Archive for December, 2011

Summit Counseling Training (All Six Videos)

“Eyes” of the Counseling Ministry – 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

 

Session 1. “What Is a Freedom Group?” Purpose and Vision of Freedom Groups

Session 2 “What a Freedom Group is Not” How to Avoid a Struggle-Based Identity

Handout for Night One, Session Two: WHO I AM IN CHRIST_KELLEMEN

Night Two (Process): “Heart” of the Counseling Ministry – 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.”

Session 3. “When the Problem is Me” The 9 Steps for Freedom Groups (Sin)

Session 4. “When the Problem is Not Me” The 9 Steps for Freedom Groups (Suffering)

Night Three (Logistics): “Hands” of Freedom Groups – 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.

RESOURCES: Nigh Three, Hour One

RESOURCES: Night Three, Hour Two

Learning from a Counterfeit Lord’s Supper

Can I admit that I have never really “gotten” the Lord’s Supper the way I think I should? I see the picture of the Gospel, but the experience itself, never seemed to move me, encourage me, or sustain me the way it should. I have wrestled with it for a while; praying that God would help me get out of this practice more of what He put into it. The reflection below has helped me and I pray it will help you.

A Picture of Sin

When training for being stranded at sea military personnel are told repeatedly, “Do not drink the water.”  If you are stranded at sea in the beating sun and thirsty, the sound of lapping water and the feel of wetness on your skin has to be tempting.

But if you drink the water, it provides initial relief followed by a more intense, salt-induced thirst. This leads to more salt water consumption. As you drink, the sodium level in your body increases making for a quicker and more painful death experience.

Often we come to sin seeking some relief from legitimate suffering. We get sinfully angry to try to correct a way we have really been wronged. We look at pornography to escape from a truly stressful day. We cheat financially because we are struggling to provide for our family. Yet in every case after the initial relief, sin intensifies the shame and isolation process that makes for a more intense experience of spiritual death.

A Counterfeit Lord’s Supper

With this picture in mind, let me offer a heretical liturgy. Take a glass of water and give it a strong dose of salt. Get a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips. These will be the “elements” of your counterfeit Lord’s Supper (when sin is your Master; John 8:34). On your cup of salt water tape a piece of paper with the names of the sins you retreat to for “relief.”

As you “take the cup,” say to yourself, “This is the cup of my sin. ‘Take and drink because I care for you and want to make your life better. I give you myself,’ sin says to me.” Drink the salt water.

As you “take the bread,” say to yourself, “This is my body available to you. ‘Take and eat. Lose yourself in me and I will protect you,’ sin says to me.” Eat the chips.

Try to sit for 30 minutes and “enjoy” what sin provides. If it becomes difficult (i.e., thirsty), return to “the table of sin” as many times as you like in this half hour. Experience all that sin has to offer. As you do so, look at the words on the cup and be reminded of whose care you are receiving.

The Real Lord’s Supper

After 30 minutes have another private ceremony. This time have a cup of grape juice and a loaf of bread. On the cup of grape juice tape a piece of paper with the words, “Jesus. Gospel. Grace.” Read Matthew 26:26-29 and I Corinthians 11:23-26.

As you take the cup, remind yourself of Jesus’ words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

As you take the bread, remind yourself again of Jesus’ words, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Know that you are invited to come and partake of Christ as often as you need to find the protection and sustenance you previously sought in sin. Know that the invitation is always open and His cup never runs dry. Be comforted.

As you taste the sweetness of the juice with no thirst-provoking after-effects, reflect on the superiority of Christ to anything sin offers and read John 4:1-15. As you experience the nourishment of the bread, reflect again on the superiority of Christ and read John 6:22-59.

Join the Conversation

  • How did seeing sin’s alternative meal change the way you approached what is offered at the Lord’s Supper?
  • How did going through the alternative meal change the way you thought about future temptations to the same sins?
  • How did this exercise help you see and run to the availability of Christ during the times you normally would have sought a counterfeit comfort?

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.

C.S. Lewis’ Pride Evaluation Question

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

“If you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride (p. 122).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I think it would be wrong to take from Lewis’ question that one should like being snubbed, ignored, or patronized. There is a healthy level of wanting to steward the voice, talents, and life God has given you that should make these experiences unpleasant to everyone.

Lewis’ question is based upon “how much” we dislike these experiences. Do we walk away disappointed that we did not get to serve in the ways God gifted us or do we replay the offense in our mind for the better part of a week? Do we mourn the immaturity of a companion who would patronize another, or do we internally rage that our “honor” was besmirched?

As I try to think through Lewis’ question, I believe it implies a preliminary question, “Do I have enough of a sense of God’s calling and gifting in my life that I crave to make an impact for God’s kingdom on the world around me?” If so, then I will be bothered when the sin or immaturity of others detracts from those opportunities.

However, if that sense of being bothered is “too much,” then it is a strong indication that the kingdom for which I am trying to make an impact is my own instead of God’s (i.e., pride).When I am advancing God’s kingdom, I realize that others being inconsiderate does little to stop the tides of redemptive history. Their actions are like a heckler at a NASCAR race telling the drivers they’re slow; annoying, but inconsequential in the outcome of the race.

So what should an appropriate level of “dislike” be? I think it should be in the range of disappointment—an emotion from which we learn, make minor modifications as possible, and move on. If I miss an opportunity to express God’s gifts because of the rudeness or ignorance of another, I think it is right (morally before God, not just “personal rights”) to be disappointed.

How should I respond to such a disappointment? Learn what I can about how to live more effectively in a broken world with my fellow fallen people. Exert whatever influence can still be beneficial in the original situation. Then move on expecting that God is still active and His purposes will not be thwarted by any human shenanigans.

But how do I recapture the opportunity that was lost? Answer: By responding in a way that makes God’s character known in light of the offense. Humility allows me to see that the opportunity to advance God’s kingdom was not taken away, but transformed. Pride is so committed to magnifying God in its strengths that it missed the opportunity to magnify God in its weakness.

So as I think through Lewis’ question and try to determine, “How bothered is so bothered that it is personal pride rather than godly mission?” The best answer I can create is that offense becomes pride when it distracts me from the next opportunity to serve God, especially with the one who offended me. It is pride that blinds me and humility that gives me eyes to see.

The Ultimate Scary Movie

I have periodic nightmares of various kinds. They can involve pirates and adventures gone awry at sea or losing a member of my family. I am not sure what causes them. My television viewing is largely restricted to sports, news, cooking shows, cartoons (for the kids, of course), or shows with talking animals (I’m a sucker for Narnia and Aflac commercials).

Recently I had one where I was being chased by a serial killer. It was eerily like the stupid movies I’ve seen commercials for. I was running and running through this old house to get away. After much effort (my wife says I didn’t wake her up), I was out of the house. Then I went back in the house to use the restroom.

The real me was screaming at the dream me, “Don’t be stupid!” But dream me didn’t listen. As I walk through the house (no longer running or fearful) looking for the restroom, from out of nowhere a butcher knife takes a hack at me. I spent the rest of the dream keeping the blade away from my neck.

When I woke up strangling my pillow, my heart was racing and I had time to think. I don’t have the spiritual gift of dream interpretation, but as I thought of how foolish it was to walk back into the house, I had a thought – that is how foolish it is for me to sin in private.

Any time we sin and fail to confess to those that God would use to point us back in the right direction (Heb 3:12-13), we are like dream me walking back into the house with the mass murderer (1 Pet. 5:8). It was a picture that resonated with me. Rarely had I viewed sin in that fashion.

If I were advising dream me, I would have said, “Run like the dickens (in my dreams the main character usually has a strong country accent) to the first phone that you can find with the line not cut and call 9-1-1.” Why would I treat sin any differently?

Is it macho pride because I want to show that I can handle it?

Is it twisted insecurity that values my reputation more than my life?

Is it immaturity that believes sin is “no big deal”?

Is it brute pleasure that enjoys the thrill?

What reason would I have accepted from dream me? Answer: none. There would be no reason that would justify wandering through a house with a mass murderer lurking to look for a rest room.

The next time that you struggle with sin and are hesitant to reach out to a Christian friend for accountability and encouragement, remember this post and don’t become “my dream come true.”

Summit Counseling Training (Night Three Videos)

Night Three (Logistics): “Hands” of Freedom Groups – 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.

Freedom Group Training – Session 5 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

RESOURCES: Nigh Three, Hour One

  • Job Description for Freedom Group Member (Sin Group)  — JOB — group member (sin)
  • Job Description for Freedom Group Member (Suffering Group) — JOB — group member (suffering)
  • Summary of 9 Steps for Sin Groups — 9 Steps (sin)
  • Summary of 9 Steps for Suffering Groups — 9 Steps (suffering)
  • Guidelines for Testimony Nights — TESTIMONY_guidelines

Freedom Groups Training – Session 6 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

RESOURCES: Night Three, Hour Two

  • Job Description of Accountability-Encouragement Partners — JOB — a-e partner (sin)
  • Freedom Group Progress Chart (Sin) — Leader_Chart_Sin
  • Freedom Group Progress Chart (Suffering) — Leader_Chart_Suffering
  • Job Description for Freedom Group Leader — JOB — group leader

Invisible Vice

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

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves… There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit (p. 121).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is scary to think that we could be blind to our own blindness. As awful as it must be to be blind, there is protection in knowing that you are blind. The small child who knows he’s immature doesn’t try to make life changing decisions. The teenager who is too immature to admit his immaturity makes life changing decisions just to prove he can. That’s scary!

What’s more, the teenager can see the immaturity in his peers and totally despises it: “They’re so lame! They’re trying too hard for attention.” So he is not totally blind. He can see his fault in others. Not only can he see it, but when he sees it, he responds to it appropriately—with dislike.

Lewis is saying that we are like the teenager. We are blinded by our primary fault to our primary fault. But we are blind people who can see. This is worse than selective vision (the perceptual equivalent of “selective hearing”). If it were simply volitional, it would be far easier to change.

Our limited accurate sight gives us confidence that only multiplies our core problem – pride. Our limited ability feeds our greatest disability. Our driving question (“How can I help everyone else with their blindness?”) drives us away from the answer we most need to embrace.

This is a difficult reflection to write. I have a strong sense that whatever I write will only distract from what I most need to glean from this quote. I must admit I see the relevance of this quote more in the lives of others, or at best in my own past, more than I see it in my present. But any eloquence in that direction will only clog my own ears to the voice of God.

I truly believe that God wants to and needs to free me from me more than He needs to free me from anything else. But I have wrestled with this quote for thirty minutes and each time I try to focus on my own need for it my thoughts get “distracted.”

I think part of my blindness comes from that fact that I know “why” I do the things I do, even the dumb things. I can look at someone else’s actions and wonder, “Why did they do that?” I can create many possible explanations and critique each one. They get “dumber” with every option I destroy. Yet my own foolishness makes intuitive sense to me even when I’ve proven it won’t work.

I need to have the humility (the cure!) to recognize that until I can question me as well as I can question someone else I am blind. Even better, I need to be willing to admit that until I invite others who see me in a way I can’t tell me what they see, I’m a fool. Actually, I am worse than a fool. I am a fool who thinks I am wise.

I am realizing that in order to not be a fool, I have to fear being blind more than being wrong. Wise people can be wrong; they often are and their response to being wrong feeds their wisdom. However, those who are pride-blind are never wise. Even when they are right, what they do with their rightness corrupts their ability move toward godliness.

Peter Counseling Suffering-Based Anxiety vs. Paul Counseling Sin-Based Anxiety

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from our campus pastors’ sermons on I Peter 5:6-11 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday December 17-18, 2011.

Peter is writing to Christians who have chosen to leave their homes and homeland over renouncing their faith. Living in another country as foreigners has resulted in many forms of suffering: persecution from authority figures (2:13-25), marriages in shambles (3:1-7), doubt about whether the sacrifice was worth it (3:8-22), and many temptations to sin as form of self-medicating / mentally escaping their suffering (4:1-5).

As Peter concludes his letter, he knows these dear friends must be afraid and multiplying their fear would be a creeping, growing doubt of God’s love (5:7). Whenever we face fear and doubt rooted in suffering, one of our most basic instincts is to turn to self-reliance. We think (sometimes not out loud), “Life isn’t playing by the rules. Bad things are happening to me for reasons I have not caused. God must have failed. I’m going to have to figure this out on my own.”

Peter sees this subtle, desperate pride that suffering causes to seem so “logical.” He has just encouraged these Christian to entrust themselves to God even when they suffer unjustly (4:12-19) and he knows what it will take fulfill this instruction – humility (5:6).

Notice how Peter speaks to the suffering-based anxiety of his readers (we should remember that both the message and tone of Scripture is divinely inspired). Peter calls them to humility with a promise of God’s blessing (“so at the proper time he may exalt you”), a timely application (“casting all your anxieties upon him”), and reminder of God’s love (“because he cares for you”).

Peter’s tone with suffering-based anxiety is different than Paul’s tone with sin-based anxiety (Phil. 4:1-9). In this context Paul is rebuking two ladies (Euodia and Syntyche) who are feuding. Based upon the flow of the passage their feud is causing a disgruntled fear and a persistent focus on what is wrong, bad, incomplete, unjust, or not according to their preference.

Paul is more direct (“do not be anxious”) and emphatic (“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”). Yet even in confronting this sin-based anxiety, Paul still holds out the promises of God (“the peace of God… will guard your hearts and your minds”) and affirms God’s love (“the God of peace will be with you”).

We see in this that the solution for anxiety is the same – trust in the faithful promises of God accompanied by a belief that God truly cares for you – but that the tone of conversation that leads into these conversations changes based upon whether the anxiety emanates from a source of sin or suffering. For sin-based anxiety, the call is to repent and believe. For suffering-based anxiety the call is to trust and believe.

I think Paul would agree with this distinction and even wrote about this difference in tone in I Thessalonians 5:14, “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle [disorderly or undisciplined], encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Different heart-dispositions call for different pastoral/counseling tones—if we only ask, “What does the Bible say about [blank]?” we miss, or at least forget to look for, this.

I think Peter would say that whether anxiety is suffering-based or sin-based that Satan intends to use it for the same purpose—namely to devour our lives. Satan does not care what he uses to destroy our lives: the selfishness of sin or the despair of suffering. As long as he gets our eyes off of Christ and causes a doubt in God that causes us to turn in on ourselves, Satan is delighted.

What is the point? Why does this matter? When we see the situation-specific ways that God spoke to similar life struggles it allows us to see Him as more wise and more caring. The call to trust God as compassionate, which is at the core for both Paul and Peter, becomes more believable.

When we see God this way, it changes the way that we speak to one another on God’s behalf. We ask more questions and learn how to speak the gospel to the same issue (in this case anxiety) in different circumstances (both sin and suffering). We become more complete and accurate ambassadors of God’s heart for His children and the world.

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

Summit Counseling Training (Night Two Videos)

Night Two (Process): “Heart” of the Counseling Ministry – 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.”

Session 3.
“When the Problem is Me”
The 9 Steps for Freedom Groups (Sin)

Freedom Groups Training – Session 3 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

 

Session 4.
“When the Problem is Not Me”
The 9 Steps for Freedom Groups (Suffering)

Freedom Groups Training – Session 4 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

Loving the Unlovable in Me

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

“I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it? You love it simply because it is yourself. God intends us to love all selves in the same way and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out in our own case to show us how it works. We have then to go on and apply the rule to all the other selves (p. 120).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

There is beautiful discomfort in this quote. It is simultaneously offensive and relieving. I want to rebuttal, “What do you mean that there is nothing lovable in me? What do you mean God made it that way so I would be able to love the unlovable in others?”

But at the same time I want give a relieved sigh and say, “You mean I don’t have to ‘keep it together’? There really isn’t this perpetual pressure to be ‘good enough’ for God?”

I want the beauty of the gospel without the discomfort. I want the relief without the offense. But we simply cannot have it both ways. We want to figure out a way to overcome our insecurity without having to extend the same unmerited grace to others.

The most common approach is to do away with the biblical category of our sinful nature. Somehow we want to say that “everyone is really good” but also “nobody’s perfect” (awkward contradiction not beautiful discomfort). We try to build our self-esteem by saying that our nature is good, but then get defensive when our sinfulness breaks through our idealistic veneer and reveals our real nature.

Lewis acknowledges our sinfulness, but does not succumb to a sense of self-condemnation. His acknowledgement that there is nothing good in us to love does not cause him to sound pessimistic, negative, or hopeless. He still speaks of love and God’s design to teach us how to love with a sense of optimistic hopefulness.

In this regard, I believe we can learn as much from Lewis’ style and tone as his content. He makes a very unpopular point is the most palatable way. Lewis forces me to see my total depravity and lack of deserving love in a way that keeps the focus on God’s love and design.

I walk away thinking, “God allows me to respond to me the way I do – seeking my preservation and best interest in spite of my failure because of a love for self that is stronger than my dislike for self – so that I can learn how to love others like He loves all of us.”

I am not called to relinquish that care for self. But I am called to see that it is a faint picture of His love for me. It is a clue left in my soul meant to cause me to question, “Why would I respond to myself this way when it’s so hard to respond to anyone else this way?”

Either we are more selfish than we realize – giving ourselves advantage we won’t give anyone else. In which case, any sense of affection for self is continued self-delusion. Or, we are following a design left in us by our Creator, after the Fall, to give us a first-person experience of what His love for us is like. In this case, we follow this self-affection away from ourselves back to the source from which it came.

Let us follow Lewis’ example and realize that God’s truth always unravels very personal parts of our life struggles. When we walk to God’s truth through these questions and struggles, then even when the answers are offensive they will bring awkward comfort that leaves us trusting God more.

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

From Suffering to “Love Covers a Multitude of Sins”

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on I Peter 4:1-11 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday December 10-11, 2011.

In these few verses Peter takes a long journey through human experience and redemption. Unless we take this journey with Peter and his readers, I do not think we will make appropriate application of the well known verse “love covers a multitude of sins” or appreciate its impact beyond a sentimental level.

Peter is writing to Christian friends who were forced to leave their homes for their faith (1 Pet. 1:1). He has spoken to them at great length about suffering (1 Pet. 1-3). This passage is a continuation of his encouragement and instruction to them.

At this point in his letter Peter warns these exiles of the intense temptation that comes with intense suffering (v. 3-4). When it feels like God has failed, it is easy to seek comfort or escape. When it is hard to believe you can “cast your anxieties on [God] because he cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7),” we will often settle for a bottle, a lover, or rebelling against anything that represents the “order” that failed us.

Recognizing the powerful draw of this cynicism during suffering, Peter calls on these believers to be “self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers (v. 7).” When we suffer intensely there is a strong tendency to “run from” something (i.e., the pain, the oppressor, or reality itself). Self-control is the opposite. It is “running to” something intentionally because you still believe in hope. Without this kind of self-control, they would not pray.

When we suffer intensely our thoughts ride the wave of our circumstances and we take on a pattern of thinking, bracing against worst-case scenarios. Sober-mindedness is different. It refuses to take God out of the equation. When we lose sober-mindedness we are no longer a child praying to our Father. We are the prophet of the unknown or unreal god making repeated predictions of continued doom.

It is out of this flow of thought that Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another, since love covers a multitude of sins (v. 8).” His primary example of this love gives us a clearer picture of what he has in mind—show hospitality (v. 9). When are homeless exiles most tempted to extravagant sin? When it’s time to eat and there is no food, and when its time to sleep but there is no shelter.

Hospitality covers these sins. Those Christian exiles who were able to secure lodging and food were to share with those who did not in order to protect their souls.

What is another major temptation time for an exile? Being alone with their own thoughts and thinking they have nothing to help themselves or anyone else. What was Peter’s second example? Serving and encouraging one another with whatever God has given you (v. 10-11) even if it’s not lodging or food.

This kind of mutual care was soul-nourishing for both the giver and recipient. It covered a multitude of sins that would have been present in its absence.

What questions should we ask in light of this passage?

  • Who is suffering that you know?
  • What are the unique aspects and times of their suffering?
  • How has God provided or gifted you with the means to care for them and “cover a multitude of sins”?

This is not a passage about us serving as one another’s saviors. It is a passage about the power and responsibility of life in Christian community to conquer sin, even sin rooted in the most intense suffering. These questions proposed are not as hard to answer as they are scary to ask. Why? Because the presence of suffering reminds us the world is not a safe place, so we want to self-insure.

Let us pray for the same courage and faith to serve those who are suffering as it takes for them to remain self-controlled and sober-minded enough to pray.

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