Posted by: word4men | May 20, 2012

I am back!

Gee, it has been nearly two years since I posted and that is way too long, especially since the urge has hit many times in the last 2 years. I will update the blog on my life in general in approx 2 weeks. Still serving as a hospice chaplain in the Charleston, SC area and living in the metropolis of Moncks Corner.

Posted by: word4men | September 8, 2010

The Beauty of Marriage and Mourning.

Last week seemed to be starting wonderfully for me.  Tuesday I dropped in to visit a couple in my little Hospice congregation…Mr. and Mrs. B (the Mrs. is our patient) were celebrating their 64th anniversary.  I saw her and a friend sitting on the porch in downtown Charleston, not far from my alma mater.  She was beeming.  She was proud, they made 64 years.  More than that she was greatful to God that she and her husband had been given each other and weathered 64 years of joys, losses and crosses together.  They are a treasure.  Mrs. B quite often cannot get off a subject and the same few sentences in fact…about marriage, she always talks about believing her eyes, not her ears.  Oft times well meaning or not so well meaning friends plant unrest in couples, so she only believed about her husband what she saw!  64 years later they were beaming with gratitude as their daughter prepared a fried seafood dinner for them as she has for the last several years to celebrate the great day!

Then Thursday happened.  After a very strange 4 hours with a patient at the ER, I was called by our acting DON (just for a week) and wonderful Nurse  Ratchet, Sharon.  She simply said “Reverend and Mrs. T need you soon!”  I knew what that meant, though it took me by surprise.  When I arrived he had passed.  His dear wife lay on the edge of the bed cradling the dear man of God’s earthly shell.  52+ years.  He had led his family.  Protected and provided for his wife and children with a 40+ hour a week job while preaching and ministering to small churches in our area for decades.  His wife had shared with me the greatest compliment I have ever heard from a wife about her husband: “He made me a woman!”  And I thought that is why God created marriage.  That is the goal we should have has spouses.  To make each other into better men and women of God.  To help each other grow up.  Isn’t that the goal of all human relationships?  Even more so the relationship God created to reflect His relationship between Himself and the church.

Then this weekend, I realized that Monday would be the last day of a marriage of two people that are dear to me.  I actually took part in their wedding 13 years ago.  Everyone involved in that relationship are dear ones to me.  Its decline and ugly dissolution have gutted me as I see the damage done to the principals and to the children and friends they have had.  And I mourn over what was, what should have been and what most surely seems like the end of hope for this relationship and what should have been a lifelong effort to glorify God through the greatest of human relationships. 

Reflecting on Mr. and Mrs. B’s little party and the opportunity I had to pray to God our gratitude and seek more blessings upon their marriage, I cried.  But they were tears of joy and awe.  I surely hope Cindy and I will love and delight in each other when we are in our 80’s and 90’s.  That is beauty.  It is the way it was intended to be.

When I looked down on Mrs. T cradling her husbands body in a room crowded with people who looked upon the two of them as a blessing in their lives as the pastor and first lady of the church, as Godly parents, grand parents and uncles and aunts who went the extra mile, I looked into her eyes, touched her cheek and wept for her and her pain.  She is even 4 days later dealing with losses and crosses that seem too much for her.  She has spent the last several months caring for her husbands every need until her body and spirit began to break and she finally allowed a niece to pick up the slack.  I believe my dear Cindy loves me that much, and I pray that I love her that much.  God deserves that we love our mates as Mrs. T loved Pastor T.  That is beauty.

But my real mourning is for the 3d relationship.  One where hearts never melded.  One where love did not win out.  God was not honored.  I am close to this one.  Closer than those that I have seen beauty in.  I have seen selfishness, compromise with sin, self-defeating bargaining, extortion, and cruelty lurking beneath a plastic facade that I could see through 80% of the time or more.  I could see the children being twisted and still being twisted.  I could see one partner figuratively tossing all that was good in their life down the toilet to chase a false freedom into a bitter bondage to self.  I could see another incapable of leading his family or standing up to his partners demands for control.  And, I see this playing out in so many marriages that may never go to court.

If you are already married, dedicate yourself not just to your marriage, but to God, it is Him you glorify.  If you haven’t married yet, understand, you are the least important person therein.  First God, then your spouse and then your children you may be blessed with…you are best when you matter not at all.

Christ Alone.

Posted by: word4men | August 26, 2010

The Simple Most Important Message

http://www.competentcounseling.com/2010/08/25/must-watch-tv-the-gospel-video/

GOD’S HEALING for LIFE’S LOSSES by Robert W. Kellemen PH.D:  A Book Review by Greg Bailey, Chaplain, Serenity Palliative and Hospice Care, Charleston, SC

Most of you who know me or have read my blog before, or Cindy’s as we are “simu-posting” this review, know that I am a Hospice Chaplain.  Every day I am dealing with those who are grieving, usually in advance of their or their loved ones demise.  I will tell you quite candidly that I feel really confident dealing with folks considering their own death and those anticipating or suffering the initial pain of loss of a loved one…Well the rest of the story is that I am not so smooth or confident that God will guide me in good study, heart prep and that bit of intuition He acts in when dealing with those anticipatory losses and initial losses in the cases where I am dealing with those in real grief after the initial shock.  Honestly, all I know to do is sit there, often very awkwardly. 

Most counseling types, just as I was, are introduced to understanding mourning with a model fashioned by a psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  It was developed originally when she tracked those who had been given a terminal diagnosis by their MD’s.  Eventually, it was applied to mourning and all grief responses.  It goes in 5 stages:

Denial:  It is the shock reaction.  The loss is denied.  When the news of a loss or bad diagnosis is communicated, one might yell “NO” or say “are you joking?”

Anger:  Resentment grows and is frequently aimed at an authority figure…say God.  Angry questions follow and many times people will actually hear professing agnostics and atheists’ rail at God.

Bargaining:  We try to make a deal with Doctors and God.  “I will stop working 60 hours a week and running around if you will just heal/bring back my little daughter.”

Depression:  Reality has set in.  We admit we are dying/suffering a loss and oft times hit times of hopelessness.  This is a very dangerous step.

Acceptance:  We face our loss and try to figure out how to live now that it is happening/has happened and we know it in our hearts and minds.

It is a very helpful model, and though modern practitioners will qualify it; I will tell you from experience, that people will go through them, though they may recycle, go in slightly differing order or, unfortunately, sometimes get stuck in Depression/Hopelessness.  It is a good analysis of what people go through.  But soon during my 1st year of CPE I was caught in awe of the accuracy of the model, but knew it lacked something…it lacked God and real help for the “losses and crosses” one suffers in this world. 

Now, I can also tell you that it is very difficult to aid someone who is mourning.  The Counseling Class always tells us about everyone differences in how they do X… (experience anything) therefore you can’t treat anyone the same or push them through some sort of counseling or program; you must just wait on them.  There is a lot of truth there, but it is also true that in grief, we share so much.  And we all need one thing.  God’s unique ministry.  We need to know that in spite of our losses, God rules, God judges justly, all will turn out OK in the end.  And I believe we all need to know that the Ruler of the Universe and our Savior really cares about His individual people.  But what to do?  C.S Lewis is good, but not always accessible to folks, and well, not always to me.  When I quote him or share his insights, I always sound as if I am preaching.  The Puritans dealt with such, but again, I am not as sharp as to read, digest and apply them in spite of The Banner Of Truth Trusts’ great attempts.

Well, Dr. Kellemen has been given a unique Christian insight into “sufferology” and grieving.  As one who wanted to help but only seemed to have a mish-mash of secular observation about human nature and some meaty Biblical concepts I thoroughly embrace GOD’S HEALING for LIFE’S LOSSES.  It attacks the main problem I had.  By accepting in part Kubler-Ross’s model he has given helpers a framework to begin with that most of us received before we tried to understand how God’s Word was sufficient and efficient to teach and comfort and disciple and shepherd His people through all of life.  But as I said, he accepts it only as an observation of behavior, not as the way things must remain or should be.  One might say he just baptized a secular notion.  This is not so and he shows it.  Below is the heart of the book, a Biblical model of grieving with hope, the hope that comes only with the knowledge of the true God.  The God of the Bible , the God who “after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Biblical Sufferology

 

Sustaining in Suffering: Stages of Hurt

“It’s Normal to Hurt and Necessary to Grieve”

 

 Stage                                                    Typical Grief Response                                 Biblical Grief Response

 Stage One                          Denial/Isolation                                                                                Candor: Honesty with Myself

 Stage Two                          Anger/Resentment                                                                        Complaint: Honesty with God

 Stage Three                       Bargaining/Works                                                                            Cry: Asking God for Help

 Stage Four                         Depression/Alienation                                                  Comfort: Receiving God’s Help

 

Healing in Suffering: Stages of Hope

“It’s Possible to Hope and Supernatural to Grow”

 

 Stage                                                    Typical Acceptance Response    Biblical Growth Response          

                                               

 Stage Five                                          Regrouping                                                                                         Waiting: Trusting with Faith

 Stage Six                                             Deadening                                                                                                          Wailing: Groaning with Hope

 Stage Seven                      Despairing/Doubting                                                      Weaving: Perceiving with Grace

 Stage Eight                         Digging Cisterns                                                                                Worshipping: Engaging with

                                                                                                                                                                Love     

Each of these 8 stages is developed in a chapter with corresponding devotional exercises.  The stages are developed thoroughly from a Bible first mentality.  If you read through Kellemen’s points, with your Bible open you will end up saying, “Kubler-____who?  She must have raided the Bible but did not want to properly footnote, so she changed her outline a bit and left out the Biblical passages.”  If you just glance over this outline/comparison you will also see that much of what Dr. Kellemen has done has taken the human, unredeemed natural response, shown it as such and then directed the “bereaved” to God and his creation purpose, Worship of that God.  His trajectory is The Biblical ideal and I have yet to find any rabbit trails he has taken.

The second problem I mentioned…the awkward uselessness you feel when trying to aid someone in a deep mourning.  The uniqueness that all feel when going through a dark valley that leads mourners to feel self-pity and shortness with well meaning comforters.  Dr. Kellemen has attacked that also.  The book is made very accessible because he uses case studies to outline his Biblical stages, often of himself as he suffered through a great grief in his life…Oh, and it is largely to be a study or devotion for the bereaved to do on his/her own if needed.  There are many exercises to do at the end of each chapter, but he makes it very clear that they are not to be worked through rigorously as for a school assignment, but pick and choose those that speak to you and USE them to explore your emotions and thinking processes  and expose them to Biblical truth.    Instead of nervously trying to say the right thing, or fearing setting off an angry response, you can give the book to your patient/parishioner/loved one and be available to talk about what they have learned in the workshop of Bible study and prayer.

I doubt this is an inspiring review that will cause you to order dozens of copies and totally change your life with this offering…I don’t have that way with people and written words.  But, I am currently ministering to two recent widows and one spouse who has just hit the reality that her husband is headed to his Creator at an accelerating speed.  I am going to buy more copies of this book for them, and am talking to the local director of a Biblical counseling center and my pastor about ordering a few dozen for myself, another chaplain I know and for their ministries use also.  It is that helpful and that truthful.  My money will be where my mouth is.

Grace Alone,

Greg Bailey

Posted by: word4men | June 22, 2010

Are You Like Powder?

Another strange title, but appropriate once this little devotional thought is typed out. I hate to say it quite this way, but GOD told me to do this! I hate when I hear or hear of people saying “GOD told me to say…do…tell you to send a big check or I will grow a third eye” ad infinitum. It is often used to cut off debate of someone’s opinion or plan of action. After all, who would argue with a message from GOD? Well, quite often I do…What about you?
For some weird reason, I have had farming on my mind the last few months. More a fancy than something I would do…fantasy of being more self-sufficient when the great collapse of western culture and finances hits. Great plan, need to make it work sometime. I digress. I remembered a devotion I heard 20 years or so ago from a friend in FBC Clarksville, TN at a Bible Study I attended for my Sunday School Class. Basically, I drug myself there because good southern men fellowship with church friends more than they do with their business friends. Basically, I was an unregenerate, church going, hypocrite. But I remember Walter describing how the soil has to be prepared…plowed back on the West TN farm he was raised on (capitalize West as there are three states of TN; East, Middle, and West). He described a nearly weeklong process of plowing the soil using different tractor implements and oft times chemical fertilizer. If it rained during the prep time or just before you went from plowing to planting, you had to start over again. I can’t tell you why he used the illustration, but maybe it had something to do with this.
While sitting in the living room of a patient who has been particularly discouraged, we talked of the farm he grew up on, and the plowing illustration came up. Suddenly, the Parable of the Sower came to mind. I went to my little concordance in my NASB and found it in Matthew 13. I read the first several verses to him:
2And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. 3And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. 5″Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. 6″But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7″Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. 8″And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. 9″He who has ears, let him hear.”
And I then quickly explained verses 10-17 in my own little way. Basically, Jesus said he spoke in parables so that some would understand, and so others wouldn’t. Even John MacArthur agrees with me on that. But then I read the next verses as Jesus explains the parable.
18″Hear then the parable of the sower. 19″When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20″The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he (Q)falls away. 22″And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of (R)the world and the (S)deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23″And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some (T)a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
I don’t think it requires much interpretation. I know that “the word of the kingdom” is talking of the Gospel and the thrust of this passage is normally thought to explain regeneration and the growth of faith and discipleship in a person, but having thought on it, I saw another consistent application.
I told him of the series of family members Cindy and I have lost over the last few weeks, a minor stroke to her Dad and my Grandma, my Mom with a serious infection…etc. “John, I wonder if we are becoming good soil. It seems what the scripture is saying is that for us to hear and embrace GOD’s messages we have to be broken up and made soft. “Is this what is happening to us?” While hard and firm and strong we cannot hear our LORD’s words, but when He plows us up into a fine dust, then we can hear and be made use of.” We both sat and cried. We can’t know what exactly GOD wants us to hear, embrace and do, but we do know that He has purpose in our hardships. He loves His people and he…to quote a powerful political hack…”never let (s) a crisis go to waste.” He is at work in us. Breaking our hearts into a dust, not to merely humiliate us, but to make us humble. To make our hearts receptive so that the “word of the kingdom” will take root and we will bear fruit and “bring forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty.”
Are you feeling beaten? Plowed over and broken into powder. Despairing of your very life? Pay attention. Look for the seed; look for the “word of the kingdom.” Maybe your heart is being prepared to bear much fruit for GOD’s glory.
Grace Alone,
Chaplain Greg

Posted by: word4men | June 16, 2010

The Ramblings of One Seeking to Depend on God

An odd title for blogging at 0400 on a Wed morning. But, after two of the hottest days ever in the month of June in coastal SC, maybe I can just right it off as the effects of a minor heat exhaustion. However, it is descriptive.
It has been a difficult and challenging two and a half weeks. One of my patients began a precipitous decline; Cindy went to Florida to see her Dad, and he then had a stroke; after negotiating her new flight arrangements, my Mom called to tell me my remaining Bailey aunt had died that morning (this was all Sunday before Memorial Day); awoke to my screaming cell phone at 0500 to find a new patient I had never met had just passed…drive an hour to see the family, spend an hour and drive and hour back on very limited sleep; Mother 2 hours away catches MRSA (The Lord only knows how); lose two patients, including the fore mentioned dear gentleman in the dive two weeks earlier; I learn more about a dear one’s decline in life and the harm it is doing to others who are dear to me; then my Mom lets me know my dear Grandma has had a minor stroke and is hospitalized.
Wow! This is heavy. And it is scary. What really bothers me is I walk around barely acknowledging the loss and stresses I feel, yet, my body and mind feel the strain. Like waking up at 0345 and going on FB and then deciding at 0430 to make breakfast and coffee and blog. It is a sin/problem of mine. I spend my days largely probing at octogenarians to expose their deepest feelings to me so I can help them apply God’s word to them, and yet I act oblivious to the obvious stresses on me. Giving my dear wife short sentence and a half answers to her attempts to probe my heart and my worries. I thank my Pastor (PK) for his heartfelt calls and concerns, but quickly hang-up prior to balling my eyes out…mind you, anyone who knows me, knows I am no stranger or enemy of tears. But, I am finding myself evading the very things I need. Open introspection; comfort of loved ones and most importantly the presence of my Creator, Savior and Sustainer.
Many scripture come to my mind: Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 10:24-25 (don’t ask, this is a favorite that pops up all the time); I Peter 5:6-9; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. So many more. GOD isn’t so concerned about our comfort in a physical way, but I think it is obvious that He is very concerned with our spiritual and emotional comfort. After all, what do these scriptures have in common? The string tying them together that I see is GOD’s provision of hope in stresses and afflictions. His provision for comfort. First and foremost, HE is available to us and ever present help in times of tumult. HE cares. HE loves. HE speaks and HE holds. And when we feel far from HIM, HE provides people. People who seek to bear some of our emotional and spiritual burden. I know that bearing is real. I feel it daily. Carrying bits of others burdens. If we would just avail ourselves…If I would just avail myself upon HIM and those HE has given me.
“Dear Father, reduce my pride and self-reliance. The words of my mouth claim to depend upon you without ceasing, but the truth is often that I have not consciously depended upon you during the day. I have not asked and I have not waited upon you. I have seen you bring comfort to me in the form of loving brothers and sisters (and a sister whom you gave me to share my life with) whom YOU have put love for YOU and a love for me in their hearts. Dear Father, kill my pride before it does YOU dishonor. Praise you for your mercy and grace that appears new each day and that I so coolly attempt to dispense without appropriating it for myself. I have need LORD. My sins are great and only YOU can and will save me from sinking beneath their weight.”
AMEN

Posted by: word4men | April 13, 2010

Broken Cisterns, or Springs of Living Water?

 

There are times I am consumed by a Biblical thought.  This is one of those times.  A few weeks back my pastor (Pastor Ken Hardin-here after PK) was on his never ending quest to not leave a stone unturned in his Gospel of John series when he used a corroborating text from Jeremiah 2:13…well let us supply a bit of background.

Jeremiah, like Isaiah was prophetically preaching to Judah about its (their) sin and how God would use a foreign power to punish them.  Their sins were many, but the source of all the others and the most grievous was that they had turned away from Jehovah and had “God’s on the side.”  This led to open idolatry in worship and towards a preoccupation with material things at the expense of worship and at the expense of their fellow Hebrews.  To put it mildly, God was very unhappy.  Judah was at this time prosperous, but they did not give the glory to God.  Many had abundance, yet they didn’t share with their Hebrew brothers in need.  The crown and glory was that they simply turned from the God who had blessed them with the land, the law and during this time prosperity…more than that, he had selected their forefather Abraham from all the other pagans to carry the blessing of being God’s people.  And they like Gomer in Hosea, turned from the loving, benevolent husband they owed everything to, to empty gods that look like creation…that are made with human hands and thinking.

Enough said…you can see timeless application in this period of Israel’s history, in each society, in your own heart if you dare to look.

11“Has a nation changed gods
         When they were not gods?
         But My people have changed their glory
         For that which does not profit.
    12“Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
         And shudder, be very desolate,” declares the LORD.
    13“For My people have committed two evils:
         They have forsaken Me,
         The fountain of living waters,
         To hew for themselves cisterns,
         Broken cisterns
         That can hold no water.

The two evils strike me.  Always have.  We have forsaken the fountain of living waters for broken cisterns we create with our own hands…like our gods.  The Lord God is upset not only that we…or hmmph… Judah has turned to other pagan gods or even worshiped material things, but that we have forsaken Him and His covenant to trust in themselves.  As if they (or we) can created something that compares with what God the creator has made and promises to His people.  You see, God provides living water…this is running water, from a bubbling spring or quickly running brook.  It is cool and healthy; clean and refreshing.  And, it runs continuously.  It never stops.  A hiker knows to always fill a canteen from running (living) water as there is less chance of it containing contaminants.  The Hebrews knew this also, and running water was at a premium.  A cistern is just a holding vessel, hewn from stone…engineered to collect rain water or maybe water from a spring.  But it can’t make water.  And the water there stagnates.  If not used it will become a home for germs, algae and parasites or it may just evaporate away.  And did He mention, yes he did, that our cisterns are broken, the water simply leaks out into the dry ground.

If you are having trouble following this line of thought, let me make it practical.  God the creator of all things is ready to provide what you really need.  That is Him.  And as maker of all things He can and does provide all the “things” you have.  Yet, we humans wish to place turn to our own devices…cutting off our supply of “living water” (God’s presence) and trust things made with our own hands (broken cisterns….say sex, drugs, achievement, money, political power, relationship manipulation-it is a virtually endless list) to hold the limited “living water” we possess in our souls.  We could have an unlimited supply, but we limit it and let it pour upon the ground.  We waste our lives by trusting ourselves when Christ said:

            “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” John 7:37b-38

        Jesus…God the Son.  Promises not just to give us a drink, but to give us “living waters” that flow from our innermost being.  However, they are not there already.  We must go to Him and drink of Him.  Rely upon Him as we would water in the desert.  Satiate ourselves upon Him.  Trust Him to supply living water and trust Him to put it into our innermost. 

Why is this set of verses (Jeremiah 2 and John 7) important to me?  Why be “into” them for 3 weeks?  Why share them with my patients?  Why have this formless ramble about a symbolic 3,000 year old prophetic book at 2AM?  Because, I build broken cisterns all the time.  God has fed me upon His living water for 15 years or so now.  He has given me water that bubbles up from my innermost many times.  But, I still battle.  I still wish to trust in my own abilities, be the master of my ship, time and time again.  I seldom even notice it until it is done.  I think in my own strength, I plan, I minister, I serve my wife, I answer letters, all in my own strength.  And each time I see a bit of my life leak onto the dry dirt of a desert.  And each time when I see what I have done, and call out to God He resupplies me with fresh, brisk, living water…and then I notice it comes just when I need it, as if it is in me…as long as I depend upon Him.  Seek His face when serving my wife, when thinking, when planning my days, when writing a devotion.  Surprisingly, I have written this without the benefit of praying.  Actually, this is prayer.  You all (all two of you) have just been witnesses to my prayer.

Dear Father, break me of my quest for self-reliance.  Do not let me wander in the desert, thinking I have water in my cistern just over the hill, all the time it is leaking out into dry soil.  You are the source of all.  My one and only true master.  You bid me come.  Master I come.  I come to mortify my self-reliance and all the sin that it creates.  I come to worship You as You desire and command.  I come to love the brethren, and to love You so that my mouth cannot stop singing and speaking of your beauty, holiness and mercy before the dry and dying world.  Make me what you desire.  Use me as you desire.  Let me satiate myself in You and only You!

 20Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,

 21to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.

Amen. (Ephesians 3:20:21)

Posted by: word4men | April 2, 2010

A Godly Lady

Well it is after 1AM and after watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on TCM I still can’t go to sleep. Strange day today. Planned on spending it in the office doing paperwork for IDG (Interdisciplinary Group) meeting. This is where folks from all the disciplines get together with the medical director and discuss the patients. Do to some payday things and a scare from a patient it didn’t work out that way.
Tomorrow I will go to a funeral at noon. It will be held in a small Baptist church building downtown (peninsular Charleston), predominantly black congregation. The saint who has met her Master and Savior was 96 years old. She will no longer be hard of hearing or be concerned because she doesn’t enjoy food anymore and is loosing weight. She will no longer feel heartache for her lost children or her deceased husband who showed no signs of having a life-changing experience with Christ.
Mrs. G, all 90 lbs of her would greet me every two weeks with a confused look, and then a smile and then a serious look as she began a short sermon. “Denomination won’t save you! Baptism won’t save you, no particular church will save you! Only Jesus will save you!” In her aged voice, with her wagging finger, I thought I was in the prescence of a human, brown Yoda. But, her wisdom was always the same. And it was always true. It was the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your human achievement won’t save you from God’s wrath, your good works won’t counter the sins you commit and entertain in your heart, even submitting to baptism and joining a church will not save you. Only Jesus can bring you into the CHURCH. It was the same message over and over again, before I would read a scripture to her and lead her into a devotion, song or 3 and prayer. Why was it her only message? I think because she had learned in her 96 years that it was the only one that really matters.
I would like to think that in the last 2 months of her life that my visits brought her some comfort, some aid in worshipping God. I know that they challenged me, they aided me in my walk and ministry. I know I learned a bit about living and a bit about dying from a dear saint of God.
Precious in the sight of the LORDIs the death of His godly ones.
Psalm 116:15

Posted by: word4men | March 29, 2010

Superficial Healing and Leaky Cisterns

 

Superficial Healing and Leaky Cisterns
“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace Jeremiah 6:14
13″For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

Back in the late winter of 2002, I was a middle-aged CPE resident learning the ropes. For those who fortunately don’t know about CPE, it stands for Clinical Pastoral Education and is kind of’ like a residency or apprenticeship for Chaplains. It is normally administered one of two ways. In one iteration, seminarians and active pastors spend a few hours in the hospital or institution a week (for 2-3 months) visiting patients and taking part in IPR (group counseling) and Verbatim (relating specific experiences) and one on one time with their experienced chaplain supervisors. Always backing into blessings and the most challenging way of doing something, I did it the hard way. 60 plus hours in the hospital for a year (actually 2), with 2 “on calls” a week (staying in the hospital overnight and handling all the emergencies + general visits with the staff and patients should you choose).
I digress (and run on).
On this particular February or March night, as many in this time of year in SC, it was a cold rainy evening…around 8PM when the pager went off. It was the ER number, but with no overhead page and no special code on the pager, I knew it wasn’t a “Code Trauma” where the Surgery Residents and I raced to care for an incoming patient. Even so, I double timed to the back door and cut through the X-Ray Lab and into the ER. I was sent to a treatment room where Dr. H (one of the more interesting doctors I have met, and I know a lot) was feverishly pumping fluids and drugs into a man on the table all for naught. He asked me to go visit the family in the special waiting room and to ask about how they found him and that he would be out to talk to them soon. He had to call the “Code 3” and pronounce the man (I’ll call him Uncle Cletus) dead, at this time he had no idea why this man’s pressure and pulse could not be maintained. I gave him my typical question, “What can I tell them/what is safe to tell them.” His answer was, “At this time nothing. I will be there in a few minutes to tell them the outcome and glean information on the cause.” So I went out to go learn about the family (a group of nieces and nephews) of this late 50’s man who had apparently died of nothing.
Gingerly I ignored the dinosaur in the room (“how is Uncle Cletus) and got everyone’s name and relationship to the deceased and asked them to begin thinking about what they had seen when they found him and had anything strange been going on in his life recently. Just as I was feeling even more awkward, Dr. H’s came out and I introduced him to the family where he directly but gently told them that their uncle had died and that he honestly didn’t know why.
He asked them if he had been ill or taken any drugs recently. One nephew said, “His belly was giving him trouble. It did a lot, for years. He had been in the bathroom a bunch over the last two days. He would never go to the Dr. for it. He just took Headache Powders (Southerners know the name brand well)…sometimes several a day…headaches, body aches, stomach aches…he and his Headache Powders.”
I saw the light bulb go off in Dr. H’s head. “Tell me, would you know what his poop looked like today.” The same nephew looked perplexed, but then said, “Well, coffee grounds.” With that revelation Dr. H had all he needed. Uncle Cletus had a bad stomach, who knows why, but he was afraid of Dr.’s and did not seek medical advice or treatment. Since the Headache Powder did wonders on his head aches, he would take them for his stomach ache. It would hurt more, he would take more. Headache powders generally have two great ingredients that give relief to headaches quickly: a big dose of aspirin (and sometimes acetaminophen) with caffeine to open the blood vessels more and allow the medicines to get to the needed places quickly. Well, as most of us now know, aspirin can do a number on a gentle stomach. This gentleman basically killed himself. He had either exacerbated or developed a bleeding ulcer with his habitual use of aspirin and even as he was using them to try to relieve his pain, the hole in his stomach was growing and bleeding out as the strange droppings (clotting blood) was telling him. Uncle Cletus died because he only cared about relieving his symptoms, not the cause of his pain.
Every time I hear the above references from Jeremiah, I think of Uncle Cletus. I used it once in a sermon to introduce Acts 17:16-31. As I have read and posted Bob Kelleman’s discussions of the new iteration of the old assault on the church, and as my pastor continues to bring our church the truth of Christ from The Gospel According to John (we are on Chapter 16 after a faithful 2 years). I am reminded that as humans, we only want superficial healing. We don’t want GOD or anyone else to rip the sin out of our hearts and turn our lives on end, we want Him to remove the external tumor (without a nasty scare), but we don’t want Him to do something invasive. As a friend of mine would say in psychological terms, “We don’t want a new life, we ask Jesus just to make a little adjustment here and a little adjustment there. I am really alright. He isn’t content with a filthy heart and a clean outside. He is going to raze the house and start again.”
We repeatedly look for these little adjustments and superficial healings and all the time they are draining us to the point of death. Reputation, sensual pleasure, jobs, money, et al. are the cisterns we trust to raise our self-esteem. We know that we have a real problem that transcends the hole in our stomachs, or the hernia ting disk, or the bump on our nose or even the lack of love we feel from someone we care for. We take all our effort and emotion and place them in leaking cisterns. The most valuable thing we have (our very soul) we trust to something of this world that will not satisfy and will waste our self by spilling it on the dry ground.
And all the time Jesus; not Jesus the community organizer, moral teacher and supreme example; but Jesus the Son of GOD who lived a normal human life perfectly, who performed signs and wonders, whom the people loved until He spoke truth to them, who died on a bloody cross for those people whom the Father gave Him. The Jesus who rose on the 3d day and ascended 40 days later to the right hand of the Father. Not the Jesus who didn’t judge anyone by the law, but the one who explained that the law applied not to just what people saw, but to the inner state of our hearts. {Forgive this really poorly punctuated paragraph, but you will get it I hope.} This Jesus bloody Jesus stands before us saying:
1″Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
2″Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
Isaiah 55 (see John 6:35ff)
Please, if you know you are without Christ, seek out His claims and weigh them. If you are in the church, search your heart and see if you really are seeking or have had the tumor hardening your heart removed, or are just looking for cosmetic surgery. Treating symptoms has some value, but not if the heart of the problem is ignored. An aspirin cannot do what only the Great Physician was intended to.
Grace To You,
Chaplain Greg

Posted by: word4men | March 22, 2010

The Jesus of McLarens “A New Kind of Christianity”

As Robert points out, the view of Christ in Brian McLaren’s view is defective and one sided, he sees him not as God and not as performing the work the Apostles would attribute to Him, but only as an inspired man who was a great example and well, a community organizer of a type. He has in his anthropology seen man’s greates enemy as not his own sin, but only the sins against him…God seems to be largely uninvolved. Yet the NT and OT make it clear sin is our foe and is 1st and foremost an insult to the God who created us. We are rebels against a kind and loving King. The quote by Pennington, the formerly enslaved pastor is poignant and at the heart of the REAL GOSPEL.
A Conversation about Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity
Responding to Brian McLaren’s Question # 4: The Jesus Question
Welcome: You’re reading “Part 6” of my blog series responding to Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity (read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5). Many have engaged Brian’s thinking by focusing on a systematic theology response (visit here for a boatload of links). My focus is on pastoral theology or practical theology. As a pastor, counselor, and professor who equips the church for biblical counseling and spiritual formation, I’m asking: “What difference does our response to each question make for how we care like Christ (biblical counseling) and for how we live like Christ (spiritual formation)?”

Jesus: A Community Organizer

Early on, Brian asked, “What are the deep problems the original Christian story was trying to solve?” For Brian, the deepest problem is not original sin and relational separation from God. He says the “Fall” is not a fall into sin, depravity, and alienation. Rather, Genesis 3 narrate a “compassionate coming-of-age story” (p. 49). Specifically, Genesis depicts humanity’s movement from hunter-gathering to agriculturalist and city-dweller (p. 50).

It’s against this backdrop that Brian asks, “Who is Jesus and why is he important?” Brian’s clear on who Jesus is not. In the Gospel according to Brian, Jesus did not come to address and remedy the Fall so that we could avoid eternal condemnation due to original sin (p. 128). By eternal life, Jesus is not promising life after death or life in eternal heaven instead of eternal hell (p. 130).

In two chapters, covering sixteen pages, and using over 8,000 words, Brian never once calls Jesus God; never calls Him Savior, and never mentions His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection in a salvation-from-sin context. However, Brian does save enough words to talk about “his loyal critics” eight times.

When Brian quotes John 1:29 about Jesus being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, he interprets it to mean not the sacrificial lamb of Leviticus, but the lamb slain in Exodus to liberate people from oppression. The one time Brian mentions Jesus’ death and resurrection, he makes it mean liberation from physical oppression, not from spiritual condemnation. “Jesus and his message have everything to do with poverty, slavery, and a ‘social agenda’” (p. 135). Everything? Really?

For Brian, Jesus came to save us from the sin of oppression, not to save us from the oppression of sin. Read that again. Slowly.

In Brian’s new kind of Christianity, Jesus is our example who models the way of peace. He is a liberator of the oppressed. He is not our Savior from Sin. Jesus is…a community organizer.

Is this a new kind of Christianity or is it the old kind of liberalism? H. Richard Niebuhr aptly described it in 1959, explaining that liberals believe that, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

Practical Implication # 1 for Biblical Counseling: Our Greatest Problem Is the Oppression of Sin, Not the Sin of Oppression

Of course, the ultimate practical implication is clear—we’re going to die in our sins with this “Jesus.” I’m struggling to write anything else in today’s blog post. What’s left to say? However, my self-chosen task is to respond with a biblical counseling perspective to Brian’s handling of each of his questions. So I shall continue.

In my book Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, I quote ex-enslaved African American Pastor James W. C. Pennington. Reflecting on his conversion, he seamlessly expresses his understanding of suffering and of sin. Without minimizing for a moment the evils of slavery, he maximizes for all eternity the horrors of his own enslavement to sin and Satan.

“I was a lost sinner and a slave to Satan; and soon I saw that I must make another escape from another tyrant. I did not by any means forget my fellow-bondmen, of whom I had been sorrowing so deeply, and travailing in spirit so earnestly; but I now saw that while man had been injuring me, I had been offending God; and that unless I ceased to offend him, I could not expect to have his sympathy in my wrongs; and moreover, that I could not be instrumental in eliciting his powerful aid in behalf of those for whom I mourned so deeply.”

Our deepest problem is not our emotional woundedness for which we need a therapist. Our deepest problem is not our societal oppression for which we need a community organizer. Our deepest problem is our personal, willful, relational, stubborn, spiritual rebellion against God for which we need a Savior.

Practical Implication # 2 for Biblical Counseling: Even in Facing Suffering (Being Sinned Against), Our Greatest Need is a Suffering Savior

Let’s be clear. Christians should be concerned about social issues, social justice, the needs of the poor and the oppressed. But that’s not the social gospel. The social gospel is no gospel at all—it removes the need for a Savior from sin because it removes sin. Christians practice a Gospel-Centered concern for social issues, believing that our ultimate problem is sin and that those rescued from the sin problem gratefully share the good news of salvation from sin and compassionately meet the needs of the hurting, suffering, wounded, and oppressed.

Let’s also be clear that truly biblical counseling deals both with the sins we have committed (practical implication # 1), and with the evils we have suffered (practical implication # 2). As I frequently say, we live in a fallen world and it often falls on us. That’s why I wrote God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting.

However, even in a biblical sufferology (a biblical theology of suffering), our greatest need is a crucified, resurrected Savior. The Apostle Paul did not want the believers in Corinth to be ignorant of the suffering he endured in Asia Minor. So he candidly shared his heart, explaining that he despaired of life and felt the sentence of death (2 Corinthians 1:8-9a).

Paul doesn’t stop there. He continued. “But this happen to us so that we might not rely upon ourselves, but upon God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9b). The casket of suffering draws us to the empty tomb of our resurrected Savior.

Do we really want to help the oppressed? Do we have deep compassion and empathy for the suffering? Do we have hearts that long to comfort the hurting? Then for goodness sake, don’t practice identity theft on Jesus! Don’t make His eternal existence, life, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, present intercession, and future return simply be about “Jesus meek and mild” the community organizer!

Rev. Pennington got it right. The enslaved, the hurting, the wounded, and the oppressed first and foremost need a Savior from sin. Then they can find healing hope by celebrating the resurrection of their loving, forgiving, reconciling, redeeming Savior. Biblical counseling deals thoroughly with suffering and with sin through a Christ-centered focused on Jesus the God-man. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

The Rest of the Story

In our next post, we explore the gospel question. Brian asks, “What is the gospel?” We’ll respond to his gospel presentation through the lens of biblical counseling and spiritual formation.

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