Sunday, September 28, 2014

Creating a Biblical Counseling Office

Maybe you, like me, never said, “I want to be a biblical counselor when I grow up.” I didn’t know they existed. I wouldn’t have known what one was if you’d told me. But now I know who they are. They’re real people in real skin with real struggles that come alongside other real people in real skin with real struggles. Biblical counselors are Jesus in our midst, individuals God has gifted to teach and equip those who are hurting and seeking change within the local church.
After acting as an advocate for a friend who sought biblical counseling, opportunities to counsel continued. During this time, my husband expanded his business and created an office I could use any way I chose. Prayerfully, I set it up for writing and counseling, but could find nothing (nothing!) online under the heading “design biblical counseling office.” If you are a pastor, you’re no doubt equipped, but if you’re a counselor-in-training, you’ve probably wondered how to create an effective place to meet and interact with counselees.

Here are some things I found helpful and true:
- If possible, separate your meeting space from your living space.
- Decorate with appealing colors and art work.
- Make yourself at home, but keep it clean.
- Think about your counseling style and function: would you prefer meeting at a table with chairs or in easy chairs with a coffee table? Keep it comfortable; choose furniture that accommodates different shapes and sizes (i.e. women feel vulnerable if their feet don’t touch the floor).
- Invest in scent-appeal. Keeping a consistent scent will help counselees feel at home and link learning from one session to the next. 
- Place a white board within easy reach of your chair.
- Strategically place a clock on the wall behind your counselees.
- Offer water or coffee on arrival and/or as needed.
- Provide Kleenex and pens within reach of counselees.
- Place a wastebasket near the door.
- Provide Wi-Fi if possible.
- Use white noise if you’re within earshot of others.
- Keep files: professional and personal. Create separate filing systems. Include diagrams and hand-outs at the ready for counselees.
- Keep books well-organized and within reach. You will need them.
- Be prepared to look up Scripture references in guides books or online.

- I’ve counseled over the phone, chasing children, doing laundry and sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, but a home presents a sense of obligation for me to host and the visitor to be polite. It’s difficult to work around intrusions and distractions. This can be easily overcome, but must be intentional.
- As much as possible, make the room appealing. Avoid a sterile, clinical environment. People like to have something to look at when they’re thinking or taking time to respond. Strategically provide art or Scripture that redirects or refocuses their attention.  You will spend more time in this room than anyone, so choose things that encourage and refocus your thoughts as well.
- My office has three easy chairs with a round coffee table because I counsel women and welcome advocates. You may choose to seat a different number of people or meet at a table with chairs. The choice is a matter of function and preference.
- Most often I usher counselees to the chairs on the far side of the room and sit closest to the door. On the wall beside that chair is a dry-erase board which is very helpful for diagrams, explanations, Scripture verses or interactive discussion. Across from my chair is a clock which allows me to be polite and punctual. Keeping my word means ending appointments on time.
- The most important function of my office is at-homeness and comfort. I want counselees to feel safe, wanted, prepared for, and listened-to. It should look, feel and smell like somewhere they want to be.
- Have a place to keep files. Not only will you want to keep duplicates of counseling hand-outs and articles, you will want a protected place to keep files of counselees. You may find it helpful to keep Bible study materials, personal Bible journals, and professional files as well. I have found it best to keep separate file systems, organized alphabetically by topic or by the books of the Bible.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
(Jude 1:20-25 NKJV)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Writing Your Life's Letter

In our church circle, missionaries come home every few years and travel from one supporting church to another, giving stewardship reports and sharing encouragement. Years ago a missionary from India challenged us, "Each one of you should be able to stand up at any time and share fifteen-minute's worth of what God is doing in your life. If you don't have that much to share, you need to get busy." In my mind, I often stop and wonder what I would share if I had fifteen minutes to tell someone what God's doing. That's where this blog comes in.

As I consider what I would say--or write--to supporting churches and individuals, I think about what's important. How am I using the gifts and abilities God has given? What if others were footing the bill? Would that make a difference in how I use what I have?

If I had to justify the use of money this last month, how it was used for the Lord and His kingdom, how much would I have to tweak? Could I share honestly and judiciously with a clear conscience?

If I was called on to explain the use of my time--both professional and personal--it would be obvious who's important. Would my time reflect more love for God or for myself? Would someone who loves the Lord wholeheartedly provide financial support based on the way I spent my time?

And relationships. Am I intentional about building relationships with those who don't know Christ? Do I seek and invest in people regardless of how they make me feel, or whether or not I have to leave my comfort zone? What drives my relationships and the ways I choose to give of myself, even within our local church Body? Who do my friendships belong to? Me or God?

You'll notice I'm not going to answer my own questions--at least not here and now--but it's something I think of often. I ask myself, "If I sat down and wrote a letter like the apostle Paul, or my missionary friends, how would it encourage others? Would I be able to say, as Paul said, 'Follow me as I follow Christ?'" How about you? What would your letter say?

The truth of the matter is, our life is being recorded. There is an eternal record and it's not based on what others give us. It's a real-time, honest, can't hide-behind-curtain-number-two account of what the Lord has given. And, though we may not speak of it often, there will be a day we stand before Almighty God and justify the use of those gifts: time, money, relationships. May He be pleased by our dependence and trust in Him as we live each month, each day, each moment, for His glory, by His grace.

we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;  and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:6-21)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Homeless People Don't Buy in Bulk

As we drove down a country road, I spoke aloud, "If I were homeless I wouldn't buy birdseed." My husband gave me a strange look. We'd recently walked city streets, then left to drive through the surrounding countryside. The marquis outside a farm store advertised 40-pound bags of birdseed and I immediately pictured myself dragging a forty pound bag of birdseed along the streets of Boston. Total non-starter.

Admittedly, I enjoy comfort--and the things that bring it. I can pack a LOT in a small space (i.e. suitcase or car) and I dislike being unprepared. But if I didn't have a place for my stuff, how much would I carry all day, every day? Just enough. Just enough food. Just enough clothes. Just enough to be clean and warm and...what else? That's about it. No laptop, no smart phone, no extra gazillion shoes or hair accessories or paper products. Just enough.

And in that moment, I was reminded that I am a traveler, a pilgrim, a journeyman here on earth. My eternal home and riches and valuables are not here. They're in Heaven with Christ. He has given me everything I need without the extra weight and burden of lugging it from one place to the next. In fact, He has given me "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:3). Really?!

That means I have the freedom to travel light. And permission to ask hard questions. "Why am I doing this?" "What is the benefit?" "It was on sale, does that mean I need it or want it?" And I begin to think differently about opportunities and endeavors. Is this the best use of my time? Am I obedient and responsible with the blessings and callings God has put on my life? What is most immediate and pressing? What can be laid aside?

Perhaps more convicting is the real stuff I already have. James says, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten" (5:1). In other words, the stuff you have has been untended so long it's falling apart. The clothes that could have been worn are no longer useful. The things you kept for "a rainy day" are past the point of return. You sat on them so long they have given up the ghost and you have wasted not only their benefit to yourself, but their benefit to anyone. If you don't need it, give it to someone who does! Ahem. Yes. My closets and attic testify to my at-homeness, my I'm-here-for-the-long-run mentality. And stuff takes time. Time to acquire. Time to sort. Time to find. Time to dispense. Time. And that, dear self, is limited. Travel light.

Perhaps you know this song by Jim Reeves I heard many times throughout my childhood:
This world is not my home I'm just a-passin' through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.
Think about it. I know I am. Who's running my life? Who's filling my cart? Me? Others? My schedule? Or God? Hmmm.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:3-4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:3-14

Monday, September 8, 2014

Personal Worship, Corporate Benefit

Is it true that our everyday life is separate from our church, Sunday life? Think again. Because worship is a lot like eating.  It's personal.  What goes in is who we become.  What's been ingested is evident to others, lacking the details.  Worship and eating are both private and corporate practices.

After a piano offertory a gentleman approached me and asked, “Do you ever play for just you?"

"Of course.”  

"I thought so," he said with a smile.

When each of worships God personally, our corporate worship becomes richer, fuller, deeper.  One of my friends prays Scripture passionately, especially the Psalms. Her words are tinged with heartfelt humility, rising, falling, tapering to silence.  Before she completes a petition, my eyes and face are moist. My heart is more satisfied than before; I have experienced God differently through her love and expression than my own.

Regardless of how we minister in our local churches, when we come having set aside self, God is revealed in a powerful, personal way through His Word. What thoughts or Scriptures aid you in personal worship and ministry? They’re not yours for keeps, they’re yours to share.

 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,  with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,  endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,  till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:1-16)