A Summary of Logotherapy

I received my BS from the University of Montevallo in 1981, and my major professor was Dr. Sanford Colley. He introduced me to most of the major theories of counseling and psychotherapy, and I found Existential Analysis (or logotherapy) to be the most intriguing. Upon recently rediscovering the writings of Dr. Viktor Frankl, I wish I had paid more attention in school!

This information is a compilation of my recent reading of three books:

Logotherapy was developed by neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. It is considered the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” along with Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology.

The theory is based on an existential analysis focusing on Kierkegaard’s “will to meaning” as opposed to Adler’s emphasis of “will to power” or Freud’s focusing on man’s “will to pleasure.” Logotherapy is based on the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in life that is the primary, most powerful motivating factor in life.

The name “logotherapy” was created based on the Greek word logos (biblically, this means “word” but Frankl emphasizes the word referring to “meaning”). Frankl’s concept is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find meaning in life. These statements are the basic principles of logotherapy:

  1. Freedom of Will: Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  2. Will to Meaning: Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  3. Meaning of Life: We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stance we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

In Frankl’s view, the spirit is the will of the human being. The emphasis is on the search for meaning, which is not necessarily the search for God.

Frankl wrote that it may be psychologically damaging when a person’s search for meaning is blocked. Positive life purpose and meaning was associated with strong religious beliefs, membership in groups, dedication to a cause, life values, and clear goals.

According to logotherapy, meaning is experienced on two levels: ultimate meaning and meaning of the moment.

  1. Ultimate Meaning, is found through participation in a universal order of being in which every person has a place. This type of meaning deals with questions, such as, “Who am I?” Ultimate meaning can never be comprehended in its entirety, only pursued to the best of one’s ability.
  2. Meaning of the Moment, is much easier to grasp. In most situations it is nothing spectacular, just the daily tasks awaiting us. Some moments offer bigger choices than others; some moments are subtler than others; none are repeatable.

According to Frankl, people discover meaning in life in three different ways:

  1. Work: by creating a work or accomplishing a task.
  2. Love: by experiencing something in life or encountering someone, through the quality of love.
  3. Attitude: by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” and that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.

On the meaning of suffering, Frankl gives the following example:

Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now how could I help him? What should I tell him? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive without you?:” “Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office.

Frankl emphasized that realizing the value of suffering is meaningful only when the first two creative possibilities are not available (for example, in a concentration camp) and only when such suffering is unavoidable – he was not proposing that people suffer unnecessarily.

Frankl developed a unique view of determinism to coexist with the three basic pillars of Logotherapy. Though Frankl admitted that man can never be free from every condition, such as, biological, sociological, or psychological determinants, based on his experience during his life in the Nazi concentration camps, he believed that man is “capable of resisting and braving even the worst conditions.” In doing such, man can detach from situations, himself, choose an attitude about himself, determine his own determinants, therefore, shaping his own character and becoming responsible for himself.

Within the domain which belongs such human sufferings, these conditions are in effect:

  • Despondency: Expressed in pain, guilt, and death, which comprises the tragic triad.
  • Despair: Giving rise to depression, aggression, and addiction, which constitutes the the neurotic triad.
  • Doubt and Confusion: Often caused by an inner emptiness when access to one’s spiritual core is blocked, is experienced as existential vacuum.

This existential vacuum is a general sense of meaninglessness and emptiness, an “inner void,” an “abyss-experience.” It manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do: soon he will not know what he wants to do. More and more he will be governed by what others want him to do, thus increasingly falling prey to conformism.

There are various tools the counselor may use in helping people using logotherapy. The major established techniques for intervention described in logotherapy are:

Self-distancing or Self-detachment – When clients present us with their problems or symptoms, the first step—after hearing their story—is to help them gain some distance from the burden they carry, and through which they often identify themselves. This distancing will provide a clearer vision for courses of action open to them or reveal areas of freedom still available to take a stand toward their conditions. Man is capable of detaching himself not only from a situation but also from himself. He is capable of choosing his attitude toward himself. Self-distancing is the capacity to step away from ourselves and to look at ourselves from the “outside,” possibly with humor.

Paradoxical Intention – The means that the patient is encouraged to do, or wish to happen, the very things he fears. It lends itself to the short-term treatment of obsessive-compulsive and phobic clients. Paradoxical Intention is a wish turned upside down. Patients are guided to wish exactly what as phobics and obsessives they have so frantically feared and so desperately tried to avoid. What we flee from tends to catch up with us, and the more we fight a fear the more we become its victims. On the other hand, if we wish to have happen what we fear and support our paradoxical wish with humoristically exaggerated formulations, the fear dissolves.

Socratic Dialogue – This technique is used to help persons use questioning to discover for themselves the meanings of life. Frankl believes it is the task of the logotherapist, not to tell clients what the meaning in their life is, but to elicit the wisdom that is hidden within the spirit of each person. One of the basic assumptions of logotherapy is that, in the depth of our spiritual dimension, we know what kind of person we are, what our potentials are, and what is important and meaningful to us. He states that ultimate questions of human existence are on the lips of every man.

Dereflection – Focusing attention away from the situation. It rests on two essential qualities of human existence, namely, man’s capacities of self-transcendence and self-detachment. The essence of dereflection is substituting something positive for something negative. When turning toward a new interest is successful or is rewarded, turning from intense self-observation is more likely to succeed. Dereflection is intended to counteract compulsive inclination to self-observation. Through paradoxical intention the person tries to ridicule his symptoms, while he learns to “ignore” them through dereflection.

I challenge the reader to find the above referenced books, which bring much clarity to the task of pastoral counseling and guidance.

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A Spiritual Oil Spill

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, there was an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed eleven workers, devastating eleven families from Day One. I’ve read this is the worst environmental disaster in US history, but just how big is the spill? Imagine if the spill was in Virginia Beach, how far would it reach? 

Today, this event in the Gulf is on Day 56, completing eight full weeks of disaster for the Gulf coast, but on a serious and spiritual note, I have a few questions to ask…

How is our sin like an oil spill? Let me suggest that as the oil comes from deep inside the earth and gushes out to destroy life and the environment, our personal sin comes from the deepest and darkest regions inside of us and also leads to a similar destruction of life and family.

How do we tend to deal with that sin? The experts at BP and the US government have tried numerous methods to cap the well and stop the flow of oil. One method after another has failed and we wonder if the oil leak will ever be stopped. What are some ways that we try to cap the sin spillage in our lives? We try one thing after another until we discover that there is only one way to cap the sin problem we have, the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (John 14:6, Romans 5:8). The bottom line is that we try to cap the well on our own, with little success. When a relationship is breached, the only way to mend the relationship is to follow the prescription of the offended one. We cannot come to him on our own terms.

How can we clean up the mess we have created? BP is utilizing thousands of employees and volunteers to help clean up this oil spill. When it comes to getting rid of sin, if we could clean up on our own, we would not really need Jesus or the Holy Spirit to work through us. The goal of the believer is to conform to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29) and the Spirit is called our Helper (John 15:26). Let’s work in partnership with the Holy Spirit to conform to the image of the Son. That’s what sanctification is all about, becoming more and more like Jesus in thought, word and deed. So, for those who have trusted Christ, the gospel has effectively capped our rampant sin spillage.

How does sin impact the lives of others? Just as this oil spill has affected hundreds of thousands of people and communities, sin also has a lasting effect on others. Think about how your sin has affected those around you; your relationships at work, with your wife, your business dealings, your peace. The dark oil of sin is lurking just off the coast ready to destroy whatever it can cover. We can set out a boom, but the source of the leak needs to be capped.

Why do we often feel so helpless? Romans 1:16 tells us about the power that is available to us, to save everyone from the looming oil spill of sin. Tony Hayward said in the BP public relations commercial that “we will make this right.” The “good news tells us how God makes us right in his sight.” (Romans 1:17) Praise God that he has been in charge from Day One and gets the job done for those who know they cannot survive without him.

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American Men in Need

It doesn’t take much to see that American men are in crisis. There’s little peace at home, no satisfaction in work, feelings of uselessness and discouragement are commonplace. The cry of the preacher (teacher) in Ecclesiastes sounds very familiar to us:

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? … I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, 13, 14)

I found a good description of what seems to be happening to American men, husbands and fathers.

American men are confused. They’re confused over what it means and doesn’t mean to be a man. Every ten years, the model changes. For a while it was the John Wayne “tough guy.” Then it was the James Bond “womanizer.” Then the Phil Donohue “sensitive male.” Then the Michael Douglas “Wall Street climber.”

American men are friendless. The average man over thirty-five doesn’t have one close friend he can call in the middle of the night.

American men are sexually addicted. With the Internet making this addiction private, men spend more and more time in front of the computer staring at touched-up images of “perfect” women. And Christian men haven’t escaped this addiction.

American men are emotionally isolated. When asked what he’s feeling, the average guy will say either “good” or “bad.” The problem is, neither of these is a feeling. Men struggle with identifying and expressing their emotions in a healthy manner. Most funnel every emotion through anger. So whether they’re sad, scared, frustrated, fearful, or joyful, they still kick the cat when they get home.

American men are searching spiritually. In the midst of this gloomy picture of men, one thing is true: They’re looking for something beyond themselves to make sense out of the world they live in and the problems they face. For this reason, men need a place they can go to deal with life’s issues. They desire a place of safety and refuge where they can be who they are and accepted as they are. In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg says that we’re all born with a tag on us that reads, “As Is.”

Lowes has a great slogan, “Let’s Build Something Together.” Building is in the male DNA, something indicates our quest, and together is what the church is all about. Men don’t have to go through this life searching all alone. There are answers to a better marriage, help in raising our kids and finding satisfaction at work. The Home Depot used to tell us that, “You can do it, we can help.” King’s Grant stands here with that same offer! That’s what King’s Grant and the Men of Steel can become, a Home Depot for men; encouraging, equipping, training, leading, reaching, uniting, practicing, impacting and sharing life together, for the kingdom’s sake.

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Labor Alone Will Not Satisfy

Work is a noble thing for a man to do. Some feel that working is a part of the curse that God pronounced after the first couple sinned in the Garden of Eden, but it is clear that man was to work the garden long before Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 2:15). So when did work actually become laborious?

“All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied” (Ecclesiastes 6:7 NKJV).

We work to support our families, to eat, to enjoy life, yet the Bible says that these things will not satisfy the soul of a man. Think about how often men will identify themselves, and measure their worth, by what they do. Remember those weird introductions at parties? So, how would you feel about yourself if your job was removed from you tomorrow? Let’s imagine that your income wouldn’t change, just what you did everyday. How long will it take for life to become laborious and unsatisfactory?

One of the schemes that our enemy uses is to get men to view their value solely based on the type of work they do and how well they do it. This is performance-based acceptance. It says “As long as I have a good job and I do it well, I have self-esteem and people will think I’m valuable.”

This is a “slippery slope” and can be used by Satan to keep our focus on our performance rather than having a focus on Christ and his mission in the world. We are a part of that mission. We are never to find our value in our livelihood. Instead, our value is solely based on who we are in Christ. Paul wrestled with this after he came to faith in Christ. He had made it to the top of his field as a Jewish leader.

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Phil 3:4-9).

You’ll never really know how much your self-esteem is rooted in your work until your work is taken away. Unemployment, illness, or a financial crisis can lead to job loss, but our self-esteem is based on our faith in Christ; it is more valuable to know whose we are than who we are. Work will never satisfy the deep longings of our heart.

Why not evaluate where you are in this area of your life. Affirm with God your desire to be known by Who you know rather than what you do.

We are not meeting this Saturday due to the Youth Evangelism Conference, but will get together next week on Saturday January 23 at 7:30 am.

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Decision-Making by the Book

A reporter investigating the citrus industry in Florida, found a man at a conveyor belt putting large oranges in one hole, small ones in a second hole and damaged ones in a third hole. After several moments of watching this monotonous routine, the reporter asked how the worker can do this day after day. He said, sir, you don’t know the half of it. Every day, all day long it’s decisions, decisions, decisions.

There’s a Hunger for Guidance – Deuteronomy 18:10, 11-12. There’s a silence in the Bible, and no step by step process for finding God’s will.

There are Many Divining Christians

Some people meditate, empty their minds and allow God to speak directly to them, but inner impressions may not be the will of God.

Biblical roulette allows your fingers to do the walking and pick out a passage or let the book flop open to read a word from the Lord. We’ve heard the story of the man seeking guidance and the passage found was Matthew 27:5, Judas went away and hanged himself. Then Luke 10:37, where Jesus finished the parable of the Good Samaritan and said, “Go and do likewise.” Still not satisfied, he found John 2:5, where Mary, the mother of Jesus says, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Promise boxes can be another way – taking the next verse in the box, at breakfast, and that is God’s word for you that day. I read of a man (whose wife was terminally ill), who sat at the table and the next card was John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live.” He was convinced that God had spoken to him, so he spread the great news that God was going to heal his wife, only to be disappointed later that week. People came to the conclusion that the man was a religious fanatic or that God had gone back on his word.

There are Classic Searching Questions, like whom should I marry? Should I take this Job or that one? Should I buy this home or rent? Should I go to this school or that one? So how do you know? Will there be a sign over the proper direction? Or how about the right person to marry? How will I spot her? Will she be carrying a large Bible or wear her hair in a certain way?

The Bull’s-Eye Theory – that there is a range of possible choices that are acceptable to God, so our main goal is to find the bulls-eyes, or the center of God’s will. We think that the center would be for missionary service, pastors, Christian businessmen who support missionaries. Then there’s a second ring further out, they went to church but were not as involved in God’s work as others. Finally we get to those who missed the target completely! These people missed the center and will never have the chance to be in the bulls-eye, because they married second best, or they settled for second best.

Three Wills of God

Philosophers are right to explain what we mean by the term, “God’s will.”

God’s sovereign will – God’s purpose from eternity past to eternity future, and he determines that all of it will take place. In Ephesians 1:11, “we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” History is God’s story and he writes the story line. Theologians will call this God’s hidden will, because he doesn’t have to reveal the secret things of God to humans. He reveals what he wants!

God’s moral will – God wants us to know this one because he reveals it in the Bible. Scripture tells us what to believe and how to behave. Its moral and it’s clear.

God’s individual will – God would seem to have my life all mapped out on a blackboard in heaven and we need to see it to make the right choices that he has for our lives. It’s here that we ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life” when really we are asking the wrong question. The question is, “What is God’s will, and how can I bring my life in tune with it?” He works his sovereign will, sometimes even through atheists and unbelievers; he reveals his moral will; but he doesn’t necessarily reveal his specific plan for our lives. Individual will is not to be on the same level as the other two.

Peace as Proof of being in God’s Will – Colossians 3:15 says to let the peace of Christ rule your heartsyou were called to peace.” Some would say that you are living within God’s boundaries when you experience peace. When you step outside the boundaries, the umpire blows the whistle and peace is lacking. It sounds good until you look at the examples of Jonah and Jesus.

  1. Jonah was totally at peace, asleep in the boat, and absolutely out of God’s will.
  2. Jesus was in agony in the garden, devoid of peace, but totally in God’s will.

Freedom and Responsibility – The question we should ask is no longer, “How can I know God’s will?” Instead we should ask, “How can I make good decisions?” If we change the question, we change the direction of the answer. “How do I know God’s will?” makes us passive, in receiving mode. “How do I make good decisions?” makes us active. It shifts the responsibility of decision-making from God to us. It’s like helping your kids across the street… we’re very directive, hold my hand and we’ll cross together. Then at one point they grow up and they can cross without hold our hand, and then if we have taught them well enough, they will be able to cross in our absence, having taught them to make good decisions.

How to Make Good Decisions on this Life Journey?

Take a position of humility and submission is a good start. It’s hard to be humble when we are selfishly looking out for our own interests.

Allow the law of love to guide – what is the most loving thing?

Know your strengths and weaknesses – some things you are able to do with a certain ease and effectiveness; other things do not.

Consider the circumstances – Tornadoes on the east side of Louisville KY, near SBTS. Interpretation is difficult, if God was angry over horse racing, gambling and bourbon, why did he leave Churchill Downs in tact?

Open doors – it is not always the Lord leading you through an open door. Just because it’s open does not mean you need to go through it. Don’t let circumstances determine your decisions. The phrase is used five times in the NT (Acts 14:27, 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Colossians 4:3 and Revelation 3:8) and they all refer to an opportunity. “When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him. 2 Corinthians 2:12-13. If an open door determines God’s direction, what Paul did is puzzling.

Seeking wise counsel – This is a sure way to get better at making decisions.

A Final Verse – “Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left”. – Isaiah 30:20-21

This tells me to make a wise decision with the light I have, and then God will confirm that I have chosen the right direction. I can choose the wrong direction when I totally disregard the decision-making steps above.

A.W Tozer said that the man or woman who is wholly and joyously surrendered to Christ can’t make a wrong decision.

The action to take when struggling with a decision, get to know God and He will make His will, your will.

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Why Does God Wrestle With Men?

The Men of Steel looked into this topic; how often do we wrestle with God?

  1. The Enemy within Me
  2. God Sparing Your Life
  3. Refuse to be a Target
  4. God Wrestles with You… Alone
  5. Why Does God Wrestle with Men?
  6. The Reality of the Spirit Realm

Last time I wrote about Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:24) because wrestling is a man thing, lots of testosterone. I regularly listen to a syndicated Christian radio station called K-Love, and they play a song called By Your Side by a group named Tenth Avenue North. Here are the lyrics:

Why are you striving these days
Why are you trying to earn grace
Why are you crying, let me lift up your face
Just don’t turn away

Why are you looking for love
Why are you still searching as if I’m not enough
To where will you go child, tell me where will you run
To where will you run

‘Cause I’ll be by your side, wherever you fall
In the dead of night, whenever you call
And please don’t fight, these hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you

Look at these hands and my side
They swallowed the grave on that night
When I drank the world’s sin, so I could carry you in
And give you life, I want to give you life

What does this have to do with wrestling? I sense this song pictures us wrestling against God, while He wrestles with us to help us realize that we need Him more than we could ever imagine. As men we are often striving, trying, and fighting the hands holding us.

I suppose that God also wrestles with us so that we will discover what we are made of. He already knows what He created us to be and He knows what we’ve done with His creation. He’s waiting for us to discover who we are, so He wrestles with us so we will know His power and our weakness, His wisdom and our error, His strength and our frailty.

God wrestles with us to make us realize that we are wasting our lives; that we are mistreating our wives; that we really aren’t the “greatest” or the center of the universe.

God wrestles with us to make us see that we need to persevere and not quit in life, our jobs, our marriages, our spiritual lives, or our church.

God wrestles with us until we face the facts. He doesn’t sugarcoat what He has to say. He wrestles with us until we admit, “Yes, I’m unstable. Yes, I’m making excuses. Yes, I was wrong.”

God wrestles with us so that we will start searching for Him and hunting for what He wants us to find. Man is a hunter by nature. God’s commands to the first man were to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion … over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

To subdue means to control or conquer, to have dominion means to maintain one’s conquest. Deep inside of men is the need to subdue, the need to conquer, the need to track down and bring something into dominion. There’s a hunter inside every man.

  • We may be hunting for a contract or business deal.
  • We may be on the hunt for a woman.
  • We may be hunting for the perfect new house or car.

Sometimes we don’t even really want what we’re after; we’re just hunting because it is our nature to hunt. Fishermen often catch fish, unhook them, and throw them right back. They say, “Look what I caught,” and then they toss that fish back into the lake. That doesn’t make the man any less a fisherman. It means that he is merely fishing for the sport of it, not for dinner. He is just “hunting.”

Unless we allow God to step in and give us the right goals and guide our “hunting” instinct, we can spend our entire life hunting for the wrong things. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). He promised that if you seek for it, you’ll find it. (Matthew 7:7). I hope that the Men of Steel can help each of us navigate through this thing called life.

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You Have to Give Up Everything?

These are notes to my lesson for the New Beginnings class on Sunday, January 4th, so if this post seems a little disjointed you’ll know why. Week two is found here.

 

Imagine the difference between a salad vs. a salad bar? Think about it; once everything is piled up can you really call it a salad?

  • Traditional methods are plenty in the church – evangelism, outreach, Bible study…
  • Which evangelism methods do you know?
  • Do they all come down to a verse to memorize and a prayer to pray?
  • This encounter seems too easy.

Look at Jesus in action – Mark 10:17-31.

 

Jesus could have said, “Your question is flawed, you can’t DO anything…” Jesus never mentions faith! In fact, He tells him he has not done enough!

  • When have you felt that you needed just one more thing to do to get this spiritual life thing right?
  • What is the relationship between what you do and what you believe?

Who was the rich young ruler?

Matthew mentions he was young, Luke mentions he was a ruler. He ran to Jesus, what does this action indicate? He humiliated himself publicly! What sort of profile can you build based on his question?

 

Two facts:

  1. He calls Jesus “good” (a word not lightly used, in fact it really referred to God alone, so, he had already come to some serious conclusions about Jesus).
  2. The man was at the end of his rope (he’s running, in the wind, in the dust, kneeling, asking an question – with an answer anyone would know).

The man’s unfair reputation over the years:

  • Is he proud, self-righteous, spoiled, and haughty?
  • Perhaps he’s more like a disillusioned church kid who knew all the right answers, done the right stuff but still feels unfulfilled.

Keep the Law?

Two times the disciples are amazed – why at Jesus’ response here?

  • This guy more than anyone else was blessed – he had money, power, position…
  • If one is poor, hungry, sick, you were definitely not blessed by God.
  • Jesus asked this guy to get rid of everything that was considered a blessing of God.
  • Beatitudes: blessed are the poor, not the rich. A redefinition of what it means to be blessed by God. How do you define blessing? Are you blessed?

Another shock for the twelve? It’s not about doing, it’s about receiving! But Jesus’ response goes against all we know about grace. Yet in the midst of all the rule-keeping, he had missed something.

 

The Hidden Key? Mark 10:21

Jesus loved him before he did anything else, even before the man refused to do this one more thing.  We want to reverse the order, do something, and then receive the love.

  • When have you felt that Jesus is judging your performance? That He’ll love you more if you do better?
  • When you are well connected to Jesus, how is life affected?
  • In what ways do you feel that you need to prove your love for God?
  • What other relationships do we have where we need to justify why you deserve to be in that relationship?

Identity Check

Consider how people define themselves. Imagine you’re at a party, what is the usual conversation? Our identity appears to be wound up in what we do.

  • What three things do you usually tell people about yourself?
  • How important are career and achievement to your identity?
  • How many friends REALLY know you, not just know facts about you?
  • How well do you feel that you know yourself?

Career, education, position, family name… all can crumble around us, but who are we? Here’s the point of the story. This is the question Jesus was trying to get the young ruler to ask: The man knew how people defined him (like us, as a rich young ruler), Jesus wanted to get to his core, so selling his possessions, even considering it, would strip this man of his identity. In this life crisis, he could define himself the way Jesus wanted. In what was his faith?

 

The identity question can only be answered in the moment of crisis, when your life is altered or threatened. Who was the rich young ruler when all of his possessions were gone? That’s the point Jesus was moving him towards. How do I know? Mark 10:13-16.

 

Become like children

In this society children were not really people. They offered nothing to mainstream culture. But for Jesus, these nobodies embodied the qualities that were kingdom-worthy. Jesus wanted this man to embrace nothingness to experience the kingdom. The old things have passed away, behold all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Nobodies don’t rely on trivial marks of identity. Their significance comes from a deeper source!

 

The rich young ruler could not embrace an existence where he brought nothing to the table. He could not stomach the crisis of nothingness.

 

Can you hear the Scripture? Can you feel Jesus trying to pull from your fists whatever is keeping you from true poverty, and thus, true wealth? Go and sell your self-righteousness, sell you drams of fame and fortune, sell your popularity, sell you comfortable future, come and trust Me…

 

Are you living a life defined by Jesus? Is there anything in life that you need to trade off so you can have true faith?

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When Life Goes Unscripted

In my Bible study class at King’s Grant we are taking a fresh look at the life of Mary. Not a very manly thing to do but the life lessons are very relevant. The first session looked at the topic of “unexpected,” which was certainly what happened to Mary when the angel visited her. The question for each of us is, “How do you respond when unexpected things in life happen to you?” The choices can be as few as two: do you respond in faith or in fear? What’s your story? Loss of a job, marital strife, rebellious kids, health concerns, failure of some kind, home foreclosure, victim of a crime?

 

Now, think about your favorite reality TV show. What do you like best about it? Why are these shows so popular? Answers will obviously vary, but for the most part, we like these shows because they are unpredictable. I read a story about a stage actress who realized no one was watching her perform; their attention was drawn to a cat that wondered onto the stage. Why was the cat suddenly the star of the show? Because no one knew what the cat would do next!

 

Mary had her plans in life; marriage to Joseph, raise a family, influence the community, be a part of the best carpentry shop in Nazareth, who knows? She had her life all scripted out. What happens when we lose the script of our own lives? What are your feelings when life goes unscripted?

 

Take an index card and write out the major events in your life so far: marriage, kids, graduation, career, maybe even some crisis you had to face. Look at your list. Did everything turn out just life you had planned? How did you deal with the surprises? How often did things turn out better than what you had planned?

 

Turn the card over and write out your plans for the next ten years: marriage, children, graduation, a promotion, a new house, retirement? This is act two of your life. When God intervenes, life becomes unscripted. We are moving along at His pace and in His direction rather than our own.

 

What did this unscripted life mean for Mary? She faced divorce, shame, public humiliation, reputation. Nothing was going according to her plans. What did Mary do? She worshiped.

 

Margaret Feinberg writes, “When we make God the center of our lives, we can’t help but worship, no matter what the circumstance. When we don’t worship, we tend to worry. Worship or worry – which do you choose when you’re in a tough situation?”

 

But how can you worship when life is falling apart around you? Margaret says, “Worship is about proclaiming that God is worth more than you. As long as you are able to script your own life, you really don’t need to worship. You are trusting that certain events will give your life meaning. But when those things get taken away … you are forced to acknowledge that God is calling the shots.”

 

Hang in there. God does not promise an easy life, but a guided one! Turn your act two over to God. Verses of encouragement are Proverbs 3:5-6, Matthew 6:33 and Philippians 4:6.

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The Turning Point in History

The birth of Jesus Christ, next to His crucifixion, was the most momentous event in the history of the world. It became the focal point of all history. Everything before Christ looked forward to His birth, and everything since then looks back at Him. It was such a crucial event that now all the world numbers years according to it. B.C. means “before Christ,” and A.D. means “anno domini,” “in the year of our Lord.” Today, in order to minimize Christianity, the phrase has changed to CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era)…but who are they kidding?

 

Jesus made an impact on the world that has never been, and never will be, equaled by any mere man. In all the annals of the human race, no one is like Him. He never wrote a book. He never held political power. He was not wealthy or particularly influential in His lifetime. Yet He altered the world completely; in fact, no other human being has affected history remotely like He has.

 

He has been opposed, hated, fought, censored, banned, and criticized in every generation since His birth. Yet His influence continues. After two thousand years, the impact of His life goes on so powerfully that it is safe to say not a day passes but that lives are revolutionized by His teaching.

 

** Adapted from John MacArthur, in God With Us, the Miracle of Christmas, 1989.

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City of Angels

There are quite a few movies or shows that depict people conversing with angels, if not God Himself: City of Angels, Bruce Almighty, Joan of Arcadia, Touched by an Angel, and for those who can think way back, Highway to Heaven…

 

In my Bible study class this past Sunday, we began a new series on the life of Mary, taking a fresh look at how her story can be our story… not necessarily the pregnancy thing, but how the whole event was something unexpected. The point is, how does God use unexpected events and circumstances to move us along our journey with Him? And how do we respond to His leading?

 

So, the topic of angels came up as we looked at Gabriel, God’s messenger to Mary. I happened to mention an order in the universe regarding these spiritual beings… God as the highest being, angels and then mankind. This imprecise theology was questioned with the belief that it should be God, mankind and then angels. I needed to research a bit and wanted to follow up with my findings.

 

First, a few verses 

  • 1 Corinthians 6:3 – “Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life.”
  • Hebrews 2:7 – regarding mankind… “Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.”
  • Hebrews 1.4 – “Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.”  

Ok, be sure that there is a debate over the order. Now for a few observations 

  • On one side, angels are created beings as are humans, with limited knowledge – Matthew 24:36.
  • While limited in knowledge, they seem to possess greater knowledge than humans in some areas – like the angels that visited Lot (Genesis 19:13, they knew the city was going to be destroyed), or any messenger sent to mankind with a word from God. God never appears to use mankind to send a message to angels, suggesting a closer position.
  • Angels have an everlasting quality in their existence, unlike humans who die (at least physically).
  • Angels exist in the presence of God and serve Him, which is much better position than humans.
  • Angels have continuous access to the throne of God (yet we too have access through prayer) suggesting our position will be greater after this life.
  • Angels have power unlike humans, like to guard the entrance back into the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24) or to engage in intimidating battle as in 2 Kings 6:16-17 (if angels are actually piloting these horses and chariots of fire).
  • On the other side, unlike humans, they are not created in the image of God, suggesting humans have a superior position – Genesis 1:26-27
  • Angels do not receive or understand salvation – 1 Peter 12, perhaps Ephesians 3:10.
  • Angels have ever been adopted as fellow heirs with Christ – Romans 8:15.  

Back to the primary verses, and a few interpretations to add to the discussion: 

  • 1 Corinthians 6:3 – We will judge angels in the next life rather than this life; so at this point it appears that we are third in the pecking order until that day when we are sinless in the presence of God.
  • Hebrews 2:7 quotes Psalm 8:5 – Psalm 8:5 uses elohim (the plural form of “god”) translating it “a little lower than the gods” or “the spiritual beings” which we call angels (KJV uses angels). Psalm 8:6 includes an image of having dominion over the earth (referring to Genesis 1:26-27). Hebrews 2:7 actually uses the word “angels.” So, perhaps the angels with continual access to God are in a better position, until we enter His presence in our glorified bodies.
  • Hebrews 1:4 – This is in context of the Son being much more superior than the angels, a no brainer, but it appears that angels are servants of God. If angels are sent to care for humans, they might be in a more favorable or powerful position.  

Bottom line, the teaching is vague at best and open to interpretation, which makes this certainly a non-essential for one’s salvation. I will not be dogmatic about it one way or the other. Any thoughts?

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