For those struggling with God as Father

Our definition of Fatherhood needs to originate in God, not in the earthly fathers we have experienced. This is one of the last sermons I gave in a church that describes the way God the Father depicts Himself in Ps. 103. Hope this helps some of you get a better picture of God as He really is.

The Last Sermon I Preached

June 3, 2012 was the last time that I ever preached a sermon in a church. At the time, I had no idea that it would be my last. Looking back on that day, however, it seems so fitting that on that last opportunity to speak in the institutional church, I chose as my topic God’s paradigm of leadership in the church. I can see, looking back now, how God was faithfully bringing me even then to see things that have shaped and redirected the path of my life. As I said that day, the paradigm of the kingdom of God in its fullness is often in opposition to the paradigms of leadership and church we carry inside us. Would that God would help more of us to see God’s intent for the one body of prophets and priests under the headship of Jesus and all empowered for service by His Spirit. I hope you enjoy this moment in history for me.

Male targets of workplace bullying

Men can be bullied too.

Minding the Workplace

Many of us in the workplace anti-bullying movement have understood that men who face workplace bullying are less likely than women to talk about their experiences and to seek assistance. However, thanks to the work of Dr. Sue O’Donnell (U. New Brunswick, Canada), we have an excellent seven-minute video that captures a cross section of the male experience of being a bullying target. I had the privilege of watching the video as part of her presentation at the 2017 Work, Stress and Health conference currently underway in Minneapolis.

A nursing school professor, Dr. O’Donnell worked with New Brunswick colleague Dr. Judith MacIntosh to conduct interviews of men who had experienced workplace bullying and then teamed with Nick Wilson Videography to turn those interviews in a form of live testimony. It’s a powerful video that will resonate specially with men who have struggled with workplace bullying and how to talk about…

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The Intruder in Your House

He crept in some time ago. Don’t know when or how but he’s certainly there now. In fact, he’s been there long enough that you’ve grown comfortable with him. If the truth be told, you kind of like him. He makes you feel good about yourself compared to others. He always seems to see things your way. He is a clear, logical thinker, able to show the superiority of his positions over those of lesser intelligence. His words and thoughts are so familiar, at times, they sound just like yours. His voice even resembles yours. He’s quite an intelligent, winsome man, and you don’t know who, but he reminds you of someone you admire. Yet, this intruder in your house needs to go. He doesn’t just need to move out, he needs to be killed. If he has all these wonderful qualities, “why”, you say, “would I say he needs to die?”

You see, there’s another man in your house — you may have forgotten him! He didn’t creep in, but came through the front door to live with you years ago now. You can remember when he first arrived. You used to enjoy His company so much. He made you feel things you hadn’t felt in a long time. Your felt love, belonging, acceptance, forgiveness, joy.  At the same time, you began to see things in yourself that were inconsistent, things you wanted to change. You used to stay up all night talking to Him about everything, especially the things you couldn’t talk to anybody else about.

But lately, you are intrigued by what this intruder has to say. It’s quite simple at this point. You need to choose between the two of them. To maintain your friendship with your old friend, this intruder and his influences must be killed. I suppose you could just move him to a back room, but you are sure you would be drawn to him there, tempted to visit him again. There’s that something appealing about him. No! He needs to die. “But this seems so severe, so radical!” Why am I so adamant in calling for the death of this intruder? What you may not know is the whole story:

Your friend – you know the one that sits in the corner of your living room waiting for you to visit with him – has some marks on his hands. When you first met him you were amazed by those marks on his hands. You were amazed by a lot of things then. But now, his ideas don’t seem as sophisticated as the intruders. His words just aren’t as deep or profound as the stranger’s. The marks — you haven’t stopped lately to notice them. Where did he get those wounds? They look pretty severe. In one sense, the intruder in your house, he nailed those spikes into his hands. He didn’t like what your friend was saying. It greatly offended him! The things your friend told the intruder were insane. So, you see, it was quite simple, He just had to go. He needed to be gotten rid of!

What you may not recognize is that this intruder constantly speaks contrary to your old friend. He is always challenging his ideas. He cannot stand his presence and is actively seeking to move him out of the house. To make matters worse, you’ve recently started to take this intruder out with you and introduced him to your friends. Sure enough, his ideas were just as appealing to them as they were to you and he is obtaining quite a following, while your old friend and his ways are pushed aside. This intruder must be stopped! He must be dealt with! Why has he become your friend? Don’t you remember what he did to your old friend? He will destroy you if you allow him to remain as he has been in your home.

But killing him? Yes, kill him. It seems so severe! Do you remember now what your old friend told you about this intruder? He warned you about him:

Beware of his leaven, it will fill your life. Don’t be like him. Don’t give like him. Don’t pray like him. Don’t treat others who are less fortunate like he does.  Don’t react to those who suffer like he does. Don’t get caught up in his self-deception and deceit.  Stay away from him and his corrupting influences!

This heart is an intruder that your Lord, your faithful Friend, wants you to recognize and systematically and methodically eliminate from your life! You’ll have to be willing to see him for who he is not just in others but also in you. May God give you eyes to see and ears to hear His word of loving correction as He seeks to protect you from this Christless tendency in your hearts!

Who is this intruder? He is the Pharisee.  This is the religious spirit that substitutes for the Spirit of Christ. He makes you feel superior to others that aren’t as religious. He reminds you of your elite status as an insider. He reminds you that your attendance, giving and service in the church make you better than other people.  He blinds you to your own shortcomings and makes it easy to see the faults in others. He reduces your empathy for those who suffer and promises you that you can avoid suffering yourself. He’s sure that God is lucky to have you in His family.  You bring so much to the table.

Extrinsic v. Intrinsic Christianity

Several years ago now, the psychologist Gordon Allport stumbled upon an idea. He was originally trying to understand how people of faith could also be capable of prejudice. His initial findings showed that religious people were actually more prejudiced than non-religious people. As a person of faith himself, this result troubled Allport.

I’ve recently had several key encounters with people who profess faith that have left me scratching my head. It seems like there are two Christianities. These two are very different and cannot be reconciled.

Allport called these two different faiths extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic faith is focused on ROI and what the follower gets out of the deal. It is essentially a self-focused approach to religion as a way to get ahead. This is a religion of comfort and social connections. Intrinsic faith is very different. It is not focused on getting, but giving. One follows sincerely held beliefs because it is an inherently right thing to do. It is essentially a selfless approach to religion as a means of becoming fully human, a meaning-endowing framework.

Notice the contrast between these two types of Christianity in the table below:

Extrinsic Christianity (Churchianity) Intrinsic Christianity
What’s in it for ME? What do I get out of this? Essentially a self-centered approach to religion. What is required of me? What is the right thing to do? What is the meaning of life?
Jesus who gives me personal victory and success The Suffering Servant and Man of Sorrows who models a life of servanthood
Not interesting in dying to self Dying with Jesus, taking up our cross
Does not feel deep empathy for others pain. Invalidates pain with truisms and Christian platitudes. Feels deep empathy for pain of others
Uses religion for personal gain as a MEANS to the end Spirituality is the END in itself, not a means to anything else
Capable of bigotry and prejudice, finds it easy to judge others who are different Sees all people in an accepting way
Lack of self-awareness leading to pride Self-awareness leading to humility
Does enough to get over the line, meet minimum requirement for entry (being “saved”) Does what is right, not just minimum, working out salvation through course of life
Churchgoing is very important. Those who don’t “go to church” should be judged. Christianity is a lifestyle. There are many different ways of connecting to other believers including institutional churches and other just as valid means.
Tends to identify with successful, charismatic “leaders” and other “victorious” Christians Identifies with Jesus and those He ministered to (the broken and hurting)
Not lost, don’t need to find myself Lose yourself to find yourself

It seems clear that a large part of the confusion some may feel is connected to this dichotomy. Both kinds of religion call themselves Christianity. The innate difference between the two, however, could not be greater. By the way, non-Christians who remain disinterested in Christianity are mostly repelled by the extrinsic brand. As Gandhi said, “I don’t have a problem with Jesus, just His followers.” It was likely the extrinsic Christians in Gandhi’s world that he was referring to.

The takeaway should be obvious. Looking at these two different types of Christianity, which are you?

Don’t Exasperate Your Kids: A Father’s Day Meditation

Paul tells the Ephesians:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4 ESV)

Since Father’s Day is coming soon, I thought maybe we dads could be reminded of the awesome responsibility that we have been given by God.  As our families honor us, we can honor them.  We can recommit ourselves to being the kind of father that God would have us be to our kids.  Paul, first tells the Ephesian fathers what not to do.  He says, “Don’t exasperate your kids.”  Don’t provoke them to anger.  Don’t embitter them.  This is interesting in light of the similar language God uses of Himself being provoked.  In the case of God, clearly being able to be provoked isn’t a flaw.  I don’t think it is in our kids either.  It’s not their fault; it’s ours, when we provoke them through our fatherly mistreatment.

I recently listened to Alistair Begg on this topic and read some thoughts from Dan Doriani.  The following is a composite list from these two sources of ways that we can provoke our children:

We exasperate our children:

  1. By failing to allow them to be what or who they are having unrealistic demands.

When they’re young, not taking into account their age or level of development, expecting them to be “older” or more mature than they are.  When they’re older, refusing to allow them to be the adults God made them to be (trying to fit them into our mold or plan for them). 

  1. By treating them with harshness or cruelty. By using harsh words or constant criticism and correction.

In any way, pushing our weight around physically, emotionally, mentally, verbally.  Always giving them harsh criticism that makes them feel like they never measure up.  Criticizing their lifestyle, parenting, career success.

  1. By ridiculing them (in front of others).

Especially in front of their peers or the rest of the family, exposing them to shame and humiliation.  Treating them with contempt or mocking them about things that are important to them.  Mocking or belittling things that are important to them including their personal thoughts and convictions that differ from ours.

  1. By displaying favoritism or making unhealthy comparisons with others.

Treating certain children as special in the family or constantly comparing our children to their siblings or to other “model” children.  Treating our more compliant children as the ideal to which none of the others measure up.  Using “good” children as a means of shaming “bad” children into compliance.

  1. By failing to express approval of them and their accomplishments.

Not telling them that we are proud of them and what they have accomplished (even small accomplishments for younger children).  Competing with our adult children and needing to always outperform them.  Withholding affirmation, moving the carrot further out on the stick to make them reach for it.

  1. By arbitrarily exercising discipline. By being inconsistent.  By administering harsh discipline based on snap judgments.

Parents who are unpredictable in their discipline are even worse than neglecting parents.  The children are kept off guard not knowing what is coming next.  Often these parents instruct their children in one way and live in another.  Parents inconsistency in the standards set for their children is often the by-product of their own arbitrary self-discipline.  Discipline from fathers, by the way, is for younger children (pais), not for adults (Eph. 6:1).  Trying to “discipline” our adult children will be exasperating to them. 

  1. By neglecting them or making them feel like an intrusion.

Making our kids feel like our care for them is taking us away from something more important.  Treating our children, young or adults, as if it is a burden rather than a privilege to be their parents.

  1. By seeking to make them achieve our goals rather than theirs.

Not laying down our desires for them to allow them to pursue the calling that God has for them.  Always telling them what they should be doing and not asking them what they want or feel led to do.  Failing to raise them according to their bent or temperament, “the way that they should go” (Prov. 22:6).

  1. By overprotecting them.

Our love can be smothering when we don’t allow children at appropriate ages to live their lives.  Overprotection is about our anxiety issues being projected onto them.  Letting them live their lives, as fearful as that is for parents, is the most loving thing we can do.

  1. By withdrawing love from them.

Teaching our children with our words, attitudes or actions that our love for them is conditional on their obedience to us.  When our children don’t do what we want them to, punishing them by withholding our love and approval as a means of trying to regain control.  “Tough love” is often a rationalization for mistreatment.  True love remains constant and is articulated, even in the midst of differences and struggles.

  1. By not listening to them or not having appropriate empathy for their concerns.

The child who is not listened to has no place to express the inner thoughts and feelings that are part of normal living.  The failure to listen causes our children to internalize their fears and pain in unhealthy ways.  This may be the root cause of their exasperation.  Exasperation, a combination of anxiety and anger, results from not being heard.  Their cries to be understood are ignored.  This makes them feel unimportant and devalued.  They just want to be loved and heard.  When we refuse to do either, it is exasperating for them.

As a result of these kinds of treatment, our children can become discouraged, embittered and provoked to anger.  If they do as a result of our failure as their father, the accountability for the situation falls on us.  This is the primary command to fathers and yet one that many fathers set aside for the sake of “children obey your parents.”  It is very difficult for children in the home to be obedient when their fathers provoke them to anger.

On a positive note:

Paul tells us to “bring them up” (ektrepho) which means literally to nourish or to feed them, to cherish them fondly, to rear them tenderly, to sustain them spiritually, to nurture them.

In the “training” (paideia) which means to discipline through means of training including enforcement of reward and punishment.  The purpose of chastisement is to correct sinful rebellion, not childishness.  If we use corporal punishment, we need to be careful not to be tyrannical, not to spank out of envy, jealousy, anger, malice, pride, scorn, etc.  The use of excessive and inappropriate punishment by parents (a.k.a. abuse) is clearly in opposition to biblical principles.  This paideia applies specifically to the case of younger children who need godly discipline, not to adults.

And “admonition” (nouthesia) which means to lovingly confront at the heart level.  “It seeks to correct the mind, to put to right what is wrong, to improve the spiritual attitude.  The basic idea is that of the well-meaning earnestness with which one seeks to influence the mind and disposition by appropriate instruction, exhortation, warning and correction . . . admonition which is designed to correct while not provoking or embittering.” (Kittel)  This sort of loving admonition should be present between mature adults, even between parents and children who are adults and going in both directions as appropriate.

Of the Lord (kurios) reminds us that it is God’s training and admonition that we are to nurture them in.  They are His children that He has entrusted temporarily to our care.  Children are not our property.  No one is.  They belong to God who has entrusted them to us for a season.  We are stewards of Him and are accountable to Him for the way in which we care for His children.

Bottom Line:

Our job as fathers is a great privilege given to us by God.  God has called us to bring up these fragile beings with love and nurture, balancing grace and truth, exercising appropriate discipline that represents His plan for them, not ours.  May we not exasperate these precious little ones, but instead lead them to the loving arms of their True Father.  Happy Father’s Day.

This is a rework of an article originally written in 2010.

Shame-based organizations: When workplaces resemble dysfunctional families

Many religious institutions are run on the same shame that we learned in our family system.

Minding the Workplace

Please excuse the disembodied hands!Please excuse the disembodied hands!

What can shame-based family rule systems teach us about less-than-wonderful workplaces?

At the annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict hosted by Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, Dr. Connie Dawson, author of the forthcoming book, Life Beyond Shame: Rewriting theRules, facilitated a discussion group on shame-based rules for family systems. Here are the rules drawn from her poster board pictured above:

  • “Do and be right” (“Do it my way”)
  • “Blame shifted elsewhere”
  • “Do not acknowledge feelings”
  • “Keep secrets”
  • “Don’t expect accountability”
  • “Control to get what you need” (“Manipulate to ensure own survival”)
  • “None of this is happening” (“Deny reality”)

If you’ve ever experienced a workplace built on a punitive, negative culture, then these rules may resonate strongly!

Dr. Brené Brown has a lot to say about shame-based organizational cultures in this Fast Company excerpt from her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We…

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