Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I Learned About Progressive Sanctification From Alcoholics Anonymous...(Sort-of)

The subject of this post is somewhat connected to the last...but from a different perspective. A couple of years ago I took a counseling class on "Addictive Behaviors in Family Systems." In it, I learned that many counselors believe that their job is not usually to take an "all or nothing" approach with those who come to them for help in overcoming an addiction (such as alcoholism). In fact, the client chooses for him-/herself what his/her goal will be...whether he/she wants to quit the behavior altogether, or just limit it in some way (how often, how much, etc.). The counselor, then, assists the client in reaching this goal.

How do I relate this concept to pastoral ministry? The correlation to pastoral counseling, especially in the area of addictions, seems obvious. But is it? Is it the pastor's duty to urge everyone to perfection immediately, or should some people be steered closer to Christ in incremental "stages"? (I've heard the idea that if the bar - of whatever expectation - is set high enough, people must continue to strive to reach it; however, if it is set too low, then they will feel no need to give it their best effort. I know many ministers feel compelled to take this approach to spirituality.) But, is a step in the right direction not a good thing? I think that, as ministers, sometimes we have misguided expectations of people...and even of ourselves.

Because the Bible affirms it, we believe that God sets free, heals and delivers people from all sorts of maladies. And most of us believe that He does so in two different ways: either immediately and once-for-all or, as we seem to witness more often, progressively ("God helps those who help themselves"). Perhaps this should inform the way we deal with people in our congregations and communities who desire to "do better" (whatever that may mean for them), but just can't seem to get it quite right.

If a person can take one successful step toward what we would consider "righteousness," then there's hope that he/she can eventually take another (ad infinitum), right? And besides...don't we take on Christ's righteousness and surrender our own at the moment of salvation, anyway? This, then, would seem to be the practical definition of progressive sanctification.

I came across a quote from Plato recently that seems to apply here quite nicely: "Never discourage anyone...who continually makes progress, no matter how slow." I can't recall an instance when Jesus did.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Overcoming Unfounded Condemnation

I'm reading a book for one of my classes right's called Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima. It is definitely one of the best books I have ever read. I'm finishing up chapter 17 right now, which discusses the Scriptural description of grace that frees us from the expectations of others. One of the Scripture passages discussed in this chapter is one that I have been looking at quite frequently lately, and I have felt like there is something there that I'm just not getting. After reading this chapter...I get it!! (The passage is Colossians 2:16-23.)

As Christians, we believe that the God we believe in has revealed Himself personally in Jesus Christ. If we really believe this, then we must view our relationship with God in light of what Jesus taught about Him. And Jesus taught that in Him we have freedom to live in right relationship with God without worrying so much about unbearable expectations and legalistic demands that are not Scriptural, but are placed on us by others.

Read this verse in light of this freedom:
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Imagine a holy life is not impossible and unbearable! Of course, the following comments from McIntosh and Rima should be kept in mind:

"Obviously there is a corresponding responsibility that comes with God's grace and freedom. We are not to exercise our freedom at the expense of another believer's spiritual well-being. We are not to use our liberty as a license to engage in unrestrained freedom that leads to sin. ...However, as long as we do not allow our exercise of freedom to lead to the violation of express scriptural prohibitions and principles or to cause the destructive offense of an immature believer, we are free to enjoy what God has provided."

I have spent pretty much my entire Christian experience in fear that I was falling short of God's and others' expectations of fear that God was waiting anxiously to send me straight to hell because I just can't seem to attain human perfection.... And in this, I think another Scripture is applicable, once again, to show me that all these unfounded expectations are not to be a burden to me anymore:

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).

God, help me to live according to Your expectations, as expressly stated in Scripture, and as revealed to me by Your Holy Spirit...and no one else's. Help me to grasp what it is to really be free in You. Help me to be free from fear...of failure, of disappointing You, and of not being able to accomplish what You have set before me. Thank You so much for Your wondrous love and GRACE!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Surrender

I went out to Shoal Creek for a little while this afternoon, and I was the only one there! It was so peaceful...there was a backdrop of rich fall colors and a cool breeze! I love the constant, heavy sound the water makes as it dives over the rocks.

As I sat there on the rocks (enjoying my Americano from
Starbucks!), I couldn't help but think about worship. I've been in
a "poetic" mood the last couple of days, and I was composing a poem in my head. My intention was not to share it with anyone; I was simply inspired to worship God in a creative way as I beheld His majestic scene before me.

It reminded me of David. I wonder how many times he sat under a tree, looking out at his grazing sheep, and composed songs for his God, the thought never crossing his mind that anyone else would ever be privy to his intimate words of worship. He didn't write them in order to make a living. He didn't even write them with the hope that others could identify and worship along with him. He simply poured his innermost being out to God with the most lovely words (or, in some of the Psalms we now have, in bitter anguish!) he could think of. And he never needed a marketing manager for his music. God shared David's songs with the world.

To me, worship is kind-of like floating in that calm pool of water just below the waterfall. The powerful noise and rock-shaping force of the water offers a sense of shelter and security, while the cool water around me lifts the deep things within me to the surface. I simply lie there and rest, and allow God to see my true self as it skims along the top of the water above me. What a safe, comforting place it is!

A couple of songs that came to mind today: Lincoln Brewster's "Surrender," and an old church chorus:
"Would you be poured out like wine upon the altar for Me?
Would you be broken like bread to feed the hungry for Me?
Would you be so one with Me that I can do just as I will?
Would you be light and life and love, My Word fulfill?"

God, let my life be a pure drink offering to You, like the translucent, gleaming white of the waterfall as it jumps from the cliff and surrenders its all to You!