The #1 Reason Counseling Often Fails

A firestorm erupted recently when I wrote a blog that was deemed critical of the counseling profession. I have lots of friends who are counselors—excellent counselors—and several seemed to think I was including them in my critique of incompetent counseling. Meanwhile, I also have countless friends who’ve been helped by skilled counselors, and they rose up to defend the counseling profession and share their gratitude for a job well done.

My blog’s main point was simply that effective counseling must endeavor to get to the heart of the matter, not just address the symptoms. Admittedly, this is no easy task, but Solomon said it’s a worthy objective: “Counsel in a person’s heart is deep water; but a person of understanding draws it out” (Proverbs 20:5 CSB). A good counselor must be “a person of understanding,” able to probe the “deep water” of a person’s heart. Definitely not an easy job.

The prophet Jeremiah had a similar message: “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14 NASB). Indeed, there is no genuine and lasting peace in a person’s heart unless God’s Spirit is allowed to penetrate deeply and touch the broken places—strongholds usually well-protected by our defense mechanisms.

Let’s be honest: We all need more than superficial healing, don’t we? At one time or another, we need the kind of transformation and restoration King David so desperately sought:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12 ESV).

David’s cry for inner transformation brings up the number one reason why counseling so often fails. Yes, there are incompetent counselors out there, but there’s a problem much bigger than that:

Counseling most commonly fails because the counselee either doesn’t really want to change, or doesn’t want it badly enough to take the necessary steps!

This principle is illustrated in a seemingly crazy question Jesus asked a disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda one day (John 5:2-9). The man was with a crowd of people who were waiting for an angel to stir the waters so they could be healed. The scene was similar to a doctor’s crowded waiting room during flu season, except that these people had much more severe ailments: They were blind, lame, or paralyzed, often suffering conditions that had already lasted many years.

Amid this crowd hoping for healing, Jesus had the nerve to walk up to this one disabled man and ask, “Do you want to get well?”  (v. 6 NIV).

Think about it. Wouldn’t EVERY sick person want to be healed? The answer is clearly no, sometimes we really don’t.

You see, if we’re healed, we won’t have as much to complain about. Nor can we play upon people’s sympathy or get handouts. We’ll be forced to quit making excuses for why we can’t support ourselves or make the world a better place.

Jesus’ question was particularly audacious because of where it occurred. This man was in line for healing, or so it seemed. Wasn’t it obvious that he sincerely sought to be healed? No, people go to doctors and counselors every day without any intention of following through on the advice they receive.

Another intriguing part of the story is that Jesus didn’t allow the man to be a passive bystander during his healing. The Lord gave him an assignment, something to DO: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk”  (v. 8 NIV). Basically, Jesus was telling him to do the impossible—something he had been unable to do for 38 years!

This is important: Many people claim they want to be healed…or lose weight…or cast off depression…or find better relationships. But when a counselor tells them such things may require some CHANGES or even some WORK on their part, often the counselee is unwilling.

Typically, people’s unwillingness is masked by excuses, just like this man tried to offer Jesus:

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (v. 7 NIV).

If we want to get better—no matter what the issue may be—we must be willing to confront and discard our excuses. In this story, Jesus the Wonderful Counselor was able to break through an excuse this man had been using for years. Only then could the disabled man receive his miracle of healing.

We all have our excuses, don’t we? I guess that’s why we need good counselors.

P.S. If my last blog was too hard on counselors, perhaps this one is too hard on those who need physical or emotional healing. It’s certainly no fun to be emotionally paralyzed or in pain, especially if the condition has gone on for a long time. But the good news is that Jesus can pick you out of the crowd and give you a new beginning, if you let Him. Do you want to get well?

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Love-Starved but Love-Resistant

Love hard heart

I recently discovered a strange phenomenon: People who are the most starved for love usually are resistant to receiving love when it’s offered to them.

This is like California or Texas after a long-term drought. When rain finally comes, the ground is so hard that it can’t properly soak up the water. Instead of being a blessing, the rain sometimes causes a flood!

Have you ever tried to show love to someone who was extremely love-starved? If so, the person probably either rejected your love or latched onto it in a completely unhealthy way. If you doubt me on this, talk to some of your friends who’ve ventured into the world of online dating…

The love-resistant principle is illustrated in the life of one of the Bible’s most fascinating characters, Mephibosheth. This son of Jonathan was crippled at age five and after his father’s death on the same day, he was exiled to a desolate wasteland called Lo Debar.

One day King David started wondering if any of Saul and Jonathan’s heirs remained, and he was told about this woeful, exiled prince (2 Samuel 9). David was intent on finding this forgotten young man and showing him kindness.

But although kindness was something Mephibosheth desperately needed, there was just one problem: this crippled son of David’s friend Jonathan was love-resistant. Like a Type 2 diabetic who’s insulin-resistant despite needing more insulin, he was emotionally unable to absorb the very thing he so clearly needed.

We really shouldn’t be too surprised. For several years this man had grown up in squalor and hopelessness. Lame in both legs, he was completely dependent on others. Day after day, his condition reminded him of his great loss, which occurred at no fault of his own.

So what happened when Mephibosheth was brought before the king?

Shuffling and stammering, not looking him in the eye, Mephibosheth said, “Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?” (v. 8 MSG).

How sad. After years of deprivation, this dispirited, love-starved man judged himself to be a loser, unworthy of kindness from the king or anyone else. Instead of being heir to the throne, now he felt of no more value than a stray dog!

Can you blame him? After all, he couldn’t hold a job…couldn’t produce anything…couldn’t even walk! In the eyes of most people in that period of time, he was WORTHLESS, plain and simple—and that’s how he saw himself as well.

As the story makes clear, Mephibosheth was crippled in both of his feet. But if we read between the lines, we realize that he was even more crippled emotionally. Instead of seeing himself as a prince, he was a pauper, completely unlovable.

Oh, but David’s love—like God’s love for us—was not to be denied. Despite the deplorable condition of this man, both physically and psychologically, the king persisted in his plan to RESTORE him to what he had lost.

That’s good news, because we’ve ALL suffered losses of various kinds. Thankfully, King Jesus offers to bring us from Lo Debar, bringing us restoration rather than judgment.

This story has a beautiful conclusion: “So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table” (v. 13). No longer dwelling in the spiritual wasteland of Lo Debar, the crippled prince once again ate at the king’s table, just like one of David’s sons.

Are you starving for love today? Remember the story of this dejected young man whose hard emotional shell finally gave way to the relentless kindness of God. When you let the King shower you with His love, it will open the corridors of your heart to experience love from other people as well.

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The Cure for Bone-Deep Pain

bone-deep-pain

I once met a man who had become addicted to prescription painkillers.

“That must be terrible,” I empathized. “Where is your pain located?”

I expected the man to tell me about migraine headaches, pain in his back, or some other kind of physical agony. But, to my surprise, he took the conversation in an entirely different direction.

“Well, my wife left me a few years ago, and I’ve been really lonely. I’m also having conflict with my kids, and I don’t like my job. I basically hate my life and feel like a total failure.”

I wasn’t prepared for his explanation. What did any of those circumstances have to do with getting hooked on prescription pain medicine?

However, as our conversation continued, I began to see the connection. While some people become dependent on pills to alleviate their physical  discomfort, this man was desperately trying to numb his emotional  pain.

Perhaps you can’t relate to this. I hope  you can’t relate!

Yet here’s the sad reality for many people: There’s a kind of pain that goes far deeper than pain in our physical body. It goes to the very soul—to the core of our being.

I call this “bone-deep” pain, but it’s actually much deeper even than that.

King David seems to have been quite familiar with bone-deep emotional pain. While some of his psalms are exuberant and celebratory, many describe his deep internal agony, all the way down to his bones:

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled…
(Psalm 6:3).

My life is spent with grief,
And my years with sighing;
My strength fails because of my iniquity,
And my bones waste away
(Psalm 31:10).

When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long
(Psalm 32:3).

Some of David’s psalms attribute his bone-deep pain to things like grief, betrayal, and the torment he frequently received from his enemies. But other passages, such as Psalm 39, acknowledge that some of his emotional pain was the direct result of his own sinful, foolish choices:

O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath,
Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!
For Your arrows pierce me deeply,
And Your hand presses me down.

There is no soundness in my flesh
Because of Your anger,
Nor any health in my bones
Because of my sin
.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds are foul and festering
Because of my foolishness…

I am feeble and severely broken;
I groan because of the turmoil of my heart 
(Psalm 39:1-8).

Fortunately, there’s hope for those who are suffering bone-deep pain. David goes on to conclude that God is with him and well aware of his turmoil (v. 9). Even though there is no lasting relief for such pain through prescription painkillers, alcohol, or illegal drugs, David has found the only source of true hope: “In You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God”  (v. 15).

David had experienced the incredible pain of internal torment, but that gave him authority to speak with great eloquence about the Shepherd who offers to lead us to a place of peace, safety, and renewed joy: “He restores my soul”  (Psalm 23:3).

Let those four beautiful words sink into the core of your being today: “He restores my soul.”  The Lord understands the severity of your pain, and He offers to penetrate—bone deep and beyond—to restore your soul.

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The Cure for an Uneventful Life

lame man

Recently a friend texted me and asked how my week was going.

“Uneventful!” was my reply.

My friend texted back and said that sometimes “uneventful” isn’t such a bad thing. I guess he had a point, but in my case “uneventful” was pretty much equivalent to boring.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the lame man who was healed in Acts 3:1-9. The chapter begins at three o’clock in the afternoon, as Peter and John are on their way into the Temple for a prayer meeting.

The part that intrigues me is that these mighty apostles had apparently had an uneventful day up until that point—and the day was more than half over.

If you’re an old guy like me, there’s a fantastic message of hope here. Even if things have been relatively uneventful in your life up until this point, a miracle from God might be right around the corner. Hey, the day isn’t over yet, and you might be about to meet someone who would remain “crippled” without your prayers or encouragement. Perhaps it’s a waitress, a gas station cashier, or someone next to your cubicle at work, but you encounter lots of people who need a miracle from heaven.

Yet we also have to face the fact that some days—or months or even years—are seemingly uneventful. Remember how Moses spent 40 years in the backside of the desert, taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep? Life must have been pretty boring, to say the least.

Little did he know, but Moses was about to see a burning bush that would completely change the trajectory of his life (Exodus 3:1-22). In an amazingly short period of time, his life was rebooted—and he was 80 years old at the time!

When I view my uneventful life from the perspective of Acts 3 and Exodus 3, I realize a troubling fact: Often our lives are uneventful simply because we’re not alert to the divine appointments God puts in our path.

Countless people passed by the lame man every day, but only Peter and John recognized that this was an opportunity for the Lord to perform a miraculous healing.

And God didn’t address Moses from the burning bush until “the Lord saw that he turned aside to look” (v. 4). In other words, this pivotal event in the history of the Israelites might never have occurred if Moses had failed to pay attention to what he saw.

I’m convinced my life wouldn’t be quite so uneventful if I was more sensitive to God-ordained opportunities along my path. Even when it’s three o’clock in the afternoon, there’s still time for a life-changing event to change everything.

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The #1 Cause of Failed Marriages & Churches

Lately I’ve been pondering what’s the primary reason so many marriages and churches ultimately fail. Is it because of self-centeredness? Narcissism? A refusal to die to our own interests so that the love of God can reign in our hearts?

I guess we could debate this all day. All sorts of core issues could be cited, and entire books have been written to analyze the subject.

However, I’ve been increasingly focusing my attention on an obscure passage in Nehemiah 4:2 that seems to describe where much of the problem lies. Nehemiah and his followers wanted to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, but their efforts were ridiculed by critics as impossible: Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:2)

The imagery here describes people who want to build something grand and glorious, but the available building materials are seriously flawed. Rather than coming directly from some manufacturing plant, the bricks have been drawn from a “rubbish heap.” No longer in pristine condition, they are charred and broken.

This explains a lot about the difficulty of constructing healthy marriages. While the bride and groom typically dress up in their finest apparel on their wedding day, underneath the tux and gown are flawed, burnt, and broken people.

You may not want to own up to the fact that you’ve been “charred” by your life experiences, but we ALL have. We’re in this together, so we might as well be honest. If “original sin” wasn’t a big enough problem, we’ve all been scarred by imperfect childhoods, toxic relationships, poor choices, or mishaps in our career.

So what happens when two flawed, broken people come together in holy matrimony? Well, ideally, God’s healing process can begin. But too often, the opposite occurs: The flaws and brokenness come to the surface in even greater ways than before, and the couple has no idea how to handle them.

And no wonder it’s so difficult to plant healthy churches these days. People may bring their “Sunday smiles” to church, but during stressful times their dysfunctions emerge. Unity is strained, because everyone wants to get their own way.

Yes, it’s hard lay a strong foundation when you’re working with charred materials.

In case you think I’m being far too negative, let me also point to one reason for hope. God knows all about our flaws and imperfections, and He loves us anyway. The whole point of the Gospel is that the cross of Christ provides both forgiveness and a remedy for our sin-wrecked nature.

However, here’s the problem: In order for the Gospel to do its restorative work in our lives, we have to acknowledge our brokenness and sincerely want to change. Otherwise, our inherent flaws will be compounded rather than healed.

If you’re feeling like a charred stone today, don’t despair. You aren’t alone. There’s hope for a turnaround when you cry out to the One who’s able to make ALL things new (Revelation 21:5).

And I almost forgot to mention another very encouraging fact. Despite his persistent detractors, Nehemiah and his team were successful in rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall—even though their building materials came from the rubbish heap. With God’s help, you can build something beautiful as well.

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The Funny Thing About Your Fears

Fear and faith. Two primal forces that significantly shape our actions, attitudes, emotions, and relationships.

Like oil and water, the two don’t mix.

Throughout the Bible, God tells people, “Fear not, for I am with you!” (Isaiah 41:10, etc.)

But here’s the funny thing about it:

I’m convinced God intentionally puts us into situations that expose the fears we’ve harbored in our heart. And once we’re in one of those terrifying situations, He then tells us, “Fear not!”

When you see this pattern, you might be tempted to think God is sadistic and cruel. Why else would He be so intent on revealing our deepest fears—just so He can comfort us and tell us not to fear?

The answer is that the Lord does this as part of our healing process. Unless our fears come to the surface, we’ll never confront them and allow Him to heal us.

The Biblical examples of this strange process are too numerous to list, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • At a time when Jacob was terrified of his future and on the run from his brother Esau, God took him to a dark desert where he had a stunning revelation of a ladder between heaven and earth. His fears melted away as he recognized the Lord’s awesome presence with him.
  • When Moses was 40, the Israelites rejected his effort to help them during their captivity in Egypt.As a result, he had to escape to the wilderness, where he took care of sheep for 40 years. Eventually the Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush and sent him right back to Egypt, the scene of his previous trauma and rejection.
  • The most traumatic experience of Joshua’s life occurred when more than a million Israelites rejected his counsel and chose not to enter the Promised Land. When Moses died 40 years later, what did God do? He brought Joshua full circle to the very scene of his deepest fears—and commissioned Joshua to courageously lead the Israelites on the same mission that had miserably failed 40 years earlier.
  • Peter denied Jesus three times around a fire in the courtyard of the high priest. After the resurrection, God arranged the circumstances for Peter to again be around a fire—where Jesus told him three times, “Feed my sheep.” Three failures were erased by three statements of affirmation from Jesus.

So what are YOU afraid of? Years ago, I might have answered, “Nothing! I’m fearless and full of faith!”

Yet God has found ways to expose fears I didn’t even know I had. Fears of intimacy…failure…abandonment…loss…loneliness…financial lack…and countless other things.

As I look back on the difficult experiences I’ve faced along the way, I’ve come to realize an amazing thing about this process: I’m not nearly as afraid of those things anymore! Hey, the devil took his best shot, and I’m still standing!

If you are in a situation today that is revealing some kind of fear in the depths of your heart, I have good news: Faith can overcome your fears. And the healing balm of the Holy Spirit can cleanse every wound and calm every anxious thought.

So fear not, my friend. He is with you. And if you let Him, He’s going to work everything for your good (Romans 8:28).

But getting set free from your fears is a funny process, isn’t it?

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I’m Sorry for Your Losses

When my dad died recently, I was greeted everywhere by the same condolences, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Well, my dad was 94-years-old and in failing health before his death, and I’m confident he’s now enjoying his new, strong, and pain-free body in heaven. Yes, I will miss the long talks we had every few days, but I know it won’t be long until I’m with him again. And in the meantime, my loss is his gain.

Dealing with the loss of my father has caused me to think about the many other kinds of losses people sometimes face. In addition to the death of loved ones, there are such things as health setbacks, divorces, lost jobs, broken friendships, and financial reversals. Our losses come in many different shapes and sizes, and sometimes they come without warning.

Losses hurt, especially when we deal with more than one loss at a time. There’s only so much we can take. At some point, even a straw can break a camel’s back.

While most people are familiar with the numerous losses experienced by Job, lately I’ve been thinking more about Naomi, a lesser-known character in the book of Ruth who suffered multiple losses during her lifetime.

In the beginning, she and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons, probably had a pretty nice life in Bethlehem. But then famine struck, leading to Naomi’s first losses. The family moved to Moab in search of food, and she suddenly lost both her homeland and her friends. With no Facebook, Skype, or even phones back then, her friendships seemingly were lost forever.

In Moab, Naomi’s losses only multiplied. First Elimelech died, then her two sons. She found herself having to endure life as a widow, with no blood relatives, living in a foreign land.

I’m sure people must have told Naomi something like we’re told today at such times, “Naomi, I’m sorry for your losses.”

Such sentiments would have been sincere and well-meaning, and Naomi herself was keenly aware that her many losses had taken a toll. No wonder she concluded, The hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:13)

While Naomi’s feelings were certainly understandable, they were totally wrong. God wasn’t against Naomi! Not in the least. Quite the contrary, He was getting ready to bless her with an unfathomable turnaround that would impact not only her own life, but history itself.

If you’ve read to the end of the story, you realize that the Lord had a plan for Naomi all along. Although there were plenty of losses along the way, each one paved the way toward her destiny. With every loss, Naomi was positioned one step closer to mentoring Ruth to fulfill her role in the lineage of Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem over 1,000 years later.

If it hadn’t been for the famine, Naomi and her family never would have gotten to Moab, where her son Mahlon married Ruth. If her husband and sons hadn’t died, Naomi never would have moved with Ruth back to Bethlehem, where Ruth would eventually marry Boaz and bear a son.

Consider how remarkable this is: More than 1,000 years before His Son would be born in Bethlehem, God sovereignly arranged events in the lives of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz to foreshadow the nativity. What a great testimony to His ability to orchestrate the events in our lives as well, even using our losses to prepare us for ultimate gains.

So, if God has removed something from your life recently, I’m sorry for the loss you’ve experienced. However, just as He did for Job and Naomi, He may be using your losses to prepare you for far greater blessings and breakthroughs ahead.

This may shed some new light on what Paul meant when he said he gladly “suffered the loss of all things…that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-10). Instead of spending much time lamenting about all his losses, Paul rejoiced that he kept gaining more of Christ. While the losses were no doubt painful, gaining more of Jesus made it well worth it in the end.

I’ll admit, I’m still grieving over the death of my dad and other losses in my life as well. But I pray I’ll experience what Job, Naomi, and Paul all found in the end—a new outpouring of the Lord’s grace and favor.

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When a Preacher Doesn’t Feel Like Preaching

I love preaching even more than I like breathing, eating, or taking a walk on the beach. So it was very strange recently when I found myself having absolutely no desire to preach.

What could the problem be?

Of course, some pastors preach every Sunday and are simply burnt out. I could never keep that kind of schedule again. But since I haven’t preached in several months, burnout clearly isn’t my problem.

Another part of my melancholy over the issue is the fact that things didn’t go well the last time I preached. Every pastor has faced this at one time or another. Your sermon is a dud on Sunday, and by Monday you’re thinking of switching careers.

At other times, a preacher may simply be experiencing spiritual dryness. It’s horrible trying to preach a message to others when you yourself feel empty and disconnected with God.

And a similar phenomenon occurs when there’s some kind of emotional trauma going on in your personal life—such as a trial in your health, finances, family, or relationship with church members. It’s no wonder you don’t feel much like preaching when you’re bleeding inside.

Whatever the cause may be, it sure helps if you have a friend or two to share your angst with. With some prayer, wise counsel, and encouragement, your perspective usually can be restored much quicker than you think.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on Jeremiah’s decision to quit preaching and prophesying. It’s hard to blame him, really. He was delivering lots of bad news to the people of Judah, and all he got in return was ridicule and rejection.

Finally, Jeremiah decided he couldn’t take it anymore. Why waste his words on people who responded with such contempt?

However, when he considered taking a preaching vow of silence, that didn’t go well for him either:

If I say I’ll never mention the Lord
    or speak in his name,
his word burns in my heart like a fire.
    It’s like a fire in my bones!
I am worn out trying to hold it in!
    I can’t do it! (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT)

What a dilemma this mighty prophet faced. When he boldly declared God’s message, no one responded in a positive way. Instead, he became a laughingstock.

But when he determined to simply shut up, he found himself in even more agony. God’s Word inside him was like FIRE in his bones! After becoming utterly worn out when he tried to hold it in, he finally said in exasperation, “I can’t do it!”

I don’t know what you are going through today. Perhaps you are tired of speaking out. Maybe you’ve given up making any real difference in people’s lives.

Yet my prayer is for God to ignite such fire in your bones that you won’t be able to remain silent. No longer will you hold back. No longer will you just go through the motions.

If you are dealing with burnout, I pray you will get the rest and renewal you need. If you’ve been wounded, I pray you will discover God’s healing balm. And whatever it takes, may the Lord restore the joy of your salvation and passion for your calling (Psalm 51:10-13).

May you feel the FIRE again, my friend. We need to hear God’s Word from your lips.

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5 Things You Can Expect When Jesus Is in the House

 

Churches all over the world claim to have Jesus “in the house,” but sometimes there is scant evidence to support that claim. Mark 2:1-12 provides us with a vivid outline of what it looks like to have Jesus actively working in our gatherings. The chapter begins by saying that Jesus had come back to Capernaum, His home base, and word had gotten out “that He was at home.”

I pray that this kind of word-of-mouth marketing is happening for your congregation today. Long before Facebook and Twitter, word quickly got out that Jesus was in the house, and a number of stunning results followed.

Here are 5 things you can expect to happen when people hear that Jesus is regularly “in the house” during your church gatherings:

  1. Crowds will come. Verse 2 says, “Many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door.”  While your congregation may not be a megachurch, the Biblical model makes it clear that large numbers of people will be attracted if they truly know that Jesus is in the house.
  2.  The Word of God will be taught. Verse 3 tells us, “He was speaking the word to them.” Other aspects of Jesus’ ministry would be demonstrated later in the story, but first He taught the Word. Today we have many churches that teach the Word, but which demonstrate no power. We also have churches that are highly experiential, with very little teaching from the Scriptures. Yet when Jesus is in the house, the two go hand in hand.
  3. Radical faith will be sparked. Hearing that Jesus was in the house, four men carried a paralyzed friend to the meeting place. When the large crowd prevented them from bringing the paralytic through the doorway, they climbed up on the roof and dug a hole to lower the man on a pallet in front of Jesus. What radical behavior! This kind of passionate determination would be so out of character for polite, conventional, American Christians. Verse 5 says Jesus SAW their faith—quite a contrast to the common misconception today that faith can be a private, personal matter that we keep to ourselves.
  4. Forgiveness will be released. Although the man had been brought to the meeting for healing of his paralysis, Jesus saw a much more critical need, telling the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (v. 5). Countless people today are paralyzed because of a need for forgiveness. Either they are immobilized by guilt and shame over things they’ve done, or else they are locked in an emotional prison because of their unwillingness to forgive others. Jesus was about to perform a miracle of physical healing as well, but first He made sure that the forgiveness issue was fully dealt with in this man.
  5. Miracles will happen. When was the last time you witnessed a genuine miracle in your church? Yet that’s the kind of thing that can be expected when Jesus is in the house. After He had taught the Word and dealt with the forgiveness issue, He boldly told the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your pallet and go home”  (v. 11).When people saw the man immediately set free from his paralysis, they “were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’”  (v. 12).

I absolutely love this conclusion of the story. God was glorified  by what had happened, as He always is when we invite Jesus to freely work in our gatherings.

People testified that they had never seen anything like this before. That’s exactly what will happen again today when you and I allow Jesus to come and fill our house today. Even if we’re longtime Christians, we will marvel at the blessings and miracles released by our Lord’s presence among us.

So let’s not settle for anything less in our churches and our homes than to have Jesus in the house.

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4 Steps to Your Breakout Moment

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that most people are paralyzed or imprisoned in some way. No wonder the Bible tells so many stories about those who got healed of paralysis or set free from bondage and imprisonment.

When we read such Bible stories today, it’s easy to miss how these events apply to our lives. If we’ve never been physically paralyzed or lame, we can struggle to relate to the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12 or the lame man in Acts 3:1-12. And if we’ve never done jail time, we can assume there’s not much we can learn from Joseph’s release from an Egyptian dungeon (Genesis 39-40) or the supernatural prison breaks of Peter (Acts 12:1-19) and Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16-40).

But, you see, the imprisonment most people face today is emotional and spiritual rather than physical. They’ve been traumatized by their journey through life, whether through the consequences of their own bad decisions or through the unkind actions of others.

In John 20:19-29 Jesus’ disciples were locked in a self-imposed prison after experiencing the trauma of their Master’s unjust arrest, brutal beating, and horrific crucifixion. Today we sometimes call those events “Good Friday,” but there seemed nothing “good” about the cross of Calvary at the time. The disciples were understandably devastated, gathered together behind locked doors because of fear of the Jewish leaders.

Suddenly Jesus appeared to these shell-shocked men. Although preachers sometimes say, based on Revelation 3:20, that Jesus always knocks before entering our situation, that’s simply not true. This time He just came right on in, bypassing every defense mechanism in order to release these traumatized followers from their emotional bondage.

This is one of the most pivotal scenes in the entire Bible. It’s not an overstatement to say that the whole fate of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom rested on what would happen in the lives of these shattered men.

The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus, believing that their lives would ultimately change the world. Now their dreams seemed to have reached a cruel dead end. Dazed and confused, they were very unlikely candidates for any kind of heroic, world-changing mission.

So how did Jesus turn the worst of times into the best of times for these emotionally damaged followers? He addressed four different snares that were holding these men in spiritual captivity:

  1. FEAR – Not just once, but twice, Jesus told them, “Peace be with you.”  And when they “saw the Lord,”  their fear and anguish were replaced with great joy. If you are feeling “stuck” in some area of your life today, it’s likely that fear is one of the things holding you back. Just as He did for the disciples, Jesus wants to penetrate your closed doors and replace your fear with faith, and your anxiety with His peace and joy.
  2. PURPOSELESSNESS – These men who had taken such bold steps to leave their careers and families in order to change the world with Jesus were now left without a purpose or a vision. They had abandoned and denied their Savior in His hour of need, and now their traumatized condition seemed to disqualify them from any significant usefulness in His plan. Nevertheless, Jesus re-commissioned and affirmed them with fresh vision and purpose: As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” What an encouraging story for us today. Even when we feel like failures, unusable by God, He can reaffirm our calling and give us a new commission to impact the world.
  3. WEAKNESS – In addition to a lack of purpose, Jesus’ disciples were suffering from a lack of power. A new commission would have fallen on deaf ears unless they also received new empowerment. Recognizing their need, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  In their own strength, they never would have been able to fulfill His majestic plan for their lives—nor can you or I. But, empowered by the Spirit, we can transform the world (Acts 1:8, Philippians 4:13).
  4. FORGIVENESS ISSUES – Jesus showed them His wounds, proof that they had been forgiven by His shed blood. But then He talked to them about their calling to extend His forgiveness to OTHERS. If you are in some kind of spiritual prison today, there’s a good chance that forgiveness is one of the keys needed to set you free. Perhaps you need to RECEIVE God’s full forgiveness of your past, releasing you from any guilt, shame, or condemnation. Or maybe you are still locked in emotional bondage because you’ve not yet forgiven someone who has hurt you. Either way, forgiveness is an indispensable key to your spiritual and emotional freedom.

I encourage you to read this list again, asking God to show you which of these four keys are needed to help you get unstuck and ready to fulfill your destiny as a follower of Christ.

Perhaps you’ve been hiding out behind closed doors for a long time now, traumatized by some experience that has been hard to shake. But if Jesus could take these distraught men from the shadow of the cross to the glory of resurrection life, surely He can transform your life and give you a new beginning.

Like Jesus’ disciples, you may seem like an unlikely world-changer today. But once He has freed you from fear, given you fresh vision, empowered you by His Spirit, and dealt with your forgiveness issues, your life can be amazing. You don’t have to wait any longer!

 

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