How to Overcome Complacency with Conviction (Acts 17:1-15)

In this message, we look at the Macedonia journey that Paul and Silas took in the first century, as recorded in Acts 17. From their life we can see the importance of conviction when facing opposition. The Christian life is not a life of complacency or laziness but one of transformation and resolve.

My Sermon Resources:

Study Notes on Acts 17.1-15

Conviction vs. Complacancy Sermon Outline

My slides for this sermon:

Four Essentials for Perseverance (Acts 14:8-24)

The Christian life is a journey that requires strength, courage and perseverance. In this message, we will look at the first missionary journey of Paul and learn four key attitudes for our Christian faith: faith, courage, intentionality and determination.

Sermon Resources:

Study Notes on Acts 14.8-28

4 Essentials Sermon Outline

Slides for this sermon:

Is It Safe to Travel to Israel?

2.22.15 Israel Safe post

Listen to an interview I did with Shalom Almog in Israel, the owner of Coral Tours:

I’ve been to Israel many times and never felt unsafe. The times I spent in downtown Chicago were far more frightening to me than any of my night walks in Israel.

But let’s be honest, Israel has never known life without conflict. Israel has been a bridge way between some of the history’s greatest civilizations. The land has been fought over for centuries—the Bible is a historic record of some of these major battles. Even when God commanded Abraham to go there, it was not safe. When he told Joshua to enter, it was not safe. When the Jews returned from Babylon, it was not safe. Jerusalem is the “City of Peace” but it has seen 118 separate conflicts. It has been surrounded by armies 23 times. It has been attacked an additional 52 times and has been captured and recaptured 44 times. Did I also mention it has been destroyed twice? Therefore, we can assume that this small nation knows how to protect its land and people better than most countries in the world.

I like how Chris Davis said it – “Is it safe to go to Israel?” is the wrong question. I think the right perspective may be, “Am I called to go to Israel?” Believers in Christ don’t always make a decision based on safety or lack of risk. Rather, we trust God with the outcome of all our situations, and we obey His call to do things—for our soul and for others—that do not always make sense. I believe that when you decide to go to Israel, you are answering a call to obedience. Yes, it may look like all the right circumstances emerged to make it possible for you to go, but I am sure that God worked through those circumstances to make this happen. Lean into that and trust that God will lead and protect you.

The Middle East is always in some unrest. However, I assure you that if it is ever too unsafe for people to travel there the proper precautions will be made. Our government, their government, the tour company, or the pastor leading your tour, will never put you in the way of danger intentionally. If those leading your tour believe it is not safe enough to take you to this Holy Land, they wouldn’t take you. I am sure of it.

Be praying for the Middle East and the people of Israel. What we may be afraid of or concerned about has become the everyday norm for them. Also, give an answer for the trust you have in your God when people ask, “Are you sure you should be going to Israel?” Let them know that you will be safe but the truth is that everyday you trust your God with your life. Whether you are driving home on the highway from work or walking the streets of Jerusalem, trust God with your life.

Avoid the Tragedy of Counseling Too Quickly

2.10.15 counseling quickly postA few days ago some of the counselors and I were jesting about starting a drive-thru counseling service. We laughed at the thought of people taking advantage of this quick service to get fast answers to life’s problems. “I am sure that already exists in Vegas,” someone said. We quickly returned to the reality of hard sessions that require more than a few minutes of microwaved advice.

Counseling is as much of an art as it is a science. Listening and reacting to the information given, then responding with empathy, wisdom, and understanding – at just the right time – takes precision, skill, and most importantly, a great dependence on the Holy Spirit. Pastoral and biblical counselors can be tempted to abbreviate the process and accept a quick solution to a complex issue.

Let’s face it, life in ministry is very busy. Daily we are bombarded with the urgent requests of those that we are called to serve. We spend most of our days responding to the whirlwind around us, forgetting to stop, pray, and process the deeper details of what or who is in front of us. I believe that busyness may be one of the most common reasons a counselor pushes a counselee through a process to accept a foregone conclusion. I have been this pastor, and I have worked with many pastors and ministry leaders who move people to closure in order to get back to the other demands of their roles.

Another reason pastors and biblical counselors speed through counseling is because they lack compassion. They may care, but having compassion takes a deeper level of emotional energy and involvement. God created the church to have all types of leaders in all types of roles within the church. While this diversity is a strength of the church, it can also be a challenge. People assume that all pastors have a generous amount of compassion, empathy, and skill at counseling; this is not the case. Some pastors are better at administration, so when given the chance to play the counselor role, they push to the “bottomline.” The result is an accidental abuse of the title of pastor or counselor—a role some simply assume because it is presumed upon them by their congregation.

A counselee must work with a counselor or pastor to find the cause of what is going on in their life. When individuals are pushed too quickly in counseling, often they only address surface level issues and may relapse in feelings, thinking, or behavior.

I once found myself doing exactly what I am advising against. I offered premature solutions to a young lady for reasons that are less than acceptable. I was working with a young girl early in my ministry that was cutting. She had done severe damage to her body and racked up thousands of dollars in hospital bills. I quickly assumed this was a control issue and something that could be managed with behavior modification only. I ignored the deeper hurt in her life (ignorantly and accidentally) and did not deal with feelings in her life that needed to be sorted out. We controlled her behavior for a while, and then the next cutting episode occurred. It was not until I sought outside help that we were able to uncover the deep hurt from past abuse in her life.

The counseling relationship with that girl and her parents was damaged, but only slightly (by God’s grace). They understood that I was new to dealing with such deep pain and had not yet learned to unearth the deeper issues at hand. I had to take more of a backseat with the girl and allow someone else to take over. God was good to heal her soul, and she is fine now, but I desired to be more involved. I lost some trust with her and her family when the issues returned, but God had a bigger plan to grow me and grow her as well.

Counseling cannot be rushed. While I do subscribe to a short-term strategic counseling model, we must take adequate time to uncover the deep issues people wrestle with in life. When we gain greater understanding, we can offer wisdom from God’s Word and advice for life application that leads to lasting change.

Why Life without a Mentor is a Bad Idea

01.12.15 mentoring post

Mentoring has always been important to me. My father played a significant role in my development of valuing outside voices of wisdom. Through our man-to-man relationship, I realize the importance of having an older and wiser person in my life to help construct and guide me.

When I turned fifteen years old, my dad understood that his voice was still important but that it would be vital for me to get other men involved. He had me choose five mentors that would walk with me through the remainder of my high school career. All of them were great influences in my life, but more importantly the context for mentoring was established in these formative years. From that point on, I lived a life guided by God’s hand through other godly men. Mentors have always been in my life, and they always will be.

There are many essential elements that make a mentoring relationship work, but the most important is submission. A mentoree must respect the voice and perspective of a mentor enough to trust and apply the advice that is given. Continual hesitation or neglect of what the mentor has said to the mentoree will cause the relationship to be ineffective. The attitudes and actions of the mentoree must show the mentor that he is trusting the guiding relationship.

In his Book “Mentoring,” Terry Walling points to seven items that a mentoree can do to contribute to a successful mentoring relationship. In brief, these seven things are as follows:

1. Accept responsibility for growth
2. Develop a personal understanding of God’s direction
3. Developed personal ministry goals
4. Match mentors with goals
5. Develop mentor eyes
6. maintain a teachable spirit
7. Continue to trust God for development

All of these are important, but they are not all easy to maintain. In the last fifteen years, I found myself struggling with these three things the most:

Developing a personal understanding of God’s direction. Terry Walling explains that it is important for the mentoree to know where he is going so he will be able to identify the mentoring needs. For the most part, I understand my unique calling or direction, but often I wait for a mentor to tell me which way I should go. I need to grow in this area and develop a personal understanding of God’s direction prior to my meetings with my mentors. I can trust their voice will help me on the path and correct me if I get off course, but I should not be so co-dependent upon them that I end up paralyzed without them.

Match mentors with goals. I have many goals in my life. I know that these goals need to be vetted out with the help of mentors. I could be better at finding mentors with specific skills or life experience to match up with my goals; this would better eliminate wasted energy and efforts to accomplish these goals. It may also help me understand if a goal should even be something I actually should pursue by helping me count the costs and not just making an emotional decision.

Developing mentoring eyes. Walling explains that developing mentoring eyes is to gain the skills that “recognize divine appointments and growth opportunities that God puts in the mentoree’s path.” More often than I would like to admit, I count some things are merely coincidental in my life. I do not always stop long enough to acknowledge God’s divine movement and placement of people, opportunities or circumstances that are there to form me into Christ-likeness. I need to increase my attentiveness to God’s actions in my life and bring these things before my mentors so we can talk about them and use these things as a basis for greater development.

The Impact of a Few Great Men

There are two great men that have had deep impacted my life: David Jones and Ken Murphy. I met both of these men as I started my journey into full-time ministry. Though they are different men, they have a few things in common: they both love the Lord with all of their heart; they prioritize family above ministry. They both intentionally seek to give away their knowledge for my improvement; they have made themselves available to me without hesitation. I am forever grateful for the impact they have had in my life.

Ken Murphy
Ken and I met when I was only 18 years old. He came into my life at a time when my theological foundation was being formed. I met him when I attended a young adults Bible study on the attributes of God. That study alone proved to formative of my perspective of God. In addition to that study, we met many other times and opened our Bibles. He helped me understand theological issues that have been important for my ongoing ministry. He also mentored my (now) wife and me through our dating relationship, engagement, and our wedding.

Nearly ten years later, we still meet approximately every two weeks as he mentors me in my calling as a pastor. He has served in the pastorate for twenty-five years. His wisdom and life experience have always added greatly to my life. He has never forced a perspective upon me. He has always been intentional to ask questions, guiding me through hard-to-navigate situations, and encouraging me to keep the Bible as the foundation of my life. A bonus to this relationship has been that his wife and my wife have grown close. This allows our families to interact and for us to see him and his wife raise their kids and see their marriage on display. While Ken teaches me many things directly, there are many things I learn from him indirectly through our informal times together.

David Jones
I met David Jones when I took my first pastoral job at Harvest Bible Chapel in 2006. David has dedicated his life to training up younger pastors. He was gracious enough to take me under his wing and include me in some of his trainings with other men who would eventually take a senior pastor role. I learned a lot from him by sitting in these formal contexts and studying ministry philosophy. This time was shorted by and unexpected move to Colorado. Before I moved away from Chicago, he called me and said he would like to maintain a relationship. Since then, he and I have talked on a regular basis. I often refer to him as my “preaching mentor” because he is the loudest voice in my life as it relates to my ongoing preaching ministry. He has helped me develop processes and paradigms for sermon preparation and sermon delivery. He also gives me access to his personal life, allowing me to see him in his role as a father and a husband. I have learned a lot from his godliness and his dedication to God’s Word. He continually encourages me to keep The Cross at the center of my life. He’s not afraid to give a firm rebuke if he knows it is necessary, but I always feel loved by him no matter how hard he pushes me.

Areas of Need

Mentoring will continue to be a practice in my life. I will never assume that I have arrived or do not have more to learn. At this point in my life, there are five main reasons I know I still need mentoring:

  1. Accountability. I know that I need the voices of smarter and wiser men to look into my life and call me to deeper holiness.
  2. Objectivity. Their objective perspective is needed to help me avoid mistakes and shore-up shortcomings so that I may reach my maximum potential.
  3. Goal-setting. I need to be stretched beyond what is comfortable.
  4. Attentiveness to God’s moving. Just as mentors can help me avoid blind spots, they can also help me see the work of God where I may lack the attentiveness or perspective to see it.
  5. Work and Family Life Balance. Ministry can be all consuming; I will trust my mentors to tell me when I’ve taken on too much and need to be more intentional with my family.

I love that mentoring is a part of God’s design. I plan to steward this gift with the utmost intentionality.

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Undone: God’s Redemption Plan for Reconciling People To Himself (Acts 10:23-48)

God has no partiality in who he saves and who he does not – so why do Christians so often act as if some people are not good enough for the Gospel? In this message, I unpack the way that God chose to save the Gentiles in the book of Acts. I believe  passages address one of the most important doctrine issues in the whole New Testament. Without this truth, we would not be welcomed into the family of God. Similarly, we must make sure we are reaching all people with the truth of the Gospel, trusting that He will save whoever He desires.

My Sermon Outline: Undone Preaching Outline

My Study Notes: Study Notes on Acts 10.23-43

 

10 Resources for Counseling Marriage Conflict

Young couple not communicating after an argument

Prepare and Enrich
Prepare and Enrich is a tool that was designed by Dr. David Olsen to help evaluate the health of a couple’s relationship. This tool can be used for premarital and marriage relationships. It is something that a counselor would administer and facilitate for the couple, allowing them to see what is happening behind the scenes in their relationship. It gives deeper insight to the counselor as to how they can help. I have used this tool for years in my counseling office and I love the way it helps couples find a clearer path to a healthier relationship.

6 Steps for Resolving Conflict in Marriage
When counseling arises in a marriage, it can be hard to know where to even begin to work it out. This resource from Family Life lays out 6 great steps for resolving conflict.

Worksheets for Couples
Handouts can be so helpful when counseling a couple. These worksheets can be taught in a session or given as homework. This site lists over 20 links to downloadable forms that can be given to couples or used in counseling to help with communication or conflict resolution.

100 Questions to Deepen Marriage Communication
I have found that many men do not know how to how or initiate a deep conversation with their wife. This is true for some women with their husband as well. One of the greatest ways I can help as a counselor is it to teach them how to ask meaningful questions. This page contains a list of 100 questions that can be asked of a spouse to engage great conversation.

Resources for Marriage and Relationships
This is a great page of many handouts and worksheets that can be used for counseling marriages. Many of these are from outside resources such as John Gottman and The Blessing with John Trent. I am always in need of great resources for marriage counseling and this page is a wealth of resources!

6 Couple Exercises for Increasing Communication
Guide Doc is a site dedicated to sharing best practices with healthcare and mental health professionals. There are many great resources on this site and this article is specific to provide 6 exercises that could be helpful for a couple to increase communication with marriage. These can be done on their own or with the counselor. This site also included a “Marriage Counseling Doc: How to Avoid Divorce” that has some other great resources within it.

How to take a time out (Video)
Conflict can be hard to sort through in a counseling office filled with hostility. In this video, a counselor demonstrates how he would teach a couple to take a time out when facing a hard decision or disagreement. This could be helpful for the counselor or could be played for the counselee as homework in-between sessions.

Tips and Tools for Healthy Conflict Resolution
Focus on the Family has been a trusted resource for many people for several decades. This page does a good job of laying out 7 steps that can be used when resolving conflict. The counselor could teach this or it could be a great resource to have the counselee read on his or her own and come back and discuss in the counseling office.

National Counseling and Conflict Resolution Centers
Family Life has compiled a list of national organization that can help people with conflict resolution. All of the contact information is listed for each organization, including a description of theory and services. This would be great if a pastor or counselor need to refer out for greater or more specific help with a couple.

Biblical Counseling Coalition – “Conflict Resolution Articles”
This page is a compilation of various articles from many different practicing counselors and pastors on the topic of conflict resolution. The different exercises, viewpoints and helps within this list can provide the breadth of expertise needed to help a couple with this topic in 5 sessions or less.

Is It Okay to Be Mad at God?

Anger is the aircraft carrier in the fleet of our emotions. Not only because of its massive size, but also its ability to do harm because from it proceeds a multitude of other feelings—grief, sadness, hatred, loss, horror, and doubt.

Anger in itself is not necessarily wrong. It is an emotion God has given us, but as with anything He has given us, we must not elevate it higher than Christ. If we allow our lives and hearts to be defined by our anger, we are worshipping at the altar of our emotions, not at the throne of God. As children, we expressed anger freely, first physically through crying and temper tantrums, and then, hopefully and with parental guidance, through appropriate verbal expression. As adults we learn how not to express anger and instead spend millions on drugs to anesthetize the inevitable pain of keeping it stuffed too long. If anger is suppressed it leaves us in a state of helplessness and usually leads us to avoid divine help.

When it comes to being angry with God, we really have only two choices:

  1. We can talk it out. We could express to Him how we feel (even if most of this conversations is filled with our screaming).
  2. We can sulk. In most instances, when we are angry with someone—even God—we avoid him all together. Sometimes it’s easier to pout and have a pity party than actually deal with the issue.

If we don’t deal with our anger head on it will rear its ugly head in some other way. This can be dangerous. More explosive. Only dig us into a deeper hole. Expressing our anger to or toward God is all a lot easier said than done, I understand. Most of us accumulate anger and resentment like a collection of bugs. At some point those feelings swell up, tip over, and spill into all areas of our life, creating a deep sense of bitterness for reasons we can’t even remember.

Anger is universal, but the ways we deal with it vary, and often it is our strategy for handling anger that is wrong, not the anger itself. Be honest with God about your anger. He is big enough to handle it. But then patiently wait for Him to be clear with you in return. He may be able to change your situation by simply changing your perspective.

Why You Need to Avoid Hypocrites Completely

Play

01.03.15 wolf in sheep's clothing post

Have you ever heard the phrase – “A wolf in sheep’s clothing?” It’s a statement that is often used to refer to people who are sly, tricky or deceitful. At first you may perceive a person like this to be harmless, but the closer you get to them, you find that they are out to devour whatever they can get a hold of.

In 2 Corinthians 11:1-15, Paul is warning “hey, the enemy is a wolf in sheep’s clothing – he is going to trick you into something that will ruin you in the end.” The Corinthian people were struggling with their faith in God because they believed false apostles – men who claimed to be speaking for God, but were actually speaking a lie.

Paul wrote to tell them to hold firm to the truth he had told them. He wanted them to know that even though these false teachers may look all right on the outside, they are corrupt on the inside. At the end of this passages he warned, ‘Even Satan can cress as an angel of light…but he’s still Satan on the inside.’

This is a good lesson for us to understand too. We must remember that the our enemy is crafty and will even use something that looks like the truth to trick us into living a lie. Be on guard. Don’t have a misplaced theology because it will lead to a misplaced hope.

Top 10 Internet Resources for Depression

01.02.15 depression resources

Biblical Counseling Coalition – Depression Articles
This site has an excellent list of articles, audio and video resources on the topic of depression. There are several different biblical counselors that wrote these articles, giving a variety of perspective and expertise. Tools and steps are included to help the counselor know where to start and how to set realistic goals for the counselee.

The Place of Hope Center – Help for Depression
The Place of Hope is a counseling center that has several specialties, one of which is counseling those dealing with depression. They use God-focused Christian counseling treatments to help a person overcome their depression. They can do their treatment in person or over the phone. The Place of Hope also offers a “Depression Evaluation” online and a copy of “Hope and Healing from Emotional Abuse” to all their counselees.

Article on “Understanding Depression”
This is a PDF article by Steve Lehrer that addresses the topic of depression and gives a clear biblical understanding of how to view it and deal with its causes. This is a resource for the counselor or the mature and astute counselee.

ACBC’s “How to Listen to Depression” Article
This article gives some practical insights and application for listening to a person dealing with depression. It also answers the question, “How does scripture conceptualize depression?” This is an important question that must be answered by the counselor that will be helping a person dealing with depression.

LifeWay Resource – Dealing with depression
This article gives 8 strategies for helping a person with depression. Though it is a brief article for this topic, it is weighted in its words. Practical insights are given, and the Gospel is clearly applied to the feelings of depression.

Article and Resources on for Depression
This is one of my favorite sites of all of the resources. I found on the web for depression. It gives a thorough and biblical explanation for depression, in addition to listing helpful websites, articles, and books on the topic. The symptoms and treatments are briefly addressed but extremely accurate.

Resources for Counseling Depression
A counselor that is dealing with depression should be looking for good books and resources on this topic to recommend to the counselee as needed. This list from the American Association of Christian Counselors gives four excellent books on this topic. This page provides a summary of each book so that the reader can choose which one is right for their context.

Therapy for Depression
Though this is not a stated Christian site, it has great resources for the counselor as to how to diagnose a person as depressed and what treatments may be needed. They also included many case studies of depression that may be helpful to compare to a situation of someone that may be dealing with it who is asking for help.

Understanding Depression (4 audio resources with documents)
Dr. Charles Hodges wrote an excellent book entitled “Good Mood Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder”. On this website, we are given four audio recording of messages Dr. Hodges gave on the topic of his book and how to help those dealing with depression or similar disorders.

CCEF Depression Articles
This is a list of articles and some audio resources from various network counselors that are a part of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. There are some great articles about dealing with this personally, helping someone deal with it and resources for those that live with a person in depression.