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

BCC Weekend Resource: Counseling Sexually Abused Women and Children

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight a resource audio from the 2014 IBCD Summer Institute. For a complete list of speakers and messages, visit the IBCD Summer Institute 2014 home page.

In this resource, Caroline Newheiser addresses the issue of Counseling Sexually Abused Women and Children. Sexual abuse is more and more prevalent in our society. Vulnerable children become women who have lived with a secret for years. Women counselors need to understand how the Bible helps females who have been sexually abused. There is a biblical way to deal with the shame and emotional pain of the victim. The role of the church will be addressed. Real cases will be discussed.

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Topics: Biblical Counseling, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sexual Abuse, Women/Wives | 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.

Updated ACBC Membership Covenant    

What does the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) (formally NANC—National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) believe about general revelation, research psychology, psychological theory, and sufficiency of Scripture?

Learn the ACBC’s answers to these vital questions in ACBC Membership Covenant Update.

What to Expect in Battling Sin

Tim Challies has an ongoing series at his blog site called Reading Classics Together. Currently he is moving through John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin (or Overcoming Sin and Temptation. In his most recent post he considers with his readers the implications of a chapter from Owen on What to Expect When Battling Sin.

Why Keep Sexual Boundaries?

Ed Welch answers the question Why Keep Sexual Boundaries.

4 More Mini-Books Released by

Paul Tautges alerts us to the fact that this week Shepherd Press released 4 More Mini-Books in their LifeLine series.

The Church and Evangelism

At 9Marks, J. Mack Stiles addresses The Problem with Evangelistic Programs.

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: , , , ,

Whining or Biblical Burden Sharing?

Whining or Biblical Burden Sharing

I cannot tell you how many folks come in and start a counseling session by saying, “I don’t want to come in and just be a whiner,” or “I feel like I am just whining about my circumstances.” Then they begin to talk about legitimately challenging situations in an awkward tone of embarrassment. When they are finished they apologize again.

This strikes me as odd. First, why would people schedule a counseling appointment and then apologize for discussing their struggles? I don’t think I apologize to my doctor when I am sick.

I fear that the answer to this first question is rooted in how disinterested and detached our culture and (too often) our churches have become.

Second, why do we feel like discussing our struggles is whining? By this definition of whining large portions of the Bible would have never been written.

  • Job would have been gutted.
  • Psalms, which discuss suffering, would be omitted.
  • Proverbs would not contain many verses on getting counsel or listening to others.
  • Ecclesiastes would be unnecessary.
  • Lamentations would be unbearable.
  • Paul would have had little information to trigger the writing of his letters.
  • James would have never known of the suffering of the dispersed Christians.
  • Peter’s writings in 1 Peter would also be missing.

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

Consider Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The implication of this verse is that if we are not bearing one another’s burdens, then we are not fulfilling the law of Christ (strong charge!). This requires knowing each other’s struggles.

A quick definition of bad, unbiblical whining might help:

Sharing a problem, not wanting another perspective on the issue, with no intention of doing anything differently, hoping the other person will fix it for you or just be miserable with you.

My burden is that this is NOT what the people in my office are doing, but they still feel like they have to apologize for sharing their burden. This is wrong! Many of our struggles become so intense because we do not share them with others while those struggles are more manageable. By the point of sharing, they may be so overwhelmed that they either only feel like whining or need the help of a well-trained counselor.

The Bible does not expect change to occur in isolation or privately. Actually, the Bible seems to assume that the more private we keep our struggles (both sin and suffering) the more intense our struggles will become. Therefore, let us “whine” like the Bible models—by biblical burden sharing. Let us discuss our struggles within our community of faith seeking hope, encouragement, and direction from those God has given us to share life with.

Join the Conversation

What is the difference between whining and biblical burden sharing?

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Gospel-Centered Ministry, Guilt, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering | Tags: , ,

4 Approaches to the Use of the Label “Porn Addiction”

4 Approaches to the Use of the Label Porn Addiction

At Covenant Eyes we hear from hundreds of people every week whose lives have been impacted, at varying degrees, by pornography.

  • I’ve listened to countless men tell me about how porn hooked them at a young age and followed them like a merciless bloodhound into adulthood.
  • I’ve heard the tear-filled stories of women whose husbands continually and stubbornly sought out porn against all admonitions to quit.
  • I’ve cried with parents who just found hardcore material on their child’s iPod and don’t know what to do next.
  • I’ve heard from young women about how they believed they were the only females on the planet who felt compelled to seek out porn—women who hid until their obsessions became unbearable.

It is not uncommon for these people to describe this problem as an “addiction.” In fact, it may be the most common descriptive term I hear.

“Addiction” is a loaded term with many nuances. It is also a fluid term. Colloquially, it is used for nearly anything that human beings relish. “I’m addicted to caramel macchiatos.” “I’m addicted to Pink Floyd music.”

Clinically, it enjoys a long and turbulent history, and today “sex addiction” and “porn addiction” have earned somewhat canonical status among psychologists, despite the DSM’s resistance to it.

For the biblical counselor—indeed, for any counselor—words matter. How we label a problem impacts how we approach it. And since pornography use is at an all-time high—and by some estimations, even in the church—it remains a critical question for biblical counselors today:

Should I encourage others to label their problem an “addiction” and if so, what does that mean?

Four Common Approaches

In my experience, I see four different approaches to this question in the church. For the sake of dialogue, I’ve labeled these approaches: the Redeemers, the Clinicians, the Prophets, and the Contextualists.

1. The Redeemers: Addiction to Self Is the Root of All Sin

There are some in the church who prefer to usurp or redeem the term “addiction” from the culture at-large and from the clinical community. “Addiction,” they say, is a powerful and useful modern term to describe all habitual sin.

The Redeemers want to level playing field in the church, breaking down the us-them mentality: normal sinners vs. those with “real problems.” Addiction to self, they say, is the root of all sin.

Sure, use “porn addiction” in your conversations, but make it clear such people should not be a stigmatized few. We are all sin addicts; driven by a compelling madness to embrace the very things we know will kill us. The term addiction gives people a vivid picture of the seriousness of sin: something enslaving, habitual, and requiring the help of a Power greater than oneself to find freedom.

2. The Clinicians: All Sin Is Serious, but Addiction Is Rare

There are others in the church who take their cues about addiction from the diagnostic literature and the medical community. For the Clinicians, “porn addiction” is a real problem, but is overused in the church.

For the Clinicians, all use of porn is clearly sinful, but not all who use porn should be labeled as addicts. Classic indicators of addiction need to be present: tolerance, withdrawal, compulsion, craving, progression, and unsuccessful attempts to quit.

“Addiction” is a diagnostic word, so use it that way; don’t apply the addict label to anyone who says he or she looks at porn. The term comes with a long history of medical and therapeutic baggage, insinuating the addict has no control over his or her actions and requires specialized help. Clinicians don’t want to see Christians pathologize themselves needlessly and would like to see addiction language used minimally.

3. The Prophets: “Addiction” Is Confusing; Stick to Bible Terms

This approach focuses on returning to biblical categories for describing sin and no longer depending on modern psychiatric terms. Yes, since “addiction” is used in the culture, we need to interact with the term, but it should never be the label we use. Medically, the definition is always in flux, and culturally, it is ambiguous. Calling something an “addiction” is confusing at best, and deceptive at worst.

This approach relies on the Scriptures for the categories and nomenclature. It isn’t “addiction;” it is slavery to sin. Porn users don’t need to “recover;” they need to repent and be restored by spiritual mentors. It isn’t “dependency;” it is idolatry. It isn’t “psychiatric help;” it’s discipleship and biblical counsel.

The Prophets understand the biological, cultural, familial, and spiritual elements that go into slavery to sin—much of which should be unpacked in counseling—but in the end, sinners need to focus on how God labels their problem. One of God’s great means of grace in our sanctification is the renewal of our minds, and biblical categories and terms are some of the primary means God uses to renew the mind. Modern psychiatric terms, at best, only distract us from what is really going on: sin, hardness of heart, and a dire need to surrender to God.

4. The Contextualists: “Addiction” Is Helpful for Some, But Not for Others

“Addiction” can be a loaded term. For some, the term is used casually and simply means enjoying something a lot. For others, the term invokes an image of a dimly lit church basement where men and women, 20-years sober, show up for a meeting and still identify themselves through the lens of their formerly compulsive habit.

Contextualists say we need to recognize addiction means different things to different people. We should feel free to use the term when it is helpful, and refrain from using it when it is harmful.

For some, calling the problem an “addiction” is a relief because it finally gives them a label that makes sense of the madness of their condition; they can finally move on and make progress. For others, it trivializes the problem as something medical and therefore excusable, or it imprisons them in hopelessness, for they believe that once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict.

What Group/Approach Are You In?

The above groups are generalizations, to be sure. In fact, some intentionally blend these approaches into new approaches. There is also considerable overlap among these perspectives.

Assuming a commitment to the authority of Scripture, all of these approaches believe pornography is immoral—not because it is potentially addictive, but because it promotes lust, it rips sexuality from its proper relational context, and it presents human beings as sexual commodities. On this, we can stand together.

Join the Conversation

If you had to choose a group (or groups), which approach would you choose and why?

Topics: Addictions, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Pornography, Psychology and Christianity, Sexual Purity | Tags: , ,

4 Ingredients of Personal Ministry

4 Ingredients of Personal Ministry

Risotto is delicious. I love risotto, but would always eat it out—at my friends’ houses or at restaurants—because, although it is delicious, I also found it somewhat mysterious. How can rice become so tasty? I was sceptical about my ability to cook it at home. How would I be able to turn bland rice into scrumptious risotto? The answer, I learned, is to identify and use the right ingredients. As it turns out, Risotto is more than just rice! There are several other ingredients that need to be added, in the right amount, and in the right order. Once all the ingredients are combined, a delicious meal emerges.

Effective personal ministry can be similar. To many, from pastors to small group leaders, effectiveness in personal ministry can appear mysterious and complicated. To be sure, there is a complexity to ministry—as well as a reliance on the supernatural work of God’s Holy Spirit! But there is also a delightful simplicity that revolves around some core ministry ingredients.

There are a lot of good ways to answer this, but Paul Tripp penned one of my favourite. Dr Tripp defines personal ministry as:

The “careful ministry of Christ and His Word to the struggles of heart that have been uncovered by good questions from a committed friend.”[1]

In this succinct definition, Dr Tripp gives us four of the key ingredients to effective personal ministry. Let’s briefly consider each ingredient.

Careful Ministry of Christ and His Word…

Both counselling and discipleship ought to be marked by a careful use of the Bible. The Bible is absolutely central to how we think about our lives, so we want to make sure that we’re placing the joys and sorrows of life within a genuinely Christian framework. We also want to be speaking God’s truth to one another, not simply sharing our opinions or passing on inherited values. And we want to do this carefully— not being too fanciful with Scripture, not taking promises out of context, or handling the Bible glibly.

The apostle Paul says that gospel workers should make a big effort to handle God’s Word rightly (2 Timothy 2:15). A key ingredient in effective personal ministry, therefore, involves rightly handling Christ’s Word.

…To the Struggles of Heart…

The heart is the target in ministry. While we want to dispense accurate spiritual information to those we minister to, our goal is not simply their increased theological knowledge. We know that our big need is heart renewal—beneath the surface of everyday sins and sorrows, there lies a battle raging in each of our hearts. In the ordinary moments of everyday life, these are the heart issues that we wrestle with: whom will I trust? Who or what will I look to for help, hope, comfort or relief? Who or what am I tempted to seek, delight in, or worship?

For effective personal ministry to take place, we must consider both ingredients: divine truth and the human heart. Personal ministry occurs when both ingredients are being used.

…That Have Been Uncovered by Good Questions…

The first two ingredients raise further questions: “How am I going to know what this person’s particular heart struggles are?” “How am I going to know which truths are most relevant if I cannot see what is going on inside their hearts?”

The answer is gloriously simple:

Ask good questions!

Good questions act as a vegetable peeler: they remove the outer layers so that you can see under the surface. Good questions enable you to see what your friend was thinking or feeling when they said or did that particular thing. Good questions break through the superficiality that marks too much of our relationships and ministry. Good questions enable you to uncover the struggles of the heart, and so they’re a vital ingredient in effective ministry.

On a personal note: for years, I had undervalued good questions. I foolishly thought that one simply needed to “speak truth” to people in order to do effective ministry. I am increasingly realizing how important asking good questions really is. Effective ministry is not less than Bible teaching, but it is more than Bible teaching. Don’t forget about this excellent ingredient, or your ministry will likely lack taste!

…From a Committed Friend.

Our fourth vital ingredient is spiritual friendship. Effective ministry boosts good relationships— you may not perhaps start out as friends, but hopefully after journeying together in Christ, you will experience the richness and depth of spiritual friendship.

This also reminds us that ministry is personal, not professional. I am not a guru or sage who simply dispenses aphorisms to relative strangers; I am a friend, a fellow pilgrim, another human in daily need of Christ’s mercies. Therefore I am open to learning from those I minister to! Their perseverance through difficulties can greatly encourage and challenge me, even as I seek to minister to them.

Personal ministry has little room for celebrity, professionalism, or façade. Christ relates to us in personal ways, calling us friends and revealing his heart to us. He draws us to himself in relationship, exposing our hearts and connecting his truth and grace to our need.

A Delicious Risotto or Tasteless Rice?

Sadly, all too often our ministry lacks one or more of these vital ingredients. When that happens, things become bland, dull, and tasteless. Different people will gravitate to certain ingredients more than others, so be sure to audit yourself: Which of these do you tend to over-emphasize at the expense of the others? Which ingredients do you need to add to your ministry recipe?

Personal ministry is the careful ministry of Christ and His Word to the struggles of heart that have been uncovered by good questions from a committed friend. May God help us to add all these ingredients together, so that our ministries brim with the aroma of Christ and nourish the souls of people.

Join the Conversation

Which of these 4 vital ingredients of personal ministry do you tend to over-emphasize at the expense of the others? Which ingredients do you need to add to your ministry recipe?

[1] Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 165.

Topics: Discipleship, Faith, Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , ,

Are We Using the Word “Brokenness” Biblically?

Are We Using the Word Brokenness Biblically

We often hear Christians today talking about “brokenness.”

Many seem to use “brokenness” to describe the underlying reason they sin. Someone might say, “I struggle with pornography because of the ‘brokenness’ I experienced growing up in a home with a father who objectified women.”

Others seem to use “brokenness” to describe the result of being sinned against. For example, “I experienced deep ‘brokenness’ when I was emotionally ‘wounded’ by my mother’s rejection of me.”

Still others seem to use “brokenness” to describe the result of enduring suffering. Such as, “Failing in three business ventures left me dealing with ‘brokenness’ and battered self-confidence.”

First, Empathy for These Usages of “Brokenness”

Anyone who has ever read any of my blog posts, any of my books, or heard any of my lectures, seminar presentations, or messages knows that I teach that God calls us to empathize with one another in suffering. Biblical counseling is not only about confronting heart sin; it is also about comforting those who have been sinned against, those who have endured great suffering in a fallen world.

As I like to say, “We live in a fallen world and it often falls on us.” When it does, it can “break” us—it beats us up and beats us down. The great apostle Paul candidly admitted that when life knocked him down, he despaired even of life and felt the sentence of death (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). That’s pretty “broken.”

Second, Caution about These Usages of “Brokenness”

I don’t have a lot of problem with calling the result of being sinned against and the result of facing suffering “brokenness.” Unless, in doing so, we think our number one issue or problem is our brokenness or woundedness from suffering.

Our number one problem is our sinfulness—having sinned against God. Our number one problem is not our brokenness—others having sinned against us or facing suffering because of living in a fallen world.

That’s why I have a significant problem with the first use of “brokenness”—where we use it to describe the underlying reason we sin.

Think about Job and Job’s wife. They both faced the same horrific suffering. Job’s wife responded by telling Job to “curse God and die”—give up on God and give up on life, yourself, and others.” Job responded by saying, “Blessed be His name—the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

Their “brokenness”—their suffering—was staggering beyond imagination. But their brokenness did not cause their sin.

If I were counseling Job and Job’s wife, yes, it would be helpful for me to understand the personal reasons they each might struggle with a particular temptation to sin. Just like it would be helpful for me to understand that the man I’m counseling about a pornography problem had a father who objectified women. That’s helpful in understanding his particular temptation, but it is not causative. His history and upbringing and broken family life does not demand that he give into that sin. Nor does it robustly explain why he gives into that sin.

There is a fine line between seeking to understand helpful personal history and turning that personal history into an unhelpful excuse for surrendering to temptation.

Third, How the Bible Uses “Brokenness” in Suffering

In the psalms of lament, David and other psalmists candidly talked about their suffering and having been sinned against. In these lament psalms (such as Psalm 13, Psalm 88, and many more), the psalmists clung to God’s in their suffering.

That was also the apostle Paul’s response to his suffering. After admitting that he despaired of life, he explained that this brokenness happened to him so that he would not rely on himself, but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Thus there is a biblical way to talk about being “broken” in suffering. It is biblical to use “brokenness” to mean that life has so beaten us down that I turn to God in utter desperation. When we are beaten down by life, biblical brokenness directs us to God as our only source of help, hope, and healing.

Fourth, How the Bible Uses “Brokenness” in Sin

In confessing his sinfulness, David said to God, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

This is the primary way that God’s Word uses “brokenness”—being broken over our sin against God and others.

If anyone could have used their past suffering and woundedness to excuse or explain their sin, it would have been David. David could have used his life story to say:

“Saul, my father-figure—his horrible mistreatment of me, that woundedness explains why I committed adultery and murder.” David could have said, “The despicable way that my very own son betrayed me left me so broken that in my emptiness I committed adultery and murder.”

But David didn’t. He came clean. He confessed. Without excuse.

And everything in David’s confession moved toward his biblical use of “brokenness.” In Psalm 51:17 we saw that David used “broken spirit” as a parallel for a “contrite heart.” “Contrite” means humbled, remorseful, repentant, penitent. It is the picture of the Prodigal Son coming home to his father in spiritual brokenness—desperate for grace, throwing himself at his father’s mercy.

Both David and the Prodigal Son are broken over their sin against God, rather than being broken over being sinned against. In their brokenness, they both throw themselves at the mercy of God. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2).

So, how could the man struggling with pornography apply this biblical use of the word “brokenness”? Perhaps he would say:

“While acknowledging that my father sinfully objectified women helps me to understand the direction of my sin, it does not explain or excuse my sin. Father, I sin against you, I sin against my wife and my children, and I sin against all women when I look at pornography. Give me a broken and a contrite heart. Help me to see the evil of my sin. Expose the heart causes, the idols of the heart, the false cisterns that I dig when I commit this sin. I confess my sin to You and I ask You to have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.”


When speaking of “brokenness” and suffering, my “brokenness” motivates me to turn to God as my only source of hope.

When speaking of “brokenness” and sin, my “brokenness” motivates me to confess my sin to God and turn to Him as my only hope of forgiveness, cleansing, and victory over my sin.

Biblical brokenness always leads us to cling to Christ.

Join the Conversation

What do you think? Are we using the word “brokenness” biblically?

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

BCC Weekend Resource: Counseling After a Suicide

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight a resource audio from the 2014 IBCD Summer Institute. For a complete list of speakers and messages, visit the IBCD Summer Institute 2014 home page.

In this resource, Jim Newheiser addresses the issue of Counseling After a Suicide. Many have been touched by the tragedy of having a loved one take his or her own life. How can we help those left behind deal with the emotions and the questions which come in the aftermath of suicide?  Why do people make this awful choice?  Can a real believer do this? What are the indicators that a suicide attempt may be imminent and what can be done to help?

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Topics: Audio, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suicide | 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.

10 Marks of True Happiness

Paul Tautges notes that:

“One of the most famous portions of the Bible is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, which begins with what have become known as The Beatitudes. Each of these snippets of divine wisdom begins with the word, ‘Blessed,’ which actually means happy. So, ‘Blessed are you when…’ can also be read, ‘Happy are you when…’ Therefore, these verses contain a description of true happiness. In Matthew 5:1-12 we learn of ten marks of those who experience true happiness.”

Learn all 10 marks of true happiness in Happy Are Those…

Time Is Fleeting

Tim Challies reflects on competing priorities and using our time wisely. In part, he says:

“The call, then, is to find the best things I can do with the time allotted to me, while waiting for the great day when time will no longer be finite, when opportunities will no longer be limited. It is to prioritize those few things I can actually accomplish, and to learn to let go of the rest. It is to live the life God has for me, and not to attempt to live a different life altogether. It is to obey the words of God: ‘Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil’ (Ephesians 5:15-16).”

Read all of Tim’s thoughts in All These Things I Will Leave Undone.

What to Do When Downcast

Ray Ortlund quotes from Martin Luther’s self-counsel in What to Do When Downcast.

6 Reasons to Live More Simply

Randy Alcorn shares 6 Reasons to Live More Simply and Give More Generously.

The Logs in My Eye

Julie Ganschow acknowledges what is true for all of us. “I find the most difficult aspect of peacemaking is examining my own heart, and asking God to search me.” Julie then applies Matthew 7:5 to our personal relationships. Read her thoughts in The Logs in My Eye.

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 Chief End of Man Is the Beginning of Biblical Counseling

The Chief End of Man Is the Beginning of Biblical Counseling

A man and his wife, seeking help for their troubled marriage, sat down with me in my office recently. Both of them were intent on sharing with me a litany of complaints about the other.

“Why Are You Here?”

I was glad they came, but my opening question to the man caught him off-guard. “Why are you here?” I asked.

Having already delivered to me his Intake Form, and in light of the obvious, he wasn’t sure what I was asking him; so he began to tell me about his problems, the majority of which were focused on his wife’s alleged failures.

I stopped the man mid-sentence, and asked him to think about the question again, keeping his profession of faith in Christ in full view. Seeing that the man wasn’t prepared for my ambush, I began to explain what I meant.

Together, we agreed that he was all of the following:

1) A man created in the image of God

2) A professing Christian

3) A husband, and

4) A father

Each of these realities, I explained, were created, given, and sustained for him by God.

These truths carried with them unique responsibilities that were supernaturally bound together for one overarching purpose. But, before I led him in that discussion, I wanted him to know that this purpose would be the plumb line by which we would judge any, and all potential solutions to the marital struggles they’d been experiencing.

When people arrive at that place where they’re emotionally ready for counseling, they’re often at “situation critical,” and simply want the hurt to stop. And, that’s understandable.

The trouble is, in that place, utilitarian ethics can rule the day, which is to say that when our pain is at its worst, the ends often justify the means, or so we feel.

Our Plumb Line

In biblical counseling, we’re guided by something that transcends the mere alleviation of symptoms or the modification of behavioral problems, even as important as those goals may be. The plumb line in biblical counseling and all forms of discipleship is found in God’s purposes for creating humanity, which is according to Scripture, His eternal glory (Psalm 19:1; Isaiah 42:8; 48:9-11; Romans 1:20-21).

A popular, evangelical pastor recently tweeted, “God didn’t put you on earth to judge you, but to enjoy you.” On the surface of it, and in a culture that exalts happiness above holiness, this sentiment feels good. To the untrained ear, it seems to ring true.

Unfortunately, this thought is painfully short of a biblical understanding of God’s purposes for us (and the rest of creation), and therefore is of little use in biblical counseling and discipleship. It asks the right question (i.e. Why did God create us?), but arrives at the wrong conclusion (i.e. God created us for His enjoyment). It elevates God’s pleasure in extending us grace (i.e. enjoyment), at the expense of His justice (i.e. judgment). There’s no biblical warrant for this.

This is no trite matter. It’s not akin to engaging in “ignorant controversies” (2 Timothy 2:23).

Pastor John Piper, in a sermon preached on September 12, 2012, said this:

“This world—this history as it is unfolding—was created and is guided and sustained by God so that the grace of God, supremely displayed in the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners would be glorified throughout all eternity in the Christ-exalting joys of the redeemed.”

Unlike the former quote, Piper’s statement clearly calls us to consider the creative power, sustaining work, and magnificent grace of God for His glory, and the joy of Christ followers.

In fairness, Piper’s thought is greater than the 140 characters allowed by Twitter, but if it can’t be said with some manner of theological precision, then perhaps it shouldn’t be said at all.

Why God created humanity and what we say about our attending responsibilities carry the weight of eternity. We must handle our words with care.

If I understand that God merely intends to “enjoy” me, the choices I make in response to the difficulties of life might look entirely different than if I understand that the glory of the living God is somehow at stake in my life.

In short, the idea that God intends not to “judge” me, but “enjoy” me, may make me feel good, but not in any way call me toward repentance and faith. These are irreplaceable components of biblical counseling and discipleship (Mark 1:15).

Implications for Counseling

By the conclusion of my session with the couple mentioned above, the husband knew that his role in the counseling process was deeply connected to God’s purposes for his life. The difficult circumstances he was facing could in no way be divorced from this truth.

He understood that the decisions he would make in the sessions to come would speak to the truth of his profession of faith, his love for Jesus, and commitment to his marriage. His entire view of marriage counseling changed as God’s purposes for his life came into view.

Reflecting on this counseling case and the associated Scriptures, I’m persuaded that when the purposes and glory of God are the non-negotiables of discipleship, we avail ourselves of His power, hope, and promises.

In very meaningful ways, “What must I do to make the pain go away?” becomes, “What must I do to please God?”

Join the Conversation

How do these two questions alter the focus of counseling?

  1. “What must I do to make the pain go away?”
  1. “What must I do to please God?”
Topics: Biblical Counseling, Faith, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Theology | Tags: , ,

Leaving My First Love

Leaving My First Love

A Health Scare

A few months ago, at the end of a long week, I briefly experienced some very unique health-related issues that immediately got my attention. I forgot the names of multiple people I’ve known for years (though I was looking right at them), and my vision was impaired for a short time. Fortunately, those troubling symptoms subsided rather quickly, but they were followed by a low-grade headache and major fatigue that lasted for a week. All of this woke me up to the fact that I had not been feeling quite right for some time. I’d been blind to the most troubling symptom of all, a lack of passion for serving Jesus.

I believe the Father graciously allowed me to go through this small health scare in order to get my attention. To be clear, He was not punishing me, but allowing me to experience the natural consequences of my disobedience. As I was reflecting on this incident recently, and asking the Holy Spirit to help me get to the bottom of the cause, He gently reminded me of Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2.

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:2-4).

“You’ve left your first love.”

At our church’s Sunday gathering as one of our elders was preaching, the Holy Spirit convicted me with those words: “You’ve left your first love.” I was immediately cut to the heart. I knew it was true. I was deeply convicted by how far I’d allowed myself to slip, by how numb I’d been to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing promptings in my life.

The bottom line was that I’d lost my passion for serving Jesus because I had lost my passion for Jesus Himself. As I turned back the pages of my life over the preceding months, I knew that I’d neglected intimacy with Jesus. To reference another of Jesus’ letters in Revelation, I knew that He had been standing at the door and knocking, wanting only to come in and eat together (Revelation 3:20), but I’d mostly left Him out on the street. While I had not ignored Him completely—times of reading the Bible and prayer were still somewhat regular—I knew He had been calling me to a deeper level of intimacy since January, and I had simply not obeyed. My desire to be my own god, to call the shots, had led me to disobey the One who loved me enough to lay down His life for me. How could I fail to do the same?

Remember, Repent, and Do

The Holy Spirit’s diagnosis was spot on. But He was also faithful to bring an equally accurate prescription, found right in the same Revelation 2 passage. He continued by reminding me of the next words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).

By God’s grace, I have pursued and enjoyed intimacy with Jesus for many years. The Holy Spirit was calling me to remember the closeness we’d enjoyed, and to hunger for it again.

Though some times of repentance had occurred in the weeks prior, this new clarity around the nature of my sin prompted a deeper kind of repentance. With my very life, I had made much of myself and little of Jesus! God was quick to swoop in with grace, assuring me of His unfailing love and forgiveness, despite my sin and my cold heart towards His Son.

Finally, the Spirit called me to do some of the very things that fostered intimacy with Jesus in the past—an unyielding commitment to prayer, regular exercise, getting adequate rest, and reading the Bible and books by wise, godly leaders. Practicing these habits in the power of the Holy Spirit would be the way to rekindle my love for the most important Person in my life.

Forgiveness and Cleansing

Every Sunday at the end of our church’s gathering, we remember Jesus together through communion. On that particular Sunday, it was especially comforting to contemplate the body of Jesus broken for me, and the blood of Jesus shed for me, together with my brothers and sisters. The Holy Spirit reminded me of 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Having been cleansed and forgiven by Jesus, by God’s grace I am now walking forward in faith, pursing intimacy with the Person who saved me as a four-year-old boy. He is my first love. Passion for Him is returning, and thus, passion for serving Him.

Join the Conversation

How is God, through His Word, His Spirit, and His people, calling you to remember, return, and do—to love Jesus with your whole heart?

Topics: Faith, Gospel-Centered Ministry, Love, Pastoral Resources, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

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