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"One Bit of Scripture…"

04/03/2013 Comments off

As I get older, more and more I am convinced the importance of discipleship evangelism is for our generation and the generations to come.  Part of that has definitely come from dialoguing with them.  It is through these continuing conversations that I have learned that not everyone likes or can learn when drinking from a fire hose.  I came across this quote some time ago and it is part of the ‘derek-ism’ as a friend of mine would say, that permeate throughout these conversations.  I share it now.

A Two-bit Answer to the Million Dollar Question

This article will consider one small part of the answer. It is an important part, however. Learning this has made a huge impact on how I live and counsel. In a nutshell, connect one bit of Scripture to one bit of life. In other words, always ask two questions of yourself and others: What is your current struggle? What about God in Christ connects to this?

What is your struggle? You might be facing sufferings and troubles of various kinds (James 1:2). You might be sinning—doing and thinking various troublesome things (James 3:16). Usually it’s a tangle of both. God talks exactly about these things. How does the one Savior enter these struggles? What does He say? How does He help?

What will He change?
Perhaps you’ve seen the ecology-minded bumper sticker that says, “Think globally. Act locally.” Keep the big picture in view, then do something constructive. The same principle operates in counseling ministry. Keep the big picture in view, then act on some detail. Get the whole Story on God. Get the whole story on this person. Know the themes both in Scripture and in person. Then apply one relevant thing from our Redeemer to one significant scene in this person’s story. Bring one bit of Bible to one bit of life. You can’t say it all at once.

Charles Spurgeon put the principle in his inimitable way,

  One bit of Bible prayed over, and bedewed with the Spirit, and made alive, though it be only a short sentence of six words, will profit you more than a hundred chapters without the Spirit.1

One bit of Bible, bedewed with the Spirit, comes to life in one bit of life! You can’t deal with it all at once. Scripture never does. Ministry, like life, goes one step at a time.
Apply this first and foremost to your own life. The best advice I ever got on preaching was this: “Live your message for a week, a month, a lifetime. Then aim low. You’re sure to hit something.” The same thing applies to would-be counselors. What is your current struggle? How does God in Christ connect to you in this? You can give away what you are being given. What you give from out of your own life will be life-giving to others. When you are learning kindness from your Savior you will be able to teach unkind people. When you are learning to endure suffering well, you will be able to reach sufferers. It is the same with any other radiancy of the Spirit: clarity, courage, humility, patience, joy, wisdom, gratitude, mercy, teachability, generosity, honesty. If you are unhesitatingly honest, you can help dishonest people.

Richard Baxter graphically named the alternative: “I confess I must speak it by lamentable experience, that I publish to my flock the distempers of my own soul. When I let my heart go cold, my preaching is cold; and when it is confused, my preaching is confused.”2 As with preaching, so with counseling. In fact, the impact for good or ill occurs more instantaneously in counseling. People come vulnerable, with current struggles laid openly on the table. You cannot conceal your response. You don’t have the luxury of planning even the next sentence to come out of your mouth. You immediately publish the distempers or radiancies of your soul. You publish by the questions you ask (or don’t ask), by how you listen (or don’t really want to listen), by the interpretations you offer (or don’t even think to offer), by the advice you give (or can’t give), by the attitude you take towards people, towards problems, towards people with problems.

Let me make the case that one timely passage does three essential things. First, it orients this person to the moral landscape within which he lives, moves, and has his being: “The unfolding of Your words gives light” (Ps. 119:132). If someone tends to get lost in dark woods, the right road lost, then a good map and the light of dawn are extremely helpful! They don’t actually get you anywhere, but they orient you. You see where you’ve gotten and where you need to get. It must be simple and concrete—something true, riveted to real life. Theological generalities, abstractions and intricacies don’t do the job. General truths about yourself—your tendencies, typical patterns, themes that replay in your personal history—don’t change you. You must be able to identify where your particular current struggle lies, what it means, what exactly is at stake, where to go. Where is the firefight between good and evil? Today, what is your particular battlefield? You must be able to trace the difference between truth and lies, clarity and confusion, hope and illusion, right and wrongs, insight and self-deception, true need and wild desires, love and self-serving, living faith and functional godlessness. Where do you need God’s redemption and help? When you are disoriented in your current struggle, you don’t even know your choices. You can’t see the choice points. You can’t choose. When your way is deep darkness, you don’t know what makes you stumble. The right bit of Scripture—six words, two verses, one story—reorients you.

Second, a timely passage brings Christ’s grace and truth to this person. Something that God is, says, and does must invade your life struggles, beckon you, teach you, master you. What about God in Christ do you need in your current struggle? The map-giver personally guides through dark woods. You need help, and the LORD is a very present help in trouble. You can’t make it without grace to help in your time of need. The people you counsel can’t make it without help coming from the LORD who made heaven and earth. The first beatitude—essential poverty, need, and weakness—comes first for a reason. We need what God gives. We need our Father to give the Holy Spirit to us, that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, that the love of God is poured out within us exactly when the heat is on. Augustine summarized the immediacy of grace this way: “Give what You command and command what You will.” Some part of the good news of the Lord’s redemptive purpose, will, and promise is absolutely necessary—right now. The Bible models how ministry and life focus on one thing at a time. A good theology book rightly asks, “Who is God?”, and goes on to fill 400 pages with truths. But Psalm 121 cries out, “Where does my help come from?”, and seizes on one necessary thing: “The LORD keeps me.”

Third, a timely passage invites change. In the Bible’s vivid picture, we “turn” to our Father, Savior, and Comforter. Oriented to our current struggle, and embracing what God says, we come to Him. He works in us to one end: change. Faith works through love—here and now. The central dynamic of the Christian life is a FROM … TO … movement. “Repentance is not merely the start of the Christian life; it is the Christian life.”3 Faith does new transactions and conversations with God. Love does new actions and choices on the stage of life. When God calls, you listen. When He promises, you trust and talk back to Him from need. When He loves, you love. When He commands, you obey. You aim your life in a new direction by the power of the Holy Spirit who works with you. In every case, you turn.

These are the purposes of the whole Bible, the whole mission of our Redeemer. But a timely text brings truth down to consumable size. Think of it this way. When you get to know a person well, you come to know both the panorama and the details. But change walks out in the details.

The patterns, themes, and tendencies are like the view from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. From one hundred floors up, everything spreads serenely before you. But the action and noise of life happens at the corner of 5th Avenue & 34th Street and takes the Lincoln Tunnel home to Hoboken. Our lives work as stories, in a running series of scenes. Like a novel or movie, big themes work out in small scenes. This is how God has made it to be. This is how He works. This is something that would-be counselors often don’t get. It is something that preachers who do not counsel—and counsel well—often don’t understand. When you counsel (or preach) in great and good generalities, people will nod, but they rarely change. They rarely really change. Jesus works for a turn-the-world-upside-down reorientation and redirection. Ministry needs to know the big picture, but it always takes the elevator down to “G.” Get involved on the corner. Talk into the traffic noise. Drive over to Hoboken at rush hour. Change actually takes place in the watershed moments, choice points, and decisive incidents of everyday life.

So what does this look like while you’re actually talking with someone? What does it mean for what you give a person to take away into the week ahead?

David A. Powlison, "Think Globally, Act Locally", The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 22, Number 1, Fall 2003 (Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, 2003). 3-5.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.
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From Connie and I to you…

24/12/2012 Comments off

John 3:16 can give us the message of Christmas.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

While this verse is often overlooked as being a “Christmas verse” we can easily see the loving, giving heart of the Father in that he gave His only begotten Son.

God the Father set the example of giving, and it was carried on through the life of Christ while He lived here on this earth. Jesus said in,

John 14:9 ESV  Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

This spirit of giving originated with the Father and radiated through the Son, and in turn Jesus commands us to do the same in,

John 13:34 ESV  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This love is not based on feelings or emotions, otherwise Jesus would not have been able to “command” us to love. He is talking about the kind of love He had when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane,

Luke 22:42 ESV  saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."

He is talking about each one of us doing our part in love regardless of what we “feel” like at any given moment.

This is the kind of love that will visit a new friend’s home and hold the hand of one who is discouraged. This is the kind of love that will cry with another who cries, and who rejoices with another who rejoices. This is the kind of love that will look “beyond faults” and see the need.

We encourage you at this wonderful time of year to appreciate our giving God once again, and to minister to the “one another’s” all around us.  We call it the ministry of investing in others without needing the credit.  This season should reveal Prophet, Priest and King to all of us.  And emanate from all of us.  Some from the Word, some from life you lead, the actions you take, the inconvenient moments we all have every day.  Thank you for sharing your lives with us.  So Connie and I want to extend you Merry CHRISTmas and Happy New Year!!! 

And He said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God."
(John 6:65-69 ESV)

Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus by Ruth Rosen

27/03/2012 Comments off

Thank you Thomas Nelson for the humbling opportunity to review this work.

What if your child took a birds eye view of your life and wrote it down, what would it look like?  Ruth Rosen takes this task to heart as we read the biography of Moishe Rosen, the illustrious leader of Jews for Jesus.  What makes this biography unique is that it from the eyes of a family member who continues in the ministry her father started.  Her meticulous research and thoughtful commentaries on the events she covers also bring touching insight that I thought complimented the work well.

Why is it titled, “Called to Controversy?”  Ruth states that she puts some data to some controversial items in the history of her fathers starting of the JJ ministry that is not elsewhere.  Honestly, I was unaware of those controversies, and was more interested in the perception of Ruth of her father and the JJ movement so I probably missed whatever ‘controversies’ were addressed.

I was struck by this book many times and in sharing some quotes, I think you will see why;

Don’t let yourself become a desk jockey.  People spend too much time sitting at their desks.  You can’t witness on your seat; you gotta use your feet.  This made perfect sense to Moishe, and he never forgot the admonition.  Later, when it was his turn to supervise field missionaries, it was one of his guiding principles.

A lot of my principles came as counter measures to bad experiences.

But after the move, even though she was happy to entertain guests, she loved having a home life that was distinct from her husband’s work (this was a convicting reminder for me to remember my wife wanting some piece and quite from time to time).

I saw in Moishe a person with a biblically tough-minded reality about him that I did not often see in other in the ministry.  From the start, one of Moishe’s gifts was his ability to encourage others to exercise their own gifts.  Part of that encouragement was his genuine appreciation for what others could do.  (I was struck that his daughter saw this character quality in him and it touched me deeply in light of my own struggles with my daughter seeing reality.)

Dad’s insistence on the apology made us feel important; the incident stands out as a reminder of how Dad respected us and cared for our feelings. (An instance in which Ruth was wrongly accused of something and Moishe respectfully and firmly executed mediating the offending party to make things right)

What I learned about volunteers was, first, you had to give more of yourself to them.  And second, they were highly motivated – often more motivated than professionals.

The caveat, I guess I should have a higher view of it (Christian counseling) might be best interpreted as Moishe’s recognition that some Christian counselors genuinely help their clients.  But he felt that the proliferation of counseling degrees rather than theological degrees from Bible scholars and seminaries was not healthy, and that the potential for damage in the field was very high.

Moishe taught by example, and that included how to give an honest and meaningful apology, a skill that, while often overlooked, truly is a measure of greatness.

I found this book very interesting, as it challenged me with wanting to invest more in relationships than evangelism for the sake of evangelism  It inspired me by giving me hope that family does and will see the truth regarding good character, integrity, and doing the right thing.  It enlightened me by giving me hope that maybe my own daughter some day will see past the lies she was told do some investigating on her own.  I also liked how Ruth made me think throughout the book as she related her father’s thought processes, and reasoning’s for doing things, and especially conviction when doing right things. 

Ruth held my attention and the story held my attention as I was always looking to read more of her perspective of her father and his ministry.  I was also struck by the appendices in that Ruth shared a gospel presentation by her father and it really (for me) tied the whole book together in that, the purpose of his life (and ours) is to share the good news of Christ, and if she saw that through his life, so much that she continues with JJ today, wow… It was interesting to also find out that Moishe was part of the Council of Biblical Inerrancy with many other heavy hitters (“Moishe felt strongly that no group should outlive its usefulness.  He was immensely pleased that the ICBI chose to disband in 1988, satisfied that they had completed their task by clearly defining and bringing public attention to the issue of inerrancy.” 

I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in a biography, evangelism, character, integrity, and leaving a legacy.  May it inspire you as it did me.

554918: Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus
By Ruth Rosen / Thomas Nelson

* Why did Moishe Rosen, a Jewish man raised in an Orthodox home, become the founder of Jews for Jesus? Showing how her father challenged the status quo for Jews and Christians alike, Rosen offers a comprehensive look at Moishe’s life, revealing the personality traits, principles, struggles, and successes that made him a controversial figure. 320 pages, hardcover from Nelson.

The Little Red Book of Wisdom By Mark DeMoss–Book Review

26/07/2011 Comments off

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for the opportunity to review this book!

“From the first, my passion to write this book has had dual engines to thank my father and to prepare my boy and two girls in the way that my father prepared me.” Mark DeMoss

A modern book of Proverbs for the 21st century.  Each chapter/section is a recollection of past lessons through the eyes of the author.  Wisdom that the author has accumulated over the years.  The best way I can describe what they author was trying to accomplish with this book was to leave a legacy of wisdom for the next generation and in my opinion he did it well.  Divided into two sections, “Wisdom For Your Professional Life” and “Wisdom For Your Personal Life”, each chapter is designed to be read and mediated on.  This is not your standard coffee table book, it is a treatise of friendly reminders about professionalism, discipline, common courtesy, and investing in others.

If I had to describe the book in one sentence it would be that it is discipleship by investing in others through contextualization. I found the book to be very interesting to me.  It did challenge, inspired, and enlighten me in a couple of ways.

1.  I was reminded about my letter/note writing and the importance of reclaiming that lost art.

2.  I was reminded to listen more than I think.

I found the content of this book to be challenging, attention grabbing with the personal stories, and it was presented in easy bite size chapters with a great flow.  The author also presented and conveyed Biblical truth in his stories and it is evident that the Bible influences his daily life and there is no disconnect like many of us from Sunday to Monday.  I would recommend this book to others, especially those who are not above the wisdom of the age and are burdened with the next generation.

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