Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We have many good things to share with you this week! Our current theme is perseverance, and you have encouraged us with testimonies of the challenging and glorious ways in which God is leading you. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, the Spirit encourages us today:
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14, NRSV
You are in our prayers, and we rejoice in the confidence that God is providing what you need today to press on toward the goal. We are grateful for your prayers for MPC, particularly that God will use the upcoming Wheaton school to heal His people. Honor, glory and power be unto our God!
Yours in Christ,
A Message from Gay Barretta
Ministries of Pastoral Care has now completed our third MPC School in NZ, and the results have been stunning. We here in New Zealand are immensely grateful to the Lord and the international team who have so graciously and sacrificially come to each of these schools to teach, minister and carry forward here all Mrs. Leanne Payne entrusted to them when she retired. This has been a mighty blessing to NZ, and the impact of life-transforming encounters with God and the ensuing testimonies continues to grow.
The MPC week for me was such a blessing. I was hungry for a retreat to seek God for the next part of my journey, and this week with its unique gift of learning as well as prayer ministry from a truly special team of speakers was a life-changing event. Integrating psychology, theology and practical pastoral care from their professional backgrounds and focusing on practicing the presence of Christ, the [team that] week brought a freedom and wholeness that has stayed with me since. It is hard to explain how very real the presence of Jesus was amongst us and how the focus on the cross brought so much freedom from introspection and unforgiveness.
We now have a growing NZ MPC team passionately committed to seeing this ministry become firmly established and multiply in its life-giving, healing and equipping power. It is a joy to see numbers of small groups growing in New Zealand where participants are finding support, growth, and encouragement to go on in their "becoming."
MPC New Zealand has formed a charitable trust in order to establish a not-for-profit status. This not-for-profit status will enable the trust to receive donations and school registration fees under the appropriate tax structure and establishes a sound financial process for the ongoing operation and development of MPC schools in New Zealand.
I am going to continue to actively work, minister and promote MPC while remaining on the MPC New Zealand Board of Directors along with the other organizing members - Gino, Cesli and Sarah.
I am delighted to inform you that we have asked Eloise Hay if she would be willing to lead MPC in New Zealand as our new Executive Director. As we enter into a new time of growth and prepare for our next school, we are very grateful that she has accepted this leadership role. Eloise is particularly gifted and called to this, as those of you who know her will testify.
We are very grateful to be partnering with the full worldwide MPC organization in order to live out the ministry God entrusted to Leanne Payne and now to Ministries of Pastoral Care. We are committed to praying and working with all of you as we seek to allow God to love His world through us, both in our beloved New Zealand and throughout the world. We look forward to ministering together as we go forth with all that God has intended.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
With much love, in Christ,
A testimony from the desert: the blessed fruit of perseverance in marriage
Our sincere thanks to the precious woman
who wrote in to share this beautiful testimony -
come Holy Spirit and impart Your words of life deep in our hearts!
My marriage of over 40 years has been my "place" of stabilitas. I came to Christ in a little plywood stable that my dad built for my pony, a gift on my sixth birthday. For some mystical reason I felt God calling me that day, and I was awestruck by the subtle experience of the Lord with me there. I was seven years old, and from that point on HE has dominated my life, calling me over and over again to love, obey and worship Him.
In college, a small Southern school with a reputation for parties and good times, I briefly ignored the Lord and fell into a stupor of sloth and worldliness. It was during these few years that I married. I was only 23. My husband was a "good ole boy" with a love of sports and ambition to succeed in life. From the very beginning I felt that we had very little in common and that I had made a terrible mistake. Life was a struggle to communicate with him. In his mind I had no voice worth hearing. His work kept him away from home frequently, which I delighted in and, as well, grieved. Loneliness was always with me. I fantasized about having a different kind of man who would cherish me and enjoy me. My story is a common one that many women can relate to. I think that what makes it unique is that I am still married to this man.
Of course, I am leaving out many details, but I sought the Lord with all my heart all those years, praying for my husband and covering our home and children with God's grace and protection. I never left the bonds of marriage, even though I contemplated it. In the nineties I attended several PCMs and began to seek the Lord's healing for my troubled heart and spirit. I prayed the prayers that applied to me and waited for God to move. In the mid-nineties I experienced a severe depression. The disease of introspection descended into me, and I began a journey in darkness. My husband hardly even noticed that I was having a struggle. Depression is demanding, and I finally had to ask for help and ended up in counseling. My husband woke up to this trial of life and came with me. The result of several years of counseling is a long story, but we did begin to communicate better. I found my voice and allowed God to heal many childhood memories. God fought for me when I could not fight for myself--that is so plain to me now.
My two sons are grown men, and I have lovely daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. My husband has not changed much, but I have. Persevering has developed a strength in me that I often marvel at. We are content with one another, which is a miracle. I can protect myself and be a woman with intelligence and maturity. I feel different now than I did during all those years of hurting. I feel known, cherished and called. Your words about the Desert Fathers mean so much to me. I have longed to "go to the desert" and wait for or on the Lord. I see that my marriage is my desert, and, yes, it has been a howling wilderness occasionally. But it is also a lovely place when Jesus is walking with you. Thank you for writing so eloquently about these early ones who laid a foundation for us. Many blessings, in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Photo courtesy of Boykung at freedigitalphotos.net
: victory over the noonday demon
I have been writing recently on the power of perseverance, what the Desert Fathers named stabilitas. This virtue is wanted today because it answers a chief vice of our time: acedia. There is much in our flesh and the world around us that undermines stability of purpose. The vice of acedia has opposed perseverance in the lives of Christians in every time and place. The desert fathers, who were among the first wrestlers with this enemy of our Christ-life, named it akedia (from the Greek a-kēdos, "without care"). The vice of acedia is endemic yet unrecognized in our day. In his beautiful little book On Hope, Josef Pieper shows how modern Christians are embroiled in acedia and no longer discern it as a vice (it is well worth your time to undertake an in-depth study of Pieper's On Hope). Perseverance is a powerful weapon our good Lord places in the hands of His followers as we battle the vice of acedia.
In essence, acedia is a slothful sadness that rejects the reality that we are here to become what God has in mind. When settled into the sin of acedia, one feels a sad resistance to the divine goodness God intends for one's true self. Acedia is linked to the "worldly sorrow" Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Under the grip of this opposition to God, a deep despondency grows, like a continual underground sighing in the soul. Some feel this sorrow as emotional pain, while others cover it by senseless overwork and busyness, inner restlessness, grasping after temporary comforts and distractions, and instability of commitments and purpose *. Acedia turns us aside from the noble purpose of our existence. As Pieper laments, "One who is trapped in acedia has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is" (p. 56).
The desert fathers had a nickname for acedia: the noonday demon. This vice does not attack the beginning of our efforts - it comes as the day stretches on. If we gave acedia a voice it might say, "I have been doing this for awhile, but what do I have to show for it? Is it working? Why should I be so rigid, so hard on myself? Isn't there something better out there?" We experience this noonday demon at every MPC school as participants confess feeling restless, distracted, or dissatisfied as they press in to God's healing presence over the course of five days. The vice of acedia has a listless quality, and Aquinas categorizes acedia as a sin against the third commandment: "but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work" (Exodus 20:10a NASB). True Sabbath is only experienced by yielding to God's ways, and the spiritual sloth of acedia grants no rest. Rather than staying the course, the one in bondage to acedia spends their efforts on a struggle "to break out of the peace at the center of his own being" (Pieper, p. 58). Stabilitas, in contrast, enables us to rest our spirit in God.
A discouraged counselee once asked me how to answer when her concerned friends and family questioned the effectiveness of her counseling. Her mind was swarming with the doubts and distractions that acedia poses: "Why keep pressing on? Isn't there another way that would work faster? I won't really change, much less be transformed." I gave her what, on my part, sounded like a self-serving answer: "Tell them it's working." She and I had a good laugh about my apparent self-promotion. But our laughter also came from a deeper well of joy because I was inviting her to the rest that is granted by stabilitas: to trust Christ in herself and in me, and trust that God was at work in her healing process. The dynamic between acedia and stabilitas is a bit of a paradox (like so many hopeful truths). We answer acedia's temptation not with an immediately triumphant solution, but through a stabilizing posture of perseverance: "I will stay, remain open, and continue to wait on the Lord." If we succumb, acedia deprives us of the gifts that only grow with persistence over time. If we endure, we will inevitably enjoy the privilege of witnessing God's perfect, immense faithfulness to every one of His promises.
Christ with us and within us empowers us in the virtue of stabilitas, overcoming the vice of acedia simply through the choice to carry on. Distrust? Distraction? Temptation? Stabilitas is an act of the will that stays the course, sticks with the program, and continues with the daily choices that make a Christ-follower. The staying is part of the healing itself. Choosing to continue with or without comforting reassurance, choosing to stay when we feel like it and when we don't, works a gradual conversion in our souls. Staying heals the soul as it restores something deeply human in us: the precious and glorious will with which we can say "yes" to God. Staying forms Christ's own character within as we repent of the vice of resistance to God's will and seek instead the virtue of stable obedience. Through this persevering, our Father grants our souls rest, delivering us from the misery of the sin of acedia and assuring us of His faithfulness. As Josef Pieper writes, "Natural man can never say as triumphantly as can the Christian: It will turn out well for me in the end" (p. 50). Praise our gracious and merciful God who grants the grace that opens to us the path of life!
* I am discussing here what church tradition has identified as the vice of acedia. Depression, which may be linked to this vice and is sometimes also referred to as acedia, can require different approaches for healing than what I am discussing here. I recommended Clay McLean's teaching series on Recovery for Depression for an excellent discussion of the role of identifying childhood losses, self-pity, and burnout for the healing of depressive symptoms.
Remembering what the Lord has done builds our faith - as the Spirit shows you ways He has cleansed you of the sin of acedia and taught stabilitas in its place, please write in and share with me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to The Heritage of the Desert Fathers project and their website, desert-fathers.com for the images of the West Thebes hermitages.
There are two great events happening this month - we encourage you to attend if you are able!
Open to Life, Virginia Beach, VA: Conference, Saturday, June 20
Join Desert Stream this weekend in Virginia Beach, VA!
'The Creator has become our Redeemer; He gives us back our beauty.' St. Ephraim of Syria
Jesus redeems our sexuality from the ground up. He summons what is true and beautiful from a host of distortions. In Christ and His community, we can become who we are - men and women of increasing purity and clarity who manifest His creativity in our sexual humanity.
Join Andrew Comiskey, Dean Greer and area Desert Stream/Living Waters leaders. It will be a day of discovering and celebrating how Jesus transforms lives. Come and see what He can do!
Who should come? Anyone interested in discovering how Jesus transforms us to be good gifts for one another. This conference is applicable to all areas of sexual and relational brokenness, including homosexuality.
There will be general teaching sessions, worship, healing prayer and workshops.
Topics will include:
* Openness to Life
* Freedom for Fruitfulness, Freedom from Despair
* How the Cross Transforms Us
* Life for Family and Friends
* Transformation for Persons with Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction