Archive for September, 2010

Talking At vs. Talking To

Here’s another classic argument starter – actually its more of an argument fuel-er, because the disagreement is usually under way when this “debate of classification” is engaged. So what is the difference? Both definitions below assume a difficult life situation.

“Talking At” is the act of engaging with another person in a virtual monologue for the purpose of releasing an unpleasant emotion. Two key components of this definition should be defined further. First, a “virtual monologue” is a conversation in which any dissent, alternative perspective, or even interruption is viewed as arguing or being on the other team. Second, the word “releasing” should be understood in contrast with sharing a burden. When “talking at” the goal is not to invite another person into your struggle, but to unload the struggle on the other person.

“Talking To” is the act of engaging with another person in a dialogue for the purpose of inviting them into your struggle and seeking perspective, correction, or encouragement to persevere in the difficult circumstance. The key element here is that the other person is viewed as more than an audience and the purpose of speaking is more than an emotional release. We are requesting a companion in hard/frustrating times; not seeking to speak against something to a mute set of living ears.

So what is the problem when we “talk at” someone? While the list could definitely be longer, I would like to point out two problems.

First, “talking at” someone reveals a heart of pride and defensiveness. Anger is a proud emotion. Notice that in James 4:1-10 when he transitions from the theory of conflict (v. 1-5) to

the practice of resolution (v. 6-10) the pivot point is pride (v. 6). When we speak with someone—usually a loved one—about a problem and do not want to hear what they have to say, that is a battle with pride. We have become the fool of Proverbs who resists instruction (4:13, 8:10, 9:9, 10:17, 13:1, 15:5, 16:22).

While it is not wrong to want to be fully heard and adequately understood before receiving instruction or perspective, sharing a hurt implies that we are inviting someone to speak into our life. It takes humility and courage to allow someone to do that. But to speak and not listen is like giving someone an invitation and rebuking them when they arrive.

Second, “talking at” someone detaches us from the “one another” ministry by which God intends to strengthen and encourage us. Galatians 6:2 says we are to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The implication is that this is the normal interaction of believers. So while pride (problem one) reveals that my heart is not where it ought to be, this detachment (problem two) cuts me off from one of God’s primary remedies for this problem.

So what should I do to resist the temptation to “talk at” my loved ones when I’m upset? Consider the following suggestions:

  • Make frequent eye contact during conversation. When we “talk at” someone we tend to look though them or our eyes move all over the room.
  • Ask the person to pray for you after you finish telling your concern to serve as a clear conversational bridge between your sharing and the dialogue to follow. If that seems out of place, you’re probably out of control or defensive a way that will make the conversation unproductive.
  • Make sure you have a few questions in mind to ask after you’re finished telling your concern and that those questions are not merely rhetorical or yes-no questions confirming your perspective.

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.

Beyond Science: A Necessary Question

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“But why anything comes to be there at all and whether there is anything behind the things science observes—something of a different kind—this is not a scientific question. If there is ‘Something Behind’, then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way (p.23).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Why is there something instead of nothing? Why is there life instead of just lifeless matter? These are questions that we will never answer scientifically (please do not read this as a slight at science). But for as long as mankind has existed to “observe” (this is the primary tool of science), we have never seen life come from non-life; only life can (or, at least to our observation, has) beget life.

It should be noted that even the most popular theories of secular science – evolution and the Big Bang – do not really answer this question. They do not explain why there is something instead of nothing. They have not given a defensible explanation of how life would come from lifeless matter. Their explanation attempts to pick up at the point in “history” when there is “something” and that something is “alive.”

What C.S. Lewis points out in this quote is that we will never answer these questions in a scientific fashion, because science requires observation. The q

uestions we are probing predate the creation of the eyes and ears by which we observe.

The agent of creation (using the words “agent” and “creation” on the observational premise that non-life cannot beget life) would have to make itself known. The only possible options before us would be (1) existence with no preface or introductory chapter, or (2) self-disclosing revelation from the Creator as to the method and purpose of creation.

This is not an attempt to defend the creation account of the Bible, but an exercise in logic. The same logic (at this point) could be used to defend the creation account of other faiths. If you found a dead body you would assume (1) the person died of natural causes or accident, (2) the person was murdered by another person or creature, or (3) the person committed suicide. These would be the only feasible options.

If you have life (without even considering the grand, inter-dependencies of the environment in which that life exists and supports other life), then there must be a Living Begetter of life and that origin of life would have to make itself known.

Consider a new born infant. It comes from parents (life begetting life). If the parents did not nurture, educate, and inform that baby, the child would know nothing of its origin, history, or identity.

From these reflections, I would like to offer a concluding thought. I believe one of the reasons we (speaking for humanity as a race) are often so hesitant to embrace creation and divine revelation is because it reveals our dependency and child-like qualities. It may not be our intellect that takes us in the direction of a competing hypothesis as much as it our pride that blinds us to what creation clearly reveals (Romans 1:20).

Real Power – Ephesians 3:14-21

Grant You to be Strengthened (3:16)

We tend to think of strength as something that is worked for. Athletes go to the gym and work out to get stronger. Even if they cheat and use steroids or human growth hormone, they must still work out to gain the benefits of the performance enhancing drugs. Yet this passage speaks of strength as a gift that is given to us by God.

In the midst of temptation we often wonder if we have the power (in ourselves) to resist. Even in our temptation we are often too proud to be God’s beggars (as if we were ever anything more). Yet because of how we phrase the question (self-centeredly) we are given to the doubt and fear which strengthens our temptation.

Application: Hopefully we can see that timeless truth “in our weakness then we are strong” more clearly in light of this reflection. The question of temptation is not one of ability or strength, but of dependence and trust. Make a list of the temptations you regularly face. Beside each one list the setting(s) in which you frequently face that temptation. Describe how your self-assessment leads to fear and doubt. Write a brief narrative of what it would look like to face that moment in God’s strength.

Strength to Comprehend (3:18)

 

Have you ever studied something until your head hurt? That might be what Paul is saying here. If we are going to fathom the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love it will require the strength of God to prevent that understanding from breaking us. When we set the darkness of our sin against the brightness of God’s love the contrast should bring us to our knees like Paul on the road to Damascus.

If we miss this, we likely approach our study of Scripture too casually; like children playing near a high voltage generator. Imagine being an orphaned child who lived well into adulthood without any knowledge of his parents. Then finally by some means he is given a letter from his birth parents. As he read the letter, he would likely have to sit down. The weight of knowing this was the only first-person knowledge he would ever have from his parents would be physically moving. When we read it correctly, that is the Bible.

Reflection: How often, before you study the Bible, do you pray that God will grant you the strength to comprehend His Word? I think this kind of prayer prepares us for the miracle of divine revelation that we are preparing to read. One of the great challenges to rightly interpreting the Bible is coming to it with a right understanding of what it is. Because we live in a day of endless books, a leather bound one does not seem that special. Let us pray that God would give us “eyes to see” the Bible as divine revelation, before we open it to read.

More Than We Ask or Imagine

What is the point of trying to imagine something you cannot imagine? That is the invitation of Ephesians 3:20. We are constantly faced with the temptation to make God in our own image. This is partly because we are limited to the capabilities of our finite mind.

I believe one good application of this verse is to expand the breadth of our imaginations. By so doing we increase our capacity for God. The goal of the passage is not to challenge us to ask more and more of God so that we can be awed, but to have a greater and greater capacity for God so that our service in the advancement of His church is never delayed by our lack of faith.

With this being said, let me suggest two types of reading to help you grow the breadth of your imagination: Christian fiction and Christian biography.

As you read one of these works, do not just seek to glean new information or to be entertained by a good story, ask God to expand the capacity of your imagination so that vision for what is possible for His kingdom will also grow.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Article: Would Shame by any Other Name Hide Just as Fiercely?

Why ask a question like, “Would a rose by any other name smell just as sweet?”  What could we hope to get from this deliberation that would be of value?  Doesn’t everything “flowery” smell good? I remember when I learned that the answer is a definitive no.

Our trash can was beginning to smell.  I was sure that I had an ingenious double solution that would win the admiration of my wife: potpourri roach spray.  With one thorough and heavy application any odor from the trash can would be gone and any potential bug problem would be eliminated.  When my wife arrived from the other room, I was informed that a roach spray by any other name smells just as foul.  To this day I still think it should have worked.

What about with our emotions?  If we mislabel an emotion, does that impact our ability to respond to a situation biblically?  The clear answer is yes.  This is because emotions are not passive.  Emotions are not inconsequential fluctuations in our heart that “just happen to us

.”  Emotions are (among other things) a call to specific actions.  One of the ways that our emotions reveal our hearts is that they call us to do something about the events around us.  Consider the following list of examples:

  • Guilt is a call to acknowledge wrongdoing, repent, and make restoration.
  • Shame is a call to hide or make up for a deficiency.
  • Anger is a call to aggressively correct an injustice.
  • Joy is a call to celebrate a significant, good event.
  • Anxiety is a call to eliminate a threat or to plan for protection.
  • Peace is a call to rest.
  • Frustration is a call to solve a recurring problem.
  • Annoyance is a call to quiet a relatively insignificant interference.
  • Depression is a call to give up in the face of hopelessness.
  • Offendedness is a call to defend rules of decency and respect.
  • Passion is a call to deliver a significant message or carry out an important vision.
  • Confusion is a call to look for answers.

Download PDF of article here: emotional-clarity-article

 

We Have Inside Information

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation. That one thing is Man. We do not merely observe men, we are men. In this case we have, so to speak, inside information; we are in the know (p.23).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This quote reminds me of Proverbs 14:10, “The heart knows its own bitterness; and no stranger shares its joy.” There is more to suffering (grief, pain, rejection, etc…) than can be defined through the changes in our brain chemistry, captured in poetry, or expressed in a story. When we cry, we truly have “inside information” about the experience.

There is a limit both to what another person can know and even what we can make known about that moment. We long to share it in a way that escapes our capability. For some reason (rightly), we believe that if we could share the moment it would provide relief for our suffering or expansion of our joy (Gal 6:2; Rom 12:15). And to the degree that we are successful this relief does come.

This points us to another truth. While we only have “inside information” of mankind, and that only of our own self, this is not true of God. Colossians 1:27 says, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you

, the hope of glory

.” Further, Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

God knows all of creation, including our pain and confusion, with the same “inside information” with which we know ourselves. Our longing to lessen our pain and multiply our joys through a complete disclosure is more achievable than we realize.

But as soon as this creates comfort it may also strike fear. We are fully known. That also means that we cannot hide. We want to be in control of what is known about us. We would like to decide when we lessen our sorrows and multiply our joys.

Consider a quote between two characters in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The context is the children have traveled to a strange island and met a living star who told them that another friend they met on their voyage was a fallen star. The children ask what their friend did wrong. The living star replies, “It is not for you to know what sins a star can commit.”

It must be enough for us to know that the One who has inside information of us “is not safe, but He is good” (to steal from The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe). When we know God for who He is and how completely He knows us, it should be unsettling. It is a truth that changes the experience of every moment of our lives.

Even more than it is an adjustment to get married and invite a spouse to share a home with you (knowing all your quirks, preferences, pet peeves, fears, etc…), realizing who God is requires a total life adjustment. In this case, however, it is acknowledging a reality that has been present all the time.

Mystery, Confidence, Suffering, & Glory – Ephesians 3:1-13

Stewardship of God’s Grace (3:2)

Usually when we talk about stewardship in the church it either means we are talking about money (because we are behind budget) or time (because we need nursery workers). Before you click off this blog, in this case we are talking about neither. We are talking about God’s grace, the Gospel. We are not merely partakers of God’s grace and we are not owners of it. We are stewards – it has been entrusted to us by the Owner that we would carry out His will with it.

One key component of being a good steward is to frequently examine your use of the object. If you leave someone to steward (watch out and care for as you would) your child, pet, or home, you would expect that they regularly had their eyes on it and thought about it frequently. Paul obviously did this with the Gospel. He was overcome by what he had been given to take to the world and could not get his mind off of it.

Application: Get an object that reminds you of the Gospel and keep it in your pocket (something like a small cross or a wooden “G”). As you load your pockets in the morning, as you reach for your keys or change throughout the day, and as you unload your pockets at night, ask yourself, “How did I do at being a steward of God’s grace?” Reflect on the day for opportunities you may have missed and what you could have said or done to be a better steward. This makes for great conversation at the family dinner table.

Confidence Through Our Faith in Christ

It is almost hard to think of confidence without the prefix “self” attached to it. But Scripture speaks much more of faith-confidence than self-confidence. We find that again in Ephesians 3:12, “with confidence through our faith in him [Christ].”

Ironically, we only need faith when we have come to the end of our “self.” Until we come to the end of our self we only need determination, education, training, or opportunity.  Once we come to the end of our self, we need faith; it is the only hope we have left.

Consider the following questions to help you assess whether your confidence (which is a good attribute for a Christian to cultivate) is in self or Christ by faith.

  • When you are fearful or anxious do you first plan harder or pray?
  • Are you able to face a challenge with a restful heart?
  • Do you see God as the source of your talents and abilities?
  • Do you see God as the source of your opportunities and good breaks?
  • When you give advice do you mention relying on God?
  • Do you succumb to self-abasement after a failure?
  • Do you succumb to self-pity after a bad break?
  • Is your prayer life marked by gratitude?
  • Do you succumb to a fear of failure to avoid embarrassment?
  • Are you willing to confess your sins to God and others?
  • Are you able to attempt great things for God while maintaining humility?

Faith-confidence is a work in progress for every one of us. The goal is to consistently have an honest self-assessment of where we are between pride/self-love and shame/self-hatred. As long as “self” is our primary pre-fix, our life is not God-dependent.

Do Not Lose Heart in Suffering (3:13)

 

It is comforting to notice how many times Scripture connects suffering with the temptation to lose heart. God know us. If Scripture only spoke of how suffering is turned to good or how it shapes our character, I would be discouraged. Not because I disagree with either of those statements. But because, I would think the Bible had someone much stronger than me in mind for its audience.

But what are we to make of Paul saying his suffering was the Ephesians glory? When we suffer for someone we are demonstrating that we love them. Jesus suffering on our behalf on the cross demonstrates His love for us. True love (here not used in the romantic sense, but love that is in keeping with God’s character) changes things for the better. Paul is saying, “If you see Christ in what I am doing on your behalf, rejoice in it. God will use my actions and example to transform (sanctify) you more like him.” For a similar statement see Ephesians 5:26.

Reflection: Suffering often seems very meaningless and makes us feel quite alone. Suffering tends to reduce our world to the size of our pain or oppression.  It is good for us to ask, who can I love or serve in the midst of my suffering? Who can I be an example for? What lessons am I learning that could be passed on to another who will suffer after me? As we see in Ephesians 3:13, not only was Paul’s suffering the glory of the Ephesians Christians, but the growth of the maturation of the Ephesians Christians was the meaning and fuel to persevere for Paul in his suffering.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Does Bitterness Reverse the Restoration Process?

When we think of the process of restoring a broken relationship, hopefully one of the first things that comes to mind is Matthew 7:3-5,

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

The process is:

Repent (Log) –> Receive Forgiveness –> Hear Repentance/Confront (Speck) –> Forgive

However, when you are struggling with the sin of bitterness this process may have to be reversed. Before the bitter person will be able to see their bitter actions as wrong, they must take the step of forgiving. Until forgiveness is granted they will be convinced their bitter actions/words were “appropriate.”  For the bitter person, it is only granting forgiveness that will give them “clear eyes” to see their need to repent.

The reverse process would be:

For

give (Speck) –> Restore Relationship –> Experience Brokenness/Repent (Log) –> Receive Forgiveness

I hope this (tentative) proposal does not cause anyone to question the authority of Scripture to address the issues of life – my prayer is that it increases such confidence. The goal is to merely raise the question, should certain sins/struggles be approached differently? The question almost begs for the answer “Yes.”

Or stated differently, how cautious should we be to apply a passage that appears to apply to situation without further examining the person and situation? As we will see below all three of these pieces are essential to effective ministry that honors God, is true to the Bible, and loves people.

But it forces the secondary question, “How well do we know the dynamic of particular sins?” All sin is equally wrong and all sin has the same author (Satan) with the same intent (destruction). But not all sin operates the same.

In order to minister effectively we must interpret three things accurately:

  1. The Bible
  2. The Person
  3. The Situation

My goal in this post is not to propose a model, or even to presume that I am correct in the brief counseling protocol.  My goal is to raise a question and provide an example that forces us to consider how the interpretation of each of these areas affects the other two.

Limits of Science: What vs. Why?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“You cannot find out which view [materialist or religious] is the right one by science in the ordinary sense. Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, ‘I pointed a telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 am on January 15th and saw so-and-so,’ or, ‘I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such temperature and it did so-and-so.’ Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is (p.22).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

 

It is good to review the purpose of various fields. Counseling, for instance, is an art not a science. Counseling is the ability (skill term) to exercise influence in the life of another person for the better (vague term) through the medium of relationship. History, for another example, reports and should not interpret. Interpretation has to do with commentary not events.

With this said, science is a field of observation. Hence it gives us phrases like “what goes up must come down” and “an object in motion remains in motion until acted upon by an outside force.” Because of this science can only tell us what things (inanimate objects or instinctual creatures) will do, not what peo

ple (creatures with will and personality) should (term of morality or wisdom) do.

The primary point I would raise here is that we should be very cautious whenever a given field of study begins to claim ground outside of its jurisdiction. For example:

  • If counseling claims to be a science, presenting its claims as irrefutable facts.
  • If history claims to ascribe meaning, insinuating that events prove systems of thought.
  • If science claims to tell people how to live, reducing will, personality, or emotion to biology.

This is not to say that counseling cannot utilize facts from science or history, that history does not reveal important information about systems of thought, or that science cannot observe things about people. It is simply meant to remind us that when these fields of study do these things they are stepping out of the domain in which they are “experts.”

As C.S. Lewis is pointing out in the quote above, our culture has accepted a move on the part of science to possess more intellectual “turf” than it truly owns. Questions that pertain to the meaning of life and morality are not the domain of science. Yet when a scientist speaks to these subjects it feels wrong (to many) to question their “findings.”

Many have this apprehension because it feels disrespectful to question an authority. But that is the whole point of this discussion. The term “expert” implies a limited field of study which an individual has mastered. We are not questioning the person (any individual scientist, historian, or counselor). We are questioning the limits that a particular field of study equips an individual to speak to.

Redemption Historical, Personal, & Active – Ephesians 2:11-22

Healthy Remembering (2:11-13)

Have you ever been told you should forget your life (i.e., sins) before your conversion? After all, if God has forgiven you, what point is there in remembering your “old life”? Well, Paul gives very different advice to the believers at Ephesus. Paul not only asks the Ephesians to remember, he reminds them of who they were. In this passage we can glean several aspects of “healthy remembering.”

  1. Healthy remembering protects against pride. The Ephesians church was Gentile and there was competition with the Jewish church. Wherever there are “teams” there is pride. Paul calls on remembering as a tool to combat pride.
  2. Healthy remembering highlights God’s power (not our depravity). Being “saved” only makes sense if we were saved “from” something. Unless we remember our previous condition we will diminish the work of God. But notice (and seek to emulate) how Paul highlights what God is doing instead of denigrating what God had to work with.
  3. Healthy remembering allows us to be a whole person with one story. We spend too much time explaining away our sin by saying, “That really wasn’t me who did/said that.” Our testimony does not need to make it worse. When we fail to remember we begin to speak as if we lived (past tense) and live (present tense) two separate lives and our sin becomes “not me,” so repentance becomes a form of denial.
  4. Healthy remembering allows God’s church to be one body. Humility is essential to unity. “There but for the grace of God go/went I,” is the thread that binds the unity of the church. Unless we remember our whole story, we will grade, rank, and classify ourselves as Christians and divide what God has brought together.

Christ Himself Is Our Peace

Too often we think of peace as an emotion or a commodity; either something we feel or something we have. Yet Scripture is consistently calling us to know the Prince of Peace as a person. Ephesians 2:14 begins, “For [Christ] himself is our peace.”

Notice the guiding hand of Paul in Philippians 4 coaxing the church to grasp this as they wrestle with anxiety. In verse 7 he begins where they are (thinking of peace as a commodity), “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” But by verse 9 he is pointing them to a person, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me

Honor in Humor Influences Honor in Conflict

Have you ever noticed how some things correlate? The amount of air pressure in your tires affects the smoothness of your ride and the gas mileage of your vehicle. The amount of sleep you get influences your memory and mood. The nutrition of your diet affects your susceptibility to certain diseases.

Let’s examine another correlation – the level of honor in your sense of humor significantly influences the level of honor in your conflicts. While I am not a mechanic, sleep specialist, or nutritionist, I am a counselor and have seen this principle hold true quite frequently.

Think of it this way, the level of honor you use when joking with your spouse (or anyone else) sets the baseline of honor from which the temptation to dishonor one another in conflict will begin. If your normal joking includes any of the following, then you have a significant level of dishonor in your humor.

  • Verbal jabs about your spouse’s insecurities or weaknesses
  • Sarcasm (otherwise known as “violence through humor”)
  • Comparisons to unbecoming people
  • Complimenting someone else to get a “rise” out of spouse
  • References to past mistakes or faux pas
  • Condescending jokes in front of others
  • Suggestions of leaving or being aggressive
  • Derogatory remarks regarding friends or other loved ones
  • Belittling their interests or hobbies
  • Using nicknames that are unappreciated

If you would think in terms of a 1 to 10 scale with anything over a 5 being an unhealthy argument, then these uses of humor give a couple a “humor baseline” of 4. At that point, they are always only one or two steps from unhealthy and if anything else goes wrong they can quickly enter the “danger zone.”

With that being said, consider Ephesians 4:29,

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

If we begin our application of this verse with our sense of humor, then we will have a much easier time obeying it in our times of “disagreement.” More than this, we should think of our humor as a part of the process of sanctification (both our own and others). As we learn to have a good laugh (and I’m all for humor) in a way that “gives grace to those who hear,” then we will be effectively shaping our own heart and the heart of others to be more godly as we enjoy one another.

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.