Learning to Love God for More Than His Gifts

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12.13.14 Savor Christ post

Savoring Christ

There is almost never a day that goes by where I am not reminded to keep “Christ and Him Crucified” at the center of my life. Last winter, on a cold snowy day in Chicago, I was unexpectedly reminded of this. Bundled in my coat, I walked past a warm little bookstore and glanced in the window to see a homeless man that had gone inside to get out of the cold.

There he sat in the nice big reading chair with a half-starved look on his face. Unlike the many other homeless that were out on the street begging for money and trying to get something to eat, this man had a different idea of filling his need. He had taken a rather large picture book of food and gazed as he slowly turned through the pages. As I watched the man’s face it was as if he was sitting at a large banquette table and with every flip of the page he was served the next course of his meal. Finally, when he arrived at the desert section he grinned from ear-to-ear, and I continued to walk with a smile.

This foolish man made me think of all the times in my life that I have sat satisfied with something far less than the real thing. Too many times I meddle in the meaningless effects of this world, when I could be experiencing the Almighty. Even more, it may not be sin that distracts me, but the mere everydayness of Christianity. My desire to relate to people more deeply, or preach more adequately, or do youth ministry more relevantly are all noble causes, yet they pail in comparison to knowing Christ and Him crucified.

When the Cross is off-center in my life I have willingly allowed something else to take its place. Whether it is my finances, my relationships, or even this week’s sermon, which are all so urgent and all “good things”, they begin to knock out the important, Christ. How easy it is to let my ministry take the place of Christ and I go on doing things for God rather than knowing Him more closely. When this happens the aching slowly grows and I find myself homesick for the Cross due to my busyness, shallowness, and sin.

For some it may be making retreats more rewarding than redemption or Wednesday nights more enthralling than God’s glory. With deep urgency, we must strive to return the Gospel to its central place in our lives. The Cross, and all its beauty is not only saving on the day of our regeneration, but should also fulfill us daily. By the Cross our hearts are found overflowing with the deepest satisfaction, and by it we are given strength to help those that God places around us. When a teen in an abusive situation comes crying for help we will already be in position to lay them right there at the feet of Jesus. Or when we have a young guy come and openly admit his attraction to the same sex, we will be able to help him tap right into the bondage-breaking power of the blood of Christ. With the cross as the nucleus of life we will be ready for all situations.

For everyone there is a choice whether we are going to wander this world aimlessly, sit hopelessly, or run fervently to God. Great men have gone before us such as Paul, St. Francis, Luther, Whitefield, Spurgeon, and even still Graham, Piper, McDowell and Giglio. All of these have known God greatly, but the Cross was no more accessible to them then it is to us today. What makes these men great is that they acted upon an inward longing. We too can discover that true life is found with the Cross at the center, and in turn can be used greatly by God.

By His strength only

Making Christ the midpoint of our life requires sacrifice and diligence. There will be much excavation that needs to be done in order to clear a path for deeper perseverance. God’s word tells us that we are to “Throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).” Yet not by our own strength do we run, for it goes on to say that we are to, “Fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 emphases added).” It is prideful yet easy for us to think that in order to fully know God we are to run in our own strength; Rather, we need to selflessly fall to our knees with the same brokenness that we did on the day of our salvation and remember the great gracious gift that God has give us. By remembering where we have come from, by surveying the cross, and rejoicing in our hope eternal we will discover this sweet salvation once again, and the grace He bestows for everyday life.

So then how do we live?

I trust that all of us understand the disciplines of grace to live a cross-centered life of modeling Christ. This means that it will affect the way that conduct ourselves, for we are instructed to imitate God (Eph. 5:1) all the while living a life worthy of the Gospel (Php 1:27). Our chief-end is to know Christ. Any knowledge of small groups, great leadership, or secrets to youth ministry tastelessly compare to knowing Him. No praise of man or adoration of students will ever satisfy us as much as the love of Christ. How much more Glory would God receive if at the end of our ministry it could be said of us, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you but Christ and Him Crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

5 under 5: Christmas Song and Great Reads

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Watch: Elizabeth Hunnicutt’s “God of Hope” video 

This woman has an amazing voice and a great heart for God. She has been at our church twice in the last 30 days and each time I am more impressed with her character and skill. I think her Christmas album “Arrival” is my favorite Christmas album this year. In this video, your can hear her heart for the hurting and her song “God of Hope,” which is a welcomed balm for the soul.

Read: Entertainment Weekly’s Best and Worst 2014

I think it is important to stay current with culture. I picked up a copy on Zino of Entertainment Weekly issue #1341. I am a Jimmy Fallon groupie because I think there is a lot to learn from him. He is featured as the entertainer of the year and some great insights to his success are given within this issue. While I certainly don’t endorse all the content or perspectives in this magazine, it is a good buy for $4.99, even just for the Fallon article.

Buy: Moleskine Pocket Journals

I have been carrying a small journal in my pocket for the last two months now. this journal is a collection of conversations, brainstorms, and insights I gather along the way. I love it. Yes, I know my phone can do this, but I find there to be something more valuable to me in seeing the written word on paper. Perhaps this is the influence of my brother. I recommend these journals! They end up only being about $2.50 a piece.

Read: Resolve to be a life-long Learner

David Mathis, the Executive Director of Desiring God gives a great discourse on how we are to discipline ourselves to continually grow. He states, “God designed the church to be a community of lifelong learners under the earthly guidance of leaders who are teachers at heart.” In this blog post, we are given five principles for life-long learning. I found this inspiring.

Read: Sexual Brokeness and the Hope of the Gospel

This great little eBook is only $2.99 right now. Russell Moore took lectures from the 2014 the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and placed then together in this great little read. I counsel primarily on sexual issues these days, so I found this book to be worth every penny. There is not a more relevant battle we have to engage in as Christians than the war of human sexuality and sin.

4 Great Joys that Come From Being Honest with God

joy to the world post

The last shepherd to return from gathering firewood dropped a meager load of sticks on the ground beside the sputtering fire. He looked at his partners huddled close to the feeble flame and knew they faced another long, cold night ahead. Drawing his cloak tighter around his shoulders, he gazed upward at the deep and mysterious sky. The moon had already set, leaving behind stars so brilliant the young man felt he could brush them with his hands and watch them fall like apple blossoms in his father’s orchard back home.

‘Home’ was a bittersweet word to him after so many months away with the flock. He slept on the ground, ate cold food most of the time, and—above all—spent day and night watching over the most stubborn and seemingly stupid creatures God ever made. Surely he could expect more from his life than this? He’d heard David’s writing in the synagogue: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1-3). “Beautiful words,” the shepherd thought, “but when will they come true for me?”

He stretched his aching muscles one last time, bid his fellows goodnight, and lay down on the frigid ground. Perhaps in his dreams he’d find the promised land of God’s blessing which seemed so elusive in the light of day.

“What is that?” one of the other shepherds said. “Do you see that?”

In irritation, the shepherd rolled over for a look, expecting to see the men searching the shadows for some phantom threat to the sheep. Instead, they all sat gazing upward into the sky.

“It’s coming closer,” another said. “What is that?”

As the shepherd sat up the hilltop suddenly burst into light—more luminous and warming than the brightest day he’d ever seen. Strangely, the light didn’t hurt his eyes. He scrambled to his feet to join his friends, and they clung to each other, terrified. Suddenly a man stood before them, as radiant and pure as the light surrounding him.

The angel of the Lord looked at the frightened men, and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10).

Despite his fear, as the shepherd listened to these words, a joyous laughter he couldn’t contain began to bubble up in him. A savior? After all our waiting, there is a child of flesh and blood sent from God? Can it be true?

Suddenly the doors of heaven itself were thrown open above them and a vast chorus of angels appeared, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Oh, pure joy! It swirled around him like healing water, lifting his heart above the drudgery of his life and the anxiety that had been his constant companion. He wasn’t alone or forgotten! God cared for him after all! Tears rolled down the shepherd’s face as he fell to his knees. He would go to Bethlehem to find this savior—but he knew his search for a pathway to redemption and reconciliation with God had come to an end. He believed what the angel told him: this baby would make it possible to finally find salvation—and lasting joy—in God.

Make a Joyful Noise

In this story, at the very beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry, we find one gift meant to be its end result—deep joy at the awesome news of our salvation. To experience anything less is to have missed the point—and missed out on the full-spectrum, whole-life transformation God had in mind. His plan did not include leaving us stuck in an earthly limbo of hardship and doubt. Ours is a fantastic inheritance of joyful freedom. To announce the news, he sent a multitude of messengers who couldn’t wait to shout and sing it out to the high heavens.

Rejoice! Emmanuel has come! God is with you! Come out of hiding and join him again in Eden!

How else can we respond to that but to literally leap for joy?

This is the promise of salvation—and the inevitable fruit of a life of openness and honesty with God. “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). This is what makes all the vulnerability and initial discomfort of deep honesty with him worthwhile—the living water of joy.

Deep and open honesty with God leads to great joy because:

1. Honesty clears away the falsehoods that keep us from seeing God’s love as it really is. Way back in Eden, the entire drama of human history began with the serpent’s lie: “Eat of this tree and you’ll be like God.” And he’s been lying ever since. Jesus went so far as to say, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

His lies have confused and confounded us into believing all sorts of baloney about ourselves and God: that we must earn our way into His grace; that our Father is angry, vengeful, and grudging with his blessing and acceptance; that we are forever stained and unworthy to enter His presence (even under the covering of Christ’s blood).

The day we overcome our reluctance to be open and honest with God is a day of joyful liberation. It is when, like exhausted shepherds on a lonely hillside, we receive the best news of our lives: God is with us—period. Rejoice!

2.  Honesty permits direct experience of God’s presence, where we once hesitated to go. Having received this news, and responded by receiving a deeper relationship with God, we are free to see for ourselves what is true about Him and what is just a lingering lie. Openness and honesty is a step away from only seeing God “through a glass, darkly”. No longer in hiding, we move toward perceiving him as he truly is: holy, forgiving, generous, and infinitely loving. Put that together with the knowledge that, by the miracle of salvation in Christ, we aren’t mere servants in his household—by His own invitation we are his beloved sons and daughters!—and I dare you to restrain an outburst of joy.

3.  Honesty relieves us of the scourge of self-judgment. So long as we remain in hiding, alone with our sin, it is easy to wallow in guilt and shame. We flog ourselves with memories of every time we failed to live up to expectations—ours or those of others—and cringe with shock and dismay at the depth of our unworthiness. Since we don’t allow God to answer for Himself in such moments, it is easy to imagine He feels about us the same way we do—deeply disappointed. Not much occasion for joy in this scenario, that’s for sure!

But when I bring those same shortfalls to Him in honest and open confession—what happens? Insults and scolding? Hardly! Like the dad in the story of the prodigal son, my Father orders a feast in my honor, runs to meet me with princely robes and a ring of belonging. Seeing God’s gladness at the prospect of reconciliation with me, my self-recrimination vanishes like shadows when I turn on a light—and his joy becomes my own.

4.  Honesty centers us in Christ, the author of all joy and our hope of salvation. As we have seen, Jesus is the only doorway into a deeper and more honest relationship with God. It is only by His atonement for our sins that we may enter God’s presence at all. But once there, and once we choose the vulnerability of being truly open and honest, something miraculous happens: that very honesty in turn strengthens our bond with Christ as the center of our lives. It is an ever deepening and widening spiral of transformation, each step empowering the next.

Honesty with God isn’t another exercise in disciplined devotion. It is the key that opens the vault holding our inheritance in Christ—salvation from sin and the unstoppable living water of joy that flows from it.

Free Counseling Notes Template

Taking notes post

As a counselor, taking notes is one of the most important parts of my job.   The details shared with me in a counseling session are sensitive and critical, so I want to capture what I can. I also hear a lot of information over the course of many cases, so taking notes helps me keep the details straight. I want to be sure to capture the vital information conveyed, as well as the intuitive items I may deduct as people share their stories. When I first started counseling, I struggled with note taking. I haven’t come across an excellent book on the subject, nor has it been taught in any counseling course I have taken. Therefore, I was motivated to develop the template I have included in this post.
Through extensive trial and error and a thorough review of many different counselors’ session notes, I created the counseling note template. I found the similarities they all seemed to have and made sure to include those in my notes. I also added a few essential items I recorded in every session and created a note-taking template.  I tried it for several months, making tweaks along the way, until I found what worked best. The order of every item on this sheet was specifically placed according to the order in which I conduct my sessions.

The note template includes the following elements:

  • Counselor’s name
  • Counseling center name 
  • Counselee name
  • I  PM  M  F  $: I circle which type of session it is: I—”Individual,” PM—”Premarital,” M—”Marital,” F—”Family” or $—”Financial”  
  • Date of session
  • Start time: Tracking the time the session begins shows whether I started on time and if I am maintaining the allotted session length.
  • Update or Progress section: I record the answer to my opening question in this section. Some questions I use include: “How are you?,” “Are there any new major updates since our last session?,” and “If your life was a newspaper right now, what would be on the front page?”
  • Significant Observations: I make observations about how counselees look or are carrying themselves (i.e., sleepy, disheveled, rested, happy, depressed, scattered, angry, etc.).
  • Review of the Homework: If there was homework given in the previous session, I take brief notes about whether it was completed and how it went. If the assignment was not completed, I ask several questions to see why and note those here.
  • Prep for the session: This is the only part filled out before the session. I note the things I think should be covered from last time and any specific goals I may have for the session. In solution-based counseling it can be important to have some thoughts prepared before the session begins, though I do hold the goals loosely.
  • Flow of the session: I take notes as the session flows; it’s like I an outline of the conversation. As a rule of thumb, I believe there should be something on the page for every 10 minutes of the session. I note turns in conversation as section titles with bullets underneath.
  • Main Issue for the Session: I am typically able to identify the main problem for the session by the end of the first page. This helps me understand what we are trying to solve. The session issue may be related to the overall issue we are working on, or it may be a new issue. It can be helpful, as I am looking back over all my notes, to quickly see what we have considered primarily in each session.
  • Substance abuse: This is a simple “Yes” or “No” if they are using a substance as a coping mechanism.
  • Current Danger Potential: “SI” is for Suicidal Ideation; “HI” is for Homicidal Ideation; The other two—harming self or harming other—is for any thought of harm that is not death related. I can write “Other” if there seems to be danger potential.
  • Next Action and Homework: I list any next actions that I will take, or they will make, related to the session conversation. I also record any homework assigned.
  • Phone call between sessions?: If I plan on making contact in between sessions, I list it here. In order to jog my memory, I may write specifically why I think additional contact is necessary.
  • Insight or supervisor consult needed?: If I am stuck on something and need to bring it up at our team meeting or to my supervisor, I will list it here. My supervisor does not see this; it is merely a reminder for me to follow up, and the reason is listed.
  • Next Appointment
  • Signature: I sign when the notes are done and complete; this serves as a witness to all that is enclosed. My signature is a sign of a satisfactory job and an acknowledgment of truthfulness.
  • End time: Listing when the session ends shows the length of the session and whether I ended on time.

All of my notes are then placed in folders, chronologically, and locked away under code and key. I reference the counseling notes before the next session to make sure I am prepared to help a person as much as possible. If I do not take notes, I believe I am not serving the counselee as well as I could be. Effective note taking is a skill worth mastering as a counselor if you are going to maximize your time with your counselees and provide quality services.

Download My Microsoft Word Counseling Notes Template

 

The Joy of a Life Story Written By God

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God writes post

So I was reading this passage in the Bible the other day it struck me hard…Check this out.

In Ephesians 5:1 it says that we need to be “Imitators of God.” I read that, and I thought maybe it was some kind of miss print… are you kidding, me imitate Him?

I even looked it up to see if that word “imitate” really meant, Imitate. and low-and-behold, It did! So I started pray and really think about what would have to happen in my life for me to be more like my holy Father. I came up with three things…

First of all I realized that my life is a story. I can choose to be the author and put on my life’s pages what I want, or I can hand the pen over to God and have him write the daily words of my life. I have already given my life over to God by believing upon His son, Jesus Christ. But every day, I need to make sure that I am leaving the pen in God’s hand and not trying to do life without His input.

The second thing that I realized is that, because I gave my life to Christ, there is a great ending to my story. You see, I deserved a bad one. Because of my sin, I should be separated from God and all His Goodness forever. but when I received salvation in Jesus, my bad ending was erased and in its place, God wrote, “And you will live happily ever after with me.” How great is that!

You can tell by the way we live—we don’t always think about the end because we are so focused on the here and now. The truth is that there is a conclusion to this life, and without Jesus it’s hopeless. But with God writing the content on our pages and changing the ending, we are given great purpose to live. This is then the fuel in my tank as I drive myself to Christ-likeness.

My third realization was this: My pages are tainted with the sin that I have and will commit, but those things can be eternally erased with God as my life-story author. I could try as hard as I want to cover my mistakes up, but no matter how hard I try there will always been eraser marks…and even those like little rubber nubbin thing. But When God writes my story – When I give God my faith – the only eraser marks are found on the hands and feet of Jesus. I can strive to imitate God daily knowing that He will give my strength through the holy spirit and grace when I miss the mark.

The passages in God’s word that really drove this home for me was Hebrews 12:1-4

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

This reminds of a time that I was standing on a high cliff in Ireland looking out into the ocean. There below me on a small clef stood a lamb. how it got there I have no idea because if it moved in any direction it would plummet hundreds of feet to its death. Perhaps it got out there in hopes of finding the perfect blade of grass.

That’s just like me sometimes. I stand on the slippery slope between eternal separation from God or safety with my Shepard. I think that I can handle life on my own, but without Him my eternal death is inevitable. But if I let God be in charge of my life and its content, I can rest in his green pastures of peace.
Why wouldn’t I let him write my story? He is my creator. he knows me better than I know myself.

A Warning Message for Pride (Acts 12:2-24)

Augustine said, “Pride is the mother that gives birth to all other sins.” If we do not keep our pride in check, we will find ourselves opposing God and trying to take His position. By looking at the life of Herod, we can have the firm warning from the Lord that he will oppose the proud. Yet, in verse 24 of this passage we see that the Word of God continued to go forth; God gives grace to the humble.

My notes and resources for this sermon:

A Message of Fame, Sermon Outline

Study Notes on Acts 12.20-25

Acts_12_20-25_Leaders_Guide

Acts_12_20-25_Participants

 

The First Thanksgiving and a Grateful Heart

turkey handDo you remember as a kid making those turkeys out of a traced handprint or a pinecone? Do you remember the stories about the pilgrims and Indians in elementary school? In the midst of all the turkey decorations and historical stories, have you ever wondered what the first Thanksgiving was like?

I started to dig for answers from historians and I found some interesting facts. The earliest record that we can find of Thanksgiving celebrations is 1607 in Cape Henry, Virginia, but that was not necessarily the first.

Another account was over a decade earlier when some pilgrims arrived to America after a storm-tossed journey. They disembarked at Plymouth Rock, held a prayer service, and then started to make shelters to protect themselves from the nasty New England winter. However half of the people that made this specific journey died before spring. Yet with prayer and the help of Indians they were able to persevere and have an abundant harvest the next year. In great thankfulness they celebrated in December of 1621. That was the first “unofficial” Thanksgiving.

In 1789 the first George Washington declared the first national day of Thanksgiving, but it was not recurring until Abraham Lincoln made it a holiday in 1863. He invited all Americans “To observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

In Psalm 104 we can find the biblical essence of thanks that Washington and Lincoln pronounce in their declarations. “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth… and bread to strengthen man’s heart. May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works… Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!

Summary of the Seven Keys to “Strategic Pastoral Counseling” by David Benner

Introduction

Counseling within the church context can is full with its challenges. Knowing what to offer it to your congregation and the boundaries that should exist within your counseling ministry are not easily intuitive. I have learned this the hard way over the last year and a half as we have established a biblical counseling ministry from the very lowest level. We have made our mistakes, but we have also seen great results as we care for the flock of God at Mission Hills Church.

41AHNzLWNOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When we begin our counseling ministry, we decided that it would be a short-term goal based counseling service. We would only counsel people for 3 to 5 sessions, and we would be sure are to work toward a goal in every scenario. For the most part, these borderlines still exist. However, we have learned that some cases require a unique level of care and therefore can be stretched to meet as many as eight times with the pastor or counselor. As we begin forming our plan for development of this ministry, we were introduced to “Strategic Pastoral Counseling” by David G Benner. I have benefited greatly from its insights as have other strategic thinkers on my team. We have applied it appropriately over the last 18 months and are continually refining our application of these valuable principles. I am a true fan of this approach to counseling within the church.

Summary of the Strategic Pastoral Counseling Model

Benner prescribes the plan for pastors and church-based counselors to meet with their counselee no more than five times. Within the sessions, they are moving through specific stages that he outlines as necessary and appropriate for the counselee to have the greatest spiritual impact. He does not minimize the role of Holy Spirit or the use of the Bible in his counseling session. While showing respect to psychological perspectives, he empowers the pastor to be a tool of transformation used by God in the lives of those in the church. Benner states that “Strategic pastoral counseling is a brief, structured counseling approach that is explicitly Christian, and it appropriates the insights of contemporary counseling theory without sacrificing the resources of pastoral ministry”(Page 74).

The three key components to Benner’s strategy are as follows: (1) The counseling is focused in time-limited. (2) It is offered by a person of Christian faith accountable to the church. (3) The help that is offered is focuses on a specific problem to help a person gain wisdom and understanding for the sake of resolution or transformation. The focus in this approach sets it apart from other counseling models. The limitation of time is seen as a strategic benefit to working on the stated issue with the most precise focus possible for the counselor and counselee. There are seven characteristics of this model that are very important to its success:

  1. Brief and time-limited. This parameter requires the counselor to be very intentional from the first contact. Time-limited counseling means that the counselor must be active and directive in each and every session. It means that both parties must continue to work towards the goal in and outside of their meeting time. The counseling must concentrate on one central and specific problem for the length of the counseling partnership. If the relationship does not remain focused, distractions will get in the way of finding true results for the presenting and core issue. It is also important to the counselor the counselee understand each session must have a time limit, and there must be a limited number of sessions when they will meet.
  2. Holistic. Strategic Pastoral Counseling looks at behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs when addressing a specific issue. Without keeping these things in mind, it may not be possible for this approach to also be spiritually focused.
  3. Structured. Benner states, “Good counseling always involves a good balance of structure and freedom” (page 57). The freedom to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and address key findings that emerge is an important part of any counseling. However, the counseling relationship that is only based on freedom will result in nothing more than several good conversations or with little to no resolutions. Structure provides focus and guardrails to keep the conversations moving toward a helpful outcome. The structure of the counseling comes out of the work the counselor and counselee do to address the feelings, thoughts and behaviors of the individual.
  4. Homework-based Counseling. Momentum is key to seeing results in a short period. In an effort to ensure that momentum is maintained between sessions, the counselee must engage in assigned homework or reading so that the time with a counselor can be highly productive. The homework assignment is always biblically-based, often including the Bible itself. The counselor will assign reading, memorization techniques or process items to help the counselee internalize key principles that will result in behavior modification or new cognitive patterns.
  5. Is exclusively church-based. The church is God’s divine institution for spiritual growth, oversight, and accountability. The people in the church understand that the pastor is there to provide wisdom and insight for the believer’s daily living. The congregation should support this ministry of the pastor and find ways to free him up from other administrative duties within the church. He is not starting a private practice counseling service but is rather a fulfilling a vital part of the discipleship strategy within the church body.
  6. Spiritually focus. There are many different focuses for which a Christian counselor may choose to turn their attention, but Strategic Pastoral Counseling specifically identifies the spiritual impact the life situation is or has had on the counselee’s soul. The counselor is looking for ways to identify God’s movement in a person’s life and how a person is responding or may respond to this spiritual activity.
  7. Explicitly Christian. As Benner explains that Strategic Pastoral Counseling is spiritual, he acknowledges that not all spirituality is Christian spirituality (page 67). The reason the Strategic Pastoral Counseling is exclusively Christian is because of its use of prayer, scripture, and the sacraments. It also has a unique counseling goal to move this counselee closer in their relationship with God so that they may find life, growth, and healing. It encourages them to keep their reliance upon the holy Spirit and to depend upon the word of God for instruction in godliness.

My Personal Application of This Model

I find this model completely energizing and very applicable to my personal ministry. As long as I’ve been a pastor, I have found the demands on my time or high. If I am not careful, urgent things rather than the important things consume my time. The key to caring for my flock well is that I have boundaries on my time. It does not mean that I am inaccessible or unloving to my those in my congregation. Rather, the most loving thing I can do for my flock is to have firm boundaries so that my time allocated to those that need it appropriately. The strategic pastoral counseling model encourages me to set parameters on how I counsel a person towards greater wholeness and holiness.

One of the greatest problems in my counseling ministry is that I meet with someone too long or too often. Through David Benner’s approach, I have learned the importance of starting my counseling by stating clear boundaries so that the person understands there will be a limit and a focus to our time. I can do this in the caring manner that lets them know I will still be there for them on-going as their pastor but the counseling relationship must have defined boundaries. Over the last few months, I’ve been starting off my counseling relationships by letting them know we will only meet for a specific number of meetings. I ask them to focus in on very specific issue that they would like to address. We spend time praying and working hard to find God’s perspective and answers for that specific issue. The more clear I am about our boundaries or our focus, the more result I am seeing. I am indebted to Benner for putting clear words on this model and giving practical ways to implement it.

By reading this book, I have been reminded of the importance of assigning homework. Because my time is limited, I must disciple the counselee to do work with the Lord outside of their time with me. Assigned homework is not only a great practice for greater productivity in the session; it is a wonderful discipleship method. I want the counselee to be more dependent upon God than on me. By assigning homework properly, I am helping them in their spiritual disciplines to seek God in the quietness of their home. I am exalting Him to be the Wonderful Counselor in their life and for them to see me as an under-shepherd for the one true Shepherd.

The Strategic Pastoral Counseling Model at Mission Hills Church

At Mission Hills, we have a biblical counseling center that tends to the flock on a regular basis. For the most part, we offer Strategic Pastoral Counseling by letting our counselees know “we are a short-term goal based counseling center”. We are forthright about our use of prayer and the Bible in our counseling sessions. The counselee understands from the beginning that we are a church-funded, they do not pay for our services, yet they are accountable to the church for their further growth and recovery. We have been able to create other programs that support Strategic Pastoral Counseling such as a lay ministry that helps those in crisis or need. We also have several recovery programs—Celebrate Recovery, Grief Share, and Divorce Recovery, to help people through a specific issue that they’re dealing with at a specific state in their life. Strategic Pastoral Counseling is the model we use, and it will continue to be refined as our team grapples with all that David Benner has written. I am grateful for this resource and look forward to seeing it further impact our ministry.

Finding God’s Love in the Midst of Suffering

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I gotta tell you this story. A girl named Cecilia waited to talk to me one night after I finished speaking at a youth convention. She stood with arms crossed, sort of hugging herself like she was cold or afraid. I asked her if she wanted to talk.

“I can’t love God,” She blurted out, like it had been welling up in her for some time. Over the next half hour the flood gates of her life opened. She started by telling me about her father.

“My dad’s always told me he loves me.” Cecilia said. “But, I dunno, for the past couple years I’ve been confused by his love.”

What was happening was this: Several nights each week as Ceciley lay in bed she would hear the floor creak, and her dad would come down the hall and into her room. He would crawl into her bed and begin to slowly run his hand up her leg and touch places he shouldn’t.

She begin to cry as she talked.

“I thought that he loved me,” Ceciley stated. “But now he just uses me.”

she went on…

Cecilia had met a guy her age. They liked each other and this guy even told her he loved her.

“He told me he wanted to show me his love,” Ceciley said, “He said we needed to have sex and so that we could experience that love. I didn’t want to… but I didn’t want to lose him either. So we did.”

She was crying hard by now and gasped for air between her sentences. She just wanted to be loved in the right way, but was experiencing only the wrong. I asked if she had talked to her youth worker about this. that’s when she began to cry harder.

“Yeah, I went to the church one day and met with my youth worker, I told him about my dad and my boyfriend and what they did to me. He told me it was okay, and that God still loved me. He said he cared for me and hoped the best for my life. But then, right there in his office, my youth worker started to kiss me. He said he loved me and ran his hands all over me. He used me! Right there in the church!”

She had anger, fear, sorrow and hopelessness in her voice…

“Is God like that?” Cicely asked bitterly. “Does God just say he loves me, then spit me out like every other man in my life?”

I didn’t know if my words would mean anything, but I know God’s Word is powerful. I took Ceciley to Ephesians 3:18—a passage that shows God’s love is higher than the highest star, longer than the longest road, deeper then the deepest ocean, and wider than the widest sky.

“God’s love is true love,” I said. “He will never leave you, hurt you, or take advantage of you. Ever.”

Tonight maybe you are right there with Ceciley, questioning God’s love. but I want you to know that God’s love is so much more true and pure than human’s love. You too can dive into the deep end of God’s love. That passage in Ephesians that I read to Ceciley goes on to say in 3:19 that God’s love surpasses knowledge – it may seem crazy but his love is true.

with a dashed line, the bible goes on explaining that having His love is being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Just try and grasp that… God is love. God is peace. God is goodness. God is gentleness. And with the power of the holy spirit and salvation in Jesus, god is in you!

4 Ways to Make Your Time With God More Effective

We all have a desire to leave our mark on this world. We want to our life to count for more than just taking up space on earth. We want families to love us, our friends to be impacted by a heritage and us to be left after our last breath.

I’ll never forget one of the greatest quotes I ever heard about how to make an impact on this world. It was said by my friend Dwight Robertson, and I quote, “The greatest gift you can give the world is your own intimacy with Christ.”

I heard him say that will preaching a sermon, and I’m not sure I heard anything else because that stirred my heart so loudly my physical years couldn’t hear anything else. I was overcome as I thought about what it meant for me to grow so close to Christ everyone else in my world would be affected by my relationship with God.

That is Hard to Do

So from that moment forward I committed to know Christ more than anything else in my life. That is not an easy commitment to make. Let’s face it, there are other things in my life that are easy to spend more time investing in and getting to know better than God:

  •  My wife
  • My kids
  • My iphone
  • My job
  • My favorite sports teams

But if I am going to really make an impact on this world, I must know and love Christ above all things. This is what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “For when I was with you I resolved to know nothing but Christ and him Crucified.”

The top 4 ways to make your time with God more effective

But what does this look like? How can I live my life to know Him more intimately each day? Here are four tips for making the most of your time with God:

  1. Clear your schedule and your mind. It should be our goal to spend daily “unhurried” time with God. Life is busy and once the day gets going, everything is hurried. So schedule time with God that cannot be interrupted. Maybe this is in the early morning or late at night. I’ve even schedule a “lunch appointment with God” just so that the time is protected in my schedule.
  2. Stay in His Word. Our time with the Lord is not meant to just be a pace in our schedule to catch up on the latest book we are reading or what is going on in the news. There are other times for that. Your time with God daily should consist of a steady diet of just plain-out reading God’s Word. Find a reading plan, or just read through a book – but make sure you are reading straight from his Word.
  3. Keep track of what he tells you. I have stack of journals filled with revelations from my time in God’s word. And I am not really a journaling type guy. I try to write one page a day of thoughts that I’ve learned from reading God’s word and praying that day. This record is a sweet place to return when I seem to have lost my way.
  4. Seek his face not his hand. Finally, make sure that your time is filled with prayer. As my friend says, “don’t be quick to seek God’s hand, but seek his face.” We must pray to know him and love him, not just to get things from him.

So remember, the greatest gift you can give the world is your own intimacy with Christ. Long for Him and meet that longing with an intentional investment each day.

I am not too naive to think that I alone can change the world, but I am not to ignorant to know that together we can change everything we know by loving Christ more deeply.