Archive for August, 2015

The 1987 movie Princess Bride includes this conversation between the Albino and the hero of the story, Westley inside the Pit of Despair:

Pit-of-Despair-wordsWestley: Where am I?
The Albino: [raspy voice] The Pit of Despair! Don’t even think…
[clears throat]
The Albino: … don’t even think about trying to escape. The chains are far too thick. Don’t dream of being rescued, either; the only way in is secret. Only the Prince, the Count, and I know how to get in and out.
Westley: So I’m here till I die?
The Albino: Until they kill you, yeah.
Westley: Then why bother curing me?
The Albino: Well, the Prince and Count always insist on everyone being healthy before they’re broken.
Westley: So it’s to be torture?
The Albino: [nods enthusiastically]
Westley: I can cope with torture.
The Albino: [shakes head enthusiastically]
Westley: Don’t believe me?
The Albino: You survived the Fire Swamp, so you must be very brave, but no one withstands The Machine.

Unfortunately, few of us would cope with the pit of despair with as much nonchalance as Westley. For most of us, the pit of despair is a dark place where there’s no humour. American author Erwin McManus said: “I realize that I live on the bubble of insanity. I feel the weight of human suffering, loneliness and despair on me all the time. It’s not getting easier; if anything, it’s always right on the edge of my skin.”

The Bible is a book that addresses life as it really is: There is the story of Elijah who experienced one of the high points of his career, then the next minute is sitting under a Broom Tree in deep depression. Jonah was another who hid away in deep depression, once again, after he had experienced a high point in his career.

The interesting thing is that in neither case did God accuse these men or blame them for their situation. In fact  Elijah’s case he fed him and allowed him to sleep – perhaps aware that one of the solutions to despair is simply dealing with the physical need for food and rest.

But for my part the Apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he described the groaning of creation, a great picture of that pit of despair. Paul then goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit goes down into that pit of despair with us and, when we don’t know what to say to God, groans with us.

In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will.

It’s a great encouragement to me to know that no matter how deep we go into that pit, God looks on us with compassion, he enters the pit with us and leads us out in hope.

Advertisements

384927-slim-dustyIf you’ve been around country music in Australia for any length of time you’d be familiar with Slim Dusty. His career as a country music entertainer spanned nearly seven decades. One of his early songs went like this:

And the biggest disappointment in the family was me
The only twisted branch upon our good old family tree
I just couldn’t be the person they expected me to be
And the biggest disappointment in the world was me

Why do people think like that? Why would we tell ourselves that we’re a disappointment to our loved ones? Why would we listen to the little voice in our heads that says we’re inadequate, we’re not good enough, we’re a failure?

It’s something called shame.

Brene Brown did a great TED Talk on the subject of shame, and she called it the swampland of the soul. I think we all get affected by shame at some stage, but for some people shame has led to addictions, violence and even suicide. Shame is that voice inside our heads that says, you’re not good enough, and it eats away at you and leaves you feeling worthless.

Some people will tell you the way to overcome shame is to improve your self-esteem, but I want to suggest something else. You see, one of the big issues with shame is around identity. People need to find some sense of identity and it’s usually shame that holds them back. They begin to believe the voice that says they’re no good – and that becomes their identity.

In an earlier post I quoted veteran biker John Smith’s book, Busting the Myth of Self Esteem, in which he argued that the western approach to self esteem has led to us thinking that the purpose of life is to find ourselves, but that there is actually something more: the search for meaning and purpose beyond ourselves.

There’s a guy we read about in the Bible called Paul who was an accessory to murder and was known as a violent person. He had a radical conversion to Christianity and over time wrote some significant letters that make up a large part of the New Testament in the Bible.

If anyone should have experienced shame it’s Paul because of his past experiences, but he said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone. But he also said this: For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. Now that sounds like a statement of shame, but then he goes on: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

That was a pretty significant statement of identity: By the grace of God I am what I am. Here was a man who overcame shame and discovered his identity in Jesus Christ.

But he also had this to say: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. That’s a pretty significant statement too.  Why would we condemn ourselves when the creator of the universe has promised us that he loves us so much he sent his son Jesus to die for us, in order to bring us into a right relationship with himself.

In those moments when you doubt yourself, or worse, you actually tell yourself that you’re no good, remember Paul, an accessory to murder, who learnt that his identity was rock solid when he allowed Jesus to change his life.

You can download or hear my message to Maida Vale Baptist Church on shame here.

chin_stateA year ago I wouldn’t have known there was a place called Chin State. I am now aware that Chin State is a mountainous state that is home to the Chin ethnic group in Western Myanmar (Burma). It is the poorest of 14 regions in Myanmar and the most remote. Since the end of July, much of western Myanmar has been hit by monsoon rains that have left hundreds of thousand people homeless.

Late last year the Perth Chin Baptist Church commenced a special relationship with Maida Vale Baptist Church, making use of our facilities in High Wycombe. As a result I have become more aware of this amazing group of people, many of whom lived in refugee camps before making a new home in Australia.

The news media has been silent, to a large degree, on the disaster in Chin State, but Chin people around the world have been united to try and get much needed assistance to their families. Take a look at this short video from the Chin community of Indiana in the United States.