Blog Sabbatical 2015 and Prayer Requests

I appreciate all those who peruse my blog, so I wanted to let you know I will be taking a break for a couple of weeks.

I will be spending the next couple weeks in East Asia conducting seminars in counseling to equip churches for more effective one another care in the area of emotions.

I would appreciate your prayers :

  • That we would be an encouragement to the churches we serve
  • That the quality of the one-another care in these churches would continue to grow
  • That this would be a time I learn a great deal about how to counsel cross-culturally; what is timeless and what is culturally bound
  • That these churches’ confidence in Scripture and reliance upon the gospel would be enhanced
  • That I would see new aspects of the gospel and church life as I experience church outside my cultural norms

My plan is to begin posting again on August 3rd. If you really want some posts to read, I would encourage to visit the “My Favorite Posts” section of my site where the most popular posts from this site are arranged topically.

While you’re in the praying mode, I would also ask for your prayers for the Fall teaching schedule.

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS

Date: Saturday September 26, 2015
Time: 4:00 to 7:00 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free
RSVP link coming soon

CREATING A GOSPEL-CENTERED MARRIAGE INTENSIVE

    • Monday, October 5 – Foundations
    • Tuesday, October 6 – Communication
    • Wednesday, October 7 – Finances
    • Thursday, October 8 – Decision Making
    • Friday, October 9 – Intimacy

Time: 6:30 to 9:00 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Blue Ridge Campus
Address: 3249 Blue Ridge Road; Raleigh, NC 27612
Cost: Free
Credit Available (learn more here)

GAINING A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

Date: Saturday November 14, 2015
Time: 4:00 to 7:00 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free
RSVP link coming soon

My Favorite Posts on Marriage

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Resources:

Marriage Evaluations:

These are the 15 on-line, self-scoring evaluations from the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage series.

  1. Marital Expectations
  2. Marriage as Covenant
  3. Character & Role Expectations
  4. Listening
  5. Day-to-Day Communication
  6. Conflict Resolution
  7. Financial Beliefs and Character
  8. The Budgeting Process
  9. Attitude Toward Debt and Savings
  10. Personal Decision Making
  11. Consensus Decision Making
  12. Headship-Submission Decision Making
  13. Preferences in Expressing / Receiving Love
  14. Living in the Larger Love Story
  15. Being Excellent Lovers

Blog Resources:

Book Recommendations:

Tweets of the Week 7.15.15

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Humility: Freedom from You to be You

humility-copyHave you ever met someone who should have died? Maybe they were in a horrific car accident or survived a terminal illness. Their perspective on everything changes. Temporal stresses are no longer worth worrying about. Trivial arguments are not worth fighting over. They have a real sense of what matters… and it’s not what bothers most of us most of the time.

But, oddly, they also learn not to take themselves too seriously. They recognize life is too short to be petty or conceited. Once they’ve come close to death they realize life is a gift. It no longer makes sense to hassle over their own significance once the fragility of life has been made apparent. Yet, this humility is rarely anything like its stereotype, as C.S. Lewis notes.

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all (p. 128).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

So what do we do with this? The answer is not to become a dare devil and arrange a series of near-death experiences to scare ourselves healthily humble. The answer is to truly experience the doctrine of atonement. We have already been dead-dead, not just a little-dead, and brought back to life when Christ exchanged his perfect life for our eternal punishment (II Corinthians 5:17-21).

Consider these two passages as if they were summaries of scenes in a Jack Bauer movie or old soap opera, and you were the main character being re-introduced to the story after being left for dead to the marvel of Heaven and Hell.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.Ephesians 2:1-3

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” I Corinthians 6:19-20

If you are a Christian, this is your story. If you are not a Christian, this is your hope. If this grips us, we will have all the freedom from self described above and, with it, the freedom to be the individuals God made us to be. That is the promise of discipleship.

“And [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” Luke 9:23-24

The greatest prison we all endure is either pride or insecurity; the belief that we’re better than everybody else or the fear that we’re not. We can relinquish these toxic dispositions with the humility God offers when he gave us more than forgiveness (mere pardon), but also adoption (bestowing the family name on His Son’s assassins).

These are theological crescendos, which are great for emotional effect but not always clear how to apply, so let’s also ask a highly practical question. How do you know when you are talking to a humble person; someone who has been transformed this way?

You are comfortable talking with them, and they ask good questions. A humble person isn’t worried about getting trapped in his/her words or winning an argument. If the humble person is wrong, he/she is willing to admit it. Even if his/her “wrongness” is still debatable, the humble person is willing to discuss it.

A truly humble person relates to his or her own preferences differently. He realizes life is too short not to state them, but also that personal character and relationships are too precious to be dominated by our preferences. Humble people can find that rare middle ground between silently going-along-to-get-along and boisterously asserting one’s preferences to the degree that they aren’t enjoyable even if you get them. Friends of a humble person are allowed to really know them without having to lose themselves in the process.

This is what others would experience if we were transformed this way. It ought to sound a great deal like how Paul calls us to imitate Jesus in Philippians 2:3-11.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

My Favorite Posts on Spiritual Disciplines

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Book Recommendations:

Tweets of the Week 7.8.15

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it’s funny…

When We Over-Reach with I Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” I Corinthians 10:13

2563_ScriptureArt_1_Corinthians_10_13_WhiteThis verse may be second to Romans 8:28 (one, two, three articles on this passage) in the Guinness Book of Work Records for most frequently misused or unhelpfully used verses. Like Romans 8:28, this verse contains transformative truth (which are often very helpful and timely), but both passages are prone to be offered with dangerous clichés or to infer applications that are not part of the verse or the heart of God for the struggling individual.

Devaluing Unique or Personal Experiences

Does this passage say that we do not have any unique experiences? Does this passage say that we can fully relate to another person’s experience because of something similar in our own history? Was Paul trying to reduce particular challenges down to their least-common-denominator so that he had the authority to counsel them all within his basic repertoire of helping strategies?

Consider these examples as you ponder these questions:

  • Does the fact that I was “profiled” in college as a cheap-tipping college student and given lesser service by waiters allow me to relate to the experience of being racially profiled?
  • Does the experience of having a nagging uncertainty about whether I locked the house when I left allow me to relate to the experience the debilitating belief-behavior patterns of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
  • Does the experience of shame after being picked on in school allow me to “know” the experience of shame that follows being sexually abused as a child?

Based on I Corinthians 10:13, would Paul want me to say to those I counsel, “Yes, I know what you are experiencing and I can tell you how God helped me deal with those struggles”? Or, would Paul condone me saying, “Because I’ve thought through how the Bible speaks to my experience on something similar, it has equipped me to speak to your experience”? Or, would Paul approve if I said, “Your experience is not unique. You should not live as if your experience is different from the common experiences of offense, anxiety, and shame of everyone else”?

I would say the answer to every question I’ve posed so far is “No!” There is a canyon between saying:

“You are not the only one who has faced this experience. God has been faithful to others facing your challenge and He will be faithful to you. There is no challenge so great that God does not offer the opportunity to make healthy choices that can protect your soul in the midst of them. I would like to learn of your experience and walk with you towards the hope God offers. If I cannot understand, I will be honest about that and help you find someone who does.”

And saying:

“There is nothing unique about your experience that would cause it to receive special consideration from other challenges or emotions that might seem similar. Basic biblical advice on how to handle offense, anxiety, or shame should handle your situation or it is evidence that you lack faith, aren’t committed in your application of God’s Word, or are hard-hearted towards God.”

The problem is we do not have to say these things in order to say these things. I don’t believe most Christians would approve of the latter statement. However, if we use I Corinthians 10:13 to draw a false parallel between dissimilar struggles, offer advice based upon that parallel, and tell people this is what God’s Word says should resolve their struggle, then we are (in effect) making the second statement.

Simplistic, Anecdotal Counsel

What happens if we use I Corinthians 10:13 to devalue unique and personal experiences? We offer bad counsel even if it is from a good source (i.e., the Bible). It is the equivalent of seeing someone fall down and offering them help based upon the experiences we have when we fall down. But it may be that their fall resulted in a second degree ankle sprain and we had the comparably good fortune of only getting cuts and scrapes.

You might ask, “Would people really miss something that obvious?” My concerned reply would be, “The more confident we are in our answers or the source of our answers, the less likely we are to ask good questions.” Further, “If, on a given subject, we have a limited awareness of approaches, then we are prone to only ask questions that lead to those answers.”

The Bible has much more to say to these struggles like offenses, anxiety, and shame than we have studied or utilized. But the more we use 1 Corinthians 10:13 to downplay the unique aspects of someone’s struggle, the less we will search for these approaches.

The result is that the advice given tends to be simplistic (i.e., directed towards the lowest-common-denominator of the individual’s challenge) or anecdotal (i.e., based upon “this is what worked for me” which assumes a commonality of the two struggles). In either case, “common to man” gives permission for the helper to reinterpret the helpee’s struggles into the categories of his/her own experience or pre-established categories.

Only Jesus

How, then, do we begin to turn towards hope? If the Bible does speak to all of life and intends to use people like us to communicate that hope, how do we proceed? We begin by realizing that the Bible says only one person can relate to every human experience – Jesus.

“For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and fine grace to help in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16

Does this mean Jesus was racially profiled, had a chronic doubt of God the Father’s acceptance, and was raped as a child? Yes, no, and not that we know (although he was publicly crucified naked). He was a Jew and that contributed to His crucifixion. He was unswervingly confident of God’s love outside His time on the cross. We know little of his childhood outside a couple of prophetically significant events.

How then can we say that Hebrews 4:15-16 is true? Would Jesus have needed to have had leprosy, Downs Syndrome, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s in order to sympathize with our every weakness? No. The greatest extent of being misunderstood, rejected, abused, lonely, tempted, forsaken, and any other nightmare we are incapable of dreaming was experienced by Christ as He condescended from Heaven to earth and experienced Hell on our behalf.

Yet notice what this passage does and doesn’t say. It doesn’t say it is Jesus’ suffering that gives Him the wisdom or power to restore our souls. It does say that it is Jesus’ suffering that gives us confidence in His ability to relate and draws us to receive the mercy He offers. God, as omnipresent and omniscient Creator, does not rely upon personal experience as we do to have understanding.

What Should We Do?

We should be humble in how we approach the suffering and sin of others who honor us with the opportunity to be Christ’s ambassadors to the rawest areas of their life. Humility, in this kind of situation, would mean not using I Corinthians 10:13 as a “fast forward verse” that allows us to maneuver the conversation to a subject or approach to helping with which we are more comfortable.

Humility may also require me to acknowledge that while their struggle is “common to man” it is “foreign to me.” Music is common to man, but foreign to me. Eight painful years of piano lessons as a child proved that music is hard for me. Why would I be hesitant to acknowledge that about the attachment struggles of adopted children or the wise timing of restoration in an abusive-manipulative marriage?

Humility always means listening more than we talk. It likely means not offering advice that comes with the authority that referencing Scripture implies until my questions are generating a sense that I understand you and that you are beginning to understand yourself better.

Humility would also mean having the confidence that my confusion is no indicator of God’s lack of understanding. It may be that during the time of uncertainty that I (the counselor) need to be reminded of I Corinthians 10:13 more than you (the counselee). And this reminder prevents me from giving way to the fear that causes me to rush, listen poorly, or force “next steps” that are not fully warranted (at least not based on my current understanding and your sense of being understood – trust).

Tweets of the Week 7.1.15

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

5 Questions I Wished My Accountability Partner Would Ask Me

I am honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Covenant Eyes blogging team. If you are not familiar with their blog, I would encourage you to check their resources. This post was originally posted at Covenant eyes on June 22.

5-Questions-I-Wish-My-Accountability-Partner-Would-Ask-MeCan I contradict the title of this post in the first sentence? #BadBloggingHabit

I don’t like the word “accountability partner” any more than I like the word “diet,” and I dislike them both for the same reason. They sound like an exception and a punishment rather than a lifestyle and a gift.

No one is going to live on a diet or in an accountability relationship. They’ll do it for a little while and then they’ll stop. We know this. So let’s quit saying it. Admission – I will still use the phrase accountability partner in this blog. I want to change your mindset more than your vocabulary.

What is the alternative vocabulary to “accountability”? It’s friendship. Every instance of accountability that I’ve ever seen endure, did so because the two (or more) people were friends; not because they enjoyed going on a sin-hunt (a concept we’ll debunk in a moment, but let’s take it one at a time).

So what if you don’t have a friend who will serve this role?

  1. Make yourself accountable;[1] which is a radically different mindset from “having accountability.” If you’re married and struggling with sexual sin, this is a vital step in protecting your spouse.
  2. See who appreciates the authenticity of your actions. People are hungry for authenticity. Live the kind of relationship you want and see who is drawn to you.
  3. Invest in that relationship you develop in point #2 in the ways described below.

The questions provided below serve two primary purposes that are not always considered part of developing an accountability relationship: developing trust and addressing pre-crisis temptation. Both of these are generally known to be important for effective accountability, but the questions most commonly asked in an accountability relationships are not targeted at these objectives.

  1. Deepen trust to draw out greater honesty – We trust those who show the ability to care for us well. Many of the questions asked between accountability partners (by now you should hear “friends”) should be for the purpose of demonstrating care for the individual so that trust is developed and greater honesty ensues.
  1. Identify pre-crisis contributors to temptation – Crisis level temptation is not born in a vacuum. Usually there are predictable things that lead to the pivotal moments of decision. Many of these have nothing to do with what we classically think of as “temptation.” If this concept intrigues you, but you’re not sure what this would entail, keep reading.

Without further ado, let’s begin to look at questions you wish your accountability partner would ask and why. These five questions are merely meant to be representative and to spark creativity (stale, repetitive questions result in withering accountability). Use them as a launching pad for the kinds of conversations you should be having as you establish lasting and enjoyable accountability in your life.

1. What are you doing to enjoy life?

We sin because sin is fun. We enjoy sin; at least for a little while. The more we deprive ourselves of legitimate pleasures, the more we will be susceptible to the temptation of illegitimate pleasures. A friend who spurs you to avoid illegitimate pleasures (e.g., sin) should, just as passionately, call you to pursue legitimate pleasures – in balance with your life responsibilities.[2] “Shooting the breeze” about your favorite hobby is not just wasting time while your waiter brings your breakfast, it is part of the accountability relationship.

2. What new stressors are entering your life?

Sin is frequently an escape more than it is a pursuit. If that is true, then being aware of the things we are prone to want to escape from is important. Often, just not being alone with our stresses is a huge relief. When we don’t feel like anyone knows or understands what we’re going through, all of the lies that make sin appealing become more convincing. Sometimes our friend may be able to suggest things to reduce the stress, but even if they can’t these are not wasted conversations.

3. Would you like to “just hang out”?

If accountability partners only spend time together “doing accountability” then their relationship will likely begin to feel like a sin-hunt. Accountability will be deemed to only be “working” when sin is found. The purpose of the relationship will be called into question during extended periods of time when our sin-of-choice is absent. The result is a neglect of the relationship and creation of a context more ripe for temptation during “the good times.” Having times when you “hang out” (or whatever the cool word is now) is vital to accountability providing the long-term protection desired when people enter into these kinds of relationships. Again, you should be saying, “This sounds more like intentional friendship than an accountability protocol.”

4. Who or what is getting too much air time in your thought life right now?

This is similar to the stress question, but does not have to carry the negative connotation. Our mental air time can be consumed by a fictional argument with someone we believe has unreasonable expectations of us. But it can also be fixated on a particular craving or a personal ambition that is becoming too central to our identity. Asking this question is a great way to help each other become self-aware of our thoughts; which is very important for addictive behaviors. Too often it is passivity towards our thought life that allows temptation to gain significant momentum before we begin to resist it as temptation. Knowing you’ll be asked reminds you to pay attention.

5. What are you passionate about in the coming weeks, months, or year? How it is going?

Your friend should already know, but if they don’t, then they have to know what “it” is before they can ask now “it’s” going. Part of what sin does is rob us of the time and energy that God desires us to invest in the things he made us to be passionate about. In that sense, sin is a parasite; it lives off of resources intended for another purpose. For many people it is helpful to realize that purity is an investment as much as an outcome. Purity is investing our lives in the things that really matter more than it’s the avoidance of particular activities; otherwise couch potatoes would be saints. For achievement-oriented people this realization can add to their motivation to pursue purity.

Don’t take the suggestions above to discount traditional accountability conversations. You should still ask traditional accountability questions:

  • Have you succumbed to temptation since we met last?
  • When have you been tempted and what have you done about it?
  • How has your time of Bible study and prayer been?
  • Has God felt more like a cop-detective or a Savior-Father to you recently?
  • What have you not told me that you should?
  • What should I have asked that I haven’t?

But don’t let these be the only questions you ask. Make sure that as you “do accountability” that you are “establishing a friendship.” If you don’t, chances are you won’t be “doing accountability” for long

[1] In your “best available relationships” (whatever those may be) share when you’re tempted, tired, discouraged, unmotivated. Do this by e-mail, text message, phone call, or in person. Don’t rely on them for the changes you need to make, but allow their awareness to strengthen your resolve to make those changes.

[2] I caveat this point, because there are too many adults, especially married adults, who are bitter about the responsibilities of adulthood and a family. Daydreaming about the fun of adolescents or singleness robs us of the ability to enjoy the fun of adulthood and marriage. God is pro-maturity and we should be too.

My Favorite Posts on Mental Illness and Medication

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Resources:

Blog Resources: