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!”

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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.


What’s It Like to Visit West Africa?

March 24, 2017

This recruiting video just came off the press.  It captures what it’s like to visit West Africa.  I participated in last year’s trip, spending most of my time with the adults, but the children stole the show.  Watch it and feel the mood.  Then you’ll understand why I want to return to Africa.

 

 


Emerging Realities In Mental Health

November 23, 2016

I just returned from an exciting conference.   Yes, a conference CAN be exciting.  It was the 37th Annual Mental Health and Missions Conference in Angola, Indiana.  Psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors, over 240 of us, from all over the county come together to discuss how we can use our talents to support those who work in cross-cultural settings.  These are people who know what it’s like to get outside their own comfort zone and connect with people who do life differently.  The theme is on the sign . . . 

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So, what are the emerging realities?

  • Safer technology.  Many commonly-used video connections like Skype are not as confidential as many think.
  • Positive Psychology.  Mental health practices traditionally have aimed at healing the sick.  This approach is looks more at the characteristics that allow a person to function with maximum happiness and effectiveness.  Health is more than the absence of sickness.
  • Secure Attachment.  Adopted children require special care after being uprooted from their birth homes.  Also, children of missionaries (and others whose work takes them around the globe) require extra kinds of attention to reassure them of their safety.   
  • Trauma Healing.  Life-threatening experiences are not uncommon these days.  Think of those struggling with PTSD.  Traumatic experiences are rooted deeply and do not diffuse with the passing of time. 

So that’s the technical part.  Aside from all that, I got to connect with some outstanding people in the field.  What a thrill to experience being part of something far bigger than just me and being able to make a small contribution.  Now, to follow up with several new friends.

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What Do You Talk About when . . .

November 6, 2016

It’s not very of2016_11_04-mamadou-at-gloriasten that you have an opportunity to host an African church leader to dinner.  But Sonia and I had that pleasure last Friday night.  We were rife with curiosity and questions that made it easy to converse.  Here’s some of how it went.

How much rain did they get in their region of West Africa?  You see, they are mostly farmers there, living off the land and depending on the rain for their crops.  Our group left this year just as the rains were coming.  Turns out that they had a wonderful rain in their region this year and will have a full crop of maize.  That’s the good news.  The sad news is that they lose half of their crop to the rodents after they store it in wooden bins.
Here’s a picture of how they store their grain today.  What an opportunity for some outside businessmen to provide metal storage bins that are sealed from critters and the weather!  As it stands, they just storage-bindon’t have the money to build them.

More personally, how does a young man raised as a Muslim come to surrender his life to the person of Christ and become a church leader?  Speak of transitions!  What a story it was.  Fast forward to today . . . what’s it like to be a man in a poor Muslim-dominated country trying to carve out a niche to provide a foothold for the expansion and strengthening of Christianity?  And how can those Christians, poor as they are, make significant positive contributions to the communities in which they live?  How can they build businesses that will provide for their self-reliance? 

Leave it to Sonia to ask some stimulating questions:  What’s the best part of your life in West Africa these days?  “My wife.”  What’s the worst? “Persecution.”

We talked about those things and a lot more which made the evening fly by quickly and left us inspired and full of admiration for this man.  And we learned a lot about opportunities for their growth and development, about what life is like in a place very different than Dallas, and about how God blesses those who are faithful in following Him. 

By the way, he’s seven feet tall.  


Safety and Relationships

September 17, 2016

 

castle

In the 12th century, a man built this castle because he needed safety.  It’s up high on a hill.  It’s walls are thick and sturdy.  But it has two problems.  It can form a prison for its inhabitants walling in as much as it walls out.  This leads to the second problem of isolation from relationships.  So where do we turn to find safety from things that threaten our well-being while at the same time enjoying rich and vital relationships with others?  I think we find the answer in deeper connection with other people and in deeper honesty with God.

Sometimes people are like that castle.  Their body carries the memories of trauma and wounds that are painful.  So they build walls to keep themselves safe and comfortable.  But secrets breed sickness of a kind.  Bottled-up emotions carry an internal heaviness and private pain.  Then the people try to numb the pain by overwork or many other soothing behaviors.  They distance themselves from internal awareness because what’s inside isn’t very pleasant.  Externally, they distance themselves from close relationships because relationships are complicated.  They wall in their own vitality.  Something dies and becomes unresponsive.  In short they wall out and wall in.

Next to the castle is a retreat center here in Interlaken, Switzerland, where I’m one of 12 counselors providing counseling and encouragement for over 55 men working cross-culturally around the world.  Many of them serve in very unsafe places.  Many of them have never had a safe place where they can openly talk about some of their wounds, their struggles, their frustration without being judged.  We’re hearing phrases like “loneliness, pressure-cooker, isolation, and no one to turn to.”  The goal of “Traction” is to provide care and refreshment to fuel these men for the work of their calling.  In addition to worship, teaching, outdoor activities and personal reflection these men allow themselves to “open up.”  The counseling we offer is a tangible way of experiencing safety and relationship together.  As the men risk trusting another human being, they are motivated to trust God more.  And, of course, as they trust God more they can entrust themselves to other people better.  That’s what makes their ministry more effective.

Susan Johnson, an expert in the area of intimate relationships, writes:

“A secure bond is the launching pad for our going out and exploring the unknown and growing as human beings. It is hard to be open to new experiences when our attention and energy are bound up in worry about our safety. It is much easier when we know that someone has our back.”  p. 24

 

In Old Testament times, David experienced the combination of safety and relationship which he expressed in Psalm 61 and 62:

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. So will I ever sing praises to your name as I perform my vows day after day. For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

As these verses become more experientially real, we find ourselves closer to God.  How is it for you?  Let me know what part of this you struggle with.  Let me know what has been helpful to you in realizing this i n your life.