Thursday, July 28, 2011

#1 issue I deal with in Pastoral Counseling...

We have all sinned.  If people are willing to discuss this idea, I find that all are willing to admit that it’s true.  But, how often do you sin?
                Once a year?  Once a month?  Once a week?  Once a day?           Am I getting warm yet?
The truth is that we all sin every day, and probably multiple times.  So, the natural follow-up question is:
                How often do you repent and seek forgiveness?
This is the #1 issue I deal with in Pastoral Counseling with families and marriages, as well as with individuals.  I am stunned at the way the majority of people react to the idea as if it’s brand new – or at least new to them. 

The first difficulty I observe with forgiveness, is blaming.  For example, “Well, yes that was wrong, but I would’ve never done it if he/she hadn’t done this!”  Sounds a lot like Adam and Eve, doesn't it?  This is where I will spend some time to bring all of us to the truth:  You are responsible for your own actions.  God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done’” (Romans 2.6).
When we all come together around this truth, I will ask something like, “Was what you did wrong?”  And, if they say, “Yes, but…” then I will cut them off and clarify, “This is a Yes or No question.  So, was what you did wrong, Yes or No?”  When they will acknowledge their fault, then the next thing you want to teach them to do is to follow through in obedience by seeking forgiveness.
One husband I spoke with acknowledged:  “Yes, I hurt my wife deeply.  Yes, that was wrong.  Yes, I need to seek her forgiveness.”  Then, without hesitation, he did nothing.  For the next 45 minutes, he danced around the statement, “Yes, I need to seek her forgiveness.  I should do that.”  Finally, I had him turn to face his crying wife and coached him through the 4 toughest words he had ever had to say to her:  “Will you forgive me?”
These steps are very simple, but not easy.  Contrariwise, it can be exhausting and can generate an abundance of strong emotions.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1.9).  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"  (1 John 1.9). We must love them closer to Christ, and never compromise truth. 

Truths like:         
>     sin requires repentance
>     forgiveness does not require repentance – you can still forgive the unrepentant
>     reconciliation requires both repentance and forgiveness

You may have difficulty with these statements.  That’s fine, because they are hard to live… at first.  But, let me ask you something:
                How often do you repent and seek forgiveness?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Please, Lord, change my bandages and clean my wounds.

As a 13 year old boy, I was feeling positively triumphant with the pile of gunpowder I’d collected from “dud” firecrackers.  I remember thinking, “This is going to be SO cool when I light this!”  My eager anticipation instantly turned to agony, fear and dread in an explosive flash.

It was my first experience with 2nd degree burns, and unfortunately, it was my face and both hands.  For the next few weeks, I wore my stupidity for all to see.  My face, at least the left half, had lost the outer layer of skin (as well as the eyebrow and eyelash), and my hands were both bandaged to the point that I had to enlist my Dad’s help to be able to accomplish a trip to the bathroom.  It was a most humiliating time for me.

Every afternoon, I would lie down on the couch and Dad would tell me, “This is going to be unpleasant.”

“I know, Dad.”

“You cannot move.”

“I know, Dad.”

Then, my Dad would take some medical scissors and gently, thoroughly cut away at the edge of the burned skin as it continued to die back; the palm of my left hand, the back of my right hand, and the left half of my face.  Next, my Dad would take a Q-tip and scrub the freshly exposed new skin with ointment.  How excruciating!

It was love put into action, but it did not feel like love.  It felt like torture.  But, I did not have to submit to this treatment.  I was a healthy teenager, and I could outrun my Dad with no difficulty.

However, because I chose to submit to my Dad’s care – cleaning and dressing my wounds – I have no visible marks of any kind to indicate that I have ever been burned.  Because I chose to submit to my Dad’s care, I am healed.

Life is neither neat, nor fair.  This is especially true in relationships.  We are all wounded, and will be from time to time.  And, from time to time, bitterness and resentment will begin to rise up in us.  When this happens, it means that it is time to forgive again, because this is the stench of infection beginning to set in.  This odor tells us that it is time to change the bandages and clean the wounds… again.

When we forgive those who have wounded us, it is love put into action.  When God changes our bandages and cleans our wounds, it is His love put into action, but it does not feel like love.  It feels like torture, and I do not have to submit to this treatment.  However, if I choose to submit to my Father’s care – cleaning and dressing my wounded heart – then, re-cleaning and re-dressing my wounded heart...

...then, I will be healed.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wounds from a sincere friend

Most will turn a blind eye to my sins, but I am grateful to God for those friends who pull me aside to help me to look in the mirror to see what I am doing.  They help me stop my ridiculous charge - headlong into destruction.  That is a selfless love.

“Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”
Proverbs 27.6
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4.8
If it is you being confronted, examine the critique.  Is there any truth to it?  If so, be quick to repent and seek forgiveness.  Be thorough and leave nothing undone.

This accountability is an undervalued role in the Church today.  Dare to love like that.  It may not turn out as you expect, and may, in fact, prove to be a costly choice to you.  Dare to love like that anyway.  Who knows, in doing so, you just might win your brother back!

"Be on your guard!  If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”  Luke 17:3
“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”  James 5.19-20

This accountability is an undervalued role in the Church today.  

It is a crucial role in counseling.  

It is essential in Christian relationships.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I can't carry this any further...

“Spiritual Help Line.  How can I help you?”

I never knew how the person on the other end of the line would answer that question.  It was a national broadcast, and there was no way to identify the identity or location of the callers.  One day the response was, “I’ve got a loaded gun on my lap and you’ve got 1 minute to talk me out of using it.”

The only responses I could coax out of the man were, “Yes” or “No”.  Eventually, I gleaned enough information from him to determine that he was angry at God about something, and it was something fresh and painful.  So, having failed at all previous attempts to get the man to talk, I decided to provoke him.  It worked.  He took my bait and started pushing back at me.  I, in essence, dared him to tell God why he was angry.  Somehow I managed to talk the guy into praying, but believe me, he wasn’t the only one praying.  He began to tell God about the pain, and then stopped.  He bellowed into the phone, “…and if that’s the kind of God you are…  then, FINE!” …< click >

As I heard the dial tone, I threw the phone off of the hook and dropped to the floor, pleading with God, “Lord, stop him!  Let him miss… misfire… only injure himself… just STOP HIM, PLEASE!”  My mind was pulsing with adrenaline, and played and replayed the conversation in my mind.  What if…?  What if…?  What if…?  What if…?  What if…?  WHAT IF!!!?

I went from adrenaline to exhaustion rather quickly.  I couldn’t reach any answers to the questions that crowded my mind like popping popcorn.  I couldn’t continue to play the what-ifs.  I couldn’t carry it any further!

... so, I carried it to God.  

I walked up to the front of the church, and knelt.  In my mind’s eye, I saw myeself place a small, golden box on the steps.  I placed the whole conversation into the box.  I put the lid on.  I tied a golden ribbon on top to hold the lid in place.  

Then, I removed my hands from the box and turned my eyes toward heaven.  And I poured my heart out, “Lord, I will answer for every word, every action, and every thought.  I did what seemed best.  I did all I could think to do.  I sought to honor You and this man.  Please, Lord, forgive me for my short-comings, but, I cannot carry this any further.  I need You to carry it from here.  So, I give it to You.”   

Then, I stood.  I turned around.  And, I walked away.  I didn’t look back, and I’ve never wanted to open that box again…

…because it’s not mine.  

I gave it to God.  

It belongs to Him now.

Some burdens, 
some grief, 
some wounds 
are too heavy to carry.   

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor.  Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” 1 Peter 5.6-7.

I’ll never know the outcome of that morning.  But my Lord knows. 

What about you?  What burdens are you straining to carry?  What grief needs comforting?  What wounds need to be cleaned and re-bandaged?  What wrongs do you need to forgive?  For what wrongs do you need to seek forgiveness?

Approach God with your gift.  Put all of these things into the box, one at a time.  Place the lid on it.  Now, tie it up with a nice ribbon and take your hands off of it.  It’s not yours to carry anymore...

…because it’s not yours.  

You gave it to God.  

It belongs to Him now.  

Let Him carry it from here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tonight, I watched another miracle happen!

Tonight I watched another miracle happen.  God reaches into lives torn apart by the ravages of sin.  Our sin affects our relationship with God.  Our sin affects others.  But people don’t seek out counsel when they are tempted.  I don’t get to meet them until sin has given birth and relationships are dying.

“each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  James 1.14-15

However, these dying relationships are symptoms – symptoms of what has become the pattern of this relationship.  This dying is the grandchild of the evil desires of the individuals.   

There is an abundance of strong emotion being churned out by wounds, some of them fresh and some festering.  When this happens, anger is prevalent.  There is a lot of jabbing at each other.  There is much dredging up of lists of grievances.  There is a tearing of the heart – loathing the thought of being hurt anymore and yearning for reconciliation.

When this becomes another round in the ongoing fight, I call time-out and draw attention to myself - I draw attention away from them.  To derail this runaway train, I ask, “What is it you want to accomplish here?”  Their answers generally will not match the behavior they’ve just displayed.  So, I pursue their answers. 

I educate:
  • Forgiveness does not require anything.  I can forgive anyone.
  • Repentance does not require forgiveness.  I can repent whether I'm forgiven or not.  But, repentance does require that I seek forgiveness.
  • Reconciliation requires both repentance and forgiveness.  The relationship cannot mend without both.

I encourage:
  • Ephesians 5.21-33
  • 1 Peter 2.19-23; 3.9-12
  • Philippians 2.3-4

I instruct:
  • Leave nothing undone on your part.  Seek forgiveness for everything you’ve done wrong.  Ask, “Will you please forgive me?”
  • Grant forgiveness.  Say, “I do forgive you.”
I pray with them:

  • Lord, please clean and bind their wounds so they will heal and not become infected.

  • Lord, please wrap your arms around them like a warm blanket and hold them tight and close.
  • Lord, please pour Your peace over them like a healing, soothing ointment.
  • Lord, please convict them over the things for which they need to seek forgiveness.
  • Lord, please surround their home with Your angels to protect them from all enemies of the cross (Psalm 91.11), so that their home will become a sanctuary where peace will begin to reign.
  • Lord, please breathe hope into their lives.  Please calm their storms.  Please heal what is hurt, fix what is broken, and clean what is dirty.
  • Lord, please teach them how to do the hard work of seeking forgiveness, repenting, and changing things so that this crisis will not continue on this downhill slide.

I watched one of these couples hold hands while we prayed tonight.  I watched them change from attacking to acknowledging their own responsibility for wrongs.  I watched them walk through the door with hope.

Tonight, I watched another miracle happen!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Communication = What did you say? I wasn’t listening.

I asked one of my sons to dump the compost bucket out by the garden and to take the ½ & ½ which had gone bad, too.  He said, “Ok” and headed to the kitchen.  My wife stopped him and told me to ask him what I had said.  So, I did.  Then, with a sigh, which revealed a bit of aggravation, my son replied, “You said, ‘Dump out the compost bucket with ½ on one side of the garden and ½ on the other side.’”

What we had there was a failure to communicate.

For communication to occur, there are 3, and only 3, necessary components.  You can add anything to them and still have communication, but if you take away any of these 3, then you do not have communication.  Communication is a message with both a sender and a receiver.  If the receiver chooses to reject the message, or disbelieve the message, then communication can still occur as long as the receiver understands the message.

Communication = message + sender + receiver
Some common obstacles to communication include:
  • Not sending the message
  • Not being clear when sending the message
  • Not listening
  • Passive listening

Not sending the message:  someone simply shuts up and doesn’t speak.  Well, even when this happens, they are sending a message, but it is usually, “Leave me alone”.

Not being clear when sending the message:  finally diagnosing this problem may have saved our marriage.  It certainly saved us many headaches and heartaches.

I would say something and my wife would react with heat.  I would shout, “That’s not what I meant.”  And she would shout back, “Then, why did you say it?”  So, I would say something else and my wife would react with more heat.  I would shout, “That’s not what I meant either.”  And she would shout back, “Then, why did you say it?”

On this would continue until, at long last, she would ask, “Wait a minute, are you saying this?”  My cautious response would be something like, “Not exactly, but that’s getting closer.”  At this point, we were beginning to dig me out of the hole I’d been digging.  When, finally, she would say, “Oh, you’re trying to say this…”, then I would sift it around for awhile until I would declare triumphantly, “Yes, I think that’s it!”  Her encouraging reply was something like, “We were never going to get there from where you started.”

From this dialogue, we developed our “Do-over” rule.  I love the “Do-over” rule!

Not listening:  What did you say?  I wasn’t listening.

Passive listening:  someone simply isn’t paying attention.  The easiest way to identify when this is happening is when I turn and ask something brainless like:  “Did you just say, ‘Put lime in it?’”  And the answer is always something simple like:  “No.  I said, ‘What time is it?’”

If the person is speaking directly to me, and I am aware of it, then I communicate that the person(s) talking to me aren’t really important enough for me to pay attention to them.  How dishonoring!  However, it’s not possible to pay full attention to everything that goes on around you, so passive listening will naturally occur from time to time.  When this happens, Passive listening does provide some laughs. 

For example:  my son replied, “You said, ‘Dump out the compost bucket with ½ on one side of the garden and ½ on the other side.’”