Promoting PErsonal Change, Centered on the PErson of Christ through the PErsonal Ministry of the Word
Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

Loss: Finding Hope That Lasts When Life Falls Apart

Loss--Finding Hope That Lasts When Life Falls Apart

BCC Staff Note: The mission of the BCC is to advance the ministry of the biblical counseling movement. The BCC is not about the BCC; the BCC is about BC. Today we use our BCC “megaphone” to highlight a personal invitation sent from the CCEF’s Executive Director, David Powlison, to you.

Would you consider coming to CCEF’s National Conference in San Diego on October 3-5? Our conference theme this year is Loss: Finding Hope that Lasts when Life Falls Apart. Every person’s life story will become a story of losses, both gradual and sudden. To all appearances loss gets last say in every life “under the sun,” as Ecclesiastes observes. But if Jesus Christ gets last say, then the unfolding story and the final outcome radically change.

We all know that loss triggers deep personal struggles. This conference aims to help each of us personally. Losses also create delicate pastoral care needs. So this conference aims to help each of us minister more wisely and practically to others.

You can look through the schedule of topics and speakers at ccef.org/conferenceEight general sessions will anchor the conference teaching, and 25 breakout sessions will dive into specific topics such as bereavement, aging, infertility, suicide of a loved one, and death of one’s dreams. Sessions will be taught by a good mix of CCEF faculty and outside speakers. Notice also that on October 2 we will offer four preconference workshops, including a highly focused introduction to biblical counseling taught by Ed Welch and myself.

Information about the cost, lodging, travel, and more is also available at ccef.org/conference. Note that there are reduced rates for groups, military personnel, and students. Don’t hesitate to contact our conference staff if you have any questions:customerservice@ccef.org.

Do consider coming this year. And if you are already planning to take part, would you be willing to spread the word by inviting others? Feel free to forward this letter to anyone you think might be interested. This conference is CCEF’s signature event each year—our faculty’s opportunity to prepare fresh teaching, an accessible way to introduce biblical counseling to new people, and a place where all who attend can connect in person to men and women who love biblical counseling.

Blessings in Christ,

David Powlison Signature

Topics: Conference, Megaphone Post, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , ,

13 Wisdom Principles When Ending a Dating Relationship: How to Break Up to the Glory of God

13 Wisdom Principles When Ending a Dating Relationship--How to Break Up to the Glory of God

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1- Corinthians 10:31

If I had a dime for every time someone has sat on my couch, in tears about a recent breakup, I think I’d be a rich man. I pastor a very young church (the average age is 28). As a general rule of thumb, if you stick a lot of single men and women in the same building, they’re usually going to spend time together and eventually get married. So, having “who should I date?” or “should we get married?” conversations is a fairly normal part of what I do.[1]

Not every relationship ends in marriage. And sadly, Christians can too often look like the world when it comes to breaking up. Ignoring each other. Gossiping about your ex. Longing for the person. Fighting bitterness or fighting to get over the pain of the loss. Giving yourself over to quick peeks at his or her face-book page or Instagram account. (Has he moved on? Or is she still hurting just like me?)

If the gospel really makes a difference in our lives, it should show itself in the worst of moments. But if Christian dating looks no different than the world then our faith shows itself to be relatively useless.

What would it mean to break up for the glory of God? Seriously. How do you end the relationship in a way that is God-honoring and honoring of the other person, especially since he or she is a brother or sister in Christ?

Thirteen things to remember:

1. Remember we live in a fallen world.

There is no such thing as risk-free dating. Proverbs 13:12 reminds us that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” When there is a breakup, there is often at least one who still hoped it would work out and has that hope deferred. Though we wish it wasn’t this way, we need to have realistic expectations and ultimately put our hope not in the person we’re dating, but in God who never fails.

2. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’[2]

Don’t beat around the bush. If you know you need to break up, it’s better to rip the band-aid off and be straight-forward. That doesn’t mean you should be cruel; we are still called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and to speak only those words that build up and are fitting (Eph. 4:29).

3. Talk in person, not on email, Twitter, Facebook, or over the phone.

This is a simple way to honor them and provide space for questions or discussion.

4. Don’t make the breakup a one-way conversation.

Often the person breaking up has taken a great deal of time to think, come to his/her conclusions and then unloads and leaves. Don’t do that. There are times when it will be helpful to leave room for a follow-up conversation, giving the “break-ee,” if you will, a chance to hear and process a bit. They may have questions or things to discuss afterwards. Some people are good thinking on their feet, some aren’t…

5. Be gracious and loving in the way you end it.

The worst thing you can do is throw stones and cast blame on the other person, not only making them feel sad about the lost relationship, but making them feel guilty, as if it is somehow their fault. Even in the act of breaking up, you need to be thoughtful, gracious and loving towards the other person (Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians. 4:6; Titus 3:2). After all, he or she is a child of God, and is loved by God, so what gives you any right to treat them any different than God? If you are not sure how to do this, find an older, godly Christian man or woman and ask them for help.

6. Don’t use the advice of a pastor, a close friend, a parent, or a counselor as a trump card.

“I talked to X about this, and he/she thinks we should break up.” It’s tempting to do this rather than taking responsibility oneself. When it comes to deciding who we will or won’t marry, we need to take advice, yet remember that ultimately this is a decision each person must make. If you agree with the counsel you are receiving, own it and make it your own.

7. Fight against bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).

When our hope for the relationship is shattered, it is tempting to play the details over and over in our minds until they fester. What can we do to fight against bitterness? (Take a look at # 8, 9 and 10.)

8. Assume the best in the other person’s motives.

1 Corinthians 13:7 reminds us that love “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” We can’t peer into someone’s heart, judge their motives, and conclude that they were being malicious. Assume the best in them.

9. Preach truth to yourself [3].

For instance, when you find yourself struggling with the temptation toward bitterness, you can let go of bitterness because God is righteous and just – we don’t need to take vengeance into our own hands. Paul writes in Romans 12:19, 21, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We can forgive by remembering how God has forgiven us in Christ, as we see in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

10. Find your identity in Christ, not in the lost relationship.

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14). We need to remember that just as our identity is in Christ in the dating relationship (we are not defined by this relationship or by being pursued), so, too, in the breaking up…this broken relationship does not now define you. Most of the church is not thinking as much about it as you are, so when people ask you how your life is, feel free to share other things that are going on, as there are likely many things to talk about. Perhaps even being careful to only talk to a couple of close friends about the details of how you are processing or struggling, just to protect and build up the other person in your speech.

11. Remember our responsibility to do good to all Christians, even your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.

It is normal (and sometimes necessary) that your relationship not look exactly like it did before you dated. It’s okay to distance yourself or set some boundaries in order to protect your heart—give it some time. On the other hand, you have a responsibility to do good to that person as your Christian brother or sister. Paul says in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” This includes a former boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if yours was the heart that was broken.

12. Don’t assume that after the breakup, you must go to another church.

It is possible to stay in the same church with the person you once dated. Too many people assume that they must leave because of how uncomfortable it is initially. It’s easier to run and avoid than to do the hard work of living “at peace” with one another, and eventually (sometimes years later), again being friends. It is not wrong to go to another church, but we don’t want to presume that is the only thing you can really do after a break-up.

13. Remember that regardless of how painful the breakup may be, God is using this difficult experience to sanctify you. 

Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Your breakup is included in this phrase “all things.” If you are a Christian, God is using this experience for your good. As hard as this is, he is making you more like his Son. You might not want that right now. With the pain and sorrow over the lost relationship, what you might want more is your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. Or you might want to just wallow in your hurt or sadness. But take comfort from the fact that God wants to use this to refine you, using trials “of various kinds” (James 1:2) to help you become more like Christ.

Join the Conversation

Of the 13 principles, which ones stand out to you as most important? What additional biblical wisdom principles would you add?


[1]The first draft of this comes from Zach Schlegel, who wrote up our shared ideas for a class that we co-teach together on dating. I’ve added to and revised his original draft.

[2]Matthew 5:37, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

[3]Examples of preaching to yourself would be Psalm 42:5; 62:5

Topics: Conflict, Dating, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Premarital | Tags: , , , ,

4 Visions for the Biblical Counseling Movement

4 Visions for the Biblical Counseling Movement

Some of you may know that I am now on staff for the Biblical Counseling Coalition as the Assistant Executive Director and that I will be assuming the Executive Director role in 2015. This is a 50%-time role, as I will continue working at Harvest Bible Chapel overseeing the counseling ministry there. Harvest has been very generous with support in every way to help us accomplish the mission of the BCC and will continue to do so.

Building on a Faithful Foundation

I want to start by acknowledging Bob Kellemen who has done a wonderful job of building a foundation for the BCC by developing an accepting relational environment and robust resources thus far. While I plan to build on this foundation, I know he and the board want to press forward with new ideas and initiatives.

As I take the role of Executive Director, I plan to build on this faithful foundation with four priorities. I am a fan of easy to remember and compelling words that will tell the story of who we are and where we are going. The four words I chose to describe the vision for the BCC for the next season are:

  • Relationships
  • Resources
  • Replication
  • Reach

So, let me tell you how each of these priorities will be the focus of my leadership in the coming months and how, God willing, they will the focus of all of you who help us build this ministry in the years to come.

Relationships

The BCC has been about relationships from its inception. I was fortunate enough to be part of the original meetings when this ministry was still just a dream. I remember meeting with BC leaders over ten years ago to discuss how we could work together better.

But what really sticks out is when Jay Adams threw down the gauntlet at the National NANC Conference in 2009. Dr. Adams challenged the future generation of BC leaders to pick up leadership and take the movement to new heights. That very week a group of us met to discuss the inception of a collaborative ministry that focused on defining who we were and how we could be better together.

The BCC vision was cast.

We focused on creating bridges between BC leaders, churches, para-church agencies, and educational institutions by gathering major leaders to see how we could work together. Those formative meetings took place over the next year. We listened long, we debated a bit, and we agreed a lot about what we all stood for. Almost everyone got closer as friends, colleagues, and co-ministers. We went on to develop a board of directors and a council board of gifted BC leaders from around the country.

This culminated in an annual retreat that is attended by over forty BC leaders each year. I am so excited to continue in this tradition and take us even deeper in a complimentary direction.

For 2015, I have three specific goals for furthering relationships in the BC leadership circles:

  1. Find out what unique value each individual ministry brings to the BC table.
  1. Find out how we can support each other personally and missionally.
  1. Create more opportunities for key leaders to talk and build collaborative vision.

Resources

The BCC is first a megaphone for other BC ministries. Yet we also produce our own resources that in turn point people back to those individual ministries. For instance, we have now worked together on three major BC books co-written by various BC leaders.

We also have a well-visited, robust website that provides excellent blogs, book reviews, and countless equipping opportunities. While these are great things that we will continue, the BCC also needs to refine its unique value to the BC movement.

We should continue to think about new collaborative writing projects, blog series, and possibly adding a “BC World Conference,” where we tackle larger issues relevant to all who are a part of this movement. I can see this being a win/win for everyone involved.

It’s important to note that Bob Kellemen will assume the role of Resource Director beginning in 2015. He and our board have plans to develop a topical set of books by well-seasoned counselors working together in the near future. As we go forward, I see our goals in the area of resource development focused mainly on creating unique materials and opportunities that could not be offered by a single leader or BC organization alone.

Replication

The BCC will continue to help leaders to multiply their influence and to reproduce their best skills, tools, and resources. We want to help BC leaders grow individually and we desire for BC organizations everywhere to thrive. In terms of replication, I see two emphases here:

  1. The leader and his/her unique thing they bring to the movement. On an individual basis we need to grow in our ability to consult, coach, and counsel those making an impact. We hope to pair up mentors with next generation leaders and create contacts for leader development.
  1. As far as the gifts or contributions others can bring to the BC table, we want to provide a broader platform to multiply their influence. How do we take the best practices of each organization and develop a way to feature and applaud it rather than reinventing the wheel in various places? Replication is doing more of what we do best and doing less to compete where others bring more value.

Finally, we hope to take this movement international. Where do we help other countries to structure a BC movement in and among their churches and seminaries? Again, our priority in 2015 will be to find ways to help leaders in the BC movement become the best they can be and multiply the things they do best, both at home and abroad.

Reach

This may be the most controversial of the four priorities, but I also think it is the most courageous. It would be easy to hide behind the progress we have made so far as a movement. It would be easy not to press into new territories or not tackle tough issues that sometimes stir up controversy. I see those things as less than what the BCC is committed to. I think it is less than what God would expect of those committed to change and grow in grace and truth.

We have been careful in the last four years to build unity but never with uniformity as the goal. As we mature, our tolerance for differences over style and preference should also grow. I think we are seeing we have built a solid core, but we have some differences on peripheral issues.

For instance, we might disagree even among our council board on whether someone who holds a biblical worldview should pursue mental health licensure. Some members might wonder how others could associate with someone and even have them speak at a conference while they share some differences in philosophy and practice. To broaden our reach we need to understand that association does not always mean agreement and certainly not automatic endorsement.

Is it possible to agree to disagree but invite some who we recognize as Christian counselors to the table of healthy dialogue or debate? Is it wrong to go winsomely into unreached seminaries and churches to engage them and see how we could work together? Will we think the best of each other while trying to increase our influence and reach outside our established boundaries?

Our goal will be to bring assurance to our core constituents that we will not compromise our convictions, but at the same time open the conversation to those outside our circles who are willing to engage us in reasonable and open ways.

It is time to move forward and away from “a guarded” and a “what-we-might-lose” approach, to a “generous” and a “sharing what we have” approach. I for one would have never gotten here without the generosity of BC leaders who lovingly challenged my thinking and courageously associated with a psychologist who wanted to learn.

God-Sized Goals

You can see these are God-sized goals requiring His favor and provision! They will call us to rise up in unity and require the courage to step into new areas we are not always competent or comfortable in. They call for collective prayer, humility, love, and a boldness that overcomes fear or small thinking.

There is much to do and countless thousands who are not being reached by biblical counseling. They need what we have. We have the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and we are the people of God, for such a time as this in a world that desperately needs hope!

I believe the private ministry of God’s Word is a part of God’s plan to light a fire of revival in the churches around the world. I hope you will join us in this journey and hope to meet and pray with many of you along the way…

Join the Conversation

Which of the four initiatives most excite you? How and why? Do any concern you? If so, how and why? What additional initiatives would you want the BCC to pursue?

Topics: Biblical Counseling, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Weekend Resource: Tedd Tripp Announces the Launch of LifeLine Mini-Books

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: Our BCC mission is to multiply the ministry of the biblical counseling movement. Frequently on weekends we do exactly that as we use our “megaphone” to make you aware of exciting biblical counseling resources. This weekend we introduce you to the LifeLine Mini-Books published by Shepherd Press. This post is a re-post from Paul Tautges’ Counseling One Another blog site. We post it here with Paul’s permission. You can read the original post here: Tedd Tripp Announces the Launch of LifeLine Mini-Books.

Introducing…

It is with joy and gratitude that I introduce to you the LifeLine Mini-Books published by Shepherd Press. Previously known as the Living in a Fallen World booklets (Day One Publications), these mini-books have earned the trust of the biblical counseling community as a reliable resource addressing common areas of struggle in the Christian life, as well as equipping us to minister more effectively to one another.

Shepherd Press is updating and re-releasing 23 of the original titles and will expand the series considerably, with many more mini-books in preparation.

Tedd Tripp’s Announcement…

Here’s Tedd Tripp’s introductory announcement:

Shepherd Press is pleased to announce the publication of the LifeLine mini-book series. These unique books, larger and more robust than the typical counseling book, are still pocket-sized resources. LifeLine mini-books are a gospel-centered series written by people who are in the trenches of ministry. Each mini-book is practical and accessible, written for the person in the pew as well as for pastors and counselors.

The mini-books address a broad range of Christian life and counseling issues, such as abuse, addiction, anger, finances, grief, qualities of a good church, military deployment, marital unfaithfulness, suicide, single parenting to name only a few.

These books demonstrate that biblical counsel can be made simple without becoming shallow. There is real meat here: robust analysis, honest assessment, rich gospel application and practical steps, all delivered in tidy mini-books that will not be overwhelming to God’s people. As blogger Tim Challies says, “These mini-books are exactly the kind of books you’d want to have available to you at church—short, biblical and inexpensive enough to give away.”

Nine LifeLine mini-books are now available in eBook format, and print editions are coming soon. More titles in this series are in production and will be available in the coming months.

The first 9 mini-books, released last week, include:

  • HELP! I’m Being Deployed
  • HELP! I Want to Change
  • HELP! I’m a Single Mom
  • HELP! I Have Breast Cancer
  • HELP! My Spouse has been Unfaithful
  • HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer
  • HELP! My Toddler Rules the House
  • HELP! Someone I Love has been Abused
  • HELP! He’s Struggling with Pornography

These 9 mini-books are now available at the Shepherd Press website. Be sure to also visit the series’ home site, www.lifelineminibooks.com, for detailed information on all 28 titles which are currently in various stages of preparation.

Topics: Book Reviews, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

Robin Williams: Sorrow Behind the Laughter

Dr. Mark Shaw reflects on the tragic suicide of Robin Williams in Robin Williams: Sorry Behind the Laughter.

What Celebrity Pastor Should We Be Most Concerned About?

Writing for Christianity.Com, Joe Thorn addresses the “celebrity pastor” issue. Read his thoughts in Dethroning Celebrity Pastors.

Understanding the Times

Trevin Wax quotes from a prayer of Os Guinnness on Lord, Help Us to Understand the Times.

How to Find Joy in Suffering

Can we really expect to find “joy” in the midst of suffering? Brad Hambrick addresses that question in How to Find Joy in Suffering.

Bio, Books, and Such

Kevin DeYoung has begun a new blog series where he is interviewing leaders in ministry. In today’s post he interviews Collin Hansen of The Gospel Coalition in Bio, Books, and Such: Collin Hansen.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , ,

Our Gospel Identity in Christ and Sexual Abuse “Triggers”

Biblical Counseling and Suffering--Our Gospel Identity in Christ and Sexual Abuse “Triggers”

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 4 in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on loss, grief, suffering, and Christ’s healing hope. In today’s post, Adam Embry addresses how mind renewal and our identity in Christ can help sexual abuse victims to address unwanted memories and “triggers” of past abuse. You can read Part 1 in this series by Bob Kellemen at There Is Hope, Part 2 by Pat Quinn at Infertility: Grieving the Loss of a Long-For Child, and Part 3 by Paul Tautges at Cancer, Denial, and the Sovereignty of God.

Resources for Sexual Abuse Recovery

The statistics on those who’ve been sexually abused is staggering. According to the reported numbers, a quarter of women and a fifth of men will be sexually abused. That means a significant portion of our local church contains people who’ve been sexually abused. So, we must be equipped to deal with this issue.

Thankfully, I’ve found two biblical counseling resources that have helped my counseling. Justin & Lindsey Holcomb’s Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault and Robert W. Kellemen’s Sexual Abuse: Beauty for Ashes. Justin Holcomb also has an hour long plus video on his book that’s worth watching. The Biblical Counseling Coalition also has a helpful list of resources on abuse.

Unwanted Reminders

In this blog I’d like to trace out an aspect of how fearful thoughts, thoughts that are caused by “triggers”—surrounding environments, spoken words, and similar situations—facilitate the counselee reverting to fear that places them back in a mental state of abuse.

This is a very real experience for them. It’s helpful to learn their thinking pattern. According to the Holcombs’ research, merely acknowledging and discussing the abuse to someone who believes the abused person helps them tremendously.

Consider an individual who was sexually abused for years. Sinful acts done and words said in secret can bring about connections today. This person can be in a public environment, completely safe from harm, when someone does something to remind them of previous abuse. A conversation overheard in a restaurant unknowingly makes verbal connections that “triggers” the counselee’s thoughts, drawing them back to words and sentences used in connection to abuse. The sexually abused didn’t ask to be abused. And they didn’t ask to have “triggers” bring back those memories.

Consider that a sexually abused person was placed in an environment they never asked to be placed. Because of this, people can unknowingly invade their space. A pat on the back. An unexpected hug. These could be unwelcomed touches, even from friends and family. Or, unknowingly the abused can feel trapped by the way people around them are moving, walking, sitting, being close, or any other physical position that could unknowingly cause a “trigger” for physical uncomfortableness.

The abused will struggle with how to deal with these “triggers” today, even when no longer abused. Why? In one sense, even if they have acknowledged to friends, family, and counselors that abuse took place, there’s still a level of denial that needs to be dealt with. Denial isn’t merely acknowledging the abuse did happen. The abuse has stopped but the “triggers” still continue. The way the counselee reacted to abuse is the way they will deal with the “triggers.” Denial occurs when the abused revert to a coping mechanism to deal with the pain—physical and emotional.

The Holcombs write:

“In your denial you tried to protect yourself from further betrayal or comfort yourself by relying on obsessive-compulsive behaviors, abusing drugs or alcohol, creating distance in relationships and isolating yourself, and/or promiscuity” (Holcomb & Holcomb, Rid of My Disgrace, Kindle location 959).

Without wise and compassionate biblical guidance on how to renew their minds (Eph. 4:23), the abused will revert back to a fearful state when the “triggers” occur.

The state of mind the abused enters is very real, even if there is now no abuse. Essentially, when a “trigger” occurs, they’re placed in a position to revert back to their previous identity of an abused person controlled by fear and sinful abuse.

From Abuse to Identity

Consider this chart that displays the progression from abuse to identity:

Reality > Years of sexual assault > Denial/coping mechanism > Identity of shame, possible sinful responses to abuse, false confidence to deal with abuse
Perception of real abuse caused by “trigger” > Immediate mental state reminding them of sexual assault > Fear/panic attack > Identity of shame, possible sinful responses to shame, false confidence to deal with “trigger”

Both real and perceived abuse lead to a state where the counselee reverts back to living with an identity of shame, fear, and potential sinful responses to cope with the sinful abuse. What needs to happen when the “trigger” leads to fear is that the fear/panic needs to be replaced with godly thoughts that will lead to an understanding of the person’s new and true identity in Christ.

For years, this individual may not have learned to deal with the abuse in a godly manner. Through their shame of abuse, they may have missed a chance to learn how to respond to the sin by seeking God’s mercy and grace. Years of abuse have led to unhealthy thought patterns that have shaped their identity. When the “triggers” now occur, they must seek mercy and grace, calling the “trigger” what it really is—unreality, a fictional situation that really isn’t threatening.

Because this individual can’t control conversations overheard in public, awkward situations at work, physical expressions of non-abusive friends and family, they can’t control the “triggers.” However, they can learn to control their reactions to the “triggers” by seeking grace and mercy. Again, the Holcombs help us understand:

“What happens if you remain in denial? You ignore your need and cling to things that offer false confidence and settle for something besides grace and mercy” (Holcombs, Rid of My Disgrace, Kindle location 983).

Years of abuse led to years of settling for something other than grace and mercy for healing. When the “triggers” occur, the pattern repeats itself, and they are left without help. They’re left in a very real mental state of fear and threat. “Triggers” put the counselee in an environment of fear because it brings back the shame, disgust, and filthiness of the abuse. And since the perceived abuse is in public, not in private, the counselee might believe that others around them in public can hear their thoughts or consider them as filthy because of the abuse. This is a very real perception for them. In their minds, it’s as real as the abuse.

Consider the new outcome if they learn to conquer the fear of “triggers”:

Denial/coping mechanism > Identity of shame, possible sinful responses to shame, false confidence to deal with abuse
Fear/panic attack > Identity in Christ, stopping sinful responses to shame, true confidence in Christ to deal with “trigger”

The pattern can be broken if self-confidence is lost and replaced with true help that’s found in Christ.

Progressive Sanctification and Mind Renewal

Renewal will take time. Fearful thoughts must be replaced with thoughts of hope, forgiveness, and cleansing. False thoughts must be replaced with truth. Self-sufficient thoughts must be replaced with thoughts of self-reliance on Christ’s righteousness. All of this takes time and training.

To use an illustration, they’re on a train riding down the tracks and must flip the switch to move onto a new rail. Knowing that they’re about to crash, fear arises. They must begin recognizing environments where fear can occur and also learn to deal with unexpected environments of fear and get onto a new mental track of thinking.

There’s comfort in their old identity, as strange as that sounds. There’s a way to cope that they’re used to, though they despise the fear. Even if their responses to denial are not helpful, successful, or ungodly, it’s a way of thinking that they’ve established that gives them control over a life where there has been no control. They may have asked God for help during the abuse or during the aftermath, but no change in thinking has occurred. No mental change in identity has occurred.

Essentially, their identity of who they are in Christ has not yet replaced their identity of a shame-filled, filthy, sexual object. Yes, they may be genuinely converted, but the reality of being united to Christ has not yet replaced their abused identity. Once this new identity becomes natural in their thinking—a true perception—then victory over the “triggers” will begin to occur. This is how “triggers” occur and remain powerful in the life of the abused, putting them in a mental state of fear, a perception that abuse will occur and that others will know the gross details.

At this point, it’s helpful for counselors to remember that listening to the abused acknowledge what happened and believe them is a huge help to them finding healing. Equally true is the truth that listening to perceived abuse from “triggers” and its impact on them will be a tremendous help for the abused when “triggers” come. By telling you what happened, they don’t want to deny the abuse. Equally true, they don’t want you to scoff at them for saying that when a “trigger” occurs in public that they’re going crazy. As Kellemen reminds us:

“We earn the right to interact about God’s eternal story by first listening to our friend’s earthly story,” practicing what he calls, “incarnational listening” (Kellemen, Sexual Abuse, 22-23).

Counselors and pastors must take time to help the individual identify “triggers” and make a game plan from Scripture on how to fight fearful thoughts with faithful thoughts of their new identity in Christ. This is what all believers must do whether or not a “trigger” is fear from abuse, lust, greed, or any other sin. But helping the sexually abused will need special care and patient investment of time. Again, Kellemen reminds us, “The goal of sexual abuse ‘recovery’ is not only personal healing, but ultimately it is personal maturity—growth in Christlikeness” (Kellemen, Sexual Abuse, 34.)

If the counselor is a pastor or friend at church, helping the individual to identify and defeat “triggers” can come through a biblical friendship that helps them at public church gatherings. Navigating a path of safety for the individual can come by connecting them with members throughout the church so that they know who people are and that these people do not intend to bring them harm when a “trigger” occurs. Equally true is recognizing that the individual will need personal space at times in public gatherings.

Join the Conversation

How can biblical principles such as lamenting to God, receiving comfort from one another, renewing our minds in Christ, and understanding our gospel identity in Christ impact someone struggling with intrusive memories and “triggers” of past abuse?

Topics: People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification, Sexual Abuse, Suffering | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Cancer, Denial, and the Sovereignty of God

Biblical Counseling and Suffering--Cancer, Denial, and the Sovereignty of God

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 3 in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on loss, grief, suffering, and Christ’s healing hope. In today’s post, Paul Tautges introduces us to a new resource by Deborah Howard, HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer. You can read Part 1 by Bob Kellemen at There Is Hope and Part 2 by Pat Quinn at Infertility: Grieving the Loss of a Long-For Child.

The Dreaded Diagnosis and Denial

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I caught that. I have what?”

“I said the tests are conclusive. You have cancer. I’m very sorry.”

It doesn’t matter what has transpired before we or our loved ones hear these words, or what happens after. In that first frozen moment, we tend to go completely numb. The impact is so great it paralyzes us emotionally—perhaps for months.

Our first response to disaster is typically disbelief: “No, that just can’t be. Surely the tests are wrong. Maybe we need to see another doctor! This can’t be happening to us.”

Help! Someone I Love Has Cancer

Maybe we’re the ones receiving this diagnosis ourselves, or maybe those hateful words are directed instead to someone we love. Maybe that’s worse.

So begins Deborah Howard’s newly released eBook HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer. After the opening paragraphs above, this caring sister in Christ shares a page from her own story—a story of facing cancer alongside her brother and then her husband. Since denial of the truth is very often the first response to the news of cancer, Deborah Howard spends the first chapter of her mini-book giving us counsel to move beyond denial toward embracing suffering as part of God’s providence in our lives.

From Denial to Candid Clinging to Christ

The first step in this journey is to progress beyond denial. Denial is a monstrous foe that prevents constructive movement. It puts a barrier between you and God when that’s the last thing you want! There should be nothing in your life or attitude to hinder your prayers to Him. When we’re in denial, we deny the providence of God. We must remember that God is the divine Master-Planner of our lives. Nothing happens to us that is not brought about by His sovereignty and intended for His purposes. Death, sickness, heartbreak—all products of Adam’s original fall in the Garden of Eden—are parts of His plan for us.

These elements of life are not given to us capriciously. They have nothing to do with chance or fate but everything to do with the careful plan of a righteous and holy Father, who brings these things into our lives for a divine purpose. It’s natural for us to try to run from disaster. This is not new to our generation. King David eloquently described this particular kind of anguish in Psalm 55:4–7 when he wrote, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”

Most of us tend to try to escape pressure. We have other unattractive tendencies as well. We may want to whine, complain, lash out, or give up. However, the Scriptures tell us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2– 4, emphasis added).

Meditate upon these truths. It’s important for us to understand them and to take them into our hearts and minds so we can apply them to the pressures we experience. Another verse worthy of meditation in tough times is Isaiah 26:3, which says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (emphasis added).

Does “perfect peace” mean we’re never tried or tested? No; but it means that we can be at peace in the midst of the trial. Our earthly struggles should not come as a surprise to us. Remember 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Scripture shows that the Christian’s life is typically peppered with suffering. In fact, we’re promised hardship! Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33).

Thus, the Bible doesn’t tell us that believers will not suffer; instead, it assures us that we will! But it urges us to remain steadfast under the pressures of this earthly realm. What does it mean to be steadfast? We’re told that when we remain steadfast, we will be made perfect and complete, spiritually mature and lacking nothing! Trials produce staying power and life transformation! Through trial, God molds us into the people he wants us to be: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3– 5).

Looking at Our Suffering through the Lens of Scripture

Suffering takes its toll on us, sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually—and sometimes physically. Sickness and death are a part of life. It is important that we look at our suffering through the lens of Scripture. Thus, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. Cancer is not out of God’s hands or bigger than He is; it is but another tool in His divine toolbox.

Therefore, when we go through this kind of painful trial, it is important to constantly remind ourselves that our pain and suffering have a purpose! We may not be able to see these results with our earthly eyes or conceive of them with our finite minds, but there is an overarching purpose to our lives—God’s will, which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12: 2). Our suffering will always produce two results—good for us and glory for God. Always!

Written by a hospice nurse, HELP! Someone I Love has Cancer is a tender book filled with biblical help and hope. Get this eBook for $1.99 from Shepherd Press, publisher of the LifeLine mini-book series. You can also listen to a radio interview with the author here.

Join the Conversation

What biblical principles and what aspects of your personal relationship to Christ have helped you as you have faced a difficult diagnosis?

BCC Staff Note: This blog was first posted by Dr. Tautges at his Counseling One Another blog site. It is re-posted by the BCC with his permission. You can also read his original post at Cancer, Denial, and the Sovereignty of God.

Topics: Christian Living, Grief/Loss, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Infertility: Grieving the Absence of a Longed-For Child

Biblical Counseling and Suffering--Infertility--Grieving the Absence of a Longed-For Child

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 2 in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on loss, grief, suffering, and Christ’s healing hope. In today’s post, Pat Quinn addresses the pain of infertility. You can read Part 1 by Bob Kellemen at There Is Hope.

Infertility—a Case Study

“The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence. For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child or friend, we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful some not….But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives”(Laura Bush, Spoken from the Heart).

Infertility affects one in six couples and causes significant suffering, especially for the woman. Frustrated desires, a shattered sense of identity, feelings of being defective, and misunderstanding from others can produce a profound grief—the grief over the absence of a longed-for child. So how does the gospel give a realistic radiant hope to a woman grieving infertility? I’d like you to meet Natalie.

Natalie contacted me to meet about the painful struggle she was facing with infertility. She had been diagnosed with endometriosis some years before which had caused great physical pain and the greater emotional pain of infertility. She and her husband had been unsuccessful in their attempts to conceive a child, and this had resulted in Natalie experiencing anger, shame, and depression.

Here’s how she described her feelings:

“I was in constant physical pain and (I thought) would never be able to give my husband a child, and I felt like a worthless, defective waste of space.”

She was distraught and tearful and apprehensive as we met, but we began by asking God to be present in our conversation and to bring hope. As we talked, we agreed that Natalie was grieving the “death” of hope for a child. Many women who struggle with infertility consider this grief equal to or greater than the pain of a terminal illness or divorce. Providentially, being able to identify the pain of infertility as a kind of “death” in our first session pointed Natalie to the Great Hope that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide:

I believe in the resurrection from the dead.”

Our counseling goal became experiencing “resurrection life out of grieving death.”

As we continued to meet over the next months, it was a glorious privilege to see the Lord work deeply in Natalie’s heart and life. Here is her testimony:

“Slowly at first, and then very rapidly, God used biblical counseling to change my heart in unimaginable ways. Through the Psalms especially, He assured me that He loved me with a steadfast love. Through Paul’s writings, God taught me that neither my endometriosis nor my ability to bear children defined me. God spoke to my heart that I was His beloved daughter, a child of incomparable value because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. In His loving kindness, God comforted me with the truth that He made me, and that He doesn’t make mistakes.

 I grew in love for God and began to value intimacy with Him as more important than anything—even children. I became thankful for the suffering God allowed me to endure because it exposed my idols, led me to repentance, and brought me to a deeper love for Christ.”

How powerfully God’s kindness led to repentance and resurrection life!

What I Learned from Counseling Natalie

1. The Scriptures speak timelessly and relevantly to all issues of life, including the grief of infertility.

In reflecting on counseling Natalie, I was struck by the fact that we never even looked at the “infertility Scriptures” about Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth. We certainly could have, but there were others passages that spoke deeply to Natalie’s heart and life, especially Psalms and Paul’s epistles. This has strengthened my confidence in the relevancy and sufficiency of Scripture for counseling. Natalie would say the same.

2. I saw anew that grief and pain challenge our sense of identity, expose what our hearts are living for, and can, by God’s sovereign grace, lead to redemption.

I was reminded how carefully and sensitively and relationally we must deal with the sufferings of others so that God can do His transforming work. Natalie needed a sincere welcome, heartfelt prayer, compassionate listening, and gently spoken truth to lead her to Jesus so that He could redeem her grief.

3. There is no grief or pain so deep that the gospel cannot bring compassion, forgiveness, hope, and the transforming power of God.

Jesus Himself became more precious and satisfying to Natalie, and this led her to a more heartfelt repentance and joyful intimacy. We actually began to see “resurrection life out of grieving death.”

4. God “comforts us in all our affliction so that we can comfort others in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

After our season of counseling, Natalie joined one of my counseling training classes. By her participation in class and final exam, she has shown how much she has learned and that she is eager to share what God has done with others. She said:

“It is my hope that with God’s help, I can continue to grow in an understanding of His Word so that I can share it with others…hoping that the Lord might use me to give them even a fraction of the heart change He used biblical counseling to give me.”

Praise God that nothing is wasted with Him!

5. Finally, God reinforced what a privilege it is to come alongside God’s grieving children and walk with them as he ministers his grace to them.

It was a great joy to see God work so graciously in Natalie’s life. It reminded me that in the best biblical counseling we feel ourselves to be spectators of the power and love of God. We rejoice that “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3: 7). As Paul said in another place, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1: 31).

Christians Are Not Stoics

We often grieve in a fallen world, and infertility is a painful source of grieving. But we are called to grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4: 13) and to comfort those who are grieving with the comfort we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4). Our great hope in Christ is the resurrection from the dead and the promise that one day there will be no more “mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21: 4).

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Grief/Loss, Infertility, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering | Tags: , , , , , ,

There Is Hope

Biblical Counseling and Suffering - There Is Hope

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 1 in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on loss, grief, suffering, and Christ’s healing hope. In today’s post, Bob Kellemen shares the “big picture truth that in Christ There Is Hope. In this series, you will also read posts by Pat Quinn on infertility, Paul Tautges on Cancer, and Adam Embry on sexual abuse.

Losses and Crosses

Jesus promises that life will be filled with losses.

I know. That’s not exactly the promise you were hoping for. At least it’s honest.

In John 16:33, Jesus guarantees that we will suffer.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.”

One word says it all: trouble. “You’re gonna’ get squashed!” is a fair paraphrase. Hemmed in, harassed, and distressed. Oppressed, vexed, and afflicted.

Trouble communicates both external and internal suffering. External suffering: illness, poverty, criticism, abandonment, and death. Internal suffering: fear, anxiety, anguish, depression, and grief.

In this life, we all suffer. Life is filled with losses.

God’s Healing Hope: Creative Suffering

Of course, if all we do is talk about life’s losses, then that too fails to tell the whole story. We need to be able to deal with life’s losses in the context of God’s healing.

Jesus did.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Peace. With one word Jesus quiets the quest of our soul. We thirst for peace—shalom, wholeness, stillness, rest, healing.

Take heart. Hope. Come alive again.

That’s what you long for. I know it is, because it’s what I want.

We live in a fallen world and it often falls on us. When it does, when the weight of the world crushes us, squeezes the life out of us, we need hope. New life. A resuscitated heart. A resurrected life.

Brilliantly, the apostle Paul deals simultaneously with grieving and hoping. Do not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Paul, who offers people the Scriptures and his own soul (1 Thessalonians 2:8), skillfully ministers to sufferers.

To blend losses and healing, grieving and hoping, requires creative suffering. FrankLake powerfully depicts the process.

“There is no human experience which cannot be put on the anvil of a lively relationship with God and man, and battered into a meaningful shape.”

Notice what the anvil is—a lively relationship with God and God’s people. Notice the process—battering. Notice the result—meaning, purpose. What cannot be removed, God makes creatively bearable.

Another individual, this one intimately acquainted with grief, also pictures creative suffering. British hostage, Terry Waite, spent 1,460 days in solitary confinement in his prison cell in Beirut. Reflecting on his savage mistreatment and his constant struggle to maintain his faith, he reveals:

I have been determined in captivity, and still am determined, to convert this experience into something that will be useful and good for other people. I think that’s the way to approach suffering. It seems to me that Christianity doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. What it does is enable you to take it, to face it, to work through it and eventually convert it.

Creative suffering doesn’t simply accept suffering; through the Cross it creatively converts it. Our passion in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses is to learn together how to grieve but not as those who have no hope.

Free Resources

For numerous free resources on grief and Christ’s healing hope, you can visit the RPM Ministries God’s Healing page.

Join the Conversation

How have you experienced God’s healing hope in Christ?

Topics: Christian Living, Grief/Loss, Hope, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering | Tags: , , , ,

BCC Weekend Resource: Responding to Criticism in Marriage

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight a resource video from David Powlison where he addresses the issue of Responding to Criticism in Marriage. This video originally appeared at CCEF. You can view the original resource here.

Topics: Communication, Conflict, Men/Husbands, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Video, Women/Wives | Tags: , , , ,

About the BCC

The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.