Archive for September, 2009

A Psalm of Repentance — Psalm 51

Repenting with Empty Hands (v. 1-2)

In our day there is prevalent teaching that God loves us and forgives us because we are special and so valuable.  It is almost (and sometimes is) portrayed as if God has a nagging void that only we can fill.  This is the opposite of saying we have a God-shaped hole in our heart that only Christ can fill.  In Psalm 51 David makes his appeal on the basis of God’s unfailing love not David’s worth (even as the King of Israel). Are you trying to make me feel bad? You might ask.  No.  Post-sin is a time of intense guilt (rightly) and shame (unhealthy).  Post-sin is a time of immense self-doubt.  If the key to overcoming guilt was a high self-assessment, that would be like hiding your spare car keys in your glove compartment.  God roots His love and forgiveness in His character.  We can count on that even when our own track record is miserably poor.

A Humbled King (v. 13)

This may be one of the more over-looked verses in this great psalm.  The great king of Israel is pledging to personally consult with the lowly of society as a peer.  That was just not done.  David would not be the same king after experiencing this work of God’s grace.  Being king would no longer be his primary identity – he would be forgiven!  He would be able to interact with sinners (not as prophet, priest, or king), but as an incarnate recipient of God’s personal grace.

QUESTION: What forgiven sin do you keep private strictly out of fear and pride?  There is no need to confess all sin to everyone you meet.  BUT the deciding factor in what we share should be God’s glory and the good of our neighbor NOT the protection of our reputation.  One of the fruits of repentance is that ALL of our life is available to God when it can advance His kingdom.

A Full and Robust Repentance

A key to applying Psalm 51 is having an accurate and complete view of confession and repentance.  In

our culture we have (to our demise) reduced repentance to “I’m sorry” (remorse).  Ken Sande in his books The Peacemaker and Peacemaking for Families has done an excellent job of outlining a full and robust repentance.  His points are outlined here, but you are highly encouraged to read one of these books.

The outline below comes from Ken Sande’s books.  The explanations are original to this handout.

Address Everyone Involved – Anyone who saw, heard, or was affected by your sin should receive your repentance.

Avoid If, But, and Maybe – These words reveal an insincere repentance that is still trying to minimize the sin or shift the blame.

Admit Specifically – Sin does not occur in blankets; neither should repentance.  Carefully reviewing the details is part of removing the “blindness” of sin and rebuilding trust with the offended person(s).

Apologize – Take the time to consider how your sin affected the other person.  Sin has ripples.  Our remorse needs to extend beyond the specific actions we took to the ripples of influence in the lives of those our sin affected.

Accept the Consequences – We should not believe that the forgiveness of sin means the removal of temporal consequences.  Repentance is not a plea bargain or negotiation.

Alter Your Behavior – If you repent without a plan to change, you exhibit insincerity and force the other person into a position of “nagging” or being “judgmental” when they follow up wanting more than an admittance of wrong.

Ask for Forgiveness and Allow Time – God’s command to forgive is not your right to demand or be impatient.  Impatience after repentance is hypocrisy.  Demanding forgiveness is a form of trying to manipulate God – “God was on your team when I sinned, but now He’s on my team now that I repented.”

BLOG BOOK TOUR: Sacred Friendships by Dr. Bob Kellemen & Susan Ellis

QUESTION: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Bob:

I’ve been married for twenty-eight years to my college sweetheart, Shirley. Shirley and I have two young adult children. Josh is twenty-four and married to Andi, and is in law school in Washington State. Marie is twenty-one and is a college senior at Purdue, majoring in chemistry, and lives at home with us in Crown Point, Indiana.

I graduated with my BA in Pastoral Ministry from Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, PA. I earned my Th.M. in Theology and Biblical Counseling from Grace Seminary in Winona Lake, IN. I have my Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Kent State University. I’m also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC).

I pastored three churches in Ohio and Maryland. In two of those churches I was an Associate Pastor focused on counseling and equipping. I also have served as a Sr. Pastor. For over a dozen years I was Chairman of the Master of Arts in Christian Counseling and Discipleship Department at Capital Bible Seminary. I am now the Professor-at-Large for that program.

I am also the Director of the Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation Network (BCSFN) for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). Our vision is to equip people to use God’s Word to help God’s people to grow in Christlikeness. In my role as Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries (www.rpmminstries.org) I write, speak, and consult about Christ-centered, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counseling and spiritual formation.

In all my spare time, I coach high school wrestling, play in a men’s softball league, run daily, love sci-fi, and am a life-long diehard Chicago Cubs fan.

Susan:

I’ve been married to my wonderful husband, Paul, for 25 years. We have two children. Samantha, our youngest, is with the Lord. Our son, Paul, is married to Kristen and they have a beautiful toddler, Jocelyn, whom I adore. My mom lives with us along with our 80+ pound mutt, Daisy.

I have a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maryland. Then I waited 17 years before going back to school to get my M.A. in Christian Counseling and Discipleship (MACCD) from Capital Bible Seminary (CBS) in Lanham, MD. I started working in the MACCD department the week I started classes. I wore many hats at CBS, including Women’s Mentor, Adunct Professor in the Women’s Concentration, Academic Advisor, Director of MACCD Student Services, and Department Coordinator.

Prior to returning to school, I was a counselor and the Director of Development at an area pregnancy center. At the local church level I’ve been on leadership teams for Discipleship, Moms, Women’s, Counseling, and Retreat Ministries; provided lay counselor training; and ministered through speaking at women’s events. Most recently, I have launched Eternal Community (www.EternalCommunity.org), a ministry devoted to equipping, empowering, and encouraging professional counselors, the clergy, and lay men and women in the art of biblical counseling, discipleship, and spiritual formation through writing, speaking, and consulting. I also partner with RPM Ministries.

When I’m not working, I love hanging out with my family. I also enjoy traveling, gardening, scrapbooking, skiing, horseback riding, and sometimes I even enjoy cooking.

QUESTION: What’s the “big idea” behind Sacred Friendships? What would you like readers to take away from it?

Far too often we build our models of ministry by ignoring over half the Christian world—women. The big idea of Sacred Friendships is to give voice to the voiceless by celebrating the legacy of Christian women and by applying that legacy to our ministries today.

We want readers, men and women, to learn from godly women of the faith how to be powerful spiritual friends. Readers will be enriched by the powerful stories of the heroic sisters of the Spirit to apply proven ways to help people find healing hope in the midst of deep pain. They’ll be empowered to help people to find God’s grace for their sins and God’s strength for their journey.

QUESTION: You use a historic model of ministry as a map to tap into the resources of women in ministry. That map includes four “compass points” in the personal ministry of the word: “sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding.” What do each of these look like in real life ministry?

That question is vital to the main purpose of Sacred Friendships. Some books write about church history. A few focus on women in church history. Some highlight women counseling women. We took the daring and unique step of writing about the history of how women ministered personally to others, and then drawing implications for today. To do that, we followed a church history model of ministry.

In church history, there are four roadmap markers for what today we call “counseling.” They are known as sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. These four themes become like compass points on a map guiding us toward biblical soul care and spiritual direction.

Sustaining is like modern-day empathy where we say to a hurting friend, “It’s normal to hurt.” I like to use the somewhat macabre analogy of climbing in a casket. When the Apostle Paul was hurting in 2 Corinthians 1:8, he spoke of such agony that he “despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” Far too often, as Christians we refuse to let people go there—we want to race them to healing before we join them in hurting. Our women forebears climbed in the casket.

Of course, we don’t want to remain in the casket! So healing is the next road map marker. Healing says, “It’s possible to hope.” I like to use the picture here of celebrating the empty tomb. Paul said it this way, “But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Healing moves with people from casket-like pain to resurrection power. It empowers people to move beyond the suffering to healing hope.

If sustaining and healing move us from hurt to hope, then reconciling and guiding offers us God’s grace for our disgrace. Some models of counseling only focus on suffering, others only on sin. True biblical counseling and historical soul care and spiritual direction focus on both. In reconciling we say, “It’s horrible to sin, but wonderful to be forgiven.” This is where confronting sin, repentance, forgiveness, and grace are all crucial. And the women of Sacred Friendships were not timid about confronting sin!

The final compass point is guiding. With guiding we say, “It’s supernatural to mature.” Here brothers and sisters in Christ help one another to apply Christ’s changeless truth to their changing times. It is the mutual application of biblical principles to daily life issues and relationships. The women of Sacred Friendships were exemplary mentors and we learn so much about spiritual direction from them.

Susannah Wesley (1669-1742), mother of Wesleyan pioneers John and Charles, exemplifies in one breath these four interrelated callings. She wrote: “We are to be instructed, because we are ignorant [guiding]; and healed, because we are sick [healing]; and disciplined, because so apt to wander and go astray [reconciling]; and succored and supported, because we are so often tempted [sustaining].”

Susannah Wesley and uncountable Christian women like her followed a spiritual compass. Instead of N-S-E-W, their soul care and spiritual direction compass points read S-H-R-G: Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. Throughout Sacred Friendships, they gift us with their wisdom—wisdom for ministry today to God’s glory forever.

A Psalm about The Shepherd Not Sheep — Psalm 23

The Focus of Application in Psalm 23

In our desire to make application we can have the tendency to too quickly ask the question, “What does this passage say about or to me?”  The effects of these errors are particularly strong for Psalm 23.  Psalm 23 is not a psalm about being a good sheep (i.e., instructions to stay close to and pay attention to the shepherd).  Psalm 23 is a psalm about the Good Shepherd (i.e., God’s character, activity, and presence in the midst of all the trouble we sheep get into).  As you study and teach this passage keep the emphasis on the Shepherd (comfort) more than the sheep (instruction).

The Journey of Psalm 23

This Psalm takes a journey (both in time and location).  The psalm begins in the Spring (v. 1-3) when water and vegetation are plentiful.  Then the psalm moves to the Summer heat (v. 4) when the Shepherd must guide his flock through more treacherous terrain to find their needed nourishment.  Finally, the psalm moves towards the temple at Harvest (v. 5-6).  We see that our shepherd is prepared for all seasons and terrains of life.  As we trace the fullness of this journey we can appreciate more deeply the thematic heading of verse 1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”

Learning to Trust Our Shepherd

The big question of Psalm 23 (and life for that matter) is, “Do I trust the Shepherd and have I embraced Him as my Shepherd?”  Often we make the big questions about what we should do rather than whose we are and whom we trust.  When we make this error we tend to become legalist, cynical, guilt-ridden, or prideful.

Use the following reflective questions to guide you to more fully embrace and trust the Shepherd.

v. 2 – Do you rest well (physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually)?  What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?

v. 3 – Do you embrace wisdom and righteousness?  Do you believe the “good life” is outside righteousness and want the Bible to be proven right?  What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?

v. 4 – Where do your eyes look first when hardship or evil shows itself?  When you think of God with a rod do you believe He is for you?  What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?

v. 5 – How do you respond to blessings (awkward embarrassment, prideful self-sufficiency, or humble gratitude)?  What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?

v. 6 – When you think of God’s presence is He on your back (driving you), on your case (checking up on and shaming you), or on your side (loving you)?  What would it be like for that presence to be eternally tangible to you?  What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?

v. 1 – Is the Lord truly your shepherd and do you trust Him in such a way that you can truly call Him your good Shepherd?

Worship Changes Me!– Psalm 135

Psalm 135 emphasizes many aspects of God’s character.  The reader is called to praise and take comfort in these attributes of God’s character.  My booklet “God’s Attributes” is a reflective devotion taking you through 16 attributes of God and may be a useful follow up for members of your Sunday School class or home group.


“Whatever the Lord Pleases, He Does” Psalm 135:6

God is free.  That thought may first bring more fear than peace.  Like the children in The Chronicles of Narnia, we ask, “Is Aslan (representing Christ) a safe lion?”   The Bible chuckles as the beavers did and reply, “No, he is no tame lion (God), but he is good.

How do we try to control or place claims on God?  When we get angry at God what does that reveal about what we think of God’s freedom?  How would God be different if He were not free?  How would our life be different if God answered to something other than his own pleasure (character).

Application: As you read your Bible and pray, resist the temptation to try to figure out how to make God do what you want.  Read to know God for who He is and pray for the faith to trust the God who is free.


We Become Like Who/What We Worship

Psalm 135:18 contains one of the great principles of change: “We become like who/what we worship?”  We can use this principle looking forward or backwards.  (1) We can ask—looking backward—how have I changed over the last year?  From this we will see the nature of who/what we have worshipped?  (2) We can ask—looking forward—what is most important to me at this time?  From this—if we assess our hearts accurately—we will discern what we are becoming.

Use the following reflection questions (that reveal objects of worship) to help you assess yourself.  As Christians, we know we should worship Christ and become more like him.  However, unless we do the hard work of examining our own heart we may be disappointed in what we are becoming.

  • What do you spend most of your time doing, especially your “free” time?
  • When you face a challenge who do you want to talk to most?• When you are stressed where or in what do you seek comfort?
  • What subjects do you enjoy talking about the most?
  • What angers you most easily or most intensely?
  • For what purchases/expenditures are you most willing to sacrifice?
  • When, where, or with whom do you most naturally “lose yourself”?
  • When you surf the internet what do you look for?
  • When you daydream what is the common theme of the ideal outcome?
  • What kinds of things do you find to be entertaining or funny?

As you have reflected on these questions, take the time to look forward and backwards.  How are the answers shaping you?  What changes need to be made to make these pursuits more God-centered and, thereby, make you more Christ-like?

Teaching Healthy Family Communication

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
– Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Most Christian parents have considered these verses.  The application can too often be reduced to, “We should talk about God and the Bible a lot.”  This is true, but if left there can result either in multiple prolonged monologues or guilt for not knowing what to say.  A second common application is that, “We should decorate our homes with biblical stuff.”  This too is true, but if left there our homes can become a VBS crafts museum.

This post seeks to give one example of how to apply the two principles discussed above.  There are many other applications that could be made and I encourage families to be creative.

CRAFT:  Get three bowls and place them on the kitchen table.  Fill the first bowl with pieces of an old towel cut into small pieces and tied with a ribbon.  Fill the second bowl with small plastic hearts or pictures of hearts printed on the computer.  Fill the third bowl with small plastic shields or pictures of a shield printed on the computer.

TOWEL:  The towels represent service.  The towel is a gift of recognition given when a member of the family voluntarily serves someone else.  Use your concordance to find verses on service. Print these verses and tie them to the small pieces of towel.

SHIELD: The shield represents a lack of defensiveness.  In difficult communication we are faced with the choice to protect others or defend ourselves.  The shield is a gift of recognition given when a member of the family resists a natural opportunity to be defensive or deceitful.  Use your concordance to find verses on other mindedness, confession, honesty, integrity, and vulnerability. Print these verses and place them in the bowl with the shields.

HEART:  The heart represents tender, active listening.  Whenever someone wants to show love to another member of the family by listening they should ask, “May I hold your heart?”  While they listen they should hold the heart with an open hand.  Once they have been able to accurately summarize what they have heard, they then return the heart and say, “Thank you for sharing your heart with me.”  Use your concordance to find words on love, listening, and compassion.  Print these verses and place them in the bowl with the hearts.

By placing these bowls on the dinner table, the family will frequently remind themselves of these important foundations of healthy communication: service, lack of defensiveness, and sincere listening.  By placing Scripture with each item, there is the opportunity to highlight the Bible being lived out in the family’s life—this allows the blessing of Godly communication to be captured “in the moment.”

Young children will enjoy being able to collect the various tokens.  Parents should take the opportunity to model the principles of each token before their children in role play.  Parents should also role play conversations with each of the children.  After role playing tokens should be passed parent-parent, parent-child, child-parent, and child-child.  The goal is to give the family “eyes to see” good communication—too often we only pay attention to the negative.  Also, after discipline in which one of these principles was violated, the parent should discuss how the towel, shield, or heart would have made things different.

As you use this tool, you will get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each family member.  Some will have many towels and another will have lots of hearts.  This is a great opportunity to celebrate the strengths of each family member.  It is also an opportunity to discuss having a balanced character.

If this tool proves to be an effective way to disciple your family, you can use it with other virtues.  First, identify the virtue that needs extra attention in your family.  Second, select a positively conotated object to represent that virtue.  Third, research Scripture passages that speak about that virtue.  Fourth, explain to the family the new object and role play its enactment.

I would not advise using an incentive system for this tool (i.e., ice cream for the first person with five shields).  The reward for this tool is the peace, affection, and unity it brings.  This is not a race or competition. If it has to be “enforced,” then you are dealing with a matter of discipline not instruction.  This tool is merely a tool of instruction (hopefully with a cute motivational twist).

The goal for this exercise is to bring Scripture application to life and create a positive context for seeking Christ-like character and expressions of love within the family.  If it allows for enjoyable and creative discussions of biblical principles that tend to be abstract, then it has achieved its purpose.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Communication” post which address other facets of this subject.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.

Sacred Recollections — Psalm 105-106

Summary of Psalms 105-106:

These two Psalms corporately take the children of Israel through their spiritual heritage from Abraham through Moses.  It is hard for us to grasp the relevance and significance of this in our individualistic culture.  We do not tend to think of the history of our nation, denomination, church, or sometimes even family impacting our life.  However, the Psalmist is giving meaning and trajectory to the children of Israel by having them trace the faithfulness of God through the success and failures of their forefathers.


The Command to Remember

The imperative tense (command) verb “remember” shows up over 100 times in the Bible (as in Psalm 105:5).  Part of our fallen nature is that we are forgetful people.  When we forget there are many negative things that happen.  In Psalms 105 and 106 we find an example of healthy remembering.  As you read these Psalms identify how this type of remembering would protect you from the dangers listed below.

  • Life loses meaning, because each day is plucked out of any context.  Every day is simply another morning-noon-night, breakfast-lunch-dinner, and work-home-sleep.  Without ministry legacy, ministry, and motivation are lost.
  • Faith becomes harder, because we (try to) force God to re-prove Himself in every moment.  We do not recall God’s past works on our behalf, so we more easily doubt whether He will be faithful on this occasion.
  • Temptation grows larger, because we are not intentionally learning from Satan’s previous victories over us.  Each temptation becomes an island to itself.  The surrounding water is shame, pride, or denial.  Regardless without memory we will not learn (scout) our enemy.
  • Life’s joys are swallowed up by the moment, because without memory only the urgent rules.  In many ways, priorities are simply remembering the things that are most important in the midst of life’s distractions.
  • Praise is muted, because each blessing stands alone.  God’s blessings are meant to be celebrated like ones listening to an orchestra.  Each blessing (like each instrument) is beautiful in itself, but when considered (heard) in the fullness of the other blessings the beauty is magnified to breath-taking status.


Writing Your Own Redemptive History

One of our goals as we read the Bible is to begin to see our story as a part of God’s story.  Too often we do the opposite and try to figure out how God can become useful in the story we are writing for our life.  In Psalms 105 and 106 the events that are written occur before the lifetime of the reader.  The goal is to give the original readers an appreciation for what has led up to their lives.

The same exercise is very useful for us today.  Begin to answer the following questions.  Take the process slowly; being satisfied with the completeness of one answer before using it to continue to the next.  When you finish use the reflection to deepen your appreciation for God’s faithfulness, power, love, and redemption in your life.

  • Who are the people who have shaped you (for better and worse)?
  • Who are the people who shaped the people that shaped you?
  • What key historical events impacted your life or occurred during your life time?
  • What opportunities were presented to you that were “unexpected” or “unplanned”?
  • What “blessing” at the time has proven hurtful?
  • What “disappointment” or “hurt” at the time has proven to be a blessing?
  • What “big thing” at the time seems insignificant now?
  • What “small thing” at the time has been a huge difference in your life now?
  • Where can you see God at work in the midst of your answers?
  • What aspects of God’s character are revealed in your answers?
  • How does this reflection change your view of the present and near future?

Hopefully your praise of God is richer now that you have traced His hand in your history.  Consider putting your notes into a short story, narrative, or poem.  Consider sharing your reflections with a close friend and inviting them to do the same with you.

A God Who is Powerful in the Midst of Suffering — Psalm 9

Summary of Psalm 9:

Psalm 9 is a mix of praise and petition; celebration and setback.  David is praising God (verses 1-2) for His power over his enemies (verses 3-8) and continual presence with David during the battle (verses 9-12).  In the midst of David’s praise he is either reminded of old battle injuries or experiences a set back in battle (verses 13-14).  Rather than giving into despair or questioning God’s love/power, David affirms the destiny of the wicked (verses 14-17).  In conclusion David affirms God’s provision of hope for the downcast (verse 18) and petitions God for victory over this persistent enemy (verses 19-20).

Theme:  God is more powerful than our enemies and concerned for our struggles.  We can and should turn to God in the midst of our struggles.  Even while we praise God and pray to God we may still suffer.  This should not stop our desire to praise the God whose character never changes.


The Journey of Suffering Begins with Praise (v. 1-2)

David is giving us words for our suffering in Psalm 9.  He is teaching us how to respond to hardship.  He does this by beginning with words of praise.  The context of the Psalm is battle, but the focus is the character and activity of God.  One of the most debilitating aspects of suffering is that our focus tends to shrink to the size of our circumstances.  The same thing can happen in our successes with the result of pride instead of despair.  However, David gives us words that would protect us from both.

APPLICATION: When you are suffering begin your times of Bible study and prayer focusing on God’s character more than looking for a particular answer.  Once your soul is at rest in who God is, then seek God’s answers with clearer eyes and mind.

RESOURCE: Article “Learning God in the Midst of Life’s Struggles” a month long devotion in the attributes of God.

Writing Your Own Psalm 9

The Psalms are unique in that they seek to give us words to express our experiences more than they seek to give us answers to our struggles.  The Psalms teach us to think of life with God at the center more than they teach us what to do in God’s world.  Their function is more worship than instruction, but with the intent that worship would give life to instruction.

With that in mind, I invite you to write your own experience into the outline of Psalm 9.  The goal of this exercise is to think as God would have you think, so that you experience the joy of God as you live as God would have you live.  You do not have to be a great poet.  You can write a letter using the outline below if that is easier for you.

  • Verses 1-2: Write of God’s faithfulness.  Give examples of God’s past faithfulness.  What names or attributes of God are exemplified in these examples?
  • Verses 3-6: Give specific, current examples of God’s activity in the midst of the struggle you are currently facing.
  • Verses 7-12: Who is God?  What is the reason for your hope?  What is God’s position or role as it relates to the struggle before you?  What images of God are most relevant to this struggle?
  • Verses 13-14: How are you hurting or struggling?  What form does it take?  How does it affect you?  What emotions does it generate?
  • Verses 15-18: What is the end result for those people or things that afflict you?  How is their temporary success ultimately empty?
  • Verses 19-20:  Call on God to arise and intervene.  Cry out to the One who is Faithful and True.  Write with passion, conviction and hope.