Monday, December 31, 2007

To Know and Be Known

To Know and Be Known

It seems that every few years the “in” Christian counseling model shifts. The current “in” thing is spirituality: spiritual direction, soul care, spiritual friendship.

Those who know me know that I’ve been in on this “in” craze of spirituality (soul care and spiritual direction) for over a quarter century. So, I’m not bolting from it now—especially since it has a lengthy history (try since creation).

And I’m not bolting even though some in the so-called “discernment movement” discern evil new age ideology every time someone says the word “spiritual.” More on that topic in a later blog.

The Key to Truly Biblical Counseling

Here’s the point. Models of counseling come and go. But the key to truly biblical counseling is relationship.

Again, even here there are those who quickly jump on the psycho-heresy bandwagon and claim that any talk about human relationships makes an approach secular and humanistic. As if God never said, “It is not good for Adam to be alone.”

How does one Christian help another Christian in the Christian life to exalt God by enjoying God? It is done via relationships in which we live the truth in love.

This is not secular hooey. This is biblical foundations.

The High Priestly Prayer of Christ

In Christ’s great high priestly prayer in John 17 (the true “Lord’s Prayer”), Jesus lays out His plan for Christianity. Seems we might want to listen to what Christ says about how Christians live out Christianity!

Jesus prays that Christians might be one just as the Son and Father are one. “Just as You, Father, are in me and I am in You” (John 17:20-21).

In the context of John’s Gospel and of John 17, Jesus’ prescription for oneness is clear. God calls us to know each other intimately and to love each other deeply. To know and be known.

Honest Relational Questions

So, whatever title we give to our models of counseling, we should be asking ourselves questions that undergird our counseling. Counseling is nothing more and nothing less than how we relate to one another in the body of Christ to encourage one another to be more like Christ; more one with Christ, so Christ is glorified.

So, whether pastor, professional Christian counselor, spiritual director, or lay spiritual friend, how are we answering these questions?

“Do I really know my spouse? Does my spouse know me intimately?”

“Do I know my children deeply? Do my children know me openly?”

“Do I know my co-workers and fellow-laborers? Do they know me?”

“Do I really know the people in my church; in my small group? Do they know me?”

“Do I know my parishioners, my counselees, and my spiritual friends? Do they know me?"

Christian counseling, by whatever branding, should be branded with the high priestly prayer of Jesus—to know and be known. To be one as the Trinity is one—a mutual relationship of intimacy.

Who really knows you? Who do you let in? Open up to? Are real and raw with? And who do you really know in a deep, intimate, honest, open way?

Forget, “Where’s the beef?” (You have to be my age to even remember that in the first place.)

Ask, “Where’s the relationship?” Where is the biblical relationship in my “counseling,” “pastoral ministry,” and “lay spiritual friendship?” Yes, where’s the relationship? Who knows us? Who do we know? To know and be known—the essence of true ministry.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones: The Martin Luther King of Their Day

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones:
The Martin Luther King of Their Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was, of course, one of the main leaders of the American Civil Rights movement. What is lesser known today is King’s training and ministry as a Baptist pastor. Even fewer people know the long history of African American ministers promoting civil rights.

That history begins with the Reverends Richard Allen (1760-1831) and Absalom Jones (1746-1818). Allen and Jones were foremost founding fathers of the African American independent churches and of the American Civil Rights movement.

Allen's Ministry

Allen traveled extensively, preaching in Delaware and Pennsylvania. In February, 1786, he preached at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Thinking that he would be there one or two weeks, ministry needs led Allen to a settled place of service in Philadelphia.

Concerned for the wellbeing of African Americans in this parish, he established prayer meetings. “I raised a society in 1786 of forty-two members. I saw the necessity of erecting a place of worship for the coloured people.”

Jones' Convictions

It was at this time that the Rev. Jones united with Rev. Allen. Their little band met great opposition, including “very degrading and insulting language to us, to try and prevent us from going on.”

Notwithstanding, they established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, with many people becoming Christians. Their growing congregation, still without a building, often attended services at St. George’s Church. When the black worshippers became more numerous, the white leaders “moved us from the seats we usually sat on, and placed us around the wall.”

African American Civil Rights

It was at this juncture that one of the most noteworthy events in the American Civil Rights movement occurred. Taking seats that they thought were appropriate, prayer began. Allen describes the scene. “We had not long been upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head up and saw one of the trustees, H. M., having hold of the Rev. Absalom Jones, pulling him up off of his knees, and saying, ‘You must get up—you must not kneel here.’ Mr. Jones replied, ‘Wait until prayer is over.’ Mr. H. M. said ‘No, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and I will force you away.’ Mr. Jones said, ‘Wait until prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.’”

By the time the second usher arrived, prayer was over, and, according to Allen, “We all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct.”

As a result, Allen and Jones birthed the first independent Black Church in the North when they hired a store room and held worship by themselves. Facing excommunication from the “mother church,” they remained united and strong.

Allen stirringly recounts the situation. “Here we were pursued with threats of being disowned, and read publicly out of meeting if we did continue to worship in the place we had hired; but we believed the Lord would be our friend. . . . Here was the beginning and rise of the first African church in America.”

African American Church History

Some twenty years later, when increasing numbers of African Americans could not worship without harassment in the Methodist Church, Allen and others called a conference which established the first African denomination in America. It was resolved, “That the people of Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc., should become one body, under the name of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”

While Americans rightfully pause to remember the historic work of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is equally important to reflect on precursors to his work. The Revs. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones paved the way for heroic African American ministers to pursue civil rights, equality, and religious freedom for all Americans.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who Is Saint Nicholas?

Who Is Saint Nicholas?*

Note: So many people enjoyed this Christmas blog post last year, that I plan to re-post it every Christmas season. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

The origin of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time, the area was part of Greece and is now on the southern coast of Turkey.

His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man.

Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled, and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, that there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves, and robbers.

After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need. They also help us to understand something of the “Santa myths.”

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery.

Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.

Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him.

So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy.

However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.

Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe.

For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.

*Developed from the web site:

Friday, December 21, 2007

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

I just learned about a new book that sounds fascinating for everyone interested in African American ministry. It will be released in January 2008 and is by church historian Thomas Oden. The title is: How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind.

Here's a recommendation from a man I highly respect, Dr. Tite Tienou.

Tite Tiénou, Dean and Professor of Theology of Mission Trinity Evangelical Divinity School"How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is a bold call to rehabilitate the earliest African contributions to the shaping of world Christianity. As such, it is a major resource for all people interested in the history of the Christian movement. Oden's focus on the intellectual dimension of Africans' role in the formation of Christian culture may surprise some, but it is a much-needed welcome corrective to the assumptions held by many. In my opinion, this book is one of the most significant contributions to the literature on world Christianity. Must reading!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Willow Creek Repents

Willow Creek Repents

All those concerned about how churches produce spiritually mature believers should find the following link fascinating:

Bottom line: spiritually mature people grow as they are equipped for:

1. Scriptural study/application

2. Spiritual disciplines: how to practice the biblical/historical disciplines of the spiritual life

3. Spiritual friendships: how to engage one another in biblical relationships.

And it took 30 years, 100s of programs, and millions of dollars to figure this out?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Core Equipping Course Goes Online

Be Equipped by the Book Online
I am excited to announce the first ever Capital Bible Seminary (CBS) online distance education (ODE) course.

I will be teaching Discipleship Counseling I (DC I) as an ODE course from February 4 to May 2, 2008. DC I is our core course which equips pastors, counselors, and lay people to think biblically about soul care, spiritual direction, and biblical counseling.

The online edition of DC I enables students to take the course from the comfort of their homes, on their own schedule, while actively engaging other course members and the professor through the course web site. Enrollment is strictly limited to the first fifteen qualified students. Because of pre-class assignments, the last day to enroll in this course is January 18, 2008.

To receive a copy of the DC I ODE syllabus please email me at For more information, or if you have questions, please feel free to contact me.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tin Man, Part II, Guest Blog by Pastor Aaron Tolson

Tin Man, Part II
Guest Blog by Pastor Aaron Tolson[1]

My wife and I (Aaron Tolson) watched the recent mini-series Tin Man on the Sci-Fi channel over the past couple of nights. I’m not much for sci-fi movies, but I did enjoy the humorous connections between The Wizard of Oz and this version which takes place several generations later…

As with any show, film, or movie, I tend to watch with spiritual-eyes to see what truth is being communicated or happens to lay hidden in the overall story. Someone wise once told me that “every great story has the true story in it.” Here are just a couple of the observations I took away from watching this particular series.

1. Strength Together: So much of the movie kept emphasizing this point. From sisters holding hands and able to face anything, to the unlikely band of misfit heroes who constantly came to each others’ rescue. The divide and conquer military tactic has been around since the beginning of time. The best defense: building strong relationships that will not be broken. Relationships are so important—whether holding tightly to the Hand of God or holding tightly to a spiritual friend.

2. Parental Calling: DG’s (Dorothy) “parents” loved her because they were programmed to do so—to teach her, guide her, and speak truth to her—knowing that one day it would benefit her at just the right time. While we are NOT robots, with the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us we have the ability to love our children in this way and God desires us to do so. Working with teens and their parents, I am too aware of the many excuses parents have for staying out of their children’s lives and how many teens feel a lack of love from their parents. Parents don’t have to be perfect, nor do they need to think that their kid has to “get it” right away. Instead, parents speak truth with the hope that God will bring it to mind exactly when He needs to.

3. Understanding the Heart of God: “If you don't have heart, you don’t have anything” (Tim Man). I would re-word it. “If you don’t have God’s heart, you don’t have anything.” Understanding the heart of God and keeping His perspective central is the key to dealing with the ups-and-downs of life. Living out of our flesh-patterns is easy, but making the choice to seek God’s heart and respond to our circumstances in tune with His heartbeat is powerful! Without that, what do we have differently than anyone else in the world?

4. Our Secret Weapon—Repentance and Forgiveness: I wish I would have counted the number of times some character said “I’m sorry” and other characters offered forgiveness, either verbally or in action, and how each time that response contributed to the momentum of the Light. Contrast that with Azkadellia (the Wicked Witch) who never forgave. Ultimately victory came through DG apologizing to her own sister for the hurt she had caused and risking rejection, failure, and even death to reach back out to her sister. This took DG seeing past the evil appearance and looking to the “good heart” inside. There is so much wrapped up in that 30-second interchange...

5. Truth is Truth: No matter the opinions, perspectives, thoughts, feelings, and accusations, Truth in this movie never changed. The Tin Man had the ability to feel deeply... Raw (the cowardly lion) had the ability to stand strong... Glitch (the Scarecrow) had the ability to think wisely... Tutor (Toto) had the ability to choose rightly... DG had power and authority (even though she didn’t realize it). The Truth was that DG’s mom and dad loved her deeply. The Truth was that there was more going on than DG could understand.

6. The Power of His Presence: This is actually the title of devotionals by Ray Stedman, but it fits perfectly in this story... DG had the power of the Light within her. Once that tidbit of information had been revealed, there were so many times my wife and I hollered at her (via the TV), “Why don’t you use your power!” Hmmm... and why don’t we?! We have the greatest Light of all within us, so why then do we stumble around life feeling worried, confused, and defeated? Why do we submit to the powers of the darkness? Why? Is it that we don’t really know what we possess? Is it that we too often just forget? Or could it be that we just don’t believe it? Christ in you – the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27)

7. Used for Good or Evil: The whole plot of this mini-series is based on who will get the green emerald and how it will be used. Just like anything else in life, objects are neither good nor evil in and of themselves. It comes down to the choices we make in how we use them. This applies to the Internet, MySpace, Facebook, movies, TV, music, texting on cell phones, social activities, churches, athletics, relationships, clothing, everything! We can choose to use them for evil or for good. We confuse seekers, frustrate believers, and totally miss the point when we make “things” the point. Listening to Father’s voice and conforming my will to His in each situation IS the point!

[1]Aaron Tolson, Youth Pastor, ODBC Student Ministry,,,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tin Man and Evangelical Christianity

Tin Man and Evangelical Christianity

The Sci-Fi channel recently aired a six-hour mini-series, Tin Man, updating The Wizard of Oz. This was not your Auntie Em’s yellow brick road!

In the original movie version, no one could confuse the good guys (and girls) with the bad guys (and girls). Evil was evil and good was good.

In Tin Man, such was not the case. The good guys and girls were tortured souls with glaring weaknesses. Even the wonderful Dorothy (DG in this version) ended up being part of the cause of fifteen years of suffering due to her failure to heed her parents, her over-adventurous spirit, her paralyzing fear, and her abandonment of her sister.

Azkadellia, aka, the Wicked Witch of the West, seemed thoroughly, completely, unredeemable evil. Until . . . the end. In the end we learn that she, too, was a tortured soul, with a once-good heart, who longed to be free.

Of course, I’m not endorsing everything about Tin Man. My point in this blog is not to critique every un-Christian aspect.

Rather, I’m making a case for Tin Man, in one way, emulating the way the Bible depicts human beings—even its lead characters. Other than the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ, every other man and woman in the Bible is flawed. Horribly flawed.

Think David. A man after God’s own heart. Yes, David the murderer, adulterer, and liar. The list of imperfect Bible characters continues endlessly.

Unfortunately, that’s not how modern Christians tend to read the Bible. Nor is it how modern Christians tend to write novels or enjoy movies. Far too many so-called Christian novels, and all-too many movies endorsed by Christian leaders, are drivel. Their characters are flat, one-dimensional. Picture perfect.

And there’s the rub. Other than Christ, no character is a picture of perfection.

And here’s the point. Our Pollyanna perspective on life leads us toward an arrogant, judgmental, unforgiving spirit toward one another, toward unbelievers, and even toward our own selves.

And frankly, it leads most of us to live boring, flat, one-dimensional lives, while often hiding the multi-dimensions competing every second in our souls.

Honestly, I prefer DG to Dorothy. I prefer Azkadellia to the Wicked Witch. At least they are fully human and fully struggling to be more fully human.

Until heaven, isn’t that the honest truth about all of us?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Web 2.0 and Relationships 2.0

Web 2.0 and Relationships 2.0

In the Internet world, the term Web 2.0 gained prominence in a piece Tim O’Reilly wrote on September 30, 2005. Though some argue that the term lacks precision and that the technology has been in place since at least 1995, Web 2.0 people frequently use the term to mean a new, more connected way the web is being used. It especially highlights applications that focus on web-based communities and social networking.

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 includes things such as blogs and vlogs (video blogs) linked together via sites such as Google Blogs or My Space or YouTube. Note here the 2.0 aspect—people have been writing web logs or online journals for some time. But now they are linked, interconnected. The same with YouTube for connecting videos. In a similar way, individual, isolated articles now are linked together through RSS feeds so that if you want to know about, for instance, John McCain’s campaign, you can automatically receive a plethora of diverse articles from around the county—getting a community view of him rather than a one-sided, slanted view.

Another Web 2.0 innovation includes sites such as Facebook which is an online community that proves the old adage of six degrees of separation. In other words, everyone is connected to everyone else via the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.

In fact, I joined Facebook three days ago when my nineteen-year-old daughter urged me to move into the 21st century. In less than 72 hours, I now have over 175 Facebook friends—these are people I actually know—who still want to be my friends! But that’s another story.

Relationships 2.0

My point is to help us “old folks” to understand not only Web 2.0 but what I call Relationships 2.0. Consistently I hear folks from my generation making comments that indicate cluelessness about how relationships work for the 2.0 generation.

For instance, a friend said, “I was on a college campus and people were alone on their cell phones talking, text messaging, and all that. Doesn’t anyone relate anymore?” Whose definition of relating was my friend using?

Other friends have said, “Kids are on the computer all alone all day. They never build any relationships.” Of course, those kids on the computer are likely playing online role-playing video games with friends across the street and across the country, or world. They are likely simultaneously chatting via any number of Web 2.0 social networking sites. And at the same time they are probably leaving “Wall” messages on Facebook profile pages of their friends.

Even when people hear this explanation, they still often say, “But that’s not relating. In the old day, you related face-to-face.”

Well, let’s talk about that. In the old day, you related face-to-face with a few people who lived close to you. Depending how many days you go back, like 100 years or so, travel issues meant that you had few opportunities for face-to-face interaction beyond your family or a few close neighbors. Now some people will jump on that and say, “Well see, at least they did have a few close relationships. As I’ll mention in a moment, that’s possible in the Web 2.0 world also. Additionally, let’s not kid ourselves. Not every person 100 years ago had idyllic relationships. There were lonely, hurting, hurtful, and mean people “back in the day” also.

Post-Modern or Pre-Modern?

People act like Relationships 2.0 are a post-modern invention. In reality, they are more pre-modern. Think about Martin Luther. I did my dissertation on his letters of spiritual counsel. He wrote over 3,000 letters of pastoral care, and received 1,000s back. This was not “face-to-face” relating, but it was deep, intimate, caring relating, nonetheless.

People today assume that you can’t relate via email, text messaging, or online chat. I disagree. Just as Luther could intimately connect with 100s of people through letter writing in his day, so it is possible that we can deeply connect with scores of people today through chat, email, text messaging, linked blogs, social networking sites, and the like.

Now, I’m not saying that every young person today has a network of healthy relationships. Of course, neither did every young person 100 years ago. Neither does every “old person” now.

My point is not to talk about bad, good, better, or best forms of relating. My point is to help my fellow “old folks” to lighten up. We’re never going to connect with the Web 2.0 Generation if we criticize and avoid their ways of relating.

Connecting with the Connected Generation: High Tech and High Touch

For me, rather than rip on it, I’m joining it. I’m a diehard Web 2.0 and Relationship 2.0 person. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up attending my small group in person, doesn’t mean I’ve given up attending church, doesn’t mean we’ve quit hosting parties at our house. I/we continue to do all of those face-to-face relationships.

But, I certainly email endlessly (still working on the text messaging, but I’ll get there). I do some free online chat counseling. I have my fair share of RSS feeds. Obviously, I post blogs on Google and link to hundreds of sites on my web site. As of this week, I’m on Facebook and loving it. I visit YouTube frequently. You get the idea.

The former ways of community building can remain. To them we can add new ways—Web 2.0 and Relationships 2.0 community building. Let’s be high tech and high touch.