Intimacy in its various forms

SteveI am frequently working with people to help them with issues in their relationships.

Tim Keller, in a sermon from Proverbs that he entitled “Repairing Relationships” makes the point that relationships are always in need of repair.  We live in a fallen world, among fallen people, and we ourselves are fallen.  Our relationships require a lot of work to keep them working well.

One component of the work I do is to address the issue of what intimacy looks like in relationships.

I think intimacy is a term that has lost meaning because it is used casually in our conversations.  When we hear “intimacy” some of us think immediately of sexual intimacy.  The word intimacy has become a term to talk about sexual intercourse (and intercourse is a word that has suffered the same fate I am claiming intimacy is suffering today).

You might be wondering “What is he going to say about the forms of “intimacy”?”  Is this some sort of guide for sex?

Yes and no.

Intimacy is a very rich word.  It has a lot of content.  In comparison, sex is a limited term.  I also believe that sex is a poor substitute for intimacy.

We experience intimacy in different forms.  There is emotional intimacy.  There is spiritual intimacy.  There is social intimacy.  And yes, there is physical intimacy.  Physical intimacy is a subset of sex.  It is the purer aspects of sex.

Sex can be selfish.  We see all around us the selfishness of sex.  Sex focuses on my pleasure uses the other person, whether inside or outside the boundary of marriage, and sex is at that moment something selfish.   We see this most clearly in porn addictions.  I can speak at length about this, but for this blog I am going to focus on intimacy.

Intimacy cannot be selfish or divide those who experience it together.  Physical intimacy is always something that connects people.  We cannot deceive, use, or harm others while we share intimacy with them, without damaging intimacy.  Perhaps we destroy intimacy by these actions.

It can be restored.  But that requires a change of relationship that understands and builds intimacy.

We also cannot experience one “variety” of intimacy and ignore the others.  We cannot experience great physical intimacy and ignore emotional and spiritual intimacy at the same time.  We are embodied spirits and we cannot break ourselves apart without damage.  We cannot break apart the intimacy we experience without damage either.

If we want to build any form of intimacy we have to be working to build them all.  I enhance my physical intimacy with my wife by building my emotional intimacy with her.  I also build both my emotional and physical intimacy with her by building my spiritual intimacy with her.

Let me say that again, perhaps more clearly.  If I am looking for a more wonderful sexual union with my wife, I build that by sharing myself with her spiritually.  When we worship Jesus together we build our total intimacy.  As we grow in our spiritual intimacy we will also grow emotionally and physically intimate.  As we grow in intimacy, we will also grow in how we express that intimacy physically.  We will be safer, more honest, and more deeply connected with one another.  We will have so much less blocking us from each other and we will find it so much easier to touch each other.

I am only trying to introduce some thoughts today, but I will write more about this in the future.  Check back to see when it gets posted.

 

Steve

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Grenades and Healing Relationships

SteveI work with a lot of couples.  Most of these couples will come to me for counseling because their relationship has deteriorated and they are growing more distant and unhappy with each other.  They want a good marriage, and in many cases are working with their spouse to build a good marriage.

They frequently do not know how to move forward toward a good marriage.  Which is why they come to me.  They are looking for help.

There are patterns that have developed in how they relate to each other that have become the norm and are in many cases so familiar that my clients are oblivious to them.

One such pattern that I deal with regularly is what I call grenades.

A grenade is a statement that not only addresses real issues, but it does so with criticism and even contempt.  If you are on the receiving end of a grenade you know it immediately.  Grenades blow up.  They wound, if not kill.  When I see a grenade thrown and watch it blow up I also see the hurt that passes over the victim’s face for that split second before it turns to anger, hatred, despair, or rejection.

One problem with grenades is that they multiply faster than rabbits.  Faster even than hamsters!  I watch in sessions as one throws a grenade and the other throws one back almost before the first grenade has exploded.  We seem to think that the best defense against a grenade is to throw one back.  I can tell you with great sadness that any Mutual Assured Destruction program for grenades does not work.

People throw grenades back and forth until they respond by rejecting and withdrawing from each other or they are simply too exhausted to continue.

The only time I see clients avoid this pattern is in the first exchange.  If the person that receives the first grenade stops and deals with the hurt we can stop this cycle.

“You did it again!  I knew you would!  You always treat me this way.  I trusted that you were going to listen.  That you were hearing me and what you heard would matter to you.  But you didn’t change.  You have never loved me!”

If instead of defending or withdrawing when they hear this my client would stop and hear the hurt under the anger, they can defuse this attack.

“I am so sorry that I have communicated to you that you don’t matter.  I really want to love you well and I understand that you do not feel that I love you.   Can we talk about this when we are calmer?”

Proverbs 15:1 tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I have found that if we can hear the hurt that undergirds the anger, we can respond with gentleness.  When we can understand that there is a wound that has provoked the anger and led to the grenade we can also move toward the other person and bring healing.  We need perspective and support to do this, but when this pattern replaces the replicating grenades cycle real change and healing can take place.  We need other people to help us to see past our own hurt and to move toward the one throwing grenades.  That is where Biblical fellowship is so important.  The church can do a lot to promote this fellowship.  In our culture today we often turn to counselors for this help.

More to come on how to hear the hurt that is camouflaged in anger.  Check back for that article.

Steve

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God is not an Object

Steve by JonWe are tempted by our nature and taught by our culture to treat others as objects instead of people.  Whether we are in conflict with others and think of them as barriers to what we want or we treat them as those who serve us, we frequently minimize others.  We equate them with the functions they serve in our lives instead of as people who are complete individuals and have lives of their own.  We do not think of them as people who have feelings, who have value.

We will often do the same thing with God.  Cornelius Van Til is a theologian who spoke of the Creator Creature distinctive.  He said that God is the creator and is the authority.  God is, simply stated, the authority and ruler.  Van Til also talked about how we frequently live as if we are the ruler and authority and we reverse the Creator Creature distinctive and think that we can tell God what to do and how to do it.  In our minds God becomes our servant.  We believe He is a tool we use to get what we want.  He becomes an object to us.

God has not been, is not now, and cannot ever become an object.  He is uniquely a complete and self defined being.  He is the creator who defines everything else.  He deserves worship and obedience.  We are valuable and deserve respect because we are created in His image.

This is an important truth in how we live and how we counsel.  When we believe we need to tell God how to act and what to do, we take up a job we are completely unfit to perform.  When we look at our circumstances and believe we know what we need God to do to take care of us, we have made several errors.  We have assumed that we have the ability to know what needs to be done.  We do not.  We have assumed that God does not know what needs to be done.  He does.  We also assume God is willing to allow us to be the authority and will do what He is told by us, His creatures.  He is not.  That does not mean that prayer is pointless.  As we pray and talk with the Father, we grow.  God teaches us to pray.  He reveals Himself to us through Scripture and gives us promises He intends to fulfill.  Even in such promises as Psalm 37:4-5 God calls us to delight in Him and promises He will give us the desire of our heart, which is God in whom we  delight.  However, God never becomes our tool or our servant.  We never become the ruler.  We never command God.

God loves us too much to let us take over the role that only He is able to fulfill.  It would not be loving for Him to allow us to lead Him.  He would be abdicating His place as the one who uniquely knows what is right and what He needs to do.  Even Christ, in the garden of Gethsemane prayed to the Father and honestly spoke of His desires, but also submitted to the Father’s will because the Father would do what is right and good.

God is always active.  He is always doing what is good.  When we suffer, God is still active and is still loving us.  It is important that we remember He is for us.  We are the bride He loves.  The problem is not that He is at a loss about what to do and is waiting upon us to tell Him.  He is already doing what is good and necessary, but we do not see that.  The problem is that we need to see Him at work.  We need to focus on His plans and purposes. We need to trust Him.

One thing we can do to correct our perspective is to remember that He is sovereign.  He cannot be ruled by another, and He is not an object.

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How to Battle Anger in a Relationship Pt. 2

SteveI wrote recently about how to deal with anger in relationships.  I introduced the idea of working through real issues without criticism or contempt.

This is really hard, but an important step in healthy relationships and in growing in our Christlikeness.

I work with my clients to help them to understand what is really going on in their hearts and how to talk about that without beating up on the other person.

One of the critical steps in this work is to think and communicate with “I” statements.

We might think this is easy.  All we have to do is to say what we are thinking using “I.”  It is actually fairly hard to do well.  It involves knowing what I am feeling, how I am responding, what I am hearing, etc.

When we are responding to hurts we receive from others, we typically move quickly to the sins we believe the other person has committed against us.  We might even think the following is an “I” statement.  “I can’t believe the way you just spoke to me!  You are so mean!  You have no idea how much that hurts me.”

This, to be clear, is a grenade.  It is an anger response.  We have spoken using the word “I” but the intent is to inflict hurt on the other.  The anger response is about giving away my pain and typically we are trying to inflict that pain on the one who hurt us.  When we stay in the “hurt circuit” we are not trying to inflict pain, we are trying to express the hurt we feel without criticism or condemnation.  We want the other to understand and care about what we are experiencing.  We want to work at eliminating whatever is causing our pain, not simply passing the pain on to another person.

Anger responses focus more on trying to have the pain flow through us without having it stay long enough to damage us.  The problem is that anger generates more anger.  When I try to give my pain away I create pain in the other.  They then have to decide how to deal with their pain.  If I have hurt them then they typically are tempted to respond by returning that pain to me.  Now I have two sources of pain.  I am likely to throw another grenade and inflict more pain on them.

The cycle will intensify unless it is broken.  It is very hard to break this cycle when it is actively building.

When I am hurt I have the choice to respond by expressing my hurt clearly and without criticism.

“I am not sure what you were trying to say, but I have to tell you that what I heard you say was very painful.  Am I right to understand that you were saying that …?”  “Can you tell me what you felt when I told you that I am hurt when you forgot our date tonight?”

This may sound unrealistic.  You may be thinking “No one speaks like that!”  “No one can bite back their anger like that.”

I am telling you I work with some who do.  I am also seeing people come to understand how important it is do build the skill of thinking and speaking in “I” messages.

As we grow in Christlikeness we will have the safety to feel hurt without fearing the pain.  As we grow in Christlikeness we also have the strength to respond with gentleness and love.

The foundation for this lifestyle is to know Jesus intimately and to trust Him with all of who we are.  This is not simply an issue of skilled communication.  Those who teach this skill without recognizing our need for Jesus are building a second story without the foundation or first story.  The building will always collapse.

We need Jesus.  We need the Holy Spirit indwelling us.  We need the Father justifying and empowering us to grow in grace.

More to come in a future post.

Steve

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God’s Plan

 Steve by JonLife can be hard.

We live in a real world, with real people, and real trials.  Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that feel frightening and out of control.  It is easy to find ourselves looking for some way to gain control and find safety.  We scramble for a way to protect ourselves and feel safe again.

There are some important stories God gives us in Scripture that address this reality.

One such story is found in Genesis 22.

Abraham had followed God throughout his life.  God had called him from his father’s home in Ur of the Chaldees and told him that He was going to give Abraham a new land.

Abraham left his father and followed God.

God also promised Abraham that He would give him a son.  Through that son God would bless the nations.  Abraham was 75 when God promised a son.  He waited for his son for 25 years as he learned to follow God in a variety of trials and difficulties.  He slowly came to know God intimately.

When Abraham’s promised son, Isaac, had grown to be a young man, God spoke yet another time to Abraham.  In Genesis 22 God spoke to him and told him to sacrifice Isaac.  The son Abraham loved with all his heart.  The son for whom Abraham had waited 25 years and whom he had loved for probably more than 10 years.  Isaac.

Abraham was faced with an incredible dilemma.  Obey God or spare Isaac through whom all the promises God made to bless Abraham and bless the nations were to be fulfilled.  God had created a problem.  A very big problem.  A problem Abraham could not resolve.

But over the years he had followed God Abraham had learned that this was a problem that God not only created, but could also resolve.

So Abraham said yes.

He took Isaac, some servants, a knife, fire, and went to the mountain God had commanded him where he was to sacrifice Isaac.  At the base of the mountain Abraham spoke to the servants and told them to wait.  He and Isaac would return after the sacrifice.  Then he took Isaac and went up the mountain, where he built an altar.  Isaac then spoke to his father and said he could see the wood and the fire but he did not see the sacrifice.  Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the sacrifice.

In my cynical moments when I wrestle with the hard places and wonder what God is doing, or perhaps not doing, I find myself thinking that Abraham knew that if he spoke the truth that the servants would stop him and Isaac would run away.  He decided to “lie” in order to do the terrible thing God commanded him to do.  I also wonder if Abraham was trying to think of some way to rescue God from the dilemma He had created.

“What can I do that will protect Isaac and still technically be obedient to God?”

I go there.  I find myself thinking that way.

Abraham honestly was not thinking that way.  In Hebrews 11:17-19 we hear what was going on in his mind.

Abraham knew, because of his long journeys following God, that God had not only created a dilemma, He had an answer.  We read in Hebrews that Abraham knew that God could raise the dead.  The promise was going to come through Isaac no matter what God commanded Abraham to do.  God had a plan.  Abraham only needed to trust God, obey Him, and watch God’s plan unfold.

When I am in hard places, I quickly shift into trying to solve God’s problems.  I look for an answer that will maintain God’s honor and my obedience.  When I do this, I am doubting God, trusting myself, and moving headlong into sin.

What should I do instead?

Trust God.  Pray.  Listen to God.  Wait expectantly for His solution.  Live with integrity and obey what God has told me.  Psalm 46:10 tells me to be still and know that He is God.  Just like Abraham did.

God stopped Abraham as his had was descending to sacrifice Isaac.  He provided a lamb.  Both Abraham and Isaac returned to the servants at the bottom of the mountain after the sacrifice was complete.

There have been times when I have waited upon God.  When I have been able to be still and I have then known in clearer ways that He is God.  He has solved the problems in which I found myself.  The dilemmas God has created.

The Bible is full of such stories.

In the Exodus God led the Hebrews to the Red Sea where Pharaoh’s army threatened them with annihilation.  God spared the Hebrews as they walked across the Red Sea on dry ground, and annihilated the Egyptian army as the waters flooded over them when they followed the Hebrews.

God protected Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  He spared Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the furnace.

He has done so many miraculous works to take care of his people.

And I still wrestle with what He is going to do in the problem I face today.  Silly me.

The message to take away is that I need to learn more about Him.

Be still and know that I am God.

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What do I do when I am angry in a relationship

Steve by Jon

I have been working a lot with couples who are battling anger with their spouses.  This is so common today that you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, duh, aren’t you a counselor?  Don’t you realize that people get angry?”

Yes, I am a counselor.  Yes, I am all too familiar with how common anger issues are.

I am also aware of how destructive angry behavior is and how hard it can be to overcome it.

Anger is an issue that is often provoked by our circumstances, but it is never caused by them.  In spite of the frequency with which we say “You make me so angry” the truth is that my anger is not the result of anything outside of me.  My anger comes from my heart, or my soul, and the answer to dealing with it must include seeing myself clearly and committing to two things.  I must commit to repentance, and then I must commit to change.

I have been working on how to help people change and turn away from angry behavior.  God has been doing good things through that work.

As I work with couples one of the things that has been very useful is shifting from speaking about what the other person is doing, feeling, saying, etc. and instead speaking from my own experiences and interpretations.  There has been some important work in both neuroscience and sociology that actually reinforces Biblical patterns of behavior and notes the success rates for this obedience to Scripture.

As I work with my clients to use “I” statements and to ask questions instead of using “you” statements and making judgments, I watch the client change and I watch the relationship change.

The pattern we are working on is to be able to effectively talk about issues without being critical or condemning.  Proverbs 15:1 tells us that “A harsh word stirs up anger, but a gentle answer turns away wrath”.  When we are angry we typically vent our frustration and criticize the other person.  That fuels a cycle in which they are now hurt and they respond with criticism.  This is a very destructive pattern and one that we must stop both to be righteous and also to effectively build our relationship.

If we instead are gentle and talk about our concerns, with the hope that the other will hear us and will deal with our hurt, something remarkable happens.  I watch as couples who have battled each other for long periods of time begin to change how they relate and both parties become different people.

I will write more about this soon, but I encourage you to listen to your words.  Are you often saying “you did…” or “you said…” or “you hurt me…”?  If you are, I encourage you to work hard at sharing what you are feeling, what you are hearing, and how the other person can care for you in the midst of your hurt.

More soon.

Steve

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Story

Kristin2I was listening to a woman on the radio tell her story about the time she had a stroke.  She described this moment when the constant inner dialogue stopped.  There was silence and she loved it.  The stroke had affected the language part of her brain and as her language drifted away so did her connection to all the things that were currently going on in her life.  Her thoughts were silent and it was lovely.  Over the next months, as she worked to restore her language, she said she had mixed feelings about re-entering her thinking life.  “When you drop out of the story of yourself, you’re left stranded in the sunshine, in the now.”  She experienced a peacefulness she hadn’t known elsewhere. As she dropped out of her own story, she found the ability to live in this present moment and it was refreshing.*

There’s something appealing about that isn’t there?  What she’s described is a moment free from the worry and anxiety of the regular pressures of life.  This idea that you have disconnect from your story in order to achieve peace sounds both familiar and dissonant.  It’s familiar because that’s Eastern religion – detach from this world, enter the quiet to find an inner peace.  The solution to anxiety is to disconnect.  That’s all over the place in our culture.  There’s a dissonance though, something’s not quite right.  As Christians, think about the implications of disconnecting from our story. If we disconnect from our own story we’re also disconnecting from the Lord’s story.  As we face the struggles in our lives it’s not our goal to get away from them but to attach them to a greater story.  Peace isn’t found in detachment, but in attachment.  “…Christ is the HOME for my story. He is where my story begins, and ends. Christ [is] the place where I am free to share every detail of my story, and Christ [is] the ultimate Story-teller. His story gives mine meaning, depth, light, darkness. His presence assures me that my story will never be meaningless or hopeless.”**  His presence brings peace to my story.

When I attach my story to his I don’t need to forget the things that cause my heart to be anxious, instead I get to see them for what they really are – plot development.  I’ve read the end of this story, it ends gloriously!  So whatever it is that’s bombarding my thoughts now can only be building up to that.  The image of quieting my soul before the Lord of Ps. 131 comes to mind.  My soul isn’t quiet because it’s ignorant of the brokenness of this present world, because it’s forgotten that things are hard, it’s quiet because 1) it rests on the lap of the Lord and 2) because it knows that the Lord writes the ending.  The unknowns are too great and marvelous for me because they come from the pen of the Lord, the great and kind author.

I think I do the Christian version of detachment too often.  I shift my mind to other things, more peaceful things. I choose not to dwell on it.  Scripture tells us to think upon what is honorable, true and pure (Phil. 4:8). This doesn’t mean not thinking about the things that make us anxious, it means thinking about what is true and lovely in those circumstances.  What is true is that Christ is victorious over brokenness, that the Spirit is ever with us in it, and that the Father reigns supreme.  What’s true is that my story rests in his and that this is where peace is found.

 

*RadioLab, Season 8, Episode 2: “Words”   http://www.radiolab.org/2010/aug/09/

**Heather Nelson   http://heathernelson.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/story/

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The Context of Love

Steve

I am doing a lot of thinking about the call for Christians to love.  This past week I preached at my home church on Jesus’ command to love in John 13.  I have preached that passage several times.  This time I felt the need to come at it very differently than in the past messages.

I realized that I have completely focused on the immediate command and looked carefully at the language in the verse.  If we forget the setting of the passage we miss the meaning of what Jesus is saying.

So I focused on the context.  In this case there is a large context.  Jesus is about to accomplish humanity’s redemption.  He is going to the Garden in a few moments where He would seek His Father’s comfort.  Judas was about to lead the soldiers to arrest Jesus and take 

Him away to be tried.  After that He would be crucified.  He was about to pay the price we deserve to pay so that we can experience God’s favor.

Jesus is preparing the church to carry on His ministry in His absence.

The work of the church is to build God’s kingdom.

To build God’s kingdom we must love one another as Jesus loves us.

So we have to understand love.  Our culture understands love in its own particular way.  The Bible presents love very differently. 

A cultural view of love is really looking at love without a context.  It is more often than not a “feel good” love.  A movie in the 1970s entitled “Love Story” is known for a quote that “love means never having to say you are sorry.”  Culturally we also see that love is about comfort, pleasure, and ease.  We see in our culture a reactive love.  I am paying attention to you if I love you and when you are sad, uncomfortable, unhappy, or otherwise down I will do what I can to make you feel better.

That is not a Biblical view of love.  The Biblical view of love is love in context.

We are always in the context of the universe around us.  We are not complete in ourselves.  Biblical love is in the context of building God’s kingdom.  The ultimate goal of love is God’s glory, honor, and worship.  We will spend eternity worshipping God and delighting in Him.  The next level of context is corporate eternal well-being.  The bride of Christ complete and united worshipping God.  We love well if we are preparing for that corporate wholeness.  Then we are concerned about individual eternal well-being.  I love another well if my goal is that they are growing in their identity and experience as one who belongs to Jesus and is preparing for their eternal home.  Their treasure is in heaven and they are focused on that.  After that I begin to think about material, relational, physical, temporal well-being.  These issues are important, but they are not as important as eternal issues.  If I feed someone who is hungry and do not care about their eternal state, then I am not loving them.  The church battles keeping a Biblical balance of both the eternal and the now.  Trying to care about both now and eternity is humanly overwhelming and beyond my ability.  It is, however, the way Jesus loves.  It is the way He commands us to love.

In order to even attempt to love this way I need grace.  I need to trust in the work Jesus has done to redeem and transform me.

More to come in another blog.

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How Can We Know Others Well?

Steve by Jon

 

In working with people as a counselor I have learned important lessons about understanding others.  Some people see deeply into people’s lives.  They seem to be able to know others well, and are not shaken when they get conflicting messages from them.

This is not typically true.

An example of this in Scripture is found in Abraham’s life.  By the time Abraham’s son Isaac was a young man, Abraham had learned important lessons about who God is.  We can see this as we study Genesis 22 where we read of God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  Abraham had spent decades following God, and had gone through many different circumstances where he had trusted God, and others where he had not.  God had revealed Himself to Abraham and Abraham had finally learned to trust God in spite of what we might call mixed messages.  Abraham had come to a point of spiritual maturity in which he had come to know God over time and in many circumstances.  He knew God’s character and had grown in his faith so that he was no longer tossed about by his doubts.  James says in 1:5-7 that those who lack faith are tossed about by wind much like waves are.  Abraham had become a man of faith who had come to know God well.

As I work with my clients I frequently talk about something I call “multiple frequencies”.  This is one way to really get to know others well.

Wherever you are as you read this blog, you are bombarded by all sorts of messages being conveyed on many different “frequencies” or media.  There are FM, AM, HD, Sirius, TV, and cell signals that are bouncing around us everywhere.  If you have a translator properly tuned to the frequency you can hear and respond to the message.

There are so many messages that we cannot possibly hear and respond to them all.  In the same way we are either not trained to listen to many of the messages bombarding us in relationship with others, or we tune them out.  Our age is the age of information overload.

We are broadcasting constantly on all of the frequencies.  One of the most widely used frequencies is vocabulary.  This is a favorite for men.  We know how to choose words and use them to communicate what we want to communicate.  Many of the men with whom I work carefully choose their words and think that the only important messages they are sending are the words they say.  If I question them on what they are saying they will re-direct me to the words they have used and believe that is the only message I should listen to.

When their words are in conflict with other messages they are sending they become irritated when I follow up with more questions.

What other messages am I listening to?  The tone of voice they use.  Their facial expressions.  What they choose to talk about and what they do not choose to talk about.  Where we are when we are talking.  Who else is with us.  What they are doing as they talk with me.  We are broadcasting messages on many more frequencies than we are aware of.

If the messages are consistent with each other, we can take a great deal of confidence that what we are hearing is true and trustworthy.  If they are not consistent, we have to choose which messages are true and which are not.

Abraham had come to know God well.  When God gave him a message that was not consistent with what God had already revealed about Himself Abraham knew which messages to trust.  He knew he could trust the promises and character of God that God had revealed over the decades Abraham had spent with Him.  He was safe to obey the command to sacrifice Isaac because God was going to fulfill the promises He had made to bless the nations through Isaac.  In Hebrews 11:17-19 we read that Abraham knew that if he did sacrifice Isaac, God was able to raise him from the dead and fulfill the promises He had made.

We can learn to listen to many frequencies and evaluate the consistency of the messages we hear.  As we do this, we can grow in our confidence with others and we can deepen our ability to know others and relate with them deeply.  We can experience levels of intimacy we have only dreamt about.

If we do not know how to hear the many messages we are often tempted, out of fear, to believe the worst.  Abraham could have responded to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac by concluding that God had finally revealed his character in this heartbreaking command and rejected God as someone who had finally shown Himself in His willingness to rob Abraham of something most precious to him.  Abraham could have decided that all the other things he had heard from God were untrue and that God did not really love him.  I have many times in relationship with other people believed the worst about others when the messages I heard were not consistent.

Think about how you relate with others.  Do you trust them because you have come to know them well and when you hear inconsistent messages you can sort out those which are untrue?  Or, do you live fearfully and protect yourself by believing the worst about them and preventing them from hurting you?  When we do that, we are keeping others at a distance and we cannot connect with them deeply.  We cannot live in meaningful community this way, and we do not live as the people God has created us to be.  We are also unable to be redemptive in the lives of those around us.  We cannot get close enough to them out of our fear to be able to speak redemptively into their lives.  Community cannot exist in a meaningful way if we live with this fear.

There is much more to say about this topic and I will do so in future blogs, but for now I encourage you to think about the many messages you receive and listen  to the messages carefully so that you can develop the skill of knowing others well.

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Continuing to find our new normal in community

 

SteveAs a Biblical counselor I am regularly inviting the people with whom I am working to change.  They are coming to me for help in dealing with situations in their lives where they recognize the need for growth and change.

In many cases the changes that are in focus are difficult.  They are more than my clients believe they can handle alone, which explains why they have sought me out.

I have recently been blessed by going through changes in my own life that were well beyond my capacity to accomplish alone.  The blessing I have experienced in this process is that I have a much clearer realization that God uses the community in which He has placed me to accomplish the changes He is calling me to make.

My pastor challenged me a couple of months ago with evaluating where I was going with my life.  I have been adjusting to my wife’s death and the way that has shaped my life.  We had moved away from a previous ministry and the home where we had lived for 21 years.  We were well established in Maryland and we uprooted the family to move closer to extended family and to launch a new counseling ministry.  We also were transitioning a dog breeding business from Maryland to Oregon.  We bought a beautiful piece of property where we could begin to establish our family, our breeding business, and the counseling ministry of Impact Biblical Counseling.  The opportunities were huge and Ann and I could envision a future where we would enjoy God’s blessings fully.

When Ann died, I knew what a personal blow losing her was for me, and for my kids.  I have not thought a lot about how losing her changed our/my dreams and plans.  My pastor was a good friend and asked me to think through how being alone shaped the dreams Ann and I had shared.  He had watched as my sons and I had tried to maintain what Ann and I had built.  He wisely asked me if I thought that the lifestyle we were living was wise or even sustainable.  That was the first way the body was helping me to change.

As a result of his question I talked things over with my sons and we realized that we should put our property on the market and plan on finding a smaller home with a more easily maintained yard.  If we kept the property where we were living I would not be able to keep it up by myself.

In fact, I was not able to get it into shape to put it on the market alone.  The very idea was so overwhelming that I wanted to avoid thinking about making the changes that I knew I needed to make.  I think many of my clients are in the same place as they consider the changes God calls them to make.  I did not want to even pray about what my pastor had raised because I had little confidence that I could accomplish what I knew I would have to do if we were going to move forward with building a sustainable future.

My pastor then told me what I so often tell my clients.  “You are part of a body.  We will help you to do what you need to do in order to accomplish the changes God is calling you to make.”

In my case this involved making big changes to the house and the property.  If we were going to list the house we needed to get the yard in shape.  I am not a gardener.  There are some amazing gardeners in my church and they have spent weeks beautifying the property.  I now have a show garden.  We also had to take care of painting and cleaning my house.  Again, there are expert painters in my church who have spent untold hours remaking my house. The work they have completed is breathtaking.  Others have helped us to de-clutter.  The house is now listed and I am proud for people to see what God has given us and to invite someone to buy this property because I know that it will be a retreat for whoever God has prepared to enjoy it next.

As I reflect on my experience I know that God has placed all of us in the body and we all need to receive the care that the body is created to give, as well as to give that care to others.  I am receiving this care from my brothers and sisters so that I can in turn give care to others.  I need to move away from where I am living so that my time is spent in using my gifts in ministry instead of being forced to spend time managing a beautiful property that needs someone whose calling and gifting is managing a garden and a home.

As you grow in grace, think about how God has placed you in His body and how He plans to use the body to help you grow, and to use you to help others in the body to grow.  My inclination is to go it alone.  After this experience with my church I have a greater confidence that community is safe, and absolutely necessary.  My counseling will focus even more on how God’s gift of others is a glorious part of how we grow.

 

 

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