Archive for October, 2011

Forgiveness, A Lovely Idea

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

“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive (p.115).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Did no one ever tell C.S. Lewis that these are the kind of quotes that make people not like you as an author? You can’t take one of the most romantic themes of Christianity (it’s even adopted in most every secular romance movies) and ruin it by displaying it’s rawness in a simple fourteen word sentence.

“Lovely forgiveness” becomes a phrase akin to “minor surgery.” Everyone knows what you mean and is agreeable to using the phrase until they are the one going to the doctor.

Forgiveness is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. The problem is that the Gospel as a very raw beauty. “Jesus in my place” purchasing forgiveness for my sin was gruesome. The power of the cross was so enormous that it could not only pay the penalty of our sin, but simultaneously change a scene that previously made us wince in horror to one that causes us to stare in awe.

The Gospel is so lovely that it transformed beauty itself. We find the echo of this transformation in the way we simultaneously marvel and resist forgiveness. Forgiveness is both the most compelling theme a well-told story can have, and the theme we most fear having to live out in our own story.

We might say that forgiveness is a God-sized beauty. It is a beauty that is too large to be contained in our finite and fallen lives. You can paint a sunset across a man’s back, but no matter how exquisite the art it does not compare to the sky set ablaze. Similarly, forgiveness is a God-sized action that when written into our life pushes at the edges of our humanity to such a degree that it is sometimes deathly painful.

This reflection pushes us to consider another miracle of the Christian faith – God came to live in us, and this is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). The God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) resides in us after our conversion. God brings His capacity into our finitude.

The grandeur of the story (forgiveness) that would otherwise explode our hearts is now possible because the God who (comparatively) draws the grandest sunsets on miniature post-it notes took up residence in our hearts.

Our resistance to forgiveness is a testimony or an echo of who we were before God slipped us on like a Halloween costume and began to parade His presence in our body as a way to appeal to others in whom He wants to reside.

When others see us execute forgiveness as a radically free gift, absorbing its cost in ourselves, they ask “How-why do you do that?” We can answer, “I couldn’t. The task is beyond my capacity. When I embraced the Gospel, God came into me and I gained His capacity to forgive. It still hurts, but it now hurts like the pain of childbirth, because I know it is a testimony to the new life in me.”

This is why (not my best estimation) we can almost all unanimously agree that forgiveness is a lovely idea, and then defiantly resist it when our opportunities come to put it on display. We reveal the miracle and beauty of forgiveness even when we resist it and even when it is painful to give.

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

Holiness: Set Apart on a Shelf vs. Set Apart for a Purpose

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on I Peter 1:13-21 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday October 29-30, 2011.

One of the primary meanings of the word holiness is “set apart.” But I think I have had a bad mental picture of what it means to be “set apart” for some time. My instinct was to think of what happened to the baseball with which a pitcher got the final out of a no-hitter.

That baseball would then be marked, set on a shelf, loved, shown to a few special friends, but would never again touch a leather glove in a live game. It ceased being a baseball and became a decoration. No baseball-related purpose remained in the “life” of that baseball.

I think we can create a similar image of what it means to be holy as Christians. We are marked (sealed with the Holy Spirit; Eph. 4:30), set apart, loved by God, talk about holiness with a few also-holy friends, but serve very little salt and light functions in a real world marked by darkness and decay.

If we think of holiness this way, then it would have a very awkward synonym – “useless ornament.” But in I Peter 1:13-21, where holiness is referenced four times in eight verses, there is no trace of this kind of passivity. Rather in verse 14 Peter says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.”

In this verse holiness is marked by activity, and worldliness is marked by passivity or mindlessness. First, Peter refers to his readers as “obedient children.” This means that holiness does something (obey) in response to life-defining relationship (child of God). With this in mind, holiness carries the connotation of being “set apart” in an orphanage because you have been adopted, and your life will be marked by a new name with all the opportunities afforded by that name, rather than it does with being a random baseball that was randomly selected for one pitch and then never functionally useful again.

Second, Peter portrays worldliness with passive language – sitting in the value-desire press of the influences around you, following them without thinking; like a goose flying south for the winter. With worldliness there is much less intentionality or passion (here used in the sense of pursuing or fulfilling something of unique value). It is the epitome of the herd effect.

So what should we do in response to this more accurate active, missional view of holiness? I will offer three responses that I believe are appropriate to being “set apart.”

Worship: We should celebrate like adopted children preparing to see their new home and meet their new extended family. It is an awesome privilege to be “set apart” that should cause our hearts to sing (whether our voices have the skill to bless others when they join in or not). God has done a great and gracious thing when He set us apart and we should respond daily like children on Christmas morning opening the gift of new mercies every morning.

Take On a New Identity: I remember one conversation with my father after a knuckle-headed action of my youth. His instruction to me was not a set of steps on how to avoid being knuckle-headed. He simply said, “Hambrick men don’t act that way.” I wish that statement were more true. “Hambrick men don’t have immunity to knuckle-headedness, but the principle of allowing your identity drive your activity was solid. Holiness is an identity before it is an activity. So, be who you are… in Christ!

Live as Exiled Ambassadors: This is the active component of holiness. We were “set apart” in a hostile world to be a part of God’s redemptive mission (this is the theme of I Peter as a whole). With all the tension implied in the phrase, we were both rescued from and left in the world. We were left in the world to be a continuation of the rescue mission that God began in us. When we value our freedom (by way of self-protection or personal convenience) more than the freedom of those around us (by living as local missionaries) we no longer bear the image of our adopted Father (Matt 22:37-40; 2 Pet. 3:9).

Let us be “Christ men” and “Christ women” (that is what being a “Christian” first meant; Acts 11:26) and recognize that our lives were set apart for the agents of His grace, not ornaments of His grace.

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

All 9 Grief Seminar Videos are Posted

Below is the material needed to complete the “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” program at The Summit Church (Durham, NC). If you are interested in studying this material as a part of a recovery program, which we call Freedom Groups, please click here for more information and to get connected.

From this material we offer four ministry options: (1) Women’s Grief Group, (2) Women’s Past Hurts Group, (3) Men’s Grief or Other Losses Group, and (4) mentoring ministry for mothers who experience miscarriage

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

STEP 1.
PREPARE yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to face your suffering.

 

Grief Seminar – Part 1 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

For the “Memorial Service for an Unborn Child” document click here:
Grief Seminar — Appendix A

For the “Applying the Grief Seminar to Losses Not Caused by Grief” document click here:
Grief Seminar — Appendix B

For the “Small Group Care Plan for the Whole Journey” document click here:
Grief Seminar — Appendix C

 

STEP 2.
ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.

Grief Seminar – Part 2 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

For the “Grief Evaluation” document click here:
Grief Evaluation

 

 

STEP 3.
UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.

 

Grief Seminar – Part 3 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

STEP 4.
LEARN MY SUFFERING STORY which I used to make sense of my experience.

 

Grief Seminar – Part 4 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

STEP 5.
MOURN the wrongness of what happened and receive God’s comfort.

 

Grief Seminar – Part 5 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

STEP 6.
LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience.

 

Grief Seminar – Part 6 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

STEP 7.
IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.

 

Grief Seminar – Part 7 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

For the “Healthy Ways to Capture Memories” document click here:
Grief Seminar — Appendix D

 

STEP 8.
PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

 

Grief Seminar – Part 8 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

STEP 9.
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

 

Grief Seminar – Part 9 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

Other Appendix

For the “Job Description for Mentors for Mom’s Experiencing Miscarriage” document click here:
Job Description — Miscarriage Mentor

For the “Freedom Group Study Plan for Grief Groups” click here:
Grief Freedom Group Study Plan

For the “Freedom Group Study Plan for Past Hurts Groups” click here:
Past Hurts Freedom Group Study Plan

Guest Video Post: Sam Williams on Same Sex Attraction

The subject of homosexuality, gay identity, and same sex attraction are increasingly important counseling subjects as evangelicals engage the cultural conversations of our day. If someone does not chose to be attracted to the same sex, can they chose not to be attracted? What influence does an absent or distant father have upon one’s sexual identity? What influence does being sexually abused or experiencing premature sexualization have upon sexual identity?

Sam Williams addresses these questions and many more with grace, truth, and the insight of an experienced counselor in his faculty lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary delivered October 20, 2011.

Sam Williams – A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

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

C.S. Lewis on Two Kinds of Marriages

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

“A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone. I do not think that… There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not (p.112).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This is a very intriguing proposal. I readily admit that I do not know what the political ramifications would be in light of the modern debates on the definition of marriage. But I am interested in what would happen if their was an “opt in” marriage covenant that could only be annulled if biblical criteria for divorce were met and at least one person was willing to sacrifice expulsion from a primary social community for being unrepentant towards his/her spouse.

  • Would there be more Christians “opt out” of this covenant because it was too restrictive or more non-Christians “opt in” because they wanted to declare their love in the most binding way?
  • Would the divorce rate between the two be similar; meaning, once someone in the covenant marriage wanted out of a marriage they would be willing to commit the necessary sin to “qualify” or does convenience play a dominant role in modern divorce statistics?
  • Would the rate of contentment be higher in covenant marriages if divorce were not a viable option?
  • How many churches and which ones would be willing to accept the responsibility of overseeing these covenant marriages in the manner Lewis describes?
  • Would those who chose not to “opt in” to a covenant marriage admire or disdain those couples who did chose a covenant marriage?
  • Would the presence of a covenant marriage affect the level of insecurity in middle school or high school students in those homes (ages chosen to reflect a time when sons and daughters would clearly understand the significance of their parents’ decision)?
  • Would the traumatic effects of divorce be less for those who did not chose a covenant marriage since they chose before marriage not to declare the relationship permanently binding?
  • How would the conversations of dating couples change as they moved towards engagement and had to decide which option their suitor wanted to pursue?

I think we all have our theories about these kinds of questions and could add to the list with a bit more reflection. But what would the data reveal if the questions could be studied empirically? What sort of culture shifts would occur if every couple getting married were faced with this choice?

Why Humility is Doubly Important in Marriage

James 4:6
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Most people who are married have turned to their spouse and said, “You don’t act this way around anyone else” or “You don’t treat anyone else this way.”  Occasionally it is meant as a compliment, but more often than not these statements are meant to infer, “I am getting a raw deal.”  There are many explanations for this phenomenon, but in this post we will examine one explanation with two faces—the absence of humility.

Face One: Refusal to Live in My Weaknesses

Have you noticed that we spend the majority of our day operating in areas of specialized training, well-practiced skills, and personal interests?  Then we come home.  When we get home we are asked to do a wide variety of tasks, many of which we have no particular passion for or interest in.  It is these tasks that we do to love and serve those we know best, while those we are least committed to get our fine tuned excellence.

The response we too often give is to draw back from, neglect, or grumble about these tasks that are not our strength.  We may call it insecurity, but it is more often a form of pride.  “If I cannot do it with excellence and receive affirmation, then I will not do it at all or with much effort,” is our logic.  “I get to operate in my strength all day long and know how to succeed in that world.  If I am not sure that I will be a success, then I will not try.”

It takes great humility and the heart of a servant to live in the area of my weakness for the love and welfare of another.  When we are willing to live in our weakness for the benefit of others, God rewards this humility with more grace.  This grace is realized when we resist the pride (“I should be good at whatever I do”) and take joy in imperfect (yet growing) service.

Face Two: Refusal to Accept My Spouse’s Weaknesses

There is humility in action.  Then there is humility in expectation and evaluation.  We move from the paralysis of fear rooted in an expectation of personal excellence to the mantra, “Haven’t I already told you that” or “How many times have you done that and still not gotten it right?”

The pride has mutated.  The pride now says, “I would have been able to do that, so you should be able to do that.”  Whereas before pride was holding me up to a level of elevated expectation, now pride raises my ability or expectation as the standard for you to meet.  In both cases, the absent effort or harsh tone is rooted in “I should” or “I could” (pride).

Patience is rooted in humility.  Patience accepts that imperfection, error, inefficiency, and incompleteness are not beneath me.  That is humility.  When we extend this form of humility to our spouse (and children) we are incarnating the grace of God.  God rewards this dispositional obedience (yes, obedience to God can be as much attitude as activity) with more grace.

When we put these two faces of humility into practice we experience a home where the atmosphere is marked by the grace of God and we experience the redemptive joy God intended in a Christian marriage and family.

First Two Grief Seminar Videos Posted

Many of you have been asking, “When will the videos from the ‘Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope’ seminar be posted?” Those videos are now becoming ready. The first two are currently up and the rest should be posted soon.

For the link to these videos click here.

If you are interested in studying these materials as a part of a intensive group to overcome a struggle with anger that is disrupting your life, I would encourage you to contact our Freedom Group ministry.

If your small group is interested in studying through these materials as a way to encourage and disciple one another on the subject of anger, please contact our church office for copies of the seminar notebook designed to facilitate these studies.

From this material we offer four ministry options: (1) Women’s Grief Group, (2) Women’s Past Hurts Group, (3) Men’s Grief or Other Losses Group, and (4) mentoring ministry for mothers who experience miscarriage

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

C.S. Lewis on Mid-Life Crisis

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

“It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill. Let the thrill go – let it die away – go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow – and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all around them (p.111).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I am not yet old enough to battle a mid-life crisis, but I can certainly see the traces of it in myself already. I have a strong tendency to want to hold on tightly to pleasures and good seasons of life. Even as I try to dream God-sized dreams, I savor the process and get nostalgic as each stage passes. It would very easy for that to develop into a “glory days” mindset that made me feel desperate for what was.

This seems to be another scenario where our greatest temptations often stem from clinging too tightly to God’s sweetest blessings. Children or an invigorating career are things we thank God for profusely (or at least we should). But as our children mature and marry or our career peeks and we look to pass the baton, is this not the raw material of a mid-life crisis?

Even as I write this reflection and look back at Lewis’ words, I am questioning whether I currently have the strength of faith or rest in God to avoid a mid-life crisis. Currently, I can rest in the fact that I do not, because that morning is not here so God has not issued those mercies yet (Lament 3:23). But I fear that it is clever Christian rhetoric on my part to cover the way I cling to my present blessings suspicious of whether future blessings will be “as good.”

But I can see the folly in my fears. If I don’t let me children mature, grow independent, and pursue the lives God created them for, they would become a burden and seeing their misfortune would bring great pain. If I allow ministry to become “mine,” then it would shift from advancing God’s kingdom to advancing my own. Soon it would be mired in fluctuations between pride and fear.

Lewis is right, when I fail to “let the trill go… they will all get weaker and weaker” as least as pleasure; as masters they will get stronger and stronger. As best I can tell, the solution is to live fully in each moment without living for the moment.

This requires me to truly believe that God is truly the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) even as sweat seasons of life fade and I deteriorate. What is changing is my capacity, not His goodness. But even this misses the point. I am not fading into oblivion. When I fail to let the thrill go, I am living as if this life is all there is.

Mid-life, by definition, believes I am on the second half of my life. But this is not the kind of creature we are. This is like a fetus having a mid-term crisis at 4.5 months. The event that is looming to change his/her existence is not a tragedy, but a delivery, but not a delivery to be rushed, because God has important plans for the second half.

I pray now for the awareness and willingness to live fully in every moment God gives me without continuing to live for that moment when the next one comes.

How Can I Be a Part of Summit’s Counseling Ministry?

I have been encouraged by the number of people who have expressed interest in serving through the counseling ministry. We will be hosting our second lay leader training in October to November (specific dates and times below; location Brier Creek North).

In the first two nights this training will equip you to more fully understand and effectively utilize the subject-based seminars. In the final evening it will focus primarily upon equipping existing and potential Freedom Group leaders. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP with Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail). Please provide your (1) name, (2) e-mail address, and (3) nights you will be able to attend.

Ministry Model

The counseling ministry will present subject-based seminars through the EQUIP series. The first seminar was on “Overcoming Anger” and the second was “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope.” Each seminar comes with a notebook containing personal evaluation tools, Bible studies, and a guided process to overcome or process the given struggle.

These materials will be the curriculum for Freedom Groups and personal mentors to utilize.

Leader Training Content

Mentoring requires leaders to know more than a subject (i.e., anger or grief). Mentoring also requires an understanding of your role as a mentor, the process/resources being used, and the limits of the mentor role. These subjects are the focus of the leader training.

Night One (Vision): “Eyes” of the Counseling Ministry – (Tuesday October 25, 2011 from 6:00 to 8:00) The presentation will cover two subjects. (1) The core values of the counseling ministry: Bible-based, Gospel-centered, differentiating sin and suffering, not one-size-fits-all, embedded within the church, and transitioning into the general small group ministry. Leaders need to understand how these values are embedded throughout the counseling materials. (2) How to avoid a struggle-based identity when using a struggle-specific curriculum.

“Our deepest problem is that we seek to find our identity outside the story of redemption (p. 27)… In fact, the longer we struggle with a problem, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that problem (divorced, addicted, depressed, co-dependent, ADD). We come to believe that our problem is who we are. But while these labels may describe particular ways we struggle as sinners [or sufferers] in a fallen world, they are not our identity! If we allow them to define us, we will live trapped within their boundaries. This is no way for a child of God to live (p. 260)!” Paul Tripp in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand

Night Two (Process): “Heart” of the Counseling Ministry – (Tuesday November 1, 2011 from 6:00 to 8:30) The big question on this night is, “How does the Gospel relate to sin and suffering differently?” The struggles of life fit into one of these two categories: sin or suffering. The Gospel speaks to and is powerful to redeem/restore both experiences. But unless we understand the difference, our efforts to help will often come across cliché or simplistic. On this evening we will walk through the two nine step process models that will undergird the seminars that will comprise the mentoring and Freedom Group curriculum. Our goal for each of the nine step processes is that they merely represent “the Gospel in slow motion.”

Night Three (Logistics): “Hands” of Freedom Groups – (Tuesday November 8, 2011 from 6:00 to 8:00)  This evening will be focused more exclusively upon Freedom Group leaders, although all leaders are welcome to attend to learn more about how the seminars and curriculum can be utilized. We will examine what the journey of Freedom Groups will look like from the visitor’s first day through the meeting schedule and individuals’ responsibilities to the launch of new groups.

If you are interested in participating in the counseling ministry or simply using the Summit counseling resources in your personal ministry, we would encourage you to attend these training events. In order to allow us to prepare the needed number of materials, we ask that you please RSVP with Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail). Please provide your (1) name, (2) e-mail address, and (3) nights you will be able to attend.