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.

Depression: Do You Wish to Get Well?

by Margaret Ashmore

"Lord, help me to honor Thee by believing before I feel,

for great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith." Jonathon Edwards

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaiccalled Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?’”

“The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” John 5:2-8

Sometimes, and please note, sometimes depression is born from the various protestations of God’s providential pruning in our lives – from disappointments to disablement, from loneliness to loss, from “having what you don’t want to wanting what you don’t have” but nonetheless bids us answer the question our Lord put forth to a man languishing on a threadbare, squalid mat for 38 years, “Do you wish to get well?” At first glance we might be tempted to assign some insensitivity to such an inquiry in light of this man’s pitiable state, until we remember that our sympathetic High Priest asks no question amiss but always out of redemptive love. And what was the man’s answer? “I have no one.” He confessed his utter need of help beyond himself and others. No self-help here, no man-centered, humanistic nostrum or prescriptive potions. He needed a Savior.

Our Lord’s question reaches into the depths of what Ed Welch calls “a stubborn darkness” that can find us in the same place year after year, in our small and ever shrinking worlds no bigger than the breadth of a small pallet and though a desolate place; it is one familiar and useable. After all, didn’t that poor fellow exist for almost four decades by using his illness to elicit handouts and perhaps some passing pity? For a very long time, I would not countenance being delivered from my “comfortable melancholy”, my moodiness – because for a very long time it allowed for justifying my self-centeredness and control, met a need, albeit temporary, for attention and gave me what I believed to be a special dispensation to flee from personal responsibility. Jesus asks the question because there is a cost to “getting well”.

For me, it meant that I could no longer use the deprivations of my past or the difficulties of the present to excuse a short temper, unkind treatment of others, laziness, self-pity or self-indulgence. My “tossed and driven” feelings could no longer be the arbiter of my choices rather than the fixed point of God’s Word which commands me to “get up” (cease my threadbare excuses), take up my pallet, as G. Campbell Morgan put it, "in order to make no provision for a relapse.” That catalytic moment can lift us from years of debilitating hopelessness to “mounting up on wings of eagles” seeing from God’s perspective His purpose for your pain and the love that will heal it.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the same power that raises the dead to life, that spoke the world into existence, that quiets the boisterous storm, that directs lightning bolts and “choreographs the molecular dance” – and that is the same power available to impotent limbs unable to rise from depression’s depths. But, we will remain languishing with a host of others until we recognize our utter need of none but Christ, obey His Word, repent from self and sin then walk with Him, finding that in His presence depression gives way to joy like the fog when the sun comes up in the morning.

Be encouraged, dear saint. His strength is perfected in your weakness and can be yours with one look upward. You can get well if you choose to.

Let not conscience make you linger,

Nor of fitness fondly dream.

All the fitness He requireth

Is to feel your need of Him.

This He gives you,

'Tis the Spirit's rising beam.

I will arise and go to Jesus,


He will embrace me in His arms;


In the arms of my dear Savior

oh there are ten thousand charms.”


10 Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling after Serious Sin

by Leslie Vernick

When a couple comes to a counselor or pastor for help after serious and repetitive sin, how do we measure progress? Often we see a couple for months without ever defining clear goals or defining what needs to change. Below are ten indicators that I use that help me know that a couple is healing.  

1. The past is now the past. Sometimes the couple comes to counseling not wanting to talk about the past because they are anxious to move toward healing and restoration. But true healing can’t take place if you don’t face it, own it, repent from it, grieve it and forgive it.

The past must be explored in depth because otherwise it’s likely to repeat itself in the present and future, despite someone’s promises that it won’t. So the counseling must explore why did it happen?  What needs to change so it won’t happen in again?  The past is only the past when enough time has passed that we see it is not repeating itself in any way in  the present.

2. Both people in the marriage can now freely bring up hot topics or difficult feelings in their marriage relationship with safety. There is no shaming, no retaliating, no minimizing or blaming.  

3. Both people are open, and willing to learn how to be a better spouse and build a healthier relationship. They feel free to disagree with one another and there is a teachable attitude on both of their parts. 

4. Time-outs as well as other boundaries are honored and respected outside the counseling hour. If one or the other had a hard time communicating effectively, they would wait until things cooled down or they would reach out for further help from their counselor.

5. Both partners now take mutual responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the relationship and other family responsibilities. 

6. Power and responsibility are shared. There is a double standard where the rules that apply to one person in the marriage don’t apply to the other. 

7. Trust is being rebuilt in the here and now. It is seen as precious and safeguarded.

8.  If there is a slip, or a repeat of past history or other serious sin, or even a reminder of it, the person responsible would acknowledge it and take corrective action, whether that means to apologize and make amends or get back into counseling in order to stop a further downward spiral of the marital progress.

9. A person’s feelings inform him or her, not control him or her. Self-awareness, self-reflection, self-control, and self-correction are part of their daily habits. 

10. They have invited several close friends or family into their lives to help them grow and keep them accountable.


3 Powerful Gospel Truths for Addressing Homosexuality

by Jeremy Lelek

Imagine struggling with an incessant issue wherein its history is filled with harsh stigmatism and bigotry. Imagine suffering under this daily condition feeling as though you were a shameful, less-than-human, unlovable outcast. To make things worse, the place where you go to worship God regularly spouts condemning slogans against the very struggle with which you are wrestling. Words such as evil and abomination become a part of your psychological identity because anyone who suffers from your issue is given these labels. Your daily emotional companions are shame, self-condemnation, depression, and confusion. 

Then imagine you stumble upon a respected ministry that touts they have the answer for what ails you. Simply go through their program, they claim, and your shameful tendencies will be eliminated. You hear testimonies of others who once identified as gay that now live “straight” lives—some even marrying a person of the opposite sex and developing a seemingly fulfilling relationship.

Hundreds of men and women have traveled down a very similar path as the above vignette. Unfortunately, the destination of their journey fell far short of their expectations. Upon completion of the program they maintained an emotional high that continued to motivate them for a time, but eventually, the relentless nature of their hearts seeped through their religious fantasy and ultimately they had to come to grips with the fact that their same-sex attractions were still alive and well. Back to the closet of secrecy they were confined. They struggle with a strong sense of failure because their same-sex attractions are still present. Now married with no physical attraction to their spouse, what seemed a promising dream is now a dismal nightmare.

I know very respected and godly researchers who are far more expert than I as it regards Reparative Therapy (a model that is supposed to reorient a person’s sexual attractions), and in no way am I slandering their work or their names. If there is an intervention that could resolve, for many, what is a tormenting issue, then thanks be to God if such a discovery is ever made. Yet I think the Bible offers something far more hopeful to people wrestling with homosexuality than the eradication of symptoms (i.e., same-sex attraction), and I believe we place homosexuality in a special category of sin when we treat it so differently than other struggles we face as a fallen people.  

For example, would we ever tell a married man who struggles with lust that we are going to take him through a therapeutic intervention where he will become solely attracted to his wife? Would we raise his hopes that upon completing therapy he will not wrestle with attraction towards other women ever again—that his lust for others will be eradicated from his heart? I certainly would make no such promises, and the Bible doesn’t either. This line of reasoning would be akin to telling a depressed or anxious counselee that because he has counseled with me he will never experience depression, sadness, anxiety or fear again. This logic completely denies the brokenness in our hearts caused by depravity, and sets a dangerous foundation for condemnation and despair.

When our efforts are primarily aimed at symptom alleviation or behavioral modification, then I believe we are completely missing the mark and likely hurting those we serve. We may inadvertently create a system of redemption that is centered more in experiential management of sin rather than teaching people to rest in the full and complete work of Jesus Christ. Instead of helping others experience Jesus’ words when he urged sinners, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30), we unintentionally place upon their shoulders a “yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1) with our therapeutic interventions.

Once hope is placed in our systems, they no longer find peace in the gentle and safe refuge of Jesus, but instead experience a life “severed from Christ” (Gal. 5:4)—a life where the Gospel becomes tragically silent and the noise of legalism becomes deafening. It is here I believe the promises offered by models such as Reparative Therapy stray from the redeeming work of God who is accomplishing His transformation of the saint “in all things” (Rom. 8:28–29). 

The Redeeming Hope of the Gospel

1. The Gospel and Christian Life are about God

When I counsel those struggling with homosexual attraction, one of the first things I want them to do is trust God. Now, when I use the word struggle, I am referring to a person who has not accepted homosexuality as being morally right, but who daily fights against these desires wishing they didn’t exist in the first place. By the time such individuals reach my office, they have promised themselves 100s of times that they will never lust after the same sex again or look at homosexual pornography again or engage in other homosexual activities again. Such promises are always broken, leaving them in a cycle of shame and condemnation. Since they are unable to completely eliminate their sin, they often turn from God.

It is not unusual for me to tell such a person, “It is time to gaze upon God’s faithfulness not your own.” Jesus knows the burden of sexual temptation, and He has profound sympathy for anyone whose hearts are captured by this issue (Heb. 2:17–18; 4:14–15). He is also committed to saving and transforming His own so that they reflect children of glory (Rom. 8:28-29; 1 Thess. 4:3).

Does this mean that He has promised to remove all sexual affections or any sexual affection completely? No. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that there is a war raging in our hearts that will not rest until we see Him face to face (Gal. 5:16–17). What God promises is His presence and faithfulness (Heb. 13:5). His presence to hold His children through any storm in life until the day of resurrection (John 6:37–40). He promises His presence as our Helper to empower us to walk wisely and resist sin (John 14:16–17). He promises His faithfulness to not allow anything to separate us from His love (Rom. 8:37–39). He assures us of His faithfulness to complete His work of redemption in our lives (Phil. 1:6). Very often it is in the presence, not the absence, of our sinful struggles that God magnifies the beauty and value of His faithfulness. The struggle is often an occasion for rich abiding worship.

2. The Redeeming Work of the Gospel Enables Us to Hear and Obey God

When Paul is addressing the Corinthians regarding sexual sin, he doesn’t tell them that if they just believe, God will remove all their ungodly sexual temptation. Instead, he assumes the possible presence of such temptations and writes things like, “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18a) and “… for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

When the author of Proverbs is counseling his son, he doesn’t treat him as though he will not wrestle with sexual temptation, but offers wisdom when such imminent temptation arises. Concerning the adulteress, he warns, “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8), “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes” (Prov. 6:25), “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray onto her paths” (Prov. 7:25).

The inference of both Paul and the author of Proverbs is that sexual temptation is a possibility, and the way to combat such longings are fleeing, resisting, and living to the glory of God. The ability to walk by faith comes through the hearing of the Gospel (Rom. 10:17) and the supernatural awaking of our hearts to want God and His ways (Eph. 2:4–8). Upon such awakening, Jesus works in us (over a lifetime, moment by moment) to create in us hearts that are zealous to do what is good and holy (Titus 2:11–14). He saves us then progressively enables us to glorify him in our lives and bodies through obedience. Healing may not be universally characterized as the complete elimination of sexual temptation from the human heart, but by hearts that are transformed and empowered by His grace to obey (from the New Self) when sexual temptation seeks to grip us (from remnants of the Old Self) (Eph. 4:22–24). 

3. Hope in Symptom Eradication Minimizes the Pervasive Reality of Sin and our Desperate Need for Jesus, Our Redeemer

Some people hold to the idea that homosexual or heterosexual temptations are only sins if they are acted upon. If the attraction is there, but you resist acting upon it, then you’re good to go. I think this conceptualization minimizes our Gospel need and refutes the teachings of Jesus who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27–28).

Jesus was speaking to people who had developed elaborate systems of “holiness” that gauged their sense of goodness and righteousness before God. Many of them likely exuded a great deal of pride, considering themselves good men because they had never given their bodies over to the act of adultery. Jesus obliterated their paradigm, however. He knew that every man standing in front of Him was guilty of this sin. In some ways, it seems as though he was setting up the despair of their situation, thereby ushering in the only hope for their dilemma—Himself. If sin was more than a behavioral issue, but was ultimately an inner issue of the heart, then they were all doomed (Matt. 15:17–20). That is, unless their righteousness could be found elsewhere.

As Christians who wrestle with either heterosexual or homosexual lusts, we must hate such sins, but not be threatened by their presence. If my hope resides in the absence of sinful thoughts and desires, then I am going to have to resign myself to a life of hopelessness. But if my hope resides in the righteousness of Another when such lusts present themselves in my heart, then there is reason for genuine hope. I can rest in the wonderful words of the author of Hebrews as the basis to fight my sins: 

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Heb. 10:12–18).

In the end, our situation is far worse than we realize.  Even if therapy helps remove sexual temptation, we are still condemned—that is, unless we place our faith in the One who made this single sacrifice for all our sins. At that point, upon placing faith in Jesus, our situation becomes far better than we could ever imagine. Our sins remind us of our desperation and propels us towards a God of infinite love, faithfulness, and mercy. It thrusts us into the magnificent glories of the Gospel.

May we not shrink our hopes to the small goals of the temporal removal of sin, but may our hopes rejoice in the eternal removal of all our sins (past, present, and future) because of a God who loves us more than our feeble minds can fathom.


The Church’s Response to Emotional Abuse

by Leslie Vernick

Isaiah 63:5

I was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm.

Don lumbered into my office, shoulders stooped. He was the pastor of a mid-sized congregation in my area. He referred clients to me in the past. He stopped by to talk over whether or not he should resign as pastor from his church. 

“Last Sunday was a horrible day. I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” he said. “After church I went home and spent the rest of the day in bed. My wife is really worried about me.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Each week I spend hours preparing my sermon, I do the best I can, but Steve had to give me his two cents as usual. It’s so demoralizing. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything right. Two days ago he called me on the carpet because I didn’t run the elder’s meeting efficiently. Last week it was something else. I’ve put up with his criticism, his sarcasm and undermining me for years. I don’t know how much more I can take. Steve has a lot of power in the church. He’s beginning to tell others he’s unhappy with my performance. My elders are starting to take sides. I’d rather quit than be fired.”

“Steve is really getting to you isn’t he?” I said.

“I try not to let his words eat at me, but they still do. When I’m preaching if I see his disapproving look, I start to shake inside and then I can’t think. My words get all mixed up in my head and even I know I’m not preaching well. Maybe it’s time I resign.”

“Have you tried talking with him and telling him how his negativity is impacting you?”

“I have but it does no good. He gets defensive and turns it back on me. I’m the problem, not him. He’s not going to change.”

“Have you talked with your elders about his behaviors?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? He’s a big financial contributor in the church. He’s always helping out around here and has his fingers in everything. They would never stand up to him, even if some of them were on my side. The church would have too much to lose.”

I don’t know a pastor in ministry that hasn’t encountered someone like Steve in his congregation nor felt the inner turmoil people like Steve bring to a pastor’s heart. Steve’s words and actions caused Don to question his calling from God. They made his stomach churn, his body shake, his confidence waver, and his mind get fuzzy. Don never lived with Steve, but the toxic impact Steve had on him caused Don considerable distress. It’s not easy to shake off the negative effects destructive people have on us, even if we tell ourselves not to let them get to us.  

If Don told his story to a colleague in ministry, I have no doubt he or she would be sympathetic to Don’s plight. They’ve been there. They know how it feels. Then why as pastors and counselors are we slow to validate the emotional pain a woman feels when she is married to a man like Steve? Why do we not believe her when she says he has a public persona and a private persona and they are very different? Why can we not see the stress and hardship of an emotionally destructive marriage when we have tasted its bile within ministry?  

The Scriptures never invalidate or minimize the effects someone’s harsh actions and cruel words have on another person’s soul, spirit, and body. A cursory reading through Scripture amply illustrates God’s disdain for mockers, abusers, deceivers, those who misuse their power, oppressors, revilers, ragers, hypocrites, and slanderers.... David cries out to God, “Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles… My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking. …. It is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend” (Psalms 55:2-13).

Sadly we’ve sometimes failed to validate the destructive consequences of living with a foolish, argumentative, angry, deceitful, contentious, indifferent, hard-hearted, or evil person when the Scriptures are quite clear that the effects are real. The psalmist said, “Their insults have broken my heart and I am in despair” (Psalms 69:20).

I wonder if we haven’t valued honesty as much as we preach it. When a woman goes to her church leadership and discloses what’s going on at home, she hopes to be supported and protected, but for some women, that’s not her experience. Instead, she’s been scolded, shamed or shunned. She’s been told to bring her husband in for his side of the story. But how can she speak honestly with him present if she’s afraid of what will happen when they get home? She’s been told that she needs to be more submissive and try harder to make things work. She’s been told that there is nothing in the Bible called emotional abuse and therefore what she’s experiencing has no validity. She’s been told that God wants her to somehow figure out how to make her marriage work because God hates divorce.

By our words are we telling her we don’t want to get involved or help her? Do we inadvertently encourage her to keep quiet, placate, and pretend? And, if she refuses and gets persistent or demanding in her plea for our help, do we start to label her aggressive, contentious, rebellious, unsubmissive, deceitful, or unstable?   

I think sometimes we’re afraid to get involved because if we open our eyes to what’s going on in some homes we’re not sure what to do. We’ve valued the sanctity of marriage over the safety and sanity of the people in it. Therefore we’ve encouraged women to put up with abusive behavior rather than speak up or stand up and have our biblical categories challenged. Yet, Jesus commended the persistent widow in Luke 18, who kept pestering the judge for legal protection against the injustice she was experiencing.

God has put the church together not only to model a loving family to a broken world, but also to model justice and protection when one of its members is destructive and unrepentant toward another. 

Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”


7 1/2 Minutes to Courageous Family Communication

by

7 ½ Hour vs 7 ½ Minutes

We rarely hesitate to send our children to public school for 7 1/2 hours every day. After all it is required by law that we educate our children!

As a homeschooling family, I admit, we didn't always spend a full 7 1/2 hours in formal educational exercises, but we probably spent more than 7 1/2 hours every day in formal and informal educational activities combined. Our children were with us all day, every day, and every moment became a teachable moment. Because we were homeschooling we were used to sitting down in a classroom or formal type setting to teach our children and we had the blessed privilege of beginning with Scripture and teaching everything—from language and grammar and law and science and medicine and history—based on the foundation of God’s Word. In addition, we read the Bible together every day of the week. 

But for most families, sitting down for formal teaching and training as a family could feel uncomfortable and unnatural. How many days a week does your family sit together (not in front of the TV or with video games and iPhones in hand!)?

The 7 ½ Minute Challenge

What if your family spent 7 1/2 minutes every day sitting down together at the kitchen table and offering instruction, guidance, encouragement? What if you read seven Bible verses to each other during the 7 1/2 minutes? What if you used these 7 1/2 minutes to cover very important topics for the health of your family? 

After all, you are commanded to keep His statutes and commandments; to love God; and to teach His ways to your children!

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Deuteronomy 6:6–7

What do your children need? 

Spending 7 1/2 minutes around the table and asking them what they need will provide you with the materials or with the subjects that you need to be teaching your family. 

Beginning with Scriptures will keep you focused on pleasing God first and honoring Him in everything you teach your children each day. 

Try this for 7 1/2 days, for 7 1/2 weeks, or more!

A RHEMA Counseling TOOL to Guide You  

These are seven dimensions of wellness of the family that could be addressed during the 7 1/2 precious minutes. What does God teach us in His Word about honoring him in these areas?

BELIEFS:

B is for body – Does anyone in the family have special physical needs this week? Do you all need to implement a walk together to get more exercise?  (1 Corinthians 3:16–17 & 6:19–20—your body is a temple; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Corinthians 9:27)

E is for emotion – Is anyone depressed or anxious about anything? How can you introduce humor and laughter into your time together? (Proverbs 15:18 – be slow to anger; Philippians 4:6–7; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Proverbs 15:13)

L is for livelihood – What do Dad and Mom do for a living? What do all of the kids want to do as adults? (Exodus 20:8–11, Deuteronomy 5:12–15—God commands us to work; Philippians 4:8-9; Proverbs 16:28; Hebrews 13:18; Colossians 3:23—work as for the Lord; Proverbs 13:4; Philippians 4:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12; Proverbs 14:23)

I is for intellect – How is everyone doing in school? Does anyone need help studying? (Proverbs 1:5—increase in learning; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 10:17; Proverbs 18:15; 2 Peter 1:5—faith, virtue & knowledge; Philippians 1:9–11; Daniel 5:14)

E is for environment – Is there any way to change or improve the home environment to accommodate the needs of all or to provide a more peaceful and comfortable setting? (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 1:1–6; 1 Corinthians 4:2—be found trustworthy; Luke 12:27-30; Psalm 127—the Lord builds the home & verses 3–4—children are a heritage from the Lord... a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior....)

F is for family and friends – How can your family open their home and arms to others to promote lasting and exhorting relationships? (1 Timothy 5:8 provide for your family; Ephesians 6; Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 13; John 15:13; Ecclesiastes 4:10; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 18:24; Proverbs 17:17)

S is for spiritual and soul issues – Can you as parents/leaders enhance the spiritual growth of your children by enjoying Scripture reading or Devotional studies together? (1 Thessalonians 5:23—spirit, soul, and body; Grow—Colossians 1:9–10; 1 Peter 2:1–25; Matthew 5:6; Psalm 1:1–3; 2 Peter 1:5–8)

Have conversations about and ask questions of one another based on these 7 dimensions for 7 ½ minutes!

Let us know what you learned from this short experience. 

Experiencing Some Resistance?

Will there be grumbling and mumbling? Of course there will be because this is not common practice in your family. It feels unnatural and awkward. And sensitive subjects will sometimes arise that need to be addressed during these precious moments. But remember your children don't always want to take a math course or reading or writing course at school. They don't always want to arise early in the morning and get dressed and be ready when it's time to walk out the door. 

Right to Ask / Commanded to Teach

You have as much right to ask them to join with you in this exercise that they are not comfortable with at home, as you do to ask them to do exercises that they don't want to do at school and sports, and at church and in the community.

After all, you are commanded to keep His statutes and commandments; to love God; and to teach His ways to your children when “sitting, walking, lying, and rising”!

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Deuteronomy 6 (English Standard Version, ESV) (Also Deuteronomy 11:11–25)

A wise Pastor once said to our congregation, “Now, if you can find a time when you are not supposed to be instructing your children in God’s ways; when you are not sitting, walking, lying, and rising, you let me know!”

May God Bless you and your family in this endeavor!

Karen Lindwall-Bourg, MA, LPC-S, FT / Rhemacounseling.com


Finding Joy in God: Human Pride and the Praise of Men

by Steve Clay

What do you love more than anything else? What is it that you are convinced will make you happy? These questions form a basis for what we live, whether we are aware of it or not. All of us live for something... something we treasure, hope in, and in which we find pleasure. 

I am amazed at how much we (me included) crave the approval and praise of people, believing it is essential to personal well-being and happiness. This craving for praise is an infectious disease that leads us in a direction opposite than that which engenders faith and joy. With the self-esteem movement making its impact on our culture, it seems that most of us have come to believe that to think well of ourselves—or more accurately, to be thought well of by others—is of paramount importance. Why is this and what is the result?

The account of the tower at Babel in Genesis 11 gives us an opportunity to see what people, steeped in human pride, caught up in their own praise, do.

Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. 2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4 They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

The inhabitants of the land of Shinar had made the decision that it was in their best interest to disobey God, who had told them to “fill the earth” (Genesis 9). Instead, they had decided to put down roots. What were they seeking to do? Looking at verse 4 we see their intentions.

It was their goal to build a city in order to settle and not be scattered, and to build a tower in order to make their name great. In other words, their disobedience in failing to spread out over the earth was driven by a love for the praise of themselves (“make for ourselves a name”) rather than a love of praise for God, and their quest to find security was found in their own means and methods (“build for ourselves a city”), rather than in obedience to God. The quest to find happiness outside God’s clear intentions was their desire, as was the source of original sin in the Garden. What is the fuel for this strategy but human pride. In our pride we want to make a name for themselves.

The longer I live, the more apparent it becomes to me (and is confirmed in scripture) that loving men’s praise is a futile effort for attaining anything of value. In fact, praise-seeking fuels and stokes the fire of flesh that already burns wrong in us. Joy will never be found in the praise of men. It is fleeting at best. Joy will only come in being found in Christ and in knowing and praising God. And security won’t be found in what we build, in our accomplishments and reputations, but rather in God and in what He has done. Humble obedience flowing out of an intimate knowledge of God—that is the pathway to joy and security.

I might also note that the Tower of Babel follows the flood, in which God destroyed the world because of rank and worldwide sin. However, we can see that Noah’s descendants did no better. The problem was not solved in the flood. Sin’s power was still in man after the flood. Acting independently of God, seeking his own way and pleasure apart from God, is the DNA of sin in the heart of every human. This is the lot of mankind apart from the redeeming grace of God.

Those who know Christ by means of the gospel, and find their identity and happiness in Him, have much for which to be thankful. It is He Who has blessed us beyond measure, to Whom belongs all of our praise, and in Whom is our very security! His redeeming grace is the only means by which we change from loving the praise of men to loving the praise of God, and by doing so have a sure source of happiness, contentment, and security.


An Amazing Conversation

by John Henderson

Then the Lord said to Cain… (Genesis 4:6a)

The Scripture provides a wide range of case material packed with truth and meaning for counseling ministry. The story of Cain offers a prime example (Genesis 4:1-16). While we don’t have access to the details of Cain’s childhood, we can probably learn a few things from what Scripture teaches. It’s probably safe to assume his home life was a mix of good, bad, and difficult. His parents were both sinners.

They were dependent on the grace of God. Marriage started off well for Adam and Eve, but it took a rough turn in the Garden of Eden. Life with God started beautifully. Then it went wrong. Sin twisted, fractured, and broke everything. Cain’s parents probably wrestled with guilt, regret, frustration, exhaustion, fears about death, and a host of other troubles.

After sin entered the world, day-to-day work filled with toil. There was value and meaning in his work, but Adam had to agonize for it. Bearing children was painful for Eve, but also a delight. They battled fatigue. They battled sickness. Their marriage suffered from tensions and conflict, just as God said it would (Gen. 3:16).

God promised help. The Lord had provided atonement and covering through sacrifice (Gen. 3:21). He promised a Seed to come who would crush the Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Even though pain and toil could be found in their home, there was also hope. There was sin and repentance - moments of alienation followed by periods of reconciliation. Cain and his brother Abel grew up in this environment, an environment basically familiar to each of us.

At some point Cain focused on working the land. His brother focused on working the animals. One vocation was no better than the other. Both men chose good and honest labor. God strengthened their hands and blessed their work. Somewhere along the way Cain and his brother learned how to bring sacrifice before the Lord in order to worship and enjoy Him.

The Scripture tells of a day when these brothers brought their sacrifices to the Lord (Gen. 4:3-5). God regarded the sacrifice of Abel, but God did not regard the sacrifice of Cain. In other words, the manner in which Cain brought his sacrifice was unacceptable to God – he approached without faith or humility or thanksgiving in the Lord. The faith and humility by which his little brother drew near was acceptable to God. “So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” (Gen. 3:5)

I think Cain felt a bit humiliated – outplayed, in his mind, by his “favored” little brother. He probably stewed in anger and bitterness. Rather than ask God for help, he likely thought about ways to even the score. The Lord invited Cain into conversation and offered him counsel. The Lord provided a way of restoration and warned Cain of sin’s danger. Cain didn’t care. Cain didn’t heed. In fact, Cain lured his brother into the field and murdered him.

Once more God drew near to Cain and started a conversation. He invited Cain to confess and seek help. Rather than face the situation, Cain lied. Rather than repent of his sin, Cain tried to conceal it. Of course, the Lord confronted his hostility and lack of care. After all, God wasn’t asking questions to which He didn’t already know the answers.

The consequences came. “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (Gen. 4:11) When Adam sinned, the ground was cursed. In Cain’s case, he was cursed from the ground. Even with toil and effort, Cain’s farming would no longer yield fruit. This meant he would wander and find food in the wild. Like a cow grazing from pasture to pasture, Cain would need to keep moving to find food.

The consequences upset Cain. “My punishment is too great to bear!” he cried out. He didn’t say, “My sin is too great to bear.” Nor did he say, “Father, please forgive me, I have offended you and treated my brother with evil!” At no point in the conversation will Cain grieve his iniquity and seek forgiveness. No, he’s much more concerned with preserving his physical life. “Whoever finds me will kill me.” (Gen. 4:14) The worry seems especially ironic and inappropriate since he just murdered his brother.

Incredibly, God shows mercy. Rather than turn Cain into a pile of ashes, He actually hears his concern. God placed a sign on Cain for his protection. Anyone who found Cain would know not to harm him. The story draws to a close with Cain leaving the presence of the Lord in order to settle toward the east.

The story of Cain provides a clear, beautiful, and tragic example of counsel being graciously offered by the Lord God, and stubbornly refused by a man. We can see God graciously pursuing a hardened sinner. We get to listen over their shoulders and learn from their interaction. I think we should be amazed by the conversation.

The Location and Nature of Our Problem

What’s actually wrong with us, and where may our deepest trouble be found? The story of God and Cain starts to develop an answer to these two questions. In the midst of their conversation the Lord begins to locate our deepest problem.

Namely, our primary danger begins with our hearts, not our behavior. The main problem comes out of us, not out of our environment. Suffering can come from many places, but suffering never ruined anyone’s soul. The crops Cain brought to the Lord weren’t the source of the problem. Abel wasn’t the location of the problem. Cain’s parents weren’t the key issue. The standards of God weren’t the problem either. The source of the trouble was Cain’s soul. The conversation between God and Cain makes this clear.

The basic nature of our problem also becomes clearer. It’s firstly a worship problem, not a psychological or emotional problem. God responded to Cain on these grounds. Cain did not approach God with a heart of humble worship. Abel did. The psychological and emotional troubles came as a result of, not a cause of, Cain’s worship problem. I think Cain’s response to God’s counsel brings this to light. His “countenance fell.” In other words, Cain became angry and dejected. Psychological and emotional troubles are clearly present, but as symptoms, not causes.

God counseled Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7) God isn’t pointing to external circumstances or problems, but to the affections, desires, and attitudes of Cain’s heart and their effect on his countenance and behavior.

The Progression of Sin and Sin’s Consequences

We can also learn something about the nature of human sin from the story, and how it changes over time when there’s no repentance or sincere cries for help. The progressive nature of sin comes into full view.

After all, Cain isn’t eating forbidden fruit, but murdering his brother, in cold blood, without remorse. He goes further into sin than ever before. After disobeying God, Adam and Eve experienced shame and guilt. The experience of shame and guilt isn’t even mentioned with Cain. He seems calloused in his heart and hardened to what he has done. He expresses great grief over consequences, but no grief over his sin, or the death of his brother, or the offense to God.

The depth and complexity of sin’s consequences develops. A man was physically murdered. Cain’s conscience seems to deaden and resist truth. Cain’s relationship to God completely dissolves, “then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Gen. 4:16). Fellowship with his parents, we must assume, shatters. With every selfish attitude and action, Cain’s life becomes more complicated, confused, and dark.

The Patience and Wisdom of God in Action

Like many of the interactions between God and mankind in the Scripture, the story of Cain puts the will and work of God on display.

The patience of God shines brightly with Cain. The care and compassion with which he handles Cain is breathtaking. Once more, I think we should be amazed at the conversation. God doesn’t just smite Cain and bury his body. God talks to him. God listens to him. God reasons with him. God provides a way for Cain to address the trouble, face the consequences, and receive grace.

The wisdom of God drives and shapes a restorative conversation. At no point in the narrative do we see God speaking recklessly or acting punitively. When things start to fall apart, He enters the scene and draws near to people. He asks carefully crafted questions. He confronts dishonesty and transgression directly and gently. He “speaks truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). His words and efforts are full of mercy, yet unwavering and righteous. All His activities display His holy, gracious nature as He moves toward Cain in gestures of reconciliation. Of course, we never see Cain soften and reconcile to God. The Lord’s words provided an opportunity for restoration, but we never see it happen.

What Now?

When I slow down and take the story of God and Cain to heart, a few areas of conviction and encouragement come to mind:

  1. I am humbled by the grace, mercy, and care of God with this man, especially when I consider my impatience and lack of care with people, even people far less stubborn than Cain.
  2. I am struck by how poignantly and drastically my greatest problem (sin, pride, selfishness, and faithlessness in my heart) harms and complicates everything else in my life with God and others. I am my central danger. The grace of God in Jesus Christ stands alone as my central need.
  3. I am encouraged and bewildered by the fruitlessness of God’s counsel with Cain, especially when I consider how I measure the wisdom and goodness of counsel by it’s positive effects, rather than by it’s God-exalting, people-loving substance. The Lord’s counsel was perfect, but rejected – the results of our counsel will always be in His hands. May the Lord have mercy!

Reflections on Broken Hearts and Closed Ears

by Brad Hambrick

Exodus 6:9

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

We might ask ourselves why this note of commentary is included in the Exodus narrative. By this point in the book of Exodus, it has already been mentioned several times that Israel was suffering immensely at the harsh hand of Pharaoh.

To answer our question, we would have to consider when the book of Exodus was written. Most likely it was written well after the actual events along with the other books of the Torah (Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) either during the 40 years of wilderness wandering or close to the time when Israel was going to enter the Promise Land (finally).

In order to understand this particular verse, we need to understand the purpose of the Torah as a whole. Moses was writing to re-establish a national identity as God’s chosen people for a nation that had been in slavery for 400 years. They were trying to learn who they were and what it meant to be a free people under God’s reign.

Just before verse 9, God had appealed to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 6:8). Israel needed to be reminded of their heritage and (more importantly) of God’s faithfulness. However, that is the whole point of verse 9; they needed to hear these things, but their hearts were too broken to embrace the message their ears received.

This passage is revelation of the understanding of God and the pastoral heart of Moses. Israel received this text long after the actual events transpired. Their current need was not to have hope in the midst of Pharaoh’s oppression (that season of their life was over), but, rather, to be prepared to trust God the next time their spirit was broken (and that would be many more times).

How you remember your story is important. Taking time to see God’s faithfulness is encouraging. However, it can be equally edifying to reflect on the times when (because of our frailty or doubt) we were unable to rest in God’s faithfulness. When we see (retrospectively) God’s faithfulness in the moments of our greatest fear and hurt, we come to realize that God will truly never leave us or forsake us (despite what our heart may say in the present or about the future).

End Note: When you read the Torah remember that it is not just a narrative with lots of laws and sermons at the end; it is also a pastoral work. Moses is writing the history of a people learning to be free after generations of oppression. Moses is walking Israel through the process of remembering who they have always been and the implications of trusting God during this monumental transition. I believe this will help you in making application of books that we too often view as “just history.”


The Deceitfulness of Self-Hatred

by Leslie Vernick

I was speaking at a large women’s event in Texas. During the break, a woman asked if she could speak with me.

“I need to know if there is hope for me,” she asked. “I’m a narcissist, and from what I’ve read online, there is little hope for me to ever get better.”

Curious, I asked her a few more questions about what led her to think she was a narcissist. She said, “I’m selfish and self-centered.”

“Give me a few examples of what you mean,” I asked, wanting to see where she was going.

“I don’t want to babysit my grandchildren like my daughter wants me to,” she said. “I don’t always want to put other people’s needs first. I try, but I end up feeling resentful.”

By now tears were streaming down her face, and it was obvious she was distressed exposing her very human character flaws.

This woman’s problem wasn’t excessive self-love and desire for admiration (which narcissists never notice about themselves anyway), but rather destructive shame and self-hatred. In our brief conversation, I learned that she lived by an internal script that dictated that she should be better than she was. She failed to live up to her idealized image of herself as a selfless person, and after numerous attempts at change, she felt hopeless.

People who are perfectionists may not demand perfection in every area of their lives and often have a hard time admitting that they think they should be perfect, but deep down that’s what they crave. And when they fail to live up to their own idealized standards, they grieve deeply. Their internal shame, self-hatred, and self-reproach can be lethal.

These individuals rarely feel happy because although they might achieve a moment of perfection, it’s entirely unsustainable. Eventually they mess up, can’t do something, aren’t all-knowing, fail, make a mistake, or put their own needs or desires ahead of someone else’s.

This woman was not my client, and we weren’t in a session, but I had something to offer her in that moment that provided a real solution to her pain. I had the privilege to show this hurting woman a glimpse of what God is like and surprise her by the good news of the gospel of Christ.  

Isn’t that why we do what we do? Isn’t that what makes Christian counseling Christian? We offer real hope to people’s pain not merely through good counseling or proper theology, but through the person of Christ. He is the answer to this woman’s pain because he gives her what she cannot give herself. Real forgiveness, radical acceptance, grace, peace, hope, love, and true truth.

John Fawcett, as quoted in Leanne Payne’s book Restoring the Christian Soul says,

Some who are afraid of the appearance of narcissism in the language of self-acceptance veer dangerously close to self-hatred in their antidote to it, as if a deeper introspective gaze upon our own guilt and sin could bring us to fuller freedom in Christ. But self-hatred is not the opposite of narcissism; rather, it is egocentrism under a different guise─the same mirror of self viewed from another angle. The discovery of the true self encompasses the denial and crucifixion of the flesh, but it is far more than a negative process. We find our true selves positively in relation to God: hearing His loving, affirming Word, we are freed to celebrate the new self He makes. We become enamored not of our own accomplishments nor of our unworthiness, but of the beauty of Jesus. Through his Spirit he descends into us that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17), transforming us into His image, from glory to glory (2 Corinthian 3:18).

What I said to that woman at the conference was something similar to what Jesus said to the rich young ruler who asked if he was good enough to inherit eternal life. (See Luke 18:18-27 for the story.)

I pulled her to the side, wrapped my arms around her and whispered, “You could never do enough, love enough, give enough, or be selfless enough to earn God’s forgiveness or his love. It’s not up to you. It is a gift. Now go, and thank and love the giver.”

Later on in the day she caught my eye and her countenance was transformed. She believed God and found hope.

Reference

John Fawcett, quoted in Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul (Grand Rapids: Baoker, 1991), 234.


5 Indicators of an Evil and Wicked Heart

by Leslie Vernick

As Christian counselors, pastors and people helpers we often have a hard time discerning between an evil heart and an ordinary sinner who messes up, who isn’t perfect, and full of weakness and sin.

I think one of the reasons we don’t “see” evil is because we find it so difficult to believe that evil individuals actually exist. We can’t imagine someone deceiving us with no conscience, hurting others with no remorse, spinning outrageous fabrications to ruin someone’s reputation, or pretending he or she is spiritually committed yet has no fear of God before his or her eyes.

The Bible clearly tells us that among God’s people there are wolves that wear sheep’s clothing (Jeremiah 23:14; Titus 1:10; Revelations 2:2). It’s true that every human heart is inclined toward sin (Romans 3:23), and that includes evil (Genesis 8:21; James 1:4). We all miss God’ mark of moral perfection. However, most ordinary sinners do not happily indulge evil urges, nor do we feel good about having them. We feel ashamed and guilty, rightly so (Romans 7:19–21). These things are not true of the evil heart.

Below are five indicators that you may be dealing with an evil heart rather than an ordinary sinful heart.  If so, it requires a radically different treatment approach.

1. Evil hearts are experts at creating confusion and contention.

They twist the facts, mislead, lie, avoid taking responsibility, deny reality, make up stories, and withhold information. (Psalms 5:8; 10:7; 58:3; 109:2–5; 140:2; Proverbs 6:13,14; 6:18,19; 12:13; 16:20; 16:27, 28; 30:14; Job 15:35; Jeremiah 18:18; Nehemiah 6:8; Micah 2:1; Matthew 12:34,35; Acts 6:11–13; 2 Peter 3:16)

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

But if you look at the fruit of their lives or the follow through of their words, you will find no real evidence of godly growth or change. It’s all smoke and mirrors. (Psalms 50:19; 52:2,3; 57:4; 59:7; 101:7; Proverbs 12:5; 26:23–26; 26:28; Job 20:12; Jeremiah 12:6; Matthew 26:59; Acts 6:11–13; Romans 16:17,18; 2 Corinthians 11:13,14; 2 Timothy 3:2–5; 3:13; Titus 1:10,16).

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

They reject feedback, real accountability, and make up their own rules to live by. They use Scripture to their own advantage but ignore and reject passages that might require self-correction and repentance. (Romans 2:8; Psalms 10; 36:1–4; 50:16–22; 54:5,6; 73:6–9; Proverbs 21:24; Jude 1:8–16).

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

They demand mercy but give none themselves. They demand warmth, forgiveness, and intimacy from those they have harmed with no empathy for the pain they have caused and no real intention of making amends or working hard to rebuild broken trust. (Proverbs 21:10; 1 Peter 2:16; Jude 1:4).

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

They do not struggle against sin or evil—they delight in it—all the while masquerading as someone of noble character. (Proverbs 2:14–15; 10:23; 12:10; 21:27,29; Isaiah 32:6; Romans 1:30; 2 Corinthians 11:13–15)

If you are working with someone who exhibits these characteristics, it’s important that you confront them head on. You must name evil for what it is. The longer you try to reason with them or show mercy towards them, the more you, as the Christian counselor, will become a pawn in his or her game.

They want you to believe that:

1. Their horrible actions should have no serious or painful consequences.

When they say “I’m sorry,” they look to you as the pastor or Christian counselor to be their advocate for amnesty with the person he or she has harmed. They believe grace means they are immediately granted immunity from the relational fallout of their serious sin. They believe forgiveness entitles them to full reconciliation and will pressure you and their victim to comply.

The Bible warns us saying, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord (Isaiah 26:10). 

The Bible tells us that talking doesn’t wake up evil people, but painful consequences might. Jesus didn’t wake up the Pharisee’s with his talk nor did God’s counsel impact Cain (Genesis 4). In addition, the Bible shows us that when someone is truly sorry for the pain they have caused, he or she is eager to make amends to those they have harmed by their sin (see Zacchaeus’ response when he repented of his greed in Luke 19). 

Tim Keller writes, “If you have been the victim of a heinous crime. If you have suffered violence, and the perpetrator (or even the judge) says, ‘Sorry, can’t we just let it go?’ You would say, ‘No, that would be an injustice.’ Your refusal would rightly have nothing to do with bitterness or vengeance. If you have been badly wronged, you know that saying sorry is never enough. Something else is required—some kind of costly payment must be made to put things right.”1

As Biblical counselors let’s not collude with the evil one by turning our attention to the victim, requiring her to forgive, to forget, to trust again when there has been no evidence of inner change. Proverbs says, “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips” (Proverbs. 25:19). It’s foolishness.

The evil person will also try to get you to believe

2. That if I talk like a gospel-believing Christian I am one, even if my actions don’t line up with my talk.

Remember, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13–15). He knows more true doctrine than you or I will ever know, but his heart is wicked. Why? Because although he knows the truth, he does not believe it or live it.

The Bible has some strong words for those whose actions do not match their talk (1 John 3:17,18; Jeremiah 7:8,10; James 1:22, 26). John the Baptist said it best when he admonished the religious leaders, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

If week after week you hear the talk but there is no change in the walk, you have every reason to question someone’s relationship with God.

Part of our maturity as spiritual leaders is that we have been trained to discern between good and evil. Why is that so important? It’s important because evil usually pretends to be good, and without discernment we can be easily fooled (Hebrews 5:14).

When you confront evil, chances are good that the evil heart will stop counseling with you because the darkness hates the light (John 3:20) and the foolish and evil heart reject correction (Proverbs 9:7,8). But that outcome is far better than allowing the evil heart to believe you are on his or her side, or that “he’s not that bad” or “that he’s really sorry” or “that he’s changing” when, in fact, he is not.

Daniel says, “[T]he wicked will continue to be wicked” (Daniel 12:10), which begs the question, do you think an evil person can really change?

[1] Tim Keller, Jesus the King, page 172


Resolving Conflict in Relationships Biblically

by Biblical Soul Care Harvest Bible Chapel

When it comes to conflict in relationships, Ken Sande says there are really only three kinds of people: peace-fakers, peace-breakers, and peace-makers.

Peace-breakers are prideful and power up. If they don’t get their way, they blow up, escalating conflict like gas on a flickering flame.

Peace-fakers avoid conflict or clam up trying to shove conflict under the rug out of fear.

Neither way is glorifying or healthy.

Peace-makers see conflict as an assignment, not an accident. They approach the problem with humility, reasonableness, and seeking wisdom from God (James 3:17-18). They do not intimidate, but they also do not hide. They expect conflict, embrace the opportunity to resolve things biblically, and have an urgency to keep unity in the midst of hard times.

Recently, I considered the relational landscape of my life. I have not ignored the conflict in my life, but am I doing everything, as far as it has to do with me, to keep the peace with others (Romans 12:9-21)? What would it look like to be a peace-maker in those situations and relationships?

Is there anyone in your life you are bitter toward or someone you have offended deeply? I want to challenge you to get your eyes off another’s sin and turn your focus inward with a vertical orientation (Psalm 139:23-24).

But the Bible never treats the symptoms alone… we have all tried to control our anger or appease someone else’s with a moment of kindness—but it goes deeper. Sometimes the only way to heal what is sick or broken is to get to the source, to seek true healing, to go vertical.

The Source of Conflict

Don’t you love it when God answers our most profound questions?! Hey, why do we fight anyway? Why can’t we just get along? Consider this passage from James 4:1-12, which gets to the heart of the problem.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?…

What Can We Learn about Conflict from This Passage?

The Word of God presents some very clear reasons why we can’t seem to lay down our agendas or get along well with others who differ from us.

  • The enemy is within us: We see early in this passage that conflict is internally motivated before externally manifested (your selfish passions are what you fight about most… even good desires have a way of morphing into demands!)
  • It’s not just what we want, its how much we want it: where are you coveting?

Fill in the blank: "If I only had ___________, I would be happy?" That is the beginning of constructing an idol. So, think about these four escalating steps of selfish desires:

I. I want it too much – it could be a good desire or an evil desire (not always sinful… God may still be in the picture, but kingdoms begin to collide).

II. I need it now – it now owns you (leads to sin because looking to someone or something to fulfill only what Christ can… God can’t meet this need or won’t… so I will).

III. I deserve it – it now controls you (sinful entitlement creates murderous thoughts and feelings if desire is blocked… God wants me to be happy or is an afterthought at best).

IV. You will give it to me or I will punish you – it now betrays you (even hurt those you love if your demands are not met… is God even in the picture at this point?).

Here are three more truths from this passage:

  1. We need to get our eyes on our own sin! (where are you trying to change someone else?) If she only would…. if he quit….
  2. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble: Godly humility makes a world of difference (where do you need to repent, mourn, and stop contributing to the fight?)
  3. Keep walking in repentance not judgment (where has resentment or bitterness crept in… and made you a judge not a keeper of the law?)

That sets up the problem well, but there is more grace! The second half of the chapter teaches us to truly repent and turn to the Lord so we can be a peace-maker in the situation. Consider verses 7-10 as the way out of your side of the conflict and into the graces of God.

Seven Steps out of this selfish cycle of personal conflict:

1. Submit to God – what are you holding away from Him?

2. Resist the devil – what are you giving over to Him?

3. Draw near to God – where are you hiding or running from Him?

4. Cleanse your hands – what outward behavior needs to stop?

5. Purify your heart – what inward attitude needs to change?

6. Be wretched mourn and weep – where do people need to see godly sorrow?

7. Humble yourself – where do you need to admit you’re wrong and ask forgiveness?

Remember, those who are in Christ are called to be peace-makers. That requires for us to be intentional with how we deal with conflict.


Homosexuality: A Matter of Orientation

by Michael Snetzer

Almost daily we encounter evidences of the current moral revolution occurring in this country; and it is happening at a blistering pace. At the forefront of this discussion is the topic of homosexuality. Depending on which side of the fence you fall, you might consider this an evolution of morality or you might see morality devolving before our very eyes. Sexual orientation has been a hot topic for some time; and for many, even many professing Christians, the practice of sexuality outside of the traditional heterosexual covenantal relationship of marriage has been seen as progressive.

Sadly, much of this debate is devoid of any real interest in God’s perspective. Sadder still there is much twisting of what God has to say about it all. This speculation is unfortunate. God’s word is clear. Homosexuality is sinful and is rebellion against God’s creative design. This increasingly counter-cultural stance on homosexuality will no doubt bring the church to the forefront if we hold fast to this truth. This blog is not an attempt to make an argument for or against homosexuality, but instead to deal with the heart of the matter. And that starts with us, the church.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good character let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be every disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13–18)

Before we speak as to what God says regarding homosexuality, we need to hear from God ourselves. We need to check our own hearts. Do we enter debates to win or in the confidence that, in Christ, we have already won? Our selfish ambition will result in every disorder and we will be shown lacking wisdom and ultimately foolish. But if our hearts are pure it will be expressed in our conduct, we will be peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

As we move to the topic of homosexuality we need to approach it with sensitivity. I have had the great privilege of walking alongside several men compelled by the gospel to come out of a homosexual lifestyle. Our church is full of men and women who are experiencing redemption in Jesus Christ. Many of these still wrestle with homosexual temptations while others have experienced healing to such a degree that they are now happily married, joyfully expressing their sexuality within heterosexual marriage or have the desire to do so.

I have come to understand that no two stories are the same. Some clearly feel that they were born with homosexual tendencies and others can see clearly the development of homosexual thoughts and behavior’s through experimentation or abuse. I want to dispel one of the arguments used in the culture to justify homosexuality: The idea of being born this way. This assumes that we are born without distorted desires. You hear things like, “God doesn’t make mistakes’. The assumption is if I was born this way, it must be His design.  The truth is that we are born in a fallen state, sinful, and therefore this argument for homosexuality falls flat. Equally invalid is any argument that implies it is God’s design that one express sexuality through innumerable heterosexual encounters.

I think labeling homosexuality a matter of “orientation” is a great point of engagement. What is meant by this term culturally is am I personally (as a man) sexually oriented around men (homosexuality), women, (heterosexuality) or both (bisexuality), animals (bestiality), children (pedophilia) or some object (fetish), etc. But the conversation must move beyond the horizontal orientation and, instead, must be oriented vertically in terms of our relationship with God. Through the fall of mankind, in addition to having distorted desires, we have become disoriented from God. This means that we are inevitably lost - looking to the culture to define us while simultaneously seeking to have our desires met through creatures for what only He can ultimately provide.

Homosexuality is rarely about sex. It is always about worship. It is about offering myself to the one who is providing what my heart desires and/or receiving the worship of another in exchange for what their heart desires. This, by the way, is true in all sexual immorality regardless of whether it is homosexual in nature or not.

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, I will give a couple of examples of how people I have known came to practice homosexuality, the counterfeit redemption it offered them, and the superiority of the gospel in resolving the underlying issues.

A young man I counseled grew up in a Christian home. He was perceived culturally “effeminate”, because he was slim, sensitive and artistic. His father was perceived culturally “manly”, because he was strong, liked to hunt, fish and work on cars. As a boy he identified more with mom.  Dad was somewhat disinterested and looked passed him. The boy longed for the attention and acceptance of his father. He began to wish he were different, that he was more “manly”. He began to be jealous of the boys who looked more like his dad. He lusted for these things that seemed unattainable.

In his adolescence, one of these young men began to show interest in him. The association gave him the sense that he had gained what he was looking for. As the relationship became sexualized he attached himself in a covenantal act by offering himself in worship to the one who possessed what he was lacking. He became “one flesh” with this young man and this gave him a sense of possessing what he longed for. At the most basic level this is no different than someone who feels they are “important “because they hang out with important people.

Similarly, I have known a woman for some time that was abused by her father and later by her husband. Disoriented from God and done with men, she sought to have her desires met through the gentle nurturing of a same sex relationship by offering herself to another woman sexually.

These counterfeit forms of redemption pale in comparison to the ultimate redemption found in Jesus Christ. These counterfeits are just twisted replicas attempting to mar the real thing, robbing us of life rather than give it. Through the gospel we find the acceptance of our Heavenly Father. He has not overlooked us in sending His son. His perfection makes up for where we are lacking. In offering ourselves to Him, we receive all that our hearts have longed for.  We are nurtured in Him. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and the covenant is sealed. Our value and worth comes through our association with Him. We are given a new heart, which leads us to love and practice the things that He loves and despise that which profanes His name.

If we merely stand on the outside judging whether homosexuality is right or wrong without taking the time to move beyond the behavior to come alongside and know a person, we will never have the opportunity to show how the gospel is applied in satisfying the deepest longings of the heart. Without condoning sin we must enter in.