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Archive for February, 2007

A Dirty Story: A parable on Colossians 3:5-16

February 26, 2007 2 comments

I love my clothes! They fit me comfortably and have been with me through many situations. Although no one says anything, I have worn the same clothes everyday since I was born. This may sound crazy, but they feel a part of me, and they define who I am. I am not sure that I would know what to do if I did not have my clothes.

I have a friend that I have known for years, but I have never been to his house. He has invited me over on several occasions, but I have never taken the opportunity to go. We talk a lot, but we have never met face to face. I believe that today will be the day that I will go over.

As I walk to his house, I begin to wonder if he will like my clothes. I know I look good in them, but I am not sure if he dresses like me at all. He is a very nice guy and accepting, but I wonder how our meeting will go today. I am very nervous about the whole thing.

I have been concentrating so much on our meeting together that I do not see the mud puddle in front of me. I fall face first into it and it hurts pretty badly. I am now covered from head to toe in mud. This would probably bother most people, but I will just wipe myself off and go see my friend.

My friend opens the door with a big smile on his face because he is so glad to see me. He goes to give me a hug, but cannot because I am covered with mud. He wants to embrace me and invite me in, but can’t because he has brand new white carpet. He tells me that he really wants us to spend some time together today, but because of my condition, it can not happen. I am disappointed, but have an idea. I run into his yard and strip off my old clothes so that I can enter his home. I approach him again with the hope of entering, but he once again denies entry. He says that he is excited that I took off my clothes, but the reality is that I am still dirty. I tell him that I understand his point of view and wonder if there is anything I can do to help this matter. He directs me to his shed where he provides a shower for me to cleanse myself and new clothes to wear since my old ones are soiled. I really do not want to take a shower or put on these new clothes, but by doing it, I can spend time with my friend and finally enter his house.

Well, my shower is quick, but I feel good after it. It is an awesome feeling to wash away the mud and dirt from my skin. I really want to put on my old clothes, but it just does not seem to make sense due to the recent shower. I begin putting the clothes on and quickly realize that they do not fit. I wonder why my friend would provide clothing for me that is not my size. Everything from my shirt down to my shoes is a little bit too big. I go ahead and put on all of my new clothes. I begin to stare at myself in the mirror and am excited to notice that I look handsome! I am amazed at the transformation that took place by something as simple as a shower and new clothing.

I eventually run back to my friend’s house and he runs out to embrace me. I go into his home and enjoy a wonderful afternoon with him. We fellowship together like we have never done before. I do not want to leave, but realize that I have to return to my home eventually. Before I left, my friend tells me that the clothes he gave me are special. He says that they are made with special material that can not be stained. He wants me to continue to visit him and to never take the clothes off. Although thankful for his gift, I am still bothered by the fact that the clothes are too big. My friend tells me not to worry about their size because over time I will begin to fit into them.

I know that I will always cherish the time that I spend with my friend. He is loving, respectable, and always has time to listen to me. He doesn’t always tell me what I want to hear, but he always tells me what I need. I am still overwhelmed by the gift that he gave me, and sure enough, I am slowly beginning to grow into those clothes.

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Practically speaking, Paul is telling us that our life outside of Christ is dirty and vile. Our lives are wrapped in so much sin that it basically clothes us. It is in this state that we cannot please God because He cannot come in contact with sin. By the process of being washed in the blood of Christ we are then clothed in Him. The lifestyle is now different because I am wrapped in the grace and love of Christ.

These new clothes will not fit us instantly because we are still used to our old lifestyle. The Holy Spirit begins to work in and with us to help us to grow into this new life.

In my personal life I have had to separate myself from influences that were associated with my old life. I hang out with new people, listen to new music, and entertain myself differently. I only do this so that my new life will fit on me. If I continue to practice the lifestyle of being “clothed in Christ” then I will begin to grow more like Him.

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Categories: Christ, parable

Thoughts on Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines

February 26, 2007 Leave a comment

I want to be like Mike! Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. I can remember watching him play and being astounded at the way he dominated on the court. I made a decision a long time ago that I wanted to play just like him. In the 7th grade I got up the courage to try out for the basketball team even though I did not know how to play. My dribbling was terrible, my defense was non existent, and I could not do a wind sprint because of my asthma. I saw these problems as a temporary setback because I knew that I was born to play like Jordan. The coach did not see things my way at all. I was cut from tryouts after the first day. All I wanted was an opportunity to sit on the bench and be there ready to go in if he needed me. I knew that I could learn from watching the great players out there, but I did not think that practicing was going to help any. The truth is that if that day would have come for me to play I would have failed miserably because I did not take the time to practice for the game.

The reality for all Christians is that God requires us to get in the game (Mark 16:15). He expects us to get off of the bench and play until He pulls us out permanently. There are too many of us that are sitting on the bench (church attendance) who are not ready to go into the game because they are not willing to put in the practice necessary to be successful. In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul tells us to “spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness” (NLT). He is stating that those who are prepared to be used by God are participating in exercises that make this growth possible.

Dallas Willard, in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, describes the nature, purpose, process, and product of the spiritual disciplines. In these next paragraphs we will discover how to practically relate this to life and ministry.

The Nature of the Disciplines
We have been called to be disciples of Christ. This means that we must be willing to do whatever it takes to follow Christ (Luke 9:23-24). I do not think there is any coincidence that disciple and discipline are similar terms. Those who followed Christ had specific actions they had to carry out in order to consider Him their teacher. I believe this give us a picture of what God wants for us today. Willard comments “a successful performance at a moment of crisis rests largely and essentially upon the depths of a self wisely and rigorously prepared in the totality of its being – mind and body .” Basically he is saying that following Christ takes preparation. I have make sure that I am doing all I can to be ready for God to use me.

The Purpose of the Disciplines
“Full participation in the life of God’s Kingdom and in the vivid companionship of Christ comes to us only through appropriate exercise in the disciplines for life in the spirit .” If I want to wholly give my life to God then I will have to practice the spiritual disciplines. Their purpose is to prepare me so that I can be in complete relationship with Christ. I have for years settled for partial relationship to Him because I was not taught about the disciplines. They seemed like something mystical and very unfamiliar to my faith community. Because of this disconnect I have not allowed myself to live in communion with the will of Christ. Romans 12:1-2 promises transformation to the believer if they give their life to God. If I only partially give myself to God is partial transformation possible? Imagine a butterfly that only has one wing. It is still a butterfly, but terribly prepared for the business of flying. The disciplines will allow the process of development to be completed in each one of us.

The Process of the Disciplines
“A discipline for the spiritual life is…nothing but an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his Kingdom .” In chapter four of his text Willard separates the disciplines into two different categories: disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. The disciplines of abstinence include solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice. Each exercise represents areas of our life where we withdraw from certain activities. The disciplines of engagement include study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission. Each exercise here represents area of our life where we connect with certain activities. No one is intended to practice all of the disciplines. Each person knows areas in their life where they are spiritually weak. Through prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit you can find which discipline should be practiced.

The Product of the Disciplines
“The reason you practice so much is so that you will do things automatically the same way every time .” We see in the Sermon on the Mount that Christ commands some drastic reactions out of His followers. We are told to “turn the other cheek ”, “love your enemies ”, and “not to worry about tomorrow .” Have you tried those actions lately? It is not possible to do any of those things without the power of God. The disciplines, when practiced daily, will help us to react naturally in this fashion. I will not have to struggle with making the right decisions in life because I will have been practicing it all along .

Conclusion
Practicing the spiritual disciplines means living in the presence of God now. They help us slow down so that we can hear God. Only through prayer, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and total surrender to the disciplines can we expect to be fully developed into the likeness of Christ. We use these tools as a way of being built in the people that He desires. God is patiently waiting on us. Will you take advantage of His free gift and allow this wonderful makeover to take place?

Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1988)

Categories: spiritual disciplines

Making a Decision about Counseling

February 23, 2007 Leave a comment

Most of us experience times when we need help to deal with problems and issues that cause us emotional distress. When you are having a problem or dilemma that is making you feel overwhelmed, you may benefit from the assistance of an experienced, trained professional. Professional counselors and therapists offer the caring, expert assistance that people need during stressful times.

There are many types of mental health providers to choose from. The most important thing is to select a licensed professional who has the appropriate training and qualifications to help a person with your specific issues. You should also choose someone with whom you can feel comfortable enough to speak freely and openly.

Types of Problems

People seek the assistance of a mental health professional (MHP) for many different reasons. These are some of the most common:

1. You feel unhappy most of the time.
2. You worry all the time and have difficulty making decisions.
3. You feel extremely sad and helpless.
4. You feel nervous, anxious, and worried most of the time.
5. You have panic attacks.
6. You have a hard time concentrating.
7. Your emotional state is affecting your daily life negatively.
8. You are having a hard time functioning from day to day.
9. Your behavior is harmful to yourself or to others.
10. You are feeling impatient and angry with someone you are taking care of.

The list can go on, but is it important to find someone who is properly trained to help you with your specific needs.

Types of Mental Health Professionals

The most common MHPs in the United States are Psychologists, Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, and Professional Counselors. Each state has its own licensing laws and standards that govern each type of professional. While all licensed MHPs can help most people with problems of living, each group has its own special training in specific areas that makes them more qualified for certain types of issues. In addition, each individual therapist has a unique set of experiences that makes him or her uniquely qualified to work with certain kinds of issues.

Psychologists generally have a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree in psychology from an accredited school. They must complete a rigorous internship period and pass a state licensing exam. In addition to their undergraduate college degree, most psychologists spend five to seven years in education and training. They study scientific methods and the science of human behavior, building skills for working with people who have real life problems.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) generally have a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related subject from an accredited school. In most states, they must complete a supervised internship period and pass a state licensing exam. Marriage and family therapists are trained to work with people, focusing on how they relate to others. While they often work with an individual client, the focus of treatment is the set of relationships that surround the client and how those relationships impact the client. MFTs are trained in psychotherapy and family systems. They are licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples, and family systems. They work in a variety of settings with individuals, couples, families, children and adolescents, providing support and a fresh viewpoint as people struggle with life’s challenges.

Social Workers have a BSW or MSW from an accredited school. They must have completed an MSW and a supervised internship before passing a state licensing exam. (Each state has its own licensing regulations.) The social work profession focuses on individual happiness and well-being in a social context. It is also concerned with the well-being of the society that surrounds the individual. Social workers are trained to pay attention to the environmental forces that may contribute to the individual’s life problems.

Licensed Professional Counselors have a master’s degree in psychology or a related subject from an accredited school. In most states, they must complete a supervised internship period and pass a state licensing exam. Professional counselors specialize in cultivating a therapeutic relationship that allows clients to explore personal matters, and observe changes in feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

Referral to Other Health Professionals

When it is in the best interest of the client or outside the scope of the MHP’s license, therapists collaborate with and refer to other health professionals, such as physicians or psychiatrists in the case of prescribing medication.

Confidentiality

Each group of MHPs has strict ethical guidelines governing privacy and confidentiality. Clients of licensed MHPs can expect that discussions will be kept confidential, except as otherwise required or permitted by law. Examples of times when confidentiality must be broken are when child abuse has occurred or where the client threatens violence against another person.
When you are looking for a mental health professional to help you address your issues, it is very important to ask about a therapist’s qualifications to treat your specific concerns.

Visit these web sites to learn more:
www.aamft.org (National Assoc. of Marriage & Family Therapy)
www.apa.org (American Psychological Association)
www.naswdc.org (National Association of Social Work)
www.counseling.org (American Counseling Association)
www.nbcc.org (National Board for Certified Counselors)

Categories: counseling, mental health

The Problem with Pastoral Counseling

February 22, 2007 Leave a comment

God has blessed me with the ability and opportunity to attend school for the purpose of being a professional counselor. I cherish the information and skills that I possess due to my training. I have been asked on several occasions why I would get a degree in professional counseling when a preacher should be able to deal with people’s problems solely through the Bible. I do agree with their point, but disagree with their line of thought.

2 Peter 1:3 states “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” To refute that the Bible has all the answers for our life in Christ would be a pointless argument. I have full confidence in God’s Word. I would never teach anyone to listen to any other authority except for the scriptures. My problem lies with the minister. There are too many ministers who are counseling people through the use of God’s Word, but are not trained appropriately to deal with serious mental health issues. I have heard of people dealing with depression, anxiety, or some other psychological disorder and the minister decides that they do not have enough faith. In this example faith has nothing to do with it, but the right type of counseling does.

I firmly believe that we should use the Bible to deal with spiritual problems. My fear is that there are ministers and church members who are operating outside of their area of expertise and causing more problems for the people they seek to help. The church and the mental health community need each other desperately. There is a need for the meeting of the minds where each entity learns to respect what each group brings to the table so that people can get the best help that is out there. I am looking forward to the day when we strengthen our efforts in this area because the church will benefit in beautiful ways that will keep us healthy and better able to serve God.

A non-Catholic view of Lent

February 20, 2007 2 comments

For those of you who are not familiar with the Church of Christ let me give you a quick definition of who we are from my perspective. This is not an all inclusive view of the church or meant to define all churches of Christ so please keep this in mind as you read. (Note: I will probably receive flack for using a big “C” in church rather than a little “c”, but we will deal with that issue later on).

The Churches of Christ are a body of autonomous Christian congregations. We have no central headquarters, CEO, or board of directors. Our congregations are lead by elders (pastors, bishops, etc.) who are responsible for the spiritual leadership of their individual congregations. My role as minister is to preach the message of God to all people. We believe that Christianity is based in the simplicity of God’s Word. We have no creed, but the Bible. Our spiritual focus and fulfillment comes from the process of being like Christ in view of the teachings of the first century church as described in the New Testament. Due to this focus, the church seeks to follow the teachings of God and not traditions that are man made. This is not to say that the Church of Christ does not have traditions that we follow, but God’s word is the utmost authority in the decision making process. With this being stated please read on.

Although I do not agree with Catholic theology, I must admit that Lent has some spiritual practices that are helpful regardless of your spiritual convictions. Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection. Not all Christian churches observe Lent. Lent is mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, and also by Roman Catholics.

Many celebrate Lent by giving up something important to them for 40 days in an effort to focus on Jesus Christ better. As I was remind yesterday in church, we should be doing this everyday and not just during one specific time of the year. I agree with that thought, but I believe that at anytime that we are specially focusing in on Jesus it should be something to talk about and celebrated. There is a tendency at times when it is easy to discount what people of different faiths are doing just because it is different from our own practices. This can lead to an attitude of “I am right and they have to be wrong.”

I believe it is great that people are willing to look at their lives and say “_____________ is keeping me from spending more time with God.” In response to that revelation they choose to keep that out of their life for a set period of time. They then spend the next 40 days purposely spending more time with God because their distraction is not there. Ideally when that period of time is over they will be able to see how much closer they have become to God and either continue to keep that distraction out of their life or significantly decrease that activity. Either way they have a better relationship with Christ.

My family and I have never thought about participating in Lent before. This is mainly due to it not being taught or mentioned in our particular faith. We have decided this year that we want to give it a try. We are going to give up television for 40 days. This may seem like a tiny sacrifice, but when you are hooked on 24, Lost, and American Idol as much as we are then it will not be an easy task. We do plan on purposely spending more time in God’s word during this time period. It is our prayer that when this time is over that we will be in better communion with God and will not have to have as much entertainment in our life.

So what do you think about Lent? What are some things that you can give up over the next 40 days?

LarkNews.Com

February 19, 2007 Leave a comment

If you are a fan of clean satire, and comedy then you will love LarkNews.com. All of the articles on there are made up, but are from a Christian perspective. Below is a copy of one of their articles. I hope you enjoy.

Bible Quiz Doping Probe Widens

LENEXA — Eleven-year-old Todd Bradley was a Bible Quiz wunderkind, leading his church’s team to the finals three years in a row and winning the championship in 2004. But in February, urine tests revealed that Bradley and three other team members had been taking “quiz cocktails” — performance-enhancing drugs which improve memory and fact retention. They were stripped of their title and banned from competition.

“Bible Quiz has lost its innocence,” says observer James Delaney of the Houston Chronicle. “Doping is rampant. It’s a new game.” The latest bomb was thrown by former Bible Quiz champ Danny Andrews, whose best-selling book Happy Hour refers to the pre-competition moments when quizzers “gathered in bathroom stalls and gulped quiz cocktails and espressos,” he says. “When I began competing, nobody was doping,” he says. “We’d maybe drink a Jolt cola before matches. Now it’s a science. By the time the match starts, kids are so hopped up they could quote the book of Ezekiel verbatim.”


In the ’90s, as churches poured money and prestige on winners, kids began mixing memory-enhancing drinks which evolved into complex cocktails containing ephedra, ginseng and caffeine. Quizzers topped them off with 2-3 Red Bulls.

Now beleaguered Bible Quiz contests across the country have instituted strict “anytime, anywhere” testing policies. Quizzer Samantha Roberts was at a La Quinta Inn before a match in February when two female Bible Quiz testers knocked on her hotel room door, ushered her to the bathroom and watched as she urinated into a sample cup. Her parents stood in the hallway, perplexed. But the new scrutiny doesn’t bother Samantha.
“It’s part of competing,” she says. “They weed out the cheaters.” The next day, Samantha’s team won a regional match against rival First Baptist Church of Lexington, whose team was gutted last year after players tested positive for banned substances.

Categories: comedy, satire

Abiding in Christ

February 17, 2007 Leave a comment
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me.
(John 15:1-4 NLT)

In John 15 a picture of true relationship with God is presented. John teaches the reader how to “abide” and stay connected to God. This process is the core of the Christian faith. It is my goal in life to practically understand what this passage means almost 2000 years after it was written. If abiding in Christ is possible then it can only be accomplished thorough the process of pruning, staying connected to the power of God, and having confidence in the stability of the vine.

First we must realize that pruning is essential for plants to grow healthy and properly. There are times when branches have to be cut off so that the entire organism can grow in the way it was intended. John 15:2 states that “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.” There have been times in my life where I was the branch that did not bear fruit. I was not growing in Christ and was not useful to God. I was not worthless to Him, but outside of the purpose that I was intended for God did not use me. It took me several years of struggling with sin before I came to the realization that I was not accomplishing anything with my life as it was. I did not feel God leading my life until I decided to allow Him into my life again. It was at this time that I began to see how God could use me. As I began to open my life up to Him He began to do some powerful things through me. I knew this was not my doing, but only God at work in me. This was an exciting time in my life, but things were still not perfect. I found myself trying to hold on to things that had nothing to with the Kingdom of God. There were relationships and priorities that I had that were keeping me from fully participating in the power of God. As I allowed God to “prune” me and take away the obstacles in my spiritual life the fruit steady came forth from my life. Without that pruning I would still be a useless stick today.

Next I had to stay connected to the power of God. John 15:4 reminds us that “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.” I take this to simply mean that I am nothing without God. An appliance is only as good as the power source that it is connected to. If the source of power is gone then that tool is basically just another pretty piece of metal. It is in this context that I understand that I have to stay connected to God in order for my life to have purpose.

I remember well those days when I made plans for how my life was going to end up. By the time I was thirty years old I was supposed to have three children, a PhD, a big house, and be well into my career as a criminologist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have not accomplished those endeavors, but most importantly I never gave those ideas a chance of fruition because I attempted to do them all on my own. I never presented these issues to God. I never asked Him if this was part of His will. I simply told Him this was the way it was going to be. See I was disconnected from the power of God and the fruit did not come. I was the brand new power saw who had the potential to do just about anything, but I was not plugged into a source of power. I know experience God in a powerful way today because I am earnestly doing my best to stay connected to Him. I pray for His guidance, do my best to love other people, and seek His wisdom in my spiritual journey. These practices keep the power flowing and great things are happening because of this lifestyle that I have adopted.

Finally I have to have full confidence in the stability of the vine. John 15:7 declares “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” This passage speaks to the ability and stability of God. It describes how He is able to provide what the branches need. I do not have to worry about anything because my God is able to take care of me. He does not have so much going on that He forgets about my needs. He is personal to me and knows all about me because of our connectedness. This brings me comfort because I know that when the storms of life hit that I am connected to the one who is rooted deep and cannot be moved. If His stability is questionable then I will not be able to survive. It is with this confidence that I can boldly ask Him for what I need because I am not afraid of being rejected. When the fear of rejection is gone the only thing left is joy and it is in this joy that I serve my Father.

It thrills my soul to know that God is the one doing the pruning, supplying the power to my life and has the ability to meet my needs. In this relationship I look forward to being a part of His process because it always leads to success. I painfully realize that abiding takes patience. There are times when I am getting pruned and do not necessarily desire it. There are times when I want the fruit to come instantly, but it does not come. Thank God that He is the gardener and I am not!

Categories: spiritual formation