Archive for March, 2012

Feel Awkward Being Expressive in Worship? Me Too

Two realities exist: (1) Scripture commands us to be expressive in our worship, and (2) many people feel awkward clapping, raising their hands, or saying “Amen” in public worship. Both of these realties are self-evident enough; they don’t need to be supported.

But they do need to be navigated and there are many angles from which we can come at the discussion. We can take the Lordship approach – if God commands something, we should obey whether it is natural or not. Or, we could take the progressive sanctification approach – looking for evidence of movement towards God’s ideal and drawing encouragement as we build momentum. Both approaches are good and helpful.

But here I’d like to take a counseling approach to the question – when God calls us to do something, it is dually for our good and His glory. Expressive worship is no different. If we can understand how expressive worship frees us from common elements of the human struggle, the kindness of God can be used to draw us to repentance (Rom 2:4) for disobeying this awkward command.

This is true for even those of us, like myself, who are generally introverted, rhythmically-challenged, reflective worshippers.

What is at the root of the awkwardness we feel? Usually it is some form of self-preoccupation – it feels weird, we don’t want to be noticed, we don’t like our singing voice, we didn’t grow up worshiping this way, etc… Who is at the center of all of those statements? I am (not to be confused with the Great I AM).

What is also at the center of the vast majority (if not all) of our life struggles? I am. Whether it is pride, insecurity, or the ramification of not being able to put myself in the shoes of another person, self-preoccupation is at the center of most life struggles.

What does God want to accomplish in each one of our lives? He wants to free us from being slaves to sin. What does that require? It means God has to save me from me. Think for just a moment about how glorious life would be without pride or insecurity and with the ability understand others. What would you give for that?

Jesus spoke about what the cost for such a life would be, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24).” This passage reveals how much our instincts betray us and trap us in ourselves.

Too often we take a passage like this and cynically think, “Great! Jesus says I have to the things I dislike in order to be happy.” That misses and distorts the point. The emphasis is not on what we do, but for whom we do it – “for [Jesus’] sake.”

This is where expressive worship comes in. It is a regular way that I can be drawn out of myself purely for the glory of God. I have the opportunity to be weekly led to forget myself and focus on God. It is one of the few times I can be in a room full of people doing something and be free from thinking about me. I need that! I desperately need that. Apart from corporate worship, I have no idea where else I could find anything comparable.

I cannot think of a better remedy for pride, insecurity, or other forms of self-preoccupation than to celebrate someone infinitely greater than myself in such a way that I lose myself in the presence of people I’d otherwise want to impress.

Is that not the entire point of worship? To celebrate God so vividly that “the things of earth [myself included] grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace (Hymn: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus).”

Now let’s be honest. Does this make expressive worship any easier? My personal testimony is, “Yes and No.” On the one hand, if I walk into worship rushed and distracted, then my expressive-instincts are not strong enough to over-ride my reserved nature. I still have to remind myself why it’s important (obedience) and how God is changing me through worship.

On the other hand, I now have an appetite to worship God in a way wants me to be freed from me. More than this, I want those moments of corporate freedom to carry over into my family life, thoughts, and emotions. I can now pray for a freedom in worship believing God wants to give me something that is truly for His glory and, also, my good. I still have to withstand the awkwardness of self-preoccupation, but I have tasted the freedom of self-forgetfulness and it’s worth it.

That’s my journey in this area of obedience to (and growing enjoyment of) God. What’s yours?

C.S. Lewis on Losing Faith

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

“Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away? (p. 141).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Lewis speaks in two categories: (1) faith lost to a superiorly-reasoned faith-system; and (2) faith lost to starvation of thought. I agree with Lewis that many more Christians surrender their faith to lack of thinking about it than lost their faith to thinking about Christianity and finding it wanting.

But I would add two more categories to the discussion:

(3) Faith lost to a level of pain that defies rationality; and

(4) Faith lost to a life of sin that made faith too inconvenient.

While I won’t guess at percentages or order, I will suggest that option #1 is the least frequent reason people walk away from the Christian faith.

Faith Lost to Pain: Many Christians face pain as if it were a riddle to be solved. When this approach is taken, then every lesson learned, facet of character refined, or opportunity availed is placed in a balance against every ounce of pain felt, each tear cried, and opportunity lost.

The “game” of faith is to find enough good things to outweigh the bad. “Faith,” in this system, requires renaming enough bad things good to make the equation work in God’s favor. When this game becomes too painful, many Christians abandon their faith in order to stop torturing their own souls.

This is a bad game that no Christian should force themselves to play in order to justify God. Even when you “win” this game it most often does not stop the pain. The Bible, nor the theology of Scripture, was meant to be this kind of divine encyclopedia that gives answers to each question of suffering.

Rather the Bible is a divine story book that is able to give meaning to painful events – like a good movie provides a redemptive meaning to a painful scene. The pain of the scene remains, but it is understood in light of something better.

Faith Lost to Sin: Other Christians find something forbidden by their faith that brings them pleasure. Their sin makes them feel good and they are faced with a choice: (a) leave my sin and mourn its pleasure; (b) continue in sin and feel the guilt of my faith; or (c) leave my faith and rationalize my choice.

In these cases it may look like someone reasoned their way out of faith. But it is clearly not reason that is driving the decision-making process. This is the equivalent of adulterers who convince themselves that their spouse is unloving because if their spouse knew the truth they’d ask the adulterer to leave their lover – clearly reason being driven by desire.

This reveals that faith is a relationship more than a system of thought. Christianity is Someone who is rejected, not something that is forsaken. When someone becomes a Christian he/she proclaims Christ as being their only hope for life and better than anything life without Him has to offer. When someone leaves the Christian faith for sin they are not experiencing an intellectual quandary but a divorce.

The Gospel for Sin, Suffering, and identity

Psalm 103 contains the words of someone who has been on an impressive journey with God. The cheerful introduction often diverts our attention from “all the benefits” (v. 2) that are being called to mind.  The next four lines rotate the gospel-gem in the hand of the Psalmist, as he remembers God’s faithfulness.

Sin: Forgiven (v. 3a) – David realized that all other gospel blessings flow from God’s defeat of sin. That which casts paradise into chaos has been defeated (sin) and has been defeated eternally (at Calvary) so that it could be forgiven internally (in me).

There was no blessing David could think to call to mind before the forgiveness of his sins – not his shepherd-to-king journey, not Goliath, no military victory, no time of peace, not his friendship with Jonathan, no gift to be able to write psalms or lead people… nothing. David knew all blessings from God flow from God’s willingness to forgive sin and transform us into people who could receive any other blessing it pleased God to give.

Suffering: Physical Ailment (v. 3b) – Next, as David recalls God’s blessings, he looks at two forms of suffering in which God had been faithful. First, David recalls God’s faithfulness to heal disease. It is not clear whether David is reflecting on a miraculous near-death recovery or the general marvel that our bodies were designed with an amazing capacity to fight illness.

Regardless, David saw that he owed God his physical life as much as he owed God his spiritual life. A healthy body was as much a gift from God as Christ’s righteousness—the flipside of forgiven sin. Every breath was a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Suffering: Emotional Despondency (v. 4a) – Second, David recalls God’s faithfulness in the darkest hours (“the pit”) of his life. Again, David does not give us specifics – his father who overlooked him, his best friend’s father had tried to kill him, the guilt of sinning with Bathsheba, the guilt of having her husband killed, a daughter who was raped, and a son who revolted against him. It could be any of these or other moments not recorded in Scripture.

But we do see David wanting to let us borrow his faith when ours is weak. We know David well enough to know he did not have a “cush” life. He shared his life with us in Scripture so that we could share in his hope in God during our darkest hours.

David wrote this psalm for public worship so we can feel free to put our story into his phrase “the pit.” We can put our story on his words because David is merely recalling “all the benefits” of the Great Story – the gospel. When God offers us salvation, it is more than a free ticket to heaven. It is a gateway into His story and this is where David goes next.

Identity: Transformed (v. 4b) – David was no longer a father-forgotten, social-outcast shepherd boy. He was the king of Israel. When he says God “crowns you” with love, this is no accidental phrase. It was his story. But it is also our story, because when we are saved we are adopted by the King of kings.

What it noteworthy is that David highlights God’s steadfast love and mercy as the crown worth remembering. To him it was more astonishing to be transformed from an object of God’s wrath to the child of God’s affection than it was to go from rags to riches. Even a son staging a mutiny could not remove this crown. It was a wrong that brought peace because it had no rivals.

Now why was David writing this Psalm? Verse five would seem to indicate that David was tired and discouraged. More than this, it appears he had begun to down whether God would still be good to him. So what does he do? David begins to preach the gospel to himself by recalling God’s blessings in every area of his life – sin, physical suffering, emotional suffering, and personal identity.

This is both instructive and encouraging for us. It is instructive, because it gives us a pattern to follow in times when we are tired and doubt creeps into our mind. It is encouraging, because we see that even great men like David who slayed giants and wrote Scripture needed this kind of exercise on a regular basis. After all, David wrote many psalms.

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

Accidentally Plagiarizing Jesus

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on “Prayer and the Holy Spirit preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday March 24-25, 2012.

Here is one of the best definitions of spiritual maturity I have heard – accidentally plagiarizing Jesus. It’s not fake and it’s not me. Spiritual maturity is the middle ground between hypocritical piety and sincere sin.

Think of the sincere affection of a child watching their father. They watch his actions, listen to his words, and study his responses to various situations. Three responses begin to emerge:

1. The child overtly imitates their father, play-acting their hero – hypocrisy (from the original Greek word meaning actor).

2. The child sincerely gives into their desires and breaks the rules – sin (a child does not have to “try” to be bad, their sin-nature just spills out).

3. The child instinctually (no play-acting) responds like their father to an unpleasant situation – maturity (plagiarizing character as if it were their own until it becomes their own).

I love these moments with my sons (almost as much as I am troubled by the moments when they plagiarize my sin). Where do they come from? (1) Affection. (2) Interaction. (3) Imagination.

It begins with affection. If we would be like Jesus, we must love God like a child loves a good father. Without affection the second two factors become forced. According to I Corinthians 12:3, it is only the Holy Spirit that can give us the affection for Jesus necessary to call Him Lord.

Affection draws us towards interaction. Our affection for Jesus should cause us to pray like a child who is interrupting a distracted father, “Papa… Papa… Papa.” Ask that child if it is hard to “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17). In their mind no adult conversation could be more important than their father’s eye contact even if they don’t want anything important.

According to Romans 5:5, it is the Holy Spirit that pours this kind of love into our hearts. According to Romans 8:15, it is the Holy Spirit that confirms and gives us a felt sense of our adoption by God which causes our hearts to cry “Abba! Father!”

Affection cannot help but give itself to imagination. Children imagine living as their hero in their own world. I often hear my children pretending to be “the grown ups” and when they do, they sound like me (for better or worse). This is when my children are on the brink of accidentally plagiarizing me. They are role playing me in situations in which they have not seen me.

This is a powerful part of prayer. We often talk of prayer as intercessory faith – believing God for something on behalf of another person. This requires imagination. Do we visualize the heart of God for the situation we and those we know find themselves in? Do we role play Jesus in those circumstances or do we only ponder “what we should have said/done”?

It is only the Holy Spirit that can silence our flesh and fears to allow us to see a response outside our own instincts. It is only the Holy Spirit that would give us words that lead to the gospel instead of our own interests or protection. When this happens – affection, interaction, and imagination are guided by the Holy Spirit – we begin to accidentally plagiarize Jesus. We begin to sound like a child who loves their father (Eph 5:1-2).

This notion of imaginative prayer can be said another way, “Jesus in my place.” We see Jesus in our place throughout the day like a child who imagines their father in their situation (i.e., place) and grows mature by virtue of their imagination. Let us see Jesus clearly in the Bible and then pray with Spirit-filled imaginations about what Jesus in my place (i.e., home, workplace, school, etc…) would look like.

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

NCAA Tourney, Fundamentals, and Counsleing

I thought it would be timely to do a blog post in light of the NCAA tournament. No, it’s not a grief post for Duke or Missouri fans. It’s not even a stress-idolatry post for those who get way too intense about their bracket. It is a post about fundamentals.

What usually happens to the losing team in a big game? They get out of their comfort zone. They get rattled. And, they lose their fundamentals. Players start taking bad shots, forcing passes, forgetting their defensive assignments, and commit silly fouls. No, I’m not talking about your favorite team; try to focus and stay with me.

The same is true for counselors (or anyone in a helping role). When we get uncomfortable, we tend to forget our fundamentals.

We try to force a situation to fit a scenario we’re familiar with, instead of continuing to ask good questions.

We begin to view the counselee with suspicion because they make us feel uncomfortable and our doubt becomes contagious instead of our hope.

We classify people and explain people by the group they belong to (i.e., male, female, race, age, socio-economic status, etc…) instead of getting to know them as a person.

We become preoccupied with our own confusion and uncertainty instead of remaining engaged in the conversation.

We offer generic advice and clichés because we don’t know what else to say instead of being a good friend during perplexing time.

The problem is we scream at the television, but we excuse ourselves. We can see the college kids choke, but we are blind to the changes that go on within us.

We begin to write historical fiction in our minds to make the situation fit our assessment.

Our negative view (i.e., sick, liar, etc…) of the other person becomes solidified.

We reinforce our stereotypes and prejudices.

Continued self-preoccupation and insecurity makes us a less effective listener with other people.

We replay in our mind the reasons why we think what we said was best.

So what is our take away? The most fundamentally sound team usually wins. The same is true in counseling (or any helping relationship). When we stick to the fundamentals of helping, God is honored and people are helped.

Listen

Ask good questions

Avoid stereotyping

View people as more like you than different from you

Don’t get lost in your own insecurities

Wait to speak until your words can be situation-specific

If we stay fundamentally sound, our brackets may still be busted, but our relationships won’t be broken.

C.S. Lewis on Doubting Faith

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

“Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods… That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist (p. 140-141).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Too often we pose the question of faith in spite of doubt as if it were only a Christian dilemma. I couldn’t imagine anyone of any faith, non-faith, or mixed-faith background who did not occasionally, if not regularly, wonder if they had it all wrong.

Is this not true of most every life-shaping decision? Career. Marriage. House purchase. When something impacts your entire life and life is hard, you ask questions. Any honest question in a difficult situation will at times bring doubt.

It just happens that we live in an era of history that values doubt over faith. So in our generation if you hold to faith in the midst of doubt you are frequently labeled a closed-minded hypocrite. However, in previous generations, if you gave way to doubt and relinquished your faith you would have frequently been labeled a weak, faith-weathered soul.

What Lewis is trying to say here is that faith – sticking to a belief against internal opposition – is a necessary attribute for the Christian, atheist, and member of any other faith system. There are at least two reasons for this.

First, we live in a complex-broken world. We don’t live in a simple-broken world. When we ask the questions that challenge our faith they are rarely single-variable questions. When we want to know why something hurts so badly, we get into the free-will actions of other broken people, multiple situational variables, our personality, and other factors.

Any faith system that gives a “neat” answer to such complex situations is going to be too simplistic for an intelligent hurting person to believe. In the midst of that kind of pain and complexity, faith is going to largely come down to trust in a Person. Those who hold to their faith in the midst of hardship most often do so out of relationship more than rationality.

Second, we live in the middle of history. Have you ever tried to explain a good suspense movie you’ve never seen at the one hour mark? If you can explain it at the one hour mark, it’s not a good suspense movie.

We live in the middle of our story in two ways. First, we do not know how far we are from death. Second, we do not know how far we are from Christ’s return which is the only event that will bring meaning to the chaos in which we live.

So we are like children on vacation, and we live asking, “Are we there yet?” with no reference point for the mileage or hours about which we ask. Like children we often doubt whether the vacation will be worth the trip. We doubt.

But, as with the complex-broken world issue, the solution to doubt is relationship. The more the children trust the parent driving the car, the less they doubt (although they still doubt). Likewise, in the middle of our story-journey, we grow in our trust-affection for our Father in order to maintain faith.

Angry at the Gospel

The gospel is not just hard. The gospel is insulting. The gospel tells me things I don’t want to hear and asks me to do things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be told to take the log out of my eye before I take the speck out of anyone else’s. I don’t want to sacrifice my comfort for the love of others.

But those things are just hard. I can “cowboy up,” kick myself in the pants, and get them done if I need to. I can be “man enough” to admit when I was wrong. I can see the advantage of sacrifice, even its joy, and forsake my preferences. I can do “hard,” if I want to bad enough.

But the gospel is also insulting. The gospel looks in my eyes and without blinking says, “Without me you are nothing (John 15:5).” When I respond in astonished offense (1 Cor. 1:20-25), the gospel doesn’t back down, apologize, or change its tone. The gospel calls to me again, “You know it’s true. Surrender.”

At that moment I am faced with the most profound choice of my life – if I refuse to accept the offense of the gospel, then I am choosing to be offended by everything else in life. After I’ve heard the gospel then I will respond to every fault (my own and others) with either the fury of my own righteousness or by surrendering to Christ’s righteousness.

This is the story of many angry people. Angry people are passionate people who are willing to do whatever it takes to makes wrong, right – at least as they define “right” and “whatever it takes.” The thought of surrendering to the standard and will of another is the antithesis of anger.

To be anything other than angry is to let evil win – at least in their mind. And that makes sense. The gospel has always had a way of making it look like evil was about to win. The limp body of Jesus did not look like our strong deliverer on the cross. The early church scurrying from city to city in persecution did not look like a great gospel movement destined to change the world.

The gospel always has a way of looking more like Clark Kent than Superman and asking us to do the same. Sinful anger feels like our Superman suit, but we never realize it’s laced with kryptonite. As we prove (again and again) our inability to play the role of superhero (Messiah), we hear the call of the gospel again, “Take off the cape and put on my righteousness. The cape doesn’t fit you. Trust me. You’ve just proven it would be better if you did.”

“No, it’s not like that. This situation was different… That person wasn’t cooperative… I was fine until I lost my cool… I’m smart enough to learn from my mistakes… If I made the mess, I want the chance to make it right,” and on and on go our excuses. We realize again – if I refuse to accept the offense of the gospel, then I am choosing to be offended by everything else in life.

We walk away knowing we were wrong and convinced we were right. The gospel comes across as the jerk who is always right, but this “jerk” is too nice to hate so we feel like the jerk for being mad at the One who sincerely wanted to rescue us from us.

That is another profound tension of Scripture. Jesus was incredibly easy to hate, yet He is also the most endearing figure in history. Most world religions that reject Christianity (at least its exclusive claims) love Jesus and revere His teachings. We find we are just like everyone else – constantly in need of Jesus and resisting His offer to enter our life and transform it from the inside out.

So what will you do? Will you embrace your weakness to receive God’s strength through the gospel? Or, will you cling to your strength and be offended by everything you can’t do? Will you embrace Christ’s righteousness on your behalf as a gift? Or, will you live in a world of land mines (your own anger) where your righteousness is the standard that judges the world and demands justice? Choose the freedom that comes with the gospel’s offense.

Contented Contentment

I used to think that contentment merely meant being satisfied with what God provided. With this definition all I had to do was to avoid grumbling and anxiety (easier said than done), and I passed the contentment test.

But I realized I was cheating, or, at least, that my definition was incomplete. I was only measuring contentment by my attitude towards “stuff” not the “time” I exchanged for that stuff for or the “drive” that fueled the time I traded for stuff.

The harder I worked and the more I did, the more God provided. I could expand my margins of contentment through a good work ethic, sound financial management, and a strong entrepreneurial drive. I don’t think these things are bad, they just allowed me to avoid a key area of my character development.

When I only looked at contentment as a money issue, I could unhealthily pull on “my” reserves of time and energy to equal the ledger for my desire for stuff.

Further, this definition served my flesh well, because I value achievement much more than I value stuff. So not only could I cheat the self-defined system, I could become more self-righteous as I did it. Contentment was a virtue for greedy people not ambitious people – I wasn’t “one of them.”

As I have wrestled with this expanded definition of contentment, I have realized that contentment was not a limit God put on me (be satisfied with less), but a gift of rest God offers and wants me to embrace. God offers contentment to people at every point on the socio-economic spectrum and at every rung on the ladder of success.

Now my definition for contentment goes like this, “Contentment is being satisfied with what God provides when we exercise our God given gifts and abilities within a godly stewardship of our time and relationships for God’s glory.”

This view of contentment is harder to cheat. At least it is new enough that my flesh has not been able to exercise its full creative energies upon it yet.

In my contented (i.e., restfully sane) moments, I don’t want to cheat this definition. When I truly see that contentment is the rest that God wants to inject into everything I do, I run to this virtue not away from it.

This challenges me with a larger question, “What is wrong with me that I do not always see every virtue that God offers me in Christ as a gift? How can my moral vision be so skewed that death looks like life?”

For me, and I suspect for many others, the answer is pride. I resist rest because it insults me. Rest reminds me that God is capable of everything even when I’m doing nothing. Rest shows me how little my effort actually adds to God’s sovereignty.

Rest reminds me that God involves me because He loves me and takes pleasure in my pleasure as I express the gifts He gave me. When I am content enough to see this, it gives me a joy that makes my work and my rest the life-sustaining pleasure they were intended to be.

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

C.S. Lewis on Savoring Temporal Pleasures

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

“I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage (p. 137).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

How should we treat temporal pleasures? There seems to be very little balance in the way we live out the answer to this question.

Some people live for temporal pleasures and try to find life in ways that resembles chasing for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – lots of effort, but with inevitable failure.

Other people respond to temporal as if it were a synonym for bad, evil, or wasteful. To them a lack of permanence is the equivalent of a complete lack of value.

Lewis’ quote calls for a balanced response and makes me think of how my wife responds when I buy her flowers. She knows the flowers will not last. She likes them better when I buy the “clearance” flowers, which means she really knows they’re not going to last.

The fact that the flowers will wither does not detract from her enthusiasm for the gift. She gets out a vase, fills it with water, and places them prominently in our kitchen. She comments on them frequently and always looks at them as she walks through the room.

But she doesn’t mistake the flowers for my love, of which the flowers were only a representation. There is no fear in her that when the flowers fade my love is failing with the collapse of each petal. She gets the message of the flowers, so she can embrace the flowers for what they are.

I believe this captures God’s intent for temporal pleasures. They are meant to be a love gift from Him to His children. A good meal, a stimulating conversation, health, a vacation to a beautiful location, or a nice home are all good, temporal gifts.

If we accept them as signs of God’s love and do not mistake them for the substance of God’s love, then we can enjoy them and let them fade without fear or despair. We receive the joy they were intended to give and our affection for the Giver grows.

How would your perspective on temporal pleasures change if you treated God’s blessings like my wife treats my flowers? How would it influence your anxiety and insecurity? How would it affect your sense of gratitude and joy? To whom would these changes be most noticeable?

Do you feel guilty right now? That is another misuse of the gift—further guilt only extends this misuse. If my wife (hypothetically speaking) became too attached to the flowers and missed the love they represented, her repentance would be best expressed through rejoicing in my love—not sorrow.

If my wife (hypothetically speaking) under-appreciated my flowers to protect herself from being disappointed at their fading, her repentance would be best expressed through vulnerably receiving my love—not beating herself up.

If you have not responded well to God’s temporal pleasures through over-indulgence or under-appreciation, repent now by embracing the message of His love that He sent in the form of temporal pleasures. He will rejoice as He sees His purpose for creating those pleasures fulfilled.

How to Respond to Things We Don’t Understand

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on Jesus and the Holy Spirit from Luke/Acts preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday March 10-11, 2012.

This sermon is an excellent case study in a vital life skill – responding to things we don’t understand and/or make us uncomfortable. It is hard to preach on the Holy Spirit in a way that will make everyone comfortable – strange since one of His titles is “the Comforter.”

Stranger still is the strong human tendency to listen poorly and react quickly when we don’t understand something. When we don’t understand our fears become the filter for what we hear and preemptively start trying to take the conversation back to where we’re comfortable before we know where it’s starting.

Think about your last several conflicts or times you felt misunderstood. What were your fears and how did they become the filter for what the other person was saying? How did you try harder to move the conversation to your comfort zone than understand what the other person was saying?

Think about the last several times you heard someone debate politics. Can you find those same themes of listening through a fear-filter and moving the conversation to home turf?

Now, think about having a conversation about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. Think about having that conversation with someone who may not agree with you. Think about worshipping in the same church or being in the same small group.

What are your fears? How do they shape the way that you see this person (who right now only exists in your imagination)? What caricatures have you already placed on them? What emotional responses or demeanors do you “know” they are going to have?

You have just articulated your fear filter.

What is your home turf? Do you seek to change the subject because you don’t know what you believe? What phrases start the conversation or get repeated most frequently in your mental dialogue? What passages of Scripture are defining and which ones get explained away? When do you realize you don’t care what the other person says?

You have just defined your home turf or comfort zone.

Are you still talking to a “friend” or have they become an opponent in your imagination?

What is my point? One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to bring unity (Eph 4:3). Another role is to calm fear and give the love/self-control necessary to listen well (2 Tim 1:7). The place where we should most effectively learn this vital life skill is when we are studying the One who enables us to learn it.

My encouragement to you is to begin to learn to listen well to things that you don’t understand and make you uncomfortable. Use this sermon as an opportunity to learn this skill by the Spirit, in the Spirit, and about the Spirit.

After that demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit by blessing your family, friends, and co-workers with what God is doing in your life. Begin to be like the Holy Spirit as you listen to people well enough to translate their hearts to the Father in prayer (Rom 8:26).

As you do this, I believe you will find that your relationships and emotions begin to be marked by the kind of peace that Scripture repeatedly says is a mark of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31, Rom 8:6, Gal 5:22).