Focusing on Jesus, the Reason for the Season

November 30, 2014

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It’s easy to get distracted from the reason for this season of the year.  So about 30 years ago we installed our first nativity set to remind us to keep our focus.  We add a little bit each year.  This is how our day-after-Thanksgiving project turned out for 2014. The figures are mostly 12-inch Fontanini.

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The figures help me to remember that in those days 2000 years ago, people of faith were hoping for the coming of the Messiah.  The announcement of His incarnation came as “good news of great joy.”  This continues to be a season of hope for the future because God has come to us.

They help me remember that the message is simple, but profound.  God, Immanuel, came to us.  He came to us so that I could come to Him in my everyday life and respond to his initiative of love.

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They remind me that wise men still seek Him. I would like to be wise, so I want to remember Him, seek His face and worship Him.

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He changed history. I want Him to continue to direct my story.

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Free Training in Bible and Theology

November 17, 2014
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Richard Pratt, President Third Millennium Ministries

I attended a luncheon last week and heard Richard Pratt describe a wonderful method of training pastors worldwide. Third Millennium Ministries avoids a lot of the problems associated with providing seminary level theological education. For example, the major problem being addressed is that millions of pastors around the globe have less than one hour of formal training in the Bible. Three obstacles stand in the way of their education here in the US: (1) Language: If a church leader doesn’t speak English, he’ll be unable to get training here. (2) Money: the average annual cost of an American seminary enrollment is $15,000. That’s very restrictive for many pastors. (3) Educational prerequisites: A Bachelor’s Degree is required before starting seminary in the US. With the Third Millennium material, the pastor starts right in. Notice how none of these obstacles were present at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The Third Millennium material is currently provided in five languages, which include the areas where Christianity is fastest growing. It’s free and it’s very well presented. I just went to their website and watched a couple of their segments. The format is full of attractive graphics, like watching the History Channel, not simply shooting a lecture and copying it. I plan to use their materials to sharpen my own seminary training that I received 40 years ago.

Take a look at it. Click here and watch their video.  Watch one of their teaching segments.  See what you think. Use it for your own training. If you are able, make a contribution.  But more, if you know of a pastor in some foreign country who could use some training, let him know about Third Millennium Ministries.  Watch the testimonials of pastors who have used the material.  The website has testimonials of its effectiveness.

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Antithetical Complementarity

November 7, 2014

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Art does not often move me. I’m auditory; art is visual. But my son moves me and he is an artist. He recently commissioned a work by a Venezuelan artist, Rafael Araujo, and hung it in his office. My initial response at our family viewing/party was “l like it because I love him.” Then I kept looking. The more I looked, the more I saw. The more I saw, the more I was moved. Here’s what it stirred in me.

In the language of the artist, “Araujo creates an imagined mathematical framework of three dimensional space where butterflies take flight and the logarithmic spirals of shells swirl into existence.” What I saw was the stiffness and rigidity of the construction lines providing a realm within which the butterflies could flow along their patterned courses with fluidity. Rigidity and fluidity come together. Mechanical drawing all by itself is just that, pretty mechanical. A view of butterflies flying around by themselves is rather chaotic and, to me, pretty fluffy. Each has its own brand of “pretty” (or at least interesting) but when they merge in a complementary manner, mutually offering and receiving qualities to the other, they express a completeness that is fundamental to life. This concept resonates with my world of counseling.

I counsel couples. Often, one of them is very functional while the other is very aesthetic. So he leaves his “stuff” where things can easily be reached – in piles, in stacks, where he last used them. She objects to the visual clutter, the unsightly “mess” within which she cannot relax without putting it in order. The resolution of the conflict lays not in one side winning over the other, but in creatively finding ways for his functionality and her aesthetics to serve one another. Yes, to enhance and enrich the other so that the resulting unit thrives at a harmonious higher level.

Then, there’s the playful, spontaneous partner, tugging against the responsible, planned partner. One seems to be antithetically opposed to the other. Perhaps, with a little creativity, this couple can experience “planned spontaneity” or even “playful responsibility”. The goal is complementary enrichment.

Ultimately, beyond the possible myriad human experiences, I see a picture of the character of God himself! Is He a God of wrath or a God of love? Yes, perfectly! Is He just (executing justice) or merciful (granting grace)? Yes, perfectly.   God’s punishment of his people in the Old Testament was always accompanied with a compassionate plea to return to him so he could bless them. In his wrath, he never rejects his chosen people. He loves them. His holiness and justice require him to administer sanctions as consequences; his mercy and love require him to provide a way back to his caring arms and his blessings. So Paul can say

“ . . . that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”   (Romans 3:26)

and the psalmist can (without fully realizing it) anticipate how God’s complementary nature showed forth on the cross, where Christ took on the wrath of the Father and provided loving access to his eternal security.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.   (Psalm 85:10)

My friend, Dr. Larry Waters, recently presented a talk at the Dallas Theological Seminary chapel in which he described the personal traits of that great man of God, Martin Luther. Listen to how he was described: “Rough and tender; poet and boxer; boisterous and devout; deadly serious and a possessor of keen wit; exquisitely sensitive and volcanic invective; and bold before men while humble before God.” I think that as we surrender our lives to God, we take on more and more of His characteristics even the blending of those characteristics that don’t seem to fit with each other.

Would that this goal of conciliatory complementarity would infect our political system. In the wake (wave) of last week’s election returns, I’m reminded of why I’m frustrated with politics. If God is present at all, the Republicans believe that their emphasis on balance budget, family values and small government is aligned with God’s priorities. But the Democrats believe that social need provided by the government is the priority that is closest to God’s character. Why can’t the answer be “Yes.” Then our work could be characterized by creating an enriched harmony of antithetical complementarity.

IMG_0040Back to butterflies. My son’s painting moved me because it pictures a timeless universal reflection of how the world ought to work. There is no winning in the war against one good thing versus another. There are no “trump cards” in the deck of antithetical complementarity. Real victory comes from rigid structure and free mobility integrating harmoniously in an organized fluidity.


Character and Quality Make Reliable Rehab Center

November 1, 2014

I like organizations that are led by men of character.  Robert Shryoc is one of those men and the Stonegate Center is one of those organizations.  It’s a Christian drug and alcohol rehab center for men located west of Fort Worth in the country.  Robert founded the center some years ago and continues as its CEO.  I had lunch with him a few weeks ago and was impressed with his world view and his attitudes toward treatment.  

He says that addiction is about impaired choosing.  The addict is a broken person who sees things in a distorted way and makes bad choices that make his condition worse.  Robert likes the Twelve Steps because they help a person gain (1) peace with God, (2) peace with themselves, (3) peace with others and (4) and enduring peace that comes from a transformed life from the inside out.

The program itself  works on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual issues that pertain to addiction and recovery.  A typical day there is structured from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM but includes time to relax and reflect.  Robert says that real change happens IMG_0008in the context of real relationship, so community is very important at Stonegate.  I find that to be true in the personal counseling that I do as well.  Robert practices this with his organization as well, referring to specialists in the community and accepting referrals from other professionals in the community.

Another thing I like about the program is that it focuses on how to live a full and meaningful life beyond simply not doing the harmful thing.  In other words, let’s evaluate progress by the presence of good, not just the absence of bad.  It reminds me of the passage in Colossians 3:1-17 that uses clothing as a metaphor.  “. . . rid yourselves of . . .  and clothe yourselves with . . . “.

Perhaps these are some of the reasons the program has a 70% success rate.  I hope you don’t have a need for a recovery center, but if you do, consider Stonegate.  It’s a quality program run by a quality person of high character.


Counseling for India

September 1, 2014

Suresh 1A selfless gentleman with tremendous power to change the lives of other people presents a picture you have to experience to appreciate. I have recently met such a man. Suresh Bolem came from India to study counseling at Dallas Seminary. In a strange country (that would be us), responsible for a wife and two children, he seeks ways to make personal counseling accessible to those who have neither the money nor the time to take advantage of its benefits. I will be working with Suresh as he completes his 3,000 hours of supervised counseling experience required to get his LPC (Licenses Professional Counselor). But it won’t be all about what I can provide for him. I will be learning from him about the Indian culture in preparation for my teaching counseling to the Asian Christian Academy in January 2016. In the meantime, he needs financial support, job opportunities in the counseling field, and more connections with people in this professional community. Read his story below and see what you can do to support him.

 

I am Suresh E Bolem, a recent graduate of Masters in Biblical Counseling at DTS (Dallas Theological Seminary). My life and times are swamped with God’s grace, loaded and stamped with God’s mercy. Like Paul I say, “Whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me…” Like David I say, “Who am I Lord, what is my family that you should have brought me to this point?”

I was born in a Hindu family where multi-gods worship was ruled. Our forefathers were affluent and their income would put them distinctly in the middle class bracket. I chose to become a follower of Jesus Christ when He visited me in a special way. The world calls me a convert to Christianity. I have no problems with that, though I see my faith more as a relationship with God through Jesus Christ than as a religion. I am fiercely proud of my national identity as an Indian and I am completely at peace with my cultural identity as a Hindu. I met my wife Swarna in 1999 and we were blessed with two children (Bhuvan Tej & Nitin Tej).

I remember my faith encounter with God, it was a simple affair no miracles, no angels visiting. All I did was utter a deep human cry out to the creator God and His only son Christ Jesus. The encounter that I had shall not even attempt to understand, rationalize or explain. I simply accept Him who gave His life as a ransom for me. It is my faith. It is what I choose to believe.

It was my Mom, who was my inspiration behind my choice to serve the Lord. My mother, who used to go around the known families in our village sharing her testimony and good news about Jesus, was the inspiration for me to choose this path in my child-hood. It happened unknowingly but God out of His Sovereign-will designed my path to be His instrument.

When I accepted Jesus and repented my sins, I felt that something from another world came upon me and I knew I was totally a different person. My life took a different turn indeed a peculiar turn but a beautiful turn with Jesus in it that day in February 1998. I have experienced real joy and peace in my life through Him. The very moment I gave my life to the Lord, the meaning of God’s call into the ministry became clear to me. The reason I could understand God’s call was because I was now in right relationship with Him through Christ Jesus, the Son of God. I, then, had dedicated myself to the service of living God. Life has been wonderful as I’ve found the secret of its success thru Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.

I started my M. Div., course in Southern Asia Bible College (an Assemblies of God School), Bangalore, India (in 2000), where I’ve began experiencing empowerment and infilling of the Holy Spirit. The next three years I lapped up God’s Word in a systematic form, hungrily. God used all my teachers to shape my life and ministry. During weekends, in those three years, I had a privilege to be a part of pastoral ministry at Whitehouse AG Telugu Church in Bangalore, India.

My first fulltime ministry assignment was with the Maranatha Veda Patasala (Bible School) in Hyderabad India, the year being 2003. I was called to be Bible Teacher for the Maranatha Bible School where I served as an academic dean for 3 years. I also served as an associate Pastor in Maranatha Visvasa Samajam (a Faith Community Church) in Hyderabad, where I used to lead the worship and also taught in the men fellowship. I lead a group of students to the weekend ministry, almost all parts of the state (Andhra Pradesh), for personal evangelism and preaching in open-air meetings, youth camps and conventions of churches. It helped me to understand different cultures and also got an opportunity to preach the gospel in different platforms.

I also wrote articles for Maranatha Messenger a Telugu monthly magazine, which sharpens my thoughts. Pastor Moses Choudary (Founder of Maranatha Visvasa Samajam), one of my spiritual mentors, trained me in the essentials of Christian writings. After three years of ministry with them, it became clear to me that my ministry would not be just teaching in a Bible School. So I moved out to pioneer a church and joined CBN-India an international organization for counseling ministry in the year 2006 to support the newly started church. This is entirely different and new ministry to me. God shown me people in different problems and placed me there to encourage the discouraged and despised, build the families and console the broken hearted, set captives free and to share the love of Christ. I’ve seen and observed the impact of the counseling ministry in and through the lives of the people.

God used me at different platforms of His service. It was counseling ministry that I have found God working underneath to transform the lives of the people in need. Without any counseling educational background God used me to touch many lives and that encouraged me to complete my Masters in Biblical Counseling at DTS recently.

Hope Counseling Initiative (HCI) at Colleyville Assemblies of God church is now providing mental health services and parental education by extending their service and reaching out to financially disadvantaged families, individuals including teens. Counseling is a very important service or tool used to help people to rise above their hurts and live a fulfilling life.  As a part of this service provider I see two major hurdles that have not been addressed so far. One of the common and major hindrances is COST in reaching out to people who need psychological services and counseling. On an ongoing basis many are unable to afford the growing industry cost starting between $80 – $300 per hour for counseling and psychological services. Second major hindrance for people unable to go through the help of counseling is TIME. In my limited time of experience, I have noticed people who could afford, are still unable to go for counseling due to the time factor. Before they can go for initial evaluation session they have to wait for more than a week or sometimes even several months. Addressing both the hindrances of TIME and COST for counseling and psychological services we have come up with the plan of attending to the families need beginning with the contribution from $5 per session based on house hold income and family size and we try our best in making appointments as early as possible (the main initial focus would be at Mid Cities in Dallas – DFW Metroplex). With all this said our plans will only be fruitful when you partner with HCI by supporting us financially. HCI relies on the generosity of those who understand the importance of counseling and willing to provide help to financially disadvantaged individuals and families. Without any hesitation I can say your support really does change people’s lives. I have witnessed and have been a part of change every single day and I encourage you to join HCI in changing people’s lives through your generosity.

 

I and my family [wife Swarna and Two boys Bhuvan Tej (13) and Nitin Tej (10)] are very thankful and looking forward for your partnership. I thank my God who inspires His people to extend their support to us that helping us funding to fulfill the task ahead of me. I thank you, from the bottom of my heart for your Christ-like kindness towards this ministry. Without your support it wouldn’t be possible to take such a challenging task forward to touch many lives. I pray that God would bless you and yours with thirty fold, sixty-fold and hundred-fold of blessings!

Suresh Family


Helping Teenage Cutters

June 15, 2012

When I look around the community for good people doing good things, I need look no further that to one of my previous Interns, Kristine Newton.  She brings her maturity and competence to the counseling room to help, among other situations, teens who are cutters.   If you are one of these teenagers or if you know one, you would do well to read this article.  I asked Kristine to write something to help us understand what’s going on that drives this behavior and also what can be done to help the teen move from despair to a more mature contentment.  Need help?  Call Kristine.  She’s good.

It seemed like a normal night, their teenage daughter, Alice had come home and said good night. She seemed safe and happy; Mom and Dad were relieved and began to watch TV.  Less than ten minutes later, Alice came down the stairs, face flushed, tears in her eyes and blood gushing down her arm. While her parents were relaxing, Alice had gone to her room and slashed her arm. She had been cutting secretly for over six months, but tonight she used a box cutter and didn’t realize how sharp the blade was. The cut was so deep it required a trip to the ER and six stitches. Alice’s parents were in shock, what in the world had she done to herself and why?!!

It is estimated that one of every 200 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 in the United States engages in self-harm of some kind; of those 70% cut themselves. When families come to my office, the scene normally plays out like this.

Two very anxious parents and one scowling teenager enter the room and sit across from me. The adolescent informs me, “I will not talk to you or to them!”  They either deny the cutting is serious or state that their parents are being overly dramatic. “After all,” the teen says, “It’s not that big of a deal; cutting just makes me feel better.”

“Makes you feel better?!! That is ridiculous!” the parents exclaim.  With desperation, the parents turn and give me a look that begs me to talk some sense into their teen immediately.

The weird thing is . . . the teen is at least partially right. Cutting is a coping mechanism that “works” for some people.  Scientists have studied the issue, and believe cutting creates a temporary high, similar to the way adrenaline works.  For most of us, this does not make sense.  How in the world can hurting yourself make you feel better?  Like other unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol, outsiders can easily see the dangers, but the person engaged in it cannot.  Cutting is deceptive, destructive, and can be addictive; even though for a time, it helps relieve tension, reduce numbness and/or create a distraction from stressful life events.

While cutting may appear to “work” for the person using it, like drugs and alcohol, it leaves a bitter aftertaste, and is a dangerous illusion. Cutting can lead to unplanned medical expenses, trips to the ER and, infections which sometimes cause life-long health problems. At minimum cutting leaves unattractive physical scars, and never gets to the root of the issue. Emotionally and relationally, people engaged in cutting end up isolated from others, filled with deep shame and self-hatred, and develop incredibly effective skills at hiding reality from those closest to them.

It is important to note that while cutting may look and feel like a suicide attempt, or a cry for attention most times it is not.  This surprises most of us.  Many people who engage in cutting are not attempting to kill themselves; they see cutting as a way to deal with their pain, so that they can keep on living. While cutting is not often a suicide attempt, it can be a precursor to it, and those who engage in cutting are more prone to attempt suicide in the future.  Sometimes like our teenager Alice in the first paragraph, the cutting may lead to an accidental cutting that is much more serious than intended – even accidental suicide.

To help us understand some of the reasons why a person might cut, there are several characteristics that seem common. Most cutters have experienced more than their fair share of pain.  Many have been sexually abused, grown up with family members who have drug and/or alcohol addictions, or have experienced an extraordinary trauma in their lives. When we actually begin to hear their stories, it is often a wonder to us that they are still alive, and it is understandable that they are struggling.

A second characteristic is that they often feel they have become a burden to others, they feel isolated, and thus tend to deal with their problems without outside help or advice.  They believe others are sick of listening to them, don’t understand them and can’t or won’t help them. Therefore, rather than ask others, they take on the pain themselves and engage in self harm.  One client who ended up in the emergency room said, “I didn’t want to kill myself.  But I didn’t want to burden my mom anymore by telling her I was down, again!  I thought I could cut myself and deal with it that way.  But the cut was a lot deeper than I intended. Now I am so mad at myself, I was attempting to take care of myself, but now I have created more drama and cost my parents even more money because of the hospital bill.”

A final characteristic is cutters are very passionate, sensitive individuals who feel their emotions in vivid Technicolor.  God has given them a unique personality and emotional framework that has very sensitive receptors to the soft side of life.  Many times those who struggle with cutting are fun to be with, exciting to share struggles with, and often very compassionate with others. This places them on a very steep roller coaster ride. The highs are very high and the lows are almost intolerable! The downside: pain they feel at a high level and don’t know how to deal with it. They may try to tell someone they are hurting, but are blown off because others don’t experience the issue at the same intensity.

So what do you do if like the parents in the opening story, you have discovered someone you care about is cutting? Here are six suggestions.

1.  Trust.  Trust that God loves your loved one even more than you do! He loves to shine light in dark places so that He can bring restoration. Trust in His power, loving-kindness and timing to do what He has promised in your life and your loved one’s life.

2.  Don’t Panic.  My guess is that like the parents above, you would be a bit freaked out. That is normal. Don’t be shocked by your reaction.  It is very important to deal with the problem, but do so calmly and not in a panic. Remember, cutting is usually not a suicide attempt, but it is often a cry for help. Your panic could encourage more hiding, aloneness, and be a precursor to more not less cutting.

3.  Communicate love and care. Tell your loved one that you care about them, that you want to be supportive and that you want to see them get help. Do not scold, rebuke, or preach at this point, simply and clearly let them know you are in their corner and cannot be run away!

4.  Find a therapist.  I recommend finding a good therapist for your loved one. A therapist who is experienced in working with cutters is best. Therapy is often necessary not only to teach the cutter new coping skills, but also to work through the trauma that is at the root of cutting. Therapy also helps to educate the cutter of their sensitive emotional nature so they may see it as a blessing, not a curse, and to teach them to use that gift properly and well. If you are the parent, you should attend sessions as well. This is beneficial. It helps the cutter feel supported, and it will also help you. I know this may sound scary, but the therapist can not only help you know how to best deal with your situation, but also work through any doubts you may be having about your parenting skills.

5.  You find a therapist. Dealing with a cutter presents unique challenges; seek a counselor who can help you learn to react to your sensitive loved one in a new and godly way. Even if your loved one will not go to therapy, you should go! Therapy can help you deal with the situation when the person you care about does not want to change.

6.  Be a friend.  This is a time where your loved one really needs a healthy relationship. Listen when they need to talk, open the door to deeper issues, but don’t try to pound down the door. Make sure that you that you remember how to have fun with them! Don’t treat them like a project or a problem. And be patient. This behavior has usually occurred in secret for some time, a few sessions with a therapist will not make it go away. Like addictions, there may be periods of sobriety and then some relapse.

Kristine Newton, MA, LPC works with adolescents and adults at Heritage Counseling and Consulting, in the Park Cities area of Dallas. Through her earlier work at Heartlight Ministries, an inpatient rehab center for teens, and Metrocare Services, she has extensive experience working with adolescents and adults who have engaged in self harm.  To contact her, call 214.363.2345


Transform a Community

May 30, 2012
What do you do with a community so toxic with crime, drugs and poverty that the public buses wouldn’t go into it after 10:00 PM and the police would go in only with backup? A remarkable organization, “Behind Every Door”, brings hope to the community and dignity to the people.   Every door has behind it a valuable story.   Now, groups of young boys, ages 8-13, gather on Friday mornings for their “Real Men” goup meetings to learn what it is to be a real man.   Tutoring improves school performance.   Job training helps get work.  Even planting flowers helps the place look better.  The residents say, “Life is looking up.”  This is social justice in action.
In April, WFAA-TV (ABC)  did a short story on the Village Oaks community.  Click to watch.
Check out their web site too.   Great pictures.
And great stories on their blog.
It’s only 864 homes with 2000 residents, but imagine what could happen as other communities experience the blessing of caring relationships.  It’s amazing what can happen with good people set out to do good things in the community.  Consider supporting them with finances.  I think they’re worth it.