Saturday, May 29, 2010

Forget the Counseling Couch - part 1

I remember the very first time that I sat down with a counselor. I don’t know if he was a psychologist or what (likely not because it was Meredith Junior High and I was in 7th grade), but nonetheless he was called the school counselor.

As for me, I was the class clown. I was considered by one teacher to be impudent. And at the time I wasn’t even sure what that word meant.

Regardless of what others called me or what I thought of myself, someone thought I needed to go to the counselor. Mind you, going to the counselors office was tantamount to going to the principles office (of which I’d been many times). So it was kind of like getting in trouble.

You know, the stigma that comes with going to the principles office and or the counselors office was usually because you’d been bad or gotten in trouble some how. So in 1974 I really didn’t want to be in the counselor’s office.

Well my visits to counselors (under compulsion mind you) carried on all the way into my collegiate years. I remember one time I was forced to go to one of the psychology professors for some counseling; all because of writing something on someone’s butt with a permanent magic marker. It seemed funny at the time, but the powers-that-be were not equally amused.

Then somewhere along the line a few years after I got married, my wife and I sat down with a pastor friend for some counseling. Mind you, we have a great marriage. We are best friends, lovers, co-workers, and partners in ministry, but we are so differently wired that sometimes we need advice. But once again the stigma of seeing a counselor for emotional or relational help loomed large over my head.

Being an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God and being a senior pastor of a church; some might think less of me because I didn’t somehow have my act together and needed to get counseling.

So are you getting the picture? Do you understand why most people avoid getting counseling? The stigma associated with the counseling couch is enough to keep most people bound up and helpless in their pain and struggle.

If we were less freaky about getting help – counseling – we just might be a bit healthier emotionally and spiritually, but somehow we’re afraid we’ll be branded as sick, crazy or something less than normal. God forbid that anyone finds the skeletons in our closets.

Well can I tell you? Most people I know are sick. Sick in their perspectives, sick in their feelings, and sick with lies they believe to be true about themselves, others and yes even God. Yet most of us either a) refuse to believe it or b) are too afraid to reach out for help.

My point: We have an Advocate. We have a Counselor. We have a legal assistant in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. And far too often we fail to approach our divine counseling team because we’ve attached some stigma (lie) to the idea that we need help.

May God help us to boldly approach our Counselor and ask for mercy and help in the time of our greatest need. For if we will Forget the Counseling Couch and just realize this person called Jesus, this person called the Holy Spirit, this person called God the Father really cares and will bring powerful counsel, healing and hope… the stigma will disappear and freedom and peace will come. Remember Revelation 3:20? It doesn’t really sound like nor look like a counseling session. It looks more like a friendly conversation over lunch. What a novel idea.

Last thought: It’s no wonder people are leery in their approach to the Counselor. I mean really, only sick or crazy people need a counselor… right?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Easy In Easy Out

As I sat watching and listening to my Keith Green DVD, the live experience; and as he sang that great song Your Love Broke Through, I began to have this thought about Kingdom access.

For the presumptuous and proud, Kingdom access may be challenging if not virtually impossible. But for one with a broken and contrite heart, access is relatively easy.

The Bible tells us that God is close to the broken hearted. He’s relenting toward the heavy hearted and lowly in spirit. So with that in mind I thought back to when His love broke through to me. Or should I say each time that His love broke through to me; and I asked myself what was the condition of my heart?

The answer without a doubt was always some state of brokenness. It was always at that place where God met me. And access to all He had for me was powerful and easy.

Brokenness can be based upon gratitude or thanksgiving. You know, a sense of need and humility that emerges out of a realization as to how awesome His love and mercy really are. Brokenness can also be just plain broke and in pain. Broke emotionally, financially, relationally and even spiritually; but nonetheless broke.

When we find ourselves broken either by our realization of His mercy or the realization of our depravity and deficit – that is what Easy In is all about.

Jesus said; when we are weighed down by life in any way, we are to come to Him, because His way, His guidance, His yoke is EASY and His burden is LIGHT.

Yet if we are not careful, we can find ourselves in the Easy Out path.

The Easy Out path holds grave consequences and is found in the ease and familiarity of my own way. That’s right; the presumption that my way is the BEST way can rapidly get me in trouble if not brought into submission to His way.

Solomon tells us that there is a WAY that seems right unto a man, but it most often ends in destruction or defeat. A way, my way, our way, versus God’s way is at the heart of the Easy In Easy Out message.

As quickly as we may find access to the grace of God, if we are not cognizant of the potential for loss, we may find ourselves holding onto our thoughts and our ways more than His. And you can be sure that there are plenty of religious voices out there who will by their own lusts, pull you away from God’s way. Just read 2 Peter chapter 2 and you’ll see the potential for Easy Out.

I don’t point out this risk so as to scare us straight so to speak, but I do point out this risk, because it is real. We live in a world of EMPTY WORDS that tend to fill our souls with false concepts and hopes. And the tragedy of that is; most of us don’t seem to be able to discern the difference between empty words and WORDS OF LIFE.

Granted, some of you reading this may feel patronized by this suggestion, but let me tell you, pride ALWAYS goes before the fall. Many have fallen prey to empty words that puff up the soul in its own eyes, but God tells us to take heed lest we fall.

Let me end by saying this: Kingdom access CAN be easy for the humble and broken hearted, but Kingdom exit CAN also be easy for the proud, the self-righteous and the self-sufficient. And isn’t that the lie our enemy and this would has been selling us for centuries?

Keep in mind God’s ways are not our ways and our way has ALWAYS been at the heart of the broken relationship between God and man. Isaiah 53:6.

Last thought, don’t get caught in the revolving door of indecision. Albeit going around and around in a revolving door can be fun sometimes, in the end it will take you no where and only make you dizzy. Joshua 24:15.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Decisions without the Divine

One of the most significant things I can remember about my dad was how he would quote Proverb’s 3:5-6 at seemingly the most inopportune times. In reality his timing was impeccable. It probably seemed inopportune because at the time I was dancing in the shadow lands of folly.

Whenever we find ourselves in folly, words of wisdom tend to have a bitter-sweet taste.

After many years of seeking to live in wisdom and often failing, I still hear the voice of my dad speaking those ancient proverbs. Word’s like trust, heart and acknowledge are all common vernacular for anyone wishing to live and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I’m no exception to that rule.

Yet how often do we make life decisions without the influence of the Divine? And I’m not omitting or ignoring the prevenient grace allotted to all mankind that tends to influence us toward a personal relationship with the Divine. What I am talking about are life choices outside of our salvation decision.

Decisions that may seem unimportant to God; like new tires, where to eat lunch, what to watch on TV or simply how to spend my time; seem way too trivial to even bother asking Him about. But therein MAY BE our biggest faith mistake.

Our heavenly Father really does care about everything we do (Matthew 6:26). And keeping that in perspective is a daily challenge, because we live in time, space and limitations, whereas He does not.

We are limited in our ability to manage things, He is not. And His desire to be involved in every detail of our life has nothing to do with His compulsive need to control, that simply does not exist. What He IS looking for, is relationship and fellowship that will provide for US what we CANNOT provide for ourselves or FIND in any other source.

I know that sounds kind of heady for a Sunday morning, but it’s really about how much He cares for us. It’s about a Father, a Brother and the Spirit who desire to infuse into our very lives, their best. That’s right; their best for us. And we will never get that measure of provision anywhere else, period.

Another problem is we are so accustom to Decisions without the Divine, that when the idea of His guidance and influence for our best are introduced to our daily living, it sounds intrusive and almost controlling (if not unbelievable). But any thought like that flows from minds yet to be fully regenerated. Our minds exist with the assumption of need and want. That is all we’ve ever experienced; but that IS NOT the case with the Divine.

When the idea of God wanting our trust and acknowledgement in EVERTHING we do (so as to guide us into His best) is introduced to hearts and minds like ours, we find that fact very hard to believe; even unbelievable, because we have rarely if ever known anyone to be so benevolent or a source to be so deep and inclusive.

Most of us don’t live with unlimited resources, therefore when the idea of a God who desires to give us unlimited access to unlimited resources is presented; it becomes WORK to accept such a prize for such undeserving wretches like us. Meaning we surely must have to DO something FOR that kind of prize.

Yet all of creation has been subjected to this type of frustrations only to push us in the direction of God’s benevolent grace (Romans 8:20).

My thinking unfolded like this today because I believe most of us live day in and day out giving little thought to the decisions we make. You may argue that point and that’s okay, but how many decisions is your brain making without first asking you?

There is so much happening within the cosmos and your very own body (all without your consent) that for anyone of us to presume we have much sway over our destiny would be mildly fallacious.

And YET that IS the very reason God says; trust Me, include Me, seek Me, call on Me. Life without your request for Divine influence gets out of control very fast; faster than you can say yesterday, today and forevermore (Hebrews 13:8). Albeit fast is relative to a life span of 70 plus years, but it’s still gone before you know it.

So why do I write? 1) To clear my head of synapse blockage. 2) To free my fingers from carpal tunnel cramps. 3) To prove my prowess with words. 4) To remind you that ALL decisions matter to God. 5) Or all of the above.

YOU DECIDE (pun intended). But keep in mind, there is a Divine Love that cares about even the smallest details of your existence. And that Love will only intervene in your life so far without a PERSONAL INVITATION.

Let’s not make too many decisions in our life without the Divine. Okay?

DISCLAIMER: Decisions by the Divine WILL NOT resemble decisions by we who are dust (Isaiah 55:8-9). So don’t be surprised by a mild sense of apprehension when learning to include the Divine in the dust of your decisions.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Withered Hands

Just last week I had the most powerful yet brief encounter with God while I was at a nursing home. While Sarah and I were visiting a friend, we decided to get a cup of coffee from the activities room. They have this really neat automatic coffee machine that I would love to have at church. And of course the coffee is free.

Anyway, as we entered the activities room, there was a woman playing the piano and another woman sitting quietly in a wheel chair. The woman in the wheel chair was gently nodding her head to the rhythm of the music being played. In an instant I recognized the tune.

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus… there’s just something… about that Name. Master, Savior, Jesus… let all heaven… and earth proclaim… Kings and kingdoms… will all pass away… but there’s something… about that Name.”

You may know the song. Now it’s been years since I’ve heard that song. Not because the song is no longer viable for worship and praise, but because so few play it anymore. That’s right, I’m used to the wailing guitar licks of Hillsong United or David Crowder.

Don’t get me wrong, I love our current praise and worship styles… BUT!

Somewhere in the mix of progressive church style to attract a younger more secular audience, we’ve lost something that can only now be found in Withered Hands.

Yup… that’s what I said, Withered Hands. As I stood waiting for my coffee my heart soared like an eagle and I gently began to sing along with the woman as she played. I really felt the Spirit of God show up in that room and my mind was filled with the beautiful memories of wonderful “old school” pianists that I grew up listening to and worshiping with as a child.

Maybe there will come a day when the Lord tells us; “Loud is sometimes too proud!” Maybe there will come a day when Withered Hands will play again. Maybe there will come a day when those who’ve tasted the gentle sweet flavor of piano worship will rise again.

Will there ever be a day when digital and loud are not the means of worship? I hope this millennial generation can once again experience the power of gentle Withered Hands that lead us into the presence of God... all without crescendo, bravado or Bono. Oh no!

I’m really missing some good gentle piano worship right about now.

Words Kill Me Sometimes

Just a note to my readers. I've never done well with phonics or spelling. Therefore if I misspell words throughout my blogs that my spell-checker misses and if I butcher certain words. Forgive me. Also, I tend to get certain word spellings mixed up. Like loose and lose. If I blew it this time sorry. If not, read on.

Later or is it latter or is it ladder or ladle? Hmmm...

Loosing Interest

They say the loss of interest in everyday activities is one of the symptoms of depression, along with a myriad of other symptoms. But what if the experience of loosing interest in the things of this world is less about depression than it is inspiration?

That’s right, inspiration! Inspiration that little else counts except for my relationship with Jesus. Little else counts if there is any distance between me and my Lord. Little else counts when it comes to the final moments of a life. Little else counts when it comes to genuine heart felt joy and deep soul comfort.

For my experience bears witness of this; nothing satisfies like a desperate dependency upon God for my daily living. Jesus said; “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21 NIV)

I find it amusing and tragic at the same time that we spend the bulk of our lives amassing hoards of stuff that rarely if ever satisfies us. I can say that because, if stuff satisfied, then a few strategically acquired things in life would be all we need. But some how many of us have double garages (and triple garages) that we can barely get one of our two or three vehicles into, because it’s burgeoning with stuff that we really don’t need for our survival, let along genuine satisfaction. But somewhere along the line we believe bigger is better and more is somehow meaningful.

I have a dear friend who purchased a very large home during the real estate bubble; thinking that a strategic flip in a few years would garner him lots of cash for the trouble of living in a beautiful mansion for a few years.

But within the first month my friend realized the unexpected. His 5,000 plus square foot dream (flip) home was costing him almost fifteen hundred dollars a month in utilities alone. I’m not sure why they didn’t factor utilities into the equation of mansion ownership, but they must not have. Because the utility bill nearly took their breath away. Not to mention the nearly six thousand dollar per month mortgage payment.

I simply cannot imagine that arena of lifestyle. But I further cannot imagine being so enamored with the things of this world (even with a 6 figure income) that I would be willing to spend that kind of money on gas and electric to power my home.

I know it may sound like I’m bashing my friend, but I’m not. I’m simply stating the obvious. Until we lose interest in the things of this world, to the degree where the Kingdom of God alone consumes our hearts and lives, we will only be chasing after the wind.

Solomon reminds us of this very fact. “I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1 NIV)

What proved to be meaningless? Stuff… lots of stuff. And more stuff and pleasure… and more pleasure and more stuff. And what was the end result?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV)

The end result IS meaningless and the gains are nothing.

So the next time you begin to lose interest in things once thought essential for happiness and contentment in life, THANK GOD. Because maybe, just maybe, He is spoiling your desire for the things of this earth so that you will grow in your love and dependency upon Him alone.

In closing; keep in mind John the Baptists telling words regarding even our own worth in the eyes of self and others. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 KJV) To me that says it all.

Wishing each of you decrease of self and the loss of interest in anything other than the Kingdom of God! Agape.