Thursday, March 19, 2015

Breaking Up Concrete

Today, 2015, I love Jesus. I understand and know his love for me more than I ever have in my life. I experience the presence of Jesus, personally, in my life every day as he provides my strength and my courage and my hope. He shows himself to be a faithful friend indeed. Jesus is the friend of sinners. I have experienced this in so many ways over so many years.

And if you asked me today what I believe is the most important and the very highest priority of life my answer would be different today than in years past. Today I believe the most important and wonderful thing we have to do in this life is to know and understand and love others, know and understand and love ourselves and know and understand and love God. We are to love God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our strength and all of our soul! And we are to love others as we love ourselves. And I believe this will be our primary work when we get to heaven.

But I have not always known Jesus’ love or experienced his love or believed that knowing Jesus and knowing others and knowing myself was important. I have had to work hard at knowing and understanding this, and living this.

My wife once described my life as she observed it. She believes the effect of abuse in my early life was like placing a heavy layer of concrete over my heart and mind; over my entire life really. And the work I did in the years of healing went a long way toward blasting that concrete into smaller pieces and removing it from my heart. But the blasting took much longer than just the years I spent in organized formal healing therapy. In her loving and careful way my wife has expressed the reality that, like a broken dish, the cracks in my foundation may never completely heal. But with God’s help I can learn to be a good life manager and learn to live a full life even though the cracks may always be there.

The very fabric of my heart was stained from the abuse and the lies of my father. The washing and cleaning of my heart has taken most of my life. It is possible for me even to this today to suddenly realize I have just been living the last few weeks or days of my life under the subtle influence of some early mistreatment or lie. And then I will finally sense the presence of the poison and have to break up more concrete and cry my way back out of some dark place back to the light of life. The great part is that once I realize what is happening I know I can do the work to get out of that place.

These experiences may be categorized as spiritual warfare, the normal on-going struggle of living a life with Christ and fighting back against the effects of our mortal enemy. But at times it is more than just struggling with normal day to day battles. Sometimes I realize the quiet presence of steely cold fingers tightening their grip around my neck and cutting off my ability to breathe freely again. And I have to fight back. What I do is immerse myself in the truth of the love of my Jesus. I have to get to sections of His word firmly in my mind. I have to choose to immerse my mind in his love. I search out music that describes his love and care or his splendor and glory and power and hide myself away in quiet solitude. I stay there waiting until his precious love and magnificence gives me the strength of heart to break back through the cold concrete and warms my heart. I wait until He reminds me of his love and faithfulness again. Joy returns and with it strength, wondrous strength and peace that defy any circumstance.

This has been a fight of mine for years. In earlier years my fight was focused on getting myself to understand that God was not my mortal enemy. That was actually a huge battle for me because of what my father repeatedly taught us as children. I had to learn that the Lord is in fact a faithful friend, a friend who was working wonders in my life before I ever knew he was there, and who has not stopped doing good continually for me. I had to fight to understand that God was not going to crush me or annihilate me or turn me into a grease spot. Now these battles seldom surface anymore. I see this as amazing proof of how far the Lord has brought me in my healing.

Later the fight turned to focus on the truth of God’s love for me, his desire to have a close, intimate relationship with me. This fight included things like believing he was not standing next to me ready to clobber me when I made a mistake. And the fight included my learning to believe that he was not condemning me at my points of greatest weakness.

I had to learn that God was near to me and desired me to turn to him in my weakness and failure; learn not to hide from him. I mean if things were going good and I was rolling along pretty well feeling safe and secure in my relationship with God, I did not want to admit when I would come upon some confusion or difficulty, or heart pain, or that I may have made a mistake. Then I would have to break through more concrete and work at getting back to the place of knowing and being assured again that nothing I could do would cause God to turn away from me and abandon me.

Part of the breaking of concrete includes breaking through shame.

Do you remember in other blogs we’ve said that guilt is what we fill when we have done something wrong, but shame is the feeling that we are wrong and bad?

Part of this work involves me rushing into a flurry of activity to pore over the Holy Scriptures to find passages to remind me and reassure me of who God is. And that he still loves me. When I feel that sense of shame coming over me I want to do something about it. For some of us the shame triggers cause us to even feel things in our bodies . . . dry mouthed, heart racing, heat rising up in our faces. Or for some of you it’s a sense of dread or dirtiness or helplessness. Or a myriad of other things that are our reminders that we are feeling as if we ourselves are bad. And we really do need to find ways to fight against this and regain our sense that we are valuable people.

The breaking up of concrete in my life has meant continuing to work on overcoming the dynamics of abuse, even after the main abuse has been resolved in formal therapy. The fabric of my soul is so saturated with the effects of early abuse that it simply takes on-going work that presents itself at the oddest moments. For me, often the latest round of work only becomes obvious after the battle has subsided and I get in touch with the emotion of what I have just been through . . . again. Then I break down in tears again, strength returns and I come back out fighting the good fight to hold onto the truth even stronger, standing up against the lies in my soul.

You know I sometimes liken the challenge of healing from long-term abuse like that of healing from a difficult cancer surgery. At the moment the surgeon comes out to the waiting room and says the cancer has been removed is almost when the healing really begins. And the person has to recover from the procedure itself but all the atrophy of muscle and tissue, the loss of strength and coordination and the return of normal body weight and function. Sometimes it takes a very long time. And that can happen for victims of abuse, too. Our main therapy for the biggest issues is indeed a triumph of will and of bravery to face all the issues, but it is like a cancer being removed. The person has SO much ground to recover after all the years of loss of the normal activities they never did.

Victims of abuse and other trauma, whether physical or emotional, carry with them the feeling of fear that we feel within our bodies as a tight wire of hyper-vigilance.

As a child, whenever I was going about my business in a normal manner and in the moment, I was most vulnerable. I say this because you would think that in the going about of your normal daily activities you would feel pretty safe. Whenever my father found me in one of those moments, he invariably found reason to find fault and punish me. Of course this was my perception, as the one being abused. I think my father had so little skill in relationship building that the only thing he felt comfortable doing was being in the one-up role of instructor, coach and critiquer. My father had no sense of what it meant to nurture and praise and respect a child for the good things he was doing along his journey.

The closest positive analogy I have of my father is that of a drill sergeant. I think my father almost had that perception of his role with us. He thought if he ever let up on his string of abuse and criticism that we would lose the motivation to keep doing things well. My father had so little sense of the normal motivations of a child’s heart it’s just astounding to me, even now. What my father ended up doing in my life was crushing my heart. Nothing that made me happy was really mine or safe around him. Everything I valued was subject to confiscation or destruction. Maybe the drill sergeant analogy is a pretty apt one.

I went to the store by myself when I was five years old because a ring in the five-cent machine had caught my eye. (Today it would be a dollar or more). I helped myself to a nickel out of my mother’s purse and walked over to the store by myself. When I returned home my mother and father were just heading out the back door to come find me. I had no idea this would be a problem. They had already begun asking me to go shopping for them when they needed something. It seemed a natural thing for me to do . . . go to the store. It was only four blocks away. So what if I was only 5 years old. But my father took the ring and crushed it under his foot while I stood and watched, then gave me a beating. Thankfully for me at that age he was still only beating us with his leather strap instead of the oak mattock handle.

I brought this feeling of impending doom that went along with my father crushing us in soul, body and spirit with me into early adolescence and into my teen years. If ever I felt that I was a little bit secure and on the right track, either I did something to sabotage myself or circumstances set me back. When I was seven years old my father told me to shine his shoes. I plunged myself into this task with my normal intensity and frantic furry. But I hit upon some confusion. I could not tell if his shoes were black or brown. I looked at them and looked at them. I literally agonized over this issue for 30 minutes, knowing if I took much longer I would get beaten for not having his shoes shined in time. In my confusion I could not ask for help. God forbid I would draw any kind of negative attention to myself! Abused children simply cannot risk this!

So I finally decided the shoes were black and I polished them with black shoe polish. Problem! They were not brown or black. They were some unique color I had never heard of and they were to be polished with the clear polish. Oh but I did not know clear polish existed! I had never seen clear polish. No one told me there was clear polish. But I got beaten anyway because I polished the shoes with the wrong polish. I dug the hole in my heart to hide away even deeper.

For me, my life was a feeling that when things are going okay, I must be especially careful to not mess it up. I have to be more watchful of anything that might derail me. I learned to focus on the things that might go wrong rather than living in the moment of things going right. It felt way too risky to enjoy the small pleasures of the moment because to let my guard down risked me getting hurt even worse. And this vigilance is easy to bring forward into your adult life even after your abuse. Well, unless you break up some concrete!

Many who have been abused or brutalized carry with them similar effects. Some call it a nagging stressful anxiety while others call it a hopelessness or despair. Some are paralyzed by it; others choose to face it with courage. But to even attempt to go from the paralysis takes great acts of courage!

For those who face their abuse with courage, there is hope. But the effects of abuse have to be faced again and again. More concrete appears and must be jack-hammered away. There is much concrete and very little sun shining into the heart initially. Eventually more and more sun gets through as the concrete is broken up. Here is what some of the concrete consists of:

Void of Trust - As abused children we were hurt by others who destroyed our trust and took from us childhood’s most precious gift—innocence. If you struggle to define trust then try to define the opposite of trust . . . If you live in “Normal Land” that may be hard for you to do. It may sound like some mental exercise or a game. But for the abused person the opposite of trust would be the visceral feeling abused children carry in their soul. They can’t define it, they can’t talk about it, but it just is!

As a very young boy I was so upset one day wanting my mother and she was not available to me. As usual! I tried everything I could to get her attention. Still failing I flung myself down under the staircase to hide, and hope for her attention; the magical thinking of a little boy. When at last my mother found me under the stairs, as she approached, I stormed out the back door of our house because I was overcome with the hurt and loneliness of having been left so long under that stairwell. I announced ‘I’m leaving this place!” My mother followed me grabbed me and spanked me and told me I was going nowhere. My mother didn’t stop that day to find out what was going on in a little boy’s heart that would make him say he wanted to leave his home.

Perhaps that would have been fine if she had remained with me for even five minutes just to connect with her little boy, but she was off again nowhere to be found. I was left again with no safe harbor in the storm and no assurance within my heart that anyone would ever be there when I needed someone. To date I have no idea how often I have replayed this conflict out in my life of needing someone in some situation but not being able to trust they will be there, not being able to reach out for help. I pretty much go it alone in life. Perhaps I still have big chunks of concrete to break through that lay over parts of my heart keeping it locked in darkness. Sometimes I grow tired of finding just one more chuck of concrete that has to be demolished in order to just live a normal life.

Silence - As abused children we were coerced to be a part of the conspiracy that entrapped us in the abuse, and hid it from those who could help us. We were silenced by force. The last thing we would dream of doing is reaching out for help from someone who could actually help. Isn’t that sad? My father mocked the very people we would think to reach out to (police, teachers, other adults) thereby ensuring we would not think of them as a resource in our time of need. The concrete over this part of our heart seems to grow back even thicker as we try to use the sledge hammer in this section of concrete, and requires re-breaking again and again. Shame grows best in silence and healing comes from telling our stories in a safe place.

Hyper Compassion - As abused children many of us have within our hearts a complete aversion to harming others, for the golden rule is emblazoned on our hearts by the abusive parent as they live out a double standard right before our eyes. We never want anyone to feel what we felt. And when we do lash out, we are appalled at ourselves and want never to do it again. The sad thing is some of us have become comfortable with the language of the abuser and we have to work hard to get their vocabulary out of our language because their actions are NOT in our hearts! But we carry the guilt of our transgressions and are less forgiving of ourselves than we are of those who abused us. Doesn’t that seem an incredible shame? We have been brutalized sometimes but we end up taking out our broken emotions on ourselves.

Because we will not willfully harm another, we are often seen as weak. Others often lord it over us or take advantage of us. But I know many of you are fully aware that anyone can hurt and badger and abuse smaller, younger, and more vulnerable people. That is NO sign of strength. There is a Proverb that says “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” You can see from this that God puts a very high priority on controlling ourselves. God doesn’t just say it isn’t weak, he says it is a bigger deal than capturing a city. Anybody compare your self-controlled, loving behavior to that of being a mighty general in its impact? Well God does…

On the playground at the grade school I used to stand against the outside of the brick building at the point where two walls come together. I would press myself into the corner and watch the children play. It felt safe for a few moments and assured that no one would come up behind me or blind side me with pain. My teachers thought I was shy. It never crossed my mind to say anything. I thought all the children felt the same way I felt. What I was then was a child who had just had the stuffing knocked out of him when it came to confidence. Can you imagine trying to keep the average kid from having something to say? Well, we abused kids did not have that privilege. My hope for many of you is that you have gained your voice as an adult, or are in the process of doing that right now…

Powerless - As abused children we can feel powerless because we are kept powerless by a system of false beliefs that we’ve accepted as truth. These beliefs may be imposed on us by others; they are born of our fears and self-condemnation; they have the potential of keeping us small and helpless. Concrete of this type permeates and covers every inch of our heart.

Warzone - As abused children we were born into a warzone, whether it was a household in Middle America, a shanty in India, a warzone in Asia or a brothel in Indonesia. We did not choose the abuse, the disease, the bombs or to be kidnapped and sexually abused. Others outside our control heaped it upon us. We had no choice where we were born but born we were. Instead of a loving, caring, nurturing environment—something all people must have to be healthy and happy—we were born into misery and despair.

False Expectations - Those who harmed you cannot heal you. Yet this is the justice that we long for in our souls: to be suddenly loved by those who abused us. We hold onto that hope. This is what we did as children. We forgave and forgave, always in the hope that this time, we would do the “right thing” to please our abuser so that we would be welcome and the abuse would stop.

When we were little children perhaps at times things got better for a while or at least the abuse subsided temporarily. Then we get our hopes up that finally we had done whatever manner of atonement required to be forgiven of what we knew not, so that we could be received with love and care and safety. If in our perception this happened, such times were short-lived. The abuse would resume with a vengeance, so we always lived with our guard up. The attacks would often seem so random, so we were always on edge.

Yet we kept going back to our abuser, hoping to be forgiven, hoping to be loved. We knew no different. It’s what children do. We sought our healing through their acceptance. For most of us, that acceptance has never come.

With enough healing work, and concrete blasting we gain the wisdom to realize that the acceptance will never come, and that this is a death that we have to accept, the death of a relationship. When we hold onto it, we are holding onto a corpse. There was never any life in our relationship with our abuser. We were asking for souls in the soulless. Perhaps we are finally able to grieve this death.

Our abuser cannot heal us. They are only capable of harm. We do not have to put ourselves in range of their fiery darts. We couldn’t be free from them when we were children, but we can be free from them now! They will do harm to us as long as they have breath in their lungs. They can be fathers, mothers, pimps, ex-spouses, former molesters, even siblings.

When we turn our backs on them, they will attack us with guilt and obligation. But we’ve never been malicious. We are guilty of nothing. To heal, we must walk away from them and no longer allow them to harm us.

We may take huge losses in doing so. I have taken mine, and it was the greatest loss of my life. I know the pain of malice from those that stayed in the abuse, and of malice that follows you. I am the worst of the worst of evil according to my extended family and my entire family still living in the cult compound truly believe this. I took my tremendous loss and moved towards healing. For to not take the loss, and to still bleed from it, I would never have healed. It was a hard step, but a critical one for me. And it is a critical step for all of you on your journey of healing.

We can choose to bleed from emotional wounds. Or we can choose to not be wounded any more. As abused children, now adults, we have to reach that place where we seek our healing over and above all things, including relationships with those who continue to abuse us. We must choose to no longer go to have our wounds tended by those who wounded us.

So I break more concrete. I had been working my way into the kingdom, or at least attempting to for far too long. I could not believe God would just love me as I am. How could I believe that? My father did not! So I had to be sufficient within myself. Why would I dare show up in front of God without being fully sufficient!? How could I ever dare to show up in front of God with any weakness!! Weaknesses are crushed by those with power! We live our lives believing any sign of weakness means we will be exploited.

As abused children, we were taught that we were not worthy of love, or that love was something that had to be earned. We learned that love was something that could come and go. What we were taught of love by those who abused us was that our desperate need for it was a means of control, and it always led to pain.

If love is something that has to be earned, and can be given and taken away, it is no wonder that we have so much difficulty in our relationships with people and with God. If we are in a relationship with someone who truly loves us, there is always the fear that we can lose that love. For so many of us, this insecurity harms the relationship. How many times can our partner reassure us? Logically, we know that we are loved, but emotionally, the fear of loss of love is so deeply ingrained, that it overrides our logic and sabotages our relationships.

More concrete to break up!

True love cannot be earned. It just is. There is no prerequisite, and no conditions. Conditional love is not love at all. God loves me unconditionally and I will break up as much concrete as necessary to finally get this wonderful truth through to the depths of my heart.

Perhaps contrary to common understanding you cannot be in a place to receive true love until you truly love yourself. If you do not love yourself, you have no basis for loving another. It is the lack of self-love that can destroy even those relationships where you are loved unconditionally. The Lord tells us to love others as we love ourselves. That can look very ugly until finally enough concrete has been broken and the light finally shines through to your heart!

Mark Phelps

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pray For Those Who Are Suffering Persecution

There was a time when Americans didn’t believe persecution for one’s faith even happened any more. In fact we had our eyes opened in a big way in the 1960s when Richard Wurmbrand, a Jewish believer in Christ, had to take off his shirt before a Congressional hearing in Washington to convince people that he had been beaten during the Cold War in Romania. He needed to show us with his own body that his Communist jailers in Romania had tortured him for his faith. (Read Richard Wurmbrand’s “Tortured For Christ” to learn about this amazing man who later started Voice of the Martyrs.)

Well, today believers in the United States no longer doubt that persecution of Christ followers happens worldwide. Globalization has made this very clear to us. Our smart phones tell us each morning of some new persecution. Those being persecuted need our prayers and we are the ones chosen to lift them all up.

The Bible says when members of the body of Christ suffer, all Christians suffer together 1 Corinthians 12:26. Right now violent persecution around the world is rampant. Though we are physically distant from those being persecuted, we can draw near to them spiritually. Jesus told us that when we do good for those hurting, hungry, thirsty and so on…we do it for Him. “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” Hebrews 13:3.

What are some ways we can pray for the persecuted church around the world?

Pray they would see God’s grace in their situations, and that they would sense God’s power in the midst of their weakness. The Apostle Paul was dealing with a difficult situation in his life he actually was asking the Lord to remove from his life. Paul says:

“But he (God) said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Paul was actually denied his request by God. I love Paul’s response to being told “No” by God. ‘Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ 2 Corinthians 12:9. Some of our persecuted brothers and sisters worldwide are often feeling tremendous weakness in the midst of the brutality they are up against. May we join others in praying for them to feel God’s power and mercy in the midst of whatever they are going through!

We can also pray they would have the strength to treasure Jesus more than life itself. When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned for his faith he said ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21. Paul actually took the time to explain what that meant. He said “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

Paul was clear here. He believed it would be better for the people he was helping that he stay alive so he could be with them and help them in this difficult time. But for him he believed dying was honestly better! He believed it to be better because he knew he would get to be with Christ forever. And he knew this was the reality no matter how his jailers chose to kill him. Historians tell us that Paul was tortured and later beheaded by the Emperor Nero. Nero was an evil man who actually made Christian’s into human lanterns to light his evening events by taking a hook through their heads so they could not move as Nero’s men poured boiling material over them to burn their bodies.

Persecution in the days of Christ was horrible to endure and it is horrible today. In the last century believers in Christ have suffered in increasing numbers. If you want to learn reliable details you can go to to learn of what is going on in 2015 worldwide.

God knows how hard this is when His followers are experiencing persecution, torture and in some cases death. Most of us can’t imagine the horrors and the fears of extreme persecution and it is especially hard for those experiencing it to see their family and friends suffer. The truth that it is better to die and go to heaven is as true for them today as it was in Paul’s day. It actually would be far better! But to be in the middle of terrifying persecution is very hard and their love for Jesus and His powerful love for them right in the midst of this can be their strength.

In the same passage we have just been talking about Paul said this:

“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” Paul was determined to rejoice in spite of his tough circumstances. But he also told his friends what their prayers were doing. And that because of those specific and powerful prayers he was receiving Christ’s Spirit who was strengthening him in his circumstances.

We can all diligently pray that persecuted people all across the world will experience Christ’s Spirit in ways that are tangible to them in their circumstances. When the 21 who were beheaded in Libya died last month one of their brothers said this: “ISIS gave us more than we asked when they didn’t edit out the part where they declared their faith and called upon Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith”. To me that sounds like men who had the Spirit of Jesus Christ with them before they died. It’s that very thing we can pray for!

Paul was very much aware of his impending death at the end of his life. He said “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.”

Think about his statement. He was commissioned by God to do work that was so important it required him to ultimately give up his life for this work, and this God. Yet even with that inevitable death sentence of persecution Paul was able to say this: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts: 20:24.

Understandably many of us put Paul up on a pedestal for all the persecution he went through. He mentions in one passage that he had “been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” He says all of this was because he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who he believed needed to hear these life giving words. And Paul paid dearly for his bravery.

But Paul would not want us to put him up any higher than the women and men who have suffered persecution for honoring Christ in the last 2000 years. He knows that each of these precious people suffered for something they believed in. And more important for Someone they believed in, Christ. The book of Revelation says that the Devil was triumphed over by people who followed Christ. It says “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11.

This verse makes it clear that the blood of the Lamb, Christ, was what allowed them to do this triumphing, but it was also through the word of their OWN testimony. We have a testimony that comes from the lives we lead. A testimony is simply the telling of the truth of something you have witnessed. In this case, the testimony was embodied in the life of a faithful person. The “word of the testimony” of the Coptic Christians in Libya was that they were speaking Christ’s name up till the end so all 21 of those men triumphed by the word of their testimony about Christ. And they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Paul would appreciate your holding him up as a hero of the faith. The Bible says we are to “give honor to whom honor is due.” But when we get to heaven, Paul will be appropriately honoring these men as heroes who stayed strong through their beheadings, because they are. And any who are martyred through death will be heroes as well.

I also think Paul would tell you that any who are persecuted for years imprisoned and tortured but do not die because of it are heroes as well. There will be a lot of honor being given to a lot of precious souls when we are together on the New Earth with God one day. I am so grateful I get to be part of that group that gets to give the honor.

Life is precious to God. We are to honor our life by taking care to live our lives in God’s will. We need to pray for our brothers and sisters and lift them up in prayer all the time because so many are going through things that will test their faith, their endurance and their strength as never before.

Pray creatively. Think about your own life and imagine what you would want someone to pray for you. Get on websites about persecution and learn specifics of real persecuted peoples’ lives and the lives of their families who may be left behind. I have a friend who prays weekly with another friend. They try in their weekly prayers never to forget the persecuted church. Whenever they have an illness or when one of them had cancer, they prayed that if their persecuted brothers and sisters were in their situation that God would provide whatever was needed. Because they knew someone in prison who had a sinus infection or who had cancer would not get medical treatment. So they asked the Great Physician to step in. They believe they are going to see answers to these prayers one day. And get to rejoice with the folks they prayed for.

Pray that all under persecution will have joy and that their unshakable joy in Christ would be a witness to their persecutors. When I read stories in the Bible about the apostles being in prison and singing hymns to the Lord I always wondered how they could do that. But it is possible to have joy because we know that we are God’s children and even death will not separate us from Him. The Bible says: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25) Pick up a copy of Jesus Freaks if you want to hear some amazing stories of modern day persecution and people who could sing in the midst of things they were suffering through.

Even in the midst of our pain it is possible to still honor God and let others see it. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God” Philippians 1:27-28. Standing firm is one indication of how real our faith is. I know many of us pray for ourselves that we could allow Christ’s strength to pour through us no matter what is asked of us.

Pray that their future glory would overshadow their present afflictions. Our Christian brothers and sisters are suffering at the hands of evil and we need to pray for them. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” Romans 8:18. Our Christian brothers and sisters will get justice in God’s timing and be rewarded for all they have had to endure. In the meantime it is us who need to stay in prayer for them.

Pray that our brothers and sisters around the world would trust in God’s wisdom, strength, and deliverance—not their own. “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:7-9. We must rely on God and not ourselves and pray for others to be strong in the midst of all they are going through.

Pray that God would give them the right words to say as fearless ambassadors for Christ. Pray that those being persecuted can stay strong and stand on the word . . . stand and speak God’s words no matter what is going on. “And also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” Ephesians 6:19-20.

Richard Wurmbrand explained to a world that needed to understand persecution that he and other believers were indeed being bold in declaring Christ in a Romanian prison. He said “It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists'] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.”

As we watch others being severely persecuted we wonder if we would be strong enough to do this. We need to pray and stay strong in Him for we know the end of the Bible and we are on the winning team no matter what we go through here on this earth. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison– that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” Colossians 4:2-4.

Pray that God would protect and deliver them to safety, according to His good and perfect will. Though we don’t always understand His will we know He is still with all of us. Let’s keep each other lifted up in prayer at all times. Many feel abandoned and feel no one cares for them. Many are suffering unbearable things. But they are not alone. Let our prayers continually go before our God and pray that God returns soon for His bride/the church.

We may be called into other forms of action than the duty and privilege of prayer. Letters and emails can have real impact on foreign governments who are wrongly imprisoning people for their faith in Christ. We can take our prayer into action as well. Go to if you are interested in writing letters on behalf of these folks. They would love to know of your prayers by hearing about it from you! And their jailers note that these letters are coming in and some have been released because of letters received.

Until then let’s pray without ceasing for others because our prayers are greatly needed. “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints” (Romans 15:30-31) “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 1:22) Paul was like anyone else, wanting to be released back to his friends. That is one of the prayers I pray often for my dear persecuted brothers and sisters!

Our Lord has been preparing our heavenly home. Time on earth is about up and we are so close to the end it seems we can feel it. But until that time we are to take care of each other, love each other, pray for each other, and protect each other as best we can, knowing that God is here with us and knows exactly what is going on. It is in His strength we can go on.

One thing I hope we who are on the prayer team for folks suffering from persecution will never forget. And that is that Christ loves them so very much. Paul says it this way “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” Romans 8:35-37. What a thought. That no amount of persecution can ever separate those precious brothers and sisters from His love…and that they will not just be conquerors but more than conquerors. But it is a wonderful promise.

And this promise meant everything to the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded last month on a beach in Libya. A brother of two of the beheaded men made it a point to thank ISIS for allowing the victims statements of faith to stay on the video. Besher Kamel thanked ISIS for not editing out the men’s declaration of faith in Christ. The last words of some of the men who were murdered were “Lord Jesus Christ.” Besher was blessed to know that his brothers had remained strong in their faith up to the last seconds of their lives. And if Mr. Kamel knows his Bible well he knows something else about the special privilege his brothers will receive one day.

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, John is seeing a vision of what is to come. He says “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God…they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years had ended”.

The Kamel brothers would love to have lived out their normal lives on this earth I am sure. They had family and loved ones they longed to see. But one day we are going to meet these Kamel brothers. And we can ask them about their experience of being strong in the last days and minutes of their lives. But we can also learn of the amazing privilege they received from Christ in getting to reign with Christ in the first thousand years of His reign. This is a privilege that will only come to a few. Not a privilege any would seek out, but one that Jesus rewards in an amazing way.

As you position yourself in these dark times of persecution to be a praying follower of Christ, know that you have been given important work to do. The forces of evil seem to be getting an upper hand. But the Kamel brothers of a beautiful Coptic Christian church got to exhibit the power of God protecting them as they faced death. And the power of Christ truly won out over evil. The ISIS perpetrators don’t know that yet.

The 2nd century church father Tertullian wrote “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The Bible says one day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” and that includes the perpetrators themselves. Wouldn’t it be glorious if the death of those precious martyrs and our fervent prayers actually impacted the perpetrators and some of them joined us in eternity as ones who chose to follow Christ?

May each of my brothers and sisters around the world suffering feel the prayers of others for them and may they not give up. Pray that the Lord will give us all strength to endure until the time of Jesus’ return. God bless each of us with His mercy and grace.

Mark Phelps

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Reconnect With Yourself

Have you ever run into an old friend you haven’t seen for years and found yourself picking up right where you left off? If you analyze for just a minute what is happening when you meet up with an old friend, you are initially thrown back into the memories of experiences you had together. Quickly those memories catapult you to the present where you realize that your present selves can still relate to each other. It can be a wonderful experience.

But imagine if the person came up to you and was trying to connect over some amazing escapade you had together but you didn’t remember it. It would be very hard to have a relationship with that person, no matter how much it meant to your friend who still had intact memories. In fact, you might suggest it would be impossible unless you wanted to start over in the present.

Imagine a person who has had a background of abuse and what they have had to go through to survive their traumas. If you have lived with a “normal” amount of difficulty, or challenges in your life it is possible you have weathered each of them and still stayed connected to your core self. Or perhaps you might call it your true self. But, what happens to victims of abuse is similar to the losing of friends. Only in our case we lose parts of ourselves.

When we experience repeated abuse or trauma our minds do an amazing job of protecting us by shutting down on our own feelings and cordoning them off so we can’t feel them anymore. But there’s a huge challenge with that. Your feelings are connected to your day to day life. And your feelings are connected to your memories of your life. If you disconnect from your feelings you are in a very real sense disconnected with yourself. A big part of what trauma or abuse therapy is all about is to reconnect us with ourselves.

Therapists who are wise and experienced at their work understand that abuse victims need to reconnect with their feelings. In my last blog I explained a little bit of how that worked for me with therapists who understood something I didn’t. What they understood was that if I didn’t reconnect with the legitimate feelings and responses to my abuse that I should have been able to express long ago that I was not going to be able to reconnect with the real me.

There is something profound about reconnecting with yourself and choosing once again to truly live. It is like coming back to someone you once were and picking up those pieces but at the same time you will feel yourself able to go on at some point in your adult life with your past and present self reconnecting. Connecting with yourself, since you are with yourself all the time, is a truly amazing step that comes with true healing. It is a wonderful feeling to realize that the person you carry around with you every day is someone you are growing to like, growing to respect, and someone you are championing in a new way.

Just like you might champion a friend or other loved one! You will begin to see yourself as a person who is worth loving and worth listening to and taking seriously, and when this happens you will begin to experience all of life differently. Once this takes place, you will never again be deceived or tricked into believing the lies of the abuser. The reality of the feelings testifies to the truth of the abuse! And the reality of the feelings testifies to the fact that you are still a valuable human being who had the right not to be abused and hurt. And who has a right to go on with life! In a very new and different way!

Immediately following these experiences of connecting with the feelings of my abuse and learning to understand how wrong it was I remember, I had a different feeling in my body. It felt as though more light was getting in through my eyes and more life was awakening in my mind. As I worked through the loss of not having really lived and was able to make the heart decision to live fully alive it felt like I had finally been brought back to life! I had reconnected with me!

I felt the affirmation of the Lord’s love in my heart during these hours of work. I felt a deep sense of His presence, a deep sense of His love, a deep sense of His approval and His approving of the work I was doing. I began to feel more valuable instead of feeling like a piece of trash or just garbage to be discarded. It is a strange thing to have had your abuser treat you like a non-person and to step into the reality that not only are you a person but a loved person! I began to feel the Lord really did love me and He cared for me and He had made a strong commitment to me. It is very difficult to put this experience into words. It was an overwhelming sense that life was okay and that I was now going to live instead of just choose to avoid life as I had done for so many years.

I imagine the feelings I began to feel may be similar to the feelings of a normal new born baby as the baby begins to experience the wonder and the splendor of the world. Or maybe it could be better explained as the baby beginning to feel the feelings of his mother’s love and the elation of being held and adored and loved so deeply as only parents can love a child. The Lord began to give me these wonderful feelings in my heart as I would go into the depths of the wretched feelings in my heart, with Him, and squarely face them.

The Lord was faithful, every time, as I would ask Him to help me and accompany me every time. I honestly did not know what I would find or learn or discover, but I knew my complete need for Him. I would earnestly beg the Lord to go with me into these times of encountering what terrifying pain was in my heart. He was faithful every time to lead me into, through and out the other end of the wretchedness, into an incredible sense of light and hope. I was coming alive and there was hope and a desire for life and a feeling of worth and value instead of feelings of being wretched and ugly and worthless.

I was stunned the day I realized that I had learned how to hate but that it had been explained to me as love. My father actually used the word ‘love’ to describe hatefulness. He used words from the Bible about love, but demonstrated these words with behavior that was the exact opposite. It was truly hateful behavior! There is a verse in the Old Testament that says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” I have thought of my father many times for the way he did just this by twisting words into their opposite meanings and doing such damage to our young hearts.

During experiences of healing therapy and working on my own, part of what occurred to me, as I began to truly experience what love was from God, that I had NO emotional memory of real love as a child. Not only had my father taught me how to hate, instead of how to love, he also never showed me love. I honestly had no emotional memory, from early life, of love. This was because there was simply no love being shown in the family where I grew up.

By definition, attachment is a deepening affectionate, psychological connection between two people that endures over time. Psychological attachment influences not only our relationships with primary caregivers and later significant relationships and other social interactions, but also our internal senses of identity and the organization of our brains and neurological system (including how we respond emotionally to life experiences). Attachment helps develop a sense of safety, encourages socialization, stimulates intellectual and psychological growth, and influences identity. As a young infant, I did not attach!

I did not attach to a father who slapped me with his open hand and back hand when I was 9 months old and a mother who was unavailable to take care of me. Of course there was some emotional attachment to my mother. But there was a closing; a substantial closing; actually a profound closing off of my heart caused by my parents’ abuse and their neglect. And I and my siblings suffered for it. It saddens me so much to think I did very little attaching as a young baby. When you think of my father’s demands on my mother to sit with him most of the time and that this reality meant babies were strapped in high chairs to either cry alone or be cared for by siblings and not by parents, it is amazing so many of us in our family have married and been able to build family relationships.

As I began to do the healing work, in both cognitive and emotional ways, a significant thing happened in that process. I began to learn who the Lord was. By His Holy Spirit working within me I began to learn what His love was. I began to feel where before I had only been able to experience things through what I read or thought about – things I put into my intellect. I began to feel love. The Lord’s love!

I began to feel God’s love in my soul; I felt it in my heart, instead of just having the words about God’s love in my intellect. I experienced the reality of God as my strong tower, as my strength, as my shield, as my shelter, as my hope, as my very present help in time of need. Such passages I am borrowing from in these phrases relate to the truth about the Lord, that I had put into my brain, but now, through healing, I was beginning to feel this love deep in my being, to my very core. The Lord steadily impressed His love upon my heart and I will forever know His love! It was truly an amazing process and one that has changed my life.

Because I began to experience the love of the Lord something else happened that was incredible . . . I began to experience the love of my wife. She had always loved me, just as the Lord had always loved me. But I had only sort of existed with her, though all the while she had loved me. Living in that sort of dead, unfeeling state was very hurtful and painful for my wife, though at the time, I had very little sense it was even happening.

Part of the challenge with growing up with abuse is you think your experiences are normal. The sense of deadness you feel in your spirit is just the way you think life is. So you don’t have the ability to even connect the dots to your lack of feeling and other people’s very great pain. But I had begun to trust, by faith, that the hard work of therapy would help, and that it would truly make a difference. And I was certainly helped along by therapists with years of experience with abuse who were able to tell me that I was indeed making progress and to hang on for more change! I had made the decision to get some help, to do the work of healing therapy, but I just could have never imagined what good and life-giving results would come.

When you have never experienced love, deep in your heart, you don’t have a frame of reference to understand how love even feels. How would I have known what love felt like having never experienced it? The truth is my wife was THE first person who had ever loved me. It was a brand new experience for me and I had no peg to hang it on. But the good news was now that I knew the difference things would never be the same, ever again.

I often describe the recovery work I was doing reconnecting with the pain of my past abuse as being analogous emotionally to the experience of waking up in the middle of surgery when the anesthesia has worn off too soon! You would feel a searing pain from the surgery that you know you should not be feeling. There isn’t anything you can do about it! Here you are in horrible pain and now you have the work to do. You have to make the choice to do the work necessary to work through the pain. That is truly an apt analogy for some aspects of the grief work and the trauma work that come from abuse.

I awakened metaphorically with such a grief and agony and fear as I began to feel pain coming back. I felt so frightened and insecure and truly disoriented. And then after several months came the anger over the way my father had treated me. Some of my emotions during that time could have been expressed by sentiments like ‘I don’t want to be here! I didn’t ask to be here! This is the last place I want to be! How did this happen? What did I do to deserve this? I was born without choice. I was given this horrifying situation without anybody consulting me about it! I want to be away from here; I want out of here now! Who do you think you are doing this to your family? This is going to stop and I mean NOW!’

So many times I experienced darkness, fear, anxiety, despair, terror, hopelessness, rage, profound sadness; and all these emotions were simply what came as I reconnected with my feelings about my abuse. These feelings were in my heart, down deep in there. I just had no conscious awareness of it. When the emotions surfaced I realized the way God made us, the way He made our hearts, the way he made our minds and our bodies would naturally have had me experiencing just these types of searing and gut wrenching emotions both in my body as well as in my mind as I thought about the injustice and the cruelty that was done to me and my brothers, sisters and mother.

God gave us the capability of healing. He made us with the ability to eventually experience the pain of war or trauma or abuse or whatever terrifying emotions, to be open to them, completely aware of the circumstances, so that we could ultimately heal. We can only be open to it so much at one time, and the healing process really does feel like it happens one day at a time. But because He made us in such a way as to be able to experience the real pain of the emotions, He gave us a true gift.

By slowly reconnecting with the original events and emotions of our trauma we eventually are able to experience the pain fully. And once we have done that we find the pain subsides, it reduces, and its negative unconscious control over our lives subsides, too. The blessing that comes from this is we are able to live our lives without the effects of that pain having unconscious control over our emotions and over our behavior.

Finally we are living our life in the present, with an ability to connect to our past as we need to. And having dealt with and felt the emotions of our past, those emotions can no longer blindside us as we live our lives out. The control the unconscious pain had over me was reduced over time. Perhaps the reducing of the pain was only a little bit each time, but it is truly incredible the difference it made in my heart and my life. Each small change felt like big change to my heart.

It is incredibly good news: God made our minds and our hearts with the capacity to heal. He gave our minds the ability to get through wars and natural disasters and concentration camps and child abuse but He also built into our minds the ability to re-consider decisions made and emotions experienced and to change them. God equipped our hearts with the capacity to re-experience hurts. And when this is done in a supportive environment, the healing effects of tears, crying, mourning and grieving is nearly as real and complete as if we had been able to cry, grieve, mourn and resolve the matter at the time it occurred. It is truly an amazing gift, this gift of healing.

The only way out is through. Truly . . . the only way out of abuse is to go back through it and live it again, this time with support, love, and understanding, all resulting in a different resolution than earlier in your life.

As the Lord restored my heart he taught me that being a man involves strength and courage as well as humility, gentleness, kindness, peacefulness and goodness. God helped me understand balance. My father had taught me that being gentle showed weakness in a man, and that kindness and gentleness were bad. Sometimes when I think about the way my father lived it is as if he never read the Bible he preached. He mocked humility and kindness and most certainly showed disdain for the demonstration of love and understanding. My father instinctively exploited and seized upon weakness in every person in whom he found it, and crushed the person in whom he found any vulnerability!

If you have been abused, you no doubt have anger and would like to reject the abuse and the behavior of the abuser! That is an understandable reaction. Anger and rejection are very good things when they are focused on the right matters and the behaviors worthy of rejection! But anger is a very big and very energizing emotion. And sometimes it wants to destroy everything in its path. However, when we are responding with anger, we have to be very careful not to reject important but subtle truths, as you unravel the lies. The greatest tragedy while striving to restore your heart and life from the effects of abuse and lies would be to embrace other lies, perhaps even more insidious lies, in the process.

The Lord is always good! He is able to save us completely and restore a broken heart and a broken life. He provides light where there had been darkness. He offers hope in place of despair. He gives peace and comfort where there was turmoil and unsettledness and pain. He calms the mind and comforts the heart.

When turning your life right side up The Lord is able to sustain and protect you through it all. You can go into your painful memories and experiences knowing there is an anchor and strength to hold you steady, and enable you to come through the storms of reliving the horrors and anguish of abuse. When you have been orphaned, literally or figuratively, or have been rejected by your family, The Lord is able to restore you back into a family and bring individuals into your life who will love you unconditionally.

Because of who I know the Lord to be, I cannot imagine a greater tragedy than for a person to reject The Lord in response to being abused. Whether you were abused by a church or by your family, or both, I want to tell you something critical to your going forward. The Lord was not the one who abused you. People abused you. People went against what the Lord wanted them to do and behaved wrongly. The Lord talks about these people in His word. He tells the truth about people who mistreat and abuse and hurt little children.

Matthew 18: 6 – but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18: 10-11 - 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

The Lord loves the little children, and that includes you! He says harm may come to little children but woe to the one who brings the harm. He’s not the one who brings the harm! But He is able to save you from the effects of the harm. This is one of the most wonderful truths of God’s word. He is able to restore and heal and establish your life!

If you turn your back on the Lord because of what people have done, you will not be giving Him the opportunity to do His healing work in your life. You are very important to the Lord and He loves you. He does not want you to turn away from His help. He wants you to run to His open arms. If your injury does not allow you to do this right now, He understands. He will put people in your life to help you along the path of healing, if you open your heart. People who can help you and eventually you may be able to run to the open arms of the Lord.

Please don’t close your heart to the Lord. It is understandable for you to do this especially when wrong teachings about the Lord and His Word were used to hurt you. It is understandable that you don’t trust. Your strong intellectual opinions help to protect you from further hurt. And you don’t want any more of the religious stuff. And you shouldn’t. I don’t want any more of the religious stuff either. Religion is what man does. Christ’s life was what was able to save us. Not man. Man can’t save you.

It is difficult to trust again and I understand. It is extremely difficult to see through the fog of pain. Sometimes the fog is more like huge thick dark endless storm clouds and the person lost in these clouds has no way of telling where they are or how near any light they may be.

So I am asking you, would you consider opening your mind to the possibility of healing? I would be glad to listen, if you would be willing to reach out to me. I would be glad to listen to what has happened to you. I want to know your hurt and your sorrow! And I don’t want you to turn your back on the Lord or on yourself!

Mark Phelps