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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

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.

5 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

Pastoral ministry is challenging and at times can lead to pastoral discouragement. How can you encourage your pastor? Pastor Brian Croft suggests 5 ways to do so in How Do I Encourage My Pastor? http://practicalshepherding.com/2015/04/13/how-do-i-encourage-my-pastor/

This Is How Religious Liberty Dies

Dr. Albert Mohler addresses the much-in-the-news issues of freedom of religion in This Is How Religious Liberty Dies: The New Rules of the Secular Left. http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/04/07/this-is-how-religious-liberty-dies-the-new-rules-of-the-secular-left/

ACBC App with 11 Features

 The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors has released a New ACBC App with 11 Features. http://www.biblicalcounseling.com/blog/new-acbc-app

Resources Related to Sex and Sexuality

Pastor Brad Hambrick is compiling resources on various topics related to Christian living and biblical counseling. His most recent list includes his Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality. http://www.bradhambrick.com/my-favorite-posts-on-sex-and-sexuality/

You Are Sovereign Over Us

Paul Taugtes shares the lyrics to Michael W. Smith’s Sovereign Over Us. Here’s the first stanza.

There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust

Meditate on the rest of the words in Sovereign Over Us. http://counselingoneanother.com/2015/04/13/sovereign-over-us/

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

Tracing God’s Story of Biblical Counseling in Germany and Switzerland

Netzwerk in orange text

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the fourth of a multipart BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on International Biblical Counseling. Today’s post is by Michael Leister on Tracing God’s Story of Biblical Counseling in Germany and Switzerland. You can read Part One by Kyle Johnston at Biblical Counselling in South Africa. And you can read Part Two by Steve Midgley entitled 5 Concerns and Responses about Biblical Counselling in the UK. You can also read Part Three by Sacha Alexandre Mendes on News from Your Relatives in Brazil.

Personal Stories as Part of the Bigger Story

Last month, a number of pastors and church leaders from Germany and Switzerland were able to officially start a Network for Biblical Soul Care (NBS Netzwerk Biblische Seelsorge) following the example of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

Michael Martens, one of our board members of the German NBS, serves as senior pastor of a Free Evangelical Church in Syke/Northern Germany. His first contact with Biblical Counseling was a week of counseling lessons in 1986, led by J.E. Adams in a Bible School in the US. His interest in counseling was aroused, he read various books, but in his later theology studies he had little to do with counseling.

After finishing his studies he was consequently thrown in at the deep end whilst involved in church planting, especially in counseling matters. During the first 10 years of working in a church in Germany, the need for him to give counseling rose steadily—as did his desire to learn more about counseling from a biblical perspective. Jesus was and is the Wonderful Counselor. However, when he started looking for further training, he mainly came across “Christianized” secular counseling models, which didn’t seem to have even attempted to develop counseling from the Word of God based on biblical theology.

Eventually he was led to CCEF and in the summer of 2001, he took part in D.Min. courses at Westminster Seminary as a guest student. What he learnt there was so convincing that in 2003 he and his wife decided to take their children and spend a sabbatical at CCEF/WTS to study biblical counseling.

In the summer of 2003, when Michael was back in Germany again serving as a full-time pastor, he was asked to teach counseling at a Bible college. A second Bible college followed shortly after and it was through the staff there that he got to know of Christian Andresen from EBTC (European Bible Training Center) in Berlin. In 2009, Christian and Michael met up for the first time in order to talk about the development of Biblical counseling in Germany.

Good Books Are Important

Back in 2000, Friedhelm Anhuth, an elder in Michael’s church, founded the publishing company “3L Verlag” (www.3lverlag.de). Thanks to the connections to CCEF, the first translated counseling books could soon be released by CCEF authors.

The demand for such books and the feedback from readers showed clearly that many people in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland were interested in biblical counseling. By now 3L Publishers was able to translate and publish a great number of key counseling books from David Powlison, Ed Welch, Paul Tripp, Tim Lane, Winston Smith, Michael Emlet, and others.

Training Is Also Needed

An important factor in the development of the German Network is the EBTC European Bible Training Center in Berlin (www.ebtc-online.org), which was set up and is directed by Christian Andresen, another board member of the newly started Network for Biblical Soul Care. The EBTC supports the church by training preachers and teachers for the ministry of the local church in Europe. The emphasis in accomplishing this goal is on expository preaching. Prior to the two-year Preachers Institute is a one-year Bible Survey Program where the school provides the students with the foundational knowledge of the whole Scripture.

In 2006, EBTC held its first counseling seminar with Jim Pile from Grace Community Church. This seminar produced significant interest in Michael Leister. He had already been serving as a pastor elder in his church, yet he knew how much he was in need for practical theology to help the flock which had been entrusted to him. Serving also on the board of a fellowship of independent churches in Germany (www.kfg.org), Wayne Mack was invited to be the keynote speaker of their annual conference in 2007, which consequently led to Michael studying biblical counseling for two years under Wayne from 2008-2010 in South Africa.

After his return in 2010, Michael became a staff member of the EBTC, which then started to offer a one-year counseling course, now available in three different locations in Germany and Switzerland. Since 2014, it offers an additional advanced course lasting another year. Since 2012, Michael Leister has profited considerably from his continued studies for his MABC at Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA.

Throughout the past years, EBTC has recurrently offered weekly seminars on different biblical counseling topics in Germany and Switzerland, e.g. “Introduction to BC,” “Problems and Procedures,” and “Marriage and Family Counseling.” Dr. John Street has already travelled to Europe several times for this purpose. In the past, EBTC has also offered a seminar on “Biblical Peacemaking” with Dr. Ernie Baker (2013). We currently enjoy continual support from Dr. Jim Newheiser (IBCD), Dr. John Street (TMC), and Pastor Bill Shannon (Grace Community Church), who regularly teach at EBTC via Skype. More than 40 students are currently registered for BC in the different counseling courses at different locations.

Getting Together

In 2011, Michael Martens, Christian Andresen, and Michael Leister met to discuss possibilities of promoting biblical counseling and creating a network for counseling work in Germany. Initial thoughts were exchanged on furthering biblical counseling. In autumn 2012, contact was established with Thomas Wohler in Switzerland as well as the existing contact to Friedhelm Anhuth from the publishing company 3L Verlag.

At the start of 2013, a meeting eventually took place with the leader of CCEF in the Frankfurt area. Thoughts were exchanged on holding a conference for counseling in Germany. The participants were Michael Martens (Pastor in Syke), Christian Andresen (EBTC), Michael Leister (member of staff at EBTC and board member of KfG, a church network), Friedhelm Anhuth (publishing manager of 3L Verlag), Thomas Wohler (Pastor in Zürich, Switzerland), and Oliver Meyer (Pastor in Erlangen).

Thomas Wohler spent several months with CCEF, serves as a pastor in a local church in Zürich and has already been in the leadership of IfBS, a Swiss Counseling Network (www.biblische-seelsorge.net).

Oliver Meyer studied at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary in Iowa and later at the Baptist Bible Seminary. During his second year at seminary (1996), he had his first counseling course which was led by two pastors from Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette (one was Pastor Bill Goode, predecessor of Steve Viars). This course was an absolute eye-opener for him. For the first time ever he received practical biblical solutions to counseling topics. Following this he served in Lafayette as a trainee pastor for one year (1999), took part in the eleven-week counseling course, and received the NANC/ACBC certification. As a church pastor in Erlangen, he has been teaching Biblical counseling in the church Bible college since 2009.

NBS and BCC

In retrospect, we can see how God awakened an interest in counseling in each of our different cases, how he confronted us with biblical counseling, gave us the possibility of studying, and brought us together with the aim of promoting biblical counseling. The BCC has served as a model for the founding of the German Network for Biblical Soul Care. Through our contact with the founding Executive Director of the BCC, Dr. Bob Kellemen, we received much support, valuable counsel, and the permission to translate and use the BCC Confessional Statement, the BCC Doctrinal Statement, and the BCC Mission Statement, and further documents. This way our Network here in Germany was created on the basis of the foundational papers of the BCC.

A website was launched (www.biblische-seelsorge.org) and a first conference was organized in 2014, at which Ed Welch from CCEF was the speaker. More than 600 people registered for the conference, which was held throughout several days in Germany (Gießen) and Switzerland (Uster) and also for a day seminar.

Last autumn we established further contacts at the CCEF conference in San Diego and also at the ACBC conference in Los Angeles.

Heath Lambert will be the speaker at our second NBS conference and seminars in Germany and Switzerland in June 2015. The talks will all be in English with a German translation. In this way it will also be possible for English-speaking guests to attend the conference (for more information http://biblischeseelsorge.org/konferenz/). Connections with further European countries are already developing.

Join the Conversation

We are thankful for your prayer support for the upcoming conferences and seminars in June 2015 and for the further advancement of the NBS Network for Biblical Soul care. Feel free to contact us via kontakt@biblische-seelsorge.org.

 

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News from Your Relatives in Brazil

Brazil with larger text

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the third of a multipart BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on International Biblical Counseling. Today’s post is by Pastor Sacha Alexandre Mendes on News from Your Relatives in Brazil.  You can read Part One by Kyle Johnston at Biblical Counselling in South Africa. And you can read Part Two by Steve Midgley entitled 5 Concerns and Responses about Biblical Counselling in the UK.

Gospel Community

Since Pentecost, the gospel has reached a multitude of individuals from different peoples. The gospel has created an international community from a variety of ethnic groups. This gospel community reflects and proclaims the same Savior wherever you are in the globe. It is unity in the midst of diversity.

Hearing the doings of God in the lives of our global community has a refreshing effect upon our hearts. It reminds us that we are not alone and God is alive! It shows the extent of our family in Christ and how rich is the grace of God (Colossians 1:3-8).

What you are about to read is a simple digest version of how the gospel of Jesus Christ is spreading in Brazil through the advancement of biblical counseling. It is a simple story of how the biblical counseling movement is growing in a context different from yours. It reminds that the growth of the Church goes back to the core of the Gospel, not to political or geographical boundaries. This is news from your brothers and sisters in Christ that happen to live in Brazil.

The Same Origin

The modern biblical counseling movement has its origins in names such as Dr. Jay Adams. The history behind this man and his generation are familiar inside the biblical counseling movement. His books have served many biblical counselors. His ministry is a starting point to much of the current practices in biblical counseling and soul care ministries—a great legacy.

However, what is not familiar to many in the biblical counseling movement is that the first generation of modern biblical counselors has a legacy that reaches beyond the United States of America. Translated books into Portuguese had a tremendous impact upon leaders in Brazil at the 1980s. Many pastors have made drastic ministry decisions because of “Competent to Counsel” and similar writings. I am currently serving under a pastor who had a significant ministry impact through the application of some of Adams’ writings.

Writing was not the only form of legacy. In 1988, Pr. Bill Goode and Dr. Bob Smith came to Brazil to train pastors and missionaries with the same material that Faith Church (Lafayette, IN) uses in its biblical counseling training conferences. Biblical counseling training content reached Brazilian pastors and lay leaders back at that day.

The impact of the first writings in modern counseling and different training is difficult to measure. Conference after conference, gathering after gathering, I meet pastors and leaders who have their initial contact with biblical counseling through these means.

It Started Small

The exposure to writings and some training created an intense desire to minister God’s sufficient Word. Isolated from each other because of ministry circumstances, pastors used what they had to shepherd God’s flock. They were men under the conviction of the sufficiency of the Word of God. Some created a counseling culture among their churches, rescuing soul care from the secular arena to the gospel family.

Others created counseling ministries, focused on providing biblical counseling, training people, and publishing resources. Igreja Batista da Fé (Pr. Flávio Ezaledo), Igreja Batista Adonai (Pr. Fernando Sousa), and Igreja Batista Maranata (Pr. Edison Naves) are examples of the former. Igreja Batista Pedras Vivas (Pr. Jayro Cáceres) is an example of the later. They all have been doing and/or promoting biblical counseling in different ways and moments in time.

As a significant part of this story, there is Pr. Bill Moore. “Bill” has served Brazil for many years as a missionary. In 1987, he had an initial desire to organize an association of Brazilian biblical counselors patterned after ACBC (formerly known as NANC). The desire had to wait until native pastors were ready enough to engage in such a project. The group founded the “Brazilian Association of Biblical Counselors” (a.k.a. ABCB) in 2000. Since then, ABCB has worked to train people in biblical counseling and has been working to certify people (work in progress).

Although this is a brief summary of biblical counseling, let me emphasize that I do not have the ability to summarize all that took place in Brazil for the last 40 years in regards to biblical counseling. The sufficiency of Scriptures has permeated different churches and affected several individuals. There is a stream of biblical counseling in different denominations right now. Seminaries have considered using biblical counseling as the way to train pastors, even though some might define biblical counseling a little bit different from each other.

At the end of the day, biblical counseling is now a common term and concept in the midst of several ministries. Yes, we have a long journey ahead of us, but God is working down here! As the gospel advances, the Church in Brazil has matured to recognize the depth and width of the applications of the gospel in shepherding the Church: biblical counseling!

It Grew and It Is Growing

ABCB has developed a productive partnership with Faith Church in 2009 to offer biblical counseling training. Since then, ABCB has offered an annual training conference in Águas de Lindóia, 2 hours away from the city of Sao Paulo. The conference started with a little more than 100 attendees in 2009. Today, we are hosting more than 600 pastors and lay leaders, training them in 4 different tracks.

In 2010, the training reached another region of the country through the instrumentality of the missionaries Allen Yoder and Daniel Stowell. ABCB developed another partnership with a local seminary in Fortaleza, Ceará: SIBIMA. ABCB is now offering the same training 1,500 miles away from Sao Paulo, reaching more than 200 local pastors and leaders annually. The demand for more in different parts of the country is constant and urgent. We lack workers to supply the need!

How can you help? You can pray…you can come! You can pray for ABCB as the association is working to reach the next step: a robust certification process and the finances for a full time employee. You can pray for more leaders in the biblical counseling movement in Brazil. You can pray for native writers. You can pray that the Gospel advances in Brazil in its depth and width, transforming our people into the image of Jesus Christ. Biblical counseling can contribute to this mission (Colossians 1:28).

Join the Conversation

Have you heard anything else happening in Brazil or any other place in the world concerning the advancement of biblical counseling? Share and bless us!

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5 Concerns and Responses about Biblical Counselling in the UK

UK 2nd draft

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the second of a multipart BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on International Biblical Counseling. Sometimes, because it is international, it will even be spelled with two L’s like this: International Biblical Counselling. That’s the case today as Steve Midgley updates us on 5 Concerns and Responses about Biblical Counselling in the UK. You can read Part One by Kyle Johnston at Biblical Counselling in South Africa.

The Early Days

We are in the early days of biblical counselling in the UK. It’s a new initiative trying to foster interest in biblical counselling here. The whole idea is pretty novel over here—even the term ‘biblical counselling’ is new to most.

So what are we noticing? What is it about biblical counselling that has gained the most attention? As you might hope, there are lots of positives—but what about the negatives? What tends to produce concern? And what can we learn from that?

Here are five questions (or concerns) that I often hear from other UK pastors (followed by five reflections in response.)

5 Concerns

  1. It’s not very British. This focus on our hearts, our motives, and our feelings isn’t the way we usually talk. (Some of that is cultural—we really are quite reserved! Some of it is sinful—because we would rather not have our sin exposed. And some just reflects the fact that nearly all the books and articles on biblical counselling come from the US and inevitably have an American flavour. You even spell counselling differently!
  1. Can we use it in evangelism? Will this help us engage with non-Church friends? Does it work in outreach or is it “insiders only”? Will it show how the gospel can gain traction with those who aren’t very interested in Christ?
  1. How will we ever find time for this? It sounds so demanding. We are busy in ministry already. Where can we possibly find time to learn yet another new thing?
  1. Won’t it distract from, perhaps even undermine, the ministry of the Word (by which people generally mean preaching)? There are lots of good things we can do. But with limited time, isn’t God’s first calling for us to preach the Word? Only the gospel has the power to save. Spending lots of time helping people with their problems can only get in the way.
  1. What’s really so new about all this? Isn’t it exactly what we’ve been trying to do for years? Who says we need some new-fangled technique in order to do ministry?

Of course, this is an abbreviated version. People wouldn’t be so blunt. We are British, after all.

How would you respond? How do I? Here are some initial thoughts.

5 Initial Responses

  1. It’s not very British. Yes, this is at odds with our culture. It will demand greater engagement with the messiness of one another’s lives than we are used to. It will require more openness than the “stiff upper lip” usually allows. But isn’t the gospel always counter cultural? Shouldn’t we constantly be asking how Christ challenges our “usual way of doing things” and calls us to live distinctively for Him? If we understand it properly, shouldn’t we expect biblical counselling to sit uneasily with every culture?
  1. Can we use it in evangelism? I certainly don’t want to slip into a therapeutic gospel, but won’t understanding how Christ helps me with the mess in my own life make me better able to speak to others about the mess in theirs? So that instead of starting with “Christ saved me from eternal judgement” (which requires my non-Christian friend to buy into an awful lot of my worldview), I can begin with “faith in Christ has made a big difference to the way I parent my teenage children” (which has rather more common ground).
  1. How will we ever find time for this? Time spent doing good things rarely backfires. Attending to my own walk with the Lord never does. If exploring biblical counselling means encountering Christ more richly (and it does), then it has to be good for everything I do in ministry.
  1. Won’t it distract from, perhaps even undermine, the ministry of the Word? Tim Keller once said (and I paraphrase): If I do too much counselling, my preaching will suffer, because I won’t have time to prepare; if I do too little counselling, my preaching will suffer, because I won’t be any good at applying the Bible to real life. I think he’s right.
  1. What’s really so new about all this? Nothing much. At least that’s been my experience. When I first encountered the world of biblical counselling, I met the same familiar gospel I’d always believed. The difference was that someone was finally showing me how to apply it to my heart. And that was new.

Slowly, we are getting these things across. Slowly, we are developing some training. Slowly, we are developing a network. But we still have a lot of catching up to do.

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Restoring the Gospel to a Place of Primacy in Pastoral Counselling: Biblical Counselling in South Africa

South Africa with revised text

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the first of a multipart BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on International Biblical Counseling. Sometimes, because it is international, it will even be spelled with two L’s like this: International Biblical Counselling. That’s the case today as we launch this series with a post by Kyle Johnston about Biblical Counselling in South Africa.

The Current Landscape

What is the state of biblical counselling in South Africa? The answer to this is more complex than a brief blog post can articulate, but I’ll try to give you the big picture—before ending with some prayer requests.

South African churches urgently need to recover a confidence in the gospel for their pastoral care. Although there is much to be concerned about in the local church scene, South Africa does have a number of fantastic churches doing a variety of excellent ministries. However, even within these evangelical churches, there is a noticeable lack of wise soul care. Therefore, even in healthy churches, there seems to be a lack of “gospel congruency”: the gospel is proclaimed as sufficient from the pulpit, but the gospel is not used in counselling; the gospel is central for public ministry, but its relevance is not always seen in interpersonal ministry.

Sadly, this disconnect is common. Even in our stronger evangelical churches, care and counselling (especially the harder cases) usually get outsourced. Of course, there is nothing wrong with referring when wise care requires external resources, but the overwhelming trend is that many ministers, elders, and pastoral workers simply do not know how to wisely care for others with the gospel. Furthermore, the vast majority of Christian counsellors have been trained in various integrationist theories, and so there is an urgent and widespread need for the gospel to be restored to a place of primacy in pastoral counselling.

Evidences of Grace and Change

Wonderfully, there are signs of change! Let me mention just two evidences of grace.

  • Wayne Mack’s ministry: Dr. Mack came to South Africa about ten years ago to train a future generation of African biblical counsellors, and (at 80!) he is still currently training biblical counsellors through his SMTI I was introduced to biblical counselling by Dr. Mack, along with hundreds of others over the years. In addition to this, and perhaps even more significantly, Dr. Mack is overseeing the establishment of ACBC Africa. My hope and prayer is that this becomes a catalytic organization in promoting excellence in African biblical counselling.
  • Local Leadership: Through access to great resources via the Internet, through authors such as Timothy Keller and Paul Tripp, through ministries such as CCEF and The Gospel Coalition, there is a growing confidence in local South African church leaders that the gospel needs to be central to pastoral ministry. There is also a corresponding interest and desire to find out more about biblical counselling, and as a result I have a number of friends who lead or serve in other churches who ask me to preach or share something related to gospel-centred counselling. This trend is encouraging, and I am praying that the next generation of South African church leaders enter their ministry vocation with an unshakeable confidence in the power of the gospel for personal change.

Upcoming Challenges

There are many challenges facing the growth of biblical counselling in South Africa, but due to the lack of space I will simply mention three:

  • Robust Theology: Biblical counsellors must develop, personally and corporately, robust theology. One error we could make is liberalism: allowing secular psychology to set the pastoral care agenda and allowing secular categories to dominate our thinking. The other error we could make is to develop an anti-scientific biblicism. But if African biblical counsellors are going to faithfully continue the work of Jay Adams, David Powlison, and others, then we must develop a robust theology and epistemology—worked out in our own context.[1]
  • Case Wisdom: It’s one thing to be committed to the sufficiency of Scripture for the care of the soul. It’s another thing to know how to do it! In humility, we must recognize that the sufficiency of Scripture does not automatically translate into the competency of the counsellor.[2] Therefore, African biblical counsellors are going to have to be both diligent and patient in building up case wisdom. This is going to take training, time, and supervision. We will have to acknowledge our need for help from others.
  • Christian Unity: The biblical counselling movement could give South African churches, networks, and denominations an opportunity to partner together for the sake of promoting gospel-centred pastoral care. There is a wonderful diversity amongst churches that are committed to biblical sufficiency. This diversity is even reflected in the ACBC Africa Steering Committee members. I think that this diversity is important and helpful, but it does require us to be patient and humble. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree on everything, nor should they. But unnecessary fragmentation could severely impact the growth and impact of biblical counselling in South Africa.

Please Pray!

Can I ask to you please, even briefly, pray for the Biblical Counselling Movement (BCM) in South Africa? Through your prayers, you can serve the BCM in South Africa.

Please pray for: Progress! As mentioned above, there are various ministries doing good work, and there is a growing interest in biblical counselling. But there is a long way to go!

So please pray for: church leaders—that they would be willing to explore what biblical counselling is and how to move forward in providing gospel-centred pastoral care in their churches.

Please also pray for: Bible colleges and para-church counselling ministries—that they would start considering the biblical counselling perspective.

Please pray for: Unity! Because of confessional and doctrinal statements, it is possible for Christians from different traditions to work alongside one another in the same organization. Please pray that this fellowship and partnership would continue; please pray for ACBC Africa, as well as for the various churches and para-church ministries practicing biblical counselling.

Ephesians 4:1-6 provides relevant instruction for South African church leaders who are working together for the sake of biblical counselling: pray that we would seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Join the Conversation

What information in today’s post about biblical counselling in South Africa surprises you?

How will you begin to pray for biblical counselling in South Africa?

[1]Steve Viars and Rob Green lay out a simple explanation of what Biblical Counsellors mean by the “Sufficiency of Scripture” in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling (Harvest House, 2013), pp. 89-105. Also see “Scripture is Sufficient, But to Do What?” by Jeremy Pierre in Scripture and Counseling (Zondervan, 2014), pp. 94-108.

[2]See Brad Hambrick’s helpful discussion of the relationship between sufficiency and competency in Scripture and Counseling, chapter 15.

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, 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.

Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical?

The need is great. The discussion and debate seems almost endless. How can we compassionately and comprehensively respond to issues related to mental illness and the church? Dr. Bob Kellemen continues his frequent engagement regarding this topic in Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical? 

The Church and Homosexuality: 10 Commitments

At Crossway’s blog site, they’ve adapted material from Kevin DeYoung’s new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, into the post: The Church and Homosexuality: 10 Commitments.

19 Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling

Brad Hambrick is a prolific provider of biblical counseling resources and his site is a wonderful hub for resources on biblical counseling. He is categorizing his resources with a “Favorite Posts” series. Today, the BCC highlights Brad’s Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling.

50/20 Vision

Anne Dryburgh is a guest blogger for Julie Ganschow’s Biblical Counseling for Women site. In this post she highlights a Genesis 50:20 mindset on life’s difficulties, and appropriately entitles her blog 50/20 Vision.

How Does a Busy Pastor Plan His Daily Schedule?

Pastor Brian Croft’s site, Practical Shepherding, provides a wonderful source of practical, biblical insight for local church ministry. Today’s highlighted post is no exception as Pastor Brian addresses the relevant question, “How Does a Busy Pastor Plan His Daily Schedule?

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: , , , , , ,

Depression’s Partnership with Death

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Four in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part Four, Ed Welch examines Depression’s Partnership with Death. You can also read Part One in this series by Paul Tautges: 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression. And you can read Part Two, by Dr. Hodges at: Mood, Medicine, and the Value of Emotions. And you can read Part Three, also by Dr. Hodges, at Vitamin D and Depression.

 The Death Rattles of Depression

 To be depressed is to be entangled by death. That’s why I hate depression. Its victims have found themselves in death’s long shadow and there seems to be no escape. Pain, hopelessness, hellish torments, thoughts of suicide—these are the death rattles that inevitably accompany depression.

But depression can lie. It says that there is no hope, and it is wrong. Jesus has come and has conquered this enemy by facing death and then rising from the dead. We, by faith in Him, join Him in that resurrection. As such, we are people who can look ahead with hope. The challenge is this: if we are going to people of hope, we have no choice but to humble ourselves before the Lord and believe what He says more than believe the myths attached to depression.

A few passages from Hebrews, not typically keyed to depression, can send us in the direction of life.

 Moving in the Direction of Life

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7). So much is happening in this one verse. Here is our High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.

This means that our God is close, and we can approach Him with confidence in the same way that Jesus approached His Father with confidence (Hebrews 4:15-16). We talk to our Lord. We speak from our hearts with tears, and in that we are walking with Him, even imitating Him.

 Moving in the Direction of Faith

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). This verse might seem out of place at first, but it is critical. Faith is a way of seeing—or sensing—the invisible realities that stand behind the visible.

We all gather data about our world and ourselves from our five senses. Through these we can identify the material universe. We can identify what is seen, though we need help to see things unseen. Those who are depressed also gather data through their senses, and that data says that life is merely a step toward death and nothingness. But as we hear God’s words and trust Him, we begin to see beyond things seen and felt to the realities that are invisible and certain. By faith, we believe that we are forgiven, brought into Christ, and are given fellowship with Him, which will be all the richer when we see Him face to face. If you are depressed, ask for help to see the invisible God who is closer and different than you might think.

 Moving in the Direction of Seeking God

 “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). This passage reminds us of the interplay between the holy God and us. He initiates, pursues, makes promises, keeps promises, loves with grace and mercy, and says so much to us.

We, in response, can’t be inert or indifferent. We can say amen to all He says and does: we can believe Him and believe in Him. A concrete expression of this belief is to say, “Lord, I believe that You are, and I believe that You give me strength to seek You, and You even bless me as I seek You.”

 Walking by Faith

 Yes, these verses might seem remote, but we expect that. Everything good seems remote when we live only by what we see and feel. From that limited and distorted vantage point, death overpowers life. So we consider God’s revelation and look further into spiritual realities. Then together, we learn to walk by faith rather than by sight, and we behold Jesus.

 Join the Conversation

 In the midst of the sadness of life, how do you choose to walk by faith?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Depression, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , ,

Vitamin D and Depression: New Research

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Three in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part Three, Charles Hodges, MD, explores new research into Vitamin D and Depression. You can also read Part One in this series by Paul Tautges: 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression.  And you can read Part Two, also by Dr. Hodges at: Mood, Medicine, and the Value of Emotions.

New Research

I am always interested in research that has anything new to say about depression. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with depression, and billions of dollars are spent each year to treat it. It is always encouraging when researchers are looking for a better answer than the time honored but unproven chemical imbalance theory.

For at least the last decade, a discussion has been going on about the role of Vitamin D in depression. Some of the studies have shown that a lack of the vitamin could be involved and others have not. It has long been noticed that people who live in the northern parts of the country that do not get a lot of sunlight in the winter also seem to struggle more with sadness. The increase in winter depression in northern states has been large enough to get its own diagnostic category: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The connection between long dark nights and short days with depression in January has led more than a few observers to wonder what the sun does for us that helps depression in June. Since it is well known that sunlight stimulates the formation of vitamin D in our skin, researchers have looked one more time at the relationship between vitamin D levels and the sadness of depression.

Researchers at Oregon State University conducted a study that looked at vitamin D levels and depression[i] in 185 female college students in a 5-week study. The students had their blood tested for vitamin D levels. They also took a depression survey every week for five weeks. The results showed that the women with low vitamin D levels were more likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression.

“Significant symptoms and vitamin D insufficiency were common and differed by season…low vitamin D levels were associated with clinically significant depressive symptoms.” They also noted the differences between the women in depression could be explained in part by the seasonal changes in their vitamin D levels.[ii]

The researchers did not believe that the results of the study conclusively proved that a lack of vitamin D would cause depression. Nor did they believe that we all ought to run out and buy a bottle of vitamin D caplets to ward off depression. They did think that they needed to do more research.

The lead author David Kerr said, “Depression has multiple powerful causes, and if vitamin D is part of the picture, it is just a small part. But, given how many people are affected by depression, any little inroad we can find could have an important impact on public health.”[1] While the researchers stopped short of recommending anyone take vitamin D for depression, they did note that anyone at risk for vitamin D deficiency should talk with their doctor about taking it.

The Take-Away for Biblical Counselors

So what is the take-away for biblical counselors who are counseling people who struggle with depression? The most important first assignment I give any individual struggling with sadness is a trip to their doctor for a complete history and thorough physical exam. And, yes, that would include blood tests that could include a vitamin D level along with other important levels.

The really good news in this study is that once again someone is doing real research that is looking for a better explanation of the cause for depression. The medical concept of depression has been stuck in the 1980s for 35 years. And now medical research appears to be moving forward.

I have often quoted statistics that would tell us that 90% of those labeled with depression do not have a disease but are dealing with normal sadness. But, that still leaves 10% who struggle with depression and need a better explanation. Vitamin D may not be the entire answer, but it is a place to start.

 Join the Conversation

 What do you believe is the role of biology/chemistry, including Vitamin D, in depression?

[i]Oregon State University. “Low vitamin D levels, depression linked in young women, new study shows.” ScienceDaily, 18 March 2015.  www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150318145501.htm

[ii]David C.R. Kerr, David T. Zava, Walter T. Piper, Sarina R. Saturn, Balz Frei, Adrian F. Gombart. “Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive Symptoms in healthy young adult women.” Psychiatry Research, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.02.016

 

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Mood, Medicine, and the Value of Emotions

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Two in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part Two, Charles Hodges, MD, interacts with a recent New York Times opinion piece written by Dr. Julie Holland (Medicating Women’s Feelings). You can also read Part One in this series by Paul Tautges: 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression.

Pressured to Apologize for Our Tears

“Women are moody.” Those are words that only psychiatrist Julie Holland could say and survive! In our age of politically correct speech, such ideas are nearly forbidden. And, it is a great loss for women because as Dr. Holland said women are moody by “evolutionary design.” She also said that it is important to them and to all of us.

In an opinion piece written for the New York Times recently, Dr. Holland said women are made to be empathetic and intuitive and that this design is needed for our survival. Instead of seeing a woman’s emotions as a disease, they need to be seen as a great source of strength.[i]

Dr. Holland notes that great pressure has been and is being brought to bear on women to “apologize for our tears, to suppress our anger and to fear being called hysterical.” As if that were not enough, she notes that the “pharmaceutical industry plays on that fear.”

As a result, sales of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs have exploded. One in four women is now taking a psychiatric medication (compared to one in seven for men). This does not mean that Dr. Holland thinks that no one needs to take medicine. But, in her own words, “As a psychiatrist practicing for 20 years, I must tell you this is insane.”

Normal Sadness

So, how have we managed to get ourselves to this point in America where normal human emotions have now been declared to be disease that requires medical treatment? It is a complicated question, so let’s look at one part of the problem where it is possible to do the most good.

Sometime in the 1980s the criteria for depression was changed so that normal sadness over loss became identified as depression.[ii] In as little as 2 weeks an individual grieving the loss of anything important can be diagnosed with depression. This coupled with the arrival of Prozac in 1988 set the stage for an enormous change in the way most of us view emotions. Instead of being a useful tool to drive us to change, sadness and eventually worry would become symptoms of disease.

The good news is that there is a revolt growing in psychiatry and psychology against turning normal emotions into disease as evidenced by Dr. Holland’s article. She is not alone. Alan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield said much the same thing in their book, The Loss of Sadness.

Their research and research of others would tell us that perhaps up to 90% of those diagnosed with depression today are simply normally sad over loss.[iii] This “normal sadness” fits right in with Dr. Holland’s view that emotions, even unhappy ones, are a normal part of our being.

Implications for Biblical Counselors

 What then does this mean to those in biblical counseling? I think it is a great opportunity to help those who struggle with sadness and worry.

The Apostle Paul was a man who was very acquainted with suffering. He suffered beatings, stoning, and shipwreck. At times he struggled under the weight of the problems that existed in the church. It was very true of the church at Corinth. The troubles that caused Paul to write the first letter to Corinth simply made him sad.

In his own words, For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-6, NASB). Titus brought the news that the church had repented. The letter Paul wrote made them sorrow and that sorrow drove them to change.

Like Dr. Holland, Paul believed that emotions like sorrow were useful, although he would have said they were created in us by God and not biology. Paul would say, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB).

The sorrow at Corinth drove that church and its members to change. Our society does not see sorrow that way, and we miss the benefit of it. As Dr. Holland said, when women feel irritable or dissatisfied at certain times in the month, they need to see these feelings as genuine and “re-evaluate what they put up with the rest of the month.”[iv]

A dear friend once told me something very similar. I was struggling with a major problem that made me sad and angry. My friend said, “Well, Charlie, why has the sovereign God of the universe let this come into your life now? What does He want to change about you to make you more like Christ?”

I then began to understand in a real sense the purpose of suffering and sadness that day. As Paul would say in Romans, I was suffering so that I could be “conformed to the image of His Son.”

The opportunity we have in biblical counseling today is to help strugglers see adverse emotions a little like Dr. Holland, but more like Paul saw them. They are a tool that God wants to use to draw us to Himself. And in that sense, they are very valuable.

Join the Conversation

 How does God want to use emotions and mood in your life?

[i]New York Times, NYTimes.com Julie Holland 2/28/2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/opinion/sunday/medicating-womens-feelings.html?_r=0

[ii]Good Mood Bad Mood, Charles Hodges, Shepherd Press, Wapwallopen, PA, 2013.

[iii]The Loss of Sadness, Alan Horwitz, Jerome Wakefield, Oxford University Press, New York. 2007.

[iv]NYTimes.com, Holland.

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

3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression

3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part One in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part One, Paul Tautges shares 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression.

Identifying with the Psalmist

“My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word. I have declared my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works. My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word. Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously. I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:25–32).

Depression can be debilitating; it may leave you unwilling to function normally and, sometimes, not even caring that it is so. You may feel sad. You may feel angry. You may not feel at all. You may simply be numb.

It may surprise you to know that the man who wrote the greatest poem exalting the beauties of the Word of God, Psalm 119, had to learn how to fight through times of deep grief, a form of suffering the Bible is not at all silent about. So saddened was he at one point that he said, “My soul clings to the dust” (v. 25), but just eight verses later he was able to shout, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (v. 32). How did he get from lying in the dirt to running in the race?

He worked through depression by faith in God and renewing his mind according to the Word. That, I believe, is the key. When we are depressed, we sometimes just want to sit and wait for it to go away, but it does not resolve itself.

The most difficult part of being depressed is that you must continue to live. But how? How do you go on with your life? How do you go to work tomorrow? How will you get out of bed? How will you preach next Sunday? The answer is: You must begin to take small steps of faith through the fog. Three clues are given in the Scripture portion cited above.

Journey Marker #1: Identify the Cause of Your Depression—Psalm 119:25–29

First, if possible, you need to discern what has led you to this point. I say “if possible” because there are times in which the cause of a deep, lasting time of feeling down and out is unknown, undiscernible, and not necessarily singular (Ed Welch mentions five in his very helpful book on depression). Nonetheless, the following spiritual exercises are important for the health of your soul even when understanding eludes you.

Begin with prayer: Psalm 119:25.

Notice that immediately after his admission of his suffering: “My soul clings to the dust,” David cried out to God for help: “Revive me according to Your word.” God must be the one whom we run to first when we are depressed. If you do not know what to say to Him, pray something like this: “For [my] soul is bowed down to the dust; [my] body clings to the ground. Arise for [my] help, and redeem [me] for Your mercies’ sake” (Psalm 44:25, 26).

Evaluate your life: Psalm 119:26.

The next step this man took was to examine his life with God’s help. “I have declared my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes.” As he rehearsed his heart attitudes and actions before God, the Holy Spirit gave him insight into potential causes of his depression. Renewing his mind with Scripture often results in a renewed desire to correct errant thinking patterns, or ungodly ways, and adhere to God’s truth.

Plead for understanding: Psalm 119:27.

“Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works.” It is impossible to see through the dark clouds of depression without the light of God’s truth. Meditate on the wonderful works of God displayed on the pages of Scripture which bring understanding and hope. Intentional thinking about the wonderful works of God must take priority over dwelling upon your feelings or dire circumstances.

Admit you have no strength: Psalm 119:28.

Oddly enough, when we are depressed, we may sometimes find it hard to admit just how helpless we really are. If you are depressed, admit your weakness to God. He is already aware of it. “My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word.” Humble yourself before Him and seek encouragement from His Word. Ultimately, that is how your inner man will be renewed. Also, lean on a faithful friend who will walk with you through the valley, praying with you, not merely for you. Isolation is the bedfellow of depression.

Confess sin and be cleansed: Psalm 119:29.

It appears God answered this man’s prayer for understanding by opening his eyes to at least one area of his life where he needed to repent. “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.”

Sometimes (certainly not always) depression is the result of personal sin, and the saddened state is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s conviction and grief. Consequently, deep sadness may be the tool God uses to put His finger on something in your heart or life that you may be blind to. When this occurs, honest self-examination and confession cleanses and puts you back on the road to rehabilitation.

Be careful, however, that your sincere self-examination does not turn to morbid introspection; the line is thin between the two. Even if the Lord does not reveal a relationship between specific sin(s) and your depression, be on guard against sinful responses to grief which prolong it. Anger at man or God, chaffing against the sovereign ways of God, self-pity, and laziness—to name a few—may result in your dark valley becoming longer and deeper.

Journey Marker #2: Decide to Let God Rehabilitate You—Psalm 119:30-31

Second, you must make a conscious choice to apply God’s remedy.

Choose to follow God’s Word: Psalm 119:30.

In order to reap the benefits of God’s rehabilitation program you must make a decision to obey God by being a doer of the Word and not a hearer only (James 1:22). “I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me.” This man made such encouraging progress in the countenance of his soul because he was serious about delighting in Scripture. If God has revealed areas of disobedience, then you need to consciously turn away from them and move toward the way of truth. “Happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).

Cling to the hope found in God’s Word: Psalm 119:31.

When you are depressed, hope seems impossibly far away. That is the time to bypass your emotions and, like a child, simply believe what God’s Word says. By bypassing your emotions, I do not mean pretending they are not real but that you consciously subject them to the higher authority and trustworthiness of the Word. The Bible is the only reliable, rock-solid source of hope. Hang on to simple truth, even if you feel it is by your fingernails, most of which are already bitten off! “I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame!”

Journey Marker #3: Rededicate Yourself to Running the Race of Faith—Psalm 119:32

Thirdly, when God renews your spirit through His life-giving Word, recommit yourself to living a life of persevering faith, trust, and obedience—a life pleasing to Him. Regardless of the events that God’s providence has allowed into your life, which may have legitimately contributed to your depressed state, the time is always appropriate to say to the Lord, by faith, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.” Remember, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Join the Conversation

What biblical wisdom principles give you hope on your faith journey as you work through depression?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Depression, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | 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.