Archives For January 2011

Men and movies

Tim Jackson —  January 31, 2011 — 3 Comments

When I’m working with men in my counseling practice, I sometimes find that they just don’t get what I think I’m explaining so clearly. No matter how many times I try to explain it, the dots just don’t connect for them. But I’ve found a solution. I tell them a story.

When I use stories to  illustrate the truth that I’ve been trying to explain, their response is often, “Oh, that’s what you mean? Now I get that!” The stories I use come from a variety of sources. Some are directly from the Bible (after all, it’s the greatest story ever told). Others come from good literature. But another source that has been consistently effective are stories taken from movies.

Now some may object to using movies to communicate spiritual truths. Admittedly, there are potential pitfalls to this tactic. Make no mistake, I never endorse everything in any film (not even in Christian films). And there are some films I would never think of using because of the offensive content. However, I don’t think we should throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water just because we can’t place our stamp of approval on every frame of any one film. I’m pretty selective.

My point is that stories told well in the form of movies (and the same would be true of good literature) often communicate to men who may never pick up a book. But, make that same book into a movie, and men are more likely to see it. And, more importantly, get it.

Film (although it’s almost all digital now) is a powerful means of storytelling. I have a hunch as to why men connect with film?  Men are visual. Men like to experience an event. A movie is a vicarious event. It incorporates more of a man’s senses (sight, sound, action, emotion) than just about any other form of media. It’s an experience that drowns out the real world for two hours and transports the viewer into a different era, a different land, a different society, a different world, and/or a different set of circumstances that challenges him with what would he do if . . . he was thrust into that story. (That’s also why video gaming is so addicting for many men as well.)

Jesus didn’t have digital video at his disposal in the 1st century. (Okay, you knew that.) However, he did incorporate the story-telling vernacular of his day to make his messages more easily understood by all who heard him speak. They were called parables.

Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus used this well crafted story to get around the defenses of a young lawyer who was testing Jesus (vs. 25). Jesus first told him the truth. Then, he told him again with a story.

Movies are our version of modern day parables. Movie references pepper our conversations. Think about it. All I have to do is give a one-liner from a movie and most can quickly identify where it comes from. Try it.

“You can’t handle the truth!”

“Life is like a box of chocolates.”

“All men die, but not every man really lives.”

How did you do? A Few Good Men. Forest Gump. Braveheart.

That’s why I pull illustrations from movies when I counsel and when I speak at men’s conferences, seminars, and retreats. A well-chosen video clip communicates more and does an end-around a man’s normal defenses better than I can in 30 minutes of trying to explain it. When I engage a man’s head and his heart with a movie clip, his natural defensiveness to whatever truth I’m teaching is often significantly diminished. That’s the power of story. It has a way of burrowing behind our normal defenses and gets to our hearts. And after all, isn’t that the point of a good illustration–to embed truth into the heart and mind of the listener in a compelling way?

That’s what Jesus did with parables. That’s what Nathan did with King David (2 Samuel 12:1-15). David’s defenses were drawn down because he was captured by the story, and then busted by Nathan’s simple indictment: “You are the man.” And David got it. Read Psalm 51. David wrote it after his encounter with Nathan.

I wonder if Nathan would have had a problem using his iTouch (if he had the technology at his disposal 1000 years before Jesus) to show David a clip from a familiar story about a shepherd? It probably would have been pretty effective, don’t you think? Something to think about, isn’t it?

So, what’s your story? Is there a film or a scene from a film that captured your heart and compelled you to face up to a challenge, love life more deeply, or face your fears in ways that drove you deeper into your relationship with God? Feel free to share your thoughts and tell us your story.

After all, who knows? Your story just could make the difference in someone else’s story.

Forgive & Forget

Tim Jackson —  January 26, 2011 — 11 Comments

I don’t know how to forgive and forget. And frankly, I find that I’m not alone. If forgiving requires forgetting, then we’re all up a creek without a paddle. Rather, I believe forgiveness is necessary because we can’t forget the harm that’s been done to us.

How often have you apologized to someone for the way you mishandled a situation and you’ve heard, “Oh, forget it. No big deal.” Truly, if it is no big deal, then it probably doesn’t need to be forgiven. My rule of thumb is this: If  I can forget it, it doesn’t need to be forgiven. Forgiveness is for the stuff I can’t forget.

If forgetting is impossible, then how do you forgive the things you can’t forget? And if I can’t forget the things that I’m suppose to forgive, then how do I not allow those things done to me that bring so much pain, heartache, betrayal, and distress to control me any longer?

Forgiveness means I will not allow you and what you’ve done to me to control me any longer. That kind of forgiveness–the kind that Jesus asks of his disciples comes from a deepening understanding that the person who has harmed me–no matter who they are or what they’ve done–does not have the power to destroy what I value most deeply in life.

If you can somehow deprive or rob me of what I value most in life–my job, my reputation, my marriage, you name it–then I will feel controlled by you and hate you for it. I will see you as constantly standing in my way and sabotaging what I believe I desperately must have to make my life work . . . on my terms, of course.

However, if I’m growing by learning how to embrace the truth that my life is hidden in Christ in God (Col. 3:3), then there is nothing that anyone can ever do to me that will cause me to lose my life in Christ. I’m secure in God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39). IF that is the core reality of my heart, then that changes everything.

Check out Larry Crabb’s response to the question as to how to begin the process of forgiving what you can’t forget.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a more forgiving person. I’m not nearly as forgiving as I’d like to be. I can hold a grudge as easily as the next person. But I’m committed to this process of learning how to be more forgiving. Why? Because of what Jesus has forgiven me (Eph. 4:32). In comparison, my attempts at forgiveness are so minuscule to his immense work of forgiving me all of my sin that cleanses me from all my wrongdoing. Following his example, frees me from being controlled by what others do to me.

To forgive and not be controlled by what you can’t forget . . . that’s forgiveness.

Women and Men

Allison Stevens —  January 24, 2011 — 11 Comments

Is there any common sense to waiting for marriage to have sex?

I think there’s a lot of common sense about it. I just spoke with two separate women who went further, physically, with men than they had planned to or were emotionally ready for – and now one is filled with self-doubt and shame; the other is anxiety-ridden.

These women are beautiful, competent, caring, and successful. Any right-minded (or should I say ‘right-hearted’) single man would be thrilled to be with her. But the women’s self-esteem has taken a plunge now because of how far the physical relationship went without the commitment from the man. Now they wonder if the guy is in the relationship for the long haul. One of the men said he wasn’t sure. Hm. How convenient.

Sex is more than a physical act – at least to a woman who’s looking for a husband. And even to girls in high school who “make out” with guys and then hear that the guy isn’t interested in becoming boyfriend-girlfriend. She is hurt by that and wonders why she isn’t good enough for him.

I think it’s because she gave herself away too fast. Not that the guy who made out with her was a catch. Obviously, he has issues of his own. This isn’t just a female problem! Males are too willing to be passive and take the sexual activity that the woman is willing to give him, and then leave her behind. That is not a good, strong man.

But back to women:  When a woman gives her body to a guy before he’s committed himself to her, she puts herself in jeopardy of severe heartbreak and disappointment of not getting the most important desire in her life:  an intimate, committed, life-long relationship. A woman’s purity holds the key to her heart. If she gives that away too soon, a man can come in and take advantage of her vulnerability.

A woman pays a huge emotional price when she has sex before or outside of marriage. She can become fearful, anxious, lack confidence, and lose the meaning and purpose of her life.  Then, to relieve some of these painful symptoms, she may resort to continually giving a piece of herself away to an unworthy man, every time compromising what her true inner self tells her is right for her.

I love movies. Jeff’s reference to Open Range in his blog last week was a wonderful reminder of why I love movies. When done well,  I love the stories they tell. Interestingly enough, I recently showed that same movie, Open Range, to a group of guys at my church. After watching the movie, we spent about 45 minutes discussing what we witnessed as we entered the world of the old west for the previous 2 hours.

The conversation was rich and engaging. Guys just seem to connect with films. They see the good in men that they’d like to model their lives after. They see the bad that they need to avoid or fight against. They see how both the heroes and the villains treat the women in their lives. The complex issues that are played out in the telling of a good story are the same complex issues that men face in one way or another every day.

What I’ve discovered is that men tend to talk about areas where they struggle as men more easily after having watch a movie that exposes some of those struggles in the men whose story they’ve just experienced vicariously.

One of the comments that the men picked up on in Open Range came from a scene in a saloon. After two of his partners were brutally bushwacked, one murdered and the other clinging to life by a thread, Charlie Waite and Boss Spearman went into town to set things right.

Charlie Waite, the civil war sniper turned gun-hand turned free-grazing cowboy, challenged the townsmen for refusing to stand up to the evil cattle baron who ruled the town with an iron fist and owned the local Sheriff. They saw what was wrong, but they felt powerless to change it.

One of the men responded to Charlie’s challenge: “What? Me and my boys, we’re freighters. Ralph here is a shop keeper. What can we do?”

Charlie’s response was simple but clear: “You’re men ain’t cha?”. After expressing their fear of dying, he followed up with, “You may not know this, but there are some things that naw at a man worse than dying.”

What Charlie’s cowboy wisdom exposed was the tendency for men to confuse who they are with what they do. I hear that so often out of the mouths of men that I work with. “I’m a carpenter, doctor, plumber, salesman,  or engineer.” We men often hem ourselves in with a description of who we are as defined by what we do for a living. Don’t believe me? How many times have you seen a man lose his job and he doesn’t know who he is any more. Who are we without our work? We don’t know. And that’s why many men experience an identity crisis when they no longer are doing what they’re used to doing. They feel lost. They don’t know who they are as men.

(By the way, while this post focuses on men’s struggles, women tend to do the same thing, it just looks different. Women often identify themselves with the roles they play or the relationships they have: mother, housewife, nurse, lawyer, waitress, or manager. This is even more true as women continue to pursue careers outside of the home. Forgetting who we are is not an exclusive domain of men. It just tends to seep to the surface more obviously in men.)

God made men (and women) in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). We forget that timeless truth that has been true from the very beginning. We are male image-bearers or female image-bearers. There are no image bearers that are gender neutral. We’re either men or women, male or female.

The townsmen in Open Range forgot that they were men first . That’s who they were. What they did for a living, while important, was a distant second. And when men lose site of who they are, they live controlled by fear. And the Bible describes that as  a loss of heart.

So, today, who are you? Have you forgotten that you’re a man  (or woman) made in God’s image and worthy of love and respect because of who you are? Remember. Don’t forget.

Jigsaw Puzzles

Allison Stevens —  January 17, 2011 — 5 Comments

I love jigsaw puzzles. I enjoy the challenge of putting the pieces together and watching them develop into a picture. I recently bought a 750 piece puzzle of New York’s Time Square. I worked at it for hours studying the picture on the box, the details of each puzzle piece, and putting each piece into its right spot.

I was baffled at some of the pieces.  I couldn’t find where they went.  I turned them upside down, putting them this way and that, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out where they should go. It was frustrating to the point that I had to walk away from the puzzle a few times.

Some of my clients feel that way about their lives.  They feel as if their lives are in a million different pieces and they can’t seem to put it all back together. For some, their lives were put together and a tragedy destroyed the picture. Or they continue to try, like I did, to put the same piece in the wrong spot over and over again. Their lives don’t make sense and some are preoccupied with regret: “If only I had known what I know now.”

The truth is that we only know what we know when we know it. We can’t rush the development of our lives, just like I couldn’t hurry through the puzzle. It was going to develop only as fast as I was able to comprehend it. At times I had to have faith that this was going to become something. When I doubted that all the pieces were there, or questioned my ability to put it together, I had to keep trying. And I had to walk away, too, giving myself some relief from figuring it out.

Like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, living takes time, persistence, and faith. One piece at a time. One moment at a time. One mistake at a time. One success at a time. If we believe that there is a picture unfolding, that our lives mean something, we’ll be able to keep going.

It felt so satisfying to be able to put a puzzle piece in its proper place. Maybe you’ve had a situation in your life that didn’t make sense for so long, but then, after time, it became a part of the beautiful and amazing picture of your life God was putting together.

Letting pain breathe

Jeff Olson —  January 13, 2011 — 5 Comments

Recently I watched the movie Open Range. It was a Christmas present.

Westerns don’t normally interest me, but this film drew me in. There was one scene, in particular, that grabbed my attention.

One of the main characters in the film is Charlie Waite (played by Kevin Costner). He’s a Cowboy trying to escape a past filled with pain and regret. During the night, he has a nightmare of being attacked by a masked gunman. The woman, whose house he was staying in, heard Charlie stirring and tried to wake him up. Startled, Charlie momentarily mistook the woman for the man in his dream and drew his pistol on her.

The next morning at breakfast, Charlie apologized to the woman. He went on to explain that he was trying to put some bad times behind him “but sometimes they don’t stay put.” The woman paused for a moment and then spoke these profound words to Charlie,

“Always make me feel better to let things breathe a little—not bury them.”

As a counselor, I couldn’t have said it better. When we bury and try to suffocate the painful realities of life, they start to own us in ways that are not good. It’s best to let them “breathe a little.”

Facing our pain is not about becoming bitter and angry. It’s about putting our hearts in a honest position where we can begin to heal.

Whatever it is, leaning into our pain and letting it breath allows deep lies and false interpretations of events to surface so they can be identified, challenged, and replaced with what it is true. It’s a difficult process for sure, but it allows God to speak into our painful places and bring truth that heals our wounded hearts.

Is there a pain you need to let breathe?

When Tragedy Strikes . . .

Tim Jackson —  January 11, 2011 — 1 Comment

“When tragedy strikes, safety evaporates. Security is undermined. Uncertainty abounds. Fear invades. Human frailty is exposed . . . It can strike unannounced from just about any direction . . .  Tragedy strikes the deepest when it hits where we least expect it, ripping apart our sense of security and shaking us with feelings of loss and vulnerability.” (When Tragedy Strikes, p. 2)

I first wrote those words in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001. I slightly revised them  in the devastating wake of the December 26, 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Last year witnessed natural disasters throughout the world that claimed 295,000 lives, of which 222,570 were lost in Haiti’s earthquake on January 12, 2010. I revisited them again after the fateful shooting in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona just last Saturday.

How tragically ironic.  Safeway. We won’t think of that the same way any more, will we?

Tragedy. It’s an ugly word. It refers to a violent event in which one or more losses, usually of human life, occurs.

Tragedies can be natural disasters, catastrophic accidents, or violent attacks. This one had its source in one man’s evil intention to reek havoc, destruction, and murder through violence. He did. And innocent people died. Some are left fighting for their lives while others are beginning the long road of recovery from less life-threatening wounds. All are scarred for life. That is the mayhem caused by this tragedy.

This wasn’t merely a tragic event. It wasn’t a natural disaster or an accident. Make no mistake. This was evil.

Evil is an ugly word. It lurks in the shadows. It lies motionless and waits for its moment to pounce.

My mind is immediately drawn to the words of Jesus as He described evil intentions in the 1st century:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

It’s the thief part that sticks out in my mind today. The intention of Satan, the Evil One that Jesus is referencing here, is to foster murder and mayhem in the world: to steal, kill, and destroy. And he’s very good at it.

But there’s hope. Even after a brutal attack that is so devastating?

Yes. Evil doesn’t have the last word.

Jesus didn’t stop with evil flourishing. He ended with hope: “I have come so that they may have life.” He continued with an offer, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He didn’t offer to stop evil in it’s tracks. Not yet. Instead, His offer was to help us when we hurt, when we’re distraught, when we’re devastated, and even when we’re on the receiving end of the worst tragedies that the violence of evil can hurl at us.

There are no easy answers when life is stolen from us in tragedy. No trite spiritual band-aids that can bind up the wounds inflicted in every tragic situation perpetrated by violent intentions.

But there is One who hears our prayers of anguish (Psalm 62:8; 1 Peter 5:7), who weeps with us over our losses (John 11:35), and whose desire is to some day dry all of our tears (Revelation 21:4). He longs to comfort us in our pain. Bringing our broken and wounded hearts to Jesus can be the start of a deeply healing process.

But . . . it takes time. And it still hurts.

Our heartfelt prayers are with those who have lost so much and who are deeply grieving in the aftermath of this tragedy.

If you or someone you love is struggling through the grief of a tragic loss, here are some resources that we want to offer to you so you don’t have to travel that  journey alone.

Tucson Tragedy

Allison Stevens —  January 10, 2011 — 1 Comment

I cried this morning when I listened to Christina Green’s father talk about her as a special little girl whom he adored.

Along with 5 others, Christina was shot and killed by a 22-year old man in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday. With neighbors, she attended a meeting with Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  She was just a little girl who was interested in politics and wanted to meet her state representative.  Outside a grocery store. In the middle of the day.

The anguish I saw in this father’s eyes was heartbreaking. As a mother, I wept with him, as I’m sure thousands of others did this morning.

She was precious and adorable. The photo of her in her ballerina outfit and her gorgeous brown eyes will stay with me for a long time.

Her father loves her and he and his wife and son will miss her for all time. He said that we (the general public) will remember the “bookends” of her life: she was born on the tragic September 11, 2001 and died a tragic death in 2011.

But he said with tears, I’ll remember the 9 wonderful years in between. I’ll remember the book of her life. It was an amazing book and I loved every minute of it.

Target Practice

Tim Jackson —  January 7, 2011 — 1 Comment

Some of you have resonated with the need to consistently focus on a new target this year (see How’s Your Aim). In a world that clamors for and will consume every waking second of our lives, we must carve out pockets of time to just spend with Jesus. So here’s some suggestions to encourage you to practice keeping on target:

  • Be intentional. Make a plan and write it down. There’s something about a tangible written plan that makes us more accountable.
  • Be accountable. Share your plan with someone else. We’re more likely to stick to the plan when there’s someone else who knows and who is not shy about asking about how we’re doing.
  • Follow through. Keep a journal of your journey. Documenting where you’ve been helps you track progress.
  • Don’t go it alone. Find a buddy, or better, find 2 buddies to share the journey with. Lone rangers don’t make it. Practice the buddy system and you’re go much farther than you will alone (Eccl. 4:9-12)

So how about you? Got any suggestions that you’ve found helpful and are willing to share?  Feel free to post them here so we can all keep on target.

How’s your aim?

Tim Jackson —  January 5, 2011 — 5 Comments

My family and I enjoy shooting sports. Whether it’s a bow, a rifle, a pistol, or a shotgun, we enjoy learning how to shoot and improving our shooting prowess. I shoot on a winter trap and skeet league at a local gun club. And believe me, it sure takes a lot of practice to shoot accurately and consistently.  Whether it’s breaking clay birds under pressure in a competition on a trap or skeet field,  hitting the bulls eye consistently when dialing in on a  long range target,  or dropping an animal cleanly and quickly in the field, there’s a fundamental rule that a good marksman must always remember: keep your eye on the target. Lose sight of the target, and you hit nothing.

At this time of the year, when we have the occasion to pause and look back (see my earlier post, No do-overs) and to look forward with anticipation of what the new year holds, a fundamental question that I  ask myself and I’d invite you to ask yourself is:  “What am I aiming at? What’s my target?”

Most of us have heard some version of this proverbial saying, “If you’re aiming at nothing, that’s exactly what you’ll hit. Nothing.” So, if you’re looking back over last year and are wrestling with regrets over missed opportunities, maybe the reason you didn’t hit your target last year was because you never took the time to clearly focus on a specific target. You didn’t hit it because you weren’t really aiming at it in the first place.

So, let’s not make that same mistake this year. Pick a target and focus on it. Don’t let your eyes drift all over the place. Keep on the target.

Great! So now what? What’s the target? For Jesus followers, I’d recommend what the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 12:2-3:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its same, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Notice, the target isn’t a what but a who. Focus on Jesus.

The word for “fix” your eyes on Jesus is an interesting one. It’s a composite word that means “to look away from one thing to focus on another.” In other words, to “fix your eyes on Jesus” means to intentionally ignore everything else that distracts us to easily so that we can lock on to Jesus.” It’s choosing to ignore everything else and riveting our focus on Him.

So, what happens when we lose our focus on Jesus? Exhaustion and loss of heart. When a marksman doesn’t lock on to a target and stay on it, he’ll miss every time. (That’s what my team mates chide me about on the trap and skeet fields after a miss. They’ll often ask, “Did you lose the bird?” “Yep.”)

Okay, so now I’ll ask you the question: Have you missed the target? What are you aiming at? Do you need to lock on to Jesus?  Take some time to observe how he interacts with people in the New Testament Gospels. Watch him. Listen to his words and to his heart.

So, my challenge for me this year is to refocus on Jesus so I can stay on target. How about you?