Friday, October 13, 2017

Present Healing for Past Trauma

Ever since I began walking with people through the trauma of childhood sexual abuse, and the corresponding eating disorders, dissociation, and other coping skills that were relied upon, people have accused me of teaching that we need to constantly dig up the past in order to experience freedom in Christ.

In fact, some have gone so far as to say that everything that has ever happened to us has been nailed to the cross, and Christians don’t have problems like that to deal with any longer, so stop picking at their wounds! OUCH!!! What a slap in the face to any child of God whose weak faith clings to the promises of their Savior that he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds!

Here’s what I really believe about the trauma of childhood abuse that is NOT a matter of digging up the past.[1] Let’s begin with an illustration.

Let’s say you’re hiking along a beautiful trail and you come across someone who is clearly bogged down and struggling with some heavy weight. As you look at the person you notice that his or her backpack seems exceptionally large, and it is sagging as though carrying something far heavier than anything that would be required for the hike. You also see that they are dragging broken chains along that are attached to shackles around their ankles.

From your viewpoint, it is easy to see what is wrong. The shackles and the heavy backpack are presenting an intolerable burden, and something has to be removed to lighten their load.

However, when you mention to the person that you would like to help them remove these burdens he or she says that they were told that because these were attached to their journey in the past there was nothing they could do about them in the present. “The past is the past,” they declare, “and there is nothing we can do to go back and change anything.”

“But they’re holding you back right now!” you gently exclaim the obvious.

Now, it would be fun to develop this into a story, and I’m sure some of you have a story that immediately comes to mind with such imagery. However, my point is simple: I have never met anyone who is handling childhood trauma with the coping skills of denial, or dissociation, or an eating disorder, or drugs, or alcohol, or technology, or whatever addictions anyone prefers, whose past is in the past.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter how long ago someone dropped a bunch of rocks in their backpack if the rocks are presently hindering their progress. The rocks in the backpack are a problem in the present no matter how long they have been there.

So too, if someone knows that they have a relationship with God that is based on nothing but the faith that he has taken hold of them through the gospel and will not let them go, but they are regularly hit with implicit-memory reactions to certain people they meet, or certain stories on the news, or certain circumstances, or places, or events, their wounds from the past are still the wounds of their present.

What should we do with such things? First, we begin by starting (or continuing) to pour out our hearts to Jesus Christ for whatever we still need of his healing for the brokenhearted and his binding up of our wounds.[2] It matters not how long ago a wound occurred; if it is still wounded, it still needs Jesus to heal it. Ask, seek, and knock, until you have received, found, and opened your heart to Jesus’ healing.[3]

Second, ask Jesus to give you help through other children of God so that you can benefit from whatever he is doing in his people. As what is good for the health of the whole body is good for the wounded members of the body, so we need to ask Jesus to unite us with healthy members of his body so we can benefit from their hope, and faith, and love for the increase of our own hope, and faith, and love.[4]

Third, if pulling the stinking, rotten, bandages off of old wounds means it hurts a bit more for a little while, endure the little while for the greater good of being healed and free in Jesus Christ. Our dissociative attempts at self-protection have not healed one little thing within us, and neither have they truly numbed the pain of our past and present wounds.

Go to the Great Physician with whatever he shows you and rest in the glorious promise that, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”[5]. Mourn your wounds, and your self-dependent and sinful handling of your wounds, so that the God of all comfort can comfort you both now and forever.[6] He will comfort both in person, and through his body.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] People will often have issues from the past come to mind as they seek to know God with all their heart and soul, but our aim is not to deliberately go digging up past memories to get people reliving old trauma. If something does come up, it is simply incorporated in how we seek God for the healing that is required.
[2] Psalm 147:3
[3] Matthew 7:7-12
[4] All the letters to the churches in the New Testament are written to help God’s children know how to walk together as the one body of Christ. This includes using our spiritual gifts to serve one another in love. We band together as the church (which could be a group of people meeting in a home to seek God for such things) in order to see how Jesus as our head would mobilize his body to accomplish his will. See I Corinthians 12-14 for an indepth description of how spiritual gifts operate in the church, but keep the attention on Jesus as our head providing what we need through his body, even if we can’t ever describe what spiritual gifts he used to accomplish his work. We may only remember the people who helped, not anything specific they did!
[5] Matthew 5:4
[6] II Corinthians 1:3-5

Monday, October 9, 2017

Jesus’ Provision and Example For Our Seasons of Suffering

For a while I have been praying my way through the book of I Peter. It has been very clear that all God’s children are living in this world as beloved sojourners and exiles.[1] This means we are to see ourselves as the beloved children of God no matter what happens to us in this earthly life; as sojourners we are to consider our lives in this world as a very short and temporary experience, a mere blip in our eternal life; and we are to see ourselves as foreigners to this world, exiles who cannot help it that we are not yet home, but living consistent with our homeland, not the world in which we presently reside.

This morning I began meditating on a paragraph that begins like this:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, (I Peter 3)

Whenever there is a “for”, we must find out what it is there for! It means that what is in this paragraph is elaborating on what was just written. In this case, the fact that Jesus suffered unjustly, the righteous one suffering for the unrighteous ones, is foundational to what is expected of us, that, as we “are zealous for what is good” (vs 13), and that may mean that we “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (vs 14), we are to keep in mind that, “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil” (vs 17).

The “for” in verse 18 now associates what may happen to us in suffering for doing good to what Jesus suffered for us in doing good. Which made me look at this:

Question: How many ways has Peter described believers suffering for the sake of righteousness?

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (I Peter 1)

POINT: “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” were prophesied so that we would recognize this as a characteristic of the true Messiah’s ministry, and of the beloved sojourners and exiles who came into his kingdom.

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (I Peter 2)

POINT: what matters here is that Jesus was, “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,” and we, “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house”. Jesus was very clear that the spiritual house he would build would be treated the same way as himself, which means, “rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious”.

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (I Peter 2)

POINT: in our momentary lives in this foreign land of the world our abstaining from fleshly passions, and our honorable conduct, will be spoken against with lies and slander. However, in the future, at the return of our Savior, God will be glorified for the honorable way we lived our lives in reverent fear.

15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (I Peter 2)

POINT: ignorant and foolish people will speak against us, even while we do greater good than anyone in the world,[2] but our continuing zeal for what is good will one day silence those who have spoken against our good behavior in Christ.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (I Peter 2)

POINT: when servants/employees suffer unjustly on the job, meaning that they do not deserve the suffering they experience, they are to continue subjecting themselves to their masters/employers “with all respect”, because it is “a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly”.

20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (I Peter 2)

POINT: it is no credit to a believer if we suffer on the job because we are sinning against our employer, but if we “do good and suffer for it,” and we “endure” what is done to us, “this is a gracious thin in the sight of God.” Peter now connects this directly to the suffering of Christ, that Christ’s suffering was for us, and it leaves us with an example to follow.

22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (I Peter 2)

POINT: with Jesus’ example staring us in the face, Peter identifies how Jesus was sinless in all his actions, including when he was reviled, and when he suffered unjustly. His continuing way of life in all things was, “entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” For the believer, we are reminded that Jesus’ unjust suffering was because “He himself bore OUR sins in his body on the true, that WE might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Everything about our return to Christ is about an entrance into the life he has given us through his suffering, and the life of suffering we will experience while waiting for our home coming.

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (I Peter 3)

POINT: a wife’s subjection to her husband, and her “respectful and pure conduct”, are not based on her husband’s adherence to the word, but applies also to those marriages in which the husband does “not obey the word”.

9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (I Peter 3)

POINT: we may experience evil and reviling as we seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33), but our calling as God’s beloved sojourners and exiles is to bless those who seek our harm in order “that you may obtain a blessing.” We are not to “repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” because that is giving in to the passions of the flesh that war against our souls (I Peter 2:11), causing us to act just like the Worldlings who are not in Jesus’ kingdom. We will never win Worldlings into Jesus’ kingdom by acting just like them.

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. (I Peter 3)

POINT: even though it is not natural that people who are “zealous for what is good” are harmed for doing so, even if it should happen, and we “should suffer for righteousness’ sake,” we are the ones who are blessed.

15 …yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. (I Peter 3)

POINT: no matter how we are treated, including slander and reviling, if we relate to Worldlings “with gentleness and respect,” and maintain “a good conscience” before our heavenly Father in how we relate to Worldlings, we will not be the ones ashamed of our good behavior in Christ, but our enemies will “be put to shame,” if not during this earthly lifetime (as with the Apostle Paul), but at the return of our Savior when all things are made right. The bottom line is that we must see suffering for doing good as better than suffering for doing evil, and follow the example of our Savior.

Which brings us back to:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, (I Peter 3)

POINT: look at how Jesus suffered, not for his own sins, but for our sins, the righteous one suffering for the unrighteous, and with the direct purpose of bringing sinners to God. There is no greater example of someone suffering unjustly than what we have in our Savior, and his suffering for the unrighteous brings us to God where we can learn to be just like him. Since no Worldling can ever act like Jesus, we who can be like Jesus must do so even in suffering, since that is exactly what Jesus did.  

Why is this so important to me in my walk with God today? Because God wants his beloved children to be able to make sense of our unjust suffering so that, instead of us falling into the victim-mindset where every injustice against us immobilizes us from being zealous for good works, we would do the same things as Jesus as he “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”[3]

As Peter tells us later, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”[4] We do this because we are the beloved sojourners and exiles of God, beloved children experiencing “this light momentary affliction,” that, “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”[5] as we keep our eyes on our Savior who is presently preparing the home for us in which we will live forever without any fear of harm ever again.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I Peter 2:11-12
[2] This does not mean that our specific good works are superior to the good works done by Worldlings, but that the good we are seeking in all our good works is the eternal salvation of those who are reaching out to, including the good of seeking the eternal salvation of those who are seeking our harm. Only Jesus’ beloved sojourners and exiles do the kind of good in the world that invites even our worst enemies to be born again into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
[3] I Peter 2:23
[4] I Peter 4:19
[5] II Corinthians 4:17