Association of Biblical Counselors


Association of Biblical Counselors

The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.

Encourage: ABC provides a fellowship of believers committed to life transformation through the Living Word.

Equip: ABC promotes training in biblical counseling and points to resources that deal biblically with all of the issues of life.

Empower: ABC provides excellent materials for growth in Christ and for use in effective biblical counseling.

To find out more, visit the Association of Biblical Counselors website.

Victory over the Shame of Sexual Abuse

by Biblical Soul Care Harvest Bible Chapel

On several occasions I spoken on the topic of sexual abuse and the shame associated with it. Shame is such a pervasive part of any kind of abuse or any sin. What has profoundly impacted me as I’ve thought about all this is how my brothers and sisters are overwhelmed by the sin of sexual abuse and the shame that accompanies it.

Driven Undercover by Shame

I’ve also thought a lot lately about my own shame. I  have a propensity to want to hide or depersonalize my pain by distraction—just not being real with people. Shame leads me to a place where I can’t even worship without self-consciousness.

Shame is universal and started in the garden of Eden. God covered our shame over and over but Christ absorbed it once and for all at the Cross. We get that intellectually, but those who have been abused hear other voices—voices of condemnation and humiliation. Their shame seems so much deeper. It can easily enter the soul like deadly venom. Shame drives us undercover, but the cost is great. We can hide so well. God calls us out of hiding, asking us to consider, “Where are you?”

Slaying the Goliath of Shame

Shame can be such a giant. God wants us to be victors, but how are we to slay the Goliath of shame? It is only through Christ’s blood and His divine power that we dare enter battle. We dare not cower or in our fear give way to the god of this world. Satan wants to keep us from the freedom found in Christ and the power found in forgiveness at the cross. Christ despised the shame of the cross and slayed the giant for us.

Imagine if David had dropped his slingshot and run. David was mocked, tried on the wrong armor, but then remembered who he was and that the battle was not his. He was not alone. Taking one small smooth stone and the courage mustered from his zeal for God, he faced Goliath, dropping him like a giant redwood. But he did not just knock him out; he cut his head off!

Shame can come and go, until you have a funeral and forgive once and for all. Just think about that. What would it be like if we knew the power of God to overcome shame? Jesus despising the shame of the cross, bleeding, naked and in soul pain, took on the shame that was ours.

There is nothing that robs the perpetrator of haunting our memories or possessing our soul like our identification with the passion of Christ. We are so much more than what has happened to us. We need to reorient our whole identity with His life in us. We have to finish the journey going from the garden to the cross, from being overwhelmed at the garden to being victorious at the cross, defeating death and shame forever. Not that we would be rid of our pain… not necessarily… but that the pain would be redeemed pain.

There is Therefore Now No Condemnation

Satan hates this truth… that pain can be used for God’s glory. Satan hates it and will lie to us so we look away from Christ. Yet, even the most heinous sins of our past will be redeemed for the glory of the only one worthy of our worship and for our good!

Just think about the word redemption. Our self-condemnation serves no godly purpose. It is Satan’s trick to keep us from freedom. A cheap ploy to rob us of the deep conviction and then the even deeper mercy that gives peace.

A Personal Invitation: From Victim to Victor

Come to Christ, confess, weep, receive His love, and rest in Him. Perfect love drives out fear. Rebuke the lies, listen to the voice of Truth, and receive the comfort of His Spirit. Don’t give your perpetrator, Satan, one more moment of satisfaction. Remember, he who conceals his sin will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes his sin will receive mercy (Proverbs 28:13). If you were abused, you did not bring any shame on to yourself. However, you are living under it if you identify more with being a victim than with being a victor in Christ.

Confess any bitterness, release the shame, and quit hiding from God. Hiding in itself is a sin. Come into the light. He will replace with righteous robes those flimsy fig leaves that keep you in humiliation and fear. He will redeem your pain—over time you will be healed at a soul level.

You will be a mighty instrument of redemption for others. Others will see and praise God. We need you. Your courage, your story, your vulnerability will surely be used to purify and give hope to many. God will shine once again through you, and His glory will be revealed through the cracks left as a reminder that we are but jars of clay.


10 Hard Steps to Healing after an Affair

by Leslie Vernick

Sexual infidelity is betrayal of the deepest kind, and most marriages don’t fully recover. That’s why Jesus said it was one of the few grounds for divorce (Matthew 19:9). For a marriage to heal, both the unfaithful spouse and the one betrayed must fight hard to rebuild their relationship.

After disclosure, couples may seek pastoral or professional help. This is important because without outside accountability most couples will not do the work necessary to heal the damage even if they choose to stay married.

As biblical counselors, it is crucial that we understand that adultery is always evidence of a deeper more sinister problem. Before a marriage can be rebuilt, the root heart problem(s) must be identified and owned.

Let me illustrate. Many years ago near where I live, the city of Allentown, PA, was held spellbound by the drama surrounding a giant sinkhole that threatened to topple an entire office structure called Corporate Office Plaza. The sinkhole had developed in the middle of the night and quickly spread over 50 feet wide and 18 feet deep. 

The first clue that something was wrong came when operators of the city's reservoirs noticed a two-foot drop in water levels in the middle of the night. Crews were sent out to search for the leak and discovered a widening sinkhole that was swallowing up the water.  At dawn, before any businesses opened, the menacing sinkhole began its destruction in the street. Corporate Office Plaza began to sink and crumble. Huge shards of glass and bricks tumbled to the pavement below as the building began to buckle and crack, teetering on the verge of collapse.

“Can’t this building be stabilized?” the new anchors questioned. Business owners asked, “Can we at least go in to salvage our things?” It was February and many of the businesses occupying th building were accounting firms who were smack in the middle of tax season.

Unfortunately, Corporate Office Plaza was ruined. Destroyed from deep within by a force that was unobserved and unknown until too late.

In the same way, when adultery is exposed, what looked like a good marriage on the outside suddenly and dramatically begins to crumble. The very foundation, upon which that structure has been built, is questioned. What happened? What went wrong? How do we fix this? Is it even fixable?

Just like Corporate Office Plaza could not be safely rebuilt without first addressing the sinkhole problem, a marriage cannot be rebuilt without addressing the inner issues going on in the heart that led to someone to choose to betray and lie to his or her partner.

Below are ten (10) areas we need to explore with couples experiencing the pain of infidelity so that healing can take place.

  1. Does the spouse who committed adultery take ownership and repent for his or her choice without blaming? Please note, in addition, there may be serious marital issues that need to be addressed that may have contributed to the adulterer’s feelings of anger, resentment, and loneliness in the marriage that made his or her choice to cheat feel reasonable and acceptable. But those issues are secondary to first taking full responsibility and repenting for one’s choice to be unfaithful.
  2. Is there a willingness on the part of the adulterer to do the work of self-examination to understand better why he/she made that choice so that the triggers and excuses are addressed? Is he/she willing to look at the deep heart issues that allowed him to make this choice—the sinkholes in his life like pride, entitlement, selfishness, anger, poor impulse control, sexual addiction, and/or family history issues?
  3. Is there a genuine sorrow for the pain he/she has caused the spouse? Often times we see the “guilty” spouse in pain, but it’s more for the pain they’re in than the pain they’ve caused. Perhaps he is conflicted about whether to stay in the affair or in the marriage. Or she is in pain because she’s been caught, humiliated, or fears the loss of her children or financial security through divorce. But we don’t see any genuine acknowledgment or awareness for the pain they’ve caused their spouse.
  4. Is the adulterous spouse willing to sit with his/her spouse and really listen to her hurt and heartache over this and show compassion, empathy, and care no matter how long it takes?
  5. Is the injured spouse willing to forgive even if right now he/she doesn’t know how to do that?
  6. Is the injured spouse willing to take a hard look at ways he/she may have contributed to neglect in the marriage or other unresolved problems that created emotional distancing to develop? What were the sinkholes in the marriage before this happened?
  7. Is the injured spouse willing to be honest with her feelings of sadness, hurt, anger and do the hard work to work through them and move past them? So often there is pressure to sweep one’s negative emotions under the rug and forgive and move on without doing the hard work of actually feeling them and letting them go.
  8. Is the injured spouse willing to acknowledge the positive changes his/her spouse is making toward rebuilding trust and healing the marriage?
  9. Is the couple able to tolerate that the healing process goes in fits and starts? It isn’t a smooth ride.
  10. Is the spouse who committed adultery willing to be patient with the process as his/her spouse struggles to let it go, gets retriggered with old memories or current reminders, or can’t immediately feel trust or warm feelings for his/her spouse? Does the adulterer show empathy and compassion for his/her partner’s struggle or irritation and impatience? Is the adulterer willing to do what it takes to rebuild her trust?

A marriage that has suffered infidelity can come through it stronger and healthier than it was before the affair if together a couple does the hard work. Sadly, often a couple wants a quick fix and aren’t willing to do what it takes. But think of it this way. If Corporate Plaza had been rebuilt without addressing why the sinkhole was there and how to prevent it from happening in the future, it would have been foolish. The entire structure would be vulnerable to the same problem happening all over again.

In the same way, let’s be careful as biblical counselors to not try to repair the marriage after adultery without addressing the sinkholes that got them there in the first place.


Quick to Judge

by Paul Tripp

Sometimes we're quicker to judge than to comfort.

This hit me recently on the streets of Philadelphia, where I live. I walked by a young homeless person begging on the street and immediately thought to myself, "I wonder what they did to get themselves here."

Wow. That's about as far from a gracious response as you can get!

It's an embarrassing story for me to tell, but I'm willing to confess it because I'm convinced of this: criticism often comes more quickly to us than compassion.

See if any of these examples resonate with you recently:

  • We yell at our children for doing the same things we did as kidsL "When I was your age, I would have never thought about doing that!"
  • We look down on the parents in the restaurant who can't keep their kids in line: "I can't believe they're letting them misbehave like that in public!"
  • We think there's little excuse for being poor and have no sympathy for those who struggle to pay their bills: "Look at all the unwise decisions they make with their money!"
  • We scorn those who are not as smart or successful as we are: "They're so lazy; if they only worked harder they could do something with their life!"

Maybe you didn't say those exact words, but if you search long enough, you'll find examples of that self-righteousness functioning in your heart. When we look at ourselves and see strong, wise, capable, mature, and righteous people, we tend to look down on those who have not achieved what we think we have achieved.

So, here's what God, in love, will do: he will put us in situations where our weakness, foolishness, and immaturity are exposed so that we might become more sensitive and patient with others who struggle.

I remember when my father died. I had long prided myself on how well I understood and could communicate the important doctrine of God's sovereignty. But when my dad passed, God's plan didn't make sense. It looked chaotic and completely out of his control. Since then, I've grown to be comforting of people in tough situations who can't make sense of God's plan for their life.

The Apostle Paul captures this in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (ESV)

So, the next time you experience a hard moment, tell yourself this: "These moments are not just for my own growth in grace, but for my calling to be a tool of that same grace in the life of a fellow sufferer."

By sending difficulty your way, God is softening your heart and sharpening your edges so that you may be ready to make the comfort of the invisible Father visible in the life of the weary pilgrim he has placed in your pathway.

God intends for you to give away the comfort you've been given. The grace that has given you hope is meant to spill over into hope for the person next to you. What a plan!

God bless

Paul David Tripp

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • Can you identify with any of those 5 judgmental statements? If not those specifically, find a similar response from your life.
  • What is self-righteous about your response?
  • How would grace have responded? (Remember: grace never calls wrong "right"; it calls wrong "wrong" but does so in grace)
  • In what ways have you suffered or experienced loss recently? How did the "God of all comfort" comfort you?
  • How can you share that same comfort with someone suffering in a similar fashion? Be specific and make a plan to be an agent of comfort this week!

Does Love Cover a Multitude of Sins?

by Leslie Vernick

A woman struggling in an emotionally destructive marriage once asked me, “Doesn’t love cover a multitude of sins?” (1 Peter 4:8). She continued, “Who am I to hold my husband’s sin or blindness against him? The Bible teaches us, ‘It is good for us to overlook an offense’ (Proverbs 19:11). Shouldn’t I just keep quiet and minister to him, and pray that he will see God’s love in me?”

Many counselors working with those in a destructive marriages struggle with this same question. Jesus makes it clear. We are not to judge or condemn anyone (Matthew 7:1–2). God instructs all his followers to forbear with and forgive one another. We know we all fail one another (James 3:2), and we know that Jesus tells a person to take the log out of their own eye before attempting to deal with the speck in someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3–5). To bring up each and every offense in any relationship would become tiresome indeed. 

Love does cover a multitude of sins, but not all sins. Paul tells believers that we are to distance ourselves from those who claim to be believers yet live immoral and destructive lives (1 Corinthians 5:11). He instructs us to warn those who are lazy (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and that we ought not participate in unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Paul also encourages believers to restore someone who is caught in a trespass (Galatians 6:1), and James exhorts us to bring a brother back who has wandered from the truth (James 5:19). When someone deeply offends us, Jesus says we’re to go talk with them so that our relationship can be repaired (Matthew 18:15–17).

Yes, we ought to forgive and forbear, overlooking minor offenses, hoping others will do the same for us. And we are to speak up when someone’s sin is hurting them, hurting others, or hurting us.

Serious and repetitive sin is lethal to any relationship. We would not be loving the destructive person if we kept quiet and colluded with his self-deception or enabled his sin to flourish without any attempt to speak truth into his life (Ephesians 4:15). Yes, we are called to be imitators of Christ and live a life of love; however, let’s be careful that as Christian counselors we do not put a heavy burden on someone to do something that God himself does not do. God is gracious to the saint and unrepentant sinner alike, but he does not have close relationship with both. He says our sins separate us from him (Isaiah 59:2; Jeremiah 5:25).

When someone repeatedly and seriously sins against us and is not willing to look at what he’s done and is not willing to change, it is not possible to have a warm or close relationship. We’ve, at times, misrepresented unconditional love to mean unconditional relationship. Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisee’s are examples of him challenging their self-deception and pride so they would repent and experience true fellowship with him (Matthew 23). He loved them, but they did not enjoy a loving or safe relationship. Jesus never pretended otherwise. Let’s not encourage our counselee’s to pretend and placate. Jesus never did.

A marriage or relationship that has no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy nor is it spiritually sound. It enables a repeatedly destructive spouse to continue to believe the lie that the rules of life don’t apply to him, and if he does something hurtful or sinful, he or she shouldn’t have to suffer the relational fallout. That kind of thinking is not biblical, or healthy, or true. It harms not only their marriage; it harms everyone involved.

For the welfare of the destructive person and his or her marriage, there are times we must take a strong stand. To act neutral in the matter only enables the person’s self-deception to grow unchallenged. Scripture warns, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper” (Proverbs 28:13). 

The destructive person desperately needs to see God’s love, but he or she also desperately needs to see himself more truthfully so that he can wake up and ask God to help him make necessary changes. It’s true that we are all broken and in desperate need of God’s healing grace. The problem for the destructive person is that he or she has been unwilling to acknowledge his part of the destruction. She’s been unwilling to confess or take responsibility or get the help she needs to change her destructive ways. Instead she’s minimized, denied, lied, excused, rationalized, or blamed others.

Confronting someone and/or implementing tough consequences should never be done to scold, shame, condemn, or punish. As biblical counselors we have one purpose—to jolt someone awake with the strong medicine of God’s truth or the reality of tough consequences. We hope that by doing so, they will come to their senses, turn to God, and stop their destructive behaviors for the glory of God, their own welfare, and the restoration of their marriage.


When You Can’t Forgive Yourself

by Leslie Vernick

When our Christian counselee says something like, “I just can’t forgive myself,” as biblical counselors how do we respond? Perhaps it’s a client who has committed adultery or had an abortion or done something contrary to Scripture, and despite asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness, she refuses to forgive herself.   

We listen to her internal dialogue. She beats herself up saying things like, “I should have known better.” Or, “Why did I do such a stupid thing?” or “I can’t believe I did that.” Or, “What’s wrong with me?” And for some counselee’s, this internal dialogue is running day and night, tormenting them with each and every mistake, sin, and failure. 

As biblical counselors we earnestly try to insert the gospel into this person’s thinking, challenging them with the truth.  We may say something like, “If the God of the Universe was willing to come to earth, become human, and sacrifice himself to forgive our sins, who are we not to forgive—either others or our own self?”

Yet that theological truth can be difficult if not impossible for our counselee’s to put into practice when she’s in the middle of ruminating over her stupid mistakes, missed opportunities, or sin. God’s grace although mentally acknowledged, is not her internal reality. It’s theological truth but not transformational truth. 

When someone isn’t able move beyond her failures, mistakes, and even sins, she can get stuck in a spiral of debilitating regret, depression, and even self-hatred. 

It’s important as biblical counselors that we understand the way out of this internal bondage. It’s not self-forgiveness, but rather self-acceptance. Although she’d be hard pressed to acknowledge it, she wants to be like God—perfect and in control of all things.

She believes she should know how to do it right, to say it right, to know ahead of time what the right answer should be or what right solution will best solve a problem. If she could always live that way, then she’d feel better about herself. But when she fails (and as a sinner, she inevitably will), she feels profound disappointment and shame. She can’t believe how stupid, sinful, foolish, incompetent, scared, irresponsible, selfish she is. In beating herself up, she’s reinforcing her internal lie that she should have been better than that.

Before someone can experientially accept God’s grace, she must emotionally (not merely intellectually) accept who she is. There is only one God, and she is not him. She is a creature: one who is called both saint and sinner, beautiful and broken. Humility is the only path that will give her the internal freedom she craves because once she is humble—Jesus called it “poor in spirit”—she’ll be in a position to emotionally accept who she is—a fallible, imperfect, sinful creature who doesn’t know it all. Then, she will no longer be so shocked, shamed, or disappointed when she sees her darker, sinful, weaker side. 

It’s not her sins and failures that cause her greatest emotional pain. Rather, it is her unrealistic expectations of herself and her lack of acceptance when she messes up. In a backwards way, her pride has been wounded. She is disappointed that she isn’t better than she is. But the truth is, she’s not. In embracing that truth, she is also set free to embrace and experience the beauty of grace.

Now the grip of self-hatred for being imperfect no longer has the same power over her. Now that same emotional energy can be used to humbly ask for forgiveness from others where necessary. Instead of hating herself for her sins and failures, now she can learn from them so she doesn’t continually repeat them. Now she can fully experience what she so desperately craves: God’s love and forgiveness for her sinful, imperfect self.

One of my old-fashioned mentors, François Fénelon, wisely wrote, “Go forward always with confidence, without letting yourself be touched by the grief of a sensitive pride, which cannot bear to see itself imperfect.”

Go forward, friend, and help your client emotionally accept his or her imperfections. It is in that place of humility coupled with Christ’s unconditional forgiveness will they will find the freedom they long for. 


How to Escape Depression’s Pull

by Margaret Ashmore

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” – Exodus 14:15

All God’s revelations are sealed to us until they are opened to us by obedience. Immediately you obey – a flash of light comes. Obey God in the thing He is at present showing you, and instantly the next thing is opened up. The tiniest fragment of obedience, and heaven opens up and the profoundest truths of God are yours straight away. God will never reveal more truth about Himself till you obey what you know already.” – Oswald Chambers

Depression can be so weighty that it has its own gravitational pull, and one that has found me more than once dead center on the couch watching some mind-numbing television show. (Interesting isn’t it that the word a-muse means to “not think”?)

The choice of just getting up and sweeping the floor or writing a note to someone has always propelled me from its grip with escape velocity born from the spark of sheer obedience. The maximum weight of a Boeing 747 is approximately 900,000 pounds, yet “thrust and lift” can take it above the very clouds that had shrouded the sun.

Elisabeth Elliot’s signature quote regarding the soul’s malaise, which she says and very crisply, “Do the next thing.” She goes on to say with the same forthrightness, “Maybe you will have to get out of bed, get up from your chair, go outdoors and walk, sing a song out loud, bake a pie for somebody, or mow the lawn as an offering of praise.” I remember talking to a woman who when she was a little girl lost her father in a sudden accident with looming foreclosure of her family home. She said the most comforting sound she has ever heard was that of her mother washing dishes. She was doing the “next thing,” the practical thing and that which dispelled the depressing notion that “life is always going to be this way.”

But it is not always moving forward. Sometimes there is need to move backward in uncovering secret or long cherished sins in our lives. In the Joshua 7, we read of Israel’s defeat at Ai, which fell hard on the heels of over confidence and pride. Joshua fell on his face with a litany of questions and complaints. What was God’s response? Was it, “Joshua, let’s talk about this” or “how does that make you feel”? No, it was a resolute, no non-nonsense “Get up!” There was sin in the camp that had to be dealt with before there could be deliverance.

So “doing the next thing” might mean getting right with someone you’ve wronged, making restitution on outstanding payments, putting away once for all that website or magazine which feeds a monstrous, lustful appetite, taking back a purchase of self indulgence whose only outcome was more debt – you will have your own list. I certainly have mine. But be assured, this principle alone can take you from a shrugging Atlas with the weight of the world on your shoulders to that of renewed vigor and reviving refreshment. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19-20

The choices we make to obey despite our feelings or to give in to the downward pull of a fallen world filled with fallen people – mean everything.

Here is a list of a few other practical things that will help get traction in your life if you are stuck in depression:

Start with your devotional life. God’s Word is the means of grace whereby He imparts His peace and contentment to the depths of your soul. And prayer. After Hannah poured her heart out before God we read, “And her face was no longer sad.” John Piper says, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not for a lack of time.” Yes, you have time!

Join a gospel-centered church and get involved in the fellowship. (For the believer, there is no growth, or life, or possibility of change apart from the body of Christ.) Don’t wait for someone to ask you out for a visit. Ask them. Statistics show that people who have a friend to talk to over coffee often do much better than going to protracted and secular counseling.

Begin an exercise regime. (Make sure you start with a doctor’s approval.)

Write a note to a friend or someone who seems forgotten and alone. (Isaiah 58:7-8)

Listen to music that elevates the soul. (1 Samuel 16:23)

Get on a budget. Prayerfully save for a purchase instead of putting it on credit. Tithe. (Malachi 3:10)

Finish projects long put off. Simple but profoundly effective, like a woman with whom I was counseling for severe depression. One of her assignments was to tackle the mountains of ironing and to clean her house, both neglected for months. The decision to complete very elementary tasks uncloaked the fabrication that her life was “overwhelming.” She did “the next thing” and that momentum was her exodus to freedom.

Start a garden, make a gourmet meal, watch some re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show, go out with family or friends for some Rocky Road ice cream. And laugh. It’s good medicine.

Now, clear the runway!


How to Make Things Right When You Hurt Someone

by Margaret Ashmore

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” – Colossians 3:12–15

It is impossible to live in a fallen world populated with fallen people in yet unconverted flesh and not hurt others or be hurt by them, and as believers we can do one of two things in response–either isolate in our own self protective, “fantasy” kingdoms (withdrawing, avoiding honesty and vulnerability, being paralyzed with a fear of rejection, controlling with anger) or live in the reality of God’s kingdom (loving others with a prodigal, “expect nothing in return” love) and experience His protection. We choose the latter by submitting to the following mandates of our King.

When we hurt others. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23, 24). We don’t read, “If you have something against your brother,” but instead, “If your brother has been hurt or offended by you.” In which case we are, in effect, to drop everything and first humble ourselves in that relationship by clearing our conscience, asking forgiveness or making restitution. Then, and only then, can we return to the altar to experience unimpeded worship, thus “seeing the Lord’ and being transformed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christ-likeness is inextricably bound to the health of our relationships.

When others hurt us. I tend more easily toward the desire of enlightening others as to how they have offended me or engaging in the lust of vindication when I think I have been ill perceived. But the King’s mandate is to bear it patiently as did our Lord. “When He was reviled, He reviled not. When He was threatened, He uttered no threats” (I Peter 2:21-23). Instead of retaliation toward those who were threatening and maligning Him, He “commended to the One Who judges righteously.” And that’s what we do. Give it to God. Give thoughtless comments, unkind remarks, harsh words and injustices to the One Who in His perfect time (in other words, we don’t go ahead of Him) will make things right and in so doing bring about transformation in us. 

When a friend’s words hurt me deeply, it seemed most unjust. (Doesn’t it always?) I stewed. I lost sleep. I rehearsed over and over in my mind an oration worthy of the Pulitzer Prize in telling her just how right I was and how dreadfully wrong she was. I had just spoken at a conference on commending our rights to God and was overwhelmed with a deep sense of conviction that I was holding on to resentment compounded by claiming the right to be understood. By God’s grace, I chose not to confront but to commend, holding close to my heart Psalm 62:1: “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him alone is my salvation.”

An amazing thing happened. In that time of prayerful waiting, God revealed some truth in my friend’s criticism by using her to point out an area of pride that had been veiled by my reactive resentment. It also allowed God to work in her heart (a good reminder–I am NOT the Holy Spirit) who recognized a rather harsh delivery. To that end, full restoration was made, and I never had to fire a shot! As my pastor Tom Nelson says, “Hold the moral high ground. God will bring about His will and your vindication.”

And from that high ground, we can now extend a hand to those who are living in the deep pits and hollows of error and sin.

When it is right to confront. Once the log is out of our own eye, we can see clearly how to take the speck out of our brother’s eyes (Matthew 7:5). Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”If the goal is restoration, and it should always be, here is further light from James 5:19-20: “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

But how we go about confrontation is everything! When I had a mastectomy and a subsequent follow up with my oncologist, he looked at the surgery site and exclaimed, “Dr. Sally Knox must have been your surgeon!” I was wondering at that point if she had signed her work when he said, “No one leaves a more beautiful scar.” There is sometimes the need to do intervening “surgery” in the lives of our brethren, but to do so with a actions not tempered in prayer, a critical spirit or with any malice can leave a jagged, ugly wound and its recipient with a greater desire to close off their hearts in relationships. Knowing this, God gives very careful instructions in Galatians 6:1 for making accurate incisions.

Brethren, if anyone is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” 

“You who are spiritual” means one who is mature in their walk with God. Only a believer whose words are seasoned with grace, understanding and tenderness should do surgery on a fragile heart, leaving a beautiful scar which only serves as a reminder of the love that saved their souls from destruction. Further, the word for “restore” is a Greek word (katartidso) meaning, “the mending of a net.” If we are going to confront someone, we should not only do so with clear eyed, meticulous maturity, but we had also better be prepared to walk alongside that person, helping them to sew up the torn places in their lives through counsel, discipleship, or mentoring.

In the Old Testament, snuffers of pure gold were the only instruments allowed to trim the candlewicks of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:38). Sometimes we need to be “trimmed back,” but that job is exclusive to those who have not the alloy of unconfessed sin or embittered hearts, but speak as one forgiven person to another–and always with the aim of a warmer, brighter fervor for the gospel.

In a fallen world, Christians have a risen Savior, an enthroned King Who bids us through obedience to live in His unshakeable Kingdom by loving with His love, forgiving because He has forgiven us, then treating our brethren in such a way that others want to live there, too.


10 Biblical Truths to Overcome Sinful Anger

by Biblical Soul Care Harvest Bible Chapel

It doesn’t take long to figure out that we live in an angry world. Read the headlines on any given day and you see anger on display in politics, movies, TV shows, and sports. Spend any amount of time in any family and you’ll see anger expressed almost daily. When a day goes by without conflict, it’s a miracle of God. 

Sadly, the church hasn’t exactly been the poster child for pursuing peace and reconciling conflict in a God-glorifying way over the course of church history. Even though Jesus “broke down the dividing wall of hostility… so that we could have peace” (Ephesians 2:14–16), we still quarrel and fight 

It’s inevitable—wherever there are relationships, sinful anger will be expressed. By nature, we’re all selfish. I’m no exception. Cut me off in traffic, I might have some words for you (with my window up, of course). Do something I perceive as disrespectful, watch out! I may get a little passive aggressive and withdraw from interacting with you because I have a heart of fear. If you “reject me,” I get insecure, defensive, and may punish you by holding back.  

See, that’s how deceptive sin can be. It affects our ability to think reasonably and rationally. While I am not immune, I am also certain I’m not alone in my struggle (1 Corinthians 10:13). BUT GOD, in his grace, mercy, kindness, patience, and love has made us alive through the death, burial, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4–9). It’s only because of Him that I’m pursuing humility and meekness as a way of life. Know this though, humility and meekness are not weakness! They are strength under control, like a well trained war horse (Matthew 5:5). 

As God’s children, we can all make this journey of change together. Here are some things I have learned over the years in my fight against sinful anger. Understanding and applying these truths to your own life will help you overcome sinful anger and see sustained fruit.

1. Anger Has Three Faces: It is expressed primarily in three different ways: 1) explosive and blowing up; 2) stewing, brewing, or silent indignation; and 3) irritability, exasperation or embitterment. Silent anger is just as offensive to God as explosive anger. How are you prone to express your anger? 

2. Anger Hurts Relationships: You choose who is on the receiving end of your anger because anger is a perceived threat to something you hold valuable. The problem is we can go a whole day at work being “nice” to our co-workers only to lose it at home with those closest to us! We tend to take it out on those we are called to love the most. Who has been on the receiving end of your anger the most?  

3. Anger is in the Bible: The Bible has a lot to say about anger. From the beginning in the garden all the way to the end; man’s anger is expressed by rejecting God and pursuing his own way (Romans 3:10–18). Yet man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteous purposes (James 1:19–20). While God too can be angry, it is never sinful (Psalm 7:11; John 3:36; Romans 1:18). Actually, compared to the offenses He must suffer, He is very “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8). Does your anger accomplish God’s purposes? 

4. Anger Put Jesus on the Cross: Did you know that the anger of man and God’s wrath for all our sins culminated onto Jesus when he went to the cross to pay the penalty for sin (Acts 2:22–24)? He satisfied God’s wrath and allowed man to express their anger towards him at the same time—man rejecting God and God loving man in the very same event in history. How often do you reject God in your anger by not doing what He calls you to do? 

5. Anger Is Covered by Christ’s Blood: The blood of Christ is sufficient to cover your sinful anger. No matter what wrath has protruded from your mouth or what you’ve done physically to harm others or yourself, you can be forgiven and walk in newness of life. Anger is a sin, but the death of Christ is payment enough to cover it. If you have died with Christ, you can become a different person (Romans 6:5–11). Do you believe and live as if your anger is covered by the blood of Christ or do you act like His blood isn’t sufficient? Why or why not? 

6. Anger is a Life-dominating Sin: Just like any other “addiction,” we become enslaved to anger. It temporarily satisfies our sinful desire and flesh, yet we feel guilty and ashamed when we give full vent to it. It’s a vicious cycle of self-destruction. Are you stuck in a vicious cycle of anger? If so, you can be set free (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).  

7. Anger is an Expression of False Worship: Like all other “addictions,” anger has false worship at its core. When you express your anger sinfully, ask yourself, “What am I not getting that I really want or that I’m willing to sin to get?” Your answer will reveal what you’re living for in that moment. Something else has captured your heart more than God, and you’re seeking a false refuge; that is idolatry. What’s captured your heart more than God?

8. Anger is Often Just a Fruit: It usually has fear at the root and more specifically, it is the fear of man. While anger may be all we can see at times, at the heart of it is a fearful, insecure, unsafe, untrusting heart looking for something from man that only God can satisfy. Learn to love God more with reverent awe and fear because then you’ll learn to need people less. Remember that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and that you are perfectly loved by your heavenly Father. What are you really afraid of deep down in the innermost being of your heart?

9. Anger Can Be Righteous: Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You express righteous anger by becoming angry about what angers God. Jesus died not only to free you from sinful anger but to enable you to be angry with God not at God. Is your anger expressed righteously or sinfully? How can you tell? Would others say the same?  

10. Anger Must Be Surrendered: The only way out is to surrender your anger to God. Do not control or manage it in your flesh. Let the Spirit move you to action or bring you to brokenness. God is the judge, not you or me (James 4:11–12). Are you ready to step down from the throne of your mini judgment seat and allow God to be God? Remember, “vengeance is mine,” says the Lord (Romans 12:18–21).   

Are you ready to humble yourself in your broken state and surrender your sinful anger to God? Know that He will give you grace in your time of need (Isaiah 66:2b; 2 Chronicles 16:9; James 4:6). So, if you are ready, repent, ask God and those you have offended to forgive you, and walk in victory over the sinful anger that’s held you captive for so long.


3 Signs of Sexual Abuse in Marriage

by Leslie Vernick

Christy was startled awake when she felt her husband yank her nightgown up and pull her legs apart. She tried to push him off her but he was too strong as he pinned her down to their bed with his body weight.  This wasn’t the first time he forced himself on her but this time was the worst. This night Greg was rougher than usual and Christy felt it would never end. She bit her lips together so she wouldn’t scream. Their little boy was asleep next to her in their bed and all she could think of was “Please God, don’t let him wake up and see this.”

The next day Christy had a fat lip, her back ached, and her insides felt raw and bruised. Later that evening she tried to talk to Greg about what happened but he blamed her. He told her if she wasn’t such a prude, then maybe they would have a spicier sex life. Christy didn’t see herself as a sexual prude, but she did think she ought to have a choice. She didn’t think she should feel afraid of her husband or of sleeping in her own bed with him. She didn’t think she should have bruises or injuries after sexual intercourse. Christy was right.

Sexual abuse in marriage is not something that is readily disclosed or discussed. It feels shameful to admit even to one’s self that your own husband treats you as if your sole purpose is to provide him your body whenever and however he wants sex. But that is not God’s intent for her as a woman or as a wife. 

As Biblical counselors we must begin to understand the reality of sexual abuse in marriage and address it properly. Many women have written to me describing the foolish and unbiblical counsel they have received when disclosing marital sexual abuse. Their counselors often cite 1 Corinthians 7, “your body is not your own,” seemingly implying that God gives their husbands a free pass to do what he wants with her body. That is a lie.

Friends, God designed the sexual relationship in marriage to reflect a sacred oneness of unselfishness, safety, and mutual love. Sadly, some marriages never get close to reflecting this picture. Instead there is selfish demandingness, a total disregard for a wife’s feelings, leading to abuse, shame, and fear.

Below are three indicators a wife is being sexually abused in her marriage.    

1. She is forced to do sexual things she does not want to do.

Like Christy, she might be forced into sexual intercourse but she might also be forced to do anal sex, oral sex, watch pornography, participate in degrading practices such as sadistic bondage rituals, or have sex with other partners (male or female) while her husband watches or photographs her. 

2. She complies with his sexual demands but only because she is threatened or is afraid of dire consequences if she refuses.

Even if she isn’t physically forced to do these things, she may be threatened with divorce, told he will find someone else or visit prostitutes; she’s threatened with harm or harm to her children or pressured spiritually by telling her that the Bible says God says her body is not her own—therefore, she has no rights to say no.

3. Her feelings don’t matter.

For example, she’s clearly told him that she doesn’t like him grabbing her inappropriately in public, but he does it anyway. She feels uncomfortable wearing low-cut tops, short skirts, and/or push up bras, but he insists that she wear them or pouts when she won’t.

He wants sex in the laundry room, but the kids are playing in the next room. She says no, but he always wins. Or he insists he needs to have sex three times a day, seven days a week, and she is worn out, but that doesn’t matter.   

Each of these indicators reveal that her husband believes he’s entitled to get what he wants with little or no regard for his wife’s personal feelings, values, or desires. If it’s good for him, it doesn’t matter if it hurts or humiliates her. It’s all about him and his needs. Her role is to serve and service him. Her feelings and needs are secondary or irrelevant. To him a wife is a body to use, a possession to own, not a person to love.

This is not God’s desire for her, for him, or for their marriage. God doesn’t care more about men than women or a husband’s sexual needs more than a wife’s feelings.

The Bible is clear. The picture of proper marital sexual relationship is described in the Song of Solomon. It is mutual, it is reciprocal, and it is freely entered into by both partners.

The Bible also has a lot to say about the misuse of sex. For example, Paul says, “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people” (Ephesians 5:3,4). He goes on and warns, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do.” 

Sexual abuse in marriage is sexual greed and lust. The immoral person wants more and more, regardless of whether or not it hurts or damages the other person. As biblical counselors we must never minimize this or excuse this behavior. Nor are we to encourage wives to put up with this or go along with it. Instead, Paul says we are to expose it for what it is (Ephesians 5:11–14).

It breaks my heart that women are not only assaulted by their own husbands, but when they seek help from God’s shepherds, they are reinjured by the very people God has put in place to protect them. (Please read a woman’s first-hand account of the sexual abuse in her marriage and how her church leaders failed her.)

 The comments from other women who also were sexually assaulted by their husband and then shamed, scorned, scolded, or ignored by their church must be heard. 

Friends, as Christian leaders, as Biblical counselors, we must do better here. God will not hold us guiltless.


Using a Personal Journal for Spiritual Growth

by Brad Hambrick

Too often the use of a journal has been dismissed as feminine, “something you do when you need counseling,” or too time consuming. But with a bit of reflection (which is all journaling is) we might come to a different conclusion. Many of the great figures in church history have kept a journal, and the church has benefited greatly from this window into their daily life (not as a voyeur, but to understand what spiritual greatness looks like in the mundane-ness of daily life). And while not a theologian, the great Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

If you are interested in starting the exercise of journaling let me offer the following suggestions. Journal during the time when you do your daily Bible study. Do not feel compelled to write something every day. Do not write for an audience; write for your benefit and as it comes naturally for you.

When you begin with your journal consider the following subjects and review them annually in your journal.

  • What are the top 5 values by which I want to operate my life?
  • What do I believe are my spiritual gifts and talents? What are my characteristic weaknesses?
  • What are the key relationships in my life? What are my goals for each of these relationships?
  • How would I ideally spend the 168 hours I get each week (7/24 hour days)?

As for the journal entries that you write after these core reflections are in place, consider the following subjects.

  • Self-examination based upon one of your top 5 values.
  • A point of conviction regarding sin or a spiritual practice.
  • Reflection on a day’s event in light of your “life story.” These are great for sharing later with spouse, children, or grandchildren as a discipling moment or family heirloom.
  • A personal goal for change and steps of implementation. This is a particularly good subject to record after an insightful Bible study or sermon.
  • A prayer in the form of a letter regarding a key life concern.
  • An answer to prayer.
  • A narrative of a key life event from younger days and the impact you see that it has had upon you.
  • Insight from your daily Bible study.
  • A humorous event.
  • Sermon notes with your reflections.

I encourage you to consider this practice. Many have found it as an immensely profitable way to (1) maintain a focus on your purpose in life, (2) increase the level of intentionality with which they live; (3) enhance the depth of their relationships, especially marriage and family; (4) measure progress and gain encouragement in their walk with God; and (5) remember God’s faithfulness during times that are difficult.


How to Find God’s Perspective on Cancer

by Jay Younts

News of having cancer is a life-changing event. Sorrow, sadness, and sympathy are appropriate responses. But for a counselor, more is needed. Cancer also brings fear and for many who are diagnosed, finality. Once the initial emotional impact passes, uncertainty and helplessness may dominate. Some may just give up in resignation. Other folks may assume an aggressive posture towards cancer and determine to “beat it” no matter how great the odds.

All of these people need one additional perspective, which a biblical counselor is well-suited to provide. This perspective is God’s perspective. God’s purpose is not rooted in whether we will live or die. His purpose is that we bring honor to his name in our response. The days that the cancer patient will live have been already set by God. 

All the days ordained for me

    were written in your book

    before one of them came to be. (Psalms 139:16)

In this way, the biblical counselor is just like the cancer patient. The days for your life on earth are set by God. The counselor really has no promise or reasonable guarantee that  he or she will live longer than the person diagnosed with cancer! You are both equally dependent upon God for your next breath. This is reality from God’s perspective!

So the counselor has a point of contact with the cancer patient. They both will live just as long as God wants them to and not a second longer. The point of contact is really about faith. Hebrews says that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Faith, to have meaning for the cancer patient, must be personal. Two and 1/2 years ago my wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The life expectancy of this sort of cancer (glioblastoma multiform or GBM) is 12-14 months. Faith has to do with what is not seen and confidence. Cancer diagnosis has to do with what is seen - cancer cells as seen in MRIs. The other thing about cancer is uncertainty. Neither has to with faith. 

My wife continues to live her life in faith. True faith cannot be measured by things that can be seen or touched or counted. This is what your cancer patient needs - faith. Our time on earth is God’s time. This time can be lived in fear, uncertainty, and the measurement of things that can be seen. Or life can be lived in the certain reality of faith and confidence that God’s care for us is constant and sure. What matters most is that he is honored. From this perspective cancer is not a barrier to living for God.

Have the courage to help your cancer patient live for God, nothing else is certain, nothing else matters.


10 Simple (But Critical) Questions to Consider in Marriage Counseling

by Jeremy Lelek

I.  Does the couple read the Bible together on a regular basis?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).

II.  Does the couple place their marriage as a priority?

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:22, 25, ESV).

III.  Does each seek to put the interests of their spouse above their own?

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4, ESV).

IV.  Do they use their speech to build up one another?

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6, ESV).

V.  Are they honest in their communication?

“Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19, ESV).

VI.  Do they have a mutually satisfying sexual relationship?

“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited tie, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (I Cor. 7:4–5, ESV).

VII.   Is the couple sexually faithful to one another?

“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14, ESV).

VIII.   Do either of them use or view pornography?

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, ESV).

IX. Does either the husband or the wife abuse alcohol or drugs (illegal or prescription)?

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads righteousness” (Romans 6:16, ESV).

X. Is the couple dealing with any significant financial debt?

“One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Proverbs 14:16, ESV).