The God of All Comfort

Difficulties and adversity are a part of life. There is no escape from it, whether a person is a believer in Jesus Christ or someone who has never trusted in Jesus Christ for his or her eternal salvation. It is therefore essential to know what to do in the midst of hardship and tribulation, so that it does not crush a person beyond repair. The believer in Jesus Christ, though, has a resource in afflictions that the unbeliever does not have: the comfort of God. Because of his or her relationship to God, there is access to all the blessings of God, and one of these blessings is his comfort in the midst of distress. Moreover, this is a normal ministry of God to all who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It isn’t something reserved for the leaders, for the most spiritual, or for those with a spotless reputation. It is for all who have trusted in Jesus Christ and will seek God for it.

The unknown author of Psalm 147 saw this comforting ministry in the life of the nation of Israel. This Psalm seems to have been written in the restoration of the Israelites, the remnant of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in particular, to the land of Israel sometime after 515 BC or so. This is what he wrote:

“He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds”
(Psalm 147:3).

God brings his healing comfort to his people when they are suffering. He wants to do this, because he is not a God who is far away, cool and detached, watching but doing nothing, but a God who is ready and willing to help in whatever circumstances cause his people anguish and pain.

God is the perfect comforter for his people. There is no one more capable, and his capability to comfort is far above human capability. The Psalmist refers to God with the one little word, “He”, and by this he means Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God who had freed his people from the Egyptian bondage. He had recently restored them back to the land of Israel after a time of exile that had caused them great heartache, like another unknown Psalmist expressed in the lament of Psalm 137. He is also the God of the Bible, the God who some centuries later entered human history and brought salvation from sin and death through Jesus Christ. The first step to understanding God as the perfect comforter, then, is to remember the ways in which he has already acted and who he has revealed himself to be, and this will turn doctrine into medicine for the broken hearted.

The love and compassion of God, then, makes him always disposed to bring comfort to his people in their afflictions. He is never out of the mood, and never unwilling to comfort! There may be those who are involved in our churches who stand aside as rubberneckers to the hardships of others, but God is loving and compassionate no matter what the circumstances, and his people can count on that always and in all circumstances.

The fact that God is everywhere, means that he is always available to comfort his people in their pains. His office hours are every moment! No one is ever out of the reach of his care! Just Jonah tried to flee from the LORD but was never out of his reach, so we will never be out of his reach when we run to him in the midst of our troubles! People will often not be available, but God always is.

Moreover, the faithfulness of God means that he is always reliable to comfort us when we are in need of his help. He will always do what he has said he will do! There is not one iota of insincerity in his promises. Again, the people around us will often be unreliable and fail us when things get too rough or uncomfortable for them, but God will always be reliable to his Word.

Even more, God has perfect understanding of all our circumstances and all our disappointments. He is all knowing and all wise, and that means that no one need ever have to explain it to him! There will never be any misunderstanding with him, and no matter what any one of us goes through, there will never be any kind of distorted picture with God. Certainly people often need explanations to be of any kind of help, and they will often misunderstand, but God will always know what is happening without anyone needing to explain it to him.

Because God is all powerful, then, it means that he can bring infinite help to us in all our distresses. Isaiah wrote, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1).  Therefore we can expect God to do all that is possible on our behalf when we are in trouble.

Finally, because brings us comfort through Jesus Christ, it means that he has a perfect sympathy for us in our distresses. Many times, when we are hurting, we want sympathy and understanding at least as much as the ending of our trouble. And through entering our world through his Son Jesus Christ, in his human life Jesus experienced everything necessary to give him a perfect sympathy with our own experiences: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Therefore, when we are in distress, go to God first. Why would you go anywhere else?

  • Why would you go anywhere else when you have such a great God who will stand by you? God will never disappoint you.
  • Why would you go anywhere else when you have his gracious and explicit invitations to come to him? “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).
  • Why would you go anywhere else when you have his promise to help you when you call on him? “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15).

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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Dealing with Man Gossip

Some months ago I remember reading a piece on the Internet by Marshall Goldsmith, one of my favorite business gurus, that dealt with casual business conversations. He mentioned how much of casual business conversations contain either self promotion or subtle denigration of the efforts of others. I believe that this is the content of most gossip among men in the church. It’s either self promotion or putting down others who are absent by sharing ‘concerns’ and ‘prayer requests’ about them. From my experience this kind of self promotion and spiritualized backstabbing also occurs a great deal in denominational meetings where pastors and denominational leaders gather.

Solomon already gave the scriptural guideline for self-promotion:

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth,
someone else, and not your own lips

(Proverbs 27:2).

Rather, the focus needs to be on the glory of God, and serving as a disciple of Jesus. Most of this kind of boastfulness is unnecessary and pollutes the fellowship of believing men when they get together.

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Pastoral Visitation and Hospitality

In my previous post, The Pastor and Personal Ministry, I dealt with some basics on how a pastor can minister to others one on one or in small groups. Much more of that can be done if the pastor takes the initiative to visit the people of the congregation and to have them over to his house. Rarely do pastors seem to do much of either any more, though a generation ago these were considered major parts of a pastor’s duties to his congregation. With all the churches that I’ve attended before, during and after seminary, no pastor from any of those churches ever attempted to call on me at home. The only ones who ever had me over to dinner or any other kind of casual get together were classmates of mine from seminary. Yet pastors who do not do any visitation or hospitality are usually not building any strong bonds and taking opportunities to minister to minister to many whom their ministry could otherwise touch. There’s usually not enough time with the chit chat before or after a service to get to know someone or to know someone’s spiritual history and needs in any kind of depth sufficient for wise ministry to the people of the congregation.

There are several ways that a pastor can ‘reach out and touch someone’ in the congregation:

  • A pre-arranged or not pre-arranged, casual call at the homes of church members, attenders or visitors.
  • A telephone call to someone in church families or visitors.
  • Making a pastoral visit at a hospital or nursing home.
  • Making contact with others through social media such as email, instant messaging, LinkedIn or FaceBook.
  • Having a church family or individuals over for dinner or games night or some other social occasion.
  • Going out to lunch with people from the congregation.

The first thing that a pastor must do is simply to plan and make time for pastoral visitation and hospitality in his schedule. My suggestion is for the pastor to plan a list of people to call on on the first day of his work week. Make it a point to have some sort of personal contact with each family in the congregation at least once a year. If the church is a large church with multiple staff, divide up the congregation into groups on which each pastor will work with an elder or two to minister to their needs. if the church has a secretary, a secretary can pre-arrange visits with those individuals and families with whom this is appropriate. During my pastoral ministry I practically never called ahead to arrange a visit, however. Most people were quite willing to get a friendly and casual visit from a pastor on a weeknight or late Saturday morning or early afternoon.

The subject of the visit is first and foremost to get to know the individual and family where they are. Due to the tendency of many in the church to Misunderstandings and Misperceptions, the pastor will often find that things are different than what he had been told about a person or family from someone else in the church. He will often find that someone who may be a ‘black sheep’ or under a cloud of disapproval from others in the church has in fact been going through a deep time of hardship and adversity and needs love and concern instead. He may find matters on which he can give quick and confidential ministry to others and answer questions that they might have that they would not otherwise broach to others in the church.

There will also be opportunities for evangelistic ministry and personal witness in pastoral visitation and hospitality. When a pastor talks to someone about his or her spiritual history and asks about his or her current spiritual condition, there will be a number of times that he will find someone who has a church background but no personal trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But pastoral visitation and hospitality in this way is more directed to keeping a shepherding watch on the flock. Most of the time the pastor will need also to seek witnessing opportunities and a personal evangelistic ministry alongside a regular schedule of pastoral ministry and hospitality.

Certainly, in a church where the pastor gives attention to the Responsibilities and Preparation of Church Elders. there will be much more help in visitation and hospitality for him. But the general health of the congregation will be greater where the pastor engages in more personal ministry through visitation and hospitality.

The New Commandment Comes Before the Great Commission

I’ve been a part of a fellowship of churches for many years where the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) has been historically a great motivating factor. Yet I’ve been dismayed often enough by those who are gung ho for evangelism yet showing little of the love and compassion of Christ for others. Simply in the progression of the teaching of Christ, the New Commandment (John 13:34-35) was delivered before the Great Commission. In fact, the Great Commission depends upon the people intending to obey it having to know and obey everything that Jesus had already taught up to that point. In other words, a claim to be following the Great Commission is no excuse to neglect anything else that the New Testament (the teaching of Jesus himself and through the apostles) teaches. Rather, it presupposes that the person going forth to obey it be himself or herself to be rooted and grounded in Christ and showing Christlikeness in life.

Gifted, Talented . . . and Christian: Pastors and the Gifted

Updated!


Pastoral Care of the Gifted

In my personal journal from a number of years ago I discovered an entry on the pastoral care that I should have received. During my mid to late twenties and early thirties, there was a pastor or two who attempted to mentor me and some who may even have thought or said to others that they were ‘counseling’ me. Though I did not at the time regard these sessions as genuine ‘counseling’ sessions, I believe that they may have been represented as such to some third parties.

Much of what I heard during these times I have found in later years to be inadequate. Some probably did have genuinely good intentions, but the best that can be said of several others is that they showed pretty mixed emotions towards me as a person. The entry in my journal was taken from the perspective of how I would have dealt with someone like myself after I had put several years in the pastorate. It is not intended to be critical or judgmental, but as a guide to those who deal as pastor with others. I do plan on revising this section as time goes by, but here is what I have for the present.

  • It must be Biblical in content and manner. I received some ‘counsel’ based on some claims of God’s leading, but these were repetitions of things I had once said with ‘God says’ attached, or ‘God says’ attached to what they might have heard from others. Other ‘counsel’ appears to have been to try to fit me into the expectations of absent third parties. Still other ‘counsel’ appears to have come from the perception that the I was simply an inferior copy of the pastor, and needed him to make me over into his image. The first qualifies as false prophecy, the second as being a party to rumor and gossip and the third as domineering egomania. None of these were Biblical in manner or content. The Bible itself is the standard by which everyone is equipped for ‘every good work’ (II Timothy 3:16-17).
  • It must be private and confidential. This means no divulging of information to third parties nor acceptance of information from third parties without hearing the side from the GT adult also. This is a normal standard for pastoral care and counseling but it does bear repeating, since someone in the church may either feel threatened by the GT adult, or be envious and develop a vendetta against the GT adult. Protection of the unity of the church through refusal of gossip applies where a GT adult is concerned also.
  • It must be loving and honest. ‘Speaking the truth in love is the Biblical standard. Some of those who attempted to ‘counsel’ me had deep envy and malicious feelings toward me by their own admission. The content and manner of their dealing with me was in accord with what was in their hearts. Rather, offer no counsel if it cannot be in accord with I Corinthians 13. No claims of loving intentions do not excuse any harsh and angry actions.
  • It must be respectful of their adulthood. GT adults often show an exuberance, playfulness and even physical youthfulness beyond their years. Sometimes pastors in their forties and beyond begin to take on an overly parental manner with younger adults, especially if they are near the same age range as the pastor’s children. Any apparent immaturity of the GT adult and an overly parental manner on the part of a pastor can result in a series of directions to the adult which are simply inappropriate to give to another adult. The standard of pastoral care and counseling is that it is not to be domineering or patronizing (I Peter 5:3). The pastor is to be a spiritual leader using the Word of God to direct, not a self appointed surrogate parent. Remember that God has put the pastor into the place of parental authority only over his own children, not the children of anyone else.
  • It must be respectful of God’s purpose in the life of the GT adult. As part of the purpose of salvation, God has prepared beforehand that the GT adult should live out his or her faith in good deeds (Ephesians 2:10). The role of the pastor is to be a partner with the GT adult in finding out and following how this should work out in his or her life. That will not be a one-sided declaration of pastoral authority pressed beyond scriptural boundaries but a mutual, scripturally sound leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • Any correction must be done in gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1). This goes with what scripture already says about the standard of communication being ‘speaking the truth in love.’ Rather, it is a reinforcement of this command.

In short, there is nothing about the GT adult that permits a deviation from Biblically centered counsel and Christlike conduct toward the GT adult. For any pastor dealing with a GT adult, if there are feelings of envy, anger, or any other such motivations welling up, I encourage you to deal with your own heart first. A serious red flag would be any desire to use this relationship to crush or humiliate the GT adult. Please remember that pastoral position and authority is given not to tear anyone down (II Corinthians 13:10) but to build up fellow believers, including any GT adults, into the image of Christ. Pray and deal with your own heart according to the scriptures as long as it takes.

Here is also a short notification as to what does notwork with the gifted.

  • What does not work is the amateur diagnosis of gifted characteristics as any kind of mental illness or neurological problems in themselves. Several articles on the SENG(Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) site explain this kind of misdiagnosis. The gifted person is different in the way that he or she thinks, feels and processes information.

    Many times the gifted person is more sensitive than the average person and may react to hurts and difficulties that may seem to be overreactions to others (and it is in those times that they need may need our love and patience a little more — but someone who is in genuine fellowship with Christ has access to a more than sufficient source — Ephesians 3:16-19). It is easy, though, for someone else to take an exaggeration of a misunderstanding to extreme levels.

    Case in point: when I was in my mid twenties, I had simply one difficult day. I came home, rested, prayed and things were back in perspective on that evening. One person, though, simply saw me feeling down, and told some others that I was on the verge of a psychological breakdown. I worked it out with that person later that evening, but unfortunately some others who heard that seemed to have persisted in that misunderstanding. The upshot is that the gifted, as much as any other believer, must receive understanding when he or she comes into problems in this world, such as the bad days and misfortunes that happen to us all. Each person in this world will then suffer and hurt according to the way that God has made that person, not according to someone else’s idea of how that person ‘should’ feel at that time.

    Nevertheless, sometimes giftedness does come intertwined with some kinds of mental illness or neurological problems. This is not the same, though, as someone being different, or diverging from a simplistic image of what it is to be ‘normal.’ If you suspect that this might be the case, it is best to work with trained medical and psychological experts who are experienced in distinguishing the characteristics of giftedness, mental illness and neurological problems. Nevertheless, avoid giving the gifted person the impression that their abilities and differences mean that anything is ‘wrong’ with that person. It is simply the way that that person was born, or rather, the characteristics which God has given to him or her. It is sheer presumption to confuse our ideas of what is ‘normal’ for God’s will and purposes in the life of another individual. In fact, God himself takes responsibility for the ways in which many people are not ‘normal’: “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11).

     

  • What does not work is the attempt to impose blue collar class survival rules or social norms on a gifted person. (This generally is out of place with anyone, since these are not really Biblical in themselves.) It is at best insensitive and at worst abusive to tell a gifted person that he or she must become ‘tough’ instead of sensitive, ‘show no weakness’ instead of live with the awareness of his or her human imperfections, or ‘hard work and discipline’ is what counts instead of inspiration and artistry.

Pastors Who Qualify as Gifted

The description here is not applied to a spiritual gift as a pastor or to the position, but to those who are pastors who are GT by the definitions provided.

  • Understand that your real power and sufficiency in ministry comes from Christ and not your giftedness (II Corinthians 3:4-6).
  • Understand that your leadership is to be with the servanthood attitude of Christ (Luke 22:24-25, Philippians 2:1-11).
  • Understand that any scorn or ridicule that you have experienced because of your giftedness can be a source of compassionate ministry to others (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
  • Understand that your glorying is to be in the Lord above all (Jeremiah 9:23-24), and not in your intelligence or accomplishments.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Gifted, Talented . . . and Christian: Links on Giftedness

Updated!

Here are some general links and resources on giftedness.

A large percentage of GT people may have a different learning style, known as visual-spatial. I myself demonstrate about 60% of these characteristics, though I also have strong audio-spatial characteristics. Here are some links that describe these.

Here are two links on the characteristics of OverExcitabilities (OEs):

Many GT adults also experience some kind of bullying at the workplace — otherwise called mobbing. Here are some links on mobbing:

Gifted, Talented . . . and Christian: Lessons Learned

Updated!

If you are the parent of a child who has been identified as gifted, learn what that means, learn the potential of your child and be an advocate for your child to receive what he or she needs to develop that potential.

Under the current laws of the State of Ohio, I would have qualified for gifted education. Unfortunately, the current laws did not come into effect until 1999, and my education in the public schools took place in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Since then, I have identified some ways which I believe I could have received more from my years of education:

  • Proper identification and assessment.

  • Parental orientation to giftedness.

  • Coaching in study skills.

  • Curriculum acceleration and enrichment.

  • Mentoring by an older GT.

  • Vocational coaching and assessment.

These are all proven strategies for the education and development of a gifted child, and they can be crucial to the understanding and development of that rare potential. For more information, see the Hoagies Gifted website.


Learn your own potential and define your own purpose.

Someone may at times throw this guilt trip at you: "You’re not living up to your potential." This phrase came back to me as I remembered it as a taunt from someone from some time ago. Then it was pretty much that I did follow the career path that that person tried to push me into through ‘fraud and undue influence.’ Here are some thoughts on this.

Sometimes this phrase may come from a coworker or a manager. If so, this kind of statement could well be pretty much out of bounds if it did not deal with the current job performance. I think that if anyone does hear this kind of thing from a manager or anyone else, for that matter is to ask immediately for a clarification. What is the potential that he or she sees you as not reaching? If it is a manager, you could go on to ask how it relates to a documented performance evaluation, performance improvement plan and job description, if any. If the comment dealt with a possible improvement in job performance, this would be a way to get that out in the open — but I can see a communication problem with any manager that would state a possible job performance improvement in those terms.

If it is dealing with your personal life or personal career goals, then you have another problem with that other person, whether a manager or not. The best thing would simply to say something like you’ve made your personal choices and set your personal goals. A good manager is someone who will help you to reach your personal career goals through your current job, not try to sidetrack or sabotage your personal career choices, nor try to interfere in your personal life. If you’re working with a manager or supervisor that does not respect your choices and boundaries in these areas, it might be a good idea to cast your eyes elsewhere. If it is someone else, then the question must be as to how that person has either the insight, the authority or the right to speak to what is the purpose or potential for the life of another adult.


Learn to be assertive yet collaborative.

Learn how to present your ideas logically and how to make the case for your ideas, needs and desires reasonably and persuasively without denigrating someone who disagrees with you. It’ll mean being humble enough to correct the flaws that others may find without crying bloody murder or counterattacking.

Because of their heightened sensitivity, GTs may sometimes lack the assertiveness to pursue their own best interests against the domineering interference of others. In these cases persuasion may not be effective. Leaving or ignoring in these situations may be better than trying to set the other person straight, though.


Learn to be persuasive.

Develop your communication abilities to share your ideas and make the case for your ideas:

  • Learn to write clearly and logically.
  • Learn to speak clearly and persuasively in private and in public.
  • Learn to deal with disagreement from others gracefully and respectfully.

Develop your spiritual life within a loving evangelical church.

Keep your spiritual life in order, and let your light shine in Christlike service and humility. Practice the basic disciplines of personal Bible reading and study, private prayer and worship, and attendance and involvement in a loving and accepting evangelical church.


A gifted person can develop ‘social skills.’

Here are some ideas to beat the ‘no social skills’ stigma:

  • Be well groomed and dressed as you can reasonably afford. You don’t have to be the epitome of fashion and beauty, but well groomed and well dressed beats slovenliness any day.

  • Take care of yourself physically. Aim for health, and usually you’ll find that the body responds with some kind of beauty as well.

  • Use your sense of humor wisely, to lighten the mood of others and to defuse tension, and not to denigrate others.

  • Participate in sports and games wholeheartedly, even if you’re not that good. Most other people won’t be that good either. Not everyone is a star athlete.

  • Be polite. Not only does it win others to our side, but it highlights the rudeness of our critics.

  • Take the initiative socially and be a little unpredictable. The critics count on us being predictable, passive and withdrawing when challenged. It unnerves them to no end when we keep one step ahead of them.


Make room for your own creativity, and value the creative intrusions of your intuitive and artistic side into your life.

Ideas and powerful intuitive perceptions will come to you in many ways throughout your life. Learn to preserve, value and develop them. A notebook or journal can be most valuable over the years.


Learn the value of your own perceptions and perspective.

Realize that you have as much right to your point of view as anyone else in this world. Your point of view is a very valuable perspective. Being able to see connections, similarities and relationships and be sensitive to injustices that others do not see can be extremely valuable. Certainly there will be times that other will not understand because they cannot perceive what you are perceiving. But this does not invalidate your point of view by itself. If what you are perceiving is valid, most reasonable people will come to understand in time. Sometimes we need to develop social patience until things become clear to the others around us. Over time, you will develop more credibility the more times that others come to realize that you are often perceiving aspects of reality that they are not perceiving so quickly.


Learn to corroborate your perceptions.

Check your perceptions with another gt-adult or someone who is honest and who will give your point of view fair consideration. Collaboration with another will often help you to know how to make your case for, modify or add nuance to your point of view.


Learn how to work behind the scenes.

Find ways to work quietly in light of what you are seeing. Actions may back up your words, and there may be ways you can quietly address a problem or start a solution into motion ourselves. We don’t have to call a four alarm fire for a burning trash barrel.


Learn your value to many who may not share your gifts.

Many nonGTs, even if they recognize that you’re GT, will be willing to work with you, and sometimes even jump at the opportunity, if they know that you respect them as people and will listen to them as well. Many times we are the smartest people in the room but we don’t want to come across as if we’re out to prove it all the time. If we can treat others with respect, both GT and nonGT, I think that we will find better treatment from those who can be valuable friends and allies whether they are GT or not.


Remember that you have a Lord and Savior that knows what it means to endure humiliation, ridicule and abuse.

See my earlier posts on Jesus, his experience of abuse and the help he gives.


Learn to Handle Your Overexcitabilities

Much of the material that I’ve seen on OEs (OverExcitablities) has dealt with children.I’ve found, once I recognized that I had them, that I had developed a number of ways to cope with them over the years, particularly as a adult. Here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Start any new activity gently and gradually, and be consciously/cognitively/emotionally aware of how you are responding to the new activity. Plunging into something can easily cause sensory overload sometimes. I think that this is necessary especially if the new activity means developing fine motor skills, such as learning a new musical instrument, or a new form of physical exercise that is intended to develop strength, flexibility or endurance.

  2. Use something neutral to block out distractions, especially where concentration is necessary. I try to use classical music (instrumental, orchestral, and opera in a language with which I’m not familiar), not just because of the beauty, but because the lack of words doesn’t mean that I need to do any processing of verbal input.

This might be of interest to those of us with some degree of OEs or high sensitivity in some way, or any parents of children with these kinds of characteristics:

Asynchronous Development/SensoryIntegration

The sensitivity to touch was a marker for myself on the relevance of this article. The article is geared toward parents, but there’s also much that is relevant to adults.