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GRACE FOR THE BROKEN

BROKEN
“When I try to look at the term [broken] in particular, I think it is saying that something was right at one point. There is a model out there for the way it is supposed to be and this is not the way it is supposed to be. Something is broken. And then the question is, ‘Can it be fixed?’” – Ed Welch

Is there any concept that is a greater reality in our life today? World issues spiral out of control, national crisis continue to grow, local communities become corrupt, and our families are being ripped apart. Brokenness takes center stage in defining our core identity. Many strive to fill this void and continually watch their dreams get shattered. Is there anyone or anything that can speak into this deep despair? These are questions and concepts that will be entertained at this year’s biblical counseling conference, Grace for the Broken. Be sure to visit our vimeo page, http://www.vimeo.com/foundationscounseling, each month (leading up to the conference) for the latest interview video on what Dr. Ed Welch has to say about this year’s conference topic.

WHAT TO EXPECT
Foundations Christian Counseling Services (FCCS) is excited to be hosting this year’s biblical counseling conference in the Mt. Pocono Region at Innovation Church, 6048 Paradise Valley Road (Rte 940), Cresco, PA. Join us on March 29th, 2014 for a time of reflecting on God’s grace for the broken. Seating is limited, so be sure to register online while space is available.

Registration will begin at 8:30 AM. Complimentary breakfast refreshments will be available during the registration and breaks in-between sessions. Registration can be completed on-line by visiting our website, http://www.foundchristcounsel.org, and clicking on the conference image. The link will take you to the conference page which contains details regarding the day’s agenda, guest speakers, session topics, and location. Follow us on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/foundchristcounsel, to stay connected with the most recent updates.

We hope to see you at the conference!

CHRISTMAS WISH LIST: My Heart’s Desire

Best Gifts Ever

What is your highest pleasure? Perhaps that question is not concrete enough. What do you desire more than oxygen? Talking about pleasure and desires can sometimes be difficult for believers. We seem to be naturally bent toward discouraging the experience of pleasure in many things that God has given us. While, there is wisdom in be cautious about the role certain pleasures take in our life, it is important to always remember that God created a world full of pleasures.

One question you can always ask yourself is whether the outcome of a certain pleasure directs you back to God and giving Him glory or to yourself? Pleasures do not become a sin when they are pleasurable, but rather when they are desired above the Creator of pleasures. Maintaining this balance is critical because our highest pleasures will ultimately govern our heart, thoughts, and actions. This could have profound effects on how we view people and objects. We must always be evaluating and reflecting on whether we are lifting someone or something up as our highest pleasure and in return worshiping it instead of God.

David, a man after God’s own heart, frequently shares about his greatest desires and pleasures in the Psalms. Many Psalms discuss David coming to God and crying out to Him or singing His praises and glorifying God. Quite a few of the psalms sound like love songs to the Lord. He really did desire after God more than oxygen. In fact David describes the experience of God turning his face from him as “the sleep of death” (Ps. 13:3, Ps. 28:1,2). How easily do we go through an hour, a day, or a week and not think of God. If He turned His face away from you would you even notice?

The majority of us would struggle to identify with David. We are not only seeking after the wrong pleasures, but the intensity of our desire is also weak. C.S. Lewis says it very eloquently and clearly in his book, The Weight of Glory, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

David did not wake up one day with mature affections for the Lord. We will always cultivate what we desire the most. This cultivating takes time and energy. Like David, we must frequently return to the Lord and cry out to Him. In Psalm 1 we are told that if we desire and seek after the Lord, we will be blessed. A simple way we can cultivate our heart’s desire for the Lord is by turning to His Word and mediating on it day and night. That does not mean you have to be a scholar, but it does mean you have to be in an active, growing, and dependent relationship with God.

What is on your wish list this year? There may be a number of things on that list that you will never receive. God is seeking you out this Christmas and wants to be top on your wish list. Make Him your heart’s desire and He will fulfill your needs and transform your desires.  “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. (Ps. 16:11)

Dessert First: Creating Hearts of Gratitude

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As a child there were a number of things that I was determined to do differently once I became an adult. One of these high aspirations included eating dessert as the first course of a meal. While this concept is not unique to me, it would most definitely transform the mealtime experience. Perhaps the joy that is created from eating dessert first would begin to overflow into other aspects of our lives. Maybe we would become more optimistic, have a little more of a leap in our step, a smile on our face, a twinkle in our eye, and a warm heart knowing that the next savory delight was just minutes away. Can you imagine how life would be enhanced just from the gratitude of serving dessert first—especially during Thanksgiving dinner?

My ideals have not changed much since childhood. While it might not be the best dietary practice, there may be other applications to this concept. I cannot stop from speculating that there were most likely a number of individuals, whom after spending some time at the table with Christ, walked away feeling like they were served dessert first. I am not talking about stimulated taste buds or satisfied guts. I am thinking of a deep, overwhelming feeling of gratitude found in coming face-to-face with a Person who knows you well and still desires to have you dine at their table.

Do you know the feeling I am talking about? It is the feeling of being intimately and completely known while simultaneously being embraced and fully accepted. Is it possible or am I still living with childish ideals that are never intended to be fulfilled? In light of all my imperfections, and lets not kid ourselves there are many, I could be desired. Isn’t that really what every child is looking for? They want to be loved, appreciated, sought after, prized, protected, and belong to someone—to a family. Not just any family, a family that serves dessert first.

I have seen many children who come from families that do not meet these criteria.  These families are made of parents who create a home where children experience the same horrors from which their families are supposed to protect them. Yet surprisingly, these children frequently desire to return home in hopes that they will find the nurture, love, security, and acceptance at the same hands that brought them harm—but they never will. The truth is, none of us will. We will never be the parents who meet our children’s deepest needs, nor will I ever find my needs met in my parents, spouse, friend, or self. We cannot deny these desires that seem rooted in side every one of us, therefore, we must conclude that we are ultimately indented to belong to a different family. C.S. Lewis elegantly addresses this fundamental struggle in his book Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

How else could we explain or understand the story of the prostitute at the feet of Jesus? We do not know of any interaction Mary Madeline, the prostitute, had with Christ prior to that seen in Luke 9, but we can conclude that whatever revelation or experience she received, fulfilled that longing inside her that no other object or relationship could ever do. It was so satisfying that she burst into the house of Simon the Pharisee, fell at the feet of Christ, saturated him with priceless fragrance, and continued to wash his feet with her hair and tears of gratitude which streamed from the depths of her heart. She was blind to the Pharisees casting judgment upon her, but she was not blind to her filth or to the identity of the man whose feet she was lying at.

Mary Madeline, the prostitute, could no longer live as an orphaned, abandoned, lost, neglected, or outcast child. She had a new family and a new name, Mary Madeline, Child of the King. This family served dessert first. All of her deepest needs were completely found and satisfied in knowing Christ. He does not save dessert for the end of the dinner. He starts with the greatest news of all, that I am redeemed. I am restored to the family I was separated from, created for, and intended to be with. Experiencing this created a heart of gratitude in Mary that lead to her falling at the feet of Jesus. Her place and my place at Christ table did not come without a cost. It was paid for with a price I could not pay, the blood of God’s Son poured out that I might live in light of His rich grace.

Have you experienced what it is like to be served dessert first at the table of the King? If you have not, than you have never really tasted what the King has in store for you. If you have, then you know and I encourage you to remember how blessed you are to have eaten at the King’s table. The great news is that He invites you to return for every meal. As a child of the King, you share His table as your own and His grace is continually poured out on your behalf. Therefore, live life this Thanksgiving Day and every day as if you have always received dessert first.  Imagine how revolutionary this could be in your life and the lives of others. At Christ’s table your sorrows are turned to joy, strength is given for the impossible, and hearts always leave grateful.

BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS

We all are most likely familiar with the greatest commandment; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). However, you may not be aware of the most frequent command. “Do not be afraid.”  “Fear not.” This command occurs more frequently in the pages of Scripture than any other command. Therefore the natural conclusion is that the most reoccurring dilemma humanity faces is FEAR.

Fear has many ways in which it surfaces in our lives, relationships, and choices. Yet it never completely unclothed itself for others to see. Like a small plant we can see some fruits of fear, but we rarely see the web of roots that dig deep and anchor themselves in the rocks hidden far from the eyes of even the closest friends. For this reason, “fear not” becomes not just one of the most difficult commands to obey, but also an impossible one.

The whole premise of fear screams chaos and uncertainty.  It screams you are not in control, which is a scary fact to face in such a broken world. It gets worse. We are not simply commanded to “fear not,” we are also called to be courageous. My pastor preached his sermon, for this past Sunday, on being strong and courageous (Joshua 1). Convicted by God’s Word and eager to respond with courage; I quickly found myself wilting back into my seat defeated as fear sunk it’s roots deeper and stronger anchoring itself down. I am continually reminded that simply willing and desiring to do the right thing is not enough. I was left hopeless to change because it is impossible to escape fear. Impossible, that is, with out a rescuer.

What does fear have a grip on in your life? Could it be your marriage that is on the rocks?  The safety of your children?  Success at your work?  Acceptance by others?  Political uncertainty?  Certain death?  Relationships that may never be restored? Or the person you love the most learning who you really are?  Whatever your fear might be, it does not want to be unmasked, but it must be. We cannot be rescued unless our condition is known to us and known by Someone who can make a difference. We experience fear because we are lost and for that very reason God entered our world to rescue us and save us (John 3:17). He did not come to condemn us or to be another finger-pointing at us, but he came to expose the roots of fear and break it’s grip on us.

Like Joshua, we can be strong and courageous when we are accomplishing the task God has called us to.  Take the opportunity now to bow your head before God and cry out to Him. Unmask your fears by confessing them to God and ask Him to come into your life and be victorious over fear. Asking God to help you conquer your fears and be effective for Him is not accomplished by simply praying a prayer one time. It is attained by living a life dedicated to turning to God continuously in His Word and prayer. Through digging into God’s word and saturating your daily life with prayer you can begin to unmask your fears to the One who can actually do something about it. After all, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). Like the Apostle Peter we must come to the conclusion that there is no one else to turn to with our fears except Christ.  He alone holds the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Therefore be strong and courageous.

Finding Hope Through Grace Part II: A Relevant Co-Sufferer

hope

Pain and hopelessness are feelings that are common to everyone. It is a good possibility that one of the earliest memories of your childhood includes a “crisis” that brought on significant amount of pain. The fact that we live in a broken world with broken relationships assures us we will not walk very far into life without experience a significant amount of pain. Even in scripture we see pages after pages of lives that are filled with pain. Take Job for instance, or King David. They were true men of God yet their lives were full of intense pain. How did they find hope to carry them through their suffering?

In Part 1 we talked about the importance of perspective and how it can change our outlook on a situation. Balaam was angry at his donkey for not moving forward, until God opened Balaam’s eyes (Numbers 22).  Balaam’s anger quickly turns to remorse and gratitude for God’s grace in sparing his life.  I can frequently respond in anger because of painful situations that occur in my life or I may become anxious and feel hopeless when my life does not seem to be going the way I want it to. However God has to frequently enlarge my perspective to understand what He is doing in my life.

The psalms frequently display this larger perspective that is given by God. In Psalm 142 we see David crying out to God about his troubles in a very personal and direct way (1-4). He asks God to come into the midst of His suffering and acknowledges that only God can truly rescue him (5-6). Another interesting point about this Psalm is that his desire is to praise and worship God and not simply to relieve his symptoms. Even though the Psalm ends in the midst of the suffering experience with no response from God, there is a sense of hope. David is comforted not by God taking away his present suffering, but by reflecting on the person of God, “for you will deal bountifully with me”.

There is no person or thing that can provide more comfort than leaning into the arms of a gracious God. I know I am saved by God’s grace and I am daily reminded that I need God’s grace to continue in life, but the Grace that gives me the most hope is the Grace that I look forward to. As God’s children we have been promised every spiritual blessing in “heavenly places” through the person of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3).

God often has to remind me that here on earth I am to expect suffering because sin has left its thumbprint on the earth I walk on, the body I live in, and the relationships I interact with. God is in the process of restoring me to Himself and at times that means suffering, but I have a confident hope that one day I will see Him face to face and finally experience the full Grace of God. Then I will see clearly as all my suffering is put into perspective by HIS GRACE which He has LAVISHED upon me (Eph. 1:7-8). If you want to know the hope God provides through the riches of His Grace cry out to Him and invite Him into your suffering.

Psalm 142

You Are My Refuge

A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.

 1 With my voice I cry out to the Lord;

with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.

I pour out my complaint before him;

I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,

you know my way!

In the path where I walk

they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see:

there is none who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my refuge,

my portion in the land of the living.”

Attend to my cry,

for I am brought very low!

Deliver me from my persecutors,

for they are too strong for me!

Bring me out of prison,

that I may give thanks to your name!

The righteous will surround me,

for you will deal bountifully with me.

Finding Hope Through Grace Part 1: Lesson From A Donkey

When someone comes in for counseling it is usually motivated out of a sense of hopelessness. Their hopelessness is generally caused by a combination of biological, psychological, social, spiritual, and environmental issues that surface as a maladaptive behavior or cognitive distortion. When these individuals turn to people for help in solving their issue (behavior or thought pattern) they are often given a solution that does not address the complexity of the person and usually begins with a statement that says just do or stop doing whatever you are doing that causes the problem.  While stopping the inappropriate behavior or thought pattern would help get rid of the symptom of the issue, but it does not address the heart of the matter or the complexity of the individual that has been scarred from their suffering.

If we desire to respond to people in grace and go beyond focusing simply on the symptom of the problem we must be patient and approach the individual with love and a listening ear. Before we can offer any advice or counsel we must get to intimately know this complex individual created by God and in his image. It is very easy to quickly jump to a conclusion on a matter of symptoms that we see someone displaying rather than taking the time to get to the root of the matter. We prejudge and conclude the matter much too early and often can end up causing more pain to the individual than good. In order to help people through these complex issues we must understand what things look like from their perspective and then help direct them to understand their suffering through the perspective of God’s Word and the community of the church.

A LESSON FROM A DONKEY

Paul reminds the believers in Corinth that they cannot know the mind of a man. Therefore we must inquire into their mind through gracious investigative questions and active listening ears of patience. The story of Balaam’s donkey adds great insight to the potential damage and shortsighted approach an individual can have when going through a complex issue.  In Numbers 22:22-35 we find Balaam taking a journey that God does not desire him to take. As Balaam continues on his journey, with his faithful and noble steed, the donkey begins to behave in a way that causes Balaam to become angry.  He responds by beating the

donkey. This occurs three times causing the donkey to finally drop down in the road and refuse to move.  Balaam continues every time to respond by beating his donkey senseless. What takes place next has to be one of the most weird and confusing things any one has every experienced. “When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”(Numbers 22:27-30 ESV).

Balaam does not even appear to have been stunned by the fact that his donkey is speaking to him. At times when we are in a rage or going through an issue we are not so aware of potential clues that God may be giving us. The donkey was trying to communicate something to Balaam every time she steered him off of the path, but Balaam was not interested in trying to understand what was happening. Instead he was simply attempting to accomplish the goal he had already set out to do. Counselors and people who are honestly seeking to help someone can often respond to the person going through suffering in the same way Balaam is responding to the donkey. Rather than listen to what they are saying they beat the person senseless with verses and principles that usually begin with “just do this” statements and do not take the time to try to understand why the person is continuing in this self-destructive behavior or thought patterns.  Balaam is so outraged with the donkey that he even talks about killing the donkey if he had a sword. Here we see Balaam reacting to the situation emotionally and allowing his emotions to control himself. As a believer we do not want to allow our emotions to overpower the Spirits voice in our lives. A reaction is simply driven by emotion while a response is guided through the patient listening to the Spirit’s direction and choosing to respond in a means that glorifies God and does not accomplish our self-serving desires or a false sense of righteousness.

God chooses to open Balaam’s eyes and let him see that the reason his donkey kept running off of the path was because there was an angel with a flaming sword waiting to strike Balaam down. When God chose to reveal this to Balaam his response is immediate repentance and a change of heart to respond in a way that glorifies God rather than responding in a way that is self-serving. It is interesting that God’s grace to Balaam was extended multiple times. Balaam had a number of opportunities to change his heart and actions, but it took a patient donkey and a gracious God to finally help Balaam see the faulty thinking and behavior that he was choosing to enslave himself with. This should provide direction and hope for those who are seeking to help individuals suffer through their complex issues. If God was able to use a donkey then he can definitely use you! We also note that it was not through the donkey’s ability that he was successful, but rather it was when God opened the donkey’s mouth and Balaam’s eyes that progress was made. This is evidence once again that God is the means and the solution to meeting our problems. His means is through grace and his solution is hope in God’s promises and faithfulness to us.

SIMPLISTIC OR SIMPLE

Perhaps that sounds a little simplistic for the issue you are going through. While the truth can appear simplistic I guarantee that it is not. The truth is simple yes, but not simplistic. The difference is that simplistic implies a lack of effort to accomplishing the end result. Our hope was not accomplished simplistically it was through the humbling and suffering of God’s Son on the cross that grace was made available to the world (John 3:16). He bore our sins as they were nailed to his hands on that cross (Col. 2:14). It was by his stripes we have been healed (Is. 53). That is not simplistic. He chooses to bear the pain and punishment of our sins so that we would not have to. He dealt with the complexity of our problem, our position as sinners in the presence of a holy God, so that He could offer a simple means to resolve the complex issues we face.  A simple truth that requires child like faith and brings with it the power to fill a void in our lives that no person, technique, or object could ever fill. That is Grace. That is the doing of God. That is putting our suffering in perspective to his suffering and ability to save us.