Association of Biblical Counselors


Association of Biblical Counselors
Association of Biblical Counselors

Sight for Spiritually Blind Eyes

by Steve Clay

Many of our experiences in life confirm that our perception of reality is, at best, skewed. In fact, if we trust the truth of God’s word and become honest about our condition, we are in many ways totally blind. We are, without effort, naturally oblivious to ultimate spiritual reality, that is, to the glorious nature of the person of God and His marvelous works. Furthermore, we are oblivious to the very presence of this blindness in moments in which it is most profound.

Therefore, we read ourselves, others, situations, and more with perception that is frail and distorted. Consequently, living in fallen world that is corrupted and corrupting, misreading and wrongly reacting, is trouble enough on its own. But add to this that our greatest blindness is toward God.

Our view and subsequent assessment of Him leads us toward greater blindness in regard to physical reality. Much of Jesus’ ministry was misinterpreted by the masses of people who, with faulty spiritual sight, found Him desirable only to the degree that He provided for their firmly entrenched lusts or physical needs. And for those who had no need of Jesus in these ways, He was a threat to be eliminated. How could people so misread the value of Jesus in the ways in which He is truly wonderful? What is it about us that causes us get this wrong without effort? It is blindness of the heart that leads us to belittle God and trust our own views of reality.

We see an example of this in the Luke 24:13-35. Jesus appeared to two people going about their daily business, walking the road to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were in a discussion about news of current events, especially those related to Jesus. In just a few days prior in Jerusalem He had been tried and crucified. Perhaps they had even heard of the claim that the tomb was empty in which the dead body of Jesus had been laid. Jesus’ appearance to them was without recognition by them. They did not recognize Jesus! How could it be? The text says that they were “prevented from recognizing Him” (v. 16). Their eyes were not able to recognize Him. Was that because they had never seen Him before? Was it simply that because there was no modern technology available that would have enabled them to have seen Him in picture form that they just did not know what he looked like? I don’t think so, because later in the text they do finally recognize Him. We must deduce that they must have known His physical appearance by prior experience with Him. So, why did they not recognize Him at this time? And how is it that they were able to recognize Him later, if indeed it appears that they should have recognized Him earlier? What caused the blindness and what opened their eyes? And how is this relevant to us?

As Jesus walked along the road with this couple He asked them several questions, and after hearing answers coming from unbelieving and foolish hearts, He gently rebuked them and explained what should have been obvious to them, had their eyes been open to spiritual truth and the fullness of His person.

And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (vv. 25-27)

Their blindness caused them to misread the events of the days preceding their yet unrecognized encounter with their Lord. They wanted a different kind of Messiah than Jesus proved to be. They were hoping that “he was the one to redeem Israel” (v. 21a). And because He was dead and now His body missing, their hopes were dashed. They were looking at the recent events through the same spiritually blind eyes that caused them to not recognize Jesus. But Jesus, though He rebuked them for their unbelief, mercifully opened the scriptures to them. Their hearts began to burn as Jesus explained the scriptures to them. They begged Him to spend more time with them, to share a meal with them. Their eyes were opened when He broke the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them. Suddenly they recognized Him! They had seen Him do this before. Perhaps they were among those 5000 that He fed recorded in John 6. They would have remembered how He blessed the bread and broke it and then later told them that He is the Bread of Life. They missed the sign that pointed to the greater glory of God in the person of Christ. Instead, blinded by cravings for physical bread lead them to believe that wrong things about Jesus. His value to them was tied up in His ability to produce stomach-filling food.

In the present instance, it seems that their faith in Jesus was tied up in His ability to redeem Israel as they imagined it. Death could not factor in to that scheme. Their hope was dashed. The present circumstance did not align with their expectations—expectations informed by their own finite limitations and sinful heart cravings. But once the Lord revealed Himself to them, their faith came alive. And He did so with very tangible means. The actual manner in which He broke the bread, the way He blessed it, the tone and modulation of His voice triggered faith in them. They now could see and believe. No longer did they cling to their notions, but to the explanations given by their now recognition Messiah.

How does this apply to us? Well, it seems this teaches us that again God is merciful and that we are naturally inept. Most significant is it that God is the one who opens blind eyes. Darkness is overcome with light, vision is given in place of blindness, as God sovereignly and graciously gives light into the heart of a man (2 Corinthians 4:6). Without God’s intervention, no sight would be possible. Once the Lord has given us eyes to see, several passages help us with how to go about opening our eyes to spiritual reality. In Psalm 119:18, David, aware of his propensity to see wrongly, asks the Lord to open his eyes to see the wonderful things of God’s law. In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that the church at Ephesus would be given eyes of the heart enlightened to glorious realities related to their salvation. Paul, as well as the writer of Hebrews, tells us where to keep our eyes in order to continue to see rightly (e.g., Colossians 3:1-2; Hebrews 12:2). We are to look at Jesus, behold Him, depend on the Spirit, and stay in fellowship with Christ’s body, in order to see rightly. The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are vivid images of God’s grace toward us that sharpened our spiritual sight.

God’s mercy and grace are our hope for seeing and believing rightly, and thus responding to Jesus in worship and adoration. We have no hope of seeing without right knowledge of Jesus, gained by humble seeking after Him by faith, looking at tangible expressions of His favor toward us as means of remembering His goodness and greatness. We must admit our helplessness when it comes to blindness. We can no more make ourselves see than we can make ourselves fly. We need grace in the person of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Being with other believers, breaking bread with them, praying and learning together, are keys to prevent and overcome blindness, for the Lord dwells in the midst of His people. We must be looking in order to see. We must be seeking and searching in order to find (Jeremiah 29:13). Let’s pray that our gracious Lord grants us sight that allows us to enjoy His good gifts as ways of knowing and enjoying Him more fully. Let’s pray that He opens our eyes to see all that He is for us in Christ. Let’s pray and seek Him for Himself, yielding to His wisdom, enjoying His grace. Let’s pray that He gives us eyes that see Him ever increasingly as beautiful (Ps. 27:4), full of glory and worthy of praise.


5 Crucial Steps for Effective Change in Destructive Marriages

by Leslie Vernick

Last month I wrote an article about superficial apologies, when “I’m sorry” is not the end of rebuilding a shattered marriage but only the beginning of genuine change. But what does that change look like in real life?

Jesus told his own disciples that their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak. No one changes overnight or never messes up again. Lasting change comes hard for all of us, but as Biblical counselors, our task is private lessons in applied theology. Below are five biblical steps we can help someone take to show that their “sorry” is more than mere words.

1. Clarity: We can’t help someone change something that he or she cannot or will not see. Jesus calls this condition in its extreme form blindness, and when we are blind to our own sin, we can’t repent. When someone can’t admit wrong, take personal responsibility, or see what their part of the problem is, start there. It’s always easier to blame others or make excuses than to see clearly our own part of the problem. Jesus tells us when our eye is healthy, our whole body is full of light. But he also goes on to warn those who think that they see clearly but really don’t. He tells them that they are in grave danger (Matthew 6:22,23).

The Scriptures warn us that we are all self-deceived and that we cannot know our own selves apart from God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and trusted others who help us see ourselves more honestly (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 1:25; Hebrews 3:13). If someone’s sorrow is genuine, he stops lying to himself that it’s everyone else’s fault that he behaves the way he does. He stops telling himself that what he does isn’t that bad or that he can’t change.   

Change only begins when a person sees clearly he needs to change and that means taking responsibility for himself and his own destructive behaviors–no more blaming, no more excuses, even if provoked.

2. Commitment: There are things that people see quite clearly yet they are not committed to changing them. They may see the growing numbers on the scale or the rising credit charge cards, yet it feels too hard or they’re not yet willing to give up the temporary good feelings they receive from overeating or overspending. 

As Biblical counselors, we see people who want to change but do not want to do the work involved to actually change. Like Naaman, who resisted Elisha’s treatment plan for his leprosy, a lot of the people we work with are looking for a quick fix. (See 2 Kings 5 for the story.)

It’s not enough for our counselee to see clearly his or her problem, or even want to change. For change to actually happen our counselee must make the commitment to do the work to change so that these same sins that have broken trust in his marriage don’t continue to repeat themselves.

For example, a verbally abusive man may need to learn how to handle his frustrations, disappointments, and negative feelings when his wife upsets him or doesn’t do what he wants her to do. In the past he’s blamed her, insisting that if only she changed and didn’t upset him, he wouldn’t have acted that way.

Now he realizes that there is no perfect wife, and it’s unrealistic and unreasonable for him to demand that his wife never upset him. But in addition to his new clarity, he must be committed to learning how to manage his own negative emotions when it actually happens and he feels furious.

3. Confession: No one changes perfectly or overnight, but when he messes up and repeats old behavior, he must now do something differently than he has in the past. Now he confesses. He no longer hides, lies, minimizes, or blames someone else for his bad behavior. 

Practicing confession humbles us. It helps us put into practice the new attitudes and actions that we want to grow in. John the Baptist said it best to the Pharisees that were talking the talk but not walking the walk. He said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Repentance isn’t just saying I’m sorry–confession is turning from your sins and learning not to repeat them.

4. Community: God did not intend people to mature all by themselves. From birth he put infants into families to help them learn, grow, and mature. The family of God is instructed to love, encourage, admonish, and strengthen one another so that we all might grow into the full measure of Christ.

When someone is genuinely sorry for repetitive sins, they are willing to allow people along side of them to give them honest feedback on their behaviors and attitudes. The Bible tells us that we need one another so that we don’t stay deceived about our own selves (Hebrews 3:13).

By inviting community to help him, our client has come to understand that he cannot grow to become the person God calls him to be all by himself. He may invite his spouse, pastor, counselor, as well as other wise and godly friends, to give him feedback and hold him accountable to the changes he states he wants to make.

5. Consequences: One of the most amazing freedoms God has given his creatures is the freedom to choose. We can choose right or wrong, love or hate, good or bad, to change or not to change. Closely linked to our choices are the consequences of our choices. 

An important part of growing up is being able to see ahead to the consequences of our choices, both positive and negative. For example, if I choose to spend my paycheck on a fun vacation instead of pay my bills, the consequences are that I don’t have enough to pay my bills. Then I feel stressed, damage my credit rating, and incur late charges. Was it worth it?

As Biblical counselors it is important we help our clients see ahead to the results of their choices. Sometimes, especially in marriage, our client expects “sorry” to mitigate all negative consequences. They quote “love covers a multitude of sins,” expecting love to give them a get out of jail free card or total amnesty when they’ve seriously sinned against their partner.

Mature people realize that grace and forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mitigate negative consequences of one’s poor choices. God warned Adam and Eve that if they chose to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they would die. He allowed them the freedom to choose, and they suffered the consequence of their poor choice, even though God still loved and forgave them. 

It’s important that we help our client accept that when he sins against his spouse there are always negative consequences. Is that what he wants? Painful consequences are God’s way to help us wake up and stop doing destructive and sinful things. Moses encouraged the Israelites to choose life so that they and their children would experience the result–life and God’s blessings (Deuteronomy 28).

Clarity, commitment, confession, community, and consequences are five stepping stones that lead to greater growth and maturity, which can lead to lasting change.


Relationships: Mercy in the Mess

by Paul Tripp

This is the second devotional in an 8-part series on Relationships.  

We all dream of the perfect relationship. You know, the one that’s free of disagreement, conflict, communication difficulties, power battles, anger, and control. We can envision what it would be like. The problem is, none of us ever get what we were once able to imagine. When we wake up from our dreams, we’re all greeted by the reality that all of our relationships live in the same location—the fallen world—and all of our relationships are with the same kind of people—imperfect human beings (I’ll remind you again, you're one of those, too!).

Now you just have to ask why God would choose to subject us to such difficulty and disappointment. Is there meaning in the mess? Is there mercy in the mess? Maybe right now you’re facing things in one of your relationships you never imagined you’d face. Maybe right now you’re dealing with such deep hurt and disappointment that you simply don't know what to do. Have you wondered what in the world God is doing? Have you been tempted to doubt his goodness and question his love?

Here are some things to remember:

1. God never gets a wrong address:

Acts 17 tells us that God determines the exact place where we’ll live and the exact length of our lives. Your life isn’t out of control. What you’re facing isn’t the result of God forgetting you. God hasn't turned his back on the promises he made to you. I know it's hard to grasp, but what you're facing is the result of God being faithful to his promises to you.

2. God is in the middle of the mess with you:

Psalm 46 tells us that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." If you’re God's child, you’ve never been in a location all by yourself. If you’re God's child, you’ve never been in a relationship all by yourself. You’ve never endured difficulty in isolation. Why? Because God is always with you and he’s there so that you would have a place to run ("refuge") and help in your moments of greatest discouragement and weakness ("strength").

3. God is up to something good in the mess:

Here's the mistake we make in the way we attempt to make sense out of lives. We think that the mess is a sure sign that God isn’t working in our lives, because if he were at work, we wouldn't be in such a mess. The Bible tells us something completely different. It tells us that because God loves us so, he’s not satisfied with us as we are. He looks down at us and sees many areas where change and growth are needed. He couldn't love us and be willing to leave us in our immaturity and weakness. So, God takes us where we don’t want to go in order to produce in us what we couldn’t achieve on our own—character.

And how does he do this? He uses the difficult experiences of life to expose and change our hearts. One of his main tools is our relationships. These messy relationships expose our hearts, bring us to the end of ourselves and cause us to reach out for the help that only Jesus can give us.

I know it’s hard to face the hurt and disappointment of a relationship gone bad. But there is hope. You’re never alone. The One who’s with you is up to something very good, and because he is, there really is mercy to be found right smack dab in the middle of the mess!

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. Where are you experiencing relational conflict and difficulty?
  2. Are you shifting all responsibility to the other person, or are you humble enough to admit that your flaws are a factor for the mess?
  3. Do you wish you lived at a "different address"? How is God using your specific location for your redemption?
  4. How can the Person of Jesus Christ - with you in the middle of your relational difficulty - help you in your relationships?

3 Important Environments to Help Couples Prepare for Marriage

by Greg Wilson

One of the most consistent themes that emerges in counseling young couples, especially in the critical first five years, is the dramatic difference between the time and money that was invested in their wedding compared to the time and money that was invested in preparing for the rest of their lives together as husband and wife. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is somewhere around $25,000. Engaged couples and their parents will typically spend hours lining up venues, making decisions about florists, photographers, websites, and invitations, and pondering the details of a ceremony that typically lasts about 25 minutes. Yet only a very small fraction of their (or their parents’) time and money is typically invested in preparing for the next 40+ years that they will, by God’s mercy, spend together as husband and wife.

Sometime between the end of the honeymoon and the end of the first year of marriage, the hard work of becoming “one flesh” with another sinful human being will begin. Newlyweds begin to realize that they married a sinner and often wonder what they have gotten themselves into. Unmet expectations of marriage or of one’s spouse frequently set in, with the inevitable fruit of resentment, bitterness, and anger. Once intoxicated with each other, husbands and wives become toxic for each other—and intimacy at all levels falters. A marriage that lacks true spiritual intimacy between both partners and the Lord will fail to achieve true intimacy in any other respect. Conversely, a strong Christian marriage illustrates the gospel and lives out its implications through a depth of intimacy that unbelievers cannot fathom.

What these couples need is not a few sessions to plan out the wedding with a little talk on communication, sex, and conflict resolution thrown in. Rather, they need to be shown and taught that marriage is not about them, but about God. They need to be shown that marriage is a picture of God and the gospel. They need to be reminded that they are part of the bride of Christ, if they are believers. And that means that God is joyfully and covenantally bound in a very hard marriage to an unfaithful spouse. This God who has loved us, saved us, redeemed us, forgiven us, justified us, and adopted us has also called us to go and do likewise. Marriage is a laboratory for learning to get more of Christ by practicing Christ-likeness (humility, sacrifice, love, forgiveness, patience, kindness, etc.) in the context of a relationship with another person. My experience in counseling couples is that most of them have seldom, if ever, seen this kind of relationship lived out prior to saying, “I do.”

The church should encourage couples to enter environments where they can experience the messiness of marriage lived out in God-glorifying ways in the daily grind, where their hearts can be exposed and their expectations aligned with the Lord’s. I suggest three important gospel environments as incubators for the development of Christ-centered marriages: a multigenerational group environment, a mentoring environment, and a counseling environment.

A Multi-Generational Group Environment. A primary need of engaged couples is to establish critical lines of support as they build on their relationship with the Lord and each other. They need gospel community with other Christian couples and families at multiple stages of life. Multigenerational home groups, ministry teams, Sunday school classes, or other small-group settings provide an environment for relationships to form between engaged or pre-engaged couples and couples who are more seasoned in marriage. Such groups can and should be a safe place to be encouraged and challenged, to speak the truth in love and to have the truth lovingly spoken back, and to invite others into our lives and be invited into theirs.

A group environment is an ideal place to begin to practice the one-anothers that should define grace-giving relationships. Gospel-centered community in a multi-generational context should be the centerpiece of the church’s ministry to couples preparing for marriage, and should be used to promote, facilitate, and provide accountability for the mentoring and counseling aspects of the ministry. For example, in my church, we encourage everyone to be involved in one of several hundred HomeGroups that meet weekly in members’ homes. Usually, when a couple in our church becomes engaged or seriously begins talking about marriage, they are already involved in a HomeGroup (either together or separately). But if they aren’t, this is the first environment we are going to point them toward where they can know others and be known by others. We will then ask their HomeGroup leaders to help them find a premarital mentor couple through the church and to help us discern if there are issues present that might require even more intensive premarital counseling with a biblical counselor.

A Mentoring Environment. While I recommend that every Christian couple preparing for marriage be involved in a gospel-centered community such as a small group, a Sunday School class, or a Bible study fellowship, I also believe that every couple needs more intensive discipleship in learning to apply the gospel to their relationship. I suggest that churches raise up and equip mentor couples to walk alongside engaged or pre-engaged couples using a resource such as John Henderson’s excellent book Catching Foxes. Couples should meet regularly (I usually suggest weekly) in informal settings like the mentor couple’s home or a coffee shop with their mentor couple for at least 10–12 weeks prior to the wedding and talk frankly and in-depth about subjects such as the meaning of marriage, the sacredness of the marriage covenant, the complementary roles of men and women, conflict and how to resolve it biblically, sex, money, and expectations.

Our church uses the Catching Foxes format of twelve sessions prior to the wedding, with three follow-up sessions at various intervals up to a year after the wedding. Sometimes the mentor couple is also the engaged couple’s HomeGroup leaders, but more often than not they aren’t. Either way, the mentor couple is a mature couple that has been vetted and trained by church leadership for this specific ministry. A couple serving in this role must be trusted by church leadership to help an engaged or pre-engaged couple prepare well for marriage—including sometimes making the determination of whether the couple is ready for marriage. In many cases, premarital mentoring is sufficient preparation for marriage. But in many other cases, either the multi-gen group environment or the mentoring environment will bring out the need for a further marriage preparation environment—a season of more intensive counseling with a trained biblical counselor.

A Biblical Counseling Environment. Often, in the course of walking with a couple in a group environment or a mentoring environment, more significant heart issues or important factors such as previous marriages, children from previous relationships, cohabitation, serious illness, addiction, or other issues of sin and suffering are revealed. In these cases, it is often wise to recommend that the couple meet with a trained biblical counselor for a season in addition to their group and premarital mentors. I recommend that churches have access to a referral base of vetted and trusted biblical counselors (such as ABC’s Biblical Counseling Network) to whom they can refer couples when their premarital mentors are in over their heads. In some cases, the counselor will just fill the same function as the premarital mentor—going through a resource such as Catching Foxes with the couple while also working to address the more significant areas of sin and suffering that have been presented. In other cases, the counselor will work alongside the premarital mentor couple (with their clients’ written consent) to address these issues. Sometimes couples will choose to meet with a trained biblical counselor instead of a premarital mentor couple simply because they value the added experience that a trained biblical counselor possesses.

Family ministry in the church begins where the family begins—when two young adults commit to each other before God to become one flesh. Young couples need the support, encouragement, and training that only the church can provide during this major life transition. By providing them a group environment, a mentoring environment, and access to a biblical counseling environment when necessary or advisable, the church honors the sacred covenant of marriage and strengthens families for the advance of the gospel of Christ.


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.


Relationships: Gaining Ground

by Paul Tripp

Be honest with yourself. In some way, you've been disappointed with every relationship you've ever had. It's the universal experience of everyone this side of eternity. No, it's not that you've met the wrong people or that you lack relational skills. It's that every relationship you've had, you've had in a fallen world.

You never get to hang out with perfect people. You never get to have those perfect relationships in a perfect location and with perfect circumstances surrounding you. No, all of your relationships are with flawed people in a flawed world. And don't forget, you're one of those flawed people as well!

So how can you gain ground? How can your relationships become better than they are right now? Let me suggest four ways:

1. DETERMINE TO BE REALISTIC

I love how shockingly honest the Bible is. It's a book that really doesn't pull any punches. You see, what damages our relationships is not having a realistic acceptance of our own weaknesses and struggles. What damages our relationships is our delusions of perfection and strength! The first step in any kind of change is admitting that change is needed in the first place.

2. DETERMINE TO BE HONEST

One of the things that gets in the way of healthy relationships is silence. Maybe our problem is that we simply don't love one another enough to have the hard conversations that are what good relationships are all about. If you are in a relationship with a flawed person, you will be touched by those flaws. Maybe it will come as an unkind word, an act of selfishness, or an outburst of irritation. Quick and loving honesty in those moments can keep a relationship from being distorted by bad habits and subverted by bitterness.

3. DETERMINE TO FOCUS ON YOURSELF

No, I'm not counseling you to be selfish—I'm encouraging you to be humble. Good relationships are the result of both people being committed to personal change and growth. Self-examination is a key way you demonstrate love for the other person. It's very easy to be all-too-satisfied with yourself, while being irritated and impatient with the weaknesses of another. When you have two people who are committed to heart change, the relationship will change and grow as well.

4. DETERMINE TO LIVE AND GIVE HOPE

There's a reason you don't have to settle for the relational status quo. There's a reason you don't have to panic. There's a reason you don't have to pack your bags and give up. The cross of Jesus Christ is the epicenter of hope in every relationship. Jesus was willing to face the ultimate in suffering, the rejection of his Father, so that we could experience reconciliation with Him and with one another.

You don't have what it takes to make you and the other person do the right thing, but He does! He is the Prince of Peace and He is able to bring lasting peace to where conflict once reigned. How does He do this? By doing the one thing we can't do for ourselves! He changes our hearts, and the result is radical change in our words and our actions. Look for ways to point the other person to this hope as well.

So be determined. Don't settle for way less than what Jesus suffered and died to give you. Be honest about your relationships and be hopeful about change. You can do both, because in Jesus Christ you really do have everything you need to live in peace with God and the people he has placed in your life.

God bless

Paul David Tripp

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • Where have you experienced brokenness in your relationships?
  • How might your expectations of other people (fallen sinners living in a fallen world) be unrealistic and unbiblical?
  • How do you react to relational conflict? Are you silent and sulking, or are you committed to loving honesty?
  • How can you teach and encourage others in the midst of relational conflict?

Getting to the Root of Our Problems

by Susan Thomas

With six people in our family, we’ve had lots of opportunities to visit the doctor. We have experienced everything from colds, flus, and ear infections all the way to viral meningitis, serum sickness-like reaction, and life-threatening allergies. And I’m not even talking about the injuries! We have had our share of doctor visits.

When I go to the doctor, I have a pretty simple agenda. I want to know the answer to two questions: “What is wrong and how can I get healthy?” I’m not feeling well, and I need help. In order to accurately treat a sick patient, the doctor’s first goal is to determine what is causing the unhealthy symptoms. Sometimes it’s an easy diagnosis, and sometimes tests, x-rays and scans are required. But, no matter what, the root of the symptoms must be revealed. This is true for our physical bodies and it’s true for our spiritual lives.

We have to get to the root.

When we are sick, the symptoms of our illness tend to show up way before the root is exposed. We may face symptoms such as paralyzing anxiety, anger out of control, marriage in distress, financial chaos, and much more. We lack peace and long for relief. Where does this pain originate? Our Great Physician offers us great clarity and help.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Your heart determines the course of your life. God reveals that the condition of our hearts will determine the course of our lives. What is inside your heart is taking you somewhere!

Sick heart = sick life. Healthy heart = healthy life.

Your heart is highly valuable. We don’t guard something that’s worth nothing. When I take out my trash, I’m fine with walking away. As long as it’s gone, I’m not too concerned with who comes and gets it.

However, I would never intentionally leave my wedding ring sitting on the street corner or cash my paycheck and give it all to my five-year-old to play “store.” When something is valuable, we guard it. We protect it. Your heart is of HUGE VALUE. And God says guard it! But why would we need to guard our hearts?

Your heart is under attack. Just like a bacteria can attack our physical bodies, there is a real assault on your heart and my heart. The very nature of the words “guard your heart” indicate that there is something we have to guard against. The Bible is clear that we have enemies.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)

Your heart is sick. Not only do we face the enemies around us, God reveals perhaps the greatest battle lies within us.

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)

We have a HEART PROBLEM.

14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart… 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:14-15, 21-23 (NLT)

I believe if we misunderstand the root of our problem, we will miss TRUE and COMPLETE healing! It’s like trying to treat cancer with a Band-Aid. In many well-meaning Christians, our first line of attack is to address our thoughts. Yet Jesus just told us that our sinful, unhealthy thoughts originate from our sick hearts! Our hearts are ground zero.

If not careful, we can make the common mistake of tackling the thoughts but missing the heart. We become aware of our messed up thinking, but we never stop to examine what’s behind the messed up thinking! We set out on a mission to deal with our thoughts and if not careful we may fall into two common traps.

The “More Knowledge” Trap

We set out on a knowledge quest. We read every book we can get our hands on. We are seeking content, content, content. Just give me the information so I can follow it. We may even turn to the Bible and attend multiple Bible studies, but we see no results. Now hear me, knowledge of God’s word is CRUCIAL. We must be people who discover the truths God has for us so we can learn to identify the false beliefs that lead us to pain and heartache. But more knowledge is not the ultimate answer.

The “More Willpower” Trap

When it comes to our thought life, we determine that we must have more self-control. We begin the quest to obey God and “take captive every thought” as it comes into our head. We fight to replace the false with the truth. We determine we will not give in to the destructive patterns and behaviors of our past. Yet we continue to fail.

We cry out in desperation wondering why am I still failing? Why do I keep repeating the same behaviors? Until we deal with the root of our problems, we fill find ourselves exhausted, frustrated and defeated.

We have to get to the root!

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9 (NLT)

God is our Creator and the Great Cardiologist of the soul. He has the ability and power to forgive our sins and heal our lives. He loves us and desires that He be our first love. We must go to Him with our sick places. We must ask Him to reveal the ROOT of pride, lust, selfishness, envy, bitterness, idolatry, or any other sin making our hearts sick. Confession of sin unlocks healing in our lives. God wants our hearts. God wants our love. God wants our healing.

When it comes to living this life, I’ve come to believe that…

The healthiest people realize how sick they are.

And they run to the Savior. He is our Healer. There is no more room for wallowing in shame and condemnation. I’m sick, and that’s a fact. So, let’s allow God to shine the light on our sick places, deal with it, and move on, healed in Jesus’ Name!


Finding the Substance Behind Our Sayings

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by Susan Thomas

Jesus said, “Remain in me…” John 15:4a, NLT

Life is amazing. We have big dreams, deep desires, exhilarating feelings and incredible experiences. We love. We laugh. We learn. Yet in all of life’s beauty, let’s be honest. Life is hard. Pain visits. Betrayal cuts. Dreams go unrealized. Relationships crumble. Crisis happens. Addictions grip. And even far more frequent, we face daily challenges common to the human existence. Tires go flat. Milk turns sour. Traffic makes us late. Kids have meltdowns in the grocery store. The job is stressful. The spouse is grumpy. Or maybe I’m grumpy!

So often in the Christian life, we seek to find the quick fix for the problems and pains we experience. We long to find and master the ever-illusive “5 Steps to (you fill-in-the-blank)” that will make things right again. We fall into the trap of speaking powerful phrases but missing their meaning. Often we say things in an attempt to make our selves or others feel better. The reality is that we do not really know what we are saying. Our intentions are good, but the results are empty platitudes. If we are really honest we just don’t know what else to say. So we search our thought-bank and reach for something that sounds good:

Everything happens for a reason.

All things will work together for good.

Jesus loves you.

Things are going to work out.

Trust God.

Without an intimate relationship with Christ, these phrases fall flat to the person in pain. If we do not grasp the meaning of these words, we miss their power in our lives. Jesus kept it simple. You want to live a life that is fruitful? Jesus said, “Remain in me.” Remain? Remain. Don’t move. Don’t leave. Don’t wander. Don’t follow distractions. REMAIN. Where do we remain? Remain in Christ. Remain in His love.

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” (>John 15:9–10, NLT)

How do we remain in Christ? Obey His commandments. Often when we hear that we are to obey God, all we can think about are His rules. We miss the heart behind God’s Law. We miss the heart of God. God’s rules are all about relationship.

“…‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.” (>Matthew 22:37–38, NLT)

God’s first rule is relational. He wants us to love Him! When we love Him as God and as Savior, we will then trust Him and follow all that He says. We will seek Him and His design for how to live this life. Our love for Him will be reflected in our choice to obey Him. We begin to view the Bible as a love letter delivered from our Creator to help us know Him more and experience an abundant life! 

Because we know Jesus intimately and follow Him daily, our phrases take on whole new meanings!

Everything happens for a reason. We’re not going to always understand every hard thing that happens. Sometimes sin nature is a cause for struggle and sometimes struggles are simply a result of living in a fallen world. Regardless, we can rest assured that God truly is in control and He is for us!

All things will work together for good. This is true for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Our gracious God has a wonderful way of making beauty from our ashes.

Jesus loves you. He loves us so much that He gave His life for us! His innocent death paid the price for our guilty debt. He gave His life in exchange for ours! And because He is alive again, His love promises the power to continue the good work He began in our lives. He won’t stop till we are who He designed us to be.

Things are going to work out. Because we know Jesus, we are confident that He holds the universe in His hands and that includes His children. God promises to be our refuge and strength. He is our help in time of need. And because of all these truths, we can…

Trust God. We know Him because the Holy Spirit lives inside of us. We know Him because we talk to Him daily. We know Him because we spend time reading His Word, serving and worshipping in His church and living in community with His people. We know our Savior’s voice, and we trust His heart. And true trust is revealed when we follow where He leads and obey what He says.

“Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (>John 15:5b, NLT)

Bottom line: apart from Jesus, we cannot do this life! As we remain in Christ and in His love, our lives will thrive. This means every day we wake up and our hearts cry out to Jesus. We talk with Him about everything. We read His Word and share it with others. Every day is a new day of surrender to God. Each decision we make is laced with the CHOICE that when it comes to my desires and God’s design, God’s way wins. We live out the substance of God and His Word. Now that is no platitude!


5 Ways to Stop Discouragement from Getting the Best of You

Discouragement and disappointment are normal emotions we all experience even as Christians, but it’s important to know how to make sure those debilitating emotions don’t get the best of us.

First, let’s look at four reasons why we get discouraged and disappointed.

Job felt discouraged with his wife and friends. They didn’t get it. In the midst of his suffering and questioning God, they tried to be helpful, but they ended up heaping more shame and blame on Job for his afflictions. We, too, can feel let down by our friends and family. They don’t understand what we’re going through or don’t offer to help as we wish they would. Our disappointment can turn to discouragement.

Elijah became discouraged with life’s circumstances. Despite our persistent and fervent prayers, things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped they would. Elijah hoped that after all the miracles the Israelites saw performed on Mount Carmel, Ahab and Jezebel would repent and put God first, but they did not. King Ahab and Jezebel were as stubborn and hard hearted as always, and Elijah felt discouraged, exhausted, and told himself that his entire ministry was a waste (1 Kings 19).

Jeremiah felt angry and discouraged with God when he believed God was against him, and because of that perspective, he temporarily lost hope in God (Lamentations 3). The disciples too felt discouraged after Jesus was crucified, before he rose from the dead. They said, “We were hoping that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They couldn’t see the bigger picture and felt disappointed that Jesus did not fight for his kingdom.

Peter felt discouraged with himself when he realized that he wasn’t as courageous as he thought he was. Jesus had warned him that he would deny him, but Peter’s pride kept him from seeing himself clearly (Matthew 26:31 and 74, 75). We too can feel discouraged and even depressed when we fail to live up to our own or someone else’s  expectations.

Discouragement happens, even to the strongest and best of people. Below are five (5) steps you can take when you start to feel the black cloud of discouragement swallow you up.

1. Be honest. It does you no good to pretend you don’t feel what you feel. You can’t take action against a negative feeling until you first admit you have it. A strong Christian is not someone who never experiences negative feelings. It’s someone who has learned what to do with them when he or she has them and how to process them biblically.

2. Take care of your body. If your body isn’t working, your mind, emotions and will are also weakened. I love how God tended to Elijah’s body first—before addressing anything else and provided ravens to feed him. Sometimes the circumstances of life drain us dry, and we need to press pause, stop doing, and simply rest and refresh.  

3. Pay attention to your thought life. Maturing as believers means we learn to think truthfully (Philippians 4:8) and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

All of us attempt to make sense of the things that happen in our lives. We try to figure out why they happen and what it all means. It’s crucial that we pay attention to what stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, about others, about God or a particular situation, and whether or not those stories are actually true. For example, if you look at what Elijah was telling himself after he became discouraged, much of it was not true, yet because he thought it, it added to his misery (read 1 Kings 19).

Jeremiah was also telling himself things about God that were not true but because his mind believed his version of reality instead of God’s, he lost his hope. Read through Lamentations 3. Notice in verse 21 Jeremiah begins to have a change of mind and heart. He says, “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope.” When his thoughts changed his negative emotions also lifted even though his circumstances stayed the same.

4. Train yourself to “see” life out of two lenses at the same time

When the apostle Paul counsels us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), he is telling us that our mind needs to be trained to think differently than we have in the past. Part of this training is to learn to see both the temporal (life is hard) and the eternal (God has a purpose here) at the same time. 

Paul speaks honestly of his temporal pain when he says he is hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Yet he did not become crushed, despairing, abandoned, or destroyed. Why not? Because he learned to firmly fix the eternal perspective on his spiritual eyes. He says, “Therefore we do not lose heart.… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:8–18).

Paul never minimized the pain of the temporal, yet discouragement didn’t win because he knew that God’s purposes were at work. (See Philippians 1:12–14 for another example).

5.    Press close into God

The truth is life is hard, people do disappoint and hurt us, and we don’t always understand God or his ways. The prophet Nahum talks about a day of trouble and reminds us “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, he knows those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). If we’re not in close trusting relationship with God, life’s troubles can become unbearable. The psalmist cried out, “I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see God in the land of the living” (Psalm 27). 

One final tip. The best way to chase out a negative feeling is with another feeling. The Bible teaches us “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Gratitude is a powerful anecdote for discouragement. We may not be able to give God thanks for the difficult situation that we find ourselves in, but we can learn to look for things we can be thankful for in the midst of it.

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


Relationships: An Investment Mentality

by Paul Tripp

We're all treasure hunters. We all live to gain, maintain, keep, and enjoy things that are valuable to us. Our behavior in any given situation of life is our attempt to get what is valuable to us out of that situation. There are things in your life to which you have assigned importance, and once you have, you are no longer willing to live without them (these principles are laid out in >Matthew 6:19–33).

Everyone does it. We live to possess and experience the things on which we’ve set our hearts. We’re always living for some kind of treasure. And every treasure you set your heart on and actively seek will give you some kind of return.

An argumentative moment is an investment in the treasure of being right, and from it you will get some kind of relational return. If you aggressively argue the other person into a corner, it’s not likely that the return on that investment will be his or her appreciation of you, nor will it be the desire to have similar conversations again!

If you invest in the treasure of willing service, you‘ll experience the return of appreciation, respect, and a deeper friendship. If it’s more valuable to have control than it is for your friend or spouse to feel heard, loved, and understood, then you’ll live with the return of that in the quality of your relationship.

Investment is inescapable; you do it everyday, and it's hard to get away from the return on the investments you’ve made.

How will you invest in your relationships today?

God bless

Paul David Tripp

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. What things—not just physical possessions—are valuable to you right now?
  2. Why are those things valuable or desirable for you?
  3. Do your values align with what God value?
  4. How is the return on those investments shaping your relationships?

Relationships: A Grace Mentality

by Paul Tripp

When I got married, I didn’t understand grace. I had a principle-istic view of Scripture that caused me to bring a law economy into all of my relationships.

The central focus of the Bible is not a set of practical principles for life. No, the central theme of the Bible is a person, Jesus Christ. If all you and I needed was a knowledge and understanding of a certain set of God-revealed principles for living, Jesus wouldn't have needed to come.

I think there are many Christians living in Christ-less relationships. Without knowing what they're doing, they construct law-based rather than grace-based relationships. And because of this, they ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish.

The problem with this is that we're not just people in need of wisdom; we're also people in need of rescue—and the thing that we need to be rescued from is us. Our fundamental problem is not ignorance of what is right. Our problem is selfishness of heart that causes us to care more about what we want than about what we know is right.

The laws, principles, and perspectives of Scripture provide the best standard ever towards which our relationships should strive. They can reveal our wrongs and failures, but they have no capacity whatsoever to deliver us from them. For that we need the daily grace that only Jesus can give us.

We must not simply hold one another to the high relational standards of God’s Word, but we must also daily offer the same grace that we've been given to one another so that we may be tools of grace in the lives of one another. Our confidence is not in the ability we have to keep God’s law, but rather in the life-giving and heart-transforming grace of the One who has drawn us to himself and has the power to draw us to one another.

When we live with this confidence, we look at the difficulties of our relationships not so much as hassles to be endured, but as opportunities to enter into an even deeper experience of the rescuing, transforming, forgiving, empowering grace of Jesus, the One who died for us and is always with us.

Three mentalities—each an essential building block for a healthy biblical, relational lifestyle. Each require the honesty of personal humility, and each encourage us to be reconciled to one another and to God again and again and again.


Relationships: Can You Relate?

by Paul Tripp

Have you ever wondered if the people around you deal with the things you do in your relationships? Have you ever wondered if other marriages deal with petty differences, or with the collision of differing agendas? Have you ever wondered if other parents struggle with resistant children and the impatience that greets you when it happens? Have you ever wondered if other people get in trouble with their neighbors or fall out of favor with a friend?

Have you ever wondered if other people experience harmless conversations suddenly turning angry, or misunderstanding getting in the way of an otherwise productive friendship? Have you ever wondered if other people get as exhausted as you do with the mess of relationships? Have you ever wondered if other people say to themselves, "Christians, you can't live with them and you can't live without them?"

Well, you should find comfort as you read Scripture because the mess of relationships that we deal with everyday is on almost every page of the Bible. From Adam blaming Eve for his sin, to Cain murdering his brother out of jealousy. From Abram and Sarai colluding together for Abram to have sexual relations with the servant girl, to Rebekkah plotting with Jacob to deceive his father and get the blessing that his brother rightly deserved. From Saul's murderous jealousy of David, to David's murderous adultery with Bathsheba. From Delilah's seduction of Samson, to Eli's struggle with his wayward sons. From the inability of Solomon's sons to get along, to the grief of Hezekiah over his evil son Manasseh.

From the competitiveness of the disciples for a place of honor in the kingdom, to tension between Mary and Martha as to how to best serve Jesus. From the rejection of Christ on the cross by his own Father, to the divisions that wracked the New Testament churches. The Bible puts before you account after account of people just like you dealing with the same things you do as you live as a sinner, with sinners, in this fallen world.

Why do we have these gritty stories in the Bible? Because God wants you to know that you are not alone in what you experience. And not only are you not alone, God wants you to know that you are not left to your own wisdom and your own strength. The One who is your wisdom and strength subjected himself to the harsh realities of relationships in a broken world so that he would be a sympathetic and understanding Helper in your time of relational need.

But there is more. He was willing to face the ultimate in relational suffering, the rejection of his Father, so that you would not only have the hope of acceptance with God, but also the hope of real reconciled relationship with your neighbor. He purchased our peace with God and in so doing made peace between us possible as well.

What does all of this mean? It means you do not have to give way to discouragement, panic, or hopelessness. No matter how frequent or complicated the mess is, there is hope. Not because some day you will discover the key to perfect relationships or meet the perfect person. But because Jesus did what we could not do so that we would be able to experience what we could never experience if left to our own strength and wisdom.

So, don't passively accept the mess and don't run away when it comes. Determine to be an agent of hope, change, peace, and reconciliation. There is probably not a relationship in your life that could not be better in some way. Jesus makes that change and growth possible.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. What relational conflict are you going through right now?
  2. Do you tend to give way to discouragement, panic, or hopelessness in the midst of conflict? If not, what is your source of hope?
  3. What does the Bible have to say about your conflict? Search the Scriptures for verses and/or stories with similar themes, or ask a friend for help.
  4. How can you help others find help in the Word of God for their conflict?

It's Not Your Party

by Paul Tripp

Back in my early days of ministry, I was a kindergarten teacher at a Christian school. Those were the four longest years of my life... actually, that's not true. They were four great years, because I was finally with an age group that I could relate to!

During that period of time, one of the mothers came to me and asked if she could have a birthday party for her daughter. As long as you invite everyone in the class, I said, that's not a problem. The next day, Suzie's mom turned my room into birthday kingdom.

There was a long table going down the middle of the classroom, and at the end of the table was Suzie—birthday girl. She had an amazing pile of presents in front of her, stacked so high you could barely see her face. All her classmates sat around the table, admiring Suzie's stack of presents while looking at their own little sandwich bag of party favors.

One of the boys in the class wasn't pleased. He began to harrumph. As Johhny looked at his bag of favors—two tootsie rolls, a lollipop, and a plastic whistle—and compared it to Suzie's big pile of gifts, he got angrier and angrier. His harrumphing grew louder and louder. Finally, one mom helping out had enough.

She came to Johhny's seat at the table, knelt down to look him the eye and said, "Johnny, it's not your party."

It's a comical little scene, perhaps even "cute" at first, but the theology of those words obviously stuck with me throughout my life. As I think about my life and the glory of God, I need to remind myself that this life is not my party.

You and I have been born into a world that was created to celebrate God. This life is not our party. This life is bigger than your marriage. This life is bigger than your job. It's bigger than your kids and their accomplishments. It's bigger than your vacation or personal comfort. This life is bigger than you.

You see, the problem with Johnny is that he made that party all about himself. He wanted to be the center of attention. He wanted to receive all the gifts. He couldn't see past his own selfish heart to celebrate Suzie and her birthday, and that only caused conflict and discord for everyone around him.

You and I act like Johnny all too often, but thankfully God is loving and patient and kind. Not only does He forgive us, but He continually invites us back into the party. What amazes me most is that God didn't just write a Heavenly e-vite; He left Heaven to murder Himself so that we could be personally invited to an eternal party.

Jesus died and was raised to invite you to a party bigger than anything you could throw on your own. You'll never understand life, or find peace of heart, until you understand that this life is not your party.

God Bless

Paul David Tripp

Reflection Questions

  1. Why is it tempting to make life about you?
  2. How did you celebrate yourself this past week?
  3. What happens when others don't celebrate your party like you want?
  4. Why is God's party better than yours?
  5. How can you become more involved in God's party?

Depression and the Ministry: The Need for Wise Disclosure

by Jeremy Lelek

During the past year, I have had the privilege of working very closely with Paul Tripp in the development of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care. That experience has given me a deeper understanding of the particular stresses and temptations experienced by pastors in ministry, and will considerably inform the comments that follow as it regards the questions, “How much should you share about your depression with a congregation? How do you explain it?”

Given the diversity of church cultures represented in the body of Christ, offering a blanket statement on the appropriate quantity of information to share with a congregation would seem a bit myopic. Instead, I believe it to be more beneficial to consider several components that may serve to shape a wise decision as a pastor considers disclosing personal struggles with depression.

1. If married, have you shared this struggle with your spouse?

Men in general tend to wrestle with transparency when it comes to personal struggle. When depression is involved, fear of appearing weak or less spiritual might incline a husband toward silence and isolation. While the question posed involves the broader community of the church, it is imperative that a pastor be considerate of the most significant person in his community—his wife. This is a responsibility of an overseer in that he is called to “manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). Failure to manage this detail prior to confessing one’s depression to the entire church would lead to further stress on the family while exacerbating the emotional strain on both he and his wife.

2. Have you discussed your struggle with your board of elders or ruling authority?

The book of Proverbs says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). As a pastor, resist any temptations toward isolation. The concept of church government ordained in the Bible is not established exclusively for disciplinary purposes. Ideally, church government should exhibit a strong redemptive ethos in which a pastor is able to struggle openly with those in authority hoping to receive encouragement and wisdom from fellow brothers in the faith. This spirit is illustrated in 1 Timothy 5:17 where Paul instructs, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” When a person is spiritually weary, he is wise to pursue the safety found in the abundance of counselors so as to avoid destructive decisions that could ultimately be detrimental to the flock over which he presides.

3. Have you sought to foster a gospel-saturated culture within your church?

My pastor once stated in a sermon, “The gospel doesn’t make you free from struggle, but it makes you free to struggle.” This statement correlates well with Paul’s words in Romans 8:33-34, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” Operating in the liberating freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ frees believers (pastors included) from functioning under the yoke of legalistic slavery (Galatians 5:1). Have you sought to foster such a culture within your own church? Have you offered rich biblical understanding of the gospel as it pertains to sin and suffering so as to equip those in your congregation to expect you to be as human as they? Or, have you developed a persona as pastor that you and those in leadership should be immune to the effects of depravity in a fallen world? Answers to these questions will strongly inform how much you share as well as how you explain your current situation. 

4. Consider your motives for sharing.

Why do you want to share with your congregation? Is disclosure viewed as your pathway to relieve a heavy burden of guilt? Is it your means of finding an escape from the pressures of ministry? The depressed person longs for relief and will often utilize desperate measures to find it. Make sure, as you visit with your spouse, close friends, and elders that your chief aim of confessing and sharing is centered in a love for God and neighbor. There is profound redemptive value in wise transparency.

As you consider what and how to share with your congregation, be compelled to esteem the supremacy of Christ in your suffering. God is always working, and his agenda in all things is quite specific: conformity to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). How might Jesus be glorified in your confessing a significant bout with depression? How might your own struggle serve as a means of encouraging others who are facing their own seasons of hardship? Seek to emulate the example of Paul as he shared his struggle with his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Seek to esteem the sufficient grace of Christ as you expose your own vulnerability to a fallen world.

Strength Made Perfect in Weakness

While the list of considerations for pastors facing depression far exceeds what can be covered in a single article, those above may serve as a baseline. As to the “how” of explaining, many of the same ideas also apply. Sharing your struggle with others can no doubt present significant challenges (on top of the depression you are already experiencing). In these moments, remember your call, even in weakness. You are an ambassador of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Even your encounter with emotional darkness may serve as an opportunity to bear witness to this sacred message. Paul mentions his willingness to endure many hardships, afflictions, calamities, beatings, and sleepless nights in order to prevent any obstacles from hindering his followers from hearing his gospel-saturated message (2 Corinthians 6:1-10). May such courageous grace compel you to do likewise. May God lead you in wisdom on this matter so that you, like Paul, may be able to say in the end (without shame), “We have spoken freely to you... our heart is wide open” (2 Corinthians 6:11).


Christian Counseling and Apologetics

by Chandler Fozard

"4Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.  5Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes." Proverbs 26:4-5

Verse four basically instructs us not to let a fool tell us how to counsel him. Instead, show the fool how the wisdom of God is superior to his own foolishness in such a manner that he is able to realize his own foolishness. If we fail in this task, the Scripture says, the fool will just continue deceiving himself into believing he knows better than we (or, worse, than God). There's much at stake in the counseling relationship then. If handled correctly, a person may "come to their senses and escape the snare of the enemy." If done poorly, they will remain in their sins, thinking themselves to be wiser than God.  

For this reason, we must rely on the wisdom and power of God to reveal the foolishness of men. Counselors must know God's Word. We must be much in prayer and in dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit. And we must not let those we are counseling lead the way. I have seen biblical counseling that differs little from that old Rogerian devil. Someone comes in seeking counsel, and the so-called counselor really offers little in the way of solid, Biblical counsel. He simply parrots back what the counselee has said, throwing in the occasional Scripture and a few words of application. That's not Biblical counseling.

Biblical counseling seeks to walk the person through what led them to counseling in the first place. Rather than minimize the pain their feeling, it seeks to emphasize how it is foolishness--whether theirs or another's--that has brought them there. It offers wisdom from God regarding how to see the problem through the lenses of Scripture. Of course, as Paul said, we are not salespeople hoping against hope that some will buy what we're selling. We know that God, not persuasive words of wisdom, is the One who changes people.

One area in which this works out in counseling those incarcerated or recently released is with regard to the so-called problem of low self-esteem. According to Scripture, the problem of man is pride, not a negative self-image or low self-esteem. If men in prison seem to struggle with low self-esteem or a low self-image, rather than spending hours of time trying to figure out who or what caused it, we would be wiser helping them understand that the problem is within, not without. Walk them through their past only to demonstrate how their foolishness led them to where they are, which is why they must have the wisdom of God if they are to change.

"Joe, I see you're upset because you've lost your freedom and your family because of what you've done. Don't you see how God's way would have been better? The good news is that there's still hope for you. You can leave here freer on the inside than when you came. You can have a marriage that sings and raise kids that are the envy of other parents."

Counsel from the Word. Don't let those you are counseling run the show. You know what God's Word says; help them see that God's ways are better and wiser than theirs.


The Danger of Forgetfulness

by Paul Tripp

We all do it, probably every day. It has a huge impact on the way we view ourselves and the way we respond to others. It’s one of the main reasons we experience so much conflict in our relationships. The scary thing is: we barely recognize that we’re doing it.

What is this thing we all tend to do that causes so much harm? We forget the generosity of God.

In the busyness and self-centeredness of our lives, we sadly forget how much our lives have been blessed by and radically redirected by the generosity of God. The fact that he blesses us when we deserve nothing (except for wrath and punishment) fades from our memories like a song whose lyrics we once knew but now cannot recall.

Every morning, God’s generosity greets us in at least a dozen ways, but we barely recognize it as we frenetically prepare for our day. When we lay our exhausted heads down at the end of the day, we often fail to look back on the many gifts that dripped from God’s hands into our little lives.

We don’t often take time to sit and meditate on what our lives would have been like if the generosity of the Redeemer had not been written into our personal stories. Sadly, we all tend to be way too forgetful, and there are few things more dangerous in the Christian life than forgetfulness. 

Forgetfulness is dangerous, because it shapes the way you think about yourself and others. When you remember God’s generosity, you also remember that you simply did nothing whatsoever to earn his blessing. When you remember his generosity, you’re humble, thankful, and tender. When you remember his generosity, complaining gives way to gratitude and self-focused desire gives way to worship.

But when you forget God’s generosity, you proudly tell yourself that what you have is what you’ve achieved. When you forget his generosity, you take credit for what only his blessings could produce. When you forget his generosity, you name yourself as righteous and deserving, and you live an entitled and demanding life. 

When you forget God’s generosity and think you’re deserving, you find it very easy to withhold generosity from others. Proudly, you think that you’re getting what you deserve and that they are, too. Your proud heart is not tender, so it’s not easily moved by the sorry plight of others. You forget that you are more like than unlike your needy brother or sister, failing to acknowledge that neither of you stands before God as deserving.

...[W]ill you remember to remember the generosity of God? Remembrance produces upward worship, inward humility, and outward generosity. Give thanks, be humble, and be generous, because the blessings you receive from the Lord are not what you deserve.

God bless

Paul David Tripp

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. How has God been generous to you [this year]? List at least 10 examples.
  2. Look at your list. Which of those 10 examples are you tempted to take personal credit for? Why does God deserve all the credit?
  3. How have you been arrogant and self-righteous about blessings when you should be humble and grateful?
  4. How have you failed to extend generosity to others [this year]?
  5. How can you be generous to others as an expression of your humble gratitude for the undeserved blessings you have received as a result of the generosity of God?

What Would You Say to Yourself at 16?

by Bob Kellemen

Yesterday in the car I was listening to a Christian radio station (Moody Radio out of Chicago) and they had an interesting call-in question: 

“What would you say to your 16-year-old self?” 

Whatever age you are now, if you had a chance to go back to the you of age 16, what would you tell yourself about life? What biblical counsel would you offer the younger you? 

How would you answer that question? 

My “Gut Response”

My first response, my “gut response,” kind of surprised me: 

“Life is hard, but God is good.” 

When I was 16, I had been a Christian for just over one year. At that age I falsely assumed that with God, since all things were possible, therefore life would be easy. 

Some 37 years later, I certainly would say that I’ve had a good life. God has graciously given me untold blessings: eternal salvation in Christ, a wonderful wife of 32 years, two young adult children I deeply love, a wonderful daughter-in-law and granddaughter, great ongoing relationships with my extended family and with friends, a great church where we worship and fellowship, a nice home perfect for entertaining, a life in ministry where I’ve been able to use my abilities and gifts, etc., etc., etc. 

So, why would my first thought be to tell my younger self, “Life will be hard”? 

Biblical Counsel: Sustaining—“Life Is Bad”

Well, Jesus promised us a hard life. “In this world you will have trouble(John 16:33).  

His promise has come true in my life. Along with all the blessings, I have found that life has a way of knocking me down. Life in this fallen world is filled with hurts, disappointments, confusion. I sin against others. Others sin against me.  

For example, as wonderful as ministry has been, like anyone who gives themselves to others, I have been hurt deeply by others (and I’ve hurt others deeply). In my 37 years since age 16, many times I have felt what the Apostle Paul felt. After telling the Corinthians about the hardships he had suffered, Paul admitted that the pressure felt like far more than he could endure. He confessed that in his heart he felt the sentence of death and despaired even of life. 

I’m not saying this to “whine.” I’m simply saying that my 16-year-old self would have been helped by a major change in expectations. Assuming that God will make life easy is not helpful! 

The historic biblical counseling approach that I follow and teach starts with sustaining, which empathizes with people by communicating, “Yes, life is bad. Yes, it’s normal to hurt.” I picture sustaining with the image of “climbing in the casket.” When someone like Paul feels the sentence of death, before we rush in with our “happiness all the time” mentality, we stop and experience their death-like, their casket-like hurt.  

With the hurting “me of age 16,” I would be tempted to rush in with 1 Corinthians 10:13 and explain that God never tempts anyone beyond what they can bear. Well, the same Apostle Paul who wrote that, a few years later also wrote that he was under great pressure far beyond his ability to endure.” Both truths are equally true. I’d want to communicate both to the younger me. 

Biblical Counsel: Healing—“God Is Good” 

The biblical counseling approach I teach and practice continues with historic biblical healing which says, “It’s possible to hope.” So, taken together, we say, “It’s normal to hurt, but it’s possible to hope.”  

I would say to the younger me: 

“Along with your casket experiences, expect many resurrection experiences. Life is filled with daily mini-caskets of separation, of the death of expectations, even the death of dreams and some relationships. But life will also be filled with many daily mini-resurrections.” 

That’s what Paul said when he spoke of himself and to himself. Right after saying that he “despaired even of life,” Paul continued: “But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” 

What image of God did Paul highlight in his self-counsel? 

The dead-raising God. 

The God of daily resurrections. 

Yes, I would communicate to my younger self that “life will be hard. Life will sometimes feel like an inescapable coffin.” But I would never stop there. With my younger self, I would also say: 

“But God is good. He’s good all the time. It may not feel like that. But focus on your image of God. See Him as the God who sees you, who cares for you, and who uses the hard things of life to make you a more Christ-dependent person.” 

I’d want to communicate what Paul said to himself and the Corinthians.  

“Through all the struggles and temptations of life, God is faithful. You can count on Him to raise the dead things in your life. Now, sometimes some of those dead things won’t be raised until the next life, until eternity. Sometimes some things, perhaps many things, won’t make sense until the next life. But don’t only look at life from an earthly perspective. Also look at life from God’s eternal perspective. When people intend things for evil and harm and hurt, God weaves all things together for good. Hope in God.” 

“Hope in God.” That’s a good piece of counsel for my 16-year-old self. 

I’d also want to share with the younger me what Christ shared with His followers. 

“Yes, in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! Christ has overcome the world. Focus on your relationship to Christ. In Him you can have peace.” 

“Peace in Christ.” That’s a good piece of counsel for my 16-year-old self. 

Join the Conversation 

“What would you say to your 16-year-old self?”


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!


Abused Wives: Called to Suffer?

by Leslie Vernick

This week one of my coaching clients shared that her counselor told her that her role as a godly wife was to submit to her husband’s abuse and quietly suffer for Jesus. She was told that setting boundaries was unbiblical and asking her spouse to change specific behaviors for her to feel safe or rebuild trust was demanding. Is that true?

Does scripture encourage a spouse to patiently and quietly endure harsh and abusive treatment within her or his marriage?

The passage that we usually turn to support this thinking is found in >1 Peter 2:13-3:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith. 

The entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but I want to focus on a few points from these verses to help us understand what Peter is teaching us about how we suffer in a godly way as well and when we should patiently endure suffering.

Peter anticipates that the new believers will be persecuted for their faith. Therefore instead of talking about the normal mutual household duty codes between slaves and their masters and husbands and wives that Paul already covered in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Peter zeros in where the relationships are not mutual or reciprocal. Peter wants Christians to know how to respond when the government or a slave owner misuses his power or is abusive, or when a husband is a non-believer and isn’t following the mutual household duty codes that Paul spoke about, such as “husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the church.” To a non-believing husband those words would hold no weight. 

First, let’s look at how Peter tells us to handle ourselves in the presence of abusive people. Peter is clear that believers should be respectful of others regardless of how we are treated. Often in destructive marriages, a spouse who is regularly verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. Instead of learning to handle such mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband, and God by her building resentment as well as her explosive or negative reactions and responses to his abuse. 

It’s painful to keep quiet in these circumstances. In fact, the psalmist talks about his struggle with keeping quiet in Psalm 39 when he says, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me. But as I stood there in silence – not even speaking of good things – the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words.” (Psalm 39:1-3). Not using our words to hurt others once they have hurt us, may indeed cause some internal suffering. But when we choose this path, God is honored.

Second, Peter reminds us that God sees our mistreatment and is pleased with us when we bear it without retaliating with our words or actions. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus, who, when reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who him who judges justly (>1 Peter 2:22, 23).

Next, Peter explains when we should endure abusive treatment. He writes, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

The good Peter is talking about here is a moral good, a doing-the-right-thing kind of good. Although in this passage Peter specifically advises us to submit to authority, Peter himself was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been ordered by those in authority to stop.  Peter refused to submit because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).

In the same way when a wife refuses to submit to her husband’s sinful behavior, or stands up for her children who are being mistreated, or refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report, or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself, she is doing good even if it doesn’t feel good to her spouse. Her behavior honors God, protects her children and does what is in the best interest of her spouse. (It is never in someone’s best interests to enable sin to flourish.).

A wife who does good in these ways will suffer because her husband will not view her actions as good. Instead he will get angry, defensive, and likely retaliate against her for what she’s done. That’s exactly the kind of suffering Peter is talking about. He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all. Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.

Lastly, Peter reminds wives that their unbelieving husbands who refuse to obey God’s word can be won by their respectful and pure conduct. But we must keep in mind that a godly wife’s godly actions may include implementing tough consequences for repetitive and unrepentant sin in the hopes that those actions influence her husband to look at his destructive behaviors, repent, and come to Christ. God used that approach with hard hearted Israel when they repeatedly refused to heed his verbal warnings. Paul encourages us to do likewise (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 13).

When a woman takes these brave steps she will suffer. She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her. She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse. She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken. 

When we counsel a wife that God calls her to provide all the benefits of a good marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her, or violates their marital vows, we’re asking her to lie and pretend. This is not good for her or her marriage. This counsel also reinforces the abusive person’s delusions that he can do as he please with no consequences. Marriage does not give someone a “get out of jail free” card that entitles one to lie, mistreat, ignore, be cruel, or crush his spouse’s spirit with no consequences. To believe otherwise is to not know the heart or wisdom of God.

If Peter meant that a wife should stay passive and quiet and do nothing to help her spouse see the damage he is causing his family, her behavior would not be doing him good. It would enable him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways, which is not good for him, for her, or for their family. That kind of passivity does not honor God. 

Peter concludes his teaching about suffering with these words. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (>1 Peter 4:19 ESV).  

Let’s encourage suffering spouses do good rather than pretend or stay passive. There is a huge difference between the two.


Remembering Our Place When Wronged

by John Henderson

Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place?” (Genesis 50:18-19)

We find in Joseph a kind of humble grace that deserves our thought and appreciation. His brothers had wronged him severely. They had sold him into slavery and death. Years later, as second in power to Pharaoh in Egypt, Joseph is given an opportunity for retribution. It would be easy to assume that God was providing a chance for him to even the score. What would you do if you were in Joseph’s place?

I am amazed by how he responded. The posture Joseph takes is contrary to our sinful nature and wholly divine. Clearly the Spirit of God abides in him. Mankind tends not to act in this way. None of us tend to act this way. When hurt and abused, we tend to be quicker to punish and revile. We need help. We need God abiding in us. We need to believe and practice what Joseph believed and practiced.

Remember the place of God – to assume the seat of judge upon the souls of others is to forget the Lord has already filled the seat. It is like a pardoned convict demanding the judge step aside so that he may evaluate and sentence a fellow criminal. The Father has given the position of Judge to His Son.[1] Not one of us can bear the burden, nor would we exercise the chair with wisdom that is fitting. We can take comfort, however, that God is Judge enough. He dispenses mercy and wrath in perfect seasons and proportions.

Remember the place of Self – a recipient of grace. Perhaps we are offended in the present situation, but we have often assumed the other spot. Whether we recall the incidents or not, the Lord remembers countless moments when His grace was extended to us, undeserved. Our grit and savvy did not secure our pardon, but God’s grace in Jesus Christ. “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?”[2]

Remember the ways of God – they are righteous and pure. They have always been righteous and pure. “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. ”[3] We can trust our God. We can trust His works. Since the foundation of the world, He has proved Himself holy beyond measure. His law is perfect. His wrath upon sinners is perfect. His wrath was so perfect that the sacrifice of His Son was necessary to satisfy it. Indeed, His grace is perfect too.

Remember the ways of Self – they are prideful and distorted. Whatever true justice we perceive and dispense is a gift from God anyway. It is not of us or from us. If we had our way, then true grace and mercy wouldn’t happen. Justice wouldn’t either. We cannot trust ourselves. We cannot trust our works. It is not our instinct to redeem, or absorb transgression, or overlook a fault in love. The Spirit must train our hearts to believe and apply the gospel in these forms.

Next time we are offended, as those who counsel the word of God to life, let us pray for the Lord to bring these verses and truths to our minds. Let us pray to give the same mercy we have received. Then we will better understand what it means to be children of God. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. ”[4]

[1]John 5:22

[2]Proverbs 20:9

[3]Deuteronomy 32:3-4

[4]Matthew 5:44-45