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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.

Are We Too Concerned with Demons?

R.C. Sproul writes a passionate post in response to the question: Are We Too Concerned with Demons?

5 Reasons I’m Excited to Minister with Crossroads Bible College

Our BCC Executive Director, Dr. Bob Kellemen, blogs about taking on a new VP role at Crossroads Bible College and as the Chair of their Biblical Counseling Department. And, Bob will continue in his leadership role at the BCC. Read more at 5 Reasons I’m Excited to Minister with Crossroads Bible College.

Islam: The Ultimate Religion of Works

Pastor J.D. Greear explains three biblical reasons why Islam Is the Ultimate Religion of Works.

How to Respond When Praised for a Good Sermon

Pastor Brian Croft provides 4 suggestions for How a Pastor Should Respond When Praised for a Good Sermon.

What Society Will Never Tell You

Randy Alcorn explains what society will never tell us: True Beauty Is Inner Beauty.

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: , , , , , , ,

Bullying: A Deadly Poison in a Marriage

Bullying--A Deadly Poison in a Marriage

When we think of bullying, we often think of it in the school system—kids picking on and beating up other kids. And I would agree that is a definite problem. However, bullying doesn’t just happen with children; it also happens within marriages.

I have met many broken women and a few men who have been living silently for many years with bullying. They have learned to believe this is normal married life and they have been convinced that much of what goes on at home is their fault and their problem. They have learned that if they are quiet and always the one to say “sorry” then things go much better. Sooner or later they begin to wonder if something is wrong with them and they try to become better partners certain that if they just “do better” things will improve.

But they don’t.

They work harder at household duties, they workout more, they practice smiling when inside tears are welling up. Somehow they must have done something to deserve this is often a thought.

Subtle Forms of Marital Bullying

Bullying can be very subtle and hardly noticed at first, but over the years of marriage it becomes increasingly more felt if you are the bullied spouse. It can be correction constantly. It can be correction constantly lovingly spoken.

It can be not giving you a voice to share or speak what you think, implying that your opinion really has no merit and doesn’t matter at all. Over the long haul, you begin to believe you don’t know anything about anything.

It can be words like, “you should…” or “why don’t you…” or “why wouldn’t you do…” or “if you wore this it would be more flattering…” or “when will you get the house clean.” All of these are subtle messages telling you that what you are doing isn’t good enough or right.

It can be spiritual subduing communicating to you that you have no idea how to interpret biblical truth or to understand it, let alone share it. And so the bullying spouse brings their interpretation to the passage and it often will be demeaning or condemning or correction of the bullied spouse.

You are told you aren’t submissive enough if you are the bullied wife, or you might be the bullied husband who is told that he has no idea how to manage the house or to lead or isn’t making enough, or working hard enough.

More Direct Bullying

It can be more direct and just outright mean. Name-calling and attacking character are often a big part of the bullying.

It can be threats of divorce or leaving or closing off their cash flow. It can be tracking every movement by keeping track of kilometers or miles put on the vehicle, or calling frequently throughout the day to find out what is going on. It can be over-protective by not allowing you to have outside friendships. It can be lying to you about what is going on with them. It can be manipulative. All of it is destructive and unhealthy.

The bully must have control and the bullied must yield to that control or World War III will take place. The one bullied soon learns that saying “sorry” or being quiet settles things down more quickly than trying to speak what you are thinking. Even your silence can sometimes be attacked, it seems the bully wants a fight and wants you to lose because they must win and be right.

Jesus Confronts Bullies

It’s important to know that we are all sinful people and live in sinful relationships, and so we all have the ability to hurt each other. The difference with bullying is that it continues and is a pattern for daily living. The difference would be that when the bully is confronted, they see no need to change because they are right and their spouse is wrong. It’s about winning. Bullies are not being Christ to others; it’s about their preferences, their rights, their wants and desires.

Leslie Vernick writes in her book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, “Many people suffer in relationships where offensive words and threatening gestures are the weapons of choice, used to manipulate, control, punish, and wound without leaving any physical evidence.” But that is not what Jesus says. He is very clear that words that hurt and wound another are likened to murder (Matthew 5:21-22).

What to Do If You Find Yourself in a Bullying Marriage

If you are living with a bully, please reach out for help. You are not alone; you need not feel alone. You have more than likely been sold a bag full of lies, but know that you are not the cause of the bully’s hostility and poison. You are responsible for what you say and do. Please know there is help for you. You can learn how to speak and confront your spouse who is bullying. God desires to transform you through this experience as you find more and more an identity in Christ and not in the words of your spouse.

Proverbs 2:12 reminds us, “Wisdom will save you from evil people from those whose words are twisted.” God desires to bring help and healing into your life. He created us with a voice, with feelings, desires, and longings. He created us to interact with one another and when you are bullied you are prevented from giving voice to those things.

Join the Conversation

What are other subtle and not-so-subtle marks of a marital bully?

What biblical counseling wisdom do you share with a spouse who is being bullied? With a spouse who is being a bully?

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Conflict, Men/Husbands, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Violence/Physical Abuse, Women/Wives | Tags: , , ,

When Christians Despair

When Christians Despair

God comforts us in all our afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3-8). This is a truth for all believers for all time.

However, the life context from which the apostle originally wrote these timeless words is the suffering of a faithful—though very flawed—minister of the gospel. In other words, it was from the crucible of ministry trials that Paul wrote such a comforting promise of God’s never-ending love and care. Notice the context: “We despaired even of life…we had the sentence of death within ourselves” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

Understanding that he lived in the center of an intense spiritual war (Satan hates with a passion all who preach the gospel), may help us better understand how desperately he and his companions needed biblical hope—a need that every gospel-loving believer has at certain times in his or her life.

While meditating on 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, I found myself asking two questions: What does the apostle mean when he says of his companions and himself, “we despaired even of life”? And what is God’s purpose in allowing: “the sentence of death within ourselves”? Before we attempt to answer those questions, let’s review the full passage.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many”(2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

What Does It Mean to Despair Even of Life?

In verse 8, the apostle speaks of their afflictions, which led to being “burdened excessively, beyond [their] strength.” These unbearable burdens led these men to a state of deep despair and, consequently, the need for divine deliverance. Of these afflictions, Kistemaker writes,

“It is not unthinkable that Paul had been dragged into various local synagogues to stand trial before Jewish courts. The punishments he received were the prescribed thirty-nine lashes. He reveals, ‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one’ (11:24). These floggings could be perilous when administered harshly, especially if they were repeated in close succession. In addition, Roman authorities three times beat Paul with rods (11:25)….The fierce opposition that Paul had to endure from Jewish adversaries continued to be a persistent threat to his life….The danger Paul incurred was so great that he describes it as an extremely heavy load that he was unable to bear physically. More than that, spiritually he lacked the necessary strength and entered into a state of despair (contrast 4:8). He expected the end of his earthly life unless God himself intervened and, as it were, brought him back from the dead.”

To “despair even of life” means, therefore, to be so utterly burdened and without strength so as to succumb to affliction (the source of which does not matter, ultimately) to the place of accepting death as the only possible outcome. To be in despair means to be without a way out; that is, to be so mentally and emotionally without any hope of help in sight that death seems inevitable.

Though it seems the afflictions the apostle refers to here come from without, there are other times of suffering to the point of despair in which a finger cannot be so accurately placed upon the “source.” Despair, a crippling level of discouragement, is more common than we may realize for those who dedicate their lives to gospel ministry.

Biblical characters that battled deep discouragement and despair include David, Hannah, Elijah, and Paul. And before one concludes that all sorrow to the point of death is itself a sin—or is only, ever, always caused by sin, one should remember that Jesus experienced sorrow to the point of death (Matthew 26:38). His experience alone should slow down the zealous wheels of our mental judgment. Some well-known, post-biblical ministers of the gospel also experienced deep despair; Charles Spurgeon, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and David Brainerd are just a few. We must accept that there are some parts of our fallenness we will never understand. Only the God of providence knows fully what He seeks to accomplish for His glory through our suffering.

What Is the Purpose of the Sentence of Death?

The burden of the apostle’s suffering was so heavy that he actually felt as though a death sentence had been pronounced against him. But this heavy weight was not without purpose. The overwhelming sense of impending death was “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

There it is! God, in His grace, orchestrates suffering for His servants for the purpose of stripping them of self-reliance—the pride that feeds so many other sins and hinders our usefulness. In the case of the apostle and his friends, physical deliverance from actual death threats was provided by God. But even if they had not been delivered, their hope would have remained. Why? Their testimony remains, “On him we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:10).

The Only Ground of Hope

Hope delivers us from the afflictions that threaten to take the very life out of us because its roots grip to the only sure foundation: God is for us in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31). It was the promise of ultimate deliverance in Jesus that breathed life into the suffering apostles so that they could continue to press on without human explanation.

Believing—truly believing—that God is for us, not against us, counsels our troubled and fearful souls. It renews our strength, purpose, and desire to live even when the despair that takes hold is so deep that it feels like a sentence of death has been pronounced upon us. Setting one’s hope on God alone; not the lessening of pain or the improvement of circumstances is the only ultimate remedy for despair. When we have learned to counsel ourselves with these truths, then we will become equipped to counsel others who despair even of life.

Join the Conversation

In your life, how has God used those times when you felt the sentence of death and despaired even of life?

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

6 Biblical Perspectives on Strength in Weakness

6 Biblical Perspectives on Strength in Weakness

It’s human nature to detest pain, suffering, and weaknesses. Perhaps that’s why I find 2 Corinthians so intriguing. It shows how Paul suffered for his faith and responded to criticisms.

By that time, Paul had planted churches and proven his commitment to God, yet certain people in Corinth were attacking his apostleship and authority. In response, Paul could have boasted in his knowledge, experiences, and successes, but he repeatedly boasts in his weaknesses. For example, he had “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1), something worth boasting about, but he shifts the focus on a thorn in the flesh.

Paul suffers from a thorn in his flesh and pleads with God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Christians debate the meaning of Paul’s thorn, but the consensus is that Paul was suffering immensely and God used the thorn to humble him.

God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For most of us, it’s not the answer of our preference. We’d rather have our affliction, which could be physical, mental, or emotional, removed.

Perspective 1: Radical Discipleship (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)

Paul’s response is radical.

Paul writes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

It’s radical because most people do not talk about contentment with hurtful experiences. Rather, we say that we “would” be content if we didn’t have weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities! So, typically, our prayers center on God removing weaknesses from our lives. “God, please take away this trial.” “God, are you disciplining me for holiness? You’ve got my attention. Now, can you make my situation easier? Can you remove this person from my life?”

Like Jesus, Paul resists trying to fulfill other people’s expectations or cater to them (2 Corinthians 10-11). A leader should look this way, talk this way, or avoid hard labor. He was able to remain steadfast in his ministry because of his godly perspectives. Other passages in the Bible provide helpful perspectives on weaknesses.

Perspective 2: Expect Persecution for Godliness (2 Timothy 3:12)

Even Jesus, our Savior, was persecuted because of His teachings. Persecution could be physical, mental, or emotional. It might be that family member or coworker who constantly argues with you about your faith or godly decision. It might be a job loss or humiliation from people who hate God. The point is that persecution will happen if you are striving to live for God.

Perspective 3: Renew Our Perspective and Hope

Are we focusing more on our earthly life and comforts or heavenly home? Sometimes, remembering that our life on earth is temporal can help change our longings, desires, and expectations. For instance: “Yes, this decision will cost me acceptance from peers or a significant amount of money, but those things will not matter in heaven. God, may you be honored by this decision.”

In 1 Peter, Christians are persecuted for their faith. Peter says to place your hope on the future when Christ returns, “preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded” (1 Peter 1:13). Keep an eternal perspective and practice self-control. Be prepared.

Perspective 4: Allow God to Use Our Weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10)

When we are weak, then, we are made strong. The world says, “Be strong in yourself.” Paul says being strong isn’t about physical strength or confidence in self, but the power of Christ that helps us to endure hardships. That’s why he was able to be content with weaknesses. Paul’s confidence was in God, not himself.

Perspective 5: Remember Spiritual Warfare (1 Peter 2:11)

Remember spiritual warfare. The moment we placed our faith in Christ for salvation, we entered spiritual warfare as God’s children and enemies of the devil. We not only battle sinful desires, which wage war against our soul (1 Peter 2:11) but also the devil waging war all around us. Since the days of Adam and Eve, the devil’s mission has not changed—to deceive and tempt us to sin. Anything to distance us from God. What keeps you from pursuing God?

Too often, we’re more vulnerable to temptations and hardships because we’re spiritually weak, not because the devil is stronger. A common problem is that we allow ourselves to be spiritually complacent, living passively as if we have no choice. When we placed our faith in Christ for salvation, an inseparable, nondestructive, and permanent union with Christ occurred. This means that God will not give up on us and that we have the Holy Spirit to help us at all times. We are not alone.

On a related point, are we blaming the devil rather than taking responsibility for our decisions? In conversations, I’ve noticed that the blame on the devil becomes more common in rationalizing sins or questionable responses during times of hardship and confusion. The devil is always working to discourage us. Are we prepared?

Sometimes, spiritual warfare can intensify despite faithful efforts to pursue God and godliness. We will become restless and discouraged if we choose to overanalyze and dwell on the unknown. In the Bible the focus is on strengthening our faith and clinging to what we know about God and His truth.

Perspective 6: Do Your Part (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Strengthen your faith. How are you doing spiritually? Has it been some time since you’ve attended church or worshipped God from your heart? Are you crying out to God, like the psalmists did when facing hard times? Like a soldier fighting a battle, we need to be prepared all the time and put on our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-20).

  • Open your heart to God. Pray! Confess your struggles, weaknesses, and need for His help (1 John 1:9-10).
  • Open the Bible. You could start with the Psalms or Proverbs. Reading a shorter book, such as James, might be more manageable. Ask others for suggestions. Write down what you learn about God and His promises.
  • Open your schedule to people and ministries. We need Christians in our lives and to serve them well.
  • Be careful of merely reading blog posts and listening to podcasts without taking action. Talk to a godly person about your present weaknesses and options. What needs to change?

We don’t know God’s exact purpose for allowing each hardship, but we know that His motives are always good and that He always makes himself available to help us. Like Paul, may we know that when we are weak, we can be strong—in Christ.

Join the Conversation

What additional biblical perspectives would you share about strength in weakness?

Topics: Christian Living, Discipleship, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering, Theology | Tags: , ,

God’s Strength Displayed Through Our Weakness

God’s Strength Displayed Through Our Weakness

In February 1998, our family entered into another cultural world that would forever change our lives and ministry. Although we were Bible college graduates, seasoned ministers, committed to sound doctrine and biblical discipleship, we had no idea of the world we were entering! I wish I could say that this was a ministry that we had prayed for, studied best practices about, and put together a detailed strategic plan to guide us into this new reality.

A quadriplegic son was not what Sharon and I had envisioned for our sixteen-year-old son, Matt.  We brought Matt into our home when he was just three day’s old. This bundle of energy, now after an accident during basketball practice, would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The Ware family entered the world of families affected by disabilities. (Matt’s story is one among many in the recently released resource by Joni & Friends and written by Doug Mazza and Steve Bundy, Another Kind of Courage: God’s Design for Fathers of Families Affected by Disabilities).

Families affected by disabilities draw our attention to weakness. We tend to focus on the limitations resulting from disabilities. Our family’s journey into the communities of families affected by disabilities continues to teach us several lessons. Biblical discipleship in a fallen world must rest by faith upon the eternally existent sovereign God who has spoken through His word and we must submit to him.

From Why to Who

Emotional and physical energy is drained by a mind fixed on negatives and/or questions God chooses not to answer. We can become paralyzed for years simply because we cannot answer the why questions. Why me; why now; how is this fair? God may or may not answer these questions to our satisfaction.

Ultimate peace does not arise from a satisfactory understanding of our circumstances. Our unconditional trust in the sufficiency of the grace of God leads us to trust the Who! It is the acknowledgement of our weakness and insufficiency that causes us to look for power and strength from our all sufficient God (2 Corinthians 12:8-12).

The strength of God does not always deliver out of circumstances, but will grant endurance and comfort through them (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). This truth should lead us to ask what God desires to teach and demonstrate through us.

From Why to What

God has spoken clearly in His Word concerning what we should do during difficult trials. There are positive words we need to claim by faith. However, faith does not always mean immediate deliverance from trials. Our family prayed earnestly that Matt would walk again. My faith was firm. But Matt is still a quadriplegic.

Too often we look at disabilities, be they physical, emotional, financial, etc., as limitations. Limitations from which the power of God must deliver us. We focus upon what we have lost—this is negative thinking. God wants us to ask the question, “How does He want to demonstrate His strength through our weakness?” This is positive thinking.

We are encouraged to ask God for wisdom when we are journeying through life’s trials. The wisdom is not how to get out, but rather how to be developed by God through the process (James 1:2-8). It is through trials, not the lack thereof, that faith shines brightest (1 Peter 1: 6-8).

Looking to the Who and asking what He desires births joy rather than sorrow in trials. Joy because we know that He is working in us the character that will demonstrate His power through us.

From Why to How 

How could God’s power be demonstrated through circumstances that magnify our personal weakness? Sometimes God expands our ministry through our weakness! Although our quadriplegic son has not walked, God’s presence and power is very evident.

When his mother arrived at the scene of his accident, Matt was being transported to an ambulance. As his mom leaned on his stretcher in tears, Matt exhorted his mom, “Pull yourself together, remember God is in control!” Upon hearing these words, a sportswriter for the Indianapolis Star newspaper was inspired to write a front-page story.

Matt was elevated, through his weakness, to what seemed like celebrity status. A continuous stream of visitors entered his hospital room. Visitors ranged from teenage friends to medical doctors, to professional athletes. Correspondence from email and regular mail was received from around the world.

Our family’s insufficiency captured the attention of the body of Christ. Prayers were offered daily on our behalf. Our church collected $167,000 on a Sunday night to assist us with needs. A Christian construction company built a handicapped-friendly home at cost for our family. Through the sale of our previous home and gifts, we moved into our new home debt free. Additionally, Kroger Food Store purchased a handicapped accessible van and gave it to us!

Matt’s faith through trials, not deliverance from trials, became news! Media including newspapers, magazines, radio programs, and TV news all carried Matt’s story. His testimony was one of three featured during youth night at a Billy Graham Crusade held in Indianapolis, Indiana.

On July 7, 2013, Matt and Erika were joined in the covenant of marriage. We are sustained today by trusting in God’s sovereign care asking what He desires to do through our weakness! Counting our blessings rather than our losses often renews strength.

Join the Conversation

How could you take time to reflect on the character of God? How could you take time to seek direction from God through His Word? How can you begin to expect to see the power of God through your weakness?

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

Weekend Resources

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight our Resources Interview page.

Did you know that we have now posted interviews with over three dozen leading biblical counseling organizations?

How do these organizations and their leaders define biblical counseling? Read these interviews to find out.

What resources can you find at each organization’s website? Read these interviews for direct links to scores of free biblical counseling resources.

Check out direct links to all 38 interviews at the BCC’s Resources Interview page.

Topics: 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.

You Can’t Buy Happiness

While we know that money does not purchase happiness, we still often live (and spend) as if it does. At Desiring God, Jonathan Parnell writes:

“It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world.” So what if we stopped nibbling, just for a day? What if we decided, on a specific day, in a regular pattern, to stop spending money on that which is not bread, and stop laboring for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:1–2)?”

Ponder the rest of Jonathan’s remedy to our urge to spend our way to joy in You Can’t Buy Happiness

How To (and Not To) Minister to Families Battling Cancer

Todd Benkert shares several lists of how to (helpful and more helpful comments) and not to (not helpful and definitely avoid comments) Minister to Families Battling Cancer.

Through Heaven’s Doorway

How do we help a child, or anyone else for that matter, picture death from a Christian perspective, from an eternal, Christ-centered perspective? Randy Alcorn shares several beautiful images of something we rarely consider beautiful—death.

One image comes from a poem by Calvin Miller in The Divine Symphony.

“I once scorned ev’ry fearful thought of death,
When it was but the end of pulse and breath,
But now my eyes have seen that past the pain
There is a world that’s waiting to be claimed.
Earthmaker, Holy, let me now depart,
For living’s such a temporary art.
And dying is but getting dressed for God,
Our graves are merely doorways cut in sod” (139).

Ponder further Christian images of death in Through Heaven’s Doorway.

How I Read the Bible

This video with Elyse Fitzpatrick is part of Women of the Word Month, a free 31-day campaign designed to encourage and equip women for transformative Bible study. View the video to hear Elyse Fitzpatrick on How She Reads the Bible.

Women Counseling Women

Julie Ganschow notes that:

“Many women who disciple have undergone extensive training and possess great knowledge and wisdom from a biblical point of view. Because our hearts are sinful and depraved it is easy to become prideful and puffed up with knowledge.”

She then asks, “How can you maintain a humble heart?” You can read Julie’s 6 answers at Being a Shepherdess.

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: , , , , , ,

The Grand Canyon from the Bottom Up: Creation and Counseling

The Grand Canyon from the Bottom Up--Creation and Counseling

A few years ago I had the amazing privilege of visiting the Grand Canyon in a unique way. I had been there numerous times so what was different about this trip? Instead of looking down from the top, confined to a small section of the national park, I was able to see many miles of it up close and personal from the bottom up!

That’s right; I was able to raft 180 plus miles of the Colorado River going through 150 rapids. We spent a week in the bottom and many times we were so deep in the canyon we could not see the uppermost rim. It is a different world looking at this 200-mile-long gorge up close and personal from the bottom up. I was there with a number of other college and seminary profs to look at geologic evidences for catastrophe (there are many). This research trip’s focus was Genesis 6-9, looking at the evidences for a worldwide flood, but the Lord had additional purposes in store for me.

Soul Food

Those days were not only intellectually stimulating, but were also soothing for my soul. I was away from my normal routine; never ending emails (wouldn’t you like to declare an e-mail bankruptcy? I would), the regular counseling concerns for people, and grading.

It was refreshing to see waterfalls coming right out of the side of the canyon walls with 1000’s of feet of strata still above. We saw mule deer, big horn sheep and even a rattlesnake. There were so many big horns that it became routine and it even lost some of its exhilaration. Of course there were also the famous brilliant sunrises and sunsets with all their various hues and shadows reflecting off the multicolored desert tones of the mile deep strata.

But one element of nature stood out above the rest—the stars.

We camped each night in the open along the side of the river. This was one time I didn’t mind waking up because every time I rolled over on my cot I saw more stars than I ever had before and worship would just well up in my soul just as it did with David in Psalm 8. I thought:

“When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him”(Psalm 8:3-4, ESV).

David was overwhelmed by reflecting on the vast power of his God as he looked at the stars and so was I.  It is even more amazing to consider that He does care as many passages of Scripture affirm (e.g. Romans 8:28-39).

Creation and Counseling

My trip reinforced the contention that the natural world has many counseling applications and that it is a biblical counseling tool the Lord has given us that is often underutilized. In other words, He desires us to use creation as a tool to help our souls (and the souls of those to whom we minister) have the proper perspective on life. He desires us to meditate on creation to remind ourselves who He is which in turn ministers to our inner person.

This principle is firmly established by Scripture. And it is Scripture that gives us the proper lenses to even look at the natural world. It is only through Scripture that we can most accurately understand where this creation came from and how almighty the creator God truly is.

Scripture Makes This Connection

I have been intrigued by the numerous passages that directly connect the two (e.g. Psalm 8; Psalm 19; Psalm 33). My favorite is Isaiah 40. In this famous pivotal chapter the Lord is portrayed as the true God as opposed to idols. His mind-boggling power is exalted as the writer tells Judah that their Lord holds the waters in the palm of His hand (verse 12), and measures the heavens with the span of His hand (verse 12). A few verses later we are told that there is no one like him (verses 18, 25) and He names ALL the stars (verse 26). He then is declared as the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth who does not faint or grow weary (verse 28). So whether you look out at the oceans or up to the stars He is in control.

I don’t know about you, but my desperate soul needs those thoughts. Based upon these truths of who our Lord is then the end of the chapter gives verse after verse of direct counseling applications that minister to our inner persons.

For example, our God who holds the waters of the earth in the palm of His hand and can use His hand to measure the universe and name the stars of the universe, gives power to the faint (verse 29). He promises that those who “wait” for him (that is trust him) shall renew their strength. So by believing these things, rather than exhausting myself through anxiety, I can trust him and find refreshment (verse 31).

Implications

It is no mistake then that going on a church retreat in the mountains soothes the soul. Or, looking up at the stars and remembering that I can call the Creator of these stars my Father calms me down. He names the stars and He knows His sheep by name (John 10:3, 14). As we reflect on His glory, as revealed in creation (Psalm 19:1), we can grow in our awe of him. And our love for our Lord can grow as we consider that the creation is reflecting something of the personality of the Creator just as art reflects the artist. Of course, all of this stimulates worship and true worship is always healthy for the soul.

This theme makes me wonder if we are utilizing the tool of creation enough in our counseling ministries and in our own walks with the Lord. It also causes me to raise the question of the location of counseling. Does it all need to be in a formal setting in a building?

Well, I’m looking forward to going camping in the mountains in a few weeks and writing this has gotten me even more excited. I think I’ll go do some planning!

Join the Conversation

How could you use creation in your own walk with the Lord?

How could you use creation in ministry to others?

When was the last time you meditated on some aspect of creation and allowed your soul to worship because of it?

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

2 Equipping Opportunities

Restoring Trust Workshop

Life Counseling Center of Marriottsville, Maryland, has its roots as a small counseling ministry of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church. In the past 5 years the counseling ministry has grown significantly. What started as informal counseling offered in whatever rooms the church had available, has now grown to a formal counseling center that staffs 10 counselors and a full-time receptionist. It has been an honor to be a part of the work that the Lord is doing through this ministry.

Besides offering counseling for individuals and families, we are excited to now be presenting workshops and training events. Highlighted below are two of our upcoming events.

Restoring Trust Workshop: September 19-20, 2014

This fall Life Counseling Center is pleased to partner with Regeneration Ministries of Baltimore to provide a workshop called Restoring Trust: Helping Couples Heal. This workshop is designed to help couples heal from the destruction of pornography. With a new porn video created every 39 seconds, the problem of pornography is quietly devastating marriages everywhere. This workshop is not just for couples impacted by pornography, but also for the people who care for them.

It will highlight Josh Glaser of Regeneration Ministries and his wife Jamie as they draw from their own personal experience as well as their collective 20 years of ministry. In addition to Josh and Jamie, Life Counseling Center’s marriage counselors will provide interaction with the material; discussing practical application, engage in interactive conversations, as well as serve on a question/answer panel.

The workshop will be divided into two parts.

  • Restoring Trust, Part 1: Earthquake and Triage
    When a big earthquake hits, it’s traumatic. The ground under your feet no longer feels trustworthy, the home you’ve lived in has shifted, and there’s damage everywhere. This is what it can feel like when trust is violated through the viewing of pornography. In this session, we’ll discuss the early stages of recovery; including how a couple can set a course to effectively navigate through the damage in order to begin moving toward restoration. We will explore topics such as establishing safe recovery communities and counseling, how and what to disclose, male and female experiences and expectations, establishing boundaries, avoiding co-dependency, and the place of developing a restoration covenant.
  • Restoring Trust, Part 2: Learning to Relate through the Rough Stuff
    Once the initial cleanup is underway, those who survive an earthquake need to learn to relate in new, healthier ways. Life cannot go back to “normal” because normal was part of the problem that caused the destruction. In this session, we will address how to talk about progress, slips, and relapses, practicing healthy communication, maintaining a support network, moving through the challenges of rebuilding trust, and cultivating a healthy sex life.

We believe this workshop will provide extremely beneficial information to help you or your loved one’s marriage move toward health and wholeness. If you or someone you know would like more information on this workshop, please visit our website Lifecounselingcenter.org.

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands Training: Spring 2015

Last spring, Life Counseling Center presented extensive training to a local church using the material, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, by Paul David Tripp. This practical hands-on training was attended by small group leaders, lay counselors, and also individuals looking to strengthen their relational interaction. Over the course of six weeks our counselors took the material far beyond the pages of the book and included practical application through role playing, case studies, and years of counseling training experience. The response was overwhelmingly positive as these comments note.

  • “The anecdotes were great because they provided better understanding through examples which you cannot get from a book.”
  • “The material was grounded in the gospel and the reminder of what God calls us to—it was very practical to daily relationships.”

Because of the positive response, we will be offering this training workshop again on select weekends in April and May of 2015. It will be held onsite at Chapelgate Presbyterian Church and will be open to churches in the local area. This is perfect for small group leaders, lay counselors, those considering counseling ministry, or those actively engaged in personal ministry.

If you or your ministry is looking for ways to be better equipped relationally, won’t you consider joining us? For more information about the spring training event you can contact Pam Riley at priley@chapelgate.org.

If you live near or around the Baltimore area, we would love to extend this invitation for you to join either of these two upcoming events. It is our hope that the church would be well prepared to help care for people in all of their sufferings and trials. Please consider joining us. Click HERE for more information.

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

5 Factors Leading to Spiritual Growth: “Run, Forrest, Run”

5 Factors Leading to Spiritual Growth--Run, Forrest, Run

In the movie, Forrest Gump, Forrest was a character known for many things, but one thing certainly stands out—he liked to run.

The apostle Paul uses running as a metaphor to describe what the Christian life is like. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

In Philippians 3:12-16, Paul expands the metaphor in order to help us see what our approach to spiritual growth should look like. We see in these verses 5 features that should characterize our approach to spiritual growth.

1. Pursue Christ with an Accurate View of Yourself

In verse 12, Paul confesses his own shortcomings. One thing Paul knows about himself is that he is in progress.

Paul acknowledges that he does not yet fully know Christ. “Not that I have already obtained this…” (Philippians 3:12, ESV). This refers to what he said previously in verse 8-11, namely to know Christ fully. This would be obtained at the resurrection of the dead (v. 11).

Paul also acknowledges that he is not yet fully sanctified. “Not that I…am already perfect” (Philippians 3:12).  He does not want us to think we can be perfect in this lifetime. Like Paul, we must recognize we have not arrived, but that we are people in progress.

2. Pursue Christ with All Your Might

Paul continues in verse 12, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). Paul’s response to not knowing Christ fully or being perfect is to pursue Christ with all his energy and strength. From the world of sports, Paul uses aggressive and violent language to describe his pursuit of Christ. Press on means to pursue with earnestness and diligence in order to obtain.[1] Make it my own means to obtain the prize with the idea of eager and strenuous exertion.[2]

This is nitty-gritty, blood and sweat language. Paul wants Christ and he won’t stop until he gets him.

Was the reason for his pursuit to earn favor with God? To merit or deserve salvation? No! Paul’s eager and strenuous pursuit of Christ is because of Jesus’ eager and strenuous pursuit of him. Christ sought after Paul and made Paul his own. Christ arrested his heart and made him a child of God. This whole, passionate, nitty-gritty, blood and sweat pursuit began when Christ seized him on the Damascus road.

Do you often think about God’s pursuit of you? If you are a follower of Christ; if you have put your faith in Jesus; then you were first sought after and pursued by Him (John 15:16). Like Paul, we are to pursue Christ with all our might.

Would you say you are? What do you do with your thoughts or wants? Do you subject them to rigorous testing? Do you cut those sinful thoughts and desires down at the knees? When you think of being in progress, does that discourage you? Or, does it motivate you to respond like Paul and eagerly press on?

3. Pursue Christ with Focus

Paul develops his spiritual workout routine further in verse 13. “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Paul has a singular focus. Straining forward to Christ is Paul’s singular pursuit. Runners in a race must fix their eyes ahead of them; those who watch the crowd or their own feet are likely to trip and fall.

Paul’s pursuit is marked by intentional amnesia: “…forgetting what lies behind(Philippians 3:13). Paul is not saying that we somehow seek to wash our minds of any previous memory. His point is that we must concentrate on the present with a look to the future.

Paul made a break with everything in his past, both good and bad. Spiritual achievements, virtuous deeds, great successes in ministry, as well as sins, missed opportunities, and catastrophes must all be forgotten. We must not dwell on them or in any way think our past determines who we are. Our past does not control the present or the future. We cannot live on past victories, nor should we be debilitated by the guilt of past sins. God is interested in what we do now and in the future. Like runners we must be aware of how dangerous it is to turn our heads and look back.

Paul’s pursuit is also marked by intentional aim: “…strain forward to what lies ahead(Philippians 3:13). Like the runner who has the finish line in sight, Paul describes the runner with his body stretched out in intense passion for the goal. Our pursuit of Christ is singular in focus, marked by intentional amnesia and aim. Our eyes must be fixed on what lies ahead, never satisfied until we get it.

While we are overjoyed to be in the race, we are not satisfied with where we are in the race.

Kent Hughes, in his commentary says, “Humble dissatisfaction…opens us to the blessing of God—and to a sublime cycle of dissatisfaction and satisfaction and dissatisfaction and satisfaction….It brings on a life that knows more and more of Christ and then desperately wants to know more and indeed does know more and more and more and more. Spiritual dissatisfaction is a blessed state. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

Do you long to know Christ better? Part of the race is that the more we progress and grow in Christ the more we recognize our own need to grow. Let us press on!

4. Pursue Christ with the Right Motivation

Next, Paul explains, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The word for toward means that Paul is bearing down on his goal. Paul was bearing down toward the goal of rising above sin, knowing Christ more, and making him known throughout the world. Everything about Paul’s disposition and pursuit is heavenly. His call is from heaven and toward heaven.

At the end of the race there is the long anticipated prize. This prize is not for those who have accomplished anything except put their faith in Christ and persevered in doing so to the end, marked by a life not of incredible achievements, but by a relentless pursuit of Christ. We want the resurrection from the dead. We want to see Christ face to face. We want to be found in him.

5. Pursue Christ with Tenacity

Paul completes his race analogy with these words: “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). When you think you are in progress and that you must relentlessly pursue Christ you are thinking maturely. You know you are perfectly justified in Christ and that you no longer live under God’s wrath. But, you know you are incomplete in your knowledge of Christ and in being like Christ.

Paul trusted that as God’s people assess themselves accurately, pursue Christ vigorously, with concentrated focus, with the right motivation, and with persistent tenacity, God would continue to guide them into all truth and grow their knowledge. He will finish what he started (Philippians 1:6).

In Philippians 3:16, Paul adds, “Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Hold true means to walk in step with. With tenacity, we are to continually walk in obedience to what we already know. And, as we grow we will walk in obedience to what now know. And so on and so on. This kind of steadfastness will produce a Christlikeness.

What Paul teaches us in Philippians 3, reminds us of these words from Hebrews 12:1-2. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Like Forrest Gump, let us be found running.

Join the Conversation

Which of these 5 approaches to spiritual growth most resonate with you?

Note: This blog is from a sermon preached at College Park Church, Indianapolis, Indiana. Click here for the sermon.


[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[2] Ibid.

Topics: Faith, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Theology | 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.