Tag Archives: Spiritual Abuse

Quick Review: Families Where Grace is in Place

One of the most timely books I’ve read in a while is Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen.  I enjoy VanVonderen. Quite a while ago I was deeply ministered to by his book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse in a season where I was observing a lot of spiritually abusive dynamics and tactics in some of my environments. This book on grace in the family was just as refreshing and significant.

I’ve read a few books in the last few years related to marriage and family and this has vaulted to the top for me I think so far. Some of it may be timeliness in that we are under a year from having teens in our household, but it’s more that VanVonderen grounds an approach to marriage and parenting…and really all developmental relationships in the foundational truths of the gospel and the need for grace for true change to take place.

Today there are so many ways Christians especially rationalize their legalism, shaming, and performance approach to parenting, leadership, and any exercise of authority roles. This book shines a spotlight on what does not pass the grace test and what truly reflects leadership under the Lordship of Christ. It’s convicting and even painful at points as the book fosters self-evaluation according to shame or grace-based approaches in relationships. But it offers hope and life that is grounded not in methods or control, but in love and the life of Christ as the source of all life and all authentic change.

The author uses a couple acronyms that are helpful – C.U.R.S.E. and T.I.R.E.D. to capture the reality of parenting and exercise of authority in relationships that reflect the core patterns of sin in Genesis 3. You can read the book to do a deeper dive on those – but it’s well worth it 🙂

As I’ve been researching more and more stuff related to shame, the more I’m convinced we need to ground everything we do in authentic, grace-based relationships in which the truth is allowed to do its work to heal and restore rather than harm, hurt, put down, or belittle. But sadly that is not the case for many marriages, families, and churches. This is what we are trying to prioritize in our development right now as parents and it’s been life and hope giving as well as healing in some regards as well.

 

The Praying Prophet

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

Several years ago I started a blog series called prophets vs. posers and I’ve been wanting to add to it since this summer with the following post.

A while back I was in the midst of a difficult environment.  There were blatant abuses of power, silencing of women, and a host of other things and dysfunctions driving the culture of this context.   I was able to see and discern what was at the heart of many an injustice, but yet was not in a position to do anything about it.

The weight of seeing, but being powerless to act was starting to get to me.  I believe a main difference between pure gifts of discernment and prophetic functioning rests in the drive or innate calling to act (which usually involves speech specifically).  Being powerless and without a voice when seeing injustice or abuse of power works against the grain of one who has been made to act or speak out.

It was in the midst of struggling with the tension of having vision, yet being powerless that I was blessed with some of the greatest wisdom I’ve ever received from a friend and mentor.  It has shaped my life for many years now and changed both the way I see and the way I handle situations in which roads to action and opportunities for speech are closed.

My friend suggested that maybe having gifts in this area lend themselves just as much to intercession, maybe more so, than others.  I think intercessory prayer can look different and many are gifting in praying for people in a caring or shepherding type of manner.  But my friend suggested that perhaps there was a different ministry of intercession that existed for those who see injustice and can recognize when only a work of the Lord can change hearts among those who can influence outcomes.

It makes sense doesn’t it?  Who else could pray in the face of the subtle glimpses into the dark side of leadership that works its way into how people go about their business and relationships besides those who have been uniquely gifted to see some of those things beneath the surface and recognize the sometimes not so obvious ways in which people are in bondage, being silenced or manipulated either by others or their own dysfunction?

I believe those who have prophetic gifting expose themselves as authentic prophets or posers through the degree to which they are interceding in prayer for their “systems” or contexts.  To see brings a responsibility.  Sometimes action is possible and required.  But in all moments of “seeing”, prayer is vital.  Prophets who are posers do not pray. They act out of their own instincts and self-interest.

Those who steward God-given prophetic gifts to identify injustice or wrongs and speak into them,  first and foremost need to be using their spiritual vision to pray. Here is some of the fruit of the praying prophet:

1.  Praying tests one’s own heart and lets the Spirit rid one of any temptation for self-righteous action or judgment.

2. Praying softens one’s heart towards the people that are being oppressed or hurt or silenced.  Prayer keeps the focus on the community implications of such dynamics on real people and not just about “what’s right or wrong.”

3.  Praying softens one’s heart towards the perpetrator’s of injustice.  Whether it is through personal sin, controlling policies, abusive behavior, or just general power tripping – prayer guides the prophet to the place of compassion for his “enemy” (a fair analogy for historical tension especially between prophet & king) in the battle for what most honors God.  Prayer is perhaps the only place that can guard the prophet from seeing those in power as evil themselves sometimes. Prayer, over that which is seen, guards the prophet from developing a hard heart towards often very fragile and limited people doing foolish and hurtful things for their own self-preservation.

4. Prayer leads to dependence on divine intervention to transform whole communities and systems.  The only people that would think to pray about the whole underlying fabric of one’s leadership culture and power structures are those who have the vision and sight to see them for what they are in the first place.

This is the ministry of prophetic intercession. If the prophets don’t pray for what often only the prophets can see in the first place – well there’s no one else who will!  And injustice, injustice at all levels, needs first and foremost a concerted focus of God’s power released through passionate and praying people who see.

Personally, I don’t consider myself I prophet. But I do tend to function this way in community.  Yet while I have long been aware of gifts in discernment and truth speaking, I never used to consider myself as having a unique calling to prayer outside of a normal prayer life.  Thanks to my friend many years ago, that  has changed.  I don’t consider myself a “prayer warrior”, but in some ways I have become much more of one now that I recognize some of how God has uniquely positioned me sometimes to be praying for things that not many others will be mobilized to be praying for.

I sometimes see things that not everyone sees.  That leads me to pray prayers that not everyone else is praying.  Those prayers are vital to God’s work of redeeming situations.  Those prayers are also important to my ongoing transformation and growth in the Lord through these situations. This is the gift of prophetic intercession. If we function prophetically but fail to embrace this calling that is foundational to our actions then we miss maybe the most important part of how God truly wants to use us in any given situation.

I’m grateful for this offering of wisdom and discernment from my good friend for its impact on my life and I’m thankful for the opportunity to pass this nugget on to anyone who has taken the time to have read this.

Can you relate at all? 

Are you a leader who sees?  Does your seeing lead to praying?

 

Quick Review: The No A-hole Rule

Sorry for some of the saltiness in this post, but it’s hard to get around given that the book I’m posted a quick review on is called The No A$$hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert Sutton.

For convenience I’ll use the phrase “Jerks” for those who may not be comfortable with the colorful language used.   This book was referred to me a while back and after a few years I’m finally getting to it. I wished I had read it at the time it was referred to me! But alas – still very helpful.

In short – the book is about guarding against bullying, abuse, and demeaning behavior in the workplace.  The author poses a general two-fold test to determine jerks in the workplace.  First – do they consistently leave others feeling demeaned and de-energized, and second – do their ‘victims’ usually have less power and social standing.  This definition appropriately describes this book as being about how to navigate the overt enemies of servant leadership – whether they know it or not.

Sutton differentiates between being a “temporary jerk” and a “certifiable jerk.”  Temporary jerks can learn from their moments of bad behavior and change and in general don’t relate to others in abusive or demeaning ways.  Certifiable jerks exert their power over others in damaging ways as a way of life and sometimes they may not realize it.   It’s also helpful that he differentiates jerks from people that may lack some social skills or may in general come off a little gruff but in reality are big hearted folks past initial impressions.  So just because some initial impression may want to label someone a jerk doesn’t mean it is true.

Sutton gives some great research and case studies that illustrate some of the dynamics involved and the impact upon employee and company performance.  There’s fantastic examples of jerks in the workplace along with helpful tips for navigating these types of people, supervisors, or workplaces.

This book could be a “business version” of another book I’ve reviewed and recommended over the years – “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” which explores organizational abuse in a spiritual or congregational context.  If someone is in a hard working environment and dealing with hard people – these would be books I would recommend to helping them navigate their reality.

I don’t want to conclude without a few words on this topic as it relates to ministry – my general context of work and life.  There are jerks in ministry.  Sutton’s definition helps draw them out with more clarity so that we’re not hamstring by pictures of jerks or abusers as only being angry rageaholics.   There are people who kiss up to the people above them and kick down people below them.  There are people who power up on people in all sorts of ways that demean, discourage, and dis-empower others in the name of control, insecurity, vanity, or narcissism.  Oftentimes the people above these people in the organization never now because their behavior towards those higher is so different.  But the principle that is often cited is that the true measure of one’s character is by how they treat others who are less powerful and lower status  or who they can gain no clear advantage from.

There’s a lot of great content and material in this book.  As a Christian and minister, there’s a higher calling than just making sure we all aren’t surrounded by jerks, but this is a helpful resource for equipping people to discern what environments and people need to be avoided if needed and what things can help us survive if we do find ourselves trapped in environments where power is being used to exploit and demean – even if it is done with a smile, or with spiritual overtones, or with hierarchical justification.

I fully agree with the author – life is too short to give people that kind of power over our well being if we can help it.

 

Satire on Abuse of Authority

Just for the record, I don’t typically post cartoons just because I think they’re funny.  Although I would feel the freedom to do that too.I include things that relate to some of the themes of this blog and Dilbert frequently illustrates many of my favorite themes – leadership ethics, systems dynamics, and other things.  The following is a classic portrayal of the abuse of authority with it’s crazymaking nature.Frequently leaders don’t understand that they are actually having an abusive impact on others when that is what is going on.  We’re not all bad people, but we don’t always know our impact.  When they get backlash, then in their minds obviously it’s their fault and they focus on the appropriateness of the reactions as opposed to the grievous offenses that started the cycle.A more common dynamic here is when someone gives you feedback and instead of listening to the feedback and learning from it you chastise the person for not giving the feedback right.  That’s oppressive behavior and it’s even more so the more power you have.

Image Management and the Brood of Vipers

Just to mix it up and add some fresh perspective I’m using The Message along with the usual translations as I study the Bible. I went back to Matthew 3 today and really enjoyed my time. Here are some of what I observed and took away from Matthew 3.

1. The first thing that jumped out to me is how many people were going to see John the Baptist and be baptized by him. The literal translations say something to the effect of “Jerusalem, Judea, and the districts of the Jordan went out…” Peterson says “People poured out” of those places (v. 5). There was considerable spiritual angst and buzz going on before Jesus even launched his ministry. Seems like everybody had to be a part of it. I wonder what was drawing these people out to the Jordan River in masses? Was John’s message about the Kingdom of God really tapping into latent Messianic expectations?

2. I’m perhaps most fascinated today by the fact that both the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to be a part of it and “get baptized.” The question in my mind, “Why were these leaders heading out to experience what John was doing? John the Baptist gives us a clue that their motives are not pure, which I’ll hit in #3. But here is my take on why these leaders went out to the Jordan River – image management and anxiety.

These guys must have been anxious. Everybody was buzzing about John the Baptist and his proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand. The fact that everybody was pouring out of the cities and towns to experience John the Baptist must have caused these leaders concern. After all, they had the power over all the spiritual activity and all of sudden they aren’t the ones people are listening to. Besides the anxiety over the loosening of their influence over the people, I think these guys went out there to put on a show and preserve their credibility and status in the eyes of the masses.

Peterson’s translation indicates that they were out there because this “was the thing to do,” but I’m not sure that really captures all of what’s going on. I don’t they just wanted to experience it like everyone else. I believe they needed go out there to keep up appearances that they were still relevant, still on top of all of what’s going on under their “jurisdiction.”3. John immediately drops a bomb on these leaders called them, “you brood of vipers.” This is a phrase that Jesus himself uses later in Matthew so “brood of vipers” must have been a thematic accusation towards the religious establishment. A lot of people see this lingo and simply assume that these people are just deceptive, but I’ve come across some good thoughts on what this language may speak to.In

These guys must have been anxious. Everybody was buzzing about John the Baptist and his proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand. The fact that everybody was pouring out of the cities and towns to experience John the Baptist must have caused these leaders concern. After all, they had the power over all the spiritual activity and all of sudden they aren’t the ones people are listening to. Besides the anxiety over the loosening of their influence over the people, I think these guys went out there to put on a show and preserve their credibility and status in the eyes of the masses. Peterson’s translation indicates that they were out there because this “was the thing to do,” but I’m not sure that really captures all of what’s going on. I don’t they just wanted to experience it like everyone else. I believe they needed go out there to keep up appearances that they were still relevant, still on top of all of what’s going on under their “jurisdiction.”

3. John immediately drops a bomb on these leaders called them, “you brood of vipers.” This is a phrase that Jesus himself uses later in Matthew so “brood of vipers” must have been a thematic accusation towards the religious establishment. A lot of people see this lingo and simply assume that these people are just deceptive, but I’ve come across some good thoughts on what this language may speak to.

In The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, the authors point out that vipers were small snakes, often looking like sticks or twigs. Often people would get bit while picking up firewood a la Paul in Acts. Also, vipers multiplied quickly and gravitated towards cool and damp environments like caves – places where people would look for shelter from the dangers of the desert. They emphasize that this imagery reflects the indictment towards these leaders that they use their authority and position to prey on the vulnerable that are under their influence. If that’s true, that’s an intense rebuke offered by John. John basically calls them out for being part of the problem and tells them that they have “no where to run to” spiritually speaking because their ethnic heritage wasn’t going to give them any status in God’s Kingdom at all. The Kingdom of God flows from what’s going on in the heart into action and image-driven niceties aren’t where it’s at.

These are just a few thoughts on Matthew 3 and while they’re not very polished I hope they spark your thought about what was driving and motivating the religious establishment here and what were Jesus and John’s primary indictment of them as spiritual leaders.