Thursday, December 4, 2008
This paper is divided into three parts dealing with personal mission statement, personality theory, and counseling theory. The Bible will be used throughout as the benchmark resource to support and defend the theories presented. Lack of other sources is not due to lack of planning, but to a determination to employ God’s word in the task of counseling as the sole standard to which all human problems must be submitted. Information is presented from other sources to meet the requirements for the paper, but with great reservation. One of the best ways to establish a theory is to look at one’s life and interpret how experiences and choices have aided in its development.
Part I – Personal Mission Statement
Life as an Indicator of the Calling
As one embarks on life’s journey, the early years are when one experiences all manner of growth, with bodily changes occurring yearly sometimes monthly, changes in perceptual levels, and changes that occur externally. The changes brought about by external causes pose the greatest influence over one’s development, whether positive or negative, and dictate to a great extent how one will interact with others and respond to one’s environment. As a person grows and matures from childhood into adulthood, indicators peak above surrounding experiences like the spikes on an electrocardiogram. These peaks are the memories that stand out in one’s life as seminal, pivotal, change-laden events that bring about the greatest growth periods and, when looked at retrospectively, indicate God’s Call on one’s life.
The Formative Years. I was born to missionary parents while they furloughed in the states November 24, 1968. Of my childhood years, six of them were lived in Liberia, West Africa, where my parents served the Methodist church. In April of 1978, my childhood was cut short with the death of my mother. Upon returning to the states, events took place that would further stymie my development and affect behavior well into adulthood. One year after my mother’s funeral, I suffered sexual abuse by my peers in elementary school. One year later, my father had remarried and our family moved from Texas to Florida. A lot of major events for a child who had not yet turned twelve.
Behind Enemy Lines. As an adult, I was confused about my identity, my faith, and the existence of God. I dabbled in the occult, engaged in rebellious behavior (i.e., tattooing over 30 percent of my body), and possessed a general disdain for authority. Though I had entered college after high school, I failed to maintain good grades and dropped out after one term. I would not return to college seriously until 32 years of age. For more than 10 years after high school, I traveled to the farthest parts of the world looking for meaning, looking for God. Adamant in my rebellion against the church and all things pertaining, I did not set foot in a church unless home on leave from military service, and only out of respect for my father. My father, since I had left home, had resigned his ordination with the Methodist church and planted a non-denominational church. I did harbor resentment towards my father for not staying with the Methodist church, but respected his ministry. As fate would have it (I have since renounced fate), it would be my father who led me to place my trust in Jesus Christ as Lord in 1997.
The Wash Cycle Begins. Fast forward to 2003 and I am experiencing the failure of my first marriage, a marriage hastily planned and executed after a few months of engagement. The divorce was finalized five days before Christmas in 2004, sending me spiraling down into depression. I attempted to flee from the void left in my heart, even to Antarctica in early 2005. This excursion allowed me to breathe for the first time as an adult, away from the hectic goings-on of human life, and to enter into God’s imagination. Spending time reflecting on my life and trying once again to reconnect with God after suffering yet another rejection and failure, I wrestled with who I had become during my first marriage: a man devoid of understanding, a man that was easily tossed to and fro by the ways of the world, and a man desperate for God. Though Antarctica was magnificent for a mighty work of God to rescue me, it was not until I returned to the wreckage I had left behind that God moved in a mighty way.
Having grasped the very gates of Hell and living to tell about it, I am more aware of the enemy’s tactics and what it means to be His vigilant servant. Because of my disposition in relation to God and because of my psychological disorders at that time, I believe God spared me certain death to “teach transgressors [His] ways, and sinners will be converted to [Him].”
I could no longer escape God’s call to ministry since I had been truly saved. In April of 2005, I married God’s appointed mate for life. In 2006, we traveled to several seminaries I had been accepted to (Asbury, Liberty, and Southwestern) in order to decide to which one God was leading. Opposition arose at each one except Southwestern, which had the most promising counseling program, and the one that offered us peace from the Lord. Still, we had jobs and commitments at home and did not heed the call to move right away. In August 2007, we moved, along with our son, to Fort Worth, Texas, to begin seminary training, to begin the fitness training necessary to fulfill His Call.
Fit for the Calling of Counselor
When one accepts the call of God to enter into ministry of the gospel to a lost and dying world, one does not really know what that entails. How does one determine fitness for a calling? Willingness, plain and simple. A desire to serve the Lord must exist and coincide with Scripture, along with realizing one’s place in relation to Almighty God. No amount of self-determination can produce the necessary impetus to motivate a person to cast off his or hers desires and replace them with His. In doing so, one can touch only the tip of the iceberg of possibilities one has in service to the Lord. Fitness, then, is determined by God, its degree irrelevant when considering the on-going process of sanctification, as it is dynamic and fluid. Willingness to abide by His call and to trust implicitly in His direction and guidance is what is necessary to work out His call.
Working out the Call. A passage jumped off the pages in Second Timothy that snatched me out of the grip of fear: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Could this be that fear is actually a being, an entity straight from Hell, and a henchman for Satan? By this revelation from Scripture, I was broken out of the prison entered shortly after accepting the Lord’s Call, a prison that had corrupted my thinking, and stymied my spiritual growth to the extent that I remained trapped in fear’s grip, not realizing that God had a wonderful plan in play for my life. God’s will for my life had been in full effect since the day I was born into this world. His will, His plan, His purpose, had been in full motion since my conception. With this revelation by the Holy Spirit through His Word, I gained an awareness that times of great duress and trauma were part of God’s will for my life, they were necessary to bring me to a place where I was to submit to God, repent, and to receive forgiveness for my sin. I believe that Satan attacked at the moment of my mother’s death and had been allowed to wreak havoc for many years. This awareness was hard-won given my disposition of stubbornness and refusal to heed the call of God when it was made clear as an adult. Details are unimportant, such as why things had to happen the way they did; trying to understand them is to enter the Holy of Holies – God’s realm. Further Scripture intake during this time of working out His call revealed the nature of sin that had so plagued me since childhood.
With the revelation of God’s purpose for my life’s experiences came the realization that sin has a nature; it has characteristics and qualities that allow me to acknowledge its presence. When God spoke to Cain about his offering, He said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” In other words, sin is like an animal crouching by the door waiting to be fed. I was able to finally see that the many years of sin that had plagued me as an adult was my fault and I had been feeding it each day. With this recognition came an awareness that the sin animal was not going to vanish, but it did not need to be fed. Its presence continues to be acknowledged though it has no power over me, unless I feed it by turning away from God to do things which are against His will. Along with this revelation came God’s pride checker, something Paul writes about in his letter to the Corinthians.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given me, a messenger of Satan to beat me, lest I be exalted above measure.” I identify with Paul since he too had experienced a great deliverance from the powers of darkness. I had not been persecuting Christians and executing them, but I had been rebellious towards Christ and angry towards God for many years. God had knocked me down with great compassion, grace, and mercy, and with that came a deep appreciation for His salvation of my wretched life. The thorn which had been placed in my flesh to keep pride in check was something necessary from God to keep me grounded as God continues to reveal the nature of sin and to lead me through the working out of His Call to ministry. During the sort ten years that have elapsed since conversion, I have come to understand that my pre-Christ person had a personality in opposition to God.
Part II – Personality Theory
Upon conversion from sin and death to life everlasting, an individual begins the process of sanctification. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” This theory will attempt to prove that a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ does not possess a personality distinct from the likeness of Christ, but rather endures a metamorphosis through the process of sanctification. During this process, the individual undergoes many changes that refine the impurities of the sin nature out of the very make up of one’s rebellious, pre-Christ existence. Personality, then, is based on the person of Christ, One of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, not on a non-biblical, secular, humanistic understanding of personality. Secular theorists, however, can provide a theoretical basis for developing a Christian understanding of the process of sanctification. Caution is necessary, though, lest one fall prey to believing that these theories provide truth apart from God; one must be vigilant in mining these theories for truth, always cognizant of the enemy at work to deceive one into believing the philosophies of men are superior to God’s wisdom. To that end, a survey of three theorists, B.F. Skinner, Fritz Perls, and John G. Finch introduces the concept that a person’s pre-Christ personality is summarily eradicated in the process of sanctification and what is produced has no earthly use, only spiritual.
B.F. Skinner – Under the Influence and Operant Conditioning
B.F. Skinner posits a concept called “operant conditioning,” a manner of shaping and taking care of a behavior by its consequences. Personality does not exist for Skinner, only a “collection of behavior patterns.” Human behavior is simply a reaction or response to external factors from the environment, not from within. Skinner argued that responses are governed by past behavioral experiences, not innate knowledge of self. This theory bodes well for the Christian counselor who strives to distinguish between hellish influences and heavenly influences. Satan and his minions govern the former, while God through the Holy Spirit governs the latter. Man is under the influence at any given point in time; he has no choice as to which kingdom governs his behavior. He can, however, choose to which kingdom he will be faithful. In the Book of Job, God has a discussion with Satan about Job’s faith, simply put, and the Adversary challenges God to lift the hedge of protection from Job to allow him to be tormented. Job did not choose this route in order for his faith to be tested and strengthened, but God allowed the Adversary to influence Job’s life. Job remained faithful to God in the face of great personal loss and death. In this context, Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning plays out as Job is responding to his troubles by their consequences. Rather than listen to his friends or even himself, he decides to trust in God and see the trial through. God has masterfully employed the Devil to bring about the strengthening of Job’s faith, one of the hallmarks of how God’s kingdom operates (later discussed in Part III). Though lacking in biblical accuracy and not aligning with Scripture, Skinner’s “unswerving belief in a world dominated by external forces” supports the idea that man is influenced by forces external to himself, forces from heaven and from hell according to the Bible.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul admonishes believers that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against…spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Eternal kingdoms, in opposition though not on a level battleground, are in operation around the clock. Caught in the middle of this war are humans, who are influenced by the forces at work. Again, this will be discussed further in Part III, but it is worth mentioning here. Part of the challenge of the Christian counselor is challenging clients to acknowledge this reality, how they engage or act upon the world around them, and how they must do so realizing Who their authority is and Whom they trust. This leads to the next theorist, William Glasser, whose theory deals with control.
William Glasser – Control Theory
Glasser says “our personality is best described as the characteristic way in which we engage, act upon, or attempt to control the world to satisfy the pictures of what we desire.” He goes on to argue that persons are responsible for the actions they take, negating the idea of determinism. Though he, too, is a secular behaviorist, he does shed light on an aspect of how man relates to his environment in relation to God. Selfish desire to meet one’s needs drives a wedge between God and man. In true form, Glasser contends that “humans are not passive, [externally] determined responders, but actors pursuing desired ends.” In contrast to Skinner, he exposes a tendency for man to deviate from God-influenced (or God-led) choices that bring about positive consequences, referred to as blessings, to work in vain to achieve self-satisfaction apart from God’s design for him. When Joseph was a slave in Egypt, “his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand.” This runs counter-intuitively to what Glasser deems necessary for humans to do when interacting with their world. It becomes obvious that he is concerned with an self-centered perception of control, that it originates from within a person and that no externals, especially God, have a say in determining his or her behavior. One of the major problems with entertaining secular theorists is their calculated rejection of spiritual considerations when formulating a personality theory. John G. Finch, a Christian theorist, addresses the integration of man’s spirit and body and mind as necessary to have relationship with God.
John G. Finch – Spirit, Mind, and Body
In his book Nishkamakarma, Finch describes “the three aspects of man’s being – body, mind, and spirit – as being directed to ascent.” He explains further on that the spirit is the main influencer on man’s mind, which in turn influences his body. Using the illustration of a drop of water in the ocean, he argues that as man becomes spirit he becomes fully alive through the indwelling of God’s Spirit; they become one. He further argues that attempts by man to reach this integration with God through means other than submission to Him and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are futile, but not without elements of truth. Finch describes those who indulge in sex, drugs, and rock and roll as merely seeking to satisfy a desire to live in a higher dimension. He asks, “Would you believe this is the dimension of spirit, his spirit seeking His Spirit?” Man’s attempts to “fly” to heaven remind one of Icarus who flew too close to the sun and plunged to his death. Only through the saving power of God’s grace does one enter the Holy of Holies.
Personality – Its Demise in Sanctification
In relation to personality, it becomes clear that to acknowledge one distinct from the Spirit of God indwelling the human body of man is heresy and a falsehood. Personality theorists are bent on distinguishing an aspect of man that cannot be separated from his intrinsic, created nature in the image of God, fully realized when conversion occurs and the Holy Spirit takes up residence, not just in body but in mind and spirit. Any shred of personality is removed during sanctification as man is refined, for “when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” By comprehending this, one can begin to fathom the very depths of God’s grace as He shed His blood for all the world, that through Him man should receive eternal life, free from the condemnation of sin. Notice the word “should.” Does it not elicit some concern? Of course, but it also speaks to God’s realm and what He desires. Man cannot and will not ever fully understand the process of sanctification, for this is God’s business. His word speaks of sanctification as “freeing [man] from the law of sin and death” and “you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The passage from Colossians is of critical import since it proves the state of man’s existence prior to conversion is not the same after. Death of personality occurs at conversion, as Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is [hidden] in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away [died]; behold, all things have become new.” Not just some things or things we want to hold on to as part of our personality, all things are included in the process of sanctification, which begins at the moment of conversion from the world of sin and death (Satan’s realm) to the realm of everlasting life (God’s Kingdom). What does a saved life look like? Following are characteristics of an image-bearer, one who is undergoing the life-long process of sanctification into the likeness of Christ. To begin, sin’s nature is discussed to grasp the importance of conversion.
Image-Bearer – Characteristics of a Saved Soul
While the Bible contains many passages about sin and its devastating effects, none compare to Genesis 4:7 in describing its very nature:
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door and its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.
God is admonishing Cain after his sacrifice was rejected. The nature of sin is revealed and how man is to relate to it. In his commentary on Genesis, W. Sibley Towner says of this passage:
The beast lurking at the door is always present and “its desire is for you, but you must (alt.: can) master it.” Yahweh tells Cain that his future is open. The sin of anger and violence lurks at the door of Cain is something he can deal with if he chooses to do so. He is not a helpless victim but a human being who is capable of taking charge of his life. The news that sin is lurking at the door comes to no one as a surprise, for it crouches at the very door inside which you are reading these words. Like the legendary Cain of long ago, we twenty-first century persons have no choice but to confront that opportunity for mayhem, and either succumb to it or overcome it. The sin that lurks at the door is morally neutral. If it is properly recognized it could lead Cain to personal growth; if it is not recognized and adequately dealt with or “mastered,” it could lead to murder.
Why is an understanding of the nature of sin important? Without recognizing it for what it is, man is prone to stumble into it blindly. In counseling, the counselor must be keen to discern if the client has an understanding of sin. No one is without sin, except the Lord Jesus. Man has in his make up the ability to sin, but as Towner argues and Genesis provides, he has the strength to “rule over it.” The idea that the “devil made me do it” contradicts this account in Genesis and also in Romans where Paul speaks of sin “dwelling in me.” Apparently, sin entered Paul’s door and wreaked havoc in his life. He did not heed God’s advice to Cain that it lurks at the door, or did he? Paul distinguishes between his flesh and spirit, his flesh being the area where sin dwells. Cain, it appears was given warning that he had a choice to allow it in or not. Its nature remains the same in both passages, but its effects are dealt with differently. Recognizing its nature as neutral is key to helping another master its effect in his or her life, especially for those struggling with issues who are lost. By gaining an understanding and awareness of the nature of sin and how to master it, maturity in the Christian faith is evident. With this awareness comes the need for vigilance in carrying out service to the Lord.
Vigilant servanthood is derived from the passage in Paul’s epistle to the church at Ephesus, an environment of great temptation and corruption. He reminds the faithful that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Wickedness in heavenly places? Does wickedness exist in heaven? No! He is writing about the eternal kingdom of Hell and how the Adversary and his minions are influencing the weak and lost to whom the church ministers. All manner of debauchery was taking place where Paul had planted that church; he was encouraging them not to fight with the lost, but to realize the influence they were under, an influence straight from Hell. Recall the idea that a battle rages between Heaven and Hell with man caught in the middle. As a believer, one must fully grasp the severity of the battle that goes on outside his or her door of safety each day. As God told Cain, it waits for you at the door, though yes, in Genesis, God is referring to sin. The illustration holds up, though, that clients who are weary from life may not fully understand the battleground they step onto every day, where sin lurks and temptation abounds. The Bible clearly gives hope that “God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Vigilance requires knowledge of where one is in relation to God. Is He seen as the protector or the aggressor by the client? Or worse, is He neutral, or unimportant? Without acknowledging God as authority over one’s life, attack is eminent and swift from the opposition, the enemy. Sin will ravage a life and render it almost incapable of acknowledging God as the authority. As a counselor, one must notice the overlooked, the hidden issues that the client has that may have sin as their roots. When the client is not a believer, the roots of sin are an absolute. As a believer, awareness of the nature of sin and the necessity for vigilant servanthood mark one who is undergoing sanctification into the likeness of Christ. How does the counselor go about determining the location of clients? First, what or where they are focusing is of crucial concern. To get them to a place of safety, the counselor must “talk them off the cliff.”
Part III – Counseling Theory
An historical basis is necessary in establishing a firm foundation for counseling. Many have gone before in the calling of pastor, bishop, and counselor, who have walked with the suffering masses as they endure the afflictions of life. Of the many, two stand out as instrumental in the development of Noticing the Overlooked. First, Cyprian’s work on regeneration will be presented. Second, Jeremy Taylor provides insight into crises and spiritual growth.
Cyprian, on the eve of baptism, said, “I could not believe that man should be born again; and being animated with new life, put off in the laver of regeneration, what he had before been; and though remaining the same in his whole natural and animal frame, became changed in his mind and affections.” He has brought to light the singular most disturbing aspect of conversion to Christ – the outward appearance of man remains the same. Those who have accepted Christ later in life, particularly those who have disfigured their bodies with tattoos and brandings, are not readily accepted as those undergoing regeneration and sanctification. Cyprian’s observation seems to be in opposition to 2 Corinthians 5:17, but it supports it in that the process of sanctification takes the rest of a man’s natural life to accomplish, even though the “old has passed away.” By recognizing this truth, counselors are better equipped to minister to those outside the saintly circles within the local church. Countless lost persons who have come to receive eternal life in Christ have been summarily rejected by the church because of their outward appearance. James warned against the tendency for men to esteem a man’s fine clothing and giving him preferential treatment over that of one who is dressed in rags as they entered the assembly of believers. Cyprian was aware of the same tendency, but from his perspective. Counselors must be aware of this tendency, as well, lest partiality enter into performing their duties as God’s servants. A crucial aspect of discerning a client’s location in his walk with the Lord is to look beyond outward appearances and to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in revealing where one is in relation to God. Clients seek help for crises in their lives and as a counselor, the truth discussed next is an indicator of one’s mature perception of reality in the Christian life.
Jeremy Taylor – Crises and Spiritual Growth
Taylor implored ministers to “take the initiative in care giving, and offering encouragement, confrontation, exhortation, instruction, and hearing of confession.” As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, counselors are God’s agent for change in a client’s life. Taylor emphasized that “crises in life are times of significant spiritual growth.” As eluded to in the Personal Mission Statement, the times of greatest growth for this writer occurred during the most stressful and anguishing times, times when it seemed all hope was lost, and times when the greatest revelation into the workings of God’s universe were given. Awareness of this aspect of human existence is vital in providing adequate care to clients. During crises it is important to give clients a focal point on which they can concentrate in order to reach safety. Once security is gained, a client will be more open to change and working. What follows is a story about to relate the concept of “Talking Off the Cliff,” the method for leading a client to a place of safety.
Talking Off the Cliff – Where’s Your Focus?
A man and his comrades were hiking and rock climbing in the Nevada foothills on a cool, breezy day. The weather forecast looked promising for the afternoon and by last minute calculations, the men would be off the climb before inclement weather came. Half way up the chosen trail to the scenic overlook, the men came to a place where the rock formations on the side of the hill were large and ominous, not allowing more than a shoe-width of clearance along a ledge that extended for 30 to 40 feet. Above the ledge was a slick, sandstone outcropping, preventing vertical climbing. The only path available took the men across the ledge. The first man made it across without incident; however, the second man froze on the ledge, halfway across, gripped by fear that he would fall. He refused to move and remained stopped for several minutes while the other men formulated an escape plan for him. Complicating matters was the concern for time due to bad weather on its way. To be caught in a downpour on a cool, Nevada afternoon was a recipe for disaster. The man who had yet to traverse the ledge decided to seek an alternate route around the outcropping in an attempt to talk the stuck man off the ledge. Finding another way up the hill took little effort and a route was soon found. He climbed onto the sandstone, being very cautious not to slip off, and scooted on his belly towards the affected man. Within a few minutes, the man on the sandstone caught the eye of the stuck man and gave him simple instructions to follow in order to get off the ledge. He was to look at the man on the outcropping, and not take his eyes off of him while he scooted across the ledge to safety. While he made his way to safety, the other man remained calm and talked to him to let him know what lay ahead for him. Once the stuck man was to safety, they continued on their journey to the scenic overlook. During their descent, they decided on the alternate route found by during the rescue operation. They all made it down safely and just as the rain began to fall.
This story illustrates several key points in counseling. First, the counselor must determine the how best to focus the initial sessions when crisis is the reason why the client sought help. Provide a focal point, whether it is a physical object or God or their next appointment. Something must remain steady in order for a person to move to a place of safety where work can begin. No amount of prodding or manipulation will help the client move to that place. By providing a focal point (it is recommended this not be the counselor), the client is gaining control over the situation and how he or she reacts to it. Ultimately, the focus must be God for effective counseling to take place, but many in crisis-mode thinking do not think about God; they want things to get fixed – now. This is an unrealistic expectation for the counselor and client to demand. The next key point is having the client focus on the point and then engage in an open dialogue to keep their mind off the problem and to begin to move to a place of safety. Finally, once safety has been attained, it is time to regroup, and decide what to do next. The counselor assumed temporary control of the session(s), but then returned control to the client to bring about movement and change. This simple dance of talking the client off the cliff and providing a sounding board may lead to more open and honest communication between client and counselor. All of these tactics must lead somewhere, to bring about change in people’s life, and to give insight into the workings of the universe.
In relationships we can eventually overlook others, segregating them into “those people” categories. As Christians who counsel others, the risk of this should be diminished because part of the maturation process, sanctification, is viewing others the way God does. “Those people” become His people, worthy of service and honor in the task of counseling.
As mentioned in the introduction, this paper proved to be a formidable task, one that challenged this writer to contemplate the ramifications of providing counsel to those who suffer, from those who suffer great loss, to those who suffer great pain. One of the joyous by-products of writing this paper has been the realization that through many years of neglect and isolation as a child and into adulthood, the ingredients for Noticing the Overlooked were readily available. When one gains an awareness of reality and what is required to serve others in that reality, one can truly appreciate the knowledge gained and the disciplines learned that brought about the final product. Without the many years of trauma and crises, this future counselor would be greatly limited in experiential knowledge, which is far better than book knowledge when coming alongside another who is struggling with the same issue.
Thanks involves realizing how very blessed we are and how much God has provided for us throughout the year. It's an "attitude of gratitude," to borrow a term from our friends at Alcoholics Anonymous. This is not a mere superficial "thank you" that we may say when someone gives us a token item, but rather a daily exercise of being aware of the many ways our heavenly Father provides for our every need. Gratitude carries with it a responsibility to act out our thanksgiving, which leads us to the next part.
Giving is an action rooted in gratitude. When was the last time you were inclined to give out of a heart of misery? With thanks comes the desire to give. Recalling all that He has provided us throughout the year, let us look for ways to show our thanks. It may be a simple smile and "hello" as we pass one another in the Welcome Center. It may be listening to a neighbor who has had a hectic week and needs to talk to someone. Or, it may be gaining an attitude that tells those around us that we are thankful for life.
When the Bible teaches us that "God loves us a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7b), we are to give from an overflowing gratitude, not just with a smile. The previous passage teaches us about sowing and reaping, but it's the first part of the verse that reveals where this attitude begins: "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity."
Thanks-giving then becomes an action of gratitude expressed to one another. Let us look for ways to serve our neighbors this season as we are acting out our attitudes of gratitude.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Have you ever wondered what the purpose of suffering is? I sure have. Why is it even a part of the human experience? It seems other things could take its place, like joy, for instance. By the way, joy is NOT the absence of suffering, just like peace is not the absence of war. Joy can be found while suffering. It's not masochistic joy, like enjoying pain, but rather a sort of comfort knowing that this is not a prolonged existence. We live in a temporal world - everything has its time; a beginning and an end. Nice and neat, right? Wrong. The mysteriousness of suffering has long troubled humanity, especially when we relate to God.
How many times have you heard someone ask "how can a loving God allow this to happen?" The "this" is generally a catastrophic event, something horrific, something fatal. Here's where we must pause and ask ourselves an important question:
Are we God?
Herein is the mystery of the ultimate purpose of suffering. This is what I like to call God's Business. We have no business entering this realm, a place where our human faculties cannot discern meaning. This is where long-suffering resides along with others like understanding why loved ones die before their time. Who are we to judge someone else's time on this earth? This is not our concern. Sure we miss them each day, and sure there's a lot of pain involved, and maybe other things have happened to us that don't make sense, but that gives us no right to question His plan. Thankfully, we can still ask Him about these things and that's part of the purpose of suffering.
Crises brings pain on many levels, depending on their severity. Suffering is painful. Have you asked God, I mean really asked God to help you understand things? All He wants is communion with you, to be near you, to have you approach Him and ask Him about life.
It's His business to know - He created all of it. Does this answer why we suffer long? No, but it does provide an opportunity to find joy and peace in the midst of it.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
At first glance this is troubling; however, once you've identified it, you realize how very much God cares for you, that He would place something within our flesh to humble us, to keep us real. Paul described it as coming from Satan, a messenger sent to beat him when necessary. The necessary times are when Paul has received revelation. It's critical to understand that God has dominion over all, including Satan (read Job). Paul knows where to give credit for this affliction, yet remains steadfast in his trust of the Lord. Later passages explain how the weakest moments bring about God's strength and glory. Paul didn't revel in his own bravado during these times, but rather turned to the One who's grace is sufficient.
Have you identified the thorn in your flesh, the area in your life where you have the greatest weakness? Think, pray, and ask God to reveal it to you, although you probably already know what it is. It's the one area in your life where you are tempted the most by the enemy. In many ways, it feels like a thorn twisting into your side, causing immense pain, getting your undivided attention. Do you know what I mean?
This passage in 2 Corinthians speaks of our need to be aware of our weaknesses, but to not try to strengthen them or get rid of them. Rather, we are to see them as tools the Lord uses to mold us and shape us into His likeness. His glory is what matters, not our discomfort.
His grace is sufficient.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The cautionary tone of this passage in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus provides an overarching principle in how I view the world around me. When I understood and comprehended what Paul was writing about, my view of humanity and its many struggles changed forever. No longer did I view those who I interacted with as the enemy, but as fellow warriors, survivors, and comrades. My worldview has been shaped in significant ways since the Holy Spirit revealed the truth found within this verse. Through careful meditation and introspective thought, I arrived at the conclusion that what Paul was referring to was a way to view life, to view our fellow human beings, and, most important, their behavior.
This paper will explore and unpack Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians and how this single verse has provided me with the framework to build a solid worldview, one replete with the spiritual necessity to view human beings as creatures who are influenced by two eternities, one hell-bent on our destruction, the other deeply concerned with our eternal life. The paper is divided into two sections, the first discussing the nature of man and how it relates to my worldview, and the second which deals with God’s sovereignty, our freedom of choice, and the role and purpose of suffering.
In this first section, let’s look into what constitutes good and bad, and how these affect my human nature. I believe that the human body “is not,” as Dr. Jones states it, “intrinsically evil” (16). An illustration I use often is that of a handgun being considered evil or bad. A handgun resting on a table without ammunition inside is not evil. The person who picks it up, shoots another in cold-blooded murder has perpetrated an evil act. But again, the handgun is not the issue, but rather the condition of the heart of the shooter. I think Paul was warning his church members not to engage an enemy who is crafty, cunning, and does not care a lick about creatures created in God’s image, except to see them perish. The essential nature of human beings, then, is one in which these influencers are kept at bay, kept away by an outside, more powerful force, Who has sovereignty over all the entities involved. The first nine words of the verse point to a reality where all human behavior is understood and ultimately forgiven. Sound familiar? Yes, this is the same line of reasoning employed by Jesus when He taught on forgiveness. Our enemies are not each other, but rather an outside force, the enemy, who influences people to follow after him and have all they want. This wasn’t true in the Garden of Eden, and it’s not true now. Adam and Eve were given a choice by God, and they chose to relinquish their rights in the garden. The same is true for us now. We are given choices by God each and every day, choices that lead to our benefit and others that don’t.
As my worldview has evolved over the years since becoming born again, the verse from Ephesians quoted at the beginning of this paper remains the best describer of how I view and interpret the world around me. Time and time again, my interpretation of events, both personal and corporate, has used that verse as a filter through which Truth is gleaned. Without the Word of God, my worldview would be flawed, prone to the death and decay prevalent in the world today. Upon conversion, my view of the world changed, akin to the metamorphosis a worm experiences as it transforms into a butterfly. As my spiritual growth has progressed, my view of humanity has changed to align with God’s Word, as well as my view of time and space, the formation of the universe, and how I as a finite individual relates to my infinite God. Having experienced the bondage of being lost in my sin for many years and well into adulthood, memories of my “old man” persist. Paul’s writings on this subject in Romans and his epistles have facilitated a hunger within me to delve deeper into the reality of Truth found in the Bible and how to apply it in my daily life. Accepting life at face value is a tragedy I’m unwilling to engage in, one that would return me to my previous, dead state. Reading books that have enlightened me and provided more depth to life, books that have challenged my worldview, thereby strengthening it, have proven to be invaluable in my intentional personal growth. One of these books is The Universe Next Door, a comprehensive guide to several major worldviews, authored by James W. Sire. He poses seven basic questions that must be answered in a worldview in order for it to be considered as such. I will answer two of them in the next section according to my biblical world view, filtering them through Ephesians 6:12.
To get things started, the two questions are: what is a human being and what is the meaning of human history? Talk about two whoppers! My answer to the first question is contained in three spheres: body, mind, and spirit. All of these are entwined and inseparable, and each must have the other to exist. To qualify as a human being, all three must be accounted for and must be provable. How do we prove a human being has a spirit? The other two are quantifiable; however, the spirit remains hidden from view with no discernable proof of its existence. According to Paul’s letter, we are not warring with flesh and blood, but with spiritual beings. Comprehending these few words, then, leads me to conclude that I, too, possess a spirit being. Recalling the previous section, my body is not inherently evil and neither is my mind or spirit. Evil may suggest that I perform an evil act or think an evil thought. This is known as temptation, something I find deplorable, yet do not fully understand its purpose. That’s God’s business, I suppose. The three spheres that compose my humanness, then, are in a constant battle with evil spirits, which attempt to influence my behavior, my thoughts, and my heart. When this revelation became clear to me, dealing with difficult people and those who are not believers became less strenuous. They are simply under the influence of an eternal kingdom of darkness, stumbling around in the dark, groping for meaning in life. When God turns the light on through His Son, Jesus the Christ, the entire world comes into view. The Bible becomes a necessary part of life and is no longer foolishness, people are viewed in a different way, and life takes on meaning. This is what happened to me when I finally understood what it means to be a human being created in God’s image and for His purpose. The second question has led me to ponder, meditate, and harvest the deeper truths found in God’s Word in order to answer it in a way that conforms to my worldview.
The answer is simple, yet immeasurable. The purpose of human history is God’s purpose and only He knows its ultimate point. Not to simply state this in an attempt to skirt further discussion, I’ll support my answer with the following expose. Imagine for a moment that you are standing next to God Almighty, Creator of the universe, and you ask Him what is the purpose of human life and history. He is the only One who can definitively answer this query, the only One privy to all knowledge, and the only One who should be asked. By having a relationship with Him through my Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, I trust that human history does have a purpose and that He knows what it is. My understanding of human history is limited to my own life and the events and people who have formed my little slice of history.
As for purpose, my life provides me a way to see God at work, to understand His sovereignty, and to understand how suffering has produced my character and personal traits. Acknowledging God’s existence is key to understanding why things happen as they do, why I’ve experienced what I have, and why I had to endure pain and suffering. Without this knowledge, my time on earth would be futile and without meaning. God works in mysterious ways, but in ways that are easily discernable as His hands at work. When things do not make sense logically, I see that as a calling card of God. When I endure great pain and suffering, I see God at work in my life to produce something in which His greatest purpose will be served and in which my greatest benefit will be realized. The purpose of my human history is to reveal God at work and I believe this holds true on the larger scale of humanity’s history. It also reveals His sovereignty, and His grace to allow me freedom of choice. Though I may choose poorly and suffer the consequences, I know beyond all doubt that His purpose is being served and that my development is being continued. I have meditated on this subject for several years and found great solace in understanding how choice has set me free and has provided safety and security.
God truly is my Father in heaven, Who watches over me, and treats me as His son. As a dad, I know the priceless value in giving my son freedom of choice and allowing him to realize how his choices affect him, good or bad. My development is no different in the eyes of God. By understanding my place in His Kingdom as one of His sons, I know that He cares for me and desires His best for me. I’m content in the knowledge of His sovereignty over my life and how it plays out in my daily life. Liberty at any cost has already been paid through Christ’s death and resurrection, setting all who believe in Him free for all eternity. To understand how very free I am, looking back over my life has provided insight into a man who used to be bound to his own lusts and desires, a blind man who fumbled about, looking for purpose and meaning. This exercise has also produced a deep gratitude for His providence and omniscience in my life since accepting His free provision of life eternal. By accepting His purpose for my life and aligning myself with this purpose, my freedom has increased and I now know what it means to be truly free. How does all of this contribute to my formation as a human being and how does all of this have purpose?
Purpose gives me a reason for my existence. Knowing the purpose for my life and following Christ has given me more peace and contentment than anything the world has to offer. By possessing a solid worldview based on Scripture, my dealings in this life make sense, people’s actions and words are revealed for their true nature, and my time on this earth has meaning. Having possessed a worldview devoid of Truth, I attest to the wonderful reality of God’s grace and mercy. My time in the world has served me well in determining who I am, where I have been, and where I am going, all of which is possible only with God’s help. All things in the universe have a purpose and a function. Not realizing this constitutes a life devoid of purpose. An all too common fate, I freely choose to live life according to God’s Word. This decision brings true freedom and endless choices.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
This paper will show how Kierkegaard’s life of solitude can be of benefit to those who seek a deep, committed relationship with God and with those closest to them. To achieve this, a working definition of solitude will be presented, as well as a definition of loneliness to show their differences. Logically, the concept of solitude does not make sense when attempting to strengthen relationships; however, God does not operate in human logical sense. By taking time to reflect on and contemplate life’s greater meaning, one does have the capacity to forge deep and meaningful relationships. This paper will explore the negative and positive aspects of solitude, differentiating between loneliness and solitude. In Kierkegaard’s case, it appears loneliness played a large role, though solitude was his main focus. In both, each has a role, though with a full understanding of solitude, one can achieve a balance in life without experiencing the detrimental effects of loneliness. In a culture that prides itself on community and interdependence, the idea of solitude frightens most people. This is due mainly to a grand misunderstanding of it and how very beneficial it is to maintaining a healthy, vibrant life. Let’s first look into what constitutes solitude and how it is different from loneliness.
On the surface, loneliness and solitude resemble on another. Both appear similar in that they share the element of solitariness. In his book The Seventh Solitude, Ralph Harper characterizes Kierkegaard’s solitude as “one who knows he is a sinner, and who is doubly lonely because he knows inwardness.” This inwardness that Kierkegaard knew was one revealed through a life of solitude. Briefly, inwardness is the instinctive ability of an individual to distinguish the dissimilarity between his fate as an individual and his fate as a human. In other words, he knows his frailty as a finite being before an infinite being; he knows where he stands before an Almighty God. For Kierkegaard, this realization compounded the grief he experienced in his life of solitude, for he confides:
To be sure, I believe in the forgiveness of sins, but I understand it as hitherto, that I must bear my punishment all my life, of remaining in the painful prison of my isolation, in a profound sense cut off from communication with other men.
Here is where a distinction must be made between loneliness and solitude. Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely, while loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. It appears Kierkegaard experienced profound loneliness, though he later conceded that he was one who suffered for the doctrine [of Christianity]. Through his suffrage, Christians, or rather, those who aspire to the Christian life may begin to comprehend the utter need, the desperate need, for solitude. As with any information one learns from another, there are parts of the greater whole which may seem useless, as is the case for understanding the benefits of solitude from Kierkegaard. In a larger sense, Kierkegaard’s life demonstrates a life spent apart, set apart for the purposes of God. The volume of work he left behind is all the evidence one needs to, as he states, “make room that God may come.” His life of solitude, of isolation, of loneliness, is at once alluring, disturbing, and comforting. In stark contrast is the modern life bereft of solitary moments, of moments of peace and tranquility. Though this writer does not advocate the extreme measures taken by Kierkegaard in order to come into the presence of God, a portion of the wisdom of Kierkegaardian solitude is fundamentally necessary to a deep relationship with Him. As Kierkegaard argued, one could not know what it is to be a Christian if he did not know what it is to exist, and that he could not know what it means to exist unless he knew inwardness. How does one find this inwardness, this awareness of oneself?
Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind. Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the authority to regulate and fine-tune our lives. Solitude is a choice, as demonstrated by Kierkegaard, but loneliness is imposed by others, therefore not a choice. For Kierkegaard, his loneliness resulted from his insistence to remain solitary in life, even apart from his beloved Regina. The solitude he experienced upon her departure undoubtedly contributed to his prolific writing and his resolve to see the shallow existence of the Christian man of the time period vanquished and replaced with a yearning to engage man’s deepest need, that being to connect with his Creator. The idea that solitude is an outdated method of seeking solace from the demands of human life is simply wrong. In order to bring about a balanced outlook on life, one must remove oneself from the demands of this life for a time of reflection, prayer, reading, introspection, and rest. The wisdom bestowed during this time cannot be granted while one is tied down with the trappings of mortal life. In solitude, one’s awareness of life and the importance of life and sometimes the purpose of life are revealed in a new and fresh way. Jesus demonstrated this when he returned from 40 days in the wilderness undergoing temptation by the devil then delivered his message of repentance and salvation. Solitude may involve a battle, spiritual warfare where one is confronted with the past, tempted by the devil to dwell there, to enter a state of loneliness. It’s with caution and prayer that one enters true solitude. Because of the separation from others, the likelihood of attack from the enemy is heightened; however, the possibility for unhindered victory over present maladies is also present and one of the desired outcomes of properly executed solitude. Kierkegaard desired solitude, it appears, to extract from it a deeper sense of himself as he related to God. His statement above about bearing punishment exposes the true nature of his solitude as loneliness. Loneliness is harsh punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness. Significant inroads were made into the Christian existence due to Kierkegaard’s writings, though at great personal cost to him. This writer has grappled with aloneness and loneliness, though solitude is now desired as a way to bring to closure those experiences in life. How does one go about achieving solitude?
In her article “Solitude vs. Loneliness,” Hara Estroff Marano contends we all need periods of solitude. One of the most intriguing aspects of solitude is its impact on intimacy and how temporary removal from a relationship brings new life to it. It’s the old you-never-know-what-you-have-until-it’s-gone syndrome that affects all human relationships that must be combated with solitude. Without a refreshing time apart, a relationship is doomed. This leads to one fully grasping the nature of his relationship with God. Does not God seem far away sometimes, distant and untouchable? This is not by chance. His desire is for his children to draw near to Him, to be in close relationship with Him. His distance should be a warning signal to investigate sin and how it separates us from Him. Only sin has the nature to separate one from God. There is no certitude more unassailable than when the self knows itself as contingent or sinful, when it encounters something as absolutely different as the ever-living God, or when it is so ruined in its guilt that it cries out for deliverance. Confrontation occurs during solitude, and this is one of its great benefits. Fear keeps one from desiring true solitude as one may come face-to-face with oneself. For Kierkegaard, confronting himself and accepting himself played a large role in his solitude. At no other time is one capable of experiencing the cleansing purification of confrontation than when one finds solace in solitude. The fruit, then, of solitude is regaining perspective of who one is, where one belongs, to Whom one belongs, and why one exists. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. In order to achieve this, one must make a concerted effort to schedule time away fro the demands of life. This can be accomplished in increments of minutes to several months, though severe withdrawal may ensue when one stays out of the normal human goings-on for more than a few weeks. Withdrawal may be beneficial, though, in realigning one’s perspective on the world and to rekindle a sense of wonder and awe to the magnificence of life. Of importance is the knowledge that bouts of loneliness can progress in a healthy manner to times of solitude. For example, the death of a loved one inevitably brings a sense of loneliness, especially the death of one’s spouse. Though a time of mourning is necessary, prolonged loneliness is dangerous to one’s mental well-being. As the mourning period progresses, one may enter into a state of solitude where one discovers oneself apart from the other. Eventually, this time leads to a healthy life apart from the loss of the other. What a grand time this is to discover who one really is, especially if the relationship was very close. To interfere with this process is catastrophic for the bereaved. In a culture in which interpersonal relationships are considered to provide the answer to every form of distress, it’s sometimes difficult to persuade well-meaning helpers that solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support. Solitude must be honored by those who are closest to those who desire it. Does this mean the one seeking solitude has to be absolutely alone? No, one can achieve solitude when others are present, for solitude is a state of mind. Given the present culture of unlimited distraction, though, this writer is hard pressed to agree that solitude can be achieved this way, though each individual possesses a different temperament for experiencing solitude. Driving a vehicle without the radio blaring and while alone can bring limited solitude. In limited doses, one can achieve a sense of solitude from the whirl of life, though uninterrupted solitude is achieved only when one removes himself from the fray of life. For Kierkegaard, to belong to Christ, to stand by others when they suffer, one must first accept oneself. In solitude, one finds oneself, is confronted with oneself, and finally accepts oneself. No other place can provide one with the understanding of life and life’s relationships than that of solitude. By entering into communion with God in the quiet calm of solitude, one can finally rest in His assurance.
 Hara Estroff Marano, www.psychologytoday.com
 Harper, Ralph The Seventh Solitude. 1965. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 26
 Harper, Ralph. 21
 Harper, Ralph. 10 and 11
 Hara Estroff Marano
 Harper, Ralph. 9
 Harper, Ralph. 25
 Harper, Ralph. 22
 Hara Estroff Marano
 Buchholz, Ester. The Call of Solitude. 1997. Reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster in Psychology Today at www.psychologytoday.com
 Luke 4:1-14.
 Hara Estroff Marano
 Harper, Ralph. 24
 Hara Estroff Marano
 Storr, Anthony. Solitude: A Return to Self. 1988. New York: The Free Press. 29
 Buchholz, Ester.
 Harper, Ralph. 33
Friday, April 18, 2008
This reminds me of a scene from "My Blue Heaven" with Steve Martin. He's on an airplane en route to his final destination in the witness protection program, and he palms the stewardess a $100 bill for serving him a soda. At first she refuses, than accepts his generosity. His reasoning? "I tip everybody!" he exclaims. We should all take a cue from Vincent 'Vinnie' Antonelli and pass along the goods, no matter the service rendered.
Next time you receive service from anyone, tip them... generously. You'll make their shift no matter what and encourage them to do better. Do a "Vinnie" and make someone smile!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
God is not pro-anything – to do so would take away choice and freedom
God cannot and must not be labeled with human attributes, human social ideas, human
philosophies, human religions, human anything…for God simply IS.
To obstensively insist on one religion above all others is prideful. Religion is a man-made system of rules, regulations, and dogmas that are set in place to relate to the Infinite Creator of the universe. Laughably, we applaud ourselves when we believe our religion is the only way.
The Bible tells me different. It does not say religion of any sort is the way to God. It says, Jesus is the Truth, the Way, and the Life, not Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other form of religion.
Now, we must separate our Savior from the religion that was constructed around His life, His ministry, and His death and Resurrection.
To do so, I believe, will set us free from the bondage of religious wars, caused by pride and arrogance, as though one religion is superior to another. Nothing man does is superior to God… nothing, religion included.
People are leaving the Christian church in droves because they’re tired of the same old, prideful rhetoric that tries to sell their faith as a commodity, as a way for the “chosen” priests to make more money of the backs of the spiritually ignorant.
Religion and its enforcement has caused myriad problems within established societies, especially at the hands of those who claim to be direct communicators with God.