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.”

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