Friday, October 25, 2013

Not Alone: Plenary and Breakout Session Summaries

God with Us (cont.)

The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation’s (CCEF) conference two weekends ago centered on the theme, “Not Alone.” The mission of CCEF is to “restore Christ to counseling and restore counseling to the church.”

In this age (as in every other), despite twitter and telephones, people find themselves feeling isolated, lonely, and adrift from God and their community. This is true for married and single people, men and women, children and adults.

But God is a personal and intimate companion; he came right alongside us in his incarnation. The force and focus of the weekend was for us to reach out and model Christ’s companionship to others (family, friends, co-workers, clients).

David and I attended all but one of the main sessions and many of the breakout sessions, so I thought it might be best to just share a paraphrase of each session I attended. (I attended Winston Smith's talk -- he has a delightful, dry sense of humor -- but I didn't take notes so his talk is not summarized.) After the conference, I felt spiritually and emotionally refreshed from hearing experienced biblical counselors teach and exhort us about relationship – God’s relationship with me and my relationship with others. (I was also physically refreshed by the Cajun food truck, but that is another blog.)

For me, the conference called to my mind Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah as “Immanuel: God with us.” Indeed much of the conference centered on the person and work of the incarnate Jesus Christ. From him we understand ourselves and others, so that we can counsel and minister personally and effectively.

We enter into others' lives as Christ did in the following ways:

We are builders (David Powlison): “Every relationship is intentional.” Every interaction we have with other image-bearers -- whether that interaction is small or great, light or deep, glancing or permanent -- is either building bridges or building walls. How we speak to people, even in casual and light conversations (which are not bad), either sends the message that we wish to build a bridge to someone or that we wish to wall them off. (And don't do that thing we all do, where a person opens up about something, and your response is to tell them a story about yourself. You feel you are connecting...but you are shutting people down.)

We are Christ-modelers (Elyse Fitzpatrick): Christ entered into humanity, laboring and living in an obscure “hick town” before his public ministry, pleasing his Father in all of his daily activities, from the most mundane daily labor to his glorious resurrection. He did not despise his body, but he joined in the human experience, yet without sin. We are called to be like him: to enter into the lives of others, to listen, and show them Christ. Do not scorn the mundane, but embrace it by serving God even in the everyday, as Christ did.

We are dialoguers (Julie Lowe): As parents, do you value compliance more than engagement with your children? Are you daily seeking to be in dialogue and conversation with them? Do you speak of and reflect on the delights of living as much as the disciplines of living? Finally -- Do you require of yourself what you require of them?

We are listeners (Ed Welch): Do you seek to ask meaningful and probing questions in order to enter into the lives of others, both their triumphs and joys and their failures and sufferings? Our demeanor and perspective, in the joys and the trials, should be, “Tell me more. Give me the details. How can I pray for you?” 

We are reconcilers (Cecilia Bernhardt): God uses conflict to foster character in his saints, and he intends for conflict to draw us closer to him and to each other. We tend to begin conflicts with an eye towards self-service, but, if we see Jesus, we can change that to having an eye towards God’s reality in the situation. If we are interested in God’s truth, we can face conflict with humility rather than self-service.

We are affirmers (Aaron Sironi): The model and command of Scripture is not to flatter, but “to be alert for what God considers good.” (Eg: Jesus with Nathaniel and the centurion, Proverbs 31, Romans 8.) If we only see and verbalize what is wrong in people and situations, we need to repent. God himself condescends to commend a motley group of saints in Hebrews 11 (Gideon, Samson, etc). It is not enough to think and notice good things; we must verbalize those things.

In closing, this conference was replete with wise counsel, challenging our perspectives and exhorting us to truly engage with people in their need.

The basis and foundation of all of the teaching was Jesus Christ’s finished work in life and death and resurrection, and his example of how to enter in and truly love others intimately and personally.

How do we know that we are not alone? By looking at him and his incarnation.

How do we know how to love others and come alongside them? By learning from him, who entered into humanity and who intercedes for us.

Colossians 1:3-8 “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

God with Us: CCEF Conference "Not Alone"

Last weekend, David and I attended the CCEF conference on biblical counseling entitled "Not Alone" with a group of about 30 people from our church (men, women, married, single, widowed people). Our marriage and family pastor urged and encouraged people to attend, and our church even provided scholarships.

The goal: love of one another, Christian community, and wise and equipped discipleship. I am so thankful that our pastor values these things enough to make this a priority.

Speakers and Topics:
We were privileged to hear Ed Welch, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Winston Smith, and David Powlison discuss how they bring the truth of Christ's presence to bear upon various counseling situations.

We participated in smaller discussions, where counselors discussed such topics as "How to Affirm and Encourage Others" and "How to Build Bridges to Your Children." I will include notes from each in blogs to follow.

But...we had the greater privilege to fellowship with dear brothers and sisters in our local church, seeking to preach Christ to themselves and model Him to their families, and others.

Theme and Reflection:
In retrospect, the purest biblical short expression of being "not alone" is found itself in Isaiah's name for the Messiah: Emmanuel, God with Us.

God. With. Us.

How do we counsel others and ourselves when we find ourselves in the dark and lonely places? Whether we are inhabiting the dark night of the soul or stopped up short by the occasional flash of loneliness or feeling "outside," how can we gain, remember, and model the simultaneously cosmic and intimate perspective that God Himself is with us?

And how can we truly be with others, like He is? How can we be like Christ and love them and be with them when they are alone?

And how can we hold on to this perspective in the mundane, everyday labors of life as well? In all of this, I am reminded of one of my favorite little books, The Practice of the Presence of God, written about a kitchen monk named Brother Lawrence, hundreds of years ago. Brother Lawrence labored to find and then found joy in scrubbing the pots, and his joy was so infectious he became renowned in his circle for his transforming joy in the mundane.

The way he served God transformed the scullery to the sacred. God with him in the kitchen.

So, I purposed to transcribe the notes I took in brief form so that I wouldn't forget the perspective that the conference encouraged in how we contemplate "God with Us" and "God with Others."

First Topic:
First appropriately, the conference began and ended with a musical meditation on the hymn "St. Patrick's Breastplate." (Credited to St. Patrick but actually written by a saint in, perhaps, the 800's.)

This first blog will be the text of that hymn, but first, here is the refrain.:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

St Patrick's Breastplate
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;

His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.

The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;

Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.