What restoration doesn’t mean

2013-09-08 RestorationFor 22 years Joseph had been in Egypt while his brothers lived daily with the lie they had propagated about his death. For that same time Joseph’s father believed him to be dead, and never stopped mourning for his son. You would have thought that such a restoration would be a great celebration. I’m sure it was, but it was not without its challenges. Don’t be caught off when you confront challenges in the restoration process. Here are three from the Joseph account.

Restoration doesn’t mean you will be without regret.

Joseph had a gift for each of the brothers who had sold him into slavery: a new cloak (Gen. 45:22). Can you imagine wearing your new cloak on your three-week journey to tell your father you had lied to him when you had torn up Joseph’s cloak and stained it with blood?  The cloak was a garment by day, and a blanket by night. A 24/7 reminder of what they wished they hadn’t done.  Even when we have been restored in our relationship with another, we may still have regrets for a past that we wasted.

Restoration doesn’t mean that there will no longer be conflict.

One of the final warnings Joseph gave his brothers was: “Do not quarrel on the way” (Gen. 45:24). A great reminder that just because we’re restored doesn’t mean our old habits of blaming others will no longer be a problem. The brothers had years of habitually lying and failing to take responsibility for their actions.  A change of heart was a start, but it did not instantaneously bring about a change of life style. Don’t be discouraged when, having restored a relationship, you still have some conflicts. Give thanks for the restoration, and work at changing the old habits in your communication.

Restoration doesn’t mean you will find it easy to trust.

When the brothers do tell their father that Joseph is alive, Jacob goes into shock. He doesn’t believe them (Gen. 45:26). That shouldn’t be surprising. He is asked to believe sons that have just confessed they had been lying for 22 years in a row. If you are working towards being restored in a broken relationship, don’t assume trust will come naturally. The other person’s belief in you will come, but it may take time. Joseph’s story gives us a unique insight into this truth. The passage says, “But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Gen. 45:27). Jacob couldn’t deny what he could see. So it is with trust. Be thankful that there is a commitment to restore the relationship, and don’t demand that the offended party trust you too early. Give them time to see the change. Trust grows when what we say synchronizes with what they see.

The importance of framing your worldview

Slide1The landscape of our culture’s thought patterns is changing rapidly. You will struggle to grasp how significant those changes are unless you examine their foundations. The following slides will walk you through seven different worldviews that have left a significant impact on our society, and provide you with the Biblical response.
J.B. Phillips warned us:

Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold, but instead let yourself be transformed by the renewing of your mind (J.B. Phillips translation of Romans 12:2)

Now is the time to think carefully about what you believe (slides read from left to right).

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Why do I still have unmet desires?

“Why am I hungry, Mamma?” the little boy’s voice pierced the darkness.

His mother sighed. “Yahweh has provided manna for us; it comes from God’s very hand.” 

“But I’m tired of manna. It’s all we ever have, and it’s not very filling.”

Again the mother’s sigh. “You sound just like your father, always wanting what you do not have.”

The Old Testament Israelites did their university training in the wilderness for 40 years; perhaps they could have finished earlier, but they kept retaking the same class: Contentment 101.  Moses gives us a peak back at the course work in Deuteronomy 8.

Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3, NLT)

Reading that passage recently I was drawn to the phrase “by letting you go hungry.” God let them hunger that they might learn to look to him and have their deepest longings met. You see, there is something more to live for than to silence your stomachs growling.

I have desires that are unmet. I’m betting you do too.  What if we began to view our unsatisfied wants as opportunities to turn to God and trust him?  What if, instead of complaining, the Jewish dad had taught his son that man does not live by bread alone? What if the son had seen a smile of knowing contentment on his father’s face even though the unmet desires remained? What if my sons heard in their dad’s voice the simple confidence that God knows best? What if they could never remember their father complaining? They can’t. But, by God’s grace, I can change that. So can you.

What if God has withheld from you the very thing you desire the most so that you might find your satisfaction in him alone? That’s the way you pass Contentment 101 even though you still have those nagging hunger pains.

Three Questions to Prepare for Change

The Christian life is about growing and changing. Three questions are essential. Each question includes a member of the Trinity.

Questions #1: What does God think?
When Peter attempted to move Jesus away from the suffering of the cross (Matt. 16:21-28) notice Jesus’ admonition.

But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get out of my way, Satan! You are tempting me to sin. You aren’t thinking the way God thinks but the way humans think” (Matthew 16:23 GOD’S WORD Translation).

Peter and Jesus have this conversation in the context of the cross, and Jesus’ impending crucifixion. Jesus teaches us a vital lesson: Clearly to avoid sin you must learn to think like God thinks about a matter. How does God perceive suffering? What does God think about trials? How would God define obedience?

Question # 2: How will the Spirit help?
Jesus promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit as a helper. Notice his words,

However, I am telling you the truth: It’s good for you that I’m going away. If I don’t go away, the helper won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7 GOD’S WORD Translation).

The word for helper (parakletos) combines two Greek words. Para which means to be alongside (as in parallel), and kletos which means to call. Hence, we get “one who is called alongside to help.” Understanding the Holy Spirit’s role in the helping process is essential to change. How can I be filled with the Spirit? Upon which element of the fruit of the spirit should I focus? How can I grow increasingly sensitive to his leading? He was sent as a helper, and I need help to change. What does this look like and how is it lived out.

Question # 3: How did Jesus live?
Jesus is the ultimate case study for living the godly life. We rarely ask this question, because we assume he lived his earthly life in the power of his deity. But the Scripture makes it clear that, being fully human, he lived this life in the obedience of his humanity.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications . . . to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:7–8).

When Jesus walked this earth as a human being he prayed and God answered. He learned to obey, and God blessed him.

John who defended both the deity of Jesus (John 1:1-4), and the humanity of Jesus (1 John 4:2) gave us this simple reminder:

. . . Whoever says he abides in him [Jesus] out to walk in the same way that he walked (1 John 2:6).

This final question gives me my practical example. How did Jesus respond to conflict? How did he handle suffering? Rejection? Betrayal? What was his response to the praise of men? If I can find an example from the life of Christ for how to respond in a given situation I am one step closer to responding in the right way.

Three questions to daily ask ourselves: (1) What does God think? (2) How will the Spirit help? (3) What did Jesus do?

Remembering that life is a “Y”

Years ago someone introduced me to the benefit of viewing my life through the letter “Y.” That singular image has helped me understand the desires of my heart (and the consequences of following those desires) more than any other image. I continue to use it in discipling, counseling, and with anyone who is willing to listen. Today’s devotional is simply this image. Look at it. Study it. Pray through it. And make choices today in the light of it.

Analyzing your temptation

I learned a helpful poem when I was younger. But only recently did I begin to use it as an instrument to analyze personal temptations.

I had six faithful friends,
They taught me all I knew
Their names were: how and what and why
When and where and who.

Next time you find yourself falling to a particularly stubborn temptation, analyze the conditions surrounding the temptation to more effectively prepare yourself.

How. What events further your weakness in this area? Do you feel a certain way before you give into the temptation (discouraged, unappreciated, a sense of injustice, etc.). Cain had those kinds of feelings before he killed his brother Abel (Gen. 4:6). God warned Cain that sin was crouching at the door. He was to rule over the desire that had awakened in his heart. Cain never asked the question, “How can I please God?” He simply followed his desires.

What. Have you ever considered the kinds of temptations to which you are most susceptible? Hebrews 12:1 makes a point of saying that each of us should avoid the sin (singular) which so easily entangles. While all temptations are common to man (1 Cor. 10:13), each of us has different temptations that seem especially appealing to our flesh. Categorize your own. Then find the specific Scriptures that combat those temptations.

Why. Understanding your motive for sinning is critical to victory. This is perhaps the most basic question to address, yet the one most often overlooked. Is this pleasing to God or is this pleasing to self? Eve made the choice in the garden to please herself, and so did Adam. He would rather die to be with his wife than live without her (Gen. 3:6). He chose to please himself rather than to please God. A friend of mine captured it this way:

There are only two choices on the shelf: loving God or loving self (Ken Collier).

When. Bruce Wilkerson surveyed men who struggled with internet pornography. Their answers were anonymous and nearly unanimous. His study revealed that most men struggled with internet pornography late on Friday and Saturday nights. With the work behind them and a free weekend ahead of them, they filled their imagined free time with a costly sinful addiction.  Knowing the most likely time for temptation allows you to prepare spiritually for the battle.

Where. I once helped a man who struggled with drunkenness. I grew accustomed to receiving a call at about 4:30 Monday through Friday. He not only knew the time of his temptation, but he knew where it was most likely to occur: A traffic circle north of his home. That’s where the bar was. He would call my cell phone and I would pray with him. One day he remarked, “It’s amazing how that temptation weakens when I get on the other side of the traffic circle.” Do you know where you are tempted? In our home we have a family policy that the family computer is in the kitchen with the monitor facing the door. Even with accountability software on our computers, location matters. Private locations intensify temptation.  

Who. Who’s with you when you’re tempted? Are they a help or a stumbling block? Do they draw you closer to Christ or away from him? Are they the one’s you most admire? (See Phil. 4:9). Who are you following—both literally and on twitter? The Scripture says,

Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33)

These are the six key questions that help us analyze stubborn temptations, develop a plan by God’s grace, and realize our need for total dependence upon the Lord (Phil. 4:13).

The Scripture’s Effect on the Mind

Twenty years ago a deeply troubled young man stepped into my office.  He was accompanied by a friend for the sake of encouragement. Together they began to pour out his sad story. When he was in 8th grade he became a victim of sexual abuse at the hand of high school teen. As he had entered high school he struggled with depression, attempted to take his own life, and was hospitalized. He had carried the dark secret alone. Neither parents, nor counselors knew his past.

Now, seven years later his anxiety was all-consuming.  His struggle with fear and worry had even crept into his sleeping hours, revealing itself through nightmares of the teen who had abused him.

I was fresh out of seminary, with limited experience in the ministry. As I reached for my Bible I remember praying to the Lord for guidance. I knew I was in way over my head.

I asked the young man what he was thinking about before he fell asleep. He acknowledged his painful past consumed his thoughts. He said tearfully, “I’m just praying to God that the nightmares won’t come back.”

“I understand you’re praying, but what are you thinking about.”

 “The nightmares” he said, “I don’t know how to stop.”

 Together we opened up our Bibles to Philippians 4:8 and we read,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [emphasis added] (Phil. 4:8)

“Your challenge,” I said, “Will be to develop a plan where you think on the things that are in that list.” Together we read  the promise that came next,

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you [emphasis added] (Phil. 4:9).

 “Memorizing is only the first part” then I added, “You’re actually going to have to do it.”

“Do what?” he said.

 “Think on these things,” I replied.

Together we drew an octagon. He wrote each of the 8 qualities found in verse  on the outside boarders of the sign. Inside the sign we wrote the words “Stop! Think on these things.”  On a separate piece of paper he wrote each quality as the heading for a list. The 8 lists would be comprised of  anything he could think of that was “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.”

One week later he returned to my office with his friend. The two sat down. I began the conversation “ How’s that Bible verse I asked you to memorize?”

His friend smiled, and shook his head as if he knew something I did not.

“Why the smile?” I asked.

 “Did you want him to tell it to you, forwards or backwards?” he replied.

 “Let’s start with forwards.” I said. The young man quoted the verse word perfect one word after the other.

 “Can  you really quote the verse backwards?” I asked incredulously.

 Phrase by phrase he gave the verse backwards. He didn’t miss a beat.

 “That’s pretty amazing” I said. “So how are the nightmares?

 He looked me in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and smiled.

 “What nightmares?”

Building Bridges: Introduction to the Nine Areas

John Piper once wrote, “Books don’t change people; paragraphs do. Sometimes even sentences.” Such was the case with a sentence that was given me by a friend over 15 years ago. I have found that whenever I have used this idea in my ministry or in my parenting I have not been disappointed.  To my shame, I also acknowledge there are numerous times I have not ministered with the statement in mind. More often than not, it is a result of my impatience, my agenda, or my frustration. And the fruit of that motivation in my relationships is always short-lived at best. But what I want to see happen in my ministry is that those lives I touch as a husband, as a parent or as a pastor, or as a friend are lives that are able to think on their own and stand on their own.

It is that kind of thinking that routinely brings me back to one of the most significant “sentences” in my life. Here it is: “A question stirs the conscience, an accusation hardens the will.” Ever since then, I have been looking for questions that the Holy Spirit can use in my ministry with others. I want the question that the Holy Spirit might use to engage their conscience either right then or later as they think about it.

As I began to study the means that Jesus used to teach in the Gospels, I suddenly saw all the question marks. Jesus used questions to stir the conscience of his listener (John 3:10, 12; 8:10; 9:35 11:26; 21:15-17).  Often he would just let that question hang out there,  patiently waiting for an answer.

My friend also gave me another statement that was ministry-changing. He said, “Good counseling is asking questions until a Biblical parallel comes to mind.” You see, now I had something to do with the answers I would receive from my questions.  What did the Bible say about this? As a pastor, one of my favorite questions is, “Did you know the Bible says something about this?”  When I receive the answer I have grown accustomed to hearing, I respond with the second question. “Would you be willing to look at the Bible with me and see what it says?”

Though I nearly always receive a “no” to the first question, I have rarely received a “no” to the second.  I have come to believe, it is because, in trying to follow Jesus’ model of asking questions,  I am genuinely attempting to help them understand their heart’s desires (whether good or bad), not assuming that I already know them.

This is only a tool to get you started, to  think through the questions, and move the listener to the Biblical answers that bring life.

 

 

Building Bridges: 9 Key Areas for Questions and Scriptures

The nine areas of consideration are intentionally built upon the acrostic “scripture” so that we may remember both the importance of the question (to discern the need) and the Scripture (to offer hope and change).

As a pastor, for years I have lived by the addage: Ask questions until a Biblical parallel comes to mind.

Nine Key Areas for Life Change
Salvation
Christian Helps
Relationships—Friends
Individual Perspective
Parents
Theology
Unforgiving Spirit
Relationships– Dating
Eternal Values