The Gates Are Open

February 2016

Life Situations Made More Effective with a Coach

Labels can often be confusing…but they can also be enlightening and helpful. When we’re talking about allowing other people to guide us through difficult times in life, it is helpful to know the various labels we put on these helpers.

When you have reached certain milestones, crises, or significant change points in life, one or all of the following helping professionals can lend assistance:

  1. Counselor. The role of a counselor is to help a client discover the motivations and beliefs behind certain behaviors. This may include such varied experiences such as depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, manic behavior, substance abuse and many other manifestations. The counselor’s role is to help the individual discover where they need answers.
  2. Therapist. Though the counselor may also be a therapist, this is a different role in a person’s life. Certain problems need a structured healing regimen. For instance, a counselor may be able to help the client identify their use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. But for some people, their alcohol dependency may be so intense that it will take certain therapies to bring change. A therapist usually specializes in certain techniques to bring healing to specific emotional ailments.
  3. Mentor. For many of the life change points people encounter, the best professional is often a Mentor. The mentor comes from a position of expertise. To properly mentor another person, they must have working knowledge of the field they are guiding the other person into. A mentor does need to be able to explain and demonstrate how the client can progress in a chosen field of endeavor.
  4. Coach. Here we come to the heart of this article. The coach is not a counselor per se. They are not necessarily looking at weaknesses, behaviors and motivations. Instead, they are looking ahead at the future, helping the client set goals and reach them. They help the client understand the obstacles in the way. The coach is not a therapist. They do not remove the barriers in the way. But once the barrier has been identified, they could direct the client to a therapist if that is the primary solution. A coach is not a mentor necessarily. They do not need to have a working knowledge of the field the client wants to work in. But their job is to help the client get the resources needed and holds the client accountable to working the necessary steps to get there.In essence, a coach is a person who helps someone to evaluate what changes need to be done and helps their client fashion a path to arrive at those changes.

 

In our lives, there are times we may need all of the above Helpers. But there are specific moments when having a Life Coach is the appropriate choice. Let me outline six of these moments.

  1. Career Change:  This may seem like the most obvious one, but it is amazing how few people go to a Coach at this moment in their lives. Instead, they often visit a counselor or a mentor to help them determine the next move in life. A counselor is going to delve into the emotional implications of a change. The mentor is going to direct the client into a limited number of fields related to their expertise. But a coach can make a huge difference to a person changing careers. The coach may even be the right person to help you decide if you need a career change. Sometimes, what is needed is a change in approach to the current job. The coach’s strength is assessment. Using tools of their trade, they can help the client dig deeper into their successes and failures, and from that analysis, discover how the future may be more rewarding and successful. The coach can guide the client to discover a path to a new career, to lay out the steps to reach that path, to hold them accountable for all the steps, and to fashion answers for the obstacles in the way.
  2. Educational Goal:  Coaches are the right choice for those who are looking at furthering their education. This may apply to the High School student, the person changing careers, the Empty Nester, the newly divorced or the under-educated professional. Though it is not the coach’s job to ever make decisions for the person, they can point the client in the most effective places to look for their chosen path of study. Once a path is chosen, the coach can then help with setting the kind of standards which will help the student achieve the grades they need to complete the course of study.
  3. Times of Failure/Frustration/Feeling Stuck:  It is often said the only difference between successful people and people who fail is that the successful ones learned from their failures. That adage does not explain how these people learn from their mistakes. Many of them grow through failure because they have an objective coach who can ask the sort of questions necessary to pull out of the shame most often associated with failure. The role of a coach in this stage in life is to ask the hard questions the client may not thought of asking. Shame has a way of clouding a person’s mind, preventing them from being objective about what happened. This is especially true when a person finishes up a nasty divorce. Though most people will see a counselor during and after a divorce–and rightfully so–a coach may also be helpful. The coach can use tools to evaluate what happened and what each part of the failure means. Then, once the client discovers the true meaning behind the failure, the coach and client can develop a model to achieve success in a similar situation in the future. This is what every sports coach does. After every game where a team loses, the coach’s job is to analyze what was done poorly. The purpose is not to condemn, but to change and modify the situation so next time they will have success.
  4. Coaching Toward Self-Awareness:  Using tools like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DISC, Strong Inventory and IDAK, a coach can help the client better understand their own personality, strengths, learning style, conflict management style, potential weaknesses, blind spots and comfort zones. When a person is self-aware, they are able to relate better to others, making their future careers and relationships more rewarding. The role of a coach here is to analyze and inform.
  5. Relationship Coaching:  Some marriages, dating relationships, and friendships do not really need a counselor. The problems are often the result of mutually shared obstacles. In relationship coaching, the coach helps the couple identify the problem, discover the path to the solution, and lay out the steps necessary to complete the journey. Many couples in crisis with each other would be better served taking this coaching approach rather than relationship counseling.
  6. Spiritual Coaching:  Older denominations actually have a name for this kind of coach: Spiritual Director. This is a very specific application of coaching where the client and the coach determine what spiritual goal a person wants to achieve. Then they work out together which spiritual disciplines and habits will reach that goal. The coach does not determine these things, but they hold the client accountable and ask the type of questions that will force the client to dig deeper into God.

 

Generally counselors and therapists cost between $60-$150/hour. A mentor can range in cost but can cost up to $100 per hour. The advantage to using a Life Coach is that their fees regular run from $25-$50/hour, much more affordable than the other alternatives. However, the Coach also does not provide therapy or specific knowledge like some of the other helping professionals.

If you see a need in your current situation for a Life Coach, contact me at mikeinsac@sbcglobal.net and we’ll figure out the best approach to get started.

The Messiness of Hearing God

Please take heart.

Some spiritual leaders can make it sound like hearing God is either a piece of cake or impossible. I believe through my teaching I have done both.

Ignore us. Hearing God is neither impossible nor easy. It’s just messy.

For a background and context to this idea, let me show you an example of this from the days of the early church. In the book of Acts 16:6-10 we read:

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Here is some basic background context so you can see the importance of this journey. The Apostle Paul and his team are heading out on what historically is called his “Second Missionary Journey”. Paul and Barnabas had conducted their first journey several years previous. On that trip, they had established several churches–we’re not clear on how many–and had now decided to return to those churches to see how they were doing.

Asia is a province of the Roman Empire encompassing southern and western Turkey. It is also the location of about half the churches Paul established on his first trip. Mysia, Bithynia and its surrounding region contain all the rest of the churches that Paul founded. Therefore, in Acts 16, they were being prevented from going to do any of the work they had planned on doing!

We all face situations like this in life, even if we are faithful followers of God. You can hear God, be faithful to what you’ve heard, follow every step of his Leading, and still run into insurmountable obstacles. Look back at the passage and note several things:

  1. In verse 6 it says they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” from speaking in Asia. Scripture can be pesky and unhelpful in this respect: We aren’t given any details about how Holy Spirit did this “forbidding”. Did he use circumstances beyond their control? Did Holy Spirit give them dreams and visions about the dangers of Asia ministry, or cautions about what may happen? Did several of the team members throw a fit because they lacked peace about the trip? We have no way of knowing.
  2. In verse 7, it says that they tried to enter Bithynia, but Holy Spirit did not permit them. This is a different Greek verb (permit) than the one used in verse 6 (forbid). It is a much more passive verb, meaning that however Holy Spirit did the non-permitting, it was more subtle than verse 6. What form did this take? We have no way of knowing.
  3. Troas is the port connected to an historical city which had been called “Troy” many years before this first century journey. The road to Troas was the only way you could exit the interior of Turkey and make your way down to the coast.
  4. On the road from Bithynia to Troas, you had to pass by the ancient gate for the road to Troy. At the head of that gate was a 35 foot statue. The statue was a final gift of the Greek cities to Troy at the end of the war. The statue was of a Macedonian man with an outstretched arm, inviting the Trojans over to Greece to fulfill trade promises. William Barclay says it was the antithesis, so to speak, to the Trojan horse, a symbol of treachery and bad faith.
  5. Paul’s vision in verse 9 probably featured that Macedonian Man from the road they had passed during the day. Do all visions work this way? Are all visions simply compilations of things we have seen in real life? I doubt it, but we cannot rule out God using things we have already seen as an opportunistic way of getting truth across to us.

 

There is so much we do not know about this story. At the core, we cannot figure out how Holy Spirit communicated to them. Wouldn’t that have been ideal for Luke to explain to us as he wrote this account? Isn’t this what we need as we seek to emulate how the early followers of Jesus lived out their lives under the influence of the Voice of God?

Perhaps that is the point of not explaining it. We have to live out our lives according to how we experience God. Perhaps there is no normative way of hearing God. Perhaps the patterns that evolved with other people in other times do not work the same today.

Nicholas Carr, in his book, “The Shallows” explains how modern computers and the multitude of screens with their quick and visual information, have reshaped how our brains work. Since the mind is a crucial part of the process of hearing God, isn’t it possible that the way we pick up on God’s voice has changed?

Yet no matter what era a person lives, the experience of God’s voice is messy. Many times in the Bible, people assumed they were hearing God when the evidence suggests they were not. And there were times that people heard God and thought they heard someone other than God. The young boy Samuel, who heard God during the night and assumed it was  his mentor, is an example of this.

If you thought hearing God could be done neatly, tidily and always accurately, then you do not understand how complicated the interface between the ever-existing Spirit of God and the finite, flawed and fallible mind of humans really is. As Steve Thompson, the well-known prophetic voice says “this is as much an art form as a spiritual discipline“. Indeed.

Several years ago, I had a disturbing dream featuring a person I have known for years. I had not seen that person in at least five years, but the dream suggested they were in deep trouble. So I thought about it after waking, and decided it was God telling me that they needed to change some of their relationships to be safe. I contacted my friend and relayed this information. I even let them know who I thought was the most dangerous person to them.

After praying about it for several weeks, my friend contacted me. They concluded I was completely wrong. They told me to ask God about it and see what I could make of this error. So I did. I spent several days pondering the dream and out of that came several deeper insights. But, in the end, I realized that the dream had nothing to do with my friend in danger. It had to do with our friendship and how poorly I had kept up my end of it.

God used my friend, a dream, a book I was reading, the inaction of another friend of mine, pneumonia, a recent teaching I had done on hearing God and another dream much later to get the full message across to me. Since that time, I have been a better friend to this person. And I am even more careful about interpreting dreams.

Hearing God is messy. Take heart: it has always been that way.

The Secret Sins of Human Sexuality

Joanne has had sex many times with men that were not her husband.

Jimmy has drugged many women with date-rape substances and then sexually assaulted them.

Mark is a pastor who has slept with several of his parishioners.

Brian watches pornographic videos and acts them out with prostitutes.

Tom and Lucille have joined a Swing club and to date have switched partners dozens of times.

Each of these is a Christian I have counseled, and each is sinning against the God they have chosen to serve. Very few Christians would disagree with my assessment that every one of these people has violated some of God’s directives regarding human sexuality. As followers of Christ, we believe there are limitations and restrictions on the practice of sex. Though there are elements of our culture that believe that anything is allowable, this is not in alignment with the Bible. There are other cultures where certain actions are considered ungodly and sinful, but that list might disagree with the list compiled in other countries.

However, in the 40 years of giving people counsel on their sex lives, I’ve seen a number of sexual sins that hardly ever get mentioned by anyone. Yet these sins are alluded to in the Bible and we are warned about their dangers. Let me quickly outline each one, noting the different manifestations, what the Bible says about them, and what consequences  follow each one.

  1. The Judgmental Virgin:

    Definition: The attitude adopted by a person who has not ever had sexual intercourse, toward those who have had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. This attitude believes that there is a position of moral superiority by the virgin over the non-virgin.

    Description:  Virginity, or the state of never having had sex, is somehow prized in Christian culture. Some would say this is because the Bible places a high premium on saving sex for marriage, and I won’t disagree with that. But there is nothing in particular that makes someone righteous for abstaining from sex. Just because you haven’t done a deed doesn’t mean you have lived righteously. Righteousness is BOTH doing the right thing and resisting doing the wrong thing. And it is wrong to feel morally superior to anyone. This is something Jesus taught on more times than he did on sexuality.

    Scriptural Principle: Matthew 7:1-2 is pretty clear. We are told not to “judge” others. The Greek word means to be both judge and jury, looking down your nose at another person for their actions. Also, in many cases, Jesus warned the Pharisees that their judgmental and legalistic ways were making them fit for hell. When Jesus confronted a woman caught in adultery he told them all to examine their own lives first without casting a stone in judgment. He then also told her that he didn’t condemn her. Many virgins violate this and sin against non-virgins in this way.

    Long-term Effect:   We are told in Matthew 7:2 that the measure with which we judge (i.e. the intensity of our judgment) will be in line with how severe the consequences are. I have personally found that  judgmental virgins later have a good deal of trouble experiencing joy in their own sex lives.

  2.  Deceitful Daters:

    Definition:  This is the person who gives every indication they are deeply committed to another person so as to lure them into a sexual relationship. In reality, this person has no intention of making a long-term commitment and simply wants sex. They instinctively know they need to give some kind of promise that the relationship is going to go further in order to have intercourse.

    Description: It used to be that this was how many men approached sexuality. If you read Shakespearean comedies like “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Romeo and Juliet” (which is part comedy and part tragedy) you will see this has been around for a long time. But it is not just men practicing this any more. There are women who do it also. Groupies and predatory women who want to claim famous or well-known men among their sexual “prizes” have been known to do this. But the majority still are men. Some people have been known to do this just to score points with other people, almost like sexual conquests.

    Scriptural Principle: There are those who claim that anything that goes on between two consenting adults cannot be sin (apart from adultery). I disagree. One of the reasons that people in positions of authority are legally discouraged from having sex with their clients or students is because the authority relationship is hard to say no to. In the book of 1 Timothy 5, Paul instructs Timothy about the dangers of putting young women on a widows list. A widows list was a list of women whom the church financially cared for. In return, these women agreed to remain single and celibate,  and work out helping other women with their families. Paul warns Timothy that these women often go running after a man or are deceived by a man. A lot of deception happens in these relationships.

    As anyone in today’s online dating world knows, deception is practiced by many. If you are the one deceiving another person to gratify your sexual desires, this sin is grievous indeed.

    Effects of this sin: Any time you begin to deceive others, you find that you yourself are deceived inside. You begin to believe your own lies. At the very least, the Bible tells us the deceptive heart becomes calloused. You will find it harder and harder to hear God and obey God.

  3. Abstaining On Purpose:
    Definition: This is when a spouse deliberately pulls away sexually from their partner. Regardless of the reason, this puts an undue hardship on their partner.

    Description: Because God never condones adultery, and because a person does not stop being sexual just because their partner pulls away, this is the case of being doubly deprived: They cannot have sex with their chosen partner, nor with anyone else. Both men and women are capable of doing this, though traditionally, women do this more than men. Many women justify this by stating that they do not feel sexually attracted to their husbands because of how badly they have been treated. But this is not the way to deal with problems like criticism, neglect, violence, narcissism, workaholism, substance abuse etc. Instead of passively pulling away physically, address the problems in counseling or in conversation. In extreme cases, go to the police. But pulling away sexually solves nothing and creates another layer of problem.

    Scriptural Principle: Once again, Paul is pretty clear on this one. He says this in 1 Corinthians 6:3-5:

The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

So, unless you agreed not to have sex for awhile to devote yourselves to prayer and intense study of the Word, you are disobeying the clear teaching of Scripture. Having said that, let me be clear that this does not stipulate how often you are to be sexual. That is something negotiated with every couple. But remember to be open about it with each other.

Effects of this Sin: For the most part, this sin causes a separation between two people that can often become permanent. In almost every case of divorce I have met, at some point, one or both people in the marriage stopped being sexual. And it was always one person to begin with. This sin violates the covenant promise you made to each other. When you do that, you are causing serious spiritual harm to your souls. You are open to the attack of the enemy constantly.

 

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