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Echoing Silence: God’s One Word

What intimate companionship with God while driving home yesterday. Four hours of solitude and silence. This ‘Creedal Meditation’ poem is an echo of that silence.

Echoing Silence:  God’s One Word

From Eternity to Eternity
Infinite Silence
Impenetrable Mystery
Father, Son and Spirit
Trinitarian Community
One God
By Breath Speaks
One Word

LOVE

The Echo of Silence
The Eternal Word
The Living Word
The Incarnate Word

JESUS

Enfleshed Love  (Bethlehem)
Growing Love  (Nazareth)
Baptised Love  (Jordon)
Empowered Love  (the Spirit)
Ministering Love  (Israel and beyond)
Suffering Love  (compassion)
Crucified Love  (Calvary)
Buried Love  (the tomb)
Resurrected Love  (the garden)
Ascended Love  (the heavens)
Reigning Love  (the Father’s right hand)
Returning Love  (the Second Coming)
Consummated Love  (the Marriage Feast)
Everlasting Love  (New Heavens & New Earth)

Enter The Mystery
Silence
Be The Echo
God’s One Word
By Empowering Breath
Enfleshed in your Life

LOVE

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Repentant Reflections on Jean Vanier

For those who know (of) Jean Vanier, the recent disclosures by six women of his alleged sexual relationship with them, is profoundly distressing, to say the least. For those who don’t know of him, it might not be a big issue. It is, however, a HUGE issue. Especially for the women. And sadly, once again, for all spiritual leadership and God’s integrity in the eyes of the world.

My reflections explore WHY? What can we learn from this?

Yesterday morning before leaving for our church service I read a tweet about this breaking news, which led me to the statement released by L’Arche International, reported in The Guardian. Read L’Arche’s official report of its credible investigation. It is harrowing.

What a shock! I felt so grieved and gutted that I could hardly sing. My worship was an inner lament, “O God! O God! Have mercy! Christ have mercy!” The whole day of Sunday I felt a heaviness of spirit, a dark mourning in my soul. It took me another day to get to the point of reflecting and processing in writing before God.

I repeatedly asked why I felt so strongly about this? So broken and repentant? Was it for Jean Vanier, a (now) fallen hero of the faith? Was it for the shattering of my own deep respect for him? Or was it for the women who were abused by him, spiritually manipulated into a sexual relationship with him? They are the ones for whom God weeps – they carry this shame. Probably more will come out into the light of truth, as always happens in such cases.

The brief story.

Jean Vanier was founder-leader of L’Arche (The Ark). Started in 1964. He died 7 May 2019. It was a ministry to care for folk with (develop)mental disabilities. This remarkable charity has communities in 38 countries that care for thousands of people. I heard about Vanier while reading Henri Nouwen – who, in his later years, went to live and work in a L’Arche community. I read all I could of Vanier’s life, work, and writings. A profound lived “reality of love” in selfless service, intentional community, healing and spirituality.[1] Vanier and Nouwen, among others, were formative for me in my years in Soweto, as we worked for Kingdom reconciliation under Apartheid, and set up an intentional inter-racial Christian community. I held Vanier in as high regard as Henri Nouwen. Many who knew him in his Catholic circles considered him “a living saint” – as Mother Teresa. He was a layman, not an ordained priest. He never married.

After investigating the women’s accusations, L’Arche International reports: “Evidence shows that Jean Vanier engaged in ‘manipulative sexual relationships’ from 1970 to 2005, usually with a ‘psychological hold’ over the alleged victims.” They came to him for spiritual direction. His pattern was similar to that of Rev Thomas Philippe, a Catholic priest Vanier called his “spiritual father”. Philippe, who died in 1993, was banned from exercising any public or private ministry in a trial led by the Catholic Church in 1956, for his theories and the sexual practices that stemmed from them. Several women accused him of sexual abuse.

Why is this such a big issue? What can we learn from it?

Here is my repentant reflection before God:  

Why is this disclosure about yet another respected spiritual leader so dismaying for me?
Is it a time for sackcloth and ashes?
Who knows the (dark) thoughts and (devious) motivations of the human heart?
Ultimately only you, Lord.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is ANY offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Our hearts seduce and deceive us in its slow but sure moral corruption.
If we allow it.
Only ruthless self-honesty with God and significant others, to our own hurt (even death), will save us from ourselves.
S/he who thinks they stand, TAKE HEED, lest you fall.
It’s the little foxes that destroy the vine.
Each little temptation, deviant thought, “white lie”, corrupted appetite, self-justifying belief, must immediately be brought to the light of community with God and significant others.
It’s called confession, living a fully disclosed life.

If left unattended, or excused, malformation of moral character sets in.
Corruption of sexual character – in fact, the Big Three: Money, Sex and Power.
It gives power to evil in self-deception, in the silent prison of guilt and shame.
The lie of self-preservation: “whatever happens, don’t let anyone know, don’t be caught out”
So, we progressively live a double life, sworn to secrecy.
We are as sick as the (dark) secrets we keep.
It remains unseen for years till the fruit pops out in certain attitudes, words and behaviour.
Often when we least expect it. Others see and notice it.
Disintegrates our integrity of being into other “selfs”, sick “parts” that we compartmentalise and accommodate and live with – for 35 years in Vanier’s case.
These “identities” then drive us, eventually with tormenting demonic energy.
Which seek to deceive and destroy – through us – those around us, those to whom we minister.

Who we really are, our true character, is known ultimately only to God.
Will be fully revealed when we die and appear before The Judgement Seat of Christ.
Then all will be known.
Lord, have mercy!
Better to come clean NOW, disclose our dark secrets and devious thoughts.
And get help, so that we don’t deceive ourselves and destroy others.

Paul says: watch your life – your believing, teaching and behaviour – very closely, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:15-16)
What will it profit you to gain the whole world’s respect by admirable selfless service in the Name of Jesus, and yet lose your own integrity and personhood while doing so?      

This might appear selfish. It’s not.
The real concern is the women and others, “the hearers” who were left spiritually manipulated, sexually abused, deeply damaged.
At the hands of a male Christian spiritual leader… again. Again. Again. Again.
When will it ever end? Only in the age to come.
As part of this spurious specie of (male) pastors/leaders, all I can say is, “God forgive us! Women and children, please forgive us!”  

Do I now disrespect and throw out all Jean Vanier has done? No, not at all. Do I discount what he’s written? Not at all. I now read it with clearer discerning lenses. We honour the good work that has been done – God uses broken people, we’re all wounded healers – while honestly facing the loss of integrity that has now tarnished his legacy (the first sexual abuse he engaged in, if disclosed at the time, should’ve disqualified him from leadership). Above all, however, we pray for the healing restoration of these women.

What can we learn?
 

Be radically honest with yourself. Be in touch with your needs, with your brokenness. With what drives you in certain contexts with certain people. And get help.

Do not remain unmarried if you are not “gifted” with celibacy, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7. The doctrine and practice of celibacy of the priesthood has caused untold pain for many victims of abuse. It should be re-examined, even abandoned.

Do not over-react with generalisations (“don’t trust leaders”, “Catholics are bad”, “mystical spirituality is spurious”). Don’t under-react with excusing or minimising it all in the name of “love” or “mercy” or “good works” (that enhances the pain of the abused. We forgive sin, even patterns of immoral character, but that doesn’t mean the perpetrator must not be held accountable).

Be careful of (exclusive) one-on-one relationships in spiritual companionship or direction, in discipling, mentoring, fathering and mothering.

Be discerning of any spiritual manipulation, of any emotional pressure, relational dependence, deceptive beliefs, character failure.

Never idolise human leaders. We only have one human-God, Messiah Jesus. The rest of us are merely servant leaders in recovery all the way to heaven!

Don’t follow or entrust yourself to leaders who are not in touch with their brokenness. Who are not led or do not allow themselves to be led. Who are not genuinely accountable to others. Who do not work in team. They are dangerous.

Above all else, guard your heart, keep your integrity, grow your character, for it’s the fountain from which we all live, whether we know it or not, for better or for worse, with eternal consequence.
In other words, model the real deal of life to the full, due to godly character formation before the audience of One – Who sees all, knows all, and gives us the grace we need when we need it.


[1] “L’Arche is founded on love for people with mental disabilities. If we keep our eyes fixed on them, if we are faithful to them, we will always find our path. We are constantly called to draw this love from the heart of God, and from God’s mysterious presence at the heart of poor people.” Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community (Paulist Press, 1992), p.7.

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Spirituality of Leadership versus Technology of Leadership

I was asked to speak at our Vineyard pastors and leaders meeting today… here are my teaching notes.

The key questions in life are the who? and why?… not the what? and how?

Who are you? Who are you becoming? Who are you following? Who forms you? It’s way more important that what you do/achieve and how you do it. God is more interested in you than in what you can do for him – he doesn’t ‘use’ us! Dallas Willard said, “The only thing we will get out of our lives and take into eternity, when we breathe our last breath and stand before God with everything stripped away, is the person we will have become. Therefore, WHO are you and WHO are you becoming?” And WHY are you becoming, or want to become, that kind of person? The WHAT and HOW flow naturally from this.

The need for leadership as spirituality… not as technology

Spirituality, as in the formation of character toward Christlikeness, essentially has to do with the who and why questions, whereas technology of leadership has to do with the ‘what is leadership?’ and ‘how do we do it?’… as in ‘Five Easy Steps to Leading’, or ‘The 20 Laws of Leadership’! Eugene Peterson, in his five books to leaders & pastors and five books on Spiritual Theology, has been a prophet crying out in the wilderness of the Evangelical/Charismatic/Pentecostal church lost in the technology of leadership that’s been taken in and copied from the business world. We urgently need a return to the biblical theology (understandings & models) of leadership… then the what and how of leadership (also taught in scripture) find their proper basis and place of operation. I.e. our doing then comes from our being and becoming, and NOT the other way round. Many leaders have their identity in their doing, their activism, the what and how of success – leadership as achievement, position, power, title, turf – ‘push and pull’, ‘get the show on the road’, ‘hire and fire’ type leadership, the technology of getting things done! Our identity, meaning and purpose in life, as people, as leaders, is found in God and his love for us. Then we can freely give our lives away in love and service of God and others – our doing is then a natural/healthy overflow of our being/becoming, with eternal results. Continue reading Spirituality of Leadership versus Technology of Leadership

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Forming (in) Community – The Practice of Healing (1)

To listen to the audio teaching of these notes, click on
http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/being-the-beloved-forming-community-by-practicing-healing/

Recap on Forming (in) Community – The Second Practice of Healing 

Last week Meg Willows introduced the practice of healing… in forming, and being formed in, God’s community. She shared our vision for healing ministry in Following Jesus: what is healing and why we practice the healing ministry that Jesus committed to his followers, the local church. I want to focus on the how to of healing. But first some general comments.

Our highest core value is following Jesus (relationship with God) with its four practices. Our second value is forming and being formed in community (relationship with one another) with its four practices. Relational intimacy with God leads to relational intimacy with one another, and vice versa, which in turn facilitates healing. Relationship is the first, and healing is the second practice of community. The practice of healing as two sides: a) how to receive healing for personal growth and wholeness, and b) how to minister healing to others in the name of Jesus. Healthy community is a primary means of healing, growth and formation toward wholeness, while dysfunctional relationships is a primary source of brokenness, sickness and destruction. Thus we face the ongoing challenge to build healthy community/relationships in marriage, family, home groups, ministry teams, and church. Continue reading Forming (in) Community – The Practice of Healing (1)

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Following Jesus by Practicing the Word – Part Two

Recap: The Practice of The Word and Daily Devotions 

Our highest value is our relationship with God: following Jesus in daily intimacy.
Our first priority and practice that makes it a reality is the discipline of The Word of God. Why ‘The Word’? Because it’s God’s self-revelation to us. Jesus is the Living Word, God’s full self-revelation. The Bible is God’s Spirit-inspired written Word or self-revelation – having power to transform us as we daily read, study, meditate, and memorize it.

We ‘do the Word’ in these four ways – placing ourselves under the Word’s authority – by having daily devotions or “quite time” with God. Do you have a specific time and place set apart to encounter God in prayer and The Word? To the extent we consistently engage in that time and activity the Spirit progressively transforms us. The affect of a long obedience in the same direction accumulates into fruit-full growth in Christ’s mind and character.

HOW do we have a regular “quiet time” with God? HOW do we make it meaningful? There are two major reasons why many Christians don’t have daily focused time with God: they don’t know what to do (“it’s boring!), and due to lifestyle choices (“I’m too busy”). CS Lewis says it’s laziness: we allow other people/things to determine our REAL daily priorities and practices because we are too lazy to set our own – life lives us, we don’t live life! The deeper issue, of course, is spiritual sickness, lack of hunger, loss of love for Jesus. As Pedro Arrupe SJ says: “What or who are you in love with determines everything: what gets you out of bed in the morning, what you read, how you spend your time, who you relate to… fall in love with Jesus, stay in love with Jesus, and it will determine everything in your life!”

LECTIO DIVINA

The Latin Lectio (reading) Divina (Divine) refers to a tried and tested Christian practice of encounter with God in the Word and prayer. It means “spiritual reading” or “reflective and responsive reading of the Bible”. It gives a simple framework to spend 30 minutes of daily quality time with God. Rooted in the Hebrew tradition of Torah prayer-meditation, the monks from the 4th century began to practice Lectio – some for hours a day. Monk Guido II (14th century) was the first to record the framework of Lectio Divina in the four steps of lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. I will add a few NOTES… here we go… Continue reading Following Jesus by Practicing the Word – Part Two

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Report on Ministry Trip to Sarepta Church, Durban

What a wonderful time!! I returned this past Sunday night tired but exhilarated. Sarepta is a special church in a special place – Gillets/Hillcrest – all green and luscious, with daily visits from monkeys to all the houses! I stayed with Alan and Mary Ellen Blackman, the team leaders of Sarepta. I so enjoy staying in people’s homes, as I get to experience something of their family life, seeing God’s goodness and beauty in people – the Blackman’s are no exception! (The older I grow the more fascinating I find human beings, each unique in the mystery of God’s creation and good work in them).

I taught on one of the biblical and life themes that is closest to my heart: “Intimacy with God and People.” There was such an enthusiastic and affirming response from those who attended the conference. About 40 or so came to the Thursday and Friday nights, and Saturday morning, and then a full church service on the Sunday morning (about 180 or so). I defined the biblical understanding of intimacy as a growing oneness in love with God and others, through the gift of self, which is relational self-disclosure. Intimacy is “into-me-you-see”! That is being very vulnerable! The intimacy of which I speak is not sexual as in genital intimacy – that’s for covenant called marriage. It’s intimacy in the whole of who we are: spiritually, psycho-emotionally, socially affectionate – all of which is godly sexuality. Continue reading Report on Ministry Trip to Sarepta Church, Durban

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Being the Beloved: The Framework

Last week I introduced our year theme for Following Jesus: Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation. We launched this theme with a week of fasting and prayer. Please feed back to our office or to me if you feel God is saying something to us – we want to hear and obey the Lord! Today I present the Big Picture, or the Overall Framework, of Being and Becoming God’s Beloved.

The Centrality and Heart of Love 

GOD is love, whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him/her” (1John 4:16). We dare not reverse it, “Love is God.” Then we make love (whatever we mean by it) god, as many do today in a popular postmodern “spirituality of love”. We love only because God first loved us (1John 4:19), enabling us to love as he loves. How so? God created us in his image in love for love. To love is godly. But our sin, our fallen nature, rejects the ultimate source of love, God. BUT God overcame sin in love. He came to save us in his Son Jesus, his enfleshed love, his sacrificial gift of Self. In Christ we receive and live in the Father’s love – which he knew so profoundly (John 17:23-26). Father confirmed Jesus’ identity as “Beloved” at his baptism, in the Spirit of Love: “You are my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). This is the center that centers us: God’s love, giving us our identity in Christ as “Beloved.” Paul says it so well: “Be imitators of God, as his beloved (born again) children: live a life of love, just as Jesus loved us” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Continue reading Being the Beloved: The Framework

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Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation

Last year was about replanting and restoring health to our church, as “Following Jesus”. This year is about laying a firm foundation for a) spiritual growth, b) healthy community, and c) service to our world. This letter is not only my preaching notes, but sets the tone for the year as we begin laying the foundation, being guided by our chosen theme…

“Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation”

It might sound weird! Being the what… ?? The word/idea of “Beloved” is significant and powerful in the Bible. It’s all about “be-loved” or “being loved”, which is difficult for most people. We have to learn how to be loved, how to receive love, and thus to love. They say, “Love makes the world go round!” Pretty close! God IS love… so, love is the center of the universe, making all things work – that is IF we receive his love and learn to love as he loves – then that’s heaven on earth! But if we don’t, we make hell on earth!

Being the (God’s) Beloved is about discovering our true selves. It’s about our identity as human becomings. The deepest source and definition of our identity is God’s love for us – not the myriads of other means of identity imposed on us, or that we choose. And it’s not the “feel-good-flowery-luuvvv” from Hollywood! It’s God’s love from eternity, enfleshed in its costly demonstration in Jesus of Nazareth. He lived and died for YOU, for ME, for our sin, our rejection of God’s love, so that we may turn and receive God’s love. In fact, Jesus was who he was, and did what he did, because he came to know how deeply God loved him as his Father – confirmed at his baptism in water when Father spoke from the heavens, “You are my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased”

That voice, that Spirit of Love, opened the heavens for Father’s love to flood and fill each one of us, so that we may learn to live in his love as Jesus did. All of life flows from that. It’s the source of healing and spiritual growth, community formation and social transformation – our focus for this year as we follow Jesus together. Why not take this journey very seriously and commit to Being (becoming) the Beloved? In effect, we will be unpacking our calling as a church, our Mission Statement: Following Jesus and making followers of him, learning to live a life of love just as Jesus loved us.

To begin this journey we are calling our church to a full week of FASTING and prayer, from 20-26 January. Here are some guidelines to help us. Continue reading Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation

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Men’s Conference: “Fire in the Belly”

A call to all the Men,

I’ve been invited to do an important day conference for men at New Creation Family Church (NCFC) in Robin Hills Randburg, South Africa), on Saturday, 24 August 2013.

A link for booking with event details is included in the attached flyerContinue reading Men’s Conference: “Fire in the Belly”

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Ignatian and Eastern Orthodox Spirituality

A while ago I asked for prayer regarding my wife and I starting the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises under the weekly guidance of the Jesuits in Johannesburg (“Ignatian Retreat in Daily Life”, an hour a day of prayer-meditation over a ten month period). It drew quite a bit of feedback. A few years ago a friend of mine in Norway gave me an eastern orthodox prayer rope (he makes them). He recently asked if I could share a picture of it, as he wanted to put it on his Facebook page. This too has drawn comments. I’ve been asked, “why are you doing this Catholic and Orthodox spirituality stuff?” Here’s a brief perspective. Continue reading Ignatian and Eastern Orthodox Spirituality