Friday, October 31, 2014

What's Your Problem?

So too you must count yourselves to be dead to sin, but living for God in Christ Jesus. Rom. 6:11

I have recently been reading though portions of Romans, and  as I read Romans 6:11, I was struck in my heart with conviction as the question rang through my head, "Do I really live as though I am dead to sin and alive to God in Christ?"

Sadly, I had to say no, not all the time, not in every circumstance. Some days maybe not even in most circumstances... The question of "Am I living for Jesus Christ" is huge and carries enormous implications for me and for you.

We often wonder why we have no power to carry out spiritual things. We wonder why our prayer life is flat lining, why our desire to read God's Word is steadily waning, and why our joy is incomplete. The answer is very clear and it is found in this passage; we are not living or believing as though we are dead to sin.

Before we can truly live as though we are dead to sin, we have to believe it. Why is it so hard to believe that because of Christ we don't have to live in bondage? Is it because our fleshly desires run so strong? Partly, yes. I would daresay all of us lived according to the desires of the flesh as children and many of us continued on into our teens and perhaps even adulthood indulging ourselves, even if we were Christians.  We seem to think we cannot help ourselves, which is the exact opposite of what the Scripture says is true about us as we are in Christ.

We act out of our belief system. If we believe something is true then we will live as though it is true. If you believe it is impossible to live as though you are dead to sin, then the result will be you will live as though you are in bondage to sin!

I think the reason goes deeper than the belief system in some people. There are folks who really like their sin. There is a benefit of some sort in it for them and they don't want to give it up. Sometimes the payoff is only in the mind, as they reminisce and enjoy the memories of their sinful activities.

A third reason would be the knowledge that we are redeemed and safe within the loving arms of a gracious God. In some people it works against them! They become so confident in the grace in which they stand that they begin to take it for granted! Sin no longer looks as ugly, it is no longer as important that they confess and pray, the little critical disciplines of the Christian life slowly slip away.  Suddenly they find they are struggling and constantly frustrated with life. In creeps the criticism and sarcasm bringing with it discontent and fear, worry and anxiety. None of this is living as though we are dead to sin.

Christians must first believe what the Bible says about itself; it is the very Word of God. If you believe this is true, then how can you doubt that you can count yourselves to be dead to sin, and live for God?  Good question and one worth pondering deeply.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Suffering: Why is There Suffering?

Today’s guest blogger is Heather Rice. She is an oncology nurse, with degrees also in linguistics and biblical counseling. Besides counseling at her church, she enjoys hiking, languages, linguistics, Bible study, her church, and her friends. I had the pleasure of meeting Heather several weeks ago at the ACBC Conference in California. This post originally appeared on Linda Rice's Seedsown blog and is reposted with permission. It is the second of four. 

As an oncology nurse, sometimes times I hear, “Why is this happening to me? I never smoked. I ate all the right things. I joined a gym. Why did I get cancer?” This might be generalized to, why is there suffering?
In my first post, I pointed to the best answer to suffering, the Lord Jesus. There are more answers the Bible gives that explain suffering, and in this post we will look at a few. The very blunt, short answer to the question of why we suffer is this: sin. At first glance this may seem harsh, but I have found that a thorough understanding of sin is a crucial key to understand the nature of suffering. Recall that before sin entered the world, there was no suffering in Eden (Genesis 1:31). At the end of this world, God will eliminate sin and with it, suffering (Revelation 21:4; 22:1-5). Between these two eternities, sin is allowed a temporary role on earth.
Because of sin, all creation is cursed: weeds grow, famines ravage and lions kill baby gazelle. Because of sin, death entered the world and with it, aging, disease, and pain. Because of sin, people do bad things to each other, causing more disease, pain and death. As Puritan pastor Thomas Watson quaintly put it, “There had never been a stone in the kidneys, if there had not been first a stone in the heart.”
The Bible plainly states that suffering is not always a direct consequence of sin. Countless innocent children suffer terrible evils due to no fault of their own. Tornadoes don’t check on your moral integrity before leveling your house. The disciples erred when they assumedblindness was caused by a specific sin: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” (John 9:2). Of course, some suffering is directly caused by sin, such as when I get a ticket for illegal parking or one of my patients suffers from hepatitis C contracted from illicit drug use. But whether suffering originates from my own actions, someone else’s, or is seemingly random, the ultimate cause is sin. Because through Adam sin entered the world, and death by sin, we experience daily the pain and decay that death brings (Romans 5:12-14).
So, is all this suffering simply willy-nilly? As a sufferer, my heart cries out: I want someone to blame! Let us look at four specific causes of suffering.
One cause of suffering is natural forces. A great wind collapsed the house of Job’s children and they died (Job 1:19). According to the CDC, about 8 million people die from cancer worldwide each year. But inanimate forces do not happen by chance. God controls it all. For example, He specifically sends rain to one town, and withholds it from another (Amos 4:7). He plots the path for each lighting bolt (Job 38:25). God commands massive storms (Psalm 147:15-18) and individual worms (Jonah 4:7). Behind each insect, each cold virus, each falling snowflake, each genetic mutation is God who actively controls it all (Colossians 1:17).
A second cause of suffering is man-made things. A tower fell (we suppose poorly constructed) and killed eighteen men in Siloam (Luke 13:4). Yet, not even gambling is by chance, for God has fixed every roulette table (Proverbs 16:33). What of accidents? Every frozen computer or lost email is ordained by God. Pastor Steve Estes and paraplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada, (2004) point out, “Probably the majority of evangelical Christians would say that God responds to accidents, but that He is not involved in them as they happen—this would be a violation of ‘natural law.’ The implication is: if God is not working a miracle, He’s not working” (p. 38). But God does not need to do a miracle to be active; He is, this moment, spinning each atom of the universe.
A third cause of suffering is other peopleJob was a victim of theft (Job 1:13-17). The ancient Israelites burned their children alive to Molech (Jeremiah 32:35). Humans do horrible things to each other and suffer the consequences of others’ sins, yet God is in control. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hands of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1; cf. Proverbs 16:9, 19:21). Even so, God never does evil. Men do, by their own choice. God does not cause evil yet He controls evil men (James 1:12-13; cf. Exodus 14:17; Deuteronomy 2:30; Psalms 105:25; Proverbs 16:4). Estes and Tada (2004) say, “God steers the ship of evil. He does not power it…God violates no one’s will; yet He accomplishes His will through them.”
A fourth cause is Satan. Because of Satan’s instigation, Job’s life was ripped to shreds by loss and destruction of all his possessions and children (Job 1:12, 2:6). Satan moved David to number Israel, and 70,000 people died as a consequence (1 Chronicles 21:1, 14). Even though Satan operated according to his own purposes, 2 Samuel 24:1 shows that, as with men, God was sovereignly overruling Satan’s actions in the inciting of David to number Israel. Satan is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), but God can chain or release him as He pleases (Revelation 20:2, 7).
You may have been getting uncomfortable each time I pointed to God as the one in ultimate control over suffering. “Isn’t He a God of love?” He is, and the next post will look at the hope this fact gives us during suffering. But for now, let us be clear about this point: the Bible says that God not only permits, He ordains suffering. And this fact means that we must grapple with God regarding suffering. It also means that suffering is not willy-nilly or meaningless. If God is in control of it, that means there is a reason for it even if we never understand that reason. Furthermore, because we know that God is good, we know that His reasons are good, too.
We need to keep biblical balance here. God never sins nor makes people sin. Men cannot escape the truth that they are responsible for their actions (James 1:13-14). Even so, Scripture is equally clear that God directs and controls evil and suffering not just in the big things but also in the little things of life. “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?” (Lamentations 3:38).
Although these are difficult concepts to grapple with, I believe that you will benefit by the effort. By fathoming Scripture’s teaching on God’s deliberate control over evil there is gained a deeper, richer wisdom toward suffering and stronger love for Christ. Whatever bad thing is happening right now in your life, God is not some kindly deity who cheers you on from a distance to “just hang in there.” No, just as God was there with His Son every second and ordained every lash that fell on His back, so He is present with you every second and has some ultimately good purpose for every lash of suffering ordained for you. Because He is both good and sovereign, your suffering will last no longer than is what is good and right and best for you.
These truths generate the obvious question: If there is evil, how can God be good? With that question, we might also ask if there is anything good about suffering. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Your Relationship with God is Secure

"To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ" Jude 1:1

I was speaking with a woman the other day, and part of our conversation was about Christ and our relationship with Him and to Him. The woman said to me, “I am not walking well with Him.” 

When someone makes a statement like that to me, I immediately know there is an aspect of their theology that is out of whack. My response to a person when they begin to say those types of things is that a believer is always "walking well" with Him. (It is an anthem of mine as you know!) She right away told me I was wrong, that it was a fact that she was most certainly not walking well with Jesus. 

This raises some big warning bells in my head and heart. First, I grieve that she struggles so with accepting on an application basis who she is in Christ. Let me ask you to think about this same question I asked her about this business of “not walking well with Him.” Does that mean to you that you are not keeping the rules? Think about that for a while… How much of your acceptance by God in Christ is based on how well you keep the rules? the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:6 

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14
I wish to remind you again that what we have is a relationship and that relationship is not gained or maintained by keeping the rules. I believe many of us need that reminder occasionally. We love those rules! We love needing them and wanting them and clinging to them because then we feel secure. We think that following the rules gains us some status, stature, or security with God. In one breath, we agree that we are always secure in Christ and in the next we say that we have to have those rules! 

If I can impart this one truth to your hearts by God’s grace and the moving of His Spirit, let it be this! As a believer in Christ, you are always secure in Him. What Jesus Christ did was enough for yesterday, today and tomorrow. Nothing more is needed, nothing more is asked for. From the perspective of Almighty God our relationship with Him never waivers. He never sees us any differently in spite of the good or bad choices we make in life. 

Consequences occur as results of our choices, both good and bad but they do not define our relationship with Him. 

...and in Him you have been made complete, Colossians 2:10 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Image Helper - Mary's Story Continues

Today's guest blogger is Anne Dryburgh. Anne is a missionary in Flemish speaking Belgium since 1991 doing evangelism and biblical counseling. Her ministry is unique and I know she would appreciate prayer as she ministers to those around her. These posts will give you an idea of what she faces in her ministry, and how important biblical counseling is to the people she serves. Today she continues the story of "Mary." 

Mary continued to keep a journal of when she became upset. She desperately wanted the Lord to do a work in her heart so that she would become the person that God wants her to be. One day, after being hurt by her husband’s insults, Mary wondered why it bothered and affected her so much. She turned to James 1:14-15: 
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Mary asked herself whether or not her desires were playing a role in her reaction to the way her husband treated her. She asked herself the question “What is it that bothers me so much?” Her answer was the hurtful and disrespectful way that her husband treated her. Then she wondered “Why does this bother me so much?” Her answer was that she longed to be loved and treated with respect. Instead she was treated with disdain and scorn. She knew that her husband’s behavior was wrong, and that desiring love and respect are good, but she also realized that she would have to change if those desires were not to have such a strong, controlling influence on her life. As she thought further, she also saw that her response to her husband was usually also wrong.

Mary thought back to what she had recently learned about who she is as a woman. She remembered from Genesis 1 and 2 that she is made in the image of God. She is her husband’s helper to reflect the image of God. It was clear to her that her reactions to him did not reflect the character of God.

She also remembered reading in 2 Corinthians 5:9 that her aim in life should be to please the Lord and from 5:15 that since Christ had died for her, so that she would no longer live for herself but for the Lord who died for her sake and was raised.

Mary asked the Lord for forgiveness for letting the desire for a loving, respectful husband take such a hold over her. She again prayed for the Lord’s help to live by his power and to reflect him. Taking this step was a very painful and difficult process for Mary, as it meant giving up the dream that she has had since she was a little girl; the dream of Prince Charming loving and cherishing her for the rest of her life. It also meant that she was no longer focused on her husband changing, but on the Lord and becoming the person the Lord wants her to be. On the one hand this was a scary place for Mary, because she was giving up so much, but on the other hand, she had a deep trust that the Lord was in control and leading her.

 As was her usual practice, Mary attended her church’s woman’s Bible study. During the study, the teacher said that wives should always ensure that their husband’s needs are met and that they are happy. This confused Mary because it was not possible to know what her husband wanted. One day he would insist that she do something one way and then completely change his mind a few days later, being equally insistent and assertive for both. She clearly remembered early in their marriage that her husband was insistent that she put sugar in his coffee. He called her stupid and selfish because she did not know that intuitively. About a month later, he threw his coffee cup on the floor, shouting at her because there was sugar in his coffee. How could she be so stupid and selfish? He stopped talking to her for a week after the second incident until she apologized to him.

His mood swings and changes of mind meant that she was often walking on eggshells when he was around, as she never knew how he would behave or react to her or what was going on around them.

Furthermore, if she was always to make him happy, it would mean that she would have to lie for him, be deceitful to others, and let other people down. The most painful thought, however, was that he demanded things of her sexually which went against her conscience and were degrading. Was she supposed to do all these things?

Mary knew that she is called to be her husband’s helper and that a wife is to be submissive to her husband. Being committed to these, she studied Scripture for further help. It was when she read Romans 6 that she started to get answers to her questions.

In this passage, she learned that since she had died to sin, she was no longer to live in it. Mary saw that she is united with Christ in a death like his, and will be united with him in a resurrection like his. The body of sin had been brought to nothing, so that she would no longer be enslaved to sin. She was to consider herself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Sin was no longer to reign in her mortal body. Instead of being a slave to sin, she was to present her members as slaves to righteousness.

Clearly, since she was dead to sin, and was no longer to let sin reign in her mortal body, she could not please her husband when he asked her to lie or be deceitful. Mary knew that this would make him very angry and that he would probably punish her in some way for it. She knew that he would probably increase his attempts to control her. But now she knew that she is first the Lord’s. She lives to please the Lord first and from this, relates to her husband in a gracious, righteous, and loving manner. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

My Child Is A Rebel

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) 

You have done all you can. You have taken your child to church his or her entire life. You have done your best to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) and yet your child is rebelling against all you have tried to instill in him or her. 

You wonder how this can this be happening. You have believed in Proverbs 22:6 and claimed that verse for your parenting! You tell yourself your child can't be rebelling, it's just a phase, a bad influence or...something. 

What does it mean to rebel? Rebellion is defined as: resistance to  or defiance of any authority, control, or tradition.

Childhood and teenage rebellion is not new. I hope it brings you some measure of comfort to know that rebellion has been around since Lucifer fell (Isaiah 14). Adam and Eve rebelled when they ate of the tree (Genesis 3), and the first offspring, Cain, brought an offering he knew would not please God (Genesis 4)Because of the sin of Adam all children are born sinners who will indeed sin (Romans 5:12). 

The Bible tells us rebellion is an issue of the heart. Rebellion, while troublesome, is not the issue. It is the fruit or evidence that the child's heart is focused on themselves. Rebellion is idolatry. It is critical that you understand that when a child demonstrates rebellious behaviors, he or she is showing you what is going on inside of them, they are revealing their thoughts, beliefs, and desires of the heart. If you do not embrace this truth, you may be tempted to force your child to outwardly conform by adapting their behavior to your expectations without experiencing the internal changes that matter. You will be creating a Pharisee! 

To help your child, you have to approach his or her rebellion with the truth of the gospel. This does not mean leaving Bible tracts in his or her bedroom, or sitting them down with your Bible with the intention of "getting them saved." It does mean you will need to extend a great amount of love to your child, remembering that God loved you when you were an unlovable sinner.  This can be so difficult, because rebellious children are often very unpleasant to be around. 

Help your child to understand that his or her actions are results of what is living within the heart. When your son or daughter sins against you learn to ask them questions that will help you and them to understand the selfish motives of the heart that underlie their actions and words. For help in understanding how to ask questions that reach the heart, you might want to consider making a small investment (Five bucks!) in a booklet I wrote on the subject. Questions on the Heart Level (available on Amazon) is used as a part of our training center curriculum to teach our counselors in training how to ask effective questions. 

The more you focus on addressing the issues of the heart, the more you will see the emotional charge removed from your confrontations with your rebellious child. It won't be about how you are being disrespected anymore, it will place the focus on the child's responses to a holy and sovereign God. 

There is much more to be said than can be included in a single blog post, so I will be revisiting this subject again. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I Can Forgive You and Not Be Your Friend

I think there is a general misunderstanding about forgiveness and reconciliation in non-covenantal relationships such as friendships.

First, a few general things about forgiveness. When sinned against, the Christian has the obligation to forgive the person who sinned against them. This is basic Christianity. We forgive others because of the great sin debt of which we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:31-32). It does not mean we approach the person who sinned against us and say, "Oh, I want you to know I forgive you for how you sinned against me."

The primary reason we do not do that is because they have not asked! They have not confessed their sin to you, they have not admitted guilt, they have not asked for your forgiveness.

However, this does not relieve you of your duty to forgive them from the heart. This means you must spend time with the Lord addressing the hurt or offense. You must repent of any anger, bitterness, or malice within you and come to a place of forgiveness before God toward the person who hurt you. This is not only responding in a Christ-like manner (and a command), but also your only defense against developing bitterness. You want to be ready to grant them forgiveness on the day that person comes to you in confession and repentance and asks you for it.

Forgiveness does not mean an automatic return to the relationship. Forgiving someone who has hurt you does not mean immediate reconciliation takes place. While the goal in broken relationships is always reconciliation, it is not always possible right away. Sadly some relationships are never reconciled to the place they were before the schism happened, if they are reconciled at all.

Friendship is a sacred trust whereby we invest our lives in each other. Women in particular share deep parts of themselves with other women in whom they place the trust of friendship, and these are not easily given once that trust has been shattered. If trust has been badly broken due to repeated offenses, even though forgiveness is granted it may take a significant amount of time for the offender to demonstrate repentance and rebuild trust. The person who is truly repentant will understand the gravity of their offenses and willingly give the necessary time to the person they have hurt. All sin has consequences, and time and distance apart may be a consequence of the sin they have committed against their brother or sister in Christ. This is not punitive, but a legitimate response to being hurt and exercising precaution against it happening again.

Words of contrition are often not enough to bring about reconciliation, especially if there has been a pattern of offense in the relationship. If you are wondering when to reconcile with someone, you would be wise to watch the life and conduct of that person to see if their life matches up with their words of repentance. If they resort to manipulation in an attempt to force you to reconcile with them you have good reason to be wary of their true repentance and change. Don't be guilted into a renewed relationship with them on the basis of their emotional needs or accusations of being unforgiving. You are being cautious and wise. Don't be a peace faker under the guise of unity in the church.

Be prayerful during this process. Pray for the one who hurt you, that he or she may truly be repentant and change. Pray the Lord would guard your heart as you observe the fruit being produced in his or her life. Be careful not to become a prideful fruit inspector, continually raising the bar and making it impossible for the person who hurt you to ever provide enough proof of change for reconciliation.

In the meantime, let them know you can forgive them and not be their friend. They may or may not accept that, and that is between them and God. Your responsibility is to be forgiving, watch their lives for evidence of repentance and change, pray for them, and trust that God is doing a work in both of you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jesus Offers Freedom From Slavery

Many of those we help through counseling and discipleship are slaves. They come knowing they are in trouble of some sort, and have tried everything else (in most cases) and they are truly desperate for help.

Maybe you clicked on this blog today because you googled words like "sexual immorality" or "gambling," or "alcoholism." You have been told you have Intermittent Explosive Disorder, or Rageaholism, or any number of other things people are being "diagnosed" with these days. Maybe you eat too much, or maybe not at all; do you lie in bed all day paralyzed by your emotions? Are you too distraught to get out of bed each day?

What I am describing are various forms of physical and emotional bondage that we can find ourselves in. Very few wake up one day and say, "Hey! I am going to be an alcoholic!" It usually is a slow and deceptive transition as we sell ourselves into various forms of slavery to these substances and vices.

Make no mistake, it is slavery. You started out controlling it, but it has taken you it's captive now. No longer do you believe you can just walk away, no matter how much you try and it is terrifying.

For the idolater (which is what our slavery truly is) there is a way out of the cycle. It is called repentance. Repentance is not too popular in our it's-all-about-me culture because, after all, if you are hurt or suffer because of something I did it is your problem not mine. Repentance also comes with the idea of accountability- another thing most people run away from. To be accountable to someone means I cannot be my own boss or make my own decisions about what I want to do, thus ruining the "all about me" way of life.

Thank God Jesus Christ did not have such an attitude! Jesus continually subjected Himself to with wishes and desires of the Father. He clearly says He came to do the will of the Father (John 6:38) and He carried it out to the point of death.

Because of His obedience you and I have hope of freedom from the slavery that comes with idolatry. Scripture says we have been ransomed or redeemed:

knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 1:18-19 (NASB)

The blood of Christ is powerful. 1 Cor. 6:10 says we have blessings or benefits because of the blood of Christ. We can count being brought near to the Father (Eph 2:13) as one of those blessings. Without that shed blood of the perfect Lamb of God we would have remained enemies of God (Eph 2:1)! That same blood cleanses and purifies our hearts and our consciences to make us fit servants of the King, and furthermore we have been made righteous before God so we will face no judgement at our death.

If the blood of Christ can do all these things, why do people doubt it's ability to overcome drugs or alcohol or any other form of slavery? Is it because we really don't think it is "real" yet? Are we waiting to see something spectacular happen as the Pharisees did? Are we looking for a sign or wonder to behold that will tell us all this is true? If that is the case for you, you had better check your heart condition. You may be lacking faith, and faith is what brings us to salvation.

To be blunt, if as a Christian you are still sitting in your "addictions" whatever they may be- it is a choice. On some level you love and cherish those things because you have to fight with the Spirit of God to get them. There is no "devil made me do it" anymore for the Christian. He who is in you is greater than the Devil or any anti-christ you can prop up. Addiction in the believer is a decision of the heart that wants to continue to worship some aspect of self. Now I know physical cravings and dependence develop over time; but obviously feeding the dragon is not going to help get rid of him, is it?

Christian, you have been ransomed and set free by the blood of Christ. Take hold of it today, and seek your freedom!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Image Helper Part 1

Today's guest blogger is Anne Dryburgh. Anne is a missionary in Flemish speaking Belgium since 1991 doing evangelism and biblical counseling. Her ministry is unique and I know she would appreciate prayer as she ministers to those around her. These posts will give you an idea of what she faces in her ministry, and how important biblical counseling is to the people she serves. 

Mary came to me heartbroken. Her husband had called her ugly, fat and unwanted. According to him, she is a stubborn, selfish, and useless wife. In his opinion, it would have been better if she had never been born.

Sadly, I hear many women repeat such things. Their husbands, parents, or friends have told them such hurtful things about who they are and they have come away wondering what is wrong with them. They know that we all have a lot wrong with us because of the Fall (Genesis 3), but they wonder what makes them worse than everybody else. If they believe what others say about them, they live in depression and despondency.

Who are these women? The Bible teaches us that in the first place, they are made in the image of God. We read in Genesis 1:26-28 that God created male and female in his image. In this passage, we learn that the man and the woman both reflect the image of God.

Later, in Genesis 2, we read about the creation of the woman in more detail. In verse 18 God says that he will make a helper for the man. He did so by creating the woman from the man (2:21-25). Volumes have been written about what is means for men and women to be created in the image of God and what their roles should be. Without going into the details of the debate, it is clear that calling her the man’s helper does not mean that she is inferior to the man. She is a helper corresponding to him. Together they share the image of God. That she is not inferior to the man is seen by Adam’s recognition of their similarities. When he saw Eve for the first time, he cried out in verse 23 “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…”

In the New Testament, Ephesians 1 teaches us about the riches and blessings that believers have because they are in Christ. Christ is the exact imprint of the nature of God and the radiance of his glory (Hebrews 1:3). Believers who are in Christ reflect the image of God.  Romans 6 teaches us that because we are united in the death and life of Christ, we have been set free from sin and are called to life and righteousness in Christ.

What does this mean for Mary? Yes, Mary is a terrible sinner, but this is not how she is to live. First, she is created in the image of God to reflect his glory. Second, this means she is her husband’s helper to reflect the image of God. And third, she is in Christ and called to live a life of righteousness.

Knowing this will mean that Mary will seek to live righteously. She will fill her thoughts with truth about herself and others. Instead of accepting the insults of others, she will think about herself and others according to Christ. This will enable her to be a true helper to her husband by relating to him in a way that the Lord wants, even if this is not the way that her husband wants or expects. By this she will seek to love her husband and do good to him according to what the Bible teaches. Living in Christ will give her life and hope, the opposite of the depression and despondency she first experienced.

Mary prayed to the Lord and verbally committed her life to him. She prayed that she would be the person the Lord wants to be, including the wife that the Lord wants her to be to her husband. To help her live accordingly, Mary started keeping a journal of when she was hurt. Each entry would record what the circumstances were that led to hurt being hurt, what was said and done by her husband, and how she responded verbally, behaviorally, and cognitively.

It did not take long for her to realize that he said these things when they were in a disagreement about something. She began to see that when he belittled and insulted her, she would focus her attention on trying to defend herself against those accusations, instead of the issue that was being discussed. Then she noticed that she would spend a good part of the rest of the day mulling over what he said, trying to figure out whether or not what he said was true, and thinking that he was mean. She would go on to think such things as “How could he be so mean?” “Who does he think he is?” “As if he is so good-looking” and “He should be glad that he has a wife like me.”

Seeing how the situations developed, Mary was able to live differently at home. She decided that when there was a topic being discussed, she would stick with the issue and not be diverted onto other things. As well as this, she made up a think list of what she was going to focus her attention on when he tried to insult her. She wrote “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8) and “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3) on cards and carried them with her everywhere she went. This helped her to stay focused on the Lord and what he wants from her, instead of trying to second-guess how her husband would behave.

Then the discussion came. He noticed that there was a charge on the credit card for gas. When he read it he exploded. “There you go again, throwing away all my money. Did you ask my permission to buy gas? I can’t trust you. If I did not control the finances, we would be bankrupt. You are so stupid. I’m surprised you even finished high school.”

Mary’s first reaction was to be hurt that he called her stupid. She started thinking up reasons to say to him why she is not stupid, but then remembered that this would only lead to more fighting. This time, she calmly said to him “Could you please tell me how much was charged and when?” Angrily, he read it to her, trying to throw the bill at her face. When she read it, she asked him “That is from the time we went to the grocery store together.” Her husband looked at the bill again, checked his agenda, and realized she was right.

Mary could not believe that this incident had not resulted in a full-blown argument with her being very upset. She realized that it did not become an argument because her spirit was right before the Lord, she spoke in a loving and respectful way to her husband, and stuck to the facts.

Although she was surprised at how much better things went, she had to keep praying to the Lord and reading her cards because she still was tempted to think angry thoughts about him. Mary was happy to see that she was beginning to live differently, but knew that she would have to keep working on her inner reaction as well. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

I'm Not Speaking Love Languages

I do a lot of marriage counseling. Hardly a week goes by that I am not confronted with a couple in marital crises where one of them tells me about what love language their spouse is missing, or how their love cup/tank runneth dry. This teaching is found in popular self-help marriage books like Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages (hereafter 5LL).  These concepts have so infiltrated the church that virtually every couple in trouble is aware of some aspect of them. Some even come with lists of ways their spouse does not meet their emotional needs.
In his book, Seeing with New Eyes, David Powlison states, “The core premises of 5LL are simply false” and I agree with him. This methodology sets up a “give to get” mentality within marriage, and places enlightened self-interest at the forefront of marital interaction. It removes the obligation to love one another selflessly as a response to receiving Christ-like love.
Like other books that integrate psychological thought with Christianity, 5LL places emotional needs before spiritual ones and elevates the desires of the heart to places of prominence.  In this paradigm, everything is focused on how my spouse can and should meet “my needs.”  
The love-language paradigm ignores the fact that our hearts are idol factories and human beings will always choose self-worship and demand others worship them before selfless worship of God. The truth is, our “needs” are a never-ending stream of selfishness, self-focus, self-worship, and self-satisfaction that no human being can ever satisfy. 
As a Biblical Counselor, I must be able to clearly (and biblically) articulate the problems found in troubled marriages, and then be able to correct wrong and sinful beliefs as I train my counselee’s in righteousness.
I do this by focusing on Christ’s love languages of grace, mercy, unconditional love, forgiveness, selflessness, sacrifice, repentance, and faith.  This list is clearly incomplete but the rest are easily found within the chapters and books of the greatest love letter ever written, The Bible.  I point my counselees who are in the middle of marital messiness to the Word of God for answers and direction, and not a self-help book.
If you are presently looking for help with a marriage problem, I urge you to find a biblical counselor who will rely on Gods sufficient Word to help you with your problems. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

When I Doubt His Love

Have you ever doubted the love of God in your life? Do little things happen that are not a part of your plan and cause you to wonder,

“Don’t You love me God?” 

Have you ever been there? Have you been in the midst of some difficult circumstances and wondered if God loves you? Have you ever believed that you sinned so greatly that God could never love you or accept you? Some of you have, I know. 

What would you have to see or experience to realize this love? How about a day where everything goes right, or an extra paycheck or bonus shows up in your mail slot? For multitudes of people the gauge of God’s love are the circumstances in their lives. If things go well then God loves them and is pleased with them. If things go badly then God is somehow displeased with them, especially if things go wrong for an extended period. 

I once went through a horrible time of conflict and as a result, I thought that God was done with using me in ministry. I was deeply grieved at this thought, I but wanted what God wanted for me and for His church. I did not realize that in the midst of all that grief I was questioning God’s love for me. It became clear that I had been questioning and doubting God when I was asked to participate in the Christmas service by reading the Word of God to the congregation in the Christmas Eve service. I was simply overjoyed at the privilege of being asked to share the Word of God on that special day, and vividly recall hanging up the phone and crying out with tears and shouts of joy, "You do still love me! You do still love me!” 

Until that moment, I did not realize I had doubted His love for me. I also did not realize that my beliefs were in conflict with the truth of Scripture. I did not realize what an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ such thoughts and beliefs truly are. 

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

If you find yourself today wondering if God still loves you ask yourself this, how much more would God have to do for you to show you that He loves you?  What more
can a person do for you to show you His love than to die for you?

We make heroes out of men who jump on train tracks to rescue a little child and rightfully so! What about one Man who provided a way of rescue for every man woman and child ever born? What else could He possibly do to persuade you of His love? 

Jesus is enough! His death was enough to prove the love of God for us my friends. His death was sufficient to secure our salvation. His death was enough to  secure our life. His death was proof of His love as on that day for the first time ever in all of eternity God turned His face away from His own Son. (Matt.27:46) 

But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering… Isaiah 53:10

God did not spare His own Son in any respect in this death. Jesus’ death was not private as His betrayer’s was. (Matt. 27:3-5, Acts 1:18) It was not a simple hanging in a deserted place or a neat and orderly affair, it was a bloody, messy, vile affair that was public; and every stripe was intentional, every drop of blood spilled was accounted for. 

In his book Grow in Grace Sinclair Ferguson says, “When we think of Christ’s dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to Himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves His Son. We cannot measure His love by any other standard. He is saying to us, ‘I love you this much.’”

Carefully read Isaiah 53 today. Spend some time meditating on the great love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ. Put away the childish notions that worldly things are evidence of His love and favor and instead think on things that are true (Phil 4:8)

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13