7 Ways Your Car Can Remind You of the Essentials of Emotional Health.

When I see clients, assessments for anger, depression, anxiety, the unexpected, self-care, and the past proceed continually. Sometimes it is helpful to have a constant visual to remind us of the essentials of our mental and emotional health. If you are like me, you drive every day. We often spend hours in our cars and other vehicles every week.  For what it is worth, here is a brief overview of how your car dash can remind you of the essentials of emotional health?

  1. Speedometer – How fast am I going in life? Should I slow down a bit or do I need to pick it up in an area?
  2. Heat gauge – How are my anger levels? I need capacity for anger for courage, but is it getting a little too hot in here? If so, how can I be cool on the inside – to be emotionally regulated?
  3. RPM’s – How is my anxiety level? Anxiety can be good, I need capacity for anxiety for essential tasks and deadlines. Is my “engine” revving into the red more days than not? If so, that may be a danger zone.
  4. Gas gauge – How is my self-care? Am I running on empty? Should I ‘pull over’ and fill back up? If so, how do I fill up? What is meaningful to me? How can I reconnect to beauty? If I am neglecting my spiritual life, what can I do to replenish it?
  5. Check engine light/warning lights – Life happens! What unexpected things should I address? Do I need to seek professional help to make sense of, or find meaning in, the unexpected?
  6. Rearview mirrors – Though I keep my eyes on the road 99% of the time, I need to remain aware of what is behind me. Is there anything from my past I need to turn my attention to so it does not sneak up on me?
  7. Odometer – My mileage. Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark? Marion says to Indiana Jones, “You’re not the man I knew ten years ago.” Indy replies “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.” Absolutely true! How’s my ‘wear and tear?’ Am I taking care of my body by eating healthy, with proper exercise, taking my medication as prescribed, and getting adequate sleep?

This is just a brief, fun and easy way to remind ourselves of some essentials of emotional and mental health. What would you add? Leave a comment below and let’s learn from each other. Thanks for reading!

I Was Mistreated!

Have you ever said that? Everybody has been treated unfairly. However, there are some types of unfair treatment that go beyond what is considered normal. We call this abuse. And yes, abuse is very unfair.

Abuse is about power and control and can take many forms. Abuse can be physical, mental, sexual, emotional, or even spiritual. At its core, abuse involves exerting control and power over others. Abuse is the opposite of protection, which involves using strength to help the weak. Abusers are often very manipulative.

The abuser often expresses remorse for what he or she has done. However, an abuser is often triggered by tension. This means they are likely to abuse again. This is not the victim’s fault. This is the act of another person, it is his or her choice to abuse.

So let’s bring this back your way.

If you have been abused, you may experience a number of feelings. You may experience what is called ‘hypervigilance,” which is experiencing sensitivity to situations which do not pose a real danger. This may be very confusing, but it is common in trauma, especially severe forms. You may experience vivid dreams. You may feel as if you were removed from your body, called ‘derealization.’ You may experience flashbacks, which are not simply memories. Flashbacks feel as if you are re-experiencing the trauma. This can be very frightening, and it does NOT mean you are going crazy. It means your brain and body were overwhelmed by such hurtful and/or shameful actions that it produced a shock to your system.

What next?

First of all, get safe! If the abuse was a crime, report it to the authorities. Once you are safe, seek out a trauma recovery center. You may need to be physically evaluated. Posttraumatic stress is very treatable. The most important thing is your recovery. If this is you, please seek out help as soon as you can. There is hope for you!

Taking Every Thought Captive – What does it mean?

Judy approaches her friends at church and reveals that she is struggling with persistent doubt and depression. She tells them she reads her Bible every day, prays, attends church, and serves others. “But the thoughts keep intruding” she confesses. One of her friends gently takes her by the hand, looks into her eyes with great concern, and says “Judy, you just need to take those thoughts captive and make them obey Christ.” The people in the circle nod in agreement and Judy politely thanks her friend. They pray together and then continue with the church activities. Judy goes home feeling much better. Later that afternoon, the depressive thoughts return in earnest. Judy is perplexed. Didn’t she and her friends “capture” these thoughts? Why are they back? Judy’s faith is strong and her friends mean well. But she cannot comprehend how to “capture her thoughts” which have plagued her for years. “Where in the Bible is this passage again?” she asks herself. She googles the words and re-reads 2 Corinthians 10. There it is in verse 5 “we take captive every thought and make it obey Christ.” “Maybe I’m just not there yet,” she says to herself.  Judy retires for the evening discouraged, praying for a peaceful night.

It’s often heard, when the church is addressing an individual’s thought-life, intruding or perverse thoughts, or even mental health, that he or she must “take every thought captive.” The King James translation employs the wording “Casting down imaginations” in the same interpretive context as above; a personal mental battle. Is this what Paul taught?

If the Apostle Paul is teaching we are to somehow capture our personal thoughts and make them obey Christ, in an individual context, he chose not to explain how.

Please notice the verbiage ‘what Paul taught’ and not ‘where we get the teaching.’ These are often two different approaches. When we examine doctrine, we must ask “is this what the author is conveying?” One of the first rules of hermeneutics is ‘if it did not mean it to the author, it does not mean it now.’

Let’s examine Paul’s context. Paul was a intentional and precise author. It is important to follow the progression of his writing. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul teaches about the gifts of giving, the confession of the gospel, and thanksgiving. In chapter 10, vs. 2, Paul begs the Corinthians that when he is present with them, he will “…not need to be bold with the confidence by which I plan to challenge certain people who think we are behaving in an unspiritual way.” Notice his tone; Paul is about to speak of spiritual confrontation. The tone in scripture is relevant to the context.

Let’s outline 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 to help us examine Paul’s progression…

  • We do not wage war in an unspiritual way (or wage a physical war.)
  • The weapons of our warfare are not worldly.
  • The weapons we use are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds.
  • We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God.
  • Taking every thought captive to obey Christ
  • We are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience has been confirmed.

Notice the confrontational tone of Paul’s words. Directly surrounding “taking every thought captive” are “we demolish every high-minded things against the knowledge of God” and “we are ready to punish disobedience.” The word “thoughts” is not alone; Paul prefaces it with “every high-minded thing.” Battling personal mental struggles or negative self-talk does not appear to be Paul’s intent here. Such an interpretation, as well intentioned as it may be, would be foreign to Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians 10. 

Let’s examine I Corinthians 10:5 in the New Living Translation; “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” This translation is in context with Paul’s spiritually confronting language here. Paul does not appear to be saying “when you are facing negative or perverse thoughts, take them captive and make them obey Christ.” Rather, Paul’s progression looks more like this.’

“We are in a spiritual battle, so we don’t fight in a physical way. As believers in Christ, we engage people in a spiritual manner and, through the Spirit, demolish popular godless arguments and so-called ‘high knowledge’ opposed to the gospel. We, through the Spirit, capture these prevailing mindsets and bring them to the truth of Christ in obedience. Because of this, we are qualified and ready to punish disobedience, because the truth is crystal clear.” 

I believe Paul is speaking of engaging a godless culture with the truth, and teaching it to obey Jesus Christ. He does not appear to be teaching an individual how to chase down and capture his or her personal thoughts. This passage is closer to the Great Commission than how to manage mental struggles. 

Paul writings, and other scriptures, do address individual and corporate thought-life.  Consider Romans 12:1-3 “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.” Transformation takes place by the renewal of the mind. The renewed mind can discern the will of God and think sensibly. When Paul speaks of the mind, he is practical, not merely theoretical.

This blog post is meant as an encouragement to all who read. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our mind, as well as our hearts, souls, and strength – Mark 12:30-31. What if the key to defeating intrusive thoughts was not some attempt to chase them down, capture them, and force obedience? What if the key is to love God with our mind?

In closing, having mental and spiritual peace is not abstract and theory. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, gives another practical exhortation concerning our thoughts. Notice the progression; Paul encourages the believers to dwell or meditate on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and morally excellent, or worthy of adoration. Then consider the challenge of doing what they have learned, received, heard, and seen in Paul.  The God of peace will be among them, personally and corporately. The key here is dwelling, meditating, and thinking on the things of God and practicing lives based on such things, both for personal peace and for the encouragement and example to others. What God teaches is achievable.

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 HCSB

God bless you, and thanks for reading. Comments welcome.

Reuben

My Creed in Counseling

I believe God spoke the earth, universe, and animals into existence. God called His creation good, but He did not pursue it. He walked among creation, but it did not enjoy fellowship. His creation could not disobey, disappoint, grieve His heart or deny His existence. Yet His creation could never love and enjoy Him. There was a gap.

His image was nowhere. His breath of life was absent from everywhere but Himself. God spoke creation into existence from His throne yet crafted mankind with His hands in the dirt. Imageo Dei. God breathed into man the breath of life and became a living soul. Unique! Fellowship! Risk? Mankind did what the rest of creation could never do, rebel. Heritage lost. Desolation reality. Shame and hiding. Dignity darkened. Disorder. There was a gap.

Pursuit. Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead. He sentenced Himself instead of us. Love. He pursues, the final step is ours; “Come to Me. I will dine with you.” See Mephibosheth, a man of low self-worth, crippled in both feet, living in fear, and a family history of trauma. Yet he was carried to the king to dine with him for the rest of his days – a renewed history begins. Grace. Advocacy? Dignity restored. Order. Better than the Garden. Our heritage. This is my creed.

I feel small. Why would a Christian choose clinical counseling? Perhaps we know what it is to be pursued. Now involved in the pursuit. Learning the nature of God and the nature of man and bringing the two together. Advocacy. We stand in the gap. This is my Creed.

Why learn theory? Why practice helping skills? Why join the victim? In all theory is truth. In all skill is His creativity. In the victim is a longing for peace. We stand between joy and depression, peace and anxiety, psychosis and clarity. The Wonderful Counselor pursues, is this not His image? He still wants His hands on us for He is the Potter. We work along with Him. This is my creed.

Mercy For A Madman

Mark 5:1-20 HCSB

Mark 5:1-5 is a graphic depiction of the darkness at its worst in a human. Our context: Mark was a master at constructing context in his Gospel. In chapter 4 Jesus deals with the point of parables (speaking in mystery, hyperbole and stories to expound on God’s Kingdom – these truths are for those with “ears to hear” and explained to those closest to Jesus.) Three times in 4:35-41 we read of those around Jesus as fearful/terrified. Jesus calmed the storm and their fear was transferred from the storm to the awe of Christ’s power.

In the beginning of chapter 5 Jesus calms a more significant storm…

I – A Description of Darkness – This story highlights the “bullet-points” of evil and darkness.

Darkness (sin, rebellion, disobedience) is… Self-destructive (vs 5) Abusive (vs 3) Lonely (vs 5) Filled with a hollow cries (vs 5) Frightening to others (vs 4) Had a history of danger (vs 4) Even fearful of God! (vs 7)

II – Jesus and the Darkness meet face to face

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and knelt down before Him. 7 And he cried out with a loud voice, “What do You have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You before God, don’t torment me!” 5:6-7 This meeting is evidence of the Lord’s mercy (which is credited with this deliverance in vs 19) Jesus and the demon possessed man were face to face – right where possessed man needed to be – he was now exposed to the light after so long in utter darkness When someone is in darkness they need the light – though this will be often uncomfortable (“don’t torment me”) – this now happens by presenting the gospel to them w/ truth, wisdom and love.

It is interesting the tormented one (or rather he as under the control of demons) was afraid of torment from Christ – harkens back to Genesis 3:9-10 “So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

When Jesus comes to us, even in correction, it is for our good

Jesus asked his name, which was Legion, meaning there were many, many demons in this man. The point isn’t the number of demons – and it is certainly not teaching we should have conversations with them (this was narrative – not a teaching passage). The point was this man was in utter darkness and thus had relinquished control of his life to satanic forces. He was absolutely lost and in need of deliverance.

III – One Miracle – Two Messages

The demons begged Jesus to cast them into the pigs – the demons had some fear of being thrown into the abyss (perhaps the abyss or pit in Revelation 9:1) Jesus cast the demons out of the man and they entered about 2000 pigs who immediately ran over a cliff and drown. – The majority of the people ran Jesus out of town because of an economic hit Notice also of the fear which grips witness to the calming of the sea and the man in his right mind (Mark 4:41 and Mark 5:15) – The delivered man evangelized (told every one of the Lord’s mercy)

Mercy for a Madman

This isn’t a “how to” on exorcisms – Mark isn’t giving us step-by-step instructions on how to cast demons out of people – or how to speak to demons. The context surrounding this passage deals with Jesus power over seemingly uncontrollable situations from storms (4:35-31) to death (5:35-43), hemorrhaging (5:34).

Mercy is God’s restraint – this man did not deserve love, he deserved judgement.  Mercy was the motivation for Jesus.  Rest assured, His motivation concerning you is mercy – He is not desiring that you should perish but for you to experience the gift of repentance and mercy (John 10:28, 2 Peter 3:9)

Like this man – we, or our loved ones, may be out of control, hurting ourselves or others.  Controlled by compulsions which are only after our destruction (the 1st thing the pigs did was kill themselves – this is evidence of evil’s ultimate goal when there is no restriction.)

No matter how you got in your mess, or how dark it is, Jesus desires to set you free.  Call out to Jesus right where you are, right now, as well as get help from a trusted Christian resource.  Today can be your last day of madness.  When your mess and Jesus meet – the darkness and madness are driven from you, and you are left at peace and promised His loving presence at all times. 

Listen to Mercy for a Madman, download the presentation in PDF, Keynote, and PPT as well as the Presenter notes here: http://j.mp/MercyForAMadman

Here are the Presenter Notes in Google Doc form (which may be updated over time): http://j.mp/MercyForAMadmanDoc

Book Review: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth

Book Review
How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth Book Review. 3rd Ed.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003

“Just read the bible and do what is says!”. Good advice, yet quite incomplete. How does one read the Bible? Is it read like a novel? Like a history book? Like a list or rules? Do we pride ourselves on a literal reading? If so, are we to build parapets around the roofs of our houses as Deuteronomy 22:8 demands? Do we feel as though the Bible is a templet for our pet doctrines? Are we free to ignore sections at will? Does the God of the Bible hold us accountable for these decisions?

So, the burning question is how do we read the Bible? The Bible is like no other book in history, yet it contains many known genres. It is more widely read than all other written works, and for good reason. It has impacted the course of history like no other work before or after it. Because of this monumental question, we have books such as How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Douglass Stuart and Gordon D. Fee.

The world at large, and the church specifically, hold the Bible in a special regard. Both those who are converted to Christ and those who are not are often familiar with certain stories and passages. The language of the Bible has worked its way into our everyday vernacular. Because of these and other reasons, there is a wide variety of views of the Bible. People often do not know the difference between reading the book of Job (a book so ancient, it has no reference to the Law) and Romans. In Job, we are rejecting good advice from poor comforters and in Romans we are receiving all the advice given! Stuart and Fee have written How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth to address these issues and to help guide all who are serious in properly reading and interpreting the Bible. One would be at odds to name a more important study skill.

The way the book is constructed is immensely helpful in aiding the purpose of the authors. How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth wisely begins with the addressing the need of interpretation. People often do not realize they already interpret anything they read. Would you read the newspaper the same way you read a heart-felt poem? Of course not! One cannot simply read the Bible completely devoid of interpretation. The authors make a valid point: you are interpreting anyway, you might as well interpret correctly.

From there, the book then goes from help in choosing a translation to a systematic process of how to read each Bible genre. I particularly appreciate the book’s structure, which is very easy to follow. Stuart and Fee address how to read the Epistles, the Old Testament narratives, Acts, the Gospels, the parables, the Law, the prophets, Psalms, Wisdom and finally Revelation. Of course, these could be further broken into sub-groups, but these include nearly everything found in scripture. These literary genres are also often tied to one another and may go from genre to genre in a single book (or chapter!). When one masters the skills in how to read each type, it’s smoother sailing.

I believe Stuart and Fee did achieve their goal in guiding the reader to a fuller understanding of Bible interpretation with this book. This is conditional on the reader following the guidelines of course. For an example of such guidelines, we should attempt to grasp the text as it was written “in their town”, or exegesis. The task of exegesis is outlined in a way anyone can understand the subject. “Exegesis is the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning” (Kindle location 385).

We read a passage, was it poetry? Was it a list? Was it hyperbolic? Did Jesus really want us to gouge out an eye or cut off a hand? He said to do so in Matthew 5:29-30 if the offending eye or hand causes one to sin. What is the price of a literal interpretation when it was not meant as such? It this case it could be a limb! In fact, the hyperbole Jesus was using was much more powerful than a literal interpretation. Reading the Bible with the correct mindset, and submitted to the Holy Spirit, brings liberation as apposed to the bondage of false belief.
Another very important point How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth drives home is the all-important subject of context, namely, the literary context. This is mentioned throughout the book. This means “first that words only have meanings in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part only have clear meaning in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences.” (Kindle location 458). Without grasping what context really is, one cannot correctly interpret scripture, much less skillfully apply it the way God intends.

Personally, I tend to agree with the authors of How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth and nearly every point. I have actually read the book twice and find it to be incredibly helpful in my own devotional reading as well as sermon/lesson prep. They do tend to take some hard stances on the book of Revelation which I would personally tread lighter, but with Revelation, that is to be expected at times. They see the great city as Rome for sure. Rome is only mentioned in Acts (the last 1/3 or so of Acts is dedicated to Paul’s trek to Rome), Romans 1:7, 15, 15:22 and 2 Timothy 1:17. This is only minor and they are probably right.

I would heartily recommend How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. In fact, when I first read it about 3 years ago (an earlier edition), I was already recommending it to many people. The second reading was only richer and more rewarding. The parables and proverbs took on a whole new life and I tried to view them (as best I could) as those who heard them for the first time. The puzzling laws in Deuteronomy became examples of God’s care and His desire for the Israelites to be set apart from pagan practices. The dragon and locusts of Revelation were not longer simply enigmatic monsters in my mind.

I would recommend How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth to anyone (professional minister or not) who desires to learn the skills of proper Bible interpretation. There are many books on this subject, yet this particular work as gained notoriety for it’s logical sequencing, easy to understand language, and tried-and-true hermeneutical techniques.

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