The Gates Are Open

May 2014

Theology Land Excursions 5-26-2014

Posted on May 26, 2014

People wonder at times why I like investigating Theology so much. Before mentioning why, there are a number of reasons why I DON’T do it:

  1. I like to pick theological fights (I really don’t)
  2. I like discussing things more than doing them (once again, nada)
  3. I feel superior discussing concepts with multi-syllabic words like “antedeluvian, Complementarianism, supralapsarianism, gobbledeegookism”. (That last one is not real…yet).

But, at its best, Theology represents an outward expression of that deep, intimate, Holy Spirit-led walk with Jesus and puts names to experiences and yearnings that we all have but struggle to describe.

And if you aren’t allowed to discuss these things intelligently, then our minds turn to mush. Oh wait, that does happen. Even the Apostle Paul, speaking of men and women who disagree with each other in the church: “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” (1 Cor. 11:19). Fortunately, even that verse is in the context of Paul’s disapproval of trivial divisions in the Body of Christ. 

We have false teachers around. There are many false teachings as well. It is only in the fair and respectful exchange of ideas that we can discern who is speaking from God and the Bible and who is not.

That’s why I love Theology. It can help you tell the difference between the Truth and the non-Truth. Hopefully the Spirit of God will help us even more than our knowledge of theology.

With that explanation, here are some wise and thought-provoking theological essays of the past few weeks on the Internet.

Best Question: Greg Boyd asks how a good God can create a world of such dichotomy between good and evil. We would expect a good God would only create good. This essay provokes the mind to ask tough questions and then supplies some meaningful answers.

Read it here:

Best Scholarly Look at Jesus: The teachers at the White Horse Inn ask if the biblical account of Jesus can be trusted in light of modern research into the historical Jesus.

Here is the audio of that discussion:

Best Look at Grace vs. Law: Recently, the ultra-conservative Gospel Coalition, forced Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, to take his blog off their site. A week later, he left the organization mostly because the group is unwilling to discipline its members of sexual misconduct. This article talks about why Tchividjian had the doctrinal falling out with TGC.

Meditate on it here:

Best Look at a Controversial Book: The writer at “Arminianism Today” is a thoughtful theologian and eminently gracious. Here is his take on John McArthur’s “Strange Fire” a book that says most Pentecostals and Charismatics are heretics.

See his point of view here:

Best Real Review of a Movie Premise: All the other bloggers had a field day saying why the movie “Noah” was either a work of blasphemy or a genius rendering. From the blog “Experimental Theology” comes a viewpoint you probably wouldn’t have thought of. And that is what you usually find there.

This is the location of the article:

Best POV from a Recognized Theologian on the Outs with Evangelicalism:  I’m not a fan of what Rob Bell is currently doing with his life. But I like this one where he asks the unusual question: “How did Jesus pay his expenses during his ministry?”

Agree with him or not, RB asks great questions. Read his here.

Dealing with Unmet Needs

Posted on May 22, 2014

NeedsJimmy had worked for his company over five years. For the first two years, he had a supervisor who complimented him on his strong work ethic and high production for the department. Then, this supervisor was transferred and Jimmy found his new boss liked to “motivate” through criticism. Jimmy endured the constant nit-picking, figuring that this supervisor would eventually leave as well. For some reason, the supervisor has not left.

After this, Jimmy dreaded going into work. He didn’t just resent the criticisms, but the entire atmosphere of the department. Since his supervisor was critical of everyone, all of the employees were on edge. Few of them wanted to work there and they often took it out on each other by sniping and back-biting.

Let’s analyze this a moment. Jimmy has a need to see his job as important and his role as valuable to the company. But the reality of his situation is much harder. He cannot quit this job; in today’s economic climate, few people can just switch jobs because they don’t like them. He has spoken to his boss’s boss who refuses to correct the critical supervisor. As a result of feeling stuck in this bad job, he has migraine headaches frequently and has trouble concentrating. This has negatively impacted his marriage and many of his friendships.

Let’s leave Jimmy for a second and look at the Scripture we ended the last article with: Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6, 7 NIV)

First, when the Apostle Paul says “do not be anxious”, this is a verb tense in Greek which means “Do not continue to be anxious“. He is forbidding the continuance of anxiety. He is not condemning all anxiousness. That would be unrealistic. We feel what we feel.

Second, Paul really does mean “every” situation. He is counseling us to begin a habit of bringing all of life’s turns in the road before God for His input.

What is the problem Paul is addressing? When we face moments of emotional overload, we often blame the current situation. But Paul doesn’t see that as the main problem. Our anxiety is the obstacle. We realize this when Paul offers the alternative: “Present your requests to God … and the peace of God…will guard your hearts”.

Look at that phrase, “guard your hearts”. This is a military term. It acknowledges that our inner man, the place where we make choices, is the seat of the most potential failure. If, in that place, we allow anxiety to fester, this causes more problems than the outward problem itself.

In Jimmy’s case, he never got over his supervisor’s critical attitude. Twice he ended up in the hospital. After three years of carrying his anxiety home with him, his wife had enough of it all and left him. He blamed his work situation for both results, but his boss didn’t force him to carry his problems home. His boss didn’t tense up his muscles for him. He wanted to blame it all on him, but that just took away Jimmy’s responsibility in the mess.

Our life stresses are caused by the difference between our “Ideal World” and our “Real World”. When our perceived needs are not met to our satisfaction, we compare how life is going with how we want it to go. The difference between the two, when it gets too big, leads to many problems.

Most people assume that it is ridiculous to think we shouldn’t feel stress in a hard life situation. But that is not true. You can put 100 people through the same difficulties and though most will react in ways that make things worse, not everyone does. Read the book Unbroken” by Louis Zamperini, where he endured more war-related hardship than almost any other person and he came out the other side as a dynamic and helpful man. Along the way, however, he almost fell apart through alcoholism and hatred. His inner turmoil hurt him much more than being at sea for 60 days or from 2 years in a brutal concentration camp.

During his drunken binges and angry outbursts, Louis met God and God changed his life. He began to give over his hatred and hurt to God and God replaced it with Joy and Love. This is why Philippians 4 talks about presenting our requests to God. It is not the answer to prayer we need but the relationship we find when we come to God in our hurt.

Jimmy met with Christian friends after his wife left and they showed him how to talk and listen to God. God led him to forgive his boss and have empathy for him. He began to treat other employees the way he wanted to be treated and single-handedly he brought a better attitude into the office. As he did this, his headaches left and he felt peace again. He was becoming the person he wanted his supervisor to be. God helped him to pray for the people who had hurt him and to treat them better than they treated him. After six months of this, he was promoted to a supervisory position in another department.

His wife noticed the difference and agreed to give their marriage another try. They are still together.

Today, Jimmy realizes that his biggest problem was in his own heart. He had allowed the difference between his ideal world and real world to get too far apart. Whenever this happens, go to God and get his insights.

There are two ways to close the gap. First, let go of some of the ideals you have wanted. God can help you do this. Then seek to live in such a way that your real world comes closer to your needs. God helped Jimmy become a different person in the office. That is why he enjoyed it more.

The second critical step is to realize that our answer to prayer often involves us doing something. When Peter came to Jesus with a need to pay taxes (and he didn’t have the money), Jesus didn’t hand him the money. He told him to go fishing and look in the mouth of the first fish he caught. There was a coin worth enough to pay for both their taxes.

Peter was a fisherman; he could do fishing. In my mind, Jesus is telling us to do what we know how to do and then let God work the miracles. We can make our real world different by doing the next thing God shows us and counting on God to do what only God can do.

Are you willing to be the one who closes the gap between the real world and the ideal world? God will show you how to do it if you ask him and wait for his Holy Spirit insight.

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12 Movies That Emphasize Teamwork

Posted on May 14, 2014

There are certain themes that make movies not only watchable, but desirable. I have a few themes I return to over and over, but none as appealing as movies that emphasize teamwork. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

It’s Memorial Day weekend coming up…why not watch a few of these and bask in the delight of teamwork done well.

argoArgo: A team of diplomats, government agents and filmmakers extricate potential hostages out of Iran during the crisis in 1979.
Bridge on the River Kwai: British and American soldiers work together to resist their Japanese captors and take pride in building  a bridge across a Thai River.
Super 8: Young kids obsess over the making of a horror movie, only to realize they are in a real-life horror. They must band together to solve a great mystery.
apolloApollo 13: The true life story of the ill-fated mission to the moon which put the lives of three astronauts on the line. They must work together to get home.
Hoosiers: A small town basketball team attempts to work together to accomplish the impossible.
Miracle: The story of the 1980 U. S. Men’s Olympic hockey team as they drew together to accomplish something no one in the world thought they were capable of.
stand and deliverStand and Deliver: A math teacher uses his skill to build one class into a formidable academic force.
Coach Carter: One of my favorite team movies. A hardware store owner takes over the coaching duties of an Oakland high school. Only when the team works for each other do they achieve anything of value. Most of it is achieved off the court.
Major League: Another sports movie. This one is about a team with all the odds against them.
musicMusic of the Heart: Like many of the movies on this list, this is a true story. A New York violin teacher’s program is discontinued due to budget cuts. But instead of giving up, she builds a team of great musicians who end up doing much more than saving a class.
Legend of Bagger Vance: One of the great young golfers of the 1930s goes to war and comes back messed up. Through a team of people working with him, he regains much of what he has lost.
Inception: This movie plays with your mind, but the teamwork here is super and the acting top-notch.

Honorable Mentions: Freedom Writers, The Avengers, Space Cowboys, The Blind Side, We Are Marshall, The Italian Job, Ten Things I Hate About You, Sneakers, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Stripping Down the Layers of Communication

Posted on May 14, 2014

layersDr. William Glasser developed the principles of Choice Theory, which in my opinion is the most workable model of modern counseling. He taught that there were five potential motivations for any of our behaviors:

1. Survival (food, clothing, shelter, breathing, personal safety and others)
and four fundamental psychological needs:

2. Belonging/connecting/love

3. Power/significance/competence

4. Freedom/autonomy, and

5. Fun/learning

With so many things motivating us, often we are affected by more than one motivation at a time.

For instance, consider a dating couple. He likes to attend hockey games and invites her to join him. She seems eager and yells loudly with all the fans at the game. What he does not know is that she is only mildly interested in hockey. So why is she getting so excited about the game?

First, he is excited about the game and she enjoys being around him when he’s thrilled about something. Second, she likes that feeling of being part of his inner circle that she gets when he invites her to a hockey game. Third–and she probably is unaware of this one–she feels like she now has the upper hand in the relationship since she has accompanied him to one of his fun exercises. So she has fulfilled three of her basic motivations: Fun, Belonging and Power.

But assume one day that she gets lost in the arena coming back from the snack bar and can’t find her seat. When she calls him on her cell phone, the noise of the crowd prevents him from hearing her call. She panics, and for fifteen minutes she lives in fear and anger. Finally, she goes out to the car and waits for him there.

When the hockey game ends, he goes out to the car, baffled as to why she didn’t return. She immediately gives him some multi-layered communication. Instead of telling him the story, she says this:

I hope you and your friends enjoyed your little game while I waited out here all alone”. Let’s break down what she is trying to say.

First, her need for safety has engendered fear and anger. She blames him for this, even though she is the one who was lost. She wants him to know how she is feeling.

Second, she no longer feels like she is in his favored circle since he didn’t come looking for her. Actually, she doesn’t really know if he did–all she knows is he didn’t find her. She wants to let him know she feels left out.

Third, she wants to regain her sense of control by making him feel demeaned.

Fourth, she needs to know she still matters to him.

The unfortunate thing is that there is no way he can understand all of this from the one thing she said. So instead of asking questions to find out what she’s talking about, he primarily hears her anger and responds to that. He feels defensive–after all, he didn’t really do anything wrong. He wrongly assumes that because she is angry, it is his responsibility to deal with that. It isn’t. People have a right to be angry with us and we are not required to respond in kind.

He asks her “What’s wrong with you?” He says this because he cannot understand why she is so angry at him. He doesn’t know about her fear, loss of control and sense of not belonging. So his question “What’s wrong with you?” makes matters worse. She is so devastated because she now feels the “not belonging” part more acutely. She refuses to speak to him on the way home. He is baffled by all of this because he didn’t understand the many layers involved with this process.

Several weeks later, they came to me for counseling. I normally don’t do counseling with both members of the couple at the same time. But after hearing their story, I decided a little teaching was in order. I explained the five different motivations that we all have. Then I had her tell me what she was trying to accomplish by going to the hockey game. After a few minutes she was able to accurately identify why this was important to her. Then came the crucial part: I had her analyze what was bothering her about getting lost. We all decided together that it was the sense of having failed her boyfriend and looking foolish in front of his friends.

I looked over at him as she came to this realization. As she explained this, I could see compassion on his face. He was concerned for her. This is what she wanted in the first place, but just didn’t know it. So I asked her how she could have expressed what was going on inside of her to make it easier for him to understand.

Like most people, she didn’t know.

So I walked her through it. First, she needed to understand what was bothering her. Most of our negative reactions come from the separation between our Ideal World and the Real World. The Ideal world is where all our motivations/needs are satisfied (Note: When has that ever happened?). The Real World is the place where only some of our needs/motivations are met. This is what engenders our reactions. So she needed to understand what she was feeling. If she wanted him to understand, she needed to express things in single layers. She needed to make sure he understood each layer. She would know she had accomplished this when the inner turmoil began to subside.

Here is what she came up with. She identified three single layered statements she needed to make that night:

“Honey, I was afraid because I was lost.”

“I hate feeling like an idiot, especially in front of your friends. I am afraid that I have slipped in your opinion of me”

“I was angry because I assumed you didn’t come look for me”.

When she expressed these three things to him, he understood. Because she saw his understanding, it ended all the difficulty between them.

When you feel these negative emotions, always ask yourself, “Which of my needs are not getting met?” and then, “Do I need to tell someone about this?”

Often, for God-followers, it is best to talk to God about these things first. After all, the Bible does say in Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

More about these verses in the next article.

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