Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review- Gospel Centered Counseling, by Dr. Robert Kellemen

As a biblical counselor, I believe my counsel should flow from the Gospel. Therefore, I was very excited to read Dr. Bob Kellemen’s new book, Gospel Centered Counseling. I love his writing anyway, and this book provides so much robust and relevant counsel for the counselor that I had difficulty putting it down.

I found this book to be warm and comforting, like having a conversation with a friend. The tenor of the book reflects the heart of a Pastor/Teacher/Counselor who longs to impart loving, biblical truth to the reader.

A Counseling Model Built on the Gospel of Grace
Bob sought to determine what a biblical counseling and discipleship model built upon the gospel of grace would look like. He asked the following questions:
  • The Word: “Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?
  • The Trinity/Community: “What comes into our mind when we think about God?”  “Whose view of Go will we believe- Christ’s or Satan’s?
  • Creation: Whose are we?” “In what story do we find ourselves?”
  • Fall: “What’s the source of our problem?” “What went wrong?”
  • Redemption: “How does Christ being us peace with God?”  “How does Christ change people?”
  • Church: “Where can we find a place to belong and become?”
  • Consummation: “How does our future destiny with Christ make a difference in our lives today as saints who struggle against suffering and sin?”
  • Sanctification: “Why are we here?” “How do we become like Jesus?” “How can our inner life increasingly reflect the inner life of Christ?”
Bob carefully, compassionately, and accurately develops a gospel-centered model throughout the book as he answers these questions.

Personal Takeaways
There is more in this book than a short review can do justice, so I will give you my personal takeaways and mention a few of the things I found especially noteworthy. Bob reminds us early on that the relationship between counselor and counselee is centered on the love and gospel of Jesus Christ. We are cautioned to avoid the common pitfalls in helping people, giving more love than truth or dispensing all truth and no love.

In the second chapter, Bob carefully mines the gold from the book of Colossians, stressing the importance of the counselor’s confidence being in the Bible, not in human wisdom. He presents a balanced and reasonable approach to the complex mind-body connection, respecting all dimensions of who we are. Bob carefully outlines the dangers of blending human wisdom with Christ, and stresses the message, “Jesus knows people!”

He reminds us that biblical counseling is not about us as the counselor and is not ultimately about the counselee; that biblical counseling is about “giving people a glimpse of the wonder of our God” and helping them to grow so they will glorify God in their lives.  

Heart Change for Life Change
Bob provides a rich view of counseling on the heart level, carefully developing, explaining, and teaching the process of change at the heart level. He refers to counselors as, “Biblical Cardiologists,” and exposes the various chambers of the sin-sick heart before revealing the cure as it is found in the redemption story.

In several key places, Bob includes role-play with fictitious counselee’s to illustrate the brokenness sin brings into life. The narratives are rich with compassion and provide a peek into the counseling process. They bring to life the practical concepts he presents as well as highlighting the necessity for gospel saturation when giving counsel to hurting souls.  

The Importance of Community
Instruction in heart change and life change are to take place in the context of the local church. The local church is the one place all Christians can and should call home. It is the place we should bear one another’s burdens, it is a hospital for broken people. Through exegeting Ephesians, Bob gives a close up look at the church community as the place to belong and the place to learn how to become like Christ. It is within the churches that hope, healing and help for the problems of life are found.

Required Reading
Page after page of this excellent book amplifies a statement Bob makes in the opening pages, “The gospel is about God radically changing people.” This book has been added to the required reading list for our biblical counselor training program. I would highly recommend it to pastors who want to understand what biblical counseling truly is about. I would recommend it to both equippers and those being equipped for ministry. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Was Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

Today's guest blogger is Linda Rice. Linda counsels at Gateway Biblical Counseling and Training Center. M.A. in Biblical Counseling. Certified by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.  You can read more of her writing hereToday’s blog is reposted with permission. 

For decades I have believed that present-day Christmas originated as a pagan holiday that was Christianized. I never researched this popular belief because, since our family has used the season to focus on Christ, I didn’t really care about its origins. To me, just as my past pagan false worship of God does not blight my present worship as a believer, so also a possible pagan past to Christmas is irrelevant to a Christ-glorifying present celebration.
Has the culture secularized much of the holiday? Boy howdy! I can understand why some Christians might abstain from the festivities.
Actually, Christians ought to expect secularization, or attempts to that end, of Christmas and any event honored by Christians. Hearts that do not follow Christ will follow the world and cannot help expressing it. Secularization is simply unbelievers being who they are. So when they say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” they are staying true to their theology and Christians ought not expect them to do otherwise. Resurrection Day has also been secularized. So also every holiday. And every non-holiday. No surprise there. Holiday or not, it is up to Christians to keep their own hearts pure and seek to glorify and serve Christ by what they do with any particular day (1 John 2:15-17).
That said, this year I’ve read information from a church history professor that contradicts what I have believed about the pagan root of Christmas. Doing a bit of research to check on what I read, I learned that there is strong evidence that the choice of December 25 for the birth of Christ does not originate in the Roman pagan holiday. None of the various Roman gods was worshipped on December 25 prior to the Christian choice of that day.
By the second century, some Christians were trying to calculate the date of Christ’s birth. They arrived at December 25 (western church) and January 6 (eastern church). Though it is doubtful that Christ was actually born on either of these dates, the documented fact is that Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus of Rome both wrote about it. They lived in AD 150-215 and 170-236, respectively.
It wasn’t until 274 that Emperor Aurelian made December 25 an official pagan holiday in Rome. That is 70-80 years after when Clement wrote about that day. So the Christians had the day pegged first. When I learned this, I wondered if Aurelian was trying to offer a pagan alternative to counter Christianity, then discovered that others believe that may be the case Touchstone Archives: Calculating Christmas. If this information is correct, then the Romans paganized the day, not vice versa.
The first record of an actual celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25 is at about 336. That would have been on the heels of over 230 years of persecution which ended in 313, when Constantine instituted tolerance for Christianity. To me, it seems highly unlikely that Christians persecuted for their faith would so quickly adopt a pagan holiday as an occasion to celebrate the Lord for whom they had been suffering and dying.
Whatever the actual date of Christ’s birth, the fact is, Christ was born. We can know that because God’s infallible Word says so.
And, whatever the history of a holiday called Christmas, this holiday intensifies my thoughts about Christ. Nativity songs stir joyful meditation upon Christ. Many traditions that accompany it, like time with family, are wholesomely delightful. So in thankfulness for these gifts from God, I intend to enjoy sharing fun with my family and friends, catching the latest news on friends through their cards and letters (even though mine will be sent late), and even delighting in the beauty of an extra piece of lighted, prickly decor in my living room. I will delight in manger scenes, Christmas carols about Christ, reading the Christmas story, and remembering again and again what Christ has done for us.
Likewise, I wish you good times with your families and friends. I hope that you, too, know the joy of a relationship with the Son of God who took on human flesh, lived sinlessly, died to pay for sins, rose victorious over death, ascended to the Father, and promises eternal life to those who repent from their sins to follow Him by faith.
If you’re interested in a bit of investigation for yourself, here are some sources to get you started:
The Origins of Christmas
(This one has links to other sources, some of which have original sources cited.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Are You Living to be Happy?

I am often criticized for saying that life is not about being happy. It is misunderstood to mean that I don't believe in emotions. I am not a believer in stoicism. I believe in experiencing emotions, they are a part of the humanity- package God has given to us that are part of what makes us human. What I do not endorse is allowing your emotions to run and rule your life. Too many people live their lives in pursuit of happiness and they do it at the expense of their Christian obligation to live their lives in a way that honors and glorifies God.

I see this in women who are willing to live separate lives from their husbands. I see it when young people are willing to marry out of the Christian faith and be yoked together with unbelievers because "He makes me happy." I see it in those who disregard Scripture because they don't like something that the Bible says, or it doesn't make them feel happy.  

Living by your emotions is a trap. Emotions are not stable and they are often ruled by the sinful motivations of the heart. Those thoughts, beliefs, and desires of the heart that are selfish, self-willed, idolatrous, focused on pleasure, focused on loving self more than loving God and loving others. 

I am not anti-emotion. I think it is possible to have and experience a wide range of feelings and emotions without allowing them to rule your life. To do this, you must understand what the Bible says about how we are to live our lives. 

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,… Titus 2:11-13 (NASB) 

The Bible is clear about emotions, I'll put in that verse from first Peter about feelings from the Adams Bible. Ephesians 4 tells us not to let the emotion of anger rule our lives, we are warned in Proverbs not to let our desire for too much food or pleasure or relaxation rule our lives (Proverbs 23:20-21), we are warned not to let our sexual desires rule our lives (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5), or when a desire for peace in the home or in a relationship results in a lack of confrontation of sin creating a false peace (Matthew 5:9). 

Jesus tells us not to let fear or worry and anxiety rule our lives but instead to trust God and his sovereignty over our lives and trust that he is working all things out for our good and his glory (Matthew 6). Our lives are to be lived for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). We must take seriously the fact that we have been bought with a price, that we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:20). 

Our lives as Christians are to be lived for the soul and primary purpose of bringing honor and glory to God. When this becomes our ruling motivation, how we think about things changes.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 (NASB) 

When we focus on God's glorify as we are struggling with an emotion, it clears away the fog, it clarifies things. It changes how we think! For example, If I am to glorify God, then I cannot spend an entire day living in my emotion of anger, and hurting my friends and family with my words and actions. If I am to glorify God, then I cannot lay in bed and do nothing but rehearse the sorrows of my heart. If I am to glorify God, then I will not even begin an emotional relationship with someone outside of my faith. I will accept that those kinds of entanglements will ultimately bring heartache not only to me, but also to the person with whom I am in the relationship. If I am to glorify God, then I will not think about picking up a particular book magazine or watching a program on TV or the Internet that will cause me to have sinful sexual desires. 

All of these issues are emotional. They are ways that we can send grievously or ways that we can bring honor and glory to God. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Deeper Life

Today's guest blogger is Suzanne Holland. Suzanne is a grateful follower of Jesus Christ, wife to John, and mom to two grown up boys. She is a Certified Biblical Counselor with the IABC, offering the hope of the Scriptures to those who are hurting. Suzanne writes on her blog, Near to the Healer, and has a special emphasis on ministering to those who suffer with ongoing physical pain. Her blog is reposted with permission. 

I was visiting with a friend of mine today, and we were talking about how hard it is sometimes to get our thoughts off ourselves and onto the Lord. As believers, we desire the deeper life of faith—the kind of life where we are always cognizant of His presence in us. Not just with us, but in us. Christ dwells in us, and so we have the Christ life, freely given by Him, if we will only embrace it. If Christ is in me, I have the power to resist the temptation to sin (Hebrews 4:15, Galatians 5:16), I still give in to it every day, sometimes many times each day. So, what is the reason for this? Is there some sort of disconnect between the truth that I know and the actions I take?

Yes and no. Maybe something is missing if I have the power of the Holy Spirit—the same power that raised Christ from the dead—yet still fall to temptation. On the other hand, the fact that I have the Holy Spirit does not preclude human failure, or guarantee a sinless life. If it did, the Bible would not be full of admonitions to resist temptation and repent of sin! I know I'll never be perfect, but I do desire to have victory over self and sin, and to truly live as a slave of Christ.

As we discussed this, my friend and I tried to encourage one another toward this deeper life that is available to all believers. Second Corinthians 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. My old self is dead, and I have been born anew in Christ. I am no longer a slave to sin, but I am now a slave to Christ. So, how can I remember and apply all this truth? As we discussed it, my friend and I came up with a few things we had been neglecting in our quest for a more Christ-centered life.

The first thing that was missing for me was prayer. Not that I don’t pray, but perhaps I don’t pray in such a way as to gain that deeper life that I desire. Every morning, as I’m reading, I pray and ask the Lord to help me understand and apply His Word. I pray for my family and friends, for my pastor, my counselees and the missionaries. But I don’t cry out to the Lord, pleading for a deeper walk with Him. I don’t beg Him to change my heart and help me to resist temptation to sin, as David did. I need to spend time in meditation on the glory and beauty of the Lord, just enjoying His perfection, and basking in His grace and love for me.

My friend discovered that what might be missing for her was time in the Word. She reads lots of books about theology, listens to sermons, and talks about the Lord all the time. She has a great deal of Scripture memorized, but she doesn’t spend much time actually reading the Word of God. She decided that she will set aside time each day, just to meditate on and study Scripture.

Finally—and this was not a new discovery for either of us—we are much too focused on ourselves and our circumstances. We both deal daily with pain, limited mobility, and the frustration that comes with that. It is difficult to focus on Christ when you are in pain, and we both often give in to the distraction. But our bodies belong to the Lord, and He has the right to do with them whatever he pleases. As my friend says, “If he thinks it best to increase my pain today, that’s none of my business!” That’s not the natural response, but it is the truth.

How ‘bout you? Have you also experienced this craving for the deeper life we all are offered in Christ? What do you think is holding you back?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Urgent Calling

Karen Pickering moved from North Dakota to Wisconsin in her 20′s.  She is a certified Biblical Counselor with IABC.  She volunteers at the Seed of Hope Center in Hartford and West Bend, WI and also spent three years as a Hospice volunteer.  She is a wife, mother and grandmother.  Her passion is discipleship.  Karen is friendly, caring and reserved with a determined spirit.  She has been known to spend all day at auctions and enjoys music, cooking, travel and a good cup of tea. This post originally appeared on her blog and is reposted with her permission. 

When I was in my 20’s I held a garage sale with a friend in a modest neighborhood.  I brought my things over to her house. In the early morning we started setting things up.
People started showing up at least half an hour before the stated time. Some were even earlier. We had to repeatedly tell people we weren’t open yet, as they tried to look over our shoulders at what we were putting out.  My friend’s husband finally came out and repeated what we had said, but since he looked more imposing (tall with a beard) they listened to him.  They each went back to their car to wait for the appointed time.
When we did open for business I was surprised at what followed.  Two people in particular didn’t walk, but ran to the tables we had set up.  They seemed to be in competition with each other.  They shopped with an ever present eye on what the other was finding or picking up.  At one point they both had their hands on the same item.  They looked at us to moderate, but we just shook our heads and threw up our hands.  Both of them were there with a purpose and they were making the most of their time. When they finished at our sale they literally ran to their respective cars. I assumed they knew of other sales going on and wanted to be the first to get there and buy all they could. They were spending their day purchasing or redeeming things.
Scripture uses at least two Greek words that mean redeemed.  Lytroo is one.  Another is Agorazo which means to go to market, to purchase, to redeem.  It is found in the following verses.
Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. (NASB)
I Corinthians 6:20 For you have been bought with a price therefore glorify God in your body. (NASB)
When I think of these verses I think of God snatching us out of the slave market to be used for His own purposes. Just like those shoppers were snatching things out of our “market” or garage sale. Then I came across a similar word in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5.
This time the word is exagorazo which also means to redeem, to buy out of the market.
Ephesians 5:16 Making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
Colossians 4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
I think of my decision to follow Christ and just as he snatched me out of the marketplace I need to have that same thoughtful, purposeful use of my time. Am I looking for opportunities to tell people about Christ? Am I in a hurry to be about my master’s business?
Time is short. May I be found being about His business when He returns.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

No Compromise

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. James 1:14-15 (NASB)

If you are intending to change biblically, it is crucial that you understand the role sin plays in your life, and its effect on every relationship you have. I have observed that many Christians tend to view their sinful thoughts, actions, and desires too casually. They don't look at their sin for what it is in God's eyes; rebellious and heinous and contrary to the sovereign authority and majesty of God.

The above verse reveals the "why" we love to sin; because the heart is full of lusts that demand to be satisfied at any cost. Sadly, for many of us, this is normal operating procedure.

Part of the problem of our post modern church age is that the wrong things we do are dumbed down for the masses who do not want their conscience pricked by truth.  For example, the common to man behaviors such as anger and swearing are labeled as "mistakes" or "goof ups" instead of sins.  Where is the accountability for sin when it is not even called sin?  Do you see how sin has been excused away? The disease model theory has brought quite a bit of harm to the church as we have stopped calling much of what is sin by it's rightful name.

Many churches no longer even preach about sin due to fear of man and the whole church growth movement. Since an abundance of churches now follow the non-judgmental philosophy of the world there is less confrontation of sin in the church. As a result, people are not being challenged to holy living. There is little address to ungodly thinking, and even less understanding of the sinful heart of mankind. More churches than I can count do not practice Matthew 18 for the purpose of restoration of a repentant sinner, because sin is not mentioned!!

The Holy Spirit is absent from such churches as no one is really interested in change to glorify God, but most are interested in change that will make them feel better about how they are living and sinning.

The sin issues of church goers are compounded as every attempt is made to gloss over them and claims go forth in how God's grace is enough to cover their "mistake." The church is truly becoming more like the world than the spotless Bride of Christ. How much worse for us as partakers of God's abundant grace, those who are one with Christ to take part in such casual excusing of sin! Do we realize that we are flaunting God's grace?

In God's eyes, there are no minor sins. I believe God takes all very seriously for Christ paid for each one of them with His blood on the cross.

We are supposed to belong to God and have allegiance to Him and His mission for mankind. When we willingly and wantonly sin, we are actively being traitors to our first love. Choosing our own way and putting our own will ahead of God's good will for us is idolatry. We are selling out our God who deserves our loyalty, for our own self-worship.

Instead, let us walk in the Spirit so that we do not indulge the lusts of the flesh.

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. James 4:4-9 (NASB)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

To The Younger Women

Today’s guest blogger is Ellen Castillo. Ellen has been gifted to teach practical theology, equipping the next generation of Christians in the application of biblical counseling and mentoring. She is a Certified Biblical Counselor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC) and  the American Academy of Biblical Counselors (AABC). She has worked as a Women’s Counselor in the context of her local church ministry, and most recently as the Founder and Director of Word Of Hope Ministries. This blog post originally appeared on the Word of Hope Ministries blog page. It is reposted with permission. 

To My Younger Sisters in Christ,

As an older woman, I enjoy being a part of your life because I adore you and because God calls me to it. (Titus 2.)

You often let me in to your world – I have been to many gatherings where I cannot help but notice that I am the oldest one there! You are gracious to welcome me.  I love you and want to “do life with you” as you call it (I call it that now, too, sometimes!)

You bless me the most when you seek me out intentionally. When you want advice or a shoulder to cry on or someone to just listen, you have let me in to the deeper struggles in your life and those are burdens I gladly share with you. Thank you for that deep privilege. 

There are some things that I often hear as I join in discussion with other older women regarding your generation. The older women are good at talking about these things but we are not always good about passing them on to you (as we are called to do as your mentors!) Forgive us for being fearful of going to these hard places with you. We struggle with insecurities just like you do, and often we think we will say the wrong thing, or push you away. We are also very aware that we have plenty of struggles to address in our own lives and we don’t want you to think we see ourselves as know-it-alls. We have, though, walked through more years on this earth than you have. With that walk comes some wisdom.

Just a few of these things we are concerned about are on my heart. In love, I want to share them with you for you to pray over, speak with your husbands about these things, and of course seek God in His Word regarding these matters. His Word is sufficient, and it does address everything we struggle with at heart.

(My friends reading this, please don’t think I am addressing this to anyone specifically. I am addressing it to all women everywhere.)

*We are concerned about your view of relationships. This is due in large part to the presence of technology in your generation that did not exist in our younger years. We are concerned that you sometimes gauge your relationship “success” based on how many ‘likes’ you get or how many ‘friends’ you have on social media. We have the same temptations, but we also remember what it was like to pick up a phone and call those who did not live nearby or put a stamp on a letter which would take a week or so to arrive. That was the extent of our ability to have relationships and we did much more relating face to face. We think technology is wonderful. I use it daily! But the concern is that it has become a place to hide or a place to say things we would never say in person. As my Facebook feed scrolls by, I am often appalled at some of the things I see Christian young women posting. It is, simply put, ungodly.

Ephesians 4:29 ~ Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

*We are concerned about where you are getting your information that drives your passions (and soapboxes!)So often it is from the internet rather than in God’s Word or from a godly advisor. This is another pitfall we see in social media. It is tempting to post blogs or quotes that are identified as truth when they really are just opinion or bias.  These things often cause divisions among Christians, and can be bad for our witness to unbelievers. We are concerned that you (and we) are not always thoughtful or redemptive in the use of technology.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 ~ Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

*We are concerned about your tendency to be performance-driven Christian women. Your generation is busier than any past generation. Whether a stay home mom or a working woman, your week is booked solid. There is little time for rest let alone family time that is not scheduled. We see this taking a toll on you, and many of us have fallen in to the same pit of performance mindset. We are concerned for your sake but also for the sake of the Gospel. Performance-driven women are misunderstanding the indicatives of the Gospel and how they cannot be separated from the imperatives. It is in Christ that you are already approved of. Your striving and performance can’t change that approval. There is no more to earn and there is none to lose. You forget this, or you have not studied God’s Word to understand it. It gets lost in the cultural bent towards busyness, and our hearts and churches bent towards legalism. We are concerned that you are not carefully guarding your hearts.

2 Corinthians 5:21 
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

*We are concerned about your generation’s general lack of modesty. Not just your modesty personally, but modesty in general. Our culture is rampant with deviant behavior. True, evil has existed since the fall. But we see more socially deviant behavior than ever, including those who stalk the internet. When we see you post naked pictures of your sweet children, we want you to know that what you see as cute and harmless, someone else sees as temptation.  It’s disgusting to go there in our minds, but it is out of caution and protection for the younger generations that we must consider the impact of EVERYTHING we do online. Be careful, ladies, your children must be protected. We are concerned that you might learn that the hard way. We love you enough to caution you to consider these things from older, wiser women who have seen more of sin’s impact on a family than you have so far.

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

*We are concerned about your priorities and that your home might be child-centric rather than Christ-centered. Our culture tells you to have your children in activities all through the week and often on weekends. Our culture also tells you that you must keep your children happy and shelter them from life’s storms rather than teach them to face the trials in life by knowing God and walking with Him. Decisions are often made according to the impact on the children rather than on the impact on God’s Kingdom and your marriage and future. Marriages suffer because children come first before the spouse. Worse yet, they come first before Jesus. Church is often missed for the sake of the children's activities. This is new to our generation – Sabbath used to mean something and schools and clubs were considerate of church activities. This shift in culture concerns us because we see how hard it is to raise children who love God and His church. We hope and pray that you are evaluating your priorites and choices in light of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Nothing else matters more than loving God and others and spreading the Gospel – not even your family matters more than that. We are concerned that this is getting lost as culture takes root in our churches and in our hearts. We hope to see you and your children rooted in The Gospel and The Word of God.

Matthew 22:37-40 And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

I am convicted by some of this, too, as I read what I felt compelled to write here. Pray for me. I often pray for you. Let’s keep doing life together, intergenerationally, for the sake of the Gospel! 

From an older sister in Christ, with love.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Transparency and The Fear of Man

I heard this quote the other day, “Don’t let people be the determiner of your reputation.” 

My thoughts are focused on being authentic and I have strived to be real in every respect when dealing with people. This has its upside and downside as it opens me up for frequent criticism from people who don’t much like what they see.  

Being a leader of women, I am in various settings where protocol determines what I wear or how I react. For example, to show up to women’s conference in cut off jean shorts and a t-shirt would not be a good idea no matter how I feel about it. If someone disagrees with me about something, I must be cautious in my response both in verbal and non-verbal communication.

Being a leader also means people observe and scrutinize my actions and words and evaluate through their own perceptive grid what they see. An important thing to realize is that our perceptions are our reality, so even if I may think a particular thing is no big deal, another person may hold it in a place of great importance. These things can cause women who are in leadership positions or aspire to be in leadership to have pause or to become frustrated with the frequent introspection that is required.

Sadly, the wrong things can motivate our introspection. When I am criticized I can choose to change the behavior because it will please others and cause them to think well of me. This is man-centered change for the purpose of improving my reputation before man. On the other hand, those around us can be great signposts that direct us to look to the heart of the matter.

I see within myself a desire to look good to others and yet I want to remain comfortable with inner sin. It is the fleshly desire to have all the right actions, correct protocols, wear the right “church face”, and yet not care how my heart looks to God. Perhaps to say, “not care how my heart looks to God” is incorrect. More accurately, I could say that I have more of an emphasis on what people think than what God thinks. I doubt if I am alone in this desire… Maybe you are seeing that within yourself too as you ponder words of mine.

The other aspect of my heart longs to be glorifying to God in all respects. I desire to die completely in my daily life to the sin that so easily entangles me. I want to break free from old sinful thought patterns that lead me still to these dead end places of self-exaltation. I wish to knock the idols down and crush them under my feet and smash the altars of my heart- the high places- where I worship one other than God; where I worship me.

This part of me says I will fight the desires of my flesh that want to remain comfortable. This part of me says that I have been a Christian too long to still deal with some of these same old things and to have my heart unaffected for change. It asks, “What is wrong with me that these things remain?” That answer is simple: my heart is unyielding and hardened toward change in these areas. Some “pet” sins that I love so dearly mean much more to me than my desire to honor the Lord and I have ignored the Holy Spirit for so long that in these areas He is very quiet to my ears.

Can there be any other explanation for these ongoing sinful desires and habits of the heart? Is there any other reasonable discussion to be had on this topic? I think not. Oh this is not flagellation or self-beat-up, it is a part of the reality of every Christian as the flesh battles against the Spirit and the Spirit fights against the flesh (Galatians 5:15)

There is no joy in ongoing sin. There is no joy is ongoing disobedience to the Lord and His Word. Change of life must be done for the glory of God and for that reason alone.

Friday, December 5, 2014

It's All About Me

The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. Isaiah 50:4 (ESV) 

I believe there is an overwhelming tendency in the world and in the church to take good advice and good counsel and make it all about ourselves. Humans are terribly self-centered and we take every opportunity to bring things back to a self-focus.

Did you ever notice that in a group of women that it is rare to see them actually listening to the one speaking? It is even more rare to hear her comment on what is being said without reference to herself? No matter what the problem or issue is, the other women in the group invariably bring up something about themselves and a time that something similar happened to them. We want to think we are empathizing or sympathizing but often we are attempting to refocus the conversation on ourselves.

Life-change operates the same way, we want it to be all about us. This is man-centered living. Nowhere does the Bible tell us to be transformed so we can be happy, live our best life now, please others, or even please ourselves. When sin brings us unpleasant consequences we determine that change is needed so the consequences will go away. When we are feeling bad or sad for one reason or another we want to change so we will feel better. We change because we fear the reactions and responses of other people, or we want their approval.

We are to change to honor, please, and glorify God. We are to change and be changed because what we are thinking, believing, and desiring in our hearts is not glorifying to God. We are to change because at times we make a mockery of the cross and the sacrifice of Christ on that cross for our sin.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 (NASB)

The reason we change is to testify that the will of God- that which is good, acceptable and perfect- is true. The reason that we change is to glorify God by obedience to His Word and commands to be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29).

All change must be Christ-centered and cross-centered to be biblical. Nothing else will do, nothing else will glorify Him.

Christ-centered change acknowledges that there is nothing good within you to accomplish change. Have you been trying to make changes in your life? How successful have you been? Have you been merely rearranging your flesh through self-help books, resolutions, support groups, and 12 step programs?  While you may be successful at surface changes, until your heart is fully engulfed in the change process your efforts will be just that- your efforts. A sinner trying vainly to change sinful habits of the heart. 

Renewing your mind with Scripture will enable you to put off the sinful desires of the flesh. The selfish desires that keep you focusing only on yourself and how you feel today.

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. Matthew 22:37-38 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Believing God

“He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. “In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Deuteronomy 8:15-16 (NASB)

These words are contained in the second address by Moses to the people Israel at the end of the 40 years of wandering after the Exodus. Deuteronomy means "second law" and in the first chapters of this book Moses recounts all that God has done for them. Throughout the years of wandering, God constantly reminded them that He had used every circumstance in their history. Not only that, but He caused those circumstances to take place. He brought them into Egypt and exactly 430 years later to the day, He brought them out.

Moses also knows these people very well. He knows they complain about everything and they are strong willed and rebellious. God often refers to them as "stiff necked." Israel also struggles with worry and fear.

Personally, I can understand and even relate to their fear and anxiety to some degree. Many of those who left Egypt were not religious, but more like people you and I know today. They have a form of godliness but God is little more to them than someone who they love when he gives them what they want, and the one they blame when things go wrong. They had no real relationship with God before the Exodus and only learned God's character as they traveled away from Egypt. As a result we see in the pages of Scripture that in addition to worry and fear, they were an anxious people.

What did they have to worry or complain about? They were fed and clothed, their shoes never wore out, they were protected and safe as long as they obeyed God. Why were they so fearful and anxious all the time? Why did they fret?

Like you and I, Israel had heart problems that caused them to doubt the goodness of God. They did not believe God was truly good, or that He would provide for their needs. They doubted God's divine plan for their lives was good. (Do you see yourself in here anywhere?)  In Deuteronomy Moses was reminding them of how far they had come by God's strength and today our completed Bible tells us of the same.

Just like Israel, our doubt feeds the fears and the desires of the heart, that is, what we really worship, and that doubt forms a vicious cycle of out of control emotion and fear. This where we get all tangled up!

Here is a daring question; What if you and I really lived like we believed God's Word is true? What if we decided to stop second-guessing and did what we believe to be the right thing to do and refused to act or react out of fear or doubt? What if you took that bold step of faith because you are firmly convicted or convinced it is the direction you are to go in?  I am not advocating irresponsibility, but I think we often stay in situations out of fear.  Our lives are not to be dominated by fear but by faith.

You might be wondering, "Is it really that simple?" You may be thinking up all sorts of objections that begin with, "What if...?" and "But what about...?"  Yes, it really is that simple. Those "what if's" are irrelevant in the plans the Lord has for us.