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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

Pursuit, Forgiveness, and Church Discipline

Pursuit, Forgiveness, and Church Discipline

Recently I was asked to guide a discussion on the topic of church discipline. Given its importance and necessity, I gladly agreed.

Matthew 18 in Context

I knew that Matthew 18 was synonymous with church discipline, so I turned to Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus’ outline of the process to follow when a brother sins against another. The phrase “a Matthew 18 process” is sometimes used to describe the steps a church will take in walking through a formal discipline situation. I’ve read this passage many times. I’ve thought it through, prayed it through, and sought to apply it with grace and truth.

However, as I began to give the passage a fresh look, I realized it is bookended by two very familiar stories: the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the unforgiving servant. Though I have referenced the latter parable countless times, often in counseling settings, I admittedly can never seem to remember where to find it. For me, Matthew 18 was not synonymous with a powerful story on the importance of forgiveness (along with Jesus’ well known statement about forgiving “seventy-seven times”).

And Luke 15 is the usual place to go to find the parable of the lost sheep. I love Luke’s clear appeal to care for the lost and least, the outsider who’s been overlooked and cast out by the religious establishment. His three stories—the parable of the lost coin, the parable of the lost sheep, and the parable of the lost son(s)—build on each other with dramatic intensity, cementing Luke 15 in my mind as the place to go to find the familiar parable about the shepherd who leaves the 99 to go and find the 1 lost sheep. For me, Matthew 18 was not synonymous with a powerful story on the importance of pursuit.

So, I was honestly a little surprised to find these well-known stories in a passage that was familiar for what seemed to be an entirely different reason.

And then I wondered, “Why did Matthew put these stories here? Why did he arrange the material in this manner? Or, if Jesus’ teaching really did flow uninterrupted, exactly as Matthew records it, why did Jesus move from the parable of the lost sheep directly into a discussion on church discipline? And what prompted Peter’s question about the limits of forgiveness in vs. 21?”

As I thought about it, I jotted this down:

Church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17) must be motivated by loving pursuit (Matthew 18:10-14) and marked by repeated forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).

When it comes to a Matthew 18 process, the temptation I’ve observed (both in my own heart and in the lives of others) is to get legalistic and move through the steps deliberately and even forcefully. We can forget that the hope is repentance; that the environment is always to be grace-filled; and that repeated, prayerful attempts are more in the spirit of Jesus’ instruction than simply checking boxes to ensure a proper process.

The first familiar bookend in Matthew 18 serves as a reminder of the tone and tenor necessary to carry out church discipline in a truly biblical manner. Matthew’s version of the parable makes it clear that the Father will relentlessly pursue “one of these little ones” in order to protect and restore them (the “little ones” are believers, not children).

The Second Bookend…

After the parable, Jesus then explains four steps that might be taken “if your brother sins against you,” clearly implying that the motive throughout must remain pursuit of the person in the hope that repentance and restoration will result. From one-on-one confrontations to “telling it to the church,” followers of Jesus must be like the soft-hearted shepherd who searches high and low for the stubborn, wayward sheep.

If we are even considering church discipline in any form, we should check our hearts, and remind ourselves that we, too, were lost sheep who the Father pursued relentlessly in the manner described in Luke 15 (where the sheep are clearly non-believers). Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slaughtered so we, the rebellious sheep, could be spared. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

The second familiar bookend in Matthew 18 serves as reality check, reminding us that wayward sheep just might run away again, requiring the same gracious pursuit that helped bring them to repentance in the past. If we apply church discipline in a consistent and biblical manner, people will respond. Repentance will occur, and forgiveness will be required.

But sometimes, people will make the same mistakes over and over again, and yet are genuinely repentant each time. The temptation is to discard these people, to give up on them or to simply ask them to leave. But people can only repent “as far as they can see,” or as deeply as the Spirit has convicted them. Church discipline requires great patience, and a willingness to forgive…seventy-seven times.

I think Matthew’s point in putting this parable right after “the Matthew 18 process” is this:

In order for the church to remain healthy, repeated forgiveness will be required, especially in situations where discipline has happened.

In dealing with people who have made repeated mistakes, followers of Jesus must remain willing to forgive. For motivation, we need look no further than the parable of the unforgiving servant.

We owed a debt we could never have repaid (like the wages a person would earn in 4,000 lifetimes, Jesus says!), and we were graciously forgiven because Jesus paid the debt for us when he died on the cross! And we continue to fail, requiring grace and forgiveness from God and others on a daily basis.

So, even when people commit a significant offense (like 100 days’ wages, Jesus says), our own experience of grace should motivate us to keep no record of wrongs. “Everyone who believes in (Jesus) receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).

A Final Note

One final note: clearly, there must be some practical consequences for a person who commits grave sins over and over again. These get worked out on a case-by-case basis and require the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and are also governed by the principles of pursuit and forgiveness.

For an excellent and thorough treatment on subject of church discipline, please see God Redeeming His Bride, by Robert Cheong.

Join the Conversation

How does the relational, forgiveness-focused context of Matthew 18 impact our application and implementation of “the Matthew 18 process”?

Topics: Church Discipline, Forgiveness, Local Church Ministry, Pastoral Resources, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , ,

Dealing with Stubborn Desires through Worship

Dealing with Stubborn Desires through Worship

There is a line from the Disney movie “Frozen” that is destined to be quoted often. The wise troll Grand Pabbie said:

“The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.”[1]

Whether the writers of Disney intended it or not they were capturing a thoroughly biblical idea and a tension that many feel regularly. It is easy to know intellectually what to do but our desires won’t cooperate. In other words, it is easy for desires to overwhelm the logical part of our being. Or as Paul said, “…But I see a different law in the members  of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23, NASB).

This leads to the logical question of what do we do with stubborn, entrenched desires? These could come in the form of strong desires for over eating (when intellectually you know you shouldn’t), or to just relax (when you know you shouldn’t) or to turn to pornography for a little bit of pleasure (when you know you shouldn’t).

Maybe you’ve tried will power and a filter for your computer. You’ve tried Scripture memory but the desires are still entrenched. Despair then comes as you wonder if you are destined to struggle with these desires the rest of your life.

It seems that while we have done a good job in biblical counseling of identifying the source of these strong desires and why we keep giving in (Proverbs 4:23), I’m not confident that we have been equally clear with the solution. Let’s explore this further.

True Versus False Worship

Many have become experts at identifying idolatry of the heart as the source. Humans have false treasures in the inner person (Matthew 12:33-35). It is obvious what people need to “put off,” but is it equally as clear how to “be renewed in the spirit of the mind” and “put on” (Ephesians 4:21-32) related to strong desires and true worship?

We have been clear that false worship is the problem. I would propose then that true worship is the solution. And if so what does this worship look like in detail?

Sanctification through Worship

I believe we have the powerful tool of superior worship to kill the false worship of the soul. Instead of “lovers of pleasure” we can become “lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4).The essence of this view of sanctification would be that as the soul becomes more captivated with the beauty of the Lord “the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”[2]

How then is the lion of desire tamed in the inner person? The mechanism of change is worship and this is made possible because of the gospel. Jesus said to the woman at the well that God is seeking worshipers (John 4: 23-24). He said this as He addressed the false worship of her soul (which had something to do with lusting after relationship with men).

Grow in Worship

The theory sounds nice, but what does it mean? We all understand the need to grow in our understanding of and practice of worship. It’s like saying, you should pray more. We all know it. The principle is more cogent than that though.

To demonstrate the power inherent in this principle think of worship words with me. By worship words I mean what we are commanded to do in Scripture in relation to the Lord. Among others we are told to praise, love, trust in, hope in, sing the praises of, believe, rejoice in, serve, fear, bow down to and obey.

Thus, to grow we need to rejoice in, praise, obey, love, hope in, and trust the Lord instead of the strong desires of our hearts. Each one of these words could also be used to describe what is happening in our souls with the areas where we struggle with strong desires. “I love food” can be like saying, “I use food to cope with the stresses of life.” Or, “I look at pornography as an escape for life’s pressures” can mean I hope this will make life more enjoyable.

As an illustration of this principle let’s consider why “love one another” is the most often repeated command of the New Testament (see John 13:34-35 for starters). We have already established that love is a worship word. Now, let’s see how it can be used to fight strong desires.

Grow in Love

My father was a Sherman Tank machine gunner during WWII. I grew up hearing stories about Panzer Tanks and how difficult it was for our little Sherman to defeat a Panzer unless the correct strategy was used. One Sherman against a mighty Panzer was almost like trying to shoot it using a BB gun. But multiple Shermans ganging up on a lonely German Tank, aiming at the right spots, brought victory.

Our flesh is like the German Panzer. It is mighty and formidable. It’s laughable to use mechanisms for victory that are more like BB guns against the desires of the inner person. I have come to believe though that one of the most potent weapons against the flesh is love.

Romans 13 clearly exhorts us to, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another. For this, You shall not commit adultery…. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

It is obvious; if I truly love my wife I will not commit adultery. So, how do I combat the adulterous tendencies of the heart (e.g. looking at pornography)? The answer: grow in love and keep growing in love since it leads to holiness (Philippians 1: 9-11).

Did you read that? Love leads to holiness. True worship (loving God and others, as an act of worship) pushes out false worship. This same principle is true of any worship word.

Growing in love can happen as we meditate on and then delight in the qualities of the Lord. Enjoy reflecting on Him as you do others you love. Think of how His beauty is revealed in creation. And then worship Him as a result. As true worship increases in your soul false worship is being pushed out.

So, are you desperate in your fight against strong desires? Then, grow in love and in using every other worship word you can think of.

Counselors, teach counselees how to love God and others and how to excel in every other area of worship.

Educators, let’s teach our students the importance of true worship defeating false worship and how this, through the power of the Spirit, is the mechanism of change.

Therefore, there is hope in our battle against the flesh since we can always learn to love the Lord and others in greater ways.

Join the Conversation

How do you believe change happens?

What have you found helpful for experiencing victory over strong desires?

[1] Frozen, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (Disney, 2013).

[2] From the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

Topics: People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification, Sin, Worship | Tags: , , ,

RESTful Meetings

RESTful Meetings

Are the meetings you attend “restful?”

Is “rest” a word you normally associate with “meetings”?

Most of us moan and groan when we ponder the next meeting we have to attend.

Meetings, whether at work or at church, often seem to drain us of all energy. We can’t wait for them to be over. And, in today’s world, many people respond by not-so-secretly using their smart-phone to get some “real work done” and to “connect with the outside world.”

There has to be a better way.


There is.

For two decades I’ve followed the R-E-S-T model of making meetings meaningful.

Last week, we enjoyed a two-hour Elder Ministry Team meeting for Cornerstone Community Church. Ask any of our elders and you will learn that those two hours flew by!

And, we left “rested and restful.”

What is R-E-S-T?

R: Relationship Building

We started the meeting, as we do every meeting, with time devoted to building relationships (30 minutes in our case). We focused on building relationships with God (worship, prayer, praise) and with each other (encouragement, fellowship, accountability).

We discussed the fact that our Elder Ministry Team must be a model for our entire church of healthy relationships with God and others. That’s the Matthew 22:35-40 purpose statement of Christ—to love God and one another.

How would your meetings change if you focused on relationships?

I know, you say, “But this is not a small group meeting, this is a ‘business meeting.’”

Why? Who says?

Why can’t you do the “business of the church” in the context of a “relational small group”? Who says you can’t have one without the other?

Think outside the box. Relate outside the box.

How can we oversee the ministry of the church apart from the context of relating well to God and one another?

E: Equipping One Another

We then spent the next 45 minutes in mutual equipping. For us, it meant a joint, collaborative Bible study of what the Bible says about being an elder. This was the first of what will likely be at least a six-part study together.

How novel! A group of elders studying together what the Bible says about being an elder!

However, that just happens to be our current equipping time. In six months, we’ll start a new mutual equipping time. We will never meet together as leaders in God’s church without devoting a portion of our time to mutual equipping.

How can we fulfill our calling to equip God’s people for the work of the ministry if we are not mutually equipping one another?

S: Strategizing

Some of my “Type A” readers are likely fighting spasms right now! “But there are decisions to make, visions to cast, work to be done!”

Yep, that’s the third part of our meeting—strategizing.

It’s the part that most church ministry teams spend their entire meeting on. You spend two hours debating whether the carpet should be cleaned by an outside company or by a group of church volunteers.

We don’t spend (waste) our meetings like that.

By focusing first on relationship building (with God and one another) and by focusing second on equipping one another, we enter our strategizing time energized, effective, and efficient.

We then can focus on “organizing the organism”—bringing wise oversight to the work of the ministry by balancing spontaneity and structure, people and tasks.

We devoted 35 minutes to this feature. I can hear it now, “What!? Just 35 minutes to oversee the work of the church!?”

Wait, are you telling me that relating to God and one another is not the work of the church? Are you telling me that equipping one another is not the work of the church?

Plus…in those 35 minutes we covered 9 important areas of our church ministry—effectively and efficiently. Each of us came prepared with focused updates/reports/ideas. We knew ahead of time which area we would each oversee (no one person dominates our meetings). And we engaged in focused, collaborative discussions about those ministries.

T: Taking Action

The final aspect of our meeting is one reason our strategizing time is so effective and efficient. We give the last 10 minutes of our meeting to taking action.

We decide together what the next steps are. We decide together who is responsible for overseeing which next step. In this way, a lot of good work gets done in between meetings.

In far too many churches, far too many meetings end with good ideas that go nowhere.

That’s because there is not a taking action time.

Our meeting ended with our elder ministry team rested.

But even more than that, our meeting ended with each of us energized—ready to take action in overseeing the equipping of God’s people to do God’s work in God’s kingdom.

Let’s Get Some “Rest” by Having a Meeting

Normally, we would never make that statement, would we? “Let’s get some ‘rest’ by having a meeting.”

The phrase, “restful meetings” does not have to be an oxymoron.

“Rest” and “meetings” can and should go hand-in-hand.

Ministry teams can and should become small groups. Ministry meetings can become small group meetings where everyone leaves rested and energized.

Join the Conversation

How could the R-E-S-T model of meetings change how you view meetings?

How could the R-E-S-T model of meetings change the effectiveness and efficiency of your meetings?

Topics: Discipleship, Equipping, Local Church Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Small Group Ministry | Tags: , , , , ,

The Power of a Story

The Power of a Story

Young, evangelical writer, Jonathan Merritt, recently posted an excerpt from his latest book at Christianity Today. It is both a heartbreaking and hopeful account; Merritt’s writing overflows with honesty and vulnerability about his early, childhood sexual abuse and struggles with same-sex attraction.

A few days later at the Washington Post, Merritt explained why he decided to go forward with his personal story:

“I shared my sexuality story chiefly because…vulnerability is one of the essential ingredients to being alive. And, I would add, to being human. When we share our stories, we share ourselves. This act creates a portal to community, to be being known, to being loved. When we refuse to share our stories and ourselves, we stiff-arm those around us and keep others from being conduits of grace in our lives.”

This vulnerability and desire to live in the light is powerful. His story reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Tim Keller:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.”

Keller helpfully identifies two fundamental human experiences. Known, but not loved and loved, but not known. He goes on later to lay out the alternative: to be known and loved in Christ, which is transformational love.

As I read Jonathan’s chapter, I realized how powerful one’s story of vulnerability can be. For those of us who seek to better understand and counsel people like Jonathan, stories like his are both insightful and helpful. In the past few years, several people have come forward in the evangelical church expressing their honest struggle with SSA.[1] As one reads and reflects, several observations from their stories become apparent.

Identity Is Everything

I’ve blogged here at the BCC about the dangers of reducing a person’s identity down to their sexual orientation. As human beings, we are designed to tell God’s story about us and what he created us for: worship.

Our culture thrives in labeling people and consigning them to compartmentalized areas of life. These labels intend to distort and diminish our primary calling to be image-bearers of God. In his story, Merritt voices this concern, “The essence of who I am is far more shaped, influenced, and guided by my spirituality than by my sexuality.”

We Are More Alike Than We Are Different

To often we buy into the lie, which segments off the same-sex struggler as uniquely different than us. As one reads their stories of struggle you see how many struggles we experience collectively:

  • Fear of being known
  • Fear of not being loved
  • Superficial interactions and relationships
  • Sense of insecurity
  • Anxiety at being discovered
  • Shame as a result of another’s sin
  • Guilt about a secret struggle
  • Anger at God for his perceived absence

We are quickly reminded there is nothing new under the sun, and human beings to some degree or another have and possess common struggles. The good news in all of this of course is the gospel. There is not a gospel only for the heterosexual, and then a different one for the homosexual. No, the good news comes to sinners desperately in need of God’s saving grace.

Relationships Are Key

God built and designed us for community and relationships. This is neither surprising or news to many of us. Unfortunately, knowledge in many ways remains exactly that: knowledge. Actually getting involved in people’s lives and building those relationships is another thing entirely. Speaking the truth in love on this issue of SSA is indeed necessary, but must be done through the context of a relationship.

In counseling, I have found building relationships for the long-haul is key if any person, regardless of sexual orientation, is to experience true, biblical change. In the instances I have had the joy to observe, change in the area of sexuality has been slow, incremental, and at times painful; yet through all of it, our God is faithful and true.

The Future Is Sanctifying

We all acknowledge life on a fallen earth is difficult. Paul says we are groaning for redemption. Peter tells us to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” As believers we often do not fully grasp the sanctifying benefit which is found in meditating and anticipating our Lord’s return. Consistently we see in Scripture that an eternal hope has an impact on lifting our gaze out of the mire of this world and focusing on what is truly real and eternal.

The Apostle John puts it this way:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

What amazing truth! The hope of what we will become when we see Christ has a purifying affect!

Jonathan Merritt closes his article writing, “Honesty has a way of humbling us, and it has me. It has softened my heart. As I’ve been honest about the bruised and broken parts of myself, the openness has become a doorway for God’s healing.”

May his honest story lead others to come forward in our church looking for the amazing grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we in turn seek to bring God’s grace and good news to bear to those who struggle in this way.

Join the Conversation

How has the power of story become evident in your counseling ministry?

[1]Vaughan Roberts, Wesley Hill, author of Washed & Waiting. Christopher Yuan, author of Out of a Far Country. Sam Allberry,

Topics: Gospel-Centered Ministry, Homosexuality, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sexual Abuse | Tags: , , , ,

He Is Risen Indeed!

Easter 2014--He Is Risen Indeed

“He is risen!”

“He’s risen, indeed!”

The Fountain of Life Opened Up

Just what happened at Easter? What difference does Easter make?

Easter changes everything. Easter makes all the difference in the world.

John Flavel’s (1671) Easter sermon, The Fountain of Life Opened Up, teaches us what happened to Christ and what happened to us because of Good Friday and Easter. May his words pierce our hearts and prompt praise for the glorious Easter exchange.

The Glorious Easter Exchange

Lord, the condemnation was yours,

that the justification might be mine.

The agony was yours,

that the victory might be mine.

The pain was yours,

and the ease mine.

The stripes were yours,

and the healing balm issuing from them mine.

The vinegar and gall were yours,

that the honey and sweet might be mine.

The curse was yours,

that the blessing might be mine.

The crown of thorns was yours,

that the crown of glory might be mine.

The death was yours,

the life purchased by it mine.

You paid the price

that I might enjoy the inheritance.

Join the Conversation

Which aspect of the glorious Easter exchange are you most rejoicing in right now?

Topics: Faith, Hope, Love, 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 2014-2

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. This week we focus on blogs related to Good Friday and Easter.

The Final Days of Jesus: Palm Sunday

Justin Taylor and Crossway, in conjunction with the book, The Final Days of Jesus, is releasing a video series on the last days of Christ on earth. In the first video, well-known New Testament scholars explore the background and significance of the history-shaping events that occurred during Jesus’s last week on earth. Watch the first video at The Final Days of Jesus: Palm Sunday.

Holy Week: Monday

Continuing the Justin Taylor/Crossway video series, today’s video features explanations from and interviews with New Testament professors Nicholas Perrin (of Wheaton College) and Grant Osborne (of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), focusing in particular on the cursing of the fig tree, the cleansing of the temple, and the role of the temple in the theology and practice of Jesus. You can view the video at Holy Week, Day 2, Monday.

The Resurrection in Art

Randy Alcorn shares thoughts, images, and video clips that portray the resurrection of Christ in art. Read and view at Ron Dicianni’s Reflections on the Resurrection.

A Medical Account of Jesus’ Death

At The Resurgence, you can learn about A Medical Account of Jesus’s Death.

Did God Die on the Cross?

R.C. Sproul asks the important theological questions, Did God Die on the Cross? 

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What additional blog posts related to Good Friday and Easter do you recommend?

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

Good Friday: The Shadow of David’s Greater Son in David’s Lesser Son

Easter 2014--Good Friday--The Shadow of David’s Greater Son in David’s Lesser Son

Faithlessness and Murder Are Chronic Human Failings

King David had a son, Absalom. Absalom was physically the most attractive man in Israel, without a single blemish anywhere on his entire body (2 Samuel 14:25). His heart, however, was a different story.

Absalom hated his older half-brother Amnon because he had violated Absalom’s sister, Tamar. Absalom allowed his hatred to simmer, plotting against his brother, patiently waiting for the moment to kill him.

His opportunity came two years later. After harvesting the wool from his sheep, Absalom planned a celebration party and deceived his father into sending Amnon to participate. While David questioned Absalom’s motives, Amnon came suspecting nothing. He ate and drank, apparently enjoyed the party, and then he died when Absalom ordered his men to strike him down.

Brother-slayer had betrayed his father’s confidence. Faithless murderer; his guilt lay heavy on his own head. Ironically, having committed the sin of Cain, he awarded himself Cain’s punishment, banishment, as he fled Israel for three years.

His exile was fully deserved, yet unwanted. Absalom longed to return. His friend, Joab, provoked David’s conscience by reminding him that God “devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him” (2 Samuel 14:14). So after three years, David allowed himself to be maneuvered into letting his son’s murderer, the one who had broken faith with him, return.

Why did David allow him to come back, unpunished? Perhaps he saw too much of himself; a self he didn’t like. It’s hard to mete out justice to someone who does the same things you have done. Did he feel again the weight of his own faith-breaking when he stole the wife of one of his most famous soldiers? Did he see a reflection of his own hatred mirrored when he had had the same soldier murdered? Like father, like son.

Subtract the details and you’re left with the same dreary story that stretches back to the dawn of the human race. Adam broke faith with his father, God, unleashing chaos on his relationships. Then Adam’s son Cain broke faith with his father and destroyed his family, murdering Abel, his father’s son. And so down through the ages the same unimaginative cycle repeated itself; each generation breaking faith with God and their ancestors, then hating, even destroying their brothers.

Now Jesus’ selection of murder and adultery in Matthew 5:21-24, 27-28 are not as random as they might at first appear. By showing us that all hatred is rooted in a murdering heart and that all acts of faithlessness are rooted in an adulterous heart, Jesus helps us see how each and every one of us carries the same affliction as our earliest ancestors. Sin and rebellion are nothing new. Absalom was nothing new.

Faithlessness and Murder Have to Be Paid For

Absalom returned from his exile, but in his arrogance decided he wanted his father’s throne. Through treachery and deceit he won over the hearts of Israel—who now demonstrated their own faithlessness as they switched their allegiance from the one who’d won victories for them and given them peace, to his double-crossing son. Within a few short years Absalom would declare himself king and be welcomed by the nation. He usurped the throne, giving his father a choice: flee into exile or face being killed.

It was a short-lived rebellion that Absalom paid for with his life. The armed forces that stayed loyal to David engaged and routed Absalom’s army. At the battle Absalom was riding his mule when his hair got tangled in a tree, leaving him caught in the branches as the mule rode off. He was found by David’s men and as he dangled there, hung between heaven and earth, his former friend Joab betrayed the betrayer by driving three javelins through his heart. They then took him down, threw him into a pit and piled rocks up over him.

You would think David would be relieved. He wasn’t. He was distraught. He had begged his army and officers, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake” (2 Samuel 18:5). And that was his mistake. David’s sake wasn’t good enough. David, being also a faith-breaking brother-hater, was no better than his son. His sake, therefore, could not justify mercy.

His sake was especially insufficient in light of God’s clear command from Numbers 35:33 that atonement for blood wrongly spilled must be made by the blood of the one who spilled it. David could not atone for Absalom because he was guilty of his own sins, not of Absalom’s.

Nor, however, could Absalom fully atone for his own sin since his blood was tainted, coming as it did from his faithless hatred. He was guilty and he died for his guilt, but he died also in his guilt.

Faithful Love Pardons Faithless Murder

How long did it take for Jesus as He was growing up to see the shadow of the cross looming over His shoulder as he read this passage? Absalom: son of the king, without blemish or defect, hung in a tree, fixed between heaven and earth, surrounded by enemies, betrayed by his former friend, spears piercing his side, dying on account of faithless murder, thrown into a pit afterward covered with rocks.

Some passages that foreshadow Christ and His death are hope-filled like Daniel 6. There an innocent man is plotted against by his enemies who work to destroy his life, and yet, in the end he’s raised from certain death and triumphs over all those who opposed him.

Some passages, however, like Absalom, are disturbing. The son of the king would die for real guilt and be entombed with no resurrection ending. What was that like to read? To study? To meditate upon? To anticipate?

The disciples couldn’t handle it. Jesus told them at least three distinct times what was going to happen to him and they didn’t get it (Mark 8:32, Luke 9:44–45, Mark 10:35–37). But Jesus did. He knew. He knew he was really going to die and he was going to do so bearing sin that was really attached to him. He was going to be really guilty.

It was no surprise then to him when Pilate gave the crowd a chance to release him or Barabbas. They chose Barabbas, who was convicted—guilty—of insurrection and murder (Luke 23:18). Insurrection: attempted overthrow of the legitimate, ruling authority—in short: faithless and disloyal. Murder: hatred of his fellow human being taken to its ultimate conclusion of removing someone permanently from his presence.

The same old familiar sins; humanity’s hallmarks. Not really a surprise that the crowd would prefer Barabbas to the One who alone had only ever maintained steadfast love and faithfulness with God and his fellow humans. They chose one of their own over their God, again. They preferred the death of an innocent man, taking their turn at expressing their faithless, murdering hearts. Their cries for blood further underlined what Jesus would be dying for as He hung on a tree, spear through His side then thrown into a stone-encased tomb.

And so Absalom taught Him He would die, with our sin and guilt so firmly attached to Him that it was right for Him to have to cleanse our evil with His blood. Despite having lived a faithful, loving life, He died guilty.

And yet because He brought no sin of His own before ours was attached to Him, His blood could be used for others. That means, unlike David, He could say, “Father forgive them”—“Father, be gentle with them for my sake”—and His sake would be enough to seal His plea. We would get forgiveness.

He would pay what we owe because He made the debt His and we would get gentle treatment on account of His goodness.

Join the Conversation

How has Christ’s faithful, loving work given you the courage to look recently at your faithless hatred? How has His faithfulness moved you away from hatred to worship to love?

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


Easter 2014--Theospection

I love the Easter season! Partly this is because I am fond of chocolate, the autumnal weather, and hot-cross buns.[1] But even more than that, I love Easter because I enjoy and benefit from the spiritual focus of this time.

The Easter season, and Holy Week in particular, is a wonderful time to reflect. Traditionally, the weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter are known as Lent. “Lent is a time of preparation—a season of prayer, fasting and repentance.”[2] Lent is also a time of reflection—with the hope that, after Easter Sunday, we would have experienced spiritual renewal. Many of us might engage in certain Lenten habits, or specific daily readings, which help prepare our hearts for Easter.

Engaging in focused times of prayer, fasting, reading, or reflection can be very helpful—for both counselors and counselees. Both counselors and counselees are often seeking immediate, concrete, practical life-change—and so we would do well to intentionally slow down and engage in a period of reflective preparation. However, there’s one very subtle danger involved in any time of reflection in which we are seeking renewal, and it’s this: renewal is not the result of introspection but theospection.

Introspection vs. Theospection

Theospection is a word I’ve made up to contrast with introspection. Introspection is self-focused over-reflection; endless self-analysis; limitless probing into inner recesses of your heart. Introspection is a subtle danger during any time of reflection—Lent included (and all counseling sessions included).

It is particularly subtle because, especially in the counseling endeavor, self-awareness is very important. Self-awareness enables us to answer vital questions, such as: what is driving my thoughts and behavior? What do I most value? When am I angry, sad, fearful, etc.? Growing in self-knowledge is helpful as we pursue renewal, but over-analysis is unhelpful (as it often promotes excessive self-focus). Simply put, introspection does not lead to personal spiritual renewal.

Rather, we experience renewal when we see God. In theospection, we gaze at God – and as a result are changed, renewed, refreshed. Let’s take a look at two passages where we see this play out.

Theospection: Seeing God’s Glory by Hearing God’s Word

In Exodus 33:18, we find Moses addressing God and making an audacious request: “Please show me your glory.” In the context, God has (again) demonstrated remarkable grace to sinful Israel, and Moses longed to see this remarkable God. Moses was seeking theospection.

So the Holy-and-Gracious God put some measures in place to protect Moses, putting Moses in the cleft of a rock and allowing him to see only His back (cf. Exodus 33:21-23). But what’s fascinating is what comes next: Moses sees God’s Glory by hearing God’s Word.

“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.””

These words reveal the perfections of God’s character; these words reveal who He is, and who He always will be. When Moses heard these words, he saw God’s character. And what was the result of this theospection? Exodus 34:8, “Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” Theospection led to personal renewal and invigorated worship for Moses – what other response is appropriate? Seeing God renewed Moses. Moses saw God’s glory by hearing God’s Word.

Theospection: Contemplation Leads to Transformation

Many years later, with some of these Exodus ideas in mind, the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). John Piper explains this verse memorably when he says that beholding is becoming. As we behold God, as we contemplate who He is—especially who He is in Jesus Christ—we become godlier. Seeing God, beholding His glory by His Spirit, through His Word, transforms us. Contemplating God, gazing at Him through His Word, transforms us. Renewal comes through theospection by the Spirit.

So to summarize: I see God, in my heart, by His Spirit, through His Word, and am transformed. As I worship God, by His Spirit, through dwelling on His truth, I am renewed. Transformation and renewal occur as I move from introspection to theospection.

Seeing God, by His Spirit, through His Word, Will Lead to Renewal

This Easter, I hope you experience spiritual renewal. Whether you are a counselor, a counselee, or just reading this blog for the first time, my prayer for all who read this is that you would be encouraged to pursue theospection. My hope is that you will experience renewal as you worship Him. Wonderfully, we can be confident in our expectation of such renewal. We will be transformed, by God’s Spirit, as we see God through His Word. Theospection leads to renewal. May you experience that this Easter as you gaze at God through His Word.

Join the Conversation

How could “theospection”—gazing at God through His Word—impact you this Easter season?

[1]Although I realize that if you live in the Northern hemisphere, then Easter occurs over your Spring! But are you still able to get access to hot-cross buns?

[2]Rebecca Van Noord and Jessi Strong, eds., 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

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

Reflections on the Burial of Jesus for Biblical Counseling

Easter 2014--Reflections on the Burial of Jesus for Biblical Counseling

The Filled Tomb

Jesus was buried.

All four of the gospel writers narrate His burial (Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:41). The very concise Apostle’s Creed mentions that Jesus “…was crucified, dead, and buried.” The apostle Paul said that Jesus’ burial was a part of the gospel of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

During this season, we Christians love to talk about “The Empty Tomb” because our Lord is risen. But before He could rise, He had to be buried. Before there was an empty tomb, there had to be a filled tomb.

In re-reading the gospel accounts this Spring, I was struck by the fact that Jesus not only died but was buried. Death seems final, but burial even more so. Not only did His lungs stop breathing, His heart stop beating, and His brain go flat-line, but Jesus’ vital signs stopped for so long, so persistently, that it was obvious that He was dead and gone. There was nothing left to do but bury Him.

The synoptic gospels all say that Jesus’ body was buried. The pronouns shift from “He” to “it.” His body is now a corpse. “Going to Pilate, [Joseph of Arimathea] asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid” (Luke 23:53).

Jesus’ female followers tracked after Joseph and saw for themselves where Jesus’ body was placed. There was no mistaking it. Jesus was buried. The tomb was filled.

I don’t know a fraction of the implications of the truth of Jesus’ burial, but as I meditated on it, I thought of three that seemed significant for biblical counseling.

1. Salvation

It took the filled tomb to save us. Paul says, “by this gospel you are saved,” and that includes that Jesus “was buried” (1 Corinthians 15:4). I’m not as sure how Jesus’ burial figures into our salvation as does the Cross or the Resurrection, but I am sure that it is significant. Perhaps it’s simply an extension of His death—He’s that dead. Perhaps it’s to fit into and then improve on the pattern set by His ancestor, King David, who was also buried but whose body decayed there (Acts 13:36).

Certainly baptism is connected to burial; we were buried with Jesus in some mysterious and amazing way (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12). However it works, it was necessary for Jesus to be buried for you and I to be saved from our sins.

Biblical counselors celebrate the gospel because we encounter sin every day. We are sinners saved by grace who counsel other sinners in need of grace. We should give thanks that Jesus’ tomb was filled because it changes everything for us

2. Sadness

Biblical counselors also encounter suffering every day. We look into the sad faces of depressed people. We walk with those who grieve the loss of someone they love. We talk people through bitter relational conflicts. Life often hurts and feels like death. Dreams go into tombs.

I don’t think we can comprehend the bewildered sadness that the disciples must have felt on that silent Saturday, but it was the right emotion for the occasion. The filled tomb allows us to be sad. It gives us permission to grieve over the places in life that are broken.

Previously, when Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, our Lord wept. In fact, Jesus—who is the Resurrection and the Life and who was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). How much more were tears appropriate when it was our Lord himself who filled the tomb?

The filled tomb authorizes appropriate sorrowfulness.

3. Hope

Thankfully, Jesus did not stay dead and buried. He came back to life and came out of the tomb. He is risen indeed!

But to become an emptied tomb, it had to first be filled. You have to have death to have a resurrection. The filled tomb sets the stage for a miracle.

Biblical counselors offer hope. We see and feel sad situations for which we properly empathize, sympathize, and grieve. But we also know that the overwhelmingly sad can give way to the surprisingly joyful (John 16:20-22). Jesus specializes in turn-arounds.

As we receive and offer counsel during this season, let’s hold out hope for true change in both hearts and situations because the tomb of Jesus was filled and is now empty.

Join the Conversation

What difference does the filled tomb make in your biblical counseling?

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

Easter Bunnies, Parental Feelings of Failure, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Easter 2014--Easter Bunnies, Parental Feelings of Failure, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

I’m a father of five beautiful children. What a distinct privilege it is to be a father. Honestly, I love being a dad. But on my worst days, I can often forget that I love this. Step into the world of parenting, and you can quickly get overwhelmed with inhibiting your children’s sin (peeling one fighting child off of another), your own guilt (I feel bad about something I did wrong), and maintaining the practical and tactical elements of survival (how many times have I changed diapers or wiped snotty noses or chauffeured a child to an activity or made a meal for our kids?).

Parenting is hard word. No doubt about it. In the midst of these daily battles, I find that my mind can quickly wander down a few mental trails that are not edifying for me, nor are they helpful for my kids.

Unhelpful Thought # 1: “I’m a failure of a parent because I got angry.”

One of my kids is really gifted at pushing my buttons. It’s not hard to get exasperated because my child is being stubborn or foolish, especially when I’m tired and worn out. So, I snap, I raise my voice, and sadly give myself over to my momentary anger.

After something like this happens, I can be prone to thoughts like: “You’re such a failure as a parent.” Or, for about an hour after the incident, I walk around feeling guilty about my anger. I know it was wrong. I know I shouldn’t have raised my voice. I know I need to be humble, and apologize to my child. I want to wallow in my misery. I failed, so let me just wallow in self-pity for a while. Maybe you can relate?

Unhelpful Thought # 2: “Sin still rules me.”

I remember one time, after getting angry at my daughter, I was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at a chocolate Easter bunny, contemplating eating my misery away. Not a great way to deal with my emotions. (It is true, men can eat for comfort, too.)

Here is where the Apostle Paul comes in:

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

After a long treatise on how we are united to Christ and no longer slaves to sin, Paul wants to distinguish between our old self (our pre-conversion state when sin ruled us) and our new self.  The sad reality is that too many of us (as parents) live as if our sinful tendencies still rule us. We assume our sin is winning; so, we wallow in guilt or shame or self-defeat.

But Paul makes this argument in Romans 6: Since Christ died, and we are united to Christ in His death, we are dead to sin. We must recognize this fact.

Or, to put it in simple terms: Recognize that your sin no longer rules you. Remember this fact.  When you get angry, or give yourself over to a bad eating habit, or wallow in guilt or shame, or contemplate your parental failures, remember that this is who you once were, but not any longer.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He wants me to recognize my new reality—that I’m in Christ. Those two words (“in Christ”) mean everything to me. It gives me hope because this sin no longer defines me. As an unbeliever, I was a slave to this sin. But as a Christian, it no longer has to rule me. As a Christian, I can often forget this new reality, and assume my sin defines me.

I don’t know about you, but remembering my new reality—that sin no longer rules me, and that I can find life through Christ—is hard. Sometimes I forget. Other times I just want to wallow in my guilt.

So, I need to do as Paul encourages me to do—recognize the truth of the situation. If you are ‘in Christ’, then you are united to Christ through his death and his resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). He provides the strength to help you daily battle the sin that once defined you, and helps you to live more like him every day. Sin no longer has mastery over you (Romans 6:5-7).

Parents: Take Heart.

Don’t give up. Every Easter, I’m reminded of this fact: Because Christ rose again, I have life. I’m no longer a slave to my sin. You no longer are defined by your anger, wallowing, guilt, or parental failures. So, put away that chocolate Easter bunny and be patient with your child. Christ has risen; you now have life through Him.

Join the Conversation

What practical, relational difference does your new life in Christ have in your daily life? How does the good news of Easter resurrection change how you view yourself and how you live life?

Topics: Christian Living, Parenting, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sin | 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.