Some Biblical thoughts on Suffering

In this life, it is essential to apprehend and to assimilate the purposes God has for us in our life in Christ Jesus as we live in a sinful and broken world and suffering goes along with this reality. Yet, don’t fret as we rejoice because our Sovereign God uses our trials and suffering so we become more like Jesus, who suffered for our sake so that we may have eternal life in heaven, where there is no suffering or pain. Paradoxically, we benefit from Christ’s suffering on the cross to endure the sin of this world, now, and to even be strengthened in Him—nothing better. How could that be possible? Understanding who you are in the context of the history of humanity is a good place to start.

You see, since the fall of mankind, Adam and Eve brought sin into the world and along with their disobedient acts, all future generations, including us and our offspring are born in sin. Sin produces suffering and this was not God’s intention for mankind. Even child-bearing is part of the curse where it was deemed to be painful, literally demonstrating how we are born with suffering as a means to life (Genesis 3:16). But we are saved from sin and sometimes even the consequential effects of sin teach us humility so we spiritually learn to comfort others in our afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:1-3). As one mother knows the depths of child-bearing and child-raising, we relate to each other in our hearts and embodied experiences. For now, we are able to endure and hope while we suffer, we have others in community to help us through unbearable sufferings like a death of a child or a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. And good news, God is our comfort always and has not left us alone in our suffering.

Rejoice,there is a Savior who came to save us from sin and suffering, his name is Jesus, son of man and son of God. When we know Him and accept how He died on the cross to save us from our sinful selves, we live in union with Him. Then as we are transformed in grace, through Christ’s suffering on the cross, God gives us patience in and with ourselves, our limitations, our ailments and our trials.

The Word of God supports and builds us up so we are prepared for any trial. For example, Psalms are a deep well to drink from to know how He loves us during any trial and we are stabilized through the sufferings of Jesus on the cross; “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried about to the LORD and he answered me from his holy hill.” Psalm 3:3,4. We also cry for help as we might feel abandoned by God. And He has answered us in Christ who lifted His head and said, “Why have you forsaken me?” before He concluded the means to the end of our sin by saying, “It is finished” (Read Matthew 27:45-50 and John 19:30).

Sometimes, suffering is a form of transformational discipline as we become more and more like Jesus. In our progressive sanctification, we learn mercy, being humbled to the point of silence, bearing the cross and carrying burdens for others while we change. Suffering, in a godly manner, can be an opportunity to build up believers and strengthen the gospel at any cost. When we do good and suffer for it, we endure as 1 Peter 2:21-22 says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth…but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live by righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.When we follow Jesus, we can expect suffering for the sake of the gospel while we grow in union with Him.

We are prepared to die for our Savior and the gospel, yet there is only One Savior who died for all of mankind. We may desire to save the world and participate in rescuing the lost but the Holy Spirit does the work. We live in this chasm for others while seeing the bright light above, and we wait. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:18-19, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” When we have this perspective, we can endure whatever is thrown our way. We shine with Jesus in glory, sometimes now but certainly forever when all pain and suffering is defeated. For now, we groan intrinsically along with creation, while waiting for and knowing the eternal perspective of hope in Christ who sustains us so we can endure. And we pray, “Lord God, show me what you did through Christ Jesus on the cross for me, so I can bear and even rejoice in the sufferings I experience in this world too, as You are our only hope in this world and the next. Give me more of you this day. Help me.” AMEN

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Lessons from the Road: The Invisible Stop-sign!

Hints of a courteous form of Anarchy-Group Think!

Since 1998 or so, I’ve had to live with frequent traffic near my home during crucial pick-up times for my children from after-school activities: music, sports, and clubs—-right at 5:30 or 6:00 PM traffic times! On Swedesford Road and N. Valley Road in Tredyffrin township, Chester county, PA, I drive East from my home and have the right of way at a tricky intersection. Yet, over the years, employees at nearby Vanguard and other corporations have inconsistently stopped and allowed multiple cars to lead the way for turning by the friendly wave of giving up their right to proceed.

This causes back up on my road for up to a mile at times. While the other cars can move quickly from at least two directions at the four way intersection, those who normally have the right, lose out. It even causes accidents for those visiting drivers who are unaware of the unwritten rule.

There is no stop sign there and the invisible stop sign has become a way to stop and let others go before you while patiently waiting for your turn. Sometimes, 5, 6, 7 cars are granted movement as your line gets backed up more and more. The problem with this kind form of anarchy is that it is disproportionate. When the invisible stop sign is used, the group think causes unusual back up and to the drivers who, by law, have the right to proceed through the intersection because, actually, there is NO Stop sign. Yes, we tried to spend budgeted PA state money for a circle, but one voice shot it down, guess they were the last one to come in at the end of a long-winded meeting? Who knows?

How may this relate to my Christian faith? Are there other times when I wait, give up my rights and allow those who do not respect the right of way to benefit? The answer is Yes. And I question if it is to their advantage to slow others down so they may proceed unhindered and unimpeded.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:41)”. And later summarizes his detailed teaching known as The Golden Rule; “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (7:12)”. Ah, Christians must take a back-seat some times.

So, on my way back from the pick up, I would often prudently go the “longer way”, knowing the Invisible STOP sign would work to my advantage, taking that Left turn on to Swedesford Road, where friendly anarchistic wave me through. Yes, for timeliness of my own schedule for making dinner. I, too, succumbed to herd mentality, even just a little bit out in the suburbs. I had to find a way to survive so I constantly was not the one waiting in undue traffic. LORD, help us wait patiently for You and Your ways as You have already come to fulfill the law, through your grace in Christ Jesus’ saving work on the cross. Amen

But can we still have the circle? Peace.

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Coviding Days are Healing Days

How have you experienced the days of sheltering during the Covid19 pandemic? If you are like me, you had an initial but temporary “perplexing” on a daily basis while our “stay at home” orders took place across your locality and eventually, the entire country. March 13, 2020 was our first day to be “quarantined” although none of us were ill. Each day then each week brought various layers of both good and humbling times with your immediate household and this forced seclusion by governmental authorities but also highlighted the values we treasure, yet with an eternal perspective. Many Christian ethics of the home were restored to reemphasize the goodness of the family unit such as slowing down: this brought deliberate and extended meal preparation time and enjoyment, noticing the elongated and the lingering spring transitions in the forsythia bushes and more of creation blossoming, the bird migrations and the swirling wind’s whispering responses of Spring. All of creation appeared, clearly to me, to be waiting on their Creator, Jesus. 

It was a few weeks before Easter. As time progressed and each week brought more cancellations like our planned trip to visit my daughter and husband in Colorado. That week, I noticed more of God in the full-moon of passover, creation being more brilliant than ever. The light spoke in a reflecting and golden tone of luminosity, foreboding me to prepare for the death & resurrection of my LORD.  He was more apparent than the years before, or ever before. Would He soon return? God stayed with me, working on me as He wanted me to continue to grow in the close, deep relationship we have with Jesus, our LORD.

So I experienced further “idol shedding” in my own faith-walk, questioning my inner motivations, why I do so much for others, serving the poor, caring, counseling, mentoring, initiating and implementing  in my biblical counseling ministry and church leadership roles like teaching, small group leadership and missions work. My desire has always been to follow God’s will while I please Him in my heart, being patient to wait for God’s sovereign care of all during the uncertainty of these “coviding” days. Yes, I invented a word “coviding” as I became more and more comfortable with the dictates of the changes. Notice my words that are in quotations, they are unique to these “healing” days.

I had been directed in November of 2019, to take six months off from my normal grind which has many spokes, and I was already in a hiatus from my one-on-one counseling work from January to June of 2020, trying to be motivated to write a counselor’s toolbox article on my #Ushapedgospel doctrinal method in counseling and other ways that I present the gospel in counseling by drawing pictures to show what Christ has done for us and how that relates to living well for Him. But, I’m not really a writer. I love theology, understanding church history and how that applies to my present life and the world around me,  but I’m definitely not a proper theologian. Sure, I get it, but was never meant to push out a convincing book. It’s not a God-given calling or gift to do so. I only want to get to my article to help other counselors in training, show a method that makes sense and that states the gospel—-who we are in Christ because of what He has done for us—-his incarnate life, death and resurrection and ascension apply to us presently as He has given Himself for us and to us— we extend the healing power of the Word through His Holy Spirit now. #Ushapedgospel

God had been preparing me to enrich my relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit and even more trust in the person of Jesus Christ to continue to grow in faith—-progressive sanctification, the distinctive of my biblical counseling ministry and teaching. He moved me more and more away from reliance on the world and its self-wrought expectations more towards His fruitful ways—even before March, He was preparing me to be healed in heart, mind, body, spirit and soul. My recent learning on the Puritans seemed more relevant, my time with fellow Christians was more purposeful for care and quiet times of counsel, listening, hearing and relating. Old counselees started calling me in Mid-march, several having panic attacks, wanting a shoulder to lean on, and a prayer of comfort. Then, all of a sudden, I was in Zoom meetings in abundance. I was ready, willing and able to persevere.

I worked out some of my personal kinks as one of the first things I came to terms with during the “lockdown” was how God has prepared me for death already, so I have no fear in meeting Him when He calls me home. Of course, I wore a mask in stores, washed my hands, cleaned produce and more, but this “coviding” time gave me continued confidence in His plan for my life, unafraid of man’s dictates in this world. I then went through layers of personal growth with Jesus, including shedding idols I didn’t see, finding contentment more in basic needs being met, working on heart issues and reflective memories of failure and weakness. I was realigning myself through the Holy Spirit with God’s priorities in my life and enjoying more quiet days and eternal perspective-thinking and response. I was grateful for the six week study I had planned becoming a twelve week study in Romans 8, the perfect chapter of the bible to unite with other like-minded sisters in Christ, while mutually sharing and developing our faith with each other. Resources were readily provided to heal and be healing while sanctification continued in our group.

As I came to the end of my broken, pitiful self, and grew deeper in relationship with Jesus all the day long, He gladly reciprocated His love for me, reminding me of His unfailing love, a gift I received so sweetly. He showed me how He is already glorified. I’ve been journaling these eight weeks so I found myself all over the bible with imperatives for living, but especially in the book of Isaiah, listening to God’s voice of promises for His church, His people. 

The promised gifts backed by scripture verses that God made more relevant during the “Healing Coviding Days” are:

God is Sovereign: Psalm 47:8-9 “God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth along to God; he is highly exalted!” 

Peace and Quiet, Praying for Others and our Leaders – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 “First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Experience peacefulness, being still and knowing “God is God” (Psalm 46:10). Prayer creates a peaceful context for listening well and seeing God for others. Phil 4:17, Psalm 113:7 for the barren woman came to mind as I was, sometimes, simply given these verses through the Holy Spirit to intercede for others, I most likely will never meet, during these healing days.

 PASSOVER MOON April 7, 2020, Sea Isle City NJ 

Belonging to the LORD for His work – Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way but the LORD establishes his steps.” Isaiah 56:6-8 “..The LORD GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” John 6:29 – Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe inhume who he has sent.” This scripture focus was also significant to me during 9/11 in 2001 as the Holy Spirit pushed me to my knees to pray for our country. Psalm 68:5- God is a Father to the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation,” for work I did with a Deep Waters grant for Westminster Theological Seminary and Rishama International in March called Our Father to the fatherless.

Being Safe in Christ; the “Passover” experience – Psalm 34:7 “The angel of the LORD encamps around this who fear him, and delivers them.” Having a full experience of mind, spirit, body and soul. A discipleship of self-control, 2 Tim 1:7ff “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control…But I am not ashamed, for I now whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” Psalm 48:13-14 “..consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is GOD, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.”

Shedding of heart-Idols and wrestling in faith for others- Isaiah 30:15-22 “…in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength…the LORD waits to be gracious to you…And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,”…You will scatter your idols as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone”! “

Waiting on the LORD’s return Isaiah 40:4-6 “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory fo the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth fo the LORD has spoken.”

God’s Promises are always Fulfilled: Genesis 9:12-13, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” 

DOUBLE RAINBOW appears, Sea Isle City, Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, 2020

It’s now time to continue on and wait patiently for the LORD’s return, one and each day at a time with joyful expectation! Amen

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” Romans 8:19

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Being a Good Steward, it’s essential. God’s Kingdom is Priority

Living as God’s Steward, are you doing that? How is it that all that I am and all that I have belongs to God? Two particular verses come to mind when I think of how God has taken both my husband and I from very humble financial circumstances to ones of more privilege yet with more danger to worldly wealth, while we are committed to giving to God’s Kingdom, church and missions as He leads us to do so. 

  1. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
  2. “…I am God, your God…For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” Psalm 50:7-11, (shortened for emphasis).

These verses reflect my life lessons and show me how we are like the nations, “a mere drop in the bucket”, as we have very temporary lives in the “now” of the eternal plan of God. Completely humbled by a seminary friend who asked me to partner with him in prayer and speech at the start up of a Nigerian, Keffi school and orphanage, www.rishama.org, I’ve been obedient to have a couple of fundraisers and ongoing advisement and visional prayer for Rishama, as an associate board member. This is one of two major projects at present where God has used my Deep Waters Ministry Fund to help provide financial resources as I am directed by His Spirit to do so. 

You see, it is not that our lives belong to us, but they belong to God. Sometimes, I stand back in wonder and know that I had nothing to do, accept obedience and priority of my relationship with Christ Jesus, with where I stand today in His provisional giving for others through me. The believers role is that we were designed to manage what God owns; material resources, finances, possessions, our bodies and health, our spiritual and mental capacities, our life experiences (at age 55, more of these to give away now), and the time we have on earth (knowing He can take us home whenever He wants). Our perspective is eternal in this regard.

Do you ever feel like you are not doing enough OR that you could actually “do more”? I have found conviction in Malachi 3:7-10, “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statues and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?” Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Wow! How convicting that there is a time where “there is no more need”! And that this shows me how we can “rob” God when we don’t put our total selves to the needed commitment in His kingdom storehouse. Are you willing to “not rob God”?

I am willing and I certainly do even over-extend myself at times, or give sacrificially and that often means doing things (like driving on a terrible polluted highway each week to counsel Cambodian refugee children who receive benefits from my Deep Waters Ministry) that are very difficult or that I at least wish were easier. Check out Logan Hope School and their needs at http://www.loganhope.org! I “rob” God when my heart-attitude or fleshly self comes in and says “do you really want to do this, you’re not even prepared today”!  I’m grateful these times are minimal and I learn to be content in my callings and offerings to the Lord, as He is with me in it and keeps me healthy to do it! Yet, I am weak.

I was recently in Luke 16 and had a discussion about serving our One Master, Jesus Christ our Lord, and not “serving money” in our investments but seeing Him in how we invest as well as spend. I have a few stories that might seem odd but when I have let seminary students borrow my Pocono Mountain home for retreats and they always thank me, I say “Just remember when I’m on the streets and broke, you can give me a couch to sleep on”. This is seriously meant, as you never know what tomorrow may bring! So, like the Dishonest Manager, being shrewd in the Luke 16 parable, I hope I have several couches I could crash on if ever needed!

As a counselor, I have the resources of experience, training and tools. God has also given me many ways to be creative, even “on the spot” as the Spirit leads! I am a visual learner and teacher. I often “draw a picture” in my counseling time and use concentric circles which are very popular these days because they are effective. For example, Your Responsibility Circle with God in the center and then Self, then World, Church, Government, Family and Work tell us what is our responsibility and what is not, yet often they overlap like in a Venn diagram. God knows when and how He might use your resources if you, good steward, are prepared, geared up and ready to do so. Have faith and prepare to hear “well done good and faithful steward”. Amen

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Sweet and Sound Affections

A Treatise Concerning Religious Affection, A Jonathan Edwards Reader,October 12, 2011 Church History heart attitudes as it relates to Practical Biblical Counseling methods,

Cinda Marturano, M.A.

“As apparent gold is tried in the fire, and manifested, whether it be true gold or no–faith being tried as gold is tried in the fire and becomes more precious.”  Here are the benefits to our affections in Christ:  Favor with God, eternal rewards and virtue of holiness versus the deep-rooted observed evils of this world that we oppose.  In addition, love to Christ who is unseen today is seen spiritually in the eye of the believer.  Joy in Christ is that we believe and hold the nature of the “unspeakable joy” which is “full of glory”, this joy does not corrupt or debase the mind, as carnal joys may.  Our joy is a “preliberation of the joy of heaven” raising our minds to the degree of heavenliness with the light of God’s glory to communicate outwardly.

The affections of the mind are the inclinations of the will of the soul as opposed to self-determination of will.  Inclination stems from perception, speculation and understanding and results in the decision of action one way or the other. The mind, body and heart are determinant vehicles with in our affections and “has the power of godliness in his heart, has his inclinations and heart exercised towards God and divine things”.

In biblical counseling, I have experienced what I term a charismatic-downswing with counselees who experience “high affections” on Sundays and are often depressed and sorrowful on Mondays and when with-out charismatic company. According to Edwards this could be someone “who did not manifest a right temper of mind, and run into many errors, in the time of their affection, and at the heat of their zeal; and because the high affections of many seem to be so soon come to nothing, and some who seemed to be mightily raised…seem to have returned like the dog to his vomit..and run from one extreme to another”. Are they in Christ Jesus and His promised sound and steady Spirit? Instead of diagnosing with melancholy at best or bipolar at worst, could they be experiencing “misplaced affections” based on a natural causation as opposed to a sound spiritual and doctrinal base of praise and love towards Christ. To teach them to distinguish between spiritual affections would be wise, what is of the heart and mind and what is of the emotion of the moment?

 To counsel how we differentiate to sound and “proper inclinations” is to love steadily in the counseling room. Thank you, Jonathan Edwards for this needed heart affection.

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What is Biblical Counseling in Deep Waters?

My Deep Waters Ministry (DWM) is a biblical counseling ministry that has 3 branches: Biblical Counseling, Christian Education & Discipleship Resources, and Missional work to the Homeless. If my personal ministry or a partner’s ministry falls in to these 3 categories, it is a DWM funded project, frequently with my oversight and involvement.

I counsel (one-on-one) in my home office or at various churches under the Pastor’s or Chaplain’s care, knowledge and follow up. I provide christian education and resources and sometimes funding for facilitation of small groups, and missional homeless advisement (an example is getting welfare secular youth into a Christian retreat along with a “faith essay” contest each year for the past 4 years). I work on a secular board of governance in the 5 county region welfare environment for homelessness of youth, representing myself as a biblical counselor, mentor and Christian voice in a sea of chaos.

I have partnered with Logan Hope school for a new small group after-school program for 8th graders for strengthening and encouragement and preparation for high school.

I counsel (generally) 7-8th graders at Logan Hope school, high school seniors in my immediate community (Conestoga HS, Berwyn and Great Valley SD, Malvern PA), college students and others who mainly suffer with anxiety.  Ministry fruit has appeared in heart-change, growth and transformation out of the painful depths of suicide, sexual harm and loneliness and depression struggles. I am a Senior High youth teacher at my weekly church youth group for high school girls, teach adult Sunday School on occasion and am a member of our church’s Missions Committee (Great Valley Presbyterian, EPC).

Let me know how I can extend the love of Christ to you this day.

Blessings,

Cinda Marturano, M.A

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God-given Priorities

It was 1997 and I was a mom of a 4 year old son, Eric and 1 year old daughter, Bridget. Everyone was wanting my time; the church, the preschool, my family, my husband, my children, my neighbors and my friends. I had recently stopped working in the fast-paced industry of multi-media computer compilations and in international marketing and research and was prepared to be a pauper as a new “stay-at-home” mom. But we are rarely at home, are we? I had allowance of $5 a week for extra spending money as my husband and I made the checkbook balance each month. What could I do with this extra money?

The Lord gave me the kindest gift of His priorities and my husband’s travel to Marriot hotels allowed me one night free to have on my own to receive these priorities. I opened the bible for instruction as I was a new Christian, a born-again, having responded in faith to His calling in me to be Jesus’ very own child, sister, bride and servant. How would I get everything done for Him? That one night of refreshed contemplation made all the difference and now over 20 years is still my focus of priority.

The Holy Spirit of Christ gently instructed me, even as I drove towards Princeton, “I am your #1, First Priority, your relationship with me is primary, then it is your husband, he loves and needs you to love him and respect His gifts that I have given him, then your children are next. When you have a relationship with me, I will bless and grow your children as they are also my anointed and sanctified ones. Lastly, I will make time for my ministry to others through you, your community volunteer work and even a part-time job that will give you health and happiness”. My spirit confirmed with His Spirit a resounding “Yes”.

Thank you Jesus for my God-given priorities, in You, through faith alone in the work of Your hands. #Ushapedgospel

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“Draw Near to Me and I will Draw Near to You.”

Cinda Marturano, January 27, 2007—-Westminster Theological Seminary, Counseling in the Local Church class;

My first thought of the day is connected to my heart; “Lord, I’m being drawn by you to encounter you today and be close to you through the Holy Spirit. You approached me, belong to me and are with me today. I am yours and you are mine. We are a part of something together. Bless you, Bless me.” Is this a dream mode or a special place where we meet our God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit? Is He really “there” for us?

The fact that God makes Himself known to us in prayer is something that I want to share with other believers. Over the years of my Christian life I have experienced prayer in many different ways and modes; personally, in small groups, in large settings, corporately, and in conferences of thousands. One of the most honorable ways to pray is alone as Matthew 6:6 tell us to “go into your room, pray to your Father who is unseen…and He will reward you.” This time of prayer alone has its purpose as does praying in twos and threes.

Prayer can be a means to grow in faith with in the body of Christ and in the Redemptive community God desires for us to have. In groups, we can “do” prayer in many ways.

Establishing Prayer and Encouragement Partners (PAE) “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”Matthew 18:20;

I see a need for established and organized prayer and encouragement partners (PAE) who will in essence be “peer counselors” within small groups, ministries and bible studies. This idea is nothing new, but an often missed need of commitment to each other.  Through prayer and accountability, relationships will strengthen, supporting the bedrock of Christ’s church, His people.  Peer counselors admonish each other, equally.  There is not a counselor/client relationship as traditional counseling takes place.

Why is prayer and encouragement so important to us believers? Our heart attitude is dictated by Ephesians 4:2:

“Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Built up and mature, we reach fullness of Christ and desire progressive sanctification so we can have oneness in Christ, the unity of believers.  We also need to call on our Father with a sincere heart out of our need, knowing that He is available, accessible and willing and waiting to help us.  Together, in pairs of two or three, we can uphold each other’s burdens, speak to God in the unity of the Spirit and know each other well.  This is redemptive community in action and interaction with God.

Meeting together to pray is a way to be understood and to understand your partner with an obvious and desired called presence of the Holy Spirit, our true comforter.  This peer counseling is supported through Christ and by others.  We witness change as our heart attitude learns to be humble and gentle, patient, and bearing with one another in love. Jesus’ truths will reign as we live it out.

Inception and Facilitation of Prayer and Encouragement Partners (PAE)

Prayer is for everyone in the church.  Yet many will not want to participate as a PAE. With the understanding that some with the gift of “faith” can strengthen another through this type of partnering, it will increasingly aide in biblical peer counseling. It will allow for a “new” method to add some fresh air to assist in the changing of hearts for all involved.  We will pray and counsel the word together.

Let us take Jesus’ example of prayer in John 17:20-23 to heart:

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.“

We are under Christ Jesus alone with our spiritual gifts of faith and encouragement and in the Lord when we love each other in a concrete way through spending time praying with and for another. Who are your PAE partners? We have drawn near to God and He is nearer to us because Jesus is here with us as our ultimate Counselor.

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Psalms, the Gift that Gives to Your Heart

The Psalms are the Gift that keeps on Giving for the Sufferer of Anxiety and Distress, but How? In relationships with the faithful:

Last week when I met up with a fellow Biblical Counselor turned Chaplain in Washington DC we had time to encourage and mutually edify one another in the Lord. And the Museum of the Bible and Tomb of Christ exhibit at Nat Geo even added more reassurance of our faith in Jesus by knowing the Master of History is with us now, proving Himself as the Living Word. Jesus confirmed who we are in loving service for the sake of others by spending time together while we sought His presence to guide us.

In our exchange, the study of the Psalms for a need at a senior citizen’s home in Baltimore came up. It would bring about much-needed small group interactions and build, hopefully, more trusting friendships. By having the Psalms read and discussed in order to share the heart and the eventual telling of  their own great life stories, the group will make the inroad of knowing and trusting God in their lives together. To share in love and mutuality of understanding could be part of the needed growth. Our discussion of the Psalms also encouraged us to speak honestly about our own pains, misunderstanding and aggravations in ministry. And the blessing was continual then and even now at this writing.

On the way home to Philadelphia, driving in the snowstorm, a counselee of mine called to talk about stresses of how everything seemed to be intensifying in her life and how the accumulation of stresses are so real. As a college student, the first week of December usually provides nail-biting behavior inducement, no doubt with exams, papers due and lack of sleep. Since I had to keep my eyes on the road more than usual, and still wanted to bring Christ into our discussion, I quickly recalled the discussion with my colleague on the Psalms. If it would work for the senior center, why not a college student? Asking her to go to her bible and open it to a chosen Psalm, she came up with Psalm 31 “Into Your Hand I Commit My Spirit”,  and read it aloud to me. Audible through my car speaker system, I pulled out 3 verbs for her to hold on to for this week of abnormality. I reiterated these words in conversation of how God does indeed make Himself known to her and is always with us in our suffering.

What 3 verbs speak to you? How do they express your heart pings and pains? And what life situations do you find them in?

Psalm 31, a Psalm of David:

“In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame;

in your righteousness deliver me!

Incline your ear to me;

rescue me speedily!

Be a rock of refuge for me,

a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress;

and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;

you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,

for you are my refuge.

Into your hand I commit my spirit;

you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

I hate[a] those who pay regard to worthless idols,

but I trust in the Lord.

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,

because you have seen my affliction;

you have known the distress of my soul,

and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;

you have set my feet in a broad place.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;

my eye is wasted from grief;

my soul and my body also.

10 

For my life is spent with sorrow,

and my years with sighing;

my strength fails because of my iniquity,

and my bones waste away.

11 

Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,

especially to my neighbors,

and an object of dread to my acquaintances;

those who see me in the street flee from me.

12 

I have been forgotten like one who is dead;

I have become like a broken vessel.

13 

For I hear the whispering of many—

terror on every side!—

as they scheme together against me,

as they plot to take my life.

14 

But I trust in you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my God.”

15 

My times are in your hand;

rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

16 

Make your face shine on your servant;

save me in your steadfast love!

17 

O Lord, let me not be put to shame,

for I call upon you;

let the wicked be put to shame;

let them go silently to Sheol.

18 

Let the lying lips be mute,

which speak insolently against the righteous

in pride and contempt.

19 

Oh, how abundant is your goodness,

which you have stored up for those who fear you

and worked for those who take refuge in you,

in the sight of the children of mankind!

20 

In the cover of your presence you hide them

from the plots of men;

you store them in your shelter

from the strife of tongues.

21 

Blessed be the Lord,

for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me

when I was in a besieged city.

22 

I had said in my alarm,[b]

“I am cut off from your sight.”

But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy

when I cried to you for help.

23 

Love the Lord, all you his saints!

The Lord preserves the faithful

but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.

24 

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,

all you who wait for the Lord!

 

The Psalter, in German, 1545 translated by Martin Luther, Wittenberg, Germany:

 

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Eugene Peterson’s “Tell it Slant”-How not to be a Pharisee

In his book “Tell It Slant”, Eugene Peterson brings concepts from parables and prayers of Jesus to consider for counseling, personal living through heart-transformation, and for our progressive sanctification. Peterson uniquely speaks to the heart that is open to change and that is my goal as a biblical counselor–to speak to hearts for the purpose of redemptive, godly change.  However, as Christians we often believe that we have it all together and are not in need of change. We forget that no one is righteous and that Jesus came to call sinners (Rom 3:10; Mk 2:17). We are easily capable of being self-righteous instead of righteous through faith (Rom 1:17) in the sight of the Lord and in His atoning work on the cross, alone.

The sin of self-righteousness interests me as a biblical counselor in the area of self-examination and peer-counseling of my fellow ministry leaders. My first conviction came in the story “The Lost Brothers: Luke 15” in Chapter 7. Here, there are four “mini-stories” that show who the “lost brother” can be while Jesus does His authentic soteriological work. The first parable, known as “The Lost Sheep”, parallels the other three mini-stories in Luke 15 and highlights the degree that a Shepherd goes to rescue one sheep who strays from the flock. Peterson exposes the sin of the church, the heart-state of the Pharisee, at the point in the text just prior to the parable:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And

the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying ‘This man receives sinners and

eats with them’” (Lk 15:1,2).

Just like the Israelites in Ex 16:2 who were dissatisfied with God’s way of provision of “bread of heaven” or “manna”, the Pharisees demonstrate discontentment and disapproval of God’s provision for salvation. They play judge and are self-righteous as if they know better than God. They “grumble”, or “diegongudzon” in greek–a word that has an onomatopoeiac sound of murmuring and muttering.  Like the Prodigal Son story, the pretense and posturing of the Pharisees prior to the Lost Sheep story exposes the heart of jealousy similar to the older son when his run-away brother returns (Lk 15:28-30). I can almost hear 99 sheep “baa-baahing” in discontentment while Jesus seeks to save the one lost! Instead of rejoicing, as the angels do in heaven, the Pharisees grumble about the way Jesus saves the unrighteous. Do we also forget that Christ gave us His righteousness upon our acceptance of faith? For “when a sinner receives Christ, he also receives the gift of Christ’s own righteousness.”

There are heavenly benefits in the kingdom for our works and therefore you need an “ego-check” if you are one who produces fruit for the kingdom. Peterson explains:

“For as long as we hold on to any pretense of having it all together we are prevented from deepening and maturing in the Christian faith. For as long as we avoid recognition of our lostness we are prevented from experiencing the elegant profundities of foundness…Eusebeigenic sin can be prevented. It is as simple as it is difficult: lay our competencies and skills daily on the altar.”

So, how can we operate in regards to the sin that can prevent us from loving our neighbor as ourselves? This eusebeigenic sin–sin that appears as righteousness– is something that develops in the church likened to what Peterson borrows from a medical term “iatrogenic”,  which explains how a disease can be developed in someone when being cured. We must therefore also call the aide of the church to bring awareness to this sin. In counseling, how are we to convict our brother or sister who is blind to sin that was actually formed in the church? My hope is that there is a way to rid ourselves of stumbling blocks that get in the way of unity while we humbly receive Christ, daily. A conscious recognition of our hearts is necessary.

“The best protection against eusebeigenic sin is an acute awareness of our lost condition in which we so desperately and at all times need a Savior.”  In the gospels, we observe many altercations of Jesus with various legalists to the extent that they are considered the outsiders of the faith:

“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples:  “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads…aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others (Mt 23:1-5a)”.

Jesus certainly gives every Christian a clear message. He states that “teachers of the law” are in effect, judgmental hypocrites as they “do not practice what they preach” (Rom 2:1 paraphrased) but they care more about their image and appearance. I call this the “look at me” syndrome often found in church leadership that delights in “lording over” (1 Pet 5:3) others.  Peterson reiterates in chapter 11 that, “hypocrisy is slow-growing. In its early stages it is difficult to detect”.  We need to see the fine line between healthy leadership worth following and the act of dictatorial lordship. The works of teaching are in and of themselves useless unless the Holy Spirit is working in and through the teacher as a gift–always for the benefit of another, not yourself! Leadership can only be performed in humble obedience and surrender to Jesus or as Luke 3:8 reminds us to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. Timothy Gombis supports Peterson’s observations:

“While ancient and contemporary Pharisees imagine that their efforts bring

about cultural holiness are what moves God to save, Paul says it is completely

a matter of God’s gracious initiative. God does not want any boasting in his

radically new society, no one setting himself over others, no one claiming a cozier

relationship with God than others.”

Jesus called sinners to become the righteousness of God and that includes the hearts of those of us who forget to rely upon Jesus for righteousness and can turn the church into a legalistic sea of Pharisees. The modern church is the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16) which is now the legitimate righteousness in the new life in Jesus, not a church of only law-keeping, but a church that lives by faith (Rom 1:9). The true people of God are those whom believe in Jesus the son of God, faithfully, internally and of the heart (Rom 2:29) prior to any work to accomplish or law to maintain. It is Jesus’ righteousness that makes us acceptable to God and only through humble and realistic self-examination can this be accomplished. Our own righteous works are of no value to God. But righteousness in faith is a gift of God and as we humbly receive, enjoy and exercise it, it replaces our self-derived sanctimoniousness and posturing. We are able to help the lost brother continue on in progressive sanctification if we also humbly remain in Jesus.

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