The Culture Shock Diaries #004

The Culture Shock Diaries #004

Shame, Shame, Shame

Everyone has to tackle shame in one way or another but the gospel truly deals with our shame in a way that the world can not.

Mary Willson’s workshop on shame and discussing this issue this with a few spiritually older and mature men was especially helpful in forming and working through the importance of processing shame in a biblical and gospel centred fashion.

My biggest struggle with sin comes in the form of dealing with the shame of failing or ‘losing face’. This always involves falling short of a standard sometimes biblical but often man centred. At times this has led me to deep deep despair. Even of life itself at times. Sometimes this would even promote further cyclical failings as I tried, unsuccessfully, to right my wrongs on my terms and not biblical terms (Sometimes the best thing you can do is do nothing). Many of us place and create standards for ourselves but often these can be “unrealistic and crippling” in the words of Mary Willson.

Mary discussed how her ‘unrealistic model’ was aiming to be the person who could ‘remember everyone’s names’ with ease. For me, it was being the friend you could always call on. Moving abroad forces you to face your shortcomings in one way or another usually quicker than if you had been in your comfort zone. For me failing to answer a friend’s phone call felt like a major major failure. Even when one would call me in the middle of the night (time difference issues) I would answer in fear of losing face. Failing to live up to my own standard created in me false justifications. Failing to answer meant I could mean missing a distress call, a sickness alert, a death. Failing to answer meant failing to care for those nearest and dearest which meant failing to love my neighbour as myself.

As you can see, man-centred, unrealistic standards, often lead to quiet idols which we start to equate with our level of piousness. For me, this led to increasing fear and isolation and me feeling isolated when I subconsciously pinned my standards onto others and they failed to meet my created standard.

The gospel answers this call to shame. Our feelings of shame point to the cross. They point to how we truly are fragile beings. Reset by David Murray reminded me of this principle again. We cannot do anything and everything. We have limitations. We are designed to sleep, eat and rest. Total reliability cannot be expected of any of us.

I will leave you with 5 bible focused ways that may help you deal with shame. But the real answer to all feelings of shame (self-inflicted or man inflicted) is the same. The gospel.

  1. Come out of hiding – Bring what we want to hide into the light starting with God and ending with those that are relevant (Close friends and mentors and sometimes medical professionals. To me this looked like talking to old friends and speaking with elders at my church and wise older men)
  2. Put your feelings of shame to work – Identify the feelings of your shame – Are they God honouring or self-created unrealistic standards? Have you failed on an exam you worked hard on? Or do you feel shame for lying to others about the poor grade?
  3. If your shame comes from failing biblically, repent and trust in God’s full acceptance of you in Christ – God is scandalously patient with us. He initiates salvation. He finishes it. We play no part in it, yet often we act as if it is our responsibility to work for it and not work it out with his spirit working through us (Phil 2:12-13). This requires, constant daily, work. Focus on the means of grace.
  4. If your shame comes from failing in the eyes of others turn that shame away from man centred approval and towards God – God has a way of turning our man felt shame away from man’s criticism towards God’s word. Fix and deal with any effects of your shame primarily vertically with God but then horizontally with others. In the words of an elder at my church, he told me of how often ‘time is needed’ when he has broken his wife’s trust. While it is uncomfortable being reminded of the effects of your sin, use this to fix your eyes again on how gracious God is in forgiving and reconciling you to himself. This should trump any feelings of guilt/lack of reconciliation with others.
  5. Set Christ as your model for honour – ‘https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+34%3A4-5&version=ESV’
The Culture Shock Diaries #003

The Culture Shock Diaries #003

Today’s edition is short.

Listening to the Black Berea podcast today reminded me of how many dreams regret robs us of, and how intoxicating nostalgia can be.

Regret romanticises the real grit and ugliness of success. Meanwhile, nostalgia hides us from the true need for constant progression.

While away from home it is easy to romanticise how perfect home comforts are while ignoring the many benefits of your new culture.

Regretting your decision to move, at times, will be inevitable, but it too often ignores the fact you wouldn’t be who you are now with the mindset you have now without the inflictions God led you through.

Glory to God

Peace and Love

Akwasi

The Culture Shock Diaries #002

The Culture Shock Diaries #002

When Will You Come for Your Daughters and Sons?

Kim Burrell
When – Kirk Franklin, Kim Burrell, Lalah Hathaway

One of the biggest lessons my time in China has taught me has been the meaning of living as an exile”. An exile is “one removed from his or her homeland for a reason.

As a Christian while the Glory of God is on display to us all around us (Romans 1:20), so too are reminders of how fallen and decrepit and broken this world is. Death, illness and hope deferred are all daily reminders of the sadness that a life on earth is accompanied with.

And this is why Solomon reminds us that is better to go to a funeral than a feast. Good times are signs of God’s glory. Bad times are signs of our perpetual thirst for his grace. A thirst that will only be fulfilled when Christ returns. But the question that is left is what about now?

Life as an exile on earth is first a recognition of where home lies (Heaven), and then a desire to live appropriately for the given season. Moving from the U.K. to China for me meant leaving behind friends, family, comforts, dreams and many more things. It meant leaving behind everything that I knew and that was precious to me. But it also afforded me an opportunity. A chance to strip away everything my faith had relied on before, and be met face to face with myself and my depravity and thus my ever increasing need for a saviour (This is coming in #003).

Being black in Asia carries extreme perpetual reminders of how far from home (England) I am. I don’t have an oven, I’m stared at perpetually, I can’t read everything I see (Which for a know-it-all can be quite distressing). At times I have found it much easier to sit indoors than face the fanfare, pictures, and whispers that may come from me taking a stroll around the block. But this, while a painful lesson to learn like all afflictions, it points to much bigger narrative.

Daniel is the clearest biblical display of what being a model exile looks like. For lack of time I can’t go into his story today but the bible project has a great video him which you can check out here.

The ‘pain’ of exile in China has reminded me of the real pain that I should feel about being removed from heaven. At times, I have let this feeling of isolation speak to me too me too much. I have desired at times to go home on my own terms. I have also gone the other way, desiring to feel my void of emptiness my the pleasures of the world and through human relationships. But like all idols they crack under the pressure of a weight they were not meant to carry. I have had to learn to rely on God more than I have ever ‘needed’ (I say needed as I have always needed him).

David Murray’s Reset has been of great help to me. I initially started reading it to help a friend who mentioned they had anxiety. Unfortunately for me and my ego I realised it was I who was in desperate need of the book instead. He talks about how he was hospitalised through stress, not once but twice. I will talk on this book much more once I have finished reading it but for all my fellow exiles what is important to remember that in all our trails and afflictions on earth (2 Cor 1:3-7), we are truly called respond like Job.

A) He knows where we are ‘But he knows the way that I take’ (Job 23:10a)

B) He knows what he is doing ‘When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.’ (Job 23:10b)

The Culture Shock Diaries #001

The Culture Shock Diaries #001

千里之行,始於足下 – A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I have been in China for nearly 8 months. I am currently going through what many expats call ‘culture shock’ or a crisis of feeling stressed and upset about being in the Middle Kingdom and away from home. For me, this seems to have been slightly delayed (Usually this comes 4-6 months in), but this may be due to returning to the U.K. for a month in my time here. ( I am currently in the irritability phase of the picture above. Even as I write this I have steamy eyes.)

This Blog and my Vlog have been extremely neglected (I will explain later why), however, today in the midst of my despair, I feel it important to follow the Chinese proverb above. One step at a time, one post at a time working towards finishing this long race on earth (2 Tim 4:7).

I want to focus this Blog and my Vlog more on my faith. Tim Challies daily blog has been of great help to me and I feel that being a Christian, Black, Student, Londoner (and what ever label that is applicable) in the PRC has given me some unique lessons, that I would love to share that may help others veer clear of some mistakes I made. I doubt I can reach Tim’s level of consistency, but I will never know unless I try.

Blessings, Peace and Love

Akwasi Appiah

Good friends hurt you.

Good friends hurt you.

The traits you see as minor ‘flaws’ in your friends WILL get worse over time, not better. Life taught me this in the harshest of ways. We often hear ‘they’ll grow out of it’ or ‘they’ll get better’. We seem to forget that with all things in life, there are painful means to an end, especially when it comes to growth. How often have we dismissed inappropriate behaviour from others, as ‘that’s just how they are?’ When was the last time YOU confronted the friend who gets handsy with girls when drunk? Or have you told yourself ‘it’s only when they’re drunk that they’re like that.’ When was the last time YOU told a friend who ALWAYS lost their temper over petty things that this trait is destructive? Or did you just dismiss it as ‘competitive hunger’?

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My First Friend

‘I’m here for a good time not a long time’

Good times should be the least of our priorities. Now don’t misinterpret what I’m about to say. Good times are essential for any friendship. What I’m suggesting is that happy memories shouldn’t be the sponge of the cake that is friendship, but rather the icing. Our joyful moments will be increased not diminished when we view our friendships in their entirety, good and bad. Our friends should pour into our growth, well being, ideas, dreams, careers, ambitions, lives so much so that the good times seem like extra bonuses. But this is a two-way street. How many of your friends right now can testify to the investment you have made into their life outside of ‘the good times?’

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Through a lot of ‘criticism’, we’re still here

Our world today has equipped us more than ever with the tools to isolate ourselves from those who disagree with us. And it has given us more ‘safe spaces’ than ever that affirm us even when we are wrong. When a former VP at Facebook says “social media is destroying society with ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops” we have to take note and listen up. Is our reaction to criticism healthy or unhealthy? When it comes to friendship; criticism is often seen as a curse rather than a blessing. Many divorces start and end with criticism. As do many friendships. We can all name one friendship in secondary school that broke down over a disagreement. If we fail to see our friends as permanent, we subconsciously see their flaws as future problems that we won’t have to deal with. But the truth is someone else will. And maybe in ways that no one could foresee.

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After hearing that a former friend had sexually assaulted someone, I felt a guilt that I had never felt before. The signs had been there for all to see for a long time, but it seems I never cared enough about them and their future to confront their behaviour. I had to share the blame. Rocking the boat of any friendship leaves you viable to personal attack at the deepest level. At one stage their behaviour could have been described as harmless, but now it wasn’t. Knowing my inaction led to someone being affected opened my eyes to how important it is to speak when you see something wrong, especially in those who count you as friends. None of us are perfect. But there are a means to an end especially when it comes to growth, and confrontation is always the first step.

Confronting with love

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Friendship is easy when we see it as ‘someone else’s’ job to tell our friends they’re wrong. It’s too easy to minimise your part in a situation when your thoughts begin with ‘It’s not my place.’ But therein lies the question ‘why isn’t it your place?’ If your critique is accurate, loving, and from a good place what reason do you have not to say anything? If the answer is ‘you don’t want to upset them’ then maybe the real issue is you don’t care about their long-term well-being as much as you should. The truth is many of us don’t have friends who care enough to confront us because we aren’t ‘that friend’ to anyone. The truth is in friendship too many our outward focused rather than inward focused. Maybe they in YOUR time of need will overlook the toxic traits that you have, and allow you to go down a destructive path. Good friendships are symbiotic and we can’t expect to be corrected by our friends if we can’t correct them. So after giving this ‘criticise thing’ a go over the past year and a half, here are a few things I learnt and I would love to share. As C.S Lewis said friendship is the least essential of all human relationships. However, it is the one relationship in life that allows us to enjoy life to its fullest. Without it operating as it should we quickly feel empty and without joy.

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Steps

  1. It’s not supposed to be easy

Learning that my adverseness to criticise my friends wasn’t a bad sign, but a good sign helped me a lot. I didn’t want to hurt my friends. I didn’t want to make them feel bad about something that may be an inerrant trait and a long-term struggle. I didn’t want to cause tension between us. I still don’t. But the question is now I care more about their long-term gain than their short-term comfort. The easy route in positions of conflict is rarely the best route. “Iron sharpens Iron” is a commonly used phrase, but that only comes through friction and a wearing down of bluntness.

  1. Love enough to say

As a general rule, your actions define you are a person more than your intentions. We may say we love our friends but if this doesn’t lead to action then maybe we don’t love them as much as we claim to. Love encompasses pain and conflict. Without it is a false love. Ralph Waldo once said “Better to be a nettle in your friend’s side than his echo”

  1. Be transparent yourself

When Jesus said, “take the log out of your own eye, and THEN you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This isn’t a call for passiveness. Rather it is a call for humility before others in light and remembrance of your own perpetual failings in one area of your life or another. Expose yourself as a broken person. Expose yourself as a sinner. Expose yourself as a ‘failure.’ Show your friend that you’re in this together. Be the friend you want your friends to be to you. Has a parent or an older mentor ever shared their former struggles with you before? Remember the hope you felt when you might have felt hopeless at the time? Offer your friend the opportunity to feel the same. Transparency WILL involve a high level of pain on your part but it’s a sacrifice you must take if you care.

  1. Speak your friend’s language

Acknowledge that not everyone absorbs information and criticism the same as you. The most effective method of getting through may not be the easiest method but try your best to speak your friend’s language. Some people only respond to direct words. Others are more sensitive to softer words. Play the game by the rules. Do what’s best for your friend not what’s most comfortable for you. It’s not good enough to heap criticism on another human being, and feel devoid of any responsibility for their reaction, because you didn’t care enough to accommodate for their personality no more so a friend.

  1. Acknowledge criticism only goes as far as someone’s self-awareness

As almost a counterbalance to point 4 it is important to acknowledge the old adage you can lead a “horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Some of your friends won’t react well to criticism. And that’s okay. If they are a true friend, and you’ve acknowledged the above, your love will be reflected more than any level of criticism.

  1. Prayer

This comes as advice to all who are believers. Pray pray and then pray some more. The heart belongs to God and only he can truly be the one to change anyone’s heart (2 Tim 2:25). Though this point comes last it really should be 1st. And 2nd. And… you get the point. Praying for your friends will show you in private how much you truly cherish them and expose any preconceived level of affinity believe you have for them. Like action, you can only love your friends as much as you pray for them.

 

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How married can you be?

How married can you be?

 

He met her when he was 16. After first glance, he knew she was the one for him. She had bright eyes, she had smooth skin, she was soft spoken. He liked the way she treasured God above all else. She experienced similar feelings. He had a chiselled jaw, he was funny, and he had a heart that cherished God and his Word. All the things she had imagined in a life partner.

 

10 years later they are in Paris. In front of the Eiffel tower, he slows down. She looks behind. He goes down on one knee. A ring is produced. A kiss seals the deal.

 

20 years after they first met they’re both 36. Together they overcame the ‘one year hump.’ A miscarriage they battled through together. Parental support? Six feet deep. Breast cancer had come and gone. But through all their issues, they remembered their vows. He remembered the wife of his youth. Daily, she was reminded that he tried to love her as Christ loved the church. Insecurity and lies from the deceiver always loomed over the horizon for them. But God had kept them as he had promised to. ‘What therefore God has joined together let no man separate’ (Mark 10:9) was the caption to the wedding kiss picture that featured on the mantle piece, above the fireplace.

 

Tired he sits in his car. Work, troublesome teens, and an aching back have taken its toll on the now 45-year-old man. He knows what waits for him inside is not going to fill him with happiness. A wife on the bottle is not what he pictured all those years ago. Previously he has walked into wet soaked bed sheets, broken glass on the floor and pyramids of bottles at the door. The times where the neighbours would knock to say his wife has fallen drunk in the street had passed. Now he fears her committing suicide in a drunken haze. Recently she seemed to have forgotten the part where she promised to ‘love and cherish him.’ He prays and cries out to God to give him strength while he locks his car.

 

Are they more or less married?

 

Impossible question? Poorly defined? The truth is that marriage is an unbreakable position, from a Christian perspective, only sexual immorality can break it. Sin makes us question the relationship we have with God. Sin prevents us from seeing God clearly (Matthew 5:8). Sin is the issue. But it doesn’t change the facts of the relationship we have with him. He saves Christians by grace and grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). He keeps Christians until the final day (Philippians 1:6). Christians love him because he first loved them. (1 John 4:19). He saves Christians while they are enemies to him (Romans 5:10). Those he justifies he glorifies (Romans 8:30). When a Christian becomes born again the promised Holy Spirit enters him or her (Ephesians 1:13-14).

 

“You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory”

 

When a Christian becomes born again, the heart that is ‘wicked above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9), is removed, yanked out, and replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Much like the married couple saying their vows all those years ago, as Christians, God took us into an irreversible realm when he placed his spirit in us. For a Christians to lose their salvation God would have to take back the gift he gave us (Ephesians 2:8-9). He would have to remove the mark, take back the Holy Spirit, cancel his deposit, revoke the guarantee, overlook the inheritance and lessen his glory. The bible and scripture are clear. A Born again Christian cannot lose their salvation. The prodigal son is kept on return.

 

However, many often challenge this truth. ‘What about those who continue to bask and live in sin?’ ‘What happens to those Christians who stop following Jesus?’ ‘What happens to those who walk away from Jesus?’ These are often questions that believers have when it comes to this topic. But we must accept the realities in this situation. Not all that wear the badge of ‘Christian’ live up to the definition of Christian that scripture provides. A Christian isn’t one who attends Church. Or one who was baptised at birth. A Christian is one who fully accepts Jesus as the only Saviour for their sins and thus possesses the Holy Spirit. (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). So when confronted with the questions aforementioned maybe its wise to consider this question. ‘Were they really saved in the first place?’ John said in his 1st Epistle ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.’

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Our hope for the married couple will always be that they reconcile and remember their vows. That he holds fast to look after her in sickness and in health. And she works to love him as the bible commands. But the reality is that the vows they took all those years ago are not changed by their present circumstances. The same way that Christians do not ‘lose their salvation’ due to isolated acts of sin. Marriage in a Christian sense is sealed by vows. To perpetually break them would indicate maybe one didn’t mean them when he or she said them. God for God secures salvation. He is not a man or woman, he will not turn back the good work he has started in you as he is working for his glory not yours.