on a kindle) and have even sent me other articles to read. I just finished their Eliminating Cultures of Silence, a position paper by Crucial Conversations and have clipped a number of sections out of it into Evernote.  Following are some four reasons they suggest in this paper as to why a culture of silence may exist in your (or in my own) organization.

1. You observe a potential problem, but you figure the possible calamity isn’t a sure thing. It’s not like death or bankruptcy is imminent; they’re just possibilities.

2. Nobody else seems concerned and you don’t want to sound like an alarmist.

3. You figure even if you do speak up, nobody will actually change anything—the organization is too mired in bureaucracy.

4. Finally, it seems like a sure bet that saying something will damage your career. You would be delivering a really unpopular message (“I think you need to re-examine the launch—at the cost of fifty million dollars.” “I think we need to confront the senior execs and maybe send them to jail.” “I think the doctor is wrong and needs to follow my ideas.”). And messengers get shot.

This inability to bring up touchy, controversial, or unpopular issues lies at the heart of every culture of silence.

Which of these is most problematic for you and your organization.

Good news that transforms

October 2, 2013 Leave a comment


Ritual #2 by Imran

My reading for today was 2 Timothy 1:1-14.

I ended up focusing on verse 14, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (ESV) I think I enjoy reading Timothy more than Romans because Timothy needs lots of reassurance and encouragement from Paul, especially in this passage and I do as well. I sometimes wonder if God has made a mistake in trusting such a good deposit to me!

Here is what I wrote in my journal this morning, “I need not doubt God’s power and ability to transform a life–including my own. I need not doubt the goodness of the gospel. Does the good news need to be defended? When questioned, Christ Jesus guards the gospel and me (12), the Holy Spirit guards and protects the good news–keeping it from being defiled, trampled upon. The good news when believed releases the power of God in a person’s life.” Yes, yes God!

The problem of impatience

September 10, 2013 1 comment

Flemish 17th century

Flemish 17th century on Num 21:4-10

Can anything good come from impatience?  I imagine someone saying, “yes, when you are impatient with mediocrity.” Even if that is true, does not patience still needs to saturate our words and actions since we all know that patience is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22)?

As I reflected this morning about my own habitual cultivation of impatience, I yearn to see patient people distinguishing themselves as counter cultural beacons.

“And the people became impatient on the way” is the phrase from Numbers 21:4 that started my thinking this morning. A few of my own conclusions about impatience.

Why am I impatient?  I am often impatient because I am discontented, ungrateful, proud (thinking my self and my time as more important than others), and because I am not led by the Spirit.

What are the consequences of my impatience The short answer: sin.  Yes, when I am impatient, I sin; I sin against others;  I cause others to sin (when they get impatient with my own impatient–you know how that goes).
How can I avoid impatience? Go slow (driving, walking, eating, talking).  Practice simplicity (see Richard Foster for more on this). Be alert (to the Spirit’s leading, to what is happening around me and within me). Consider others (as more important than myself from Philippians 2).

And finally, how wonderful to mull over, What happens when I am patience? Four words come to mind. Joy. Contentment. Compassion. Humility.

Lord, I do not know if I can pray for patience but I do long that others would see me to be a truly patient man.

Your thoughts on impatience are welcome.

What hell has that the church needs

August 14, 2013 Leave a comment

What dlake-of-fireoes hell have that the church needs? I heard the answer to this question this morning from our presenter Curtis.  As we looked at the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, Curtis pointed out what the rich man did when he realized that there was a great chasm between him and heaven that could not be crossed (26). The rich man asked in verse 27 that  someone be sent to his family to warn them, “for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”

What does hell have that the church needs?

Compassion for the lost!

As I sat stunned in the room by these words, Curtis then said, “Often, there is more compassion in hell for the lost than there is in the church.”

We had been challenged to make a list of 100 people that we knew. Again Curtis spoke, “The only way to bring relief for your families is for you to share the life-giving and life-transforming good news about Jesus!” What a challenge for me to be persistent and bold in sharing the good new with those I love and care about.

Living as a survivor of suicide

May 23, 2013 1 comment

orleans by gerard laurenceau

Updated: May 23 2013 (originally published in 2010)

I am a survivor of suicide–this means that someone close to me completed suicide– was successful in their suicide attempt.  So, I am a survivor, the one left behind. In my case the first time I was put into the survivor category was over forty years ago when my mother completed suicide.

A number of years ago, I began to explore how suicide affected my own life.  I attended a Survivors of Suicide meeting for a few months and found it helpful.  Equipped with a little understanding about these type of meetings, I then led a SOS meeting overseas where I was living–we met for over a year.  We lost a colleague to suicide in the last few years and the topic came up again and led me to write about my journey once again. I am grateful my sharing led to conversations with a few people. I attempted to be a safe place for people to process their pain by listening to them tell the story of a past suicide in their life. I guess that is the best we can do for anyone who is a survivor of suicide.

A comment on a post about suicide that I made in 2007 got me thinking again. SOS used to have a helpful website.  They still have a website with some information and a link to survivor of suicide groups on the website Unfortunately, there are not many meetings around–I counted half a dozen in the Dallas area and one in San Antonio for Texas where I live–none in Houston, the largest city where I used to attend my SOS meetings. Perhaps they still exist in another form or by another name.  If anyone has information on that, I would appreciate them making a comment for others.

I wonder if college students are any more uncomfortable talking about these topics but if they are survivors, talking seems to be a requirement to move on to healing in my opinion.  Anyway, I found the following that may be helpful to some.  It is designed more for those who lost someone recently to suicide  but I think it may be helpful even if the suicide happened a long time ago.  Here is another post I made about why not to commit suicide.

Suggestions for Survivors
by Iris M. Bolton

  • Know you can survive. You may not think so, but you can.
  • Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know, or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
  • Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings, but know that all your feelings are normal.
  • Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.
  • Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It is okay to express it.
  • You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret, through forgiveness.
  • Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.
  • Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
  • Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
  • Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing. Give yourself time to heal.
  • Remember the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence in another life.
  • Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
  • Try to put off major decisions.
  • Give yourself permission to get professional help.
  • Be aware of the pain of your family and friends.
  • Be patient with yourself and with others who may not understand.
  • Set your own limits and learn to say no.
  • Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
  • Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide groups. If not, ask a professional to help start one.
  • Call on your personal faith to help you through.
  • It is common to experience physical reactions to your grief, e.g., headaches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep.
  • The willingness to laugh with others and at yourself is healing.
  • Explore your questions, anger, guilt, or other feelings until you can let them go.
  • Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.

Know that you will never be the same again, but that you can survive and even thrive.


Learning to live as a human

May 20, 2013 Leave a comment

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally.  This followed after I began to read  Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?

bridge out to houses on water

Photo by Viktor Bors

This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere.  Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351

Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246  We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).  Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others.  Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652

footprintsEswine suggests that we need expose these temptations that “hinder the recovery of our humanity and our seeing his glory” (764) by surrendering these three limits.  We must admit the following,

We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766

We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771

Open Book by Beatriz Pitarch

Open Book by Beatriz Pitarch

We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777

In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782

What happens when we forget that it is all about God

May 15, 2013 Leave a comment

abandoned tennis court by dietmar eckell

abandoned tennis court by dietmar eckell

What happens when we forget that our ministry is God’s? When the ministry become more about us than about God?  We have all done it. And we do so to our own peril!  When Jehoram (son of the great King Jehoshophat) became King in 2 Chronicles 21, he ended his leadership with a lonely and agonizing death.  As verse 20 says, “No one regretted his death.”

Raymond Dillard in the Word Commentary series offers a devastating summary of Jehoram’s life,

“Irony permeates the account of Jehoram’s reign. Rather than enlarging the scope of his power through seizing his brothers’ cities, he loses control  over Libnah and Edom; rather than securing the succession of his own children by slaughtering his brothers, he sees them suffer a similar fate; rather than securing life and happiness for himself, he suffers an agonizing and premature death; rather than gaining the devotion of his subjects, he dies unmourned and without the customary honors attending a royal funeral (McConville, 198). So it is for those who forget that the kingdom is God’s (1 Chr 10:14; 17:14; 28:5; 29:11; 2 Chr 13:8)”.

What do you do in order to not forget that it is all about God and not about you?

Learning to live locally

May 10, 2013 4 comments

Image“Bigger is better.” “Faster is better.” “You deserve to be unlimited.”

While these make great and perhaps entertaining commercials, they mask the reality that most of us are very ordinary and all of us are limited.

We are “merely human and only local.” We forget, says Zack Eswine, that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” (Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being). What exactly is Eswine saying? Two things. I must not forget that I am human; I do so to my own peril. And second, I must live locally. I resist both of these truths.  To understand what it means to live locally, let me quote more from Eswine.

In the Garden, Eswine writes that God gave us three things,

  • We were to love God.
  • We were to love each other
  • We were to recognize the goodness and sacredness of the place, the creatures, and the things that God had created and to watch over these good things.

And Eswine highlights three core truths that he states are necessary for us to enjoy God,

  • God has given you himself to surrender to and love. 
  • God has given you a handful of persons that you are meant to love. 
  • God will give you a place to inhabit, which means that you get to become attentive to what is there where you are. 

In both of these, the last line about living locally stands out to me.

ImageI have been a missionary for twenty-six years.  It has been a good life.  I continue to be a missionary but my location will soon be based in the United States, in Texas, in College Station, at Parkway Terrace, at 3514. Why do I find this so hard?  I miss my friends and the ministry I had in the Philippines over all these years.  But I think it is hard because it has been a long time since I lived locally.  Yes, even in the Philippines. I have been coming or going somewhere for most of my life.  And now, I find that I must learn to trust God to be present somewhere.

I expect that most missionaries will tell you that the first question people ask him/her when they arrive in their home country is, “When did you arrive?” The second question, “When are you leaving?” Well, I am not leaving anymore. I am struggling

  • With a loss of uniqueness, a loss of celebrity that comes with being a foreign missionary
  • To understand how someone could attend an aerobics class for ten years
  • To build a history with a tennis group that has been together for many years.
  • With the loneliness I feel after attending church and I know no one around me and no one speaks to me
  • To discover what it means to live in community with a home group
  • As I seek to learn how to be a neighbor in our community

I guess I am saying that I have been so globally focused that I do not know how to live locally.  I have lived so long with my identity as a missionary that I am afraid of what will happen when people get to know me as a person, apart from my role.

Eswine suggests that in order to make a global difference, we must be present in the local place to which God has called us.

“No matter how great or gifted we are, God invites us to himself for the sake of local people in a local place with the long learning of local knowledge in Jesus until he comes. This means that if you are wearing yourselves out trying to be and do more than this, Jesus is calling you to stop all of this tramping about and come finally home. The great work to be done is right in front of you with the persons and places that his providence has granted you.

Here is where he has called me. Here is where he is working. Here is my post, my place, my life, his glory.”

I need to live by faith as much now as when we lived overseas. Trusting God as I open myself up to others and become a friend to them and allow them to be a friend to me. Trusting God as we build traditions. Trusting God as I learn to care and nourish the roses in our garden and maybe even a tomato or two.  Trusting God in the mundane and ordinary. Living life with Him and others in a local place.  

Maybe I will even buy a pair of cowboy boots.





Does Justified really mean “Just as if I never sinned”?

March 26, 2013 1 comment

narrow-way by David Hayward

narrow-way by David Hayward

As I prepare to speak on 2 Cor 5:21 for this weekend, I have been looking at Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, one of my favorite theology texts.  I found a footnote by Grudem that I cite here in full regarding the meaning of Justified.

One sometimes hears the popular explanation that justified means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.” The definition is a clever play on words and contains an element of truth (for the justified person, like the person who has never sinned, has no penalty to pay for sin). But the definition is misleading in two other ways because (1) it mentions nothing about the fact that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to my account when I am justified; to do this it would have to say also “just-as-if-I’d-lived-a-life-of-perfect-righteousness.” (2) But more significantly, it cannot adequately represent the fact that I will never be in a state that is “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned,” because I will always be conscious of the fact that I have sinned and that I am not an innocent person but a guilty person who has been forgiven. This is very different from “just as if I had never sinned”! Moreover, it is different from “just as if I had lived a life of perfect righteousness,” because I will forever know that I have not lived a life of perfect righteousness, but that Christ’s righteousness is given to me by God’s grace.

Therefore both in the forgiveness of sins and in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, my situation is far different from what it would be if I had never sinned and had lived a perfectly righteous life. For all eternity I will remember that I am a forgiven sinner and that my righteousness is not based on my own merit, but on the grace of God in the saving work of Jesus Christ. None of that rich teaching at the heart of the gospel will be understood by those who are encouraged to go through their lives thinking “justified” means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.

I appreciate Dr. Grudem’s comments here. God has done much more for us than any wording can possibly explain and as long as we live here on the earth, we continue to be aware of our need for his applied payment for our sin and his applied righteousness in our life!

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:8–12 ESV)

Remembering why I have this ministry

March 21, 2013 1 comment


Feast at the house of Simon the Pharisee

If you have been in ministry, whether in your local church or in an overseas context, you will know that ministry can be discouraging.  We can be tempted to give up or to use a Pauline phrase, “to lose heart.”  Paul says he does not lose heart in 2 Corinthians 4:1 because he remembers that the ministry that he has been given is because of the mercy of God.

The Message provides an insightful wording of the verse, “Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.”  I am sure that some of you, like me think, “occasional” hard times?  But remember Paul’s perspective later in 2 Cor 4:17 when he calls his struggles, “momentary light afflictions” compared with the “eternal weight of glory.”

Back to 2 Cor 4:1.  Paul says we have this ministry because we have received mercy.  You and I are not in ministry because we went to Seminary, because we volunteered, because we have been faithful, because we are at the right place at the right time.  We are in ministry because we have received mercy from God.  In other words, it is not about us, it is all about God!  That is why Paul says “For what we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). He initiated things and continues to take the initiative with us. We are able to love God and others only because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).  That is good to remember when we get tired and feel like we are the ones who seem to always being the initiator in ministry and in relationships.

Ministry is tough even at the best of times and we will be tempted at times to give up. But when we remember that we are in ministry only because we have been shown mercy, maybe we will remember that there is a world out there that is in desperate need of this same mercy and grace and we will keep going.  Again, Paul says it best in verse 6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” As we have been shown light, may we be light bearers to others.

Question: What is discouraging you about ministry today? Meditate upon the mercy shown to you by God that enables you to be in ministry.