Growing in Gospel Community

shared lives

I don’t know about you, but I love spending time by myself.  I guess you could call me an introvert.

I’m most at ease in the comfort and surroundings of my own home and can go for long periods of time without needing to interact with human beings at all.

Oh, It’s not that I don’t love people.  I absolutely do.

But I often find that Romans 7:22, 23 thing going on inside of me when it comes to engaging in community: in my inner being I really want to “do life” with others.  But then I “see another law at work within me, waging war against the law of my mind”, reminding me of how much energy it’s going to take, and that I might not meet other people’s expectations, or – even worse – that I might be rejected or get hurt by them.

But, I’ve been commanded by Jesus…

john 13 34

This kind of love for one another is costly.  Jesus demonstrated the ultimate act of love by going to the cross for his Church.

It wasn’t just the getting killed that was costly, though.  As Pastor Steven J. Cole of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship points out, “the cross was the epitome of humiliation and shame. There was no worse way to die than to be stripped naked, flogged, and then nailed to a splintery cross and hung up to suffer a slow death as a public spectacle.”

 

humiliation

Was life for Jesus Exhausting? Yes.

Did He meet everyone’s expectations? No.

Did other people hurt him?  Yes.

Was He rejected by other people?  Yes (and, let’s remember, by God himself when he became sin for us).

I am told, in the Bible, to walk that same path: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me…for you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” – Matthew 16:24, 1 Peter 2:21

How should that impact me?  What difference does that make in my life as I continue to pursue growth in Gospel community?

It makes all the difference in the world.

In all of my human relationships, I will never have to endure the level of pain, weariness, humiliation, shame, exhaustion, mocking, scoffing, suffering, and betrayal that Jesus did.

If I am to come after Jesus, then I need to confront my selfishness and fear of man, and be willing to die to self so that I can truly learn from the Master what true gospel community is all about – loving others in the most self-sacrificing way possible, as He loved the Church.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:29

Here are two things that Jesus is teaching me about loving and caring, biblically, for one another in The Church:

1. Intentionally Pursue People.   The Church is not meant to be just a building full of warm bodies.  It is a living, dynamic entity that takes everyone’s active participation in order for it to be all that it is meant to be:

  • “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” – 1 Cor. 12:27
  • “so in Christ we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another.” – Romans 12:5
  • “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” – 1 Cor. 12:26
  • “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” – Eph. 4:11-13
  • “It is not good for the man to be alone.” – Gen. 2:18
  • “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25

2. Love and care for one another by sharing the gospel and your very life with each other.  This is the practical side of how we “do life on life” with one another in the church.  It’s the blueprint for what gospel community looks like, and we need both.  Even if we are meeting regularly with one another, it does not mean that we are experiencing community, in the biblical sense, together. Gospel community develops when we share God’s good word with one another, and we transparently and sacrificially share our lives with one another.  That means that we are honest and open with one another about our struggles.  We share beyond the facts of what’s going on in our lives to reveal the very thoughts and feelings that describe how we’re responding to what’s happening inside of us as we deal with the world, ourselves, God, and others.

  • “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” – Eph. 5:19
  • “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.” – Psalm 95:2
  • “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” – Col. 3:15
  • “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” – 1 Thess. 2:8
  • “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” – Eph. 4:15
  • “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” – Eph. 4:25

I still have so much to learn from Jesus! But, I am so thankful that God has called me to the work of teaching and counseling.  It is a sanctifying work in my life that forces me out of my introverted world of self and launches me into gospel community – the place where growing in Christ-like love happens.  I’m thankful for all of the women in my life who love me as I am but continue to challenge and help me to grow in Christ-like maturity in this area of my life. To God be the glory.

How about you?

Are you intentional about not only attending, but participating in the life of and pursuing the lives in your church, experiencing community, and true discipleship?  If yes, who can you help to grow in this area?  If not, why not?  Who do you know that does this well? Will you reach out to them and ask them to help you grow in this area?

How often do you incorporate The Word into your conversations with other believers?  What will you do to intentionally share the message of the gospel with others when you meet together?  How transparent are you with others?  Do those closest to you really know about your struggles, faults, weaknesses, fears, sins?  Do you share with them your deepest thoughts and emotions when you experience suffering?  Why or why not?  What steps will you take to be more intentional about sacrificially sharing your life (including time, money, possessions) with others in the family of God?

If you’re not sure what the “sharing of your life” portion of gospel community looks like, I highly recommend reading this article by Rick Thomas that speaks to the importance of honesty and transparency within gospel community.

If you struggle with social anxiety, here are a few more things to help you grow in gospel community:

  • “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Proverbs 29:25). As you step out in faith to attempt “doing life” with other believers, do you trust God to keep you safe?
  • You may never be completely free of the struggle, this side of heaven, but complete freedom from social anxiety is not the goal of the Christian life, growth in Christ-like maturity is.  How can accepting that, this side of heaven, sin will still remain, but that growth is still possible help you to embrace the struggle?
  • Remember, you can be confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (phil. 1:6) Do you believe that God is at work in you to help you grow in your capacity to love and care for others?
  • “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2) Where are you keeping your eyes fixed as you deal with social anxiety?
  • “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5) Will you ask for the same?

 

 

 

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When We’re Stuck at the Crossroads of Feelings and Faith

Scripture teaches…

jeremiah 17 5 10

When it comes right down to it, we hope that a third possibility exists, don’t we? We want to be able to trust God and man, ’cause we just want to hold on to a little bit of control.

Yet every day, and often more than once per day, we are presented with the same choice that Joshua and his fellow sojourners faced: “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

We want to believe that we can live in a spiritual no-man’s land and have it both ways, but God’s Word makes it clear, in Matthew 6:24, that “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (another object of worship).

Our culture teaches us to ask, “How do I feel about this?”

As believers, we are called to submit ourselves to the truth found in God’s Word.

John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth”.

We have to work our way around how we feel about things and allow the truth of Scripture to override our feelings.

We’ve got to make a choice: trust and listen to my feelings or  trust and listen to the unchanging truth that I find in God’s Word.

The only reliable way to transform the way we feel about something is to put God and His objective truth first.  The path we have to set ourselves on is to trust God and His Word more than we trust ourselves or another object of worship; we have to have no other God before us, nor make for ourselves an idol.

james 4 5-10

What is the bad news in this passage?  God opposes the proud. What is the good news?  He gives grace to the humble. What does humility look like when we’re stuck trying to live in a spiritual no man’s land between feelings and faith?  Resist the devil.  Draw near to God.  Confess that we are double-minded.  Mourn over our sin of disbelief.  Then, trust, by faith, the objective truth of God’s Word, regardless of how we feel.

Take some time and think about the last time you had to make a choice between feelings and faith.  What decision did you make in terms of where you placed your trust, who you decided to serve, and what you chose to believe?  Look back at Jeremiah 17:5-10.  Do the descriptions of the “cursed” or “blessed” man agree with your choice?

Where are you now facing pressure to make a choice between faith and feelings?

  1. Record the situation (describe what’s happening to you).
  2. Record what’s going on inside of you as you respond to the event (your thoughts, emotions, desires).
  3. Write down the choice that you are wanting to make.
  4. Now ask:
    1. Is there anything that needs to change in my thoughts and feelings so that they better reflect the thoughts and feelings of a woman who trusts God?
    2. What biblical thoughts and feelings about God would be more accurate or helpful?
    3. What does God’s Word have to say about this?
    4. What am I trusting in, other than or in addition to God, right now?
    5. What would it look like for me to turn to God and trust Him in this situation?
    6. What untruthful ways of thinking do I need to “put off” and what new beliefs do I need to “put on”?
    7. How am I seeking to solve my problem without God?
    8. How am I suppressing the truth of God’s Word?
    9. Where am I turning inward, toward myself, or to another object of worship, instead of upward toward God?
    10. How am I trying to get what I am wanting?
    11. Who will I trust?
    12. Who will I serve?
    13. Who will I believe?

My hope is that you will choose to submit your thoughts and feelings to the truth found in God’s Word and that you will be “blessed” and see the beautiful fruit that results.

Using Scripture to Interpret Life

wonderful words of life

One of the main points that I seek to get across in the counseling training that I do at my church is that the end goal of biblical counseling is so much more than symptom relief or behavior modification; instead, the ultimate goal is helping an individual grow to be more like Christ in every way.  As biblical counselors, we get the privilege of coming alongside others to help to them grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, where their thoughts, desires, and actions increasingly reflect the thoughts, desires, and actions of Christ.  We do this by sharing the beautiful, wonderful words of life found in God’s Word.

 

2 timothy 3 16 17

Since all of Scripture is redemptive, we can turn virtually anywhere in its pages and receive instruction and gain understanding about the issues in life that we face.  Yet, we should never think that its primary function is to serve us, answer our questions, or help us solve all of the problems of daily living.  The Bible is, first and foremost, a book about God, his will for mankind, and His grand redemptive story (I like the acronym that Dr. Robert Kellemen gives in his book, Gospel Conversations:  the “CCFRCC Narrative :  Community (eternity past), Creation, the Fall, Redemption (eternity invades time), the Church, and Consummation (eternity future)” (p. 53).  The more we understand the Bible’s grand story, the better we will be able to “understand people and to interpret their life stories through a biblical grid”, says Dr. Kellemen (p. 58).  So, “rather than necessarily looking at a specific section of Scripture”, he goes on to say, we explore “biblical/theological/spiritual concepts that help [a person] to see God’s perspective on his situation and his soul” (p. 65).

Almost everyone is familiar with the Maimonides quote, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Likewise, in order to help a person see life from God’s perspective, instead of telling them about our theological understanding of the situation, we need to discuss with them how a specific passage might relate to their story, inviting them to discover how the wonderful, life-giving words intersect with and even re-frame their understanding of the situation.  What we’re looking for, as a result, is the same response that Job had after God spent some time helping him to re-interpret life from His perspective:

job 42 5

Author and teacher Rick Thomas says, “You can learn a person’s story. You can figure out where they have been. But as you are determining their story, you must also begin the process of leading them from where they are to where they need to be… by good question asking.”

I’m so thankful to have Dr. Kellemen’s book, which is filled with an abundance of excellent sample questions to instruct and assist me (and the ladies I train) in the art and skill of good question asking.  If this ability doesn’t come naturally to you, I highly recommend that you get a copy of his book and create a list of all of the different types of “probing” questions that he introduces in each chapter.  It will be time well spent!

In the meantime, here is a really simple exercise that I’ve created to help you use God’s wonderful Word to help you better interpret your (or someone else’s) life story:

  1. Think of an issue that you are currently facing in your life.  Write down, as specifically as possible: What are the circumstances?  What is happening to you?    How are you responding to the situation?  What are you thinking, feeling, desiring?  What effect is the situation having on you mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
  2. Choose a passage of Scripture that relates to your situation.  If you aren’t sure where to turn, go to Bible Study Tools, type a word into the search engine that relates to your situation (i.e. fear, worry, conflict), scroll through the list of Bible verses that the search turns up, choose one that relates to your situation, click on “in context” to read the verse that comes before and after it, and then click on “in context” again to read the verse within the larger passage.
  3. Using the larger passage, ask yourself (or the other person) these questions:
    • What does this passage teach me about God?
    • What is God seeking to communicate to me through this passage?
    • Through this passage, did God reveal any sin in my life?
    • Through this passage, did God encourage me or give me hope in some way?
    • Where am I succeeding or failing to believe God in this passage?
    • Where is my thinking in line with God’s Word?  Where is it out of line?
    • Where do I need to change my thinking as a result of reading this passage?
    • What might God be seeking to do in my life through the message of this passage?
    • What are some of the immediate applications in this passage that require action today and the long range applications that will require action days, months, or years into the future?

Wrestling and Resting With The Impossible

what is impossible

As I read this story about Benny Hinn’s nephew being saved out of the “prosperity gospel”, I was reminded of Jesus’ statement in Luke 18:27 “What is impossible for man is possible with God.”  I thought, “If God could save Benny Hinn’s nephew, a man convinced that living a lavish lifestyle was the abundant life that Jesus promised his followers, and Saul (Paul), a man convinced that Jesus was a blasphemer, and Peter, who denied Jesus three times,  and Rahab, a prostitute, and me, and you, then why in the world do we doubt his ability to continue to accomplish the impossible in our lives and the lives of those we love?”  

Why do we do that?

Why do we, like Elijah in Horeb, or the Israelites in the wilderness, or the disciples in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, after witnessing God do the impossible, become fearful, doubting, unbelieving, paralyzed, hopeless, despairing, and even suicidal when we face the next “impossible” situation?

matthew 8 26

Well, there it is…our faith in God is small.

Yes, we know that He has cared for us in a myriad of miraculous ways in the past, but faith requires that we trust Him in the future, including the very next second of our lives, and we don’t have proof, yet, that He has cared for us there.  So, we worry, and fret, and take matters into our own hands, just like King Saul did when, instead of obeying God and waiting for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice, he offered it himself, believing this was the only way he and his people would escape death and destruction (1 Samuel 13). Unfortunately, just like with King Saul, when we try to play God, things don’t always turn out so well, do they?  Even when we think they do, the time we spend worrying, fretting, planning, and scheming never add a single hour to our lives (Matthew 6:27) do they?

Oh, to be like Jesus, sound asleep in a boat that’s being tossed about by the wind and waves in the midst of a storm because He knows that God knows what he needs, and has no fear that his Father will care for him.

How do you and I develop that kind of trust and faith?

Certainly not by worrying about the future.

matthew 6 34

Instead, we need to do this:

Remember how God has already done the impossible in our lives…

He saved us!

ephesians 2 1

Think of where we were before He did this…

ephesians 2 2

What lies did we believe then? What sinful behavior did we embrace? What wrong patterns of thinking were we blinded by? Who were we trusting in? Where were we placing our hope? What purpose were we living for?

God, in saving us, has re-oriented all of this! It is not perfectly re-oriented, yet, but it is headed towards complete re-orientation.  That is the future that we always want to be thinking about!

philippians 1 6

Evidence of our salvation and sanctification should be enough to strengthen our faith and trust in God’s ability to care for all of the things we are worried about right now.

So, let’s test that.  What is the biggest problem, fear, or worry that you are facing?  Does evidence of your salvation, and present and future sanctification speak into that situation?  How does the fact that God did the impossible in your life by saving you from your sins and that He will continue to do the impossible by conforming you into the image of Jesus Christ help you to believe that whatever issue you are facing right now is not beyond the scope of God’s care?  How does it help you to patiently wait for His will to be done in the situation?

Are you still struggling to trust God in this particular situation?  Feeling like you still need to play God and take matters into your own hands?

Let’s try this…

Make a list of the most difficult things that you have been through in your Christian life. Under each event, list evidences of how God cared for you.  

Now, scan your memory for biblical narratives that testify to the truth that “what is impossible for man is not impossible for God”.  How many examples from the Old and New Testament can you recall that demonstrate God’s provision and care for his people? What about examples of provision and care for unbelievers and the rest of his creation?

oh love of God

Now, bring all of these thoughts to bear, once again, on the fear, problem, or situation that you are currently facing…

  • Do you feel more trusting now?
  • Has your faith been bolstered?
  • Have you resigned yourself to the truth that this IS going to be impossible for man, that you cannot place your hope and faith in you or any other human to fix or solve this situation?

This IS impossible for man.

If you’re still wrestling with that fact, then you need to spend some time meditating on the first part of Luke 18:27:  “What is impossible for man”. Until you can say, “Yes, Lord, I believe that this is impossible for man”, don’t proceed to the second half.

When you are exhausted from all of your wrestling, like Jacob, and have completely surrendered to that truth…

  • Walk forward in faith
  • Cast all of your worries and burdens on Him
  • Embrace and meditate on the second half of the verse: “is possible with God”
  • Believe that even this situation is NOT impossible for Him

Finally,  trust that – no matter what your senses feel as you deal with the situation – you’ll continue to walk by faith, believing that no matter what happens…

  • God will be at work
  • Once again
  • In you
  • Doing the impossible… re-orienting you towards Him and conforming you into the image of His beloved Son, our savior, Jesus Christ, completing the very work that He began in you!

matthew 11 28

Understand the Heart Before Attempting to Speak Into It

purposes of the heart

In biblical counseling, the heart is known as the “control center” of the human being.  It is where our thoughts, beliefs, desires, feelings, emotions, intentions, and choices originate from.

According to Proverbs 4:23, the heart controls what we think, feel, say, and do: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

If we truly want to understand why a person (including ourselves) says, feels, or does the things that they do, then we have to understand the heart. 

Because we are not God, we cannot perfectly understand or know the heart of man; because we are corrupted by sin, we see things imperfectly – “as a man sees” (Job 10:4), based “on the outward appearance” (1 Samuel 16:7), and “according to the flesh” (John 8:15).

Scripture tells us that God alone is the One who knows “the hearts of the sons of men” (2 Chronicles 6:30), and “understands every intent of the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). Because God alone is the One who made our hearts, he perfectly understands everything that we think, say, and do (Psalm 33:15).

Heart probing is probably the most challenging aspect of biblical counseling,  in my opinion.  Jeremy Pierre expresses it well when he says, “I have often wished for a Holy Spirit o’Meter to plug into [the counselee’s] heart so I can have a direct reading of what’s going on inside there.  But, alas, counselors have no such instrument” (from The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life).

Yet, the Apostle Paul assures us, in Romans 15:14 that all believers are “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”

We also know, from James 1:5, that “If any of [us] lacks wisdom, [we] should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to [us]”.

Likewise, in the book of John, believers are promised that the Holy Spirit will “teach [us] all things” (John 14:26), and “guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13).

So, when we seek to counsel others, we are never alone nor without help – God’s Spirit and His Word are always present and available to help us draw out – from the deep waters – just what is going on inside of a person’s heart.

To counsel well, we have to understand the heart before attempting to speak into it.  This means that we can’t just listen to and focus on the outer story (the situation) that is going on in a person’s life. We have to draw out the inner thoughts, beliefs, feelings, motives, and desires that are going on inside of their control center (the heart).  We want to “discern the interplay between what is inside a person and what is outside a person” (Pierre).

We will know that we’ve properly understood someone’s heart when we more fully understand the situation through their own eyes.  When we can correctly put into words another person’s own unique thoughts, beliefs, feelings, motives, desires and other inner responses to their outer circumstances, then we can say that we’ve properly understood their heart.  Dr. Robert W. Kellemen, in his book Gospel Conversations,  calls this “rich soul empathy” This type of empathy, he says,  is “much more than a hug.  It also is more than trying to sense how someone feels.  It is a comprehensive sensing of what the whole person longs for in their situation, what they think about their situation, what their goals are in their situation, and then how they feel about their situation.”

If we haven’t done the hard work of understanding the heart, then we will be handicapped when we attempt to bring instruction and counsel, and we will be frustrated in our attempts to help bring change into the situation.

Whenever I counsel, or teach biblical counseling training classes at my church, I put a huge emphasis on understanding the heart.  I always try to stress that it should be the starting point of all counseling and should always remain in view, no matter what stage of the counseling process a person is in because true and lasting change will not happen unless the heart has been addressed and there has been genuine heart change.  Even if the outer situation and circumstances of the person I am counseling never changes, when God brings about heart change, then they are able to experience victory in the midst of whatever circumstances they are going through –  2 Corinthians 4:16-17 says it well:  “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

It takes time and practice to understand the heart.

We have to be dedicated to “listening well and wisely”, as Dr. Kellemen says.  That means that are ears are open and ready to latch onto words and phrases that people use to communicate what is going on inside of their heart.  Questions like, “Why is God doing this to me?”, “What must other people think about me?”, “Why can’t I get my act together?”, and statements like,  “I don’t deserve this!”, “God doesn’t care”, “I’m a loser!”, and “This is a hopeless situation” give us insight into the core of a person’s being.

We also have to become adept at following up on these statements by asking more, good, heart-probing theological questions, like, “Why do you think that God is the source behind your circumstances?”, “Why is it so important to you what other people think about you?”   “Where did you get the idea that you shouldn’t have to be going through this?”, “Can you explain to me what it would look like for God to “care” for you in this situation?”, “How do you think God views you?”,”Can you point me to any stories from Scripture that prove that God can overcome the impossible?”

Both of the books that I mentioned, above, provide numerous examples of questions, like these, to help guide you in the process of drawing out the heart.  I highly recommend reading through both of them, and then compiling a list of heart-probing questions that you can begin incorporating into your conversations with others to draw out what’s in their heart.

Start putting into practice what you’ve learned:

  • The next time you have a conversation with someone, listen for clues in what they are saying that will help lead you to a better understanding of their heart. Also, make attempts to ask questions to draw out more from their heart.Take mental notes as you go along.  Especially try to remember, word for word if you can, questions or statements that reveal what/how they are thinking, feeling, believing, and desiring.
  • Later, try to write out a summary statement of what they said.  It should include details about both the outer circumstances, issues, or situation that they are facing, and the inner, heart issues, that you have discovered.  The goal is to be able to put into words what the other person is communicating about the outer and inner situation.
  • At a later date, ask if you can share what you’ve recorded with them.  Have them read it and give you feedback as to how well they think you have understood what they are experiencing, thinking, feeling, etc. in regard to the situation.

The more you do this exercise, the better you will become at “listening well and wisely”, asking good questions, identifying heart issues, summarizing the outer and inner stories, and developing “rich soul empathy” – key components that lead to good counseling.

The better you understand the heart, the better counselor you will be!