Missionaries Come for Restoration and Renewal

October 3, 2019

What a privilege to be one of 15 counselors from the US & Europe to provide care for missionaries from around the world.

As majestic and awe-inspiring as the Swiss Alps are in Interlaken, even more heartwarming was the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of 62 missionaries from around the world (from many different agencies) coming for a conference to be refreshed. The theme of one day captured it: “Depletion is inevitable, so restoration becomes essential.”

Missionaries carry more burdens that even they realize. They get worn down from compassion fatigue, adjustment to different cultures, new language, and from disappointments and disillusionments. All this on top of the normal personal struggles we all face. So Traction provides a time of relief from pressures and renewed intimate connection with the Lord they serve.

As a recovering high achiever myself, it was uplifting to look at this scene from our patio and simply say, “Ahhh.” In the mountains with God, I feel puny, but never insignificant!


Wonderful Visit to Magnolia Counseling Group

September 12, 2019

I like to find good people who do good things for their community and then highlight them. Well, the five counselors at the MagnoliaCounselingGroup.com are doing just that. They extended warm hospitality to me when I dropped by for a visit this week and impressed me with their love of counseling and their professional breadth as a group. I had already been impressed with their website. While many counselors drift into isolation, they have formed a cohesive group but in addition, show eagerness to reach out to the entire community with their talents and training. Their office even has a back exit door so people can leave without going back through the waiting room. Very considerate. If you need counseling in Dallas, check them out!

A Place Where Addictions Give Way to Dignity

August 11, 2019

Only a half-hour drive south of Dallas sits this quiet house on top of a hill where a lot is happening.  Casa Colina is a 90-Day Faith-based Residential Treatment Center for Men.   I visited the facility last week and was quite impressed.  They help men recover from the destructive ways that drugs and alcohol have ruined their lives.  The families of these men also recover much of what was lost to the disease of addiction. Many of the guests have discovered that other places have not been as helpful as Casa Colina.  

So, I walked around and asked them why this place works when other places haven’t.  They expressed how it’s possible to live with a group of people but still be isolated and lonely. “This is a real community” was a common response.   It reflects the genuine nature of Christian love and care that so many places only give lip service to.  

“You have to drill down to the shame and get it out; you can’t cover it over” was another common explanation of why the Casa Colina experience is effective.  They elaborated, “dealing with shame requires transparency in front of other people who then see your dark side but still accept you as a worthwhile human being.”

All the comments I heard reminded me of the healing power of Christ.  One person reminded me of the truth that “He who knows me best, loves me most.”  So, I saw first-hand how loving the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul provided the foundation of healing through reconciliation with our Creator.  But more, I saw how openly loving one another made the healing effective at a foundational personal level and introduced a truly new level of living a productive and dignified life.  

I sat in on a staffing meeting which gave me a feel for the professional quality of the workers. They were competent; they care deeply; they are healthy personally and spiritually.   I’ve seen places where it was “just a job.” None of that here.  There was lots of pride of contributing to something good. 

The driving force and visionary behind this facility is Chico West. He’s as excited about what’s happening to these men as he is modest about his role in it. He is committed to providing an effective program and receives his gratification from watching men graduate with a new view of life and new tools to help find their positive role.

I saw a couple of men ready to leave after 90 days.  They left behind lives of restlessness, irritability and discontent for future of peaceful, wise, goal-oriented contribution.  

Several words and phrases resonated with me on the drive home:  Safety; Transparency; Dignity; Poise; Confidence; Trust.  I’ve long believed “Healing requires relationship,” but it’s always reassuring to see a concept working in real lives.  


Different Cultures, Same Jesus

May 21, 2019
Chinese Gospel Church members at the retreat center in Muskegon, MI
I’m with Pastor Elliott Lee who invited me to speak. He’s a DTS grad doing a great job with the youth!

I’m a mono-culture guy, born and raised in America. So this invitation to speak at the youth retreat for the Chinese Gospel Church in Michigan expanded my horizons. The young people were born in America but have Chinese parents. Their parents were born in China and came to America and became citizens. These different kinds of cultural experiences impact our identity, so the question we all wrestle with is “Who am I?” How much does our culture influence our identity? How do we embrace our unique qualities without feeling weird or peculiar? (In general, I have noticed that most people do not handle differences well. They either comply, attack or withdraw.) It is the confident person who can stand strong and offer something worthwhile to help everyone live more productive lives.

With four opportunities to dialog with the kids, we dealt with four A’s:

I am an Asian — Heritage tells you where you came from but it doesn’t fully define you. For most of these kids, the Asian culture was very stressful and left little room for leisure and fun. They felt the need to excel and compete to be the best.

I am an American – But do you align yourself with the American culture and values or do you comply with your parents’ values and priorities? What are the pros and cons of each culture? We looked at the good, the bad and the ugly of the American culture by discussing David Brooks’ article in the New York Times, “Five Lies That Explain Our Culture:” (1) Career success is fulfilling, (2) I can make myself happy, (3) Life is in individual journey, (4) You have to find your own truth, and (5) Rich and successful people are worth more than poorer and less successful people. I was impressed by how they discerned the partial truth in each of these while realizing the lie.

I am an Adolescent – How do I navigate this transition period from childhood to adulthood while honoring my parents and fitting in with my peer group. Like most adolescents, they struggled to keep up with their peers and maintaining close friends when everyone is so busy. Bullying was also an issue, so we took tie to discuss how a well-grounded identity and strong confidence were necessary in standing firm. We all were amazed that the negative view of teenagers by adults is nothing new. This quote is from Socrates around 400 BC! “They [adolescents] now seem to love luxury, they have bad manners and contempt for authority, they show disrespect for adults and spend their time hanging around places gossiping with one another. They are ready to contradict their parents, monopolize the conversation and company, eat gluttonously and tyrannize their teachers….” Read more:  http://www.hopefortheheart.org/teenagers/#ixzz5obzprbFj

I am an Ambassador for Christ – If my citizenship is in heaven and I am an instrument to carry the Gospel message to the world where I live, it doesn’t matter so much whether I’m Asian or American or anything else! 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. What does being an ambassador look like for real?

Why is it important to clarify our identity? Because the more clear we are about who we are and what we stand for the more confidently we can hold our own in an atmosphere of differences; the less likely we will be carried away by peer pressure or influenced by trends. Our unity does not come from being alike; our unity comes from worshipping the same God, Jesus! I felt remarkably united with these outstanding individuals that I met for the first time and will long remember them with fondness.

I forget where I saw this, but I shared it at the beginning and the end of our time in Muskegon:

“Ask yourself what is really important and then have the courage to build your life around your answer.”


It was a very busy weekend.

April 17, 2019

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It was a pivotal point in human history.  The Prince of Peace culminated a three-year ministry that transformed the way God dealt with His people.  No longer would people search for peace with God through compliance with the law.  That weekend on Friday, He died on a cross and was buried.  On Sunday, He was raised from the dead.  He knocked the end out of a “dead-end street” and turned death itself into a passageway to life.  He demonstrated that death is not the end of life, but a transition into our ultimate destiny, life with Him.  For me, a whole new quality of life emerged.  On a day-to-day basis I began to know Jesus personally and to grow in my relationship with him. 

That weekend changed the way I think about events in time.  I used to wonder how a historical event 2,000 years ago could have any significant impact on me today.  In Greek grammar, there is a verb tense that carries the meaning of a past event that continues to bring results in the present.  It’s called the “perfect tense.”  That busy weekend provided the perfect basis for my faith in which I now stand and a quality of life which I now enjoy.

The Bible says it clearly:

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, …”                                 (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is transform-1.gifThat weekend changed my quality of life.  My life had been good, but it was two-dimensional.  I surrendered the control of my life to Christ late in 1968 and experienced a spiritual “rebirth.”  The third dimension added to my new life was spiritual.   Instead of striving to achieve goals, I found myself surrendering to God’s lead, being used by him to accomplish his will.  Instead of getting exhausted and tired chasing my own goals, I found myself getting energized and excited.  Instead of wondering if my contributions would soon become obsolete, I found a peace of mind and confidence that I could contribute to timeless issues of people’s lives.  People and the Word of God, these became secure investments for the rest of my life!  Even when I left my profession of electrical engineering and didn’t know exactly what lay ahead of me, I knew the WHO that would take me there.  Jesus is the “who” that takes care of all the “what” in my life.  Security became based on the experiential reality of knowing Jesus who can never falter or fail.

That event transformed the way I now see circumstances in my life.   Events are not determinative, but evidence of God’s intervention in my life for my good.   So-called “bad” things (like cancer) simply bring curiosity at how God is pruning me and bringing me closer to Him.   So-called “good” things, like health and comfort and success, need not bring pride because I can’t take credit for so much anymore.  God is at work in my life!  I no longer see God through the lens of my circumstances, but I can assess my circumstances through God’s eyes.

That event 2000 years ago continues to remind me that, though I am a small part of this world, I am not without value.  I am significant and I matter.  If worth is measured by the price paid for something, then I am humbled by the price God paid for my salvation on that busy weekend.

This Easter, I reflect on the impact of that busy weekend on me: Jesus came so that his followers “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Okay, I must say it: “Hallelujah!”


Clarifying the Fog in Our Culture

July 25, 2018

It’s a good book.  I wrote this summary to encourage professional counselors in the DFW to read it.  We all need to work on seeing our cultural issues more clearly, our own views as well as those differing from ours.  I Hope this will entice you to read the book.

 

Imagine a long overdue visit to the optometrist. You sit behind a big disk full of lenses, one of which makes all those letters very clear. No longer does a “Q” blur with an “O” or a “G.” You are no longer confused about discerning a number from a letter. With the proper lens, you can see things clearly for what they are. Reality replaces imagination or extrapolation or inference. This book clarifies our perspective on what we actually believe based on truth. It contrasts sacred values with those differing from our own, thus helping us to know more clearly what we believe and how those beliefs drive our meaning and purpose in life.

Murray characterizes our American culture as embracing unbounded autonomy while abandoning truth. Preferences and opinions formulate conclusions as a filter for which “facts” qualify as acceptable. That’s backward from what it ought to be. In the absence of truth as an arbiter between differences, each side resorts to power in order to win over the other side. Chaos results. Our current political arena illustrates how quickly we are inclined to hurl insults at the opposition rather than examining the foundational premise and worldview either side holds. Is the abortion debate about rights of the mother or about when life as a human begins? Is the immigration debate about hospitality toward the sojourner or about keeping our country free from dangerous people? On and on, slogans populate the airwaves more than facts, principles and foundational sacred values. When we attempt to clarify differences, we are accused of bias or judgmental condescension. Murray states that clarity has become a vice and confusion has become a virtue.

Our role as counselors is, in part, to help our clients overcome the confusion in their lives. We help them align their perception with more objective reality. We help them clarify differences with dignity. We help them live consistently within the principles of their worldview. Therefore we of all people need to be clear about how our Christian worldview impacts our priorities and perspectives. Murray was a Muslim in his youth who has trusted Christ at Savior and is now an apologist on the team of Ravi Zacharias. He’s a clear thinker.

He clarifies the relationship between freedom and limits. He let his children play freely in his backyard (bounded by a busy highway) only after he built a fence around his property. He distinguishes between “freedom from” and “freedom for.” This distinction has a lot to do with the object of our focus. This distinction can help redirect a quarreling couple toward freedom for harmony and intimacy rather than freedom from discomfort and antagonism.

He clarifies the importance of holding a Christian worldview with human dignity. He critiques a statement by Justice Anthony Kennedy, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” How would you clarify the inconsistencies of such a statement?   Murray says, “the autonomy that we claim gives us dignity is the very autonomy that undermines it. That’s as confused as things get.” He goes on to state “the cross is where human depravity and human dignity collide.”

In a relevant-for-the-times chapter on sexuality, gender, and identity, he answers the question, “How can the Bible validate the sexuality of someone whose sexual orientation the Bible calls abominable?” He makes it clear that God does not arbitrarily prohibit certain conduct. Rather, he protects something sacred, the created Image of God, the celebrated unity with diversity in relationship. I was impressed that he quoted Mark Yarhouse’s research several times in this chapter. You ought not to miss this chapter.

If you’re interested in how religion, faith, and science integrate truth, Murray spends a chapter answering the question, “Why do you think faith is a valid way of knowing things?” How would you answer that question with a client who is searching?

I was particularly impressed with the various distinctions he makes between Christianity and other world religions.   All roads do not lead to the same God. “Failure to recognize that all views are exclusive at some level is at the heart of the culture’s confusion about religious pluralism,” says Murray.

Murray goes beyond clarifying the areas of fog that our boundless pursuit of autonomy has created. He ends by clarifying the hope in our future that reliance on truth (Truth?) can provide. “We’ve so obsessed over the freedom to do what we want that we’ve neglected the freedom to do what we should.”   He closes with how we can transition from freedom to truth and from truth to clarity.

If we are professional counselors who hold a Christian worldview, then we ought to be very clear of what that worldview is and how it can provide us with a truthful and reliable guide to a meaningful life. I recommend this book for you to read to that end.

JLJ

 

 


Leadership Development

July 24, 2017

LEAD 7.9.17 (2)

How do you develop leaders? How do you know if someone is leading in his area of giftedness? In light of new insights to giftedness, how does a man learn about new options to choose for his ministry? As a church grows, how does a man know how to change his leadership style to keep pace with his evolving role? If personal or marital issues are creating a drag on a man’s energy, how does he deal with them? How does a man know what kind of people to surround himself with to create a smooth functioning team? These and many more questions are addressed in a rigorous five-day program called LEAD.

I was invited to be one of four LEAD coaches a few weeks ago in what I think is the most effective approach I have ever heard of. Bill Hendricks, Executive Director of Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary organizes several LEAD programs every year. This time, four couples came from their pastoral roles from as many locations in the country, all experienced, all accomplished, all eager to learn how they can be more effective leaders. While the pastors’ leadership was the focus, each couple was seen as a unit.

LEAD is a five-day, intensive and highly interactive leadership development process focused on self-awareness of personal strengths, limitations, and hindrances, and how those realities affect his interactions with others—most especially with those he loves and leads. The aim is to turbocharge the leader’s effectiveness as he clarifies direction and explores new dreams.

It includes sound leadership principles, exhaustive personal evaluation and scrutiny, and lots of interaction to make the process experiential. My focus was on their personal lives that included emotional, relational and spiritual integration individually as well as their marriage. These folks were willing to be vulnerable. They were open to feedback. They were strong but also humble. These characteristics are rather uncommon among pastors in my opinion. What a privilege to see the process up close. My hope is that they’ll find a way to make it bigger so more couples can go through it.

What approaches have you seen that seem to contribute to good leadership training? Leave a comment.