Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ten things the Church needs

So many of us forget to live our lives to their fullest potential. In a world that is constantly berating us for not living  up to its impossible ideals, its becomes easy to believe  we have nothing to offer those whom live around us.
 And that is completely false. 
 Here are a few things that the world absolutely, unequivocally needs more of from you. 

1. Your passion

The church needs a little bit more of whatever makes your pulse race and your eyes glow and your thoughts speed up to a thousand miles an hour. 
We need more people who are fully, intensely animated,  because they fight the hardest and love the strongest and accomplish the absolute most. 
The profitable servant received this accolade. 
"Enter into the joy of thy lord ... you have been faithful" ... 
he was faithful because they were passionate about what he was doing. 
We excel when we are doingwhatever it is that brings joy to our lives... 
what ever brings joy to your life is your lord ( small L ) it's also the greatest source of your passion. 

2. Your nerve

The church is sourly lacking in risk takers. We need more people who go out on limbs, who aim for their dreams, who fight for what they believe in with a sense of unabashed recklessness; people who stand up for the changes they want to see happen without fear of getting shot down or rejected. 
The world needs a bit more of your nerve because nothing extraordinary has ever been achieved by anyone playing it safe.
Jesus asked nicodemus  "Do you have the courage to be born again? "  
Without nerve your passion is a wasted idle day dream. 

3. Your humor

The church needs more of whatever it is about you that dwells in the absurd. It needs more of your quirks, more of your quandaries, more of your absolutely illogical ponderings. 
We need to be reminded that it’s humor that makes the impossible bearable, so tell us how your humor saved you while you were simply treading water to keep from drowning. 
 That you have found a way to lighten the darkness and that it we can make it too, if we can find this path that you found. 

4. Your vulnerability

The church needs more people who will share their experiences honestly and candidly, regardless of how they are perceived; more people who show up, open up and admit to the realities of the lives that they’re living so that others can learn to do the same. 
We need a greater sense of humanity in the church and we need your vulnerability to do it.
Super hero's  only live in comic books ... the rest of us are made from dirt and are animated by the masters breath. 

5. Your decisiveness

The church doesn’t need another person who cannot decide who they are or what they want or whether or not they deserve the life they’re living. 
The world needs more people who are unafraid to say, “I’m here. This is who I am. And this is how I’m going to live my life.” 
We need more of your bold, unapologetic nature when it comes to the big choices you’re making.
Especially in regards to your faith ... the world needs what we have ... don't be apologetic nor hang your head .  

6. Your compassion

The church needs more of your understanding. 
In a world that sometimes seems to be falling apart at the seams, we need more people who are kind. And honest. And caring. 
People who love rather than hate, giving compassion rather than scorn, and listen rather than preach.
Human kindness costs nothing, but to those who are in need of its, it's value cannot be quantified. 

7. Your intensity

The church  needs more of your focus, your depth and your unwavering concentration on what matters. 
Nobody is going to benefit from a watered-down half-hearted version of you – we need you at your strongest, at your fullest, at your absolute most intense self. 

8. Your exploration

The church needs more of your wonder. It is such a rare thing to reach adulthood and retain a sense of curiosity – a desire to keep exploring and growing beyond the person you are. 
We need more of your unstoppable desire to see more, do more, experience more than everyone else tells you is possible.
When other say it's impossible they are talking about themselves ... you can do it if you'll dare. 
Acts 2:17
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
Part of the divine restoration of His Glory was come come through the lives of those young and old who still dream, imaging and wonder. 

9. Your participation

The church needs more people who show up to their everyday lives and live hard, love hard, try hard, and sometimes fail hard. 
The house of faith is just that, a house of faith.  But participation is what drives an idea from its home of hope to its destination of reality ... if you believe it , water it with your careful care and labor until it blooms into existence. 

10. Your spirit

The church needs more of whatever it is that makes you you – we do not need another Apostle Paul, Peter nor John the Revalator. 
You were uniquely crafted by the masters hand to accomplish something Great ... God will not anoint a fraud so God will not bless you while you try to channel another's calling, personality nor gifting. 
So be yourself and trust God to bless what you are. That's right just be unapologetically you 
10 things the church needs more of all of them start with you. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Conflict escalation

I found this a number of years ago .... it's amazing accurate to the real life situations we often find ourselves walking through ... church, family, business and even nations seem to follow the same pattern.

If you don't need this today you have in the past or you will in the future ...

This conflict escalation model is presented in Friedrich Glasl's book Konfliktmanagement. Ein Handbuch für Führungskräfte, Beraterinnen und Berater, (Bern: Paul Haupt Verlag, 1997. See also the endnotes). Glasl's original analysis of the stages comprises over 70 pages, and my summary does not in any way make full justice to his model. However, this summary has been scrutinized and approved of (with some corrections) by Friedrich Glasl.

Glasl's escalation model is a very useful diagnostic tool for the conflict facilitator, but also valuable as a means for sensitizing people to the mechanisms of conflict escalation. Such sensitizing may lead to a greater awareness of the steps one should take care to avoid if one wants to prevent a conflict from escalating out of control. In a more academic perspective, the model also provides a theory of conflict escalation that emphasizes the situational pressures acting upon people involved in a conflict. Rather than seeking causes in the individuals, the model emphasizes how there is an internal logic to conflict relationships, stemming from the failure of "benign" ways of handling contradictory interests and standpoints. Conscious efforts are needed in order to resist the escalation mechanisms, which are seen as having a momentum of their own.

The first stage of conflict escalation develops when a difference over some issue or frustration in a relationship proves resilient to resolution efforts. The problem remains, and leads to irritation. Repeated efforts to overcome the difficulties fail, which means that the natural flow of shifting concerns is blocked. The parties are repeatedly reminded that in a particular field, they are not getting forward. Interests and opinions crystallize into standpoints, i.e. fixed positions on how a certain issue ought to be handled. These standpoints tend to become mutually incompatible in the perception of the conflict parties.

The standpoints attract adherents, and groups start to form around certain positions, or for and against a certain standpoint. In the next stage these groups are increasingly consolidated into more and more well delimited parties. Boundaries defining who belongs to the inside and the outside become more and more visible. The members of a party develop a shared interpretation of the situation, creating a common selective filter affecting the perception of all relevant information. Members of one party readily pick up negative information about the other party. These pieces of information are given great significance, whereas positive information is not registered. 

Differences between the parties appear more significant than similarities.

The frustrated efforts to overcome the differences lead to development of habitual behavioural patterns for acting in strained situations. When no progress is made, the parties become increasingly aware of the mutual dependencies they cannot evade. 

Interactions with the other side are disappointing, and are perceived as a waste of time and energy. Even though the other party is perceived as stubborn and unreasonable, the persons involved are still committed to try to resolve the differences. However, as the efforts prove fruitless, the parties start to doubt that the counterpart sincerely wants to solve the problems. They may also start suspecting that some ulterior motives may be involved.

The communication between the parties is still based on mutuality: the basic status of the involved persons as responsible human beings is recognized, and one tries to be fair in the interactions.

The treshold to stage 2 is taken when one or both parties lose(-s) faith in the possibility of solving the problems through straight and fair discussions. When straight argumentation is abandoned in favour of tactical and manipulative argumentative tricks, the conflict slips into stage 2.

Since the counterpart doesn't seem amenable to sensible arguments, discussions tend to develop into verbal confrontations. The parties look for more forceful ways of pushing through their standpoints. In order to gain strength, they tend to become increasingly locked into inflexible standpoints. 

The dispute is no longer restricted only to a well-defined issue, but the parties start to feel that their general position is at stake. This means that they divert more and more attention to how they appear: being successful, strong and skilful rather than compliant, insecure and incompetent. Debates are no longer only focussed on which standpoint has more merits, but also on who is most successful in promoting the standpoints, and how the outcomes of the debates affect one's reputation. Accumulating tactical advantages over the counterpart becomes an important concern.

When rational and issue-relevant arguments don't suffice to ensure success, the parties resort to "quasi-rational" argumentation, such as:

Bickering about the underlying causes of the present problems, in order to avoid blame;
Strong exaggeration of the implications and consequences of the counterpart's position, in order to present it as absurd;
Suggestive comments about the relation of the central issue with other concerns, linking the issue to larger value considerations.

Reference to recognized authorities or tradition in order to gain legitimacy for a standpoint;

Stating the alternatives as extremes, in order to get the opponent to accept a "reasonable compromise."
These tactical tricks aim at keeping the counterpart off balance emotionally or at gaining the upper hand in a skirmish. The centre of gravity of the verbal interactions therefore shift from rational arguments towards emotions and relative power issues. The parties can no longer assume that words mean what they seem to mean, but have to look for veiled meanings and consequences. This introduces a strong propensity of mistrust in the relationships. The parties expect each other to try to gain advantages at the other's expense. To the extent that one party succeeds in gaining such advantages, the other is increasingly vexed, and starts looking for ways of compensating for them. Every statement and action gets additional significance, namely in terms of how they affect the reputation and relative position of the actor. It is risky to do something that might look like yielding or weakness, therefore neither side shies away from hard confrontations. Discussions turn into debates, where inflexible standpoints collide with each other. However, at stage 2 the parties are still partly committed to common goals and interests, and tend to vacillate between cooperation and competition.

The growing mistrust creates a sense of insecurity and loss of control. The parties try to compensate for this by an increased emphasis on a self-image as righteous and strong. Aggressive actions serve at this stage mostly to boost self-esteem, and to make an impression on the counterpart. Sincere efforts to control the counterpart belong to later escalation stages.

The frustrating experiences lead to the build-up of tensions, which are often discharged in outbursts. Such acts serve as valves for letting out pressure, but do not involve any real problem-solving. Repeated experiencies of the counterpart lead to the formation of images of typical behaviour patterns. However, these images are not yet as global and as stereotypical as the enemy images of stage 4.

The treshold to stage 3 is related to the basic right of each party to be heard in matters of mutual interest. When one party feels that further talking is useless, and start acting without consulting the other side, the conflict slips into stage 3.

At stage 3, the parties no longer believe that further talk will resolve anything, and they shift their attention to actions. Common interests and the prospect of resuming cooperation recede into the background, and the parties see each other as competitors. The sense of being blocked by the counterpart is paramount, and the dependencies linking oneself to the other part are felt as extremely vexing. The antagonists therefore seek to replace the mutual dependencies with unilateral dependency, in order to be able to dominate the counterpart. 

The most important goal at this stage is to block the counterpart from reaching his goal, and to push through one's own interests.

By unilateral action, the parties hope to force the counterpart to yield, but they would themselves under no circumstances want to be seen yielding for the pressure from the counterpart. Since one can no longer trust what is stated verbally, action and non-verbal communication dominate the course of events. This tends to speed up the escalation process.

Within each party the pressure to conform to a common attitude and a common interpretation increases least one is viewed  as Galatians 2:1
Chapter 2
1 Then after the space of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me. or disloyal. 

 Images, attitudes and interpretations tend to be reduced to the simplest common denominator,  The feeling of unity and shared predicament is strong, further reducing the capacity to relate to the concerns and perspective of the other side. 

Since verbal communication is reduced and untrustworthy, there are few opportunities to get genuine feed-back on the stereotypical images and interpretations the parties make up about each other's patterns of behaviour and presumed intentions. 

Fantasies about possible motives and hidden strategies can develop unchecked.

The feeling of being blocked is further increased by the limited possibility genuine verbal communication. The parties start to see themselves as being held captives by external circumstances they cannot control. They therefore tend to deny responsibility for the course of events. An increasing part of their own actions are regarded as necessary responses to the behaviour of the other side.

The treshold to stage 4 is veiled attacks on the counterpart's social reputation, general attitude, position and relationship to others. "Deniable punishment behaviour" (see below) is a characteristic sign of slipping into stage 4.

At stage 4 the conflict is no longer about concrete issues, but about victory or defeat. Defending one's reputation is a major concern.

The "typicals" that evolved at stage 2 and 3 are now consolidated and complemented into full-blown general and consistent images of the counterpart. 

These images are stereotypical, highly fixed and are very resilient to change through new information. Such images serve an important role in providing a sense of orientation: one has the feeling of knowing what to expect from the environment. Conflict parties start to attribute collective characteristics both to members of the other side and to ingroup members. Individuals are perceived to have certain characteristics (such as unreliability, incompetence, bossiness, etc.) only by virtue of belonging to a specific group.

The negative other-image comprises prejudices and attributions of motives and intentions, but does not yet, as in stage 5, deny the basic moral integrity of the counterpart as someone deserving to be treated justly (see below). The negative images are now screens that occupy the field of vision whenever the parties meet each other. These screens prevent the parties from seeing each other's true complexity and individuality. No side accepts the image presented of them by the other side. The other side's image is vehemently rejected, but at the same time each party tries to get the other side to recognize their own other-image. 

A salient symptom of stage 4 dynamics is the difficulty of the parties to mention any positive qualities of the counterpart when asked by a facilitator. The other side is thought of as uneducable: "Such people are unable to change."

The power of the stereotypes also leads to a subtle pressure on each party to conform to roles assigned to them. It can be very difficult to escape such behaviour expectations. 

Both parties now feel that their behaviour is a reaction to the counterpart's actions and intentions, and don't feel responsible for the further escalation of the conflict.

The interactions are permeated with efforts to find gaps in the behavioural norms in order to inflict harm on the counterpart.

 The rules are adhered to formally, but any opportunity to get away with unfriendly acts are used.

 A typical form of interactions at this stage is "deniable punishment behaviour." The counterpart is provoked, insulted and criticized, but in forms that do not formally infringe on the etiquette. Blows can be dealt through insinuations, ambiguous comments, irony and body language, but the perpetrator can flatly deny that any harm was intended, if challenged. However, since the other party can not respond by openly discussing the incident, retaliatory action is very likely to ensue. The veiled nature of the attacks prevents a dramatic public loss of face (see stage 5).

In this stage, the parties actively try to enlist support from bystanders. 

Actions to enhance one's image in the eyes of others are planned and implemented. The parties also consciously seek to stage their confrontations in public, in order to recruit supporters.

The conflict activities are now focussed on affecting the counterpart and gaining the upper hand in the power struggle, rather than achieving issue-related results. Attacks are made on the identity, attitude, behaviour, position and relationships of the counterpart. The causes of the conflict are no longer seen in terms of incompatible standpoints, but as rooted in the very character of the counterpart.

The treshold to stage 5 is constituted by acts that lead to a public loss of face for one or both parties. 

If the basic honour of someone is offended repeatedly and deliberately, in particular in a public setting, the conflict is highly likely to slip into stage 5.

Do everything with redemption in mind.  Don't ever publicly rebuke ppl .  

The transition to stage 5 is particularly dramatic. The word "face" signifies here the basic status a person has in a community of people. As long as a person is regarded as a respectable citizen, he or she has an intact "face," and is entitled to fair treatment and respect. The "face" is reproduced by the members of a group, by their avoiding any overt actions that challenge the basic status a person has. The "face" is hurt by public events, not by private gossip or individual opinions. Loss of face means that the conflict parties feel that they have suddenly seen through the mask of the other party, and discovered an immoral, insane or criminal inside. The transformation of the image one party hold of the other is radical. It is not an expansion of the old biased image, but is felt as a sudden insight into the true, and very different, nature of the other. The whole conflict history is now reinterpreted: one feels that the other side has followed a consequent and immoral strategy from the very beginning. All their "constructive" moves were only deceptive covers for their real intentions. There is no longer ambiguity, but everything appears clear.

The images and positions the parties hold are no longer regarded in terms of superiority and inferiority, but in terms of angels and devils. One's own side is a representative of the good forces in the world, whereas the other side represents the destructive, subhuman, and bestial forces. The counterpart is no longer only annoying, but an incarnation of moral corruption. A palpable sign of this stage is when a party feels bodily nauseated in the presence of the other. In stage 4, the image of the counterpart was built up of elements depicting the incompetence and the irritating behaviours of the other. In stage 5 the image of the counterpart centers on the moral inferiority attributed to the other. The conflict is no longer about concrete issues, but about the prevalence or not of holy values.

The transformation of the image of the other side drastically increases the role of negative expectations and suspiciousness. All seemingly constructive moves of the counterpart are dismissed as deceptions, while one single negative incident is conclusive proof of the true nature of the other. This leads to a situation where it is extremely difficult to build mutual confidence. The gestures needed for establishing minimal trust in the sincerity of the other side become extreme, and are often felt to be humiliating. For example, in order to prove a sincere constructive intention, one side might be asked to make a public apology for past statements. However, the parties often fear that such concessions would be interpreted as weakness or culpability, and that they would further damage one's public status.

 In this deadlock, denigrating the other side may be the only visible option for gaining a moral upper hand.

Incidents leading to loss of face are usually followed by dedicated attempts by the parties to rehabilitate their public reputation of integrity and moral credibility. Such efforts may now dominate the conflict process. Loss of face, and ensuing retaliatory acts often isolate the conflict parties from bystanders. This may further exacerbate the escalation mechanisms, because the opportunities for getting tempering feedback about the conflict are reduced.

The treshold to stage 6 is felt to be less dramatic than to stage 5. When the parties start to issue ultimata and strategical threats, the conflict enters stage 6.

Since no other way seems to be open, the conflict parties resort to threats of damaging actions, in order to force the counterpart in the desired direction. The strategical threats of stage 6 are very different from the deniable punishment actions characteristic of stage 4. The latter mainly serve the function of giving vent to pent-up frustrations. Strategical threats are actively used in order to force the counterpart to certain concessions.

There are three phases in the increase of issuing strategical threats:

1. The parties issue mutual threats in order to show that they will not retreat. The threatening party wants: (a) to draw attention to themselves and their demands; (b) to demonstrate autonomy and ability to form the agenda; and (c) to get the counterpart to conform with a specific demand or norm by issuing a threat of sanctions.

2. In the next phase the threats are made more concrete, unequivocal and firm. The parties make dedicated statements of self-commitment from which they cannot retreat without losing credibility, in order to enhance the seriousness of their threats.

3. In the third phase, the threats are formulated as ultimata, where the counterpart is forced to an either-or decision.

One consequence of this dynamic is that the parties increasingly lose control over the course of events. By their own actions they create a pressure to act rapidly and radically.

The perception of the situation becomes increasingly out of touch with reality. The threatening party sees only its own demands, and regards the threat as a necessary deterrence in order to block the counterpart from using violence. One expects the other party to yield to the pressure. The threathened party, however, sees the damaging consequences if the threat becomes reality, and rallies to issue a counterthreat. Feelings of being powerless lead to fear and possibly uncontrollable rage.

In this phase, the conflict becomes increasingly complex, difficult to grasp, and impossible to control. By their actions, the parties introduce time pressure on each other's actions, and thereby curtail their possibilities to weigh the consequences of alternative courses of action in a turbulent and chaotic environment. In order to retain some measure of control, each party insists that its own issues and standpoints must be dealt with in exactly the form they have chosen to present them.

The behaviour is to an increasing extent prone to be ruled by panicky impulses. Any action that seems to promise a powerful effect is attractive. In this stage, taking one's grievances to the media is a common occurrence.

Any threat strategy relies on credibility in order to be successful. Parties issuing threats must therefore try to convince the other party and bystanders that the threat is real and serious. In order to enhance the credibility of a threat, one may act so as to bind oneself publicly to execute the threats if the other party does not yield. Public declarations, or smaller doses of aggressive acts may be used to prop up the credibility of a threat. The other party regards this as proof of the aggressive intentions and capabilities of the counterpart, and seeks countermeasures. By binding themselves to threat strategies, the parties heavily restrict their own freedom of choosing alternative courses of action.

A serious risk in stage 6 is that stress, uncontrollable aggressive actions, and increasing turbulence and complexity lead to disintegration of the parties into smaller units acting autonomously. When this happens, not even binding agreements between the main actors may stop the destructiveness.

The treshold to stage 7 is the fear of the consequences that might ensue if the threats are carried out. When the parties actively seek to harm the other side's sanction potential, the conflict transforms to stage 7. Threat strategies only work as long as the parties believe that a threat may act deterring. However, the very internal dynamics of stage 6 drive the parties to translate the threats into action.

The threats of stage 6 undermine the basic sense of security of the parties. Now they expect the counterpart to be capable of very destructive acts. Securing one's own further survival becomes an essential concern. It is no longer possible to see a solution that includes the counterpart. The counterpart is regarded as an impediment that must be eliminated by targeted attacks aiming to maim the other. The counterpart is now a pure enemy, and has no longer human qualities. 

No human dignity stands in the way of the attacks, the enemy is just an object standing in the way. This may go as far as using words like "eliminate" and "exterminate" when discussing what to do.

The attacks target the sanctions potential of the enemy, such as destroying or undermining the counterpart's financial resources, juridical status or control functions. Fear and stress lead to forceful attacks, which are seen as extreme, or at least heavily exaggerated, by the counterpart. The attacks lead to retaliations, often even more destructive. In the frustrated situation, attacks may generate feelings of being powerful and in control, thus giving secondary benefits that reinforce further escalation. The calculation of consequences becomes increasingly skewed: the losses of the counterpart are counted as gains, even though they don't give any benefits whatsoever in terms of one's own interests and needs. The parties may be prepared to suffer losses, if only there are prospects that the enemy will suffer even larger losses.

 Malice may become a powerful motive.

The objectives now revolve around neutralising the firepower of the counterpart, and thereby secure one's own survival. Superiority is sought in order to ensure ability to block the counterpart in a longer-term perspective.

There is no longer any real communication. 

At stage 6 the threat strategies build upon at least a minimum of communication: one must know if the counterpart rejects or accept an ultimatum. In stage 7 each party is only concerned with expressing their own message, and they don't care about how it is received, or what the response might be. Threats followed by immediate interruption of communication is a sign of stage 7 dynamics.

At this stage ethical norms are subsumed under more pressing concerns. At earlier stages the parties exploited gaps in the norms, now they are cast aside if they are bothersome. 

This is war, and normal rules do not apply.

The parties see that it is no longer possible to win. It is a lose-lose struggle. Survival and less damage than the counterpart suffers are the main goals.

The treshold to stage 8 is attacks that are directly aimed at the core of the counterpart, attacks that are intended to shatter the enemy or destroy his vital systems.

At this stage the attacks intensify and aim at destroying the vital systems and the basis of power of the adversary. One may specifically aim at fragmenting the counterpart into ineffectual splinters, and at the ability of the counterpart to make decisions. Negotiators, representatives and leaders may be targeted, in order to destroy their legitimacy and power in their own camp. The system that keeps the counterpart coherent is attacked, hoping that the very identity of the other side will crumble so that it falls apart through its own internal contradictions and inherent centrifugal forces.

When a party is attacked in a way that threatens to shatter it, it is forced to make strong efforts to suppress internal conflicts. This increases the stress and the internal pressure within the parties, and leads to an even stronger pressure to undertake further attacks on the other side. The parties fall apart into factions that fight each other, making the situation completely uncontrollable.

The attacks on the counterpart targets all signs of vitality. The main objective is now to destroy the existence basis of the adversary. The only restraining factor is the concern for one's own survival.

The treshold to stage 9 is reached when the self-preservation drive is given up. When this happens, there is no check at all on further destructiveness.

In the last stage of conflict escalation, the drive to annihilate the enemy is so strong that even the self-preservation instinct is neglected. Not even one's own survival counts, the enemy shall be exterminated even at the price of destruction of one's own very existence as an organization, group, or individual. Ruin, bankruptcy, prison sentences, physical harm, nothing matters any longer.

All bridges are burnt, there is no return. A total war of destruction without scruples and remorse is waged. There are no innocent victims, no neutral parties. The only remaining concern in the race towards the abyss is to make sure that the enemy will fall too.

Glasl's newest book is available in an English edition: Confronting Conflict (Bristol: Hawthorn Press, 1999. ISBN 1 869 890 71X), in which a condensed version of his escalation model is presented and illustrated by two case examples: one conflict in a factory and one in a school. The full version of the conflict escalation model has only been published in German, however. The latest edition of Glasl's Konfliktmanagement (6th edition) was published in 1999.

A review of the Glasl's book was published as:
'F. Glasl: Konfliktmanagement. Ein Handbuch für Führungskräfte, Beraterinnen und Berater, ' review by Thomas Jordan in International Journal of Conflict Management, vol 8:2, 1997, pp. 170-174.

A summary of the escalation model in English, written by Glasl himself, was published as:
GLASL, F. (1982) 'The process of conflict escalation and roles of third parties,' in G. B. J. Bomers and R. B. Peterson, (eds) Conflict management and industrial relations, (pp. 119-140) The Hague: Kluwer Nijhoff Publishing. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Seven Ways to Avoid Worshipping Your Christmas Tree

Thus saith the LORD, learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:2–5, KJV)

Right here in Scripture we see a clear condemnation of the abominable practice of decorating Christmas trees. 

With that in mind, and with Scripture as our guide, here are seven principles you can use to continue decorating your tree, while preventing yourself from inadvertently worshipping it.

1. Know where your tree comes from.
The Bible specifically warned about one who “cutteth a tree out of the forest.” Therefore, you must obtain your tree elsewhere.
You certainly can’t risk buying one from a store. Who knows where those came from?
It’s probably best to just find a tree growing by the side of the road or in your back yard-far from a forest-and cut it down.

2. Cut it down the correct way.
The Bible also talks about pagans cutting down their trees “with the axe.” 

We must eschew this detestable instrument of demolition.

Stick with safer tools like chainsaws or bow-saw. 

Alternatively, you may avoid both of the pitfalls above by simply buying a fake tree.

3. Get a tree that talks and/or moves.
There is yet another advantage to purchasing a fake tree. Some of them come with a built-in speaker, allowing them to “sing” or “talk.” 

This would counteract the warning that trees “speak not.”

Other fake trees are mounted on a base that rotates, thus invalidating the warnings about their being unable to “move” or “go.”

4. Be careful how you mount it.
This is one of the more important warnings. When the pagans get a Christmas tree, “they fasten it with nails and with hammers.” 

We must not do likewise.
Instead of hammers and nails, try using duct tape, glue sticks, or zip ties.

5. Mount it in the correct position.
The tools you use to mount your tree aren’t the only things that matter. The position of the mounted tree is also vitally important.

The Bible warns about trees that are as “upright as the palm tree.” Therefore, your tree should at the very least be mounted at a distinct angle.

But just to be safe, we’d advise mounting it completely sideways from a wall.

6. Decorate it properly.
This is probably the most obvious piece of advice, but it is extremely important. Whatever you do, do not place any gold or silver decorations on your tree!

All other colors should be fine, but there had better not be a scrap of silver tinsel on there!

7. Place presents carefully.
One final obstacle will stand in your way. When placing a present under the tree, you run the risk of accidentally bowing to it. This would be an unacceptable act of pagan worship!
Your best bet is to order presents online. Then, when delivery men show up, have them place the packages directly under the tree themselves. Thus, they will act as scapegoats, averting any wrath away from your own household.
However, you may at times have to place the packages yourself. If that is the case, I would advise holding the present behind you going backward to the tree with it... 

These are the 7 tongue in cheek ways that my family celebrates the Christmas holiday with out violating the letter or the spirit of the text. 😳😱😇😜

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The power of the Gospel in the lives of women.

The hostile anti-Christianity stance of the Women's movement and the recent attention brought by the influx of Islamic cultures has caused me to look at the role of Christianity upon women.

Some feminists charge that Christianity, the Bible, and the Church are anti-female and horribly oppressive to women. Does God really hate women? Did the apostle Paul disrespect them in his New Testament writings? 

In this blog post we’ll be looking at why "Christianity is the best thing that ever happened to women!"

“What would be the status of women in the Western world today had Jesus Christ never entered the human arena? One way to answer this question, is to look at the status of women in most present-day Islamic countries. 

Here women are still denied many rights that are available to men, and when they appear in public, they must be veiled. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, women are even barred from driving an automobile or going to school. Recently one young girls shocking tale came across the airwaves as she was marked for death and narrowly escaped multiple assignation attempts for wanting a high-school education.  Whether in Saudi Arabia or in many other Arab countries where the Islamic religion is adhered to strongly, a man has the right to beat and sexually be unfaithful to his wife, all with the full support of the Koran. . . .

This command is the polar opposite of what the New Testament says regarding a man’s relationship with his wife. Paul told the Christians in Ephesus, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ And he added, ‘He who loves his wife loves himself.’

Jesus loved women and treated them with great respect and dignity. The New Testament’s writings on women developed His perspective even more. The value of women that permeates the New Testament isn’t found in the Greco-Roman culture or the cultures of other societies.

In ancient Greece, a respectable woman was not allowed to leave the house unless she was accompanied by a trustworthy male escort. A wife was not permitted to eat or interact with male guests in her husband’s home; she had to retire to her "woman’s quarters". Men kept their wives under lock and key, and women had the social status of a slave. Girls were not allowed to go to school, and when they grew up they were not allowed to speak in public. Women were considered inferior to men.

The status of Roman women was also very low. Roman law placed a wife under the absolute control of her husband, who had ownership of her and all her possessions. He could divorce her if she went out in public without a veil. A husband had the power of life and death over his wife, just as he did his children. As with the Greeks, women were not allowed to speak in public.

Jewish women, as well, were barred from public speaking. The oral law prohibited women from reading the Torah out loud. Synagogue worship was segregated, with a women never allowed to be heard. No one thought it out of Character when Lot offered his daughter to be abused by the men of Soddom, or when Abraham slept with Hagar, and then stole her child to be raised by himself and Sarah. They were property to be used and dispense as the man saw fit. 

Jesus and Women

Jesus’ treatment of women was very different

The extremely low status that the Greek, Roman, and Jewish woman had for centuries was radically affected by the appearance of Jesus Christ. His actions and teachings raised the status of women to new heights, often to the consternation and dismay of his friends and enemies.

By word and deed, he went against the ancient, taken-for-granted beliefs and practices that defined woman as socially, intellectually, and spiritually inferior.

The humane and respectful way Jesus treated and responded to the Samaritan woman [at the well] (John 4) may not appear unusual to readers in today’s Western culture. Yet what he did was extremely unusual, even radical. He ignored the Jewish anti-Samaritan prejudices along with prevailing view that saw women as inferior beings.

He started a conversation with her—a Samaritan, a woman—and in public.

So we can understand why his disciples were amazed to find him talking to a woman in public. Can we even imagine how it must have stunned this woman for the Messiah to reach out to her and offer her living water for her thirsty soul?

Among Jesus’ closest friends were Mary, Martha and Lazarus, who entertained him at their home. Martha assumed the traditional female role of preparing a meal for Jesus, her guest, while her sister Mary did what only men were allowed to do, sit at Jesus feet and learn from Jesus’ teachings. 

Mary was culturally out of step,  but so was Jesus, because he violated the rabbinic law of his day [speaking to women and educating women].”

When Lazarus died, Jesus comforted Martha with this promise containing the heart of the Christian gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) These remarkable words were spoken to a woman! “To teach a woman was bad enough, but Jesus did more than that. He called for a verbal response from Martha. Once more, he went against the social/religious custom by teaching a woman and by having her publicly respond to him, a man.”

All three of the Synoptic Gospels note that women followed Jesus, a highly unusual phenomenon in first-century Palestine. . . . This behavior may not seem unusual today, but in Jesus’ day it was highly unusual as they were not typically allowed to travel un-chaperoned.   

The first people Jesus chose to appear to after his resurrection were women; not only that, but he instructed them to tell his disciples that he was alive (Matt. 28, John 20). In a culture where a woman’s testimony was worthless because she was worthless, Jesus elevated the value of women beyond anything the world had seen. And he intentionally did it to His male disciples. 

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Paul, Peter, and Women

Jesus gave women status and respect equal to men. Not only did he break with the anti-female culture of his era, but he set a standard for Christ-followers. Peter and Paul both rose to the challenge in what they wrote in the New Testament.

In a culture that feared the power of a woman’s external beauty and feminine influence, Peter encouraged women to see themselves as valuable because God saw them as valuable. His call to aspire to the inner beauty of a trusting and tranquil spirit is staggeringly counter-cultural, even today.

He writes, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.”

Equally staggering is his call to men to elevate their wives with respect and understanding: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

Right standing with God was dependent upon a man being, consideration, respectful, as their wives were fellow heirs. 

These concepts sound good to us, but they were unheard of in the first century!

Paul's teaching are often targeted as being hateful towards women.  But Paul’s teachings on women reflect the creation order and high value God places on women as creatures made in his image. Paul’s commands for husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 provided a completely new way to look at marriage: as an earthbound illustration of the spiritual mystery of the union of Christ and His bride, the church.

He calls wives to not only submit to their husbands as to the Lord, but he calls husbands to submit to Christ also. (1 Cor. 11:3). He calls men to love their wives in the self-sacrificing way Christ loves the church. In a culture where a wife was property, and a disrespected piece of property at that, Paul elevates women to a position of honor previously unknown in the world.

Paul also provided highly countercultural direction for the New Testament church. In the Jewish synagogue, women had no place and no voice in worship. The church, on the other hand, was a place for women to pray and prophecy out loud (1 Cor. 11:5). The spiritual gifts—supernatural enablings to build God’s church—are given to women as well as men. Older women are commanded to teach younger ones. The invitation to women to participate in worship of Jesus was unthinkable—but true

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there had never been such another. A prophet and teacher who never devaluated them, who  never ignored them, who never made them feel like a object for male dominance and sexual gratification, who took them as he found them and left them completely unselfconscious.

This is the truth of the Gospel, Jesus loves women. 

Effects of Christianity on Culture

As Christianity spread throughout the world, its redemptive effects elevated women and set them free in many ways. The Christian ethic declared equal worth and value for both men and women. Husbands were commanded to love their wives and not provoke their children. These principles were in direct conflict with ancient institution of male dominance, which gave a man absolute power of life and death over his family, including his wife. 

The biblical view of husbands and wives as equal partners caused a sea change in marriage as well. Christian women started marrying later, and they married men of their own choosing. This eroded the ancient practice of men marrying child brides against their will, often as young as eleven or twelve years old. 

This practice is still the "Norm" in Cultures that have rejected the tenets of the gospel. 

Today, a Western woman is not compelled to marry someone she does not want, nor can she legally be married as a child bride. 

Another effect of Christianity was its impact on the common practice of polygamy, which demeans women. Many men, including biblical heroes, have had multiple wives, but Jesus made clear this was never God’s intention. Whenever he spoke about marriage, it was always in the context of monogamy. He said, “The two [not three or four] will become one flesh.” As Christianity spread, God’s intention of monogamous marriages became the norm.

As a result of Jesus Christ and His teachings, women in much of the world today, especially in the West, enjoy more privileges and rights than at any other time in history. 

Next time you hear Hilary or the militant feminist, talk about the repression of the Gospel,  take a cursory mental trip to an Arab nation or to a Third World country to see how little freedom women have in countries where Christianity has had little or no influence. 

The Gospel is the the best thing that ever happened to a man or a women.