Archive for April, 2012

C.S. Lewis on the Insult of Everything for Nothing

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

“If you like to put it that way, Christ offers something for nothing: He even offers everything for nothing. In a sense, the whole Christian life consists in accepting that very remarkable offer. But the difficulty is to reach the point of recognizing that all we have done and can do is nothing. What we should have liked would be for God to count our good points and ignore our bad ones (p. 147).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Would you trade your pride for everything? Obviously, this is a bit of a trick question. “Everything” would not include the things that exacerbated your pride if your pride was what you were trading.

Let’s phrase the question more accurately. Would you trade all your self-sufficiency for a clean conscience, contentment regardless of circumstances, and an eternity of losing yourself in the greatness of God?

The sticky one is “losing myself.” It is both what we want and what we resist. We pay to go to concerts, sporting events, and natural wonders to lose ourselves in something bigger than us. People abuse drugs and alcohol to escape (i.e., lose themselves) for a brief period of time.

BUT… the catch is that none of these are permanent and necessary. We can leave the concert, or stop our substance when choose. We are still Lord of our lives. That is the turning point of the gospel. God offers us freely what we already trade our life for, but the trade is both permanent and necessary. Jesus demands to be Lord if He is accepted as Savior.

More than Jesus demanding to be Lord, this is the essence of salvation because what we are being saved from is ourselves. A doctor cannot both cure you from cancer and leave the cancer. In the same way, Jesus cannot both save you from you and leave you as Lord of you.

The insult of being given everything for nothing is the admission that nothing is all I had to give. The “greatest deal ever” emerges from the “greatest crisis ever.” The question is whether we’ll admit the crisis in order to receive the offer.

The moment we try to minimize our soul crisis or seek to remedy the crisis ourselves we have just picked back up the pride God asks for in exchange for His grace. We find ourselves in a predicament, because the “best deal ever” is hard to accept.

And, strangely, the difficulty is not that the gospel is “too good to be true” but that it’s “too true for us to still be good.” Inherently we know that this is more than a generic admission “that nobody’s perfect.”

We must admit that Jesus died the death I deserved bearing the sin I committed before we can enjoy the blessing He purchased. In effect, we have to look at the price tag of the free gift and acknowledge that price matched our need.

Ultimately, that is the offer. We give God our pride – accepting our moral crisis, refusing to minimize our sin, and recognizing self-improvement is utterly inadequate. God gives us everything – a clean conscience, contentment, and eternal joy in Him. Have you accepted this offer by placing your faith in Christ? If so, do you accept this offer daily as you battle with remaining sin?

My Second Booklet – Vulnerability: Blessing in the Beatitudes

I am excited to announce the near release of my second publication: Vulnerability: Blessing in the Beatitudes.

Back Story: It was one of those times when I was questioning myself as a counselor.  I had several counselees who lacked vulnerability. When I suggested this was central to their relational or emotional struggles, they either resisted the notion or pushed back, “How do you fix that?”

Was this a worthwhile counseling focus? How did you grow in vulnerability? In the moment I couldn’t think of a “go to passage” on vulnerability or methodology to help someone move in that direction. I didn’t like the sense of being ineffective, wrong, or viewed as incompetent. I was feeling “vulnerable” and I didn’t like it. Why was I wanting this for those I was trying to help?

That left me scrambling for the answer to two questions. Is vulnerability biblical? If it is, how do you get there? Those questions took me somewhere I didn’t expect – the beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). I noticed that Jesus started His most famous sermon affirming the very traits I wanted for my counselees.

I wanted them to be “poor in spirit” (v. 3) instead of trying to put on a persona of having it all together. They needed to be able to “mourn” (v. 4) the loss of things that were meaningful to them instead of feeling the need to be tough. They were searching for “meekness” (v. 5) instead of vacillating between weakness and false strength.

I realized I was trying to counsel the rest of the Sermon on the Mount – dealing with anger (Matt. 5:21-26), lust (Matt. 5:27-30), honesty (Matt. 5:33-37), responding to suffering (Matt. 5:38-48), etc… without beginning where Jesus began.

My counselees didn’t just disagree with Jesus. They feared what He called “blessed.” How could we make any progress? They looked at what Jesus offered and felt repelled more than drawn. I was fumbling for words to describe as beautiful what Jesus laid as the foundation for healthy relationships and emotions.

That led to an extended time of reflection and meditation on the beatitudes. I began to read them, not as awkward poetry, but through the eyes of someone who both desperately needed and feared what Jesus said. I found the ability to speak to my counselees as an “insider” with the words of Jesus.

I realized vulnerability is not primarily something you “do” but something you “are.” Jesus used nouns in the beatitudes, not verbs. My counselees didn’t need action steps. They (and I) needed to know safety when they felt weak and to know peace when they felt uncertain.

That begins with slowing down – vulnerability is the tortoise, not the hare. So I wrote an article which became this booklet as a reflective devotional through the beatitudes. It is challenging because it asks us to see as beautiful some of Jesus’ most counter-intuitive teaching and apply it to our most profound insecurities.

But my prayer is that this booklet will be used by God to take the gospel message to the core of many people’s emotional and relational struggles as they embrace Jesus’ words to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).”

Ordering Information:

You can purchase a pre-order copy now on Amazon.

You can preview four sample pages through P&R.

You can also review other booklets in The Gospel for Real Life series.

God’s Words for “Bouncy” Anxiety

Jill would begin by worrying about finances. Things were tight and the economy was down. Being a Christian and knowing she should trust God (Matt 6:25-34) caused her fear to be replaced by guilt. Guilt did a good, short-term job of replacing fear, but it made her feel far from God.

The distance from God left her weak to other fears. “What if the kids get made fun of at school because we don’t get them the cool shoes… What if something goes wrong with the car… What if my fear makes me less attractive to my husband… What if…?” These fears created a new onslaught of guilt for not trusting God. Much of her life was a tennis match between anxiety and guilt over anxiety. It took one to interrupt the other.

She never realized how much God could relate to her experience. She thought that because God had nothing to fear that He was aloof to her struggle. One day a friend walked her through Psalm 121.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come (v. 1)?”

The psalm begins with David in battle. When the war is intense he looks to the hills for reinforcements. He begins to doubt. Will help make it in time? Which hill will they come over? Do I just want to believe their coming? David’s fears begin to sound like Jill’s.

“My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth (v. 2).”

David reminds himself of the truth he needed to hear. His fear made him quick to forget that the very hills he scanned for help were craftsmanship of the God who was for him. Jill can rest in the fact that David also had to remind himself of these kinds of truths. More than this, Jill can rest in the fact that God inspired David to pen these words and include them in Scripture for His anxious children.

“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber (v. 3).”

David anticipates the next round of fears that will assault him and his men. Will God keep his feet strong for the journey ahead? Will God take care of him when he is asleep near the battle field? David is not living poetry; he is living a battle. The poetry came later. David remembers these things because they were hard to cling to during the battle. Jill can relate to how remembering God’s faithfulness can easily devolve into focusing on the bad situation in which God must be faithful.

“Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (v. 4).”

David again reminds himself of truth about God. David may sleep near his enemies, but God never sleeps on David’s enemies. David was being forced to live that “God’s strength was made perfect in his weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)” and he was easily distracted. Jill was amazed to see that she shared so much in common with “a man’s after God’s own heart” even in the moments she felt distant from God.

“The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night (v. 5-6).”

David anticipated another round of fears. What if we grow weak in the oppressive heat of the sun? How can we keep this up all day? Or, what will we do when night comes and we can no longer see our enemy? I know God doesn’t have limits, but I do. What happens then? Jill began to smile as she realized how much God could understand the way she thought. It was amazing to think that God have her shameless words like Psalm 121 to speak-sing back to Him in her moments of fear.

“The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (v. 7-8).”

David reminds himself of the far-reaching truths of God’s protection. They cover all of life; from when he leaves his door until he returns home and from this moment as far as time or his imagination can extend. God’s faithfulness is found not only in his power and sovereignty but also his loving understanding. Walking with God in His Word through her “bouncy” fears gave Jill great confidence that she could cast her cares on God because He really did care for her (I Pet. 5:7).

Responding to Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin (Video 2 of 9)

This is the second video in a nine part series entitled “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin.” True Betrayal has a complementing seminar entitled “False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery.” For more information on either seminar, please follow the links provided.

True Betrayal: Step 2 from Equip on Vimeo.

The follow quotes are part of the teaching notes being referenced.

STEP 2.

ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.

“A spouse may be the last one to accept this evidence. A part of them doesn’t want the pain of accepting the truth. The spouse may even become involved in elaborate explanations of why it can’t be true. You may have heard the phrase, ‘the family is the last to know.’ Families often aren’t the last to know, but they may be the last to accept the facts (p. 69).” Mark Laaser in Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction

“A hurting, motivated wife came to me for counseling and said she had practiced submission, hoping to help her husband make some needed changes. I replied that submission was not God’s tool for accomplishing change. Confrontation was that needed skill. She needed to assertively confront her husband, not angrily, but rather with ‘great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim. 4:3 NIV) (p. 338).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

“No matter how many details you know about your partner’s acting out, the ultimate choice to change his behavior lies with him or her, not with you. Having more information won’t give you more control. On the contrary, sometimes too much information can cause you additional problems. You may end up obsessing even more about your partner’s behavior…  The formal disclosure may take up to two hours or more… Many couples consider this session to be a turning point in their relationship, an opportunity to establish a healthier marriage (p. 29). (p. 26).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

“I knew the next question before I heard it. I knew that answer before he said it. There was no satisfaction here, no new information to be had. I searched for a way to elicit new information, trying to figure out what I need to know now. And then the thought crossed my mind. I don’t care. But it wasn’t the I don’t care because there’s nothing in me to care with thought. This was the plain I don’t care to know any more thought—because I’d heard it all. Because I was bored (p. 145-146)!” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

“Whether your marriage survives or not, you will have to forgive and let go of bitterness. But you can’t forgive a wound you haven’t acknowledged—you won’t even know what you have to forgive. You are laying a foundation for forgiveness by being honest about how you’ve been wounded (p. 6)… For your marriage to become better, you have to talk about what happened and why (p. 19).” Winston Smith in Help! My Spouse Committed Adultery

C.S. Lewis Says, “Try Until You Realize You Can’t”

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

“Thus, in one sense the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.’ Do not, I implore you, start asking yourselves, ‘Have I reached that moment?’ Do not sit down and start watching your own mind to see if it is coming along. That puts a man quite on the wrong track (p. 146).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

So, should we “try harder” to please God? Lewis’ answer seems to be, “Yes, try as hard as you can, until you realize you are utterly incapable. Then use that realization to bring you to humble reliance upon God. But never attempt to measure your reliance upon God, because it will mutate to passivity or pride. The result of unmeasured reliance will be a consistent humble effort.”

Even restating Lewis’ logic makes it feel like a contradiction or as if it is making something simple too complex. But each step in the journey proves absolutely necessary.

Phase One: Try Until You Fail. Until we prove we can’t, we will always wonder if we could. This was true for me in every athletic venture I have ever attempted as a teenager. It is true of every cooking show I watch as a grown man. The parallel breaks down, however, because my athletic prowess and cooking aptitude far exceed my ability to live a holy life.

Phase Two: Rely Fully On God. Desperation is only bad if all you have is yourself. If you are desperate and able to rely on God, then that is called humility, brokenness, or the essence of gospel-living. This is what we will spend the rest of our life trying to maintain. But how do we “keep doing” what we “could never do”?

Phase Three: Refuse to Measure Reliance. We usually start by dissecting how we came to reliance. We want to know what we prayed, what books we read, how we came to humility, who influenced us, how we interacted with people, and the answer to other similar questions.

There is a problem with dissecting something. The “something” always dies. This is especially true of relational experiences like romance, comedy, or our walk with God. When we start defining how to (active verb) rely on (passive verb) God we have asked a question with internal contradiction.

Or, as Lewis says, if we ask, “Have I reached that moment?” (point in time question) when faith is about a living relationship (continuous activity), our question has led us away from living in reliance.

Phase Four: Discover Restful Work or Humble Striving. So the result is that phase one proves to us our inadequacy, phase two frees us from the guilt our failure deserves, phase three prevents us from taking the first u-turn back to our old life, so that in phase four we experience what God always intended.

Read Genesis 1:26-31 in light of this reflection. Consider the task given to Adam (and soon to be Eve). Have dominion over the whole earth. Take care of it all; every bird, fish, animal, and plant. While you’re at it, multiply and fill the whole earth. Start first thing tomorrow by resting all day (2:1-3).

God was prescribing restful work; work that recognized Adam’s full reliance upon God, but that was diligent enough to merit the word “work.” This was the beauty of effort before sin created distance between God and man. It is the gospel (phase two) that restores us to phase four if we will admit phase one and avoid phase three.

Booklet Preview – God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles

I am excited to announce the near release of my first publication: God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles.

The Format:

This booklet is written as a devotional. Over the course of 4 weeks you are taken through 16 attributes of God. Each week you study four attributes.

  • Week 1: Attributes of Love — God is personal, God is grace, God is good, and God is patient.
  • Week 2: Attributes of Essence, — God is omnipresent, God is eternal and unchanging, God is beauty, and God is blessed.
  • Week 3: Attributes of Wisdom — God is omniscient, God is just, God is truth, and God is order and peace.
  • Week 4: Attributes of Power — God is wrath and jealous, God is sovereign, God is omnipotent, and God is free.

For each attribute your study will consist of four parts.

  1. Definition — This is a brief 4-6 sentence definition of each attribute to orient your devotional reflection.
  2. Scripture Passages — For each attribute 3-5 passages of Scripture are given that demonstrate this attribute of God.
  3. Rest Questions — A series of 4-6 questions are given to help you assess how well you are resting in this attribute of God.
  4. Emulation Questions — A series of 4-6 questions are given to help you assess how well you are emulating this attribute of God.

Here is a sample from the first day of study on “God is personal.”

GOD IS PERSONAL: God has the ability to relate interpersonally and does so. God is neither aloof nor disinterested in His creation. God is aware of and concerned about the details of our lives. God is able to sympathize with the struggles we face in a fallen world. It is God’s nature to be active and involved.

Passages Describing God as Personal – Matthew 10:28-31; Psalm 56:8-11; Romans 8:26-27; Hebrews 4:14-16

Diagnose Resting in God as Personal – Do you struggle to believe that God cares for you personally? Do you believe God only loves you generically (because He loves everybody)?  Do you believe God is only concerned about the “big events” of your life, making the day-to-day choices drab or meaningless? Do you look for God in the small pleasantries of your day and express gratitude that He created a world with things that match your preferences and taste? What would life and faith be like if God were not personal?

Diagnose Emulating God as Personal – Do you avoid being vulnerable with others? When do you resist making yourself known because of a fear of rejection or giving others power over you? How does this reveal a desire to be approved by people (the fear of man) greater than a desire to be approved by God (the fear of the Lord)? Are you skilled at using self-disclosure to make others feel comfortable and more willing to be vulnerable with you? How does being personal open conversation towards God and the Gospel?

At the end of each week you are provided with a series of reflective questions to help you assess whether you have a balanced view of God. Too often we emphasize one attribute of God over the others (i.e., emphasizing God’s love over His power, or God’s wisdom over His presence, or some other combination).

The result is that we begin to live in response to a false view of God. Our emotions, relationships, and walk with God will be distorted to the degree we are wrong. For this reason, at the close of each week there are questions to help you ensure your understanding of each attribute is in balance with you understanding and emphasis of the other attributes.

Ordering Information:

You can purchase a pre-order copy now on Amazon.

You can preview the first six pages through P&R.

You can also review other booklets in The Gospel for Real Life series.

New Music from Summit Worship: Jesus In My Place

If you’ve been around The Summit Church for any period of time, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Jesus in my place.” This phrase captures the core message of the gospel. Jesus lived the life we could never live. He died the death that we deserved. He rose again, and offers us His life. This is the essence of “gift righteousness.”

Summit Worship is releasing a brand new record entitled Jesus In My Place on May 1, 2012. This album contains original songs written and recorded by our Summit Worship leaders.  We’re so excited to release this record, and we’re asking you to partner with us to share the good news of Jesus In My Place.

On April 29, Summit Worship will host a special Night of Worship celebrating the release at our Brier Creek Campus, North venue.  If you enjoyed Church at the Ballpark or Christmas at the Summit 2011, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to experience Jesus In My Place.  CDs will be available at the event, even before the record is publicly released on May 1.  Invite your friends and family, and join us for this special night of celebrating the gospel.

Check out summitrdu.com/jesusinmyplace for more info and a sneak preview of the record, and follow @SummitWorship on Twitter to receive updates and exclusive content.

 

Responding to Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin (Video 5 of 9)

This is the fifth video in a nine part series entitled “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin.” True Betrayal has a complementing seminar entitled “False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery.” For more information on either seminar, please follow the links provided.

True Betrayal: Step 5 from Equip on Vimeo.

The follow quotes are part of the teaching notes being referenced.

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

“We found that not recognizing the loss, not mourning, only made it worse (p. 131)… It took us a while to identify the things we had lost, and even when we did, accepting that they were really gone was more difficult that we expected it would be. However, once we were able to name them, it seemed we had taken another step on the path of healing. We didn’t feel so stuck (p. 132).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

“Forgiving the addict prematurely is a common problem for many partners… It is essential for you to grieve your losses before being able to forgive (p. 50).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

“It is definitely a healing moment, however, when both infidel and spouse can acknowledge the depth of pain the adultery has caused: when the spouse can say they believe the infidel ‘gets it’ (p. 117).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

“We had to mourn the time of Gary’s unfaithfulness, but that did not mean his faithfulness to Mona or to God could not be resumed (p. 135).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

Responding to Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin (Video 4 of 9)

This is the fourth video in a nine part series entitled “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin.” True Betrayal has a complementing seminar entitled “False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery.” For more information on either seminar, please follow the links provided.

True Betrayal: Step 4 from Equip on Vimeo.

The follow quotes are part of the teaching notes being referenced.

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

“How many people knew about the affair? I didn’t know and would never know… I felt as if I were wearing a sign that read, “NOT GOOD ENOUGH!’ (p. 61)…. God, I need a miracle here. You’re the great Healer. Heal us! Let me wake up from this nightmare. We’re sitting here breathing, and yet as surely as there is air moving in and out of my lungs, I know we’re dying. But I want to know why I have to die when the sin is not mine! I didn’t do this (p. 75)… In my weary brain there were only three alternatives: lying to myself, being lied to, or pain. If there was no pain, then someone must be lying (p. 98).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

“Quite often I hear in counseling, ‘If he loved me he wouldn’t have had the affair.’ I sadly respond, ‘He loves you and he had an affair (p. 347).’” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

“Couple shame makes them feel that they have a bad marriage and that people won’t want to associate with them (p. 183).” Mark Laaser in Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction

“[Case study] Tiffany could not believe what she just heard. After all of the sexual improprieties her husband Jason had engaged in, he was blaming her for his acting out. According to Jason, Tiffany was critical, blaming, non-supportive, and wasn’t meeting his sexual needs (p. 7)… Examples of impaired thoughts for co-addicts include I deserve to be treated this way. I can’t do any better. If I was performing better sexually this wouldn’t have happened (p. 21)… Many co-addicts, even before marrying a sex addict, have come to believe that sex is the most important sign of love. This makes them the perfect partner for a sex addict, who usually believes that sex is his or her most important need (p. 35).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

“And I was angry! Gary and his partner had ‘repented and been forgiven.’ They could move on with their lives. Well, I couldn’t! I resented the fact that I had not committed this sin, yet I still had to carry the pain. Why didn’t they just run away together? By now I could have been moving on with my life instead of being stuck. And at least I wouldn’t have had to suffer in silence; everyone would know if they’d run off. Even as I thought these things, I knew the absurdity of them. We all suffered. We all were suffering. But it was so unfair. No one had ever wanted to have an affair with me! There had been no desire so strong that I had risked everything to satisfy it. Gary had risked everything and everyone for her. What had he ever risked to have me? Maybe I wasn’t worth having. Maybe I should just disappear (p. 110).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

C.S. Lewis Says, “Punt It”

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

“If this chapter means nothing to you, if it seems to be trying to answer questions you never asked, drop it at once. Do not bother about it at all… They are directions for dealing with particular crossroads and obstacles on the journey and they do not make sense until a man has reached those places. Whenever you find any statement in Christian writings which you can make nothing of, do not worry. Leave it alone (p. 144).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is such a relief to hear a brilliant man say this. For many people, it is hard to accept that all truths are not equally relevant or essential for every part of our journey.

The striking part of what Lewis is saying is that he wrote this in Mere Christianity – a book about the essential core of the Christian faith. Remember his purpose in writing is to convince unbelievers of the rationality of Christianity – he is giving a logical defense of the faith.

Lewis is not saying that his subject (in context, faith) is unimportant. Rather his advice is similar to what is given to students when taking an exam, “If you get stuck on one question, move on, and come back to it. Reading the rest of the test may trigger your memory and not getting flustered by this question will improve your performance on the others.”

There are many reasons why a particular aspect of Christian doctrine may be hard for someone to accept. Abuse can make God’s love seem false. The death of a child can make God’s power seem impotent. Highly rational people may have a natural distaste for faith. Overly compassionate people often view God’s wrath and justice as unappealing.

What should they do? Bog down in their subject of struggle? Lewis advice is to “punt it.”

Study the other doctrines of the faith and allow them to create the context for one that stumps you. Let the abused start with studying God’s wrath against injustice. Allow the grieving parent see the Father who lost His Son. Romans is a great place for the rational mind to move towards God. Galatians may be the better starting point for the compassionate.

Once we come to our troubled doctrine from a panoramic biblical worldview instead of our singular focus of a painful experience or personality bent, we will likely see that doctrine much differently.

Why can we “punt it”? Because God is patient.

God will patiently walk with us around Mount Calvary; allowing us to examine it from every angle, elevation, time of day, and season of life. God does not just present truth to people. God also prepares people to receive truth.

This is an important lesson for believers as we do evangelism and discipleship. Often times the best way to help someone see a truth they resist is patience. Ask yourself if this truth is “where they are?” and “is this what they’re asking?”

We must remember that ministry is a journey with people towards God and this journey is not always (maybe rarely) a straight line of question-truth, question-truth. More often the road of discipleship is filled with questions-preparation-truth, and the middle stage contains many twists and turns.