Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: Picture Perfect, When Life Doesn't Add Up by Amy Baker

I recently reviewed Amy Baker's excellent book for the Biblical Counseling Coalition. You can read it and other book reviews at:

Me, a Perfectionist?
There is something ironic about a perfectionist reviewing a book on perfectionism. As I began reading Amy Baker’s excellent book in order to write this review, I found myself wanting to respond in all the usual ways a perfectionist would. I wondered, “What if my book review is not good enough?” “What if I write something stupid?” As I pondered those questions, it became clear to me that I needed to read this book!

“Perfectionism is a harsh task master and serving this master is frightening and exhausting.” (p. 16)

Amy takes a problem that wants to remain in the darkness and brings it into the light as she exposes with exceptional accuracy the various faces of perfectionism.  The thoughts and motivations of those who are burdened by the demands being perfect requires are revealed through the stories of several fellow perfectionists like “Harmony” the daughter who is never good enough for her dad, and “Randy” who lives his life paralyzed by fear of failure. Amy has created realistic portraits of people who are seeking freedom from a life of slavery to their own lopsided and unbiblical expectations.

The Bondage of Perfection

According to the book, many perfectionists are seeking to be flawless for all the wrong reasons. They think they can earn God’s favor by “being good” as though somehow that will appease God or add to the sacrifice of Christ. In addition, the perfectionist may desire power, control, the approval of others, and in some cases to be their own god.  Amy says there is only one reason to strive for perfection, and that is because it glorifies God. 

“Broken is a very good thing if it drives us to God, if it causes us to cry out to Jesus in repentance and trust and receive the gift of his perfection.” [p. 67]

Amy skillfully exposes the heart of the perfectionist throughout the second part of the book. She uses the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount to illustrate that our imperfections are designed by God to drive us to Christ- our perfect sacrifice.  The perfectionist must also realize that external perfection does not mean internal holiness.

Many perfectionists think trials are evidence of their failure to be perfect.  “Trent’s” story helps the reader comprehend how God uses suffering as a means of internal change. Amy reminds us that God is near to those who suffer, and that suffering exposes the places we need heart-work.  Therefore, trials and suffering can be received with joy.

Encouraging and Practical Help

This book is full of Scripture that exhorts, corrects, encourages, and comforts the reader.  I found Amy’s use of both Old and New Testament verses thought provoking and convicting.  The process of biblical change in Ephesians 4 is clearly laid out for the reader to follow.

In addition to being a thoroughly biblical approach to this topic, Amy offers practical help for change in several areas in which perfectionistic people struggle.  She covers pride, fear, guilt and shame through the stories set in the present day, and heroes of the faith such as David and Moses.  

For example, through the story of Moses, Amy illustrates how someone who could have exalted himself as a son of the house of Pharaoh chose to humble himself and identify with the Hebrew slaves.  God raised Moses up and eventually he led them out of Egypt to freedom.  She points out how Moses frequently faced criticism (which cripples the perfectionist) from the Hebrews as they journeyed to the Promised Land.  Each time God used Moses to provide a need in a miraculous way Moses denied the temptation to make himself look better in the eyes of the Hebrews by accepting praise for what God had done. Instead, he reflected all praise, honor and glory back to God.  Amy reminds us that the goal of the perfectionist must become as Moses’ goal was: honoring God and bringing Him glory rather than seeking to bring it upon ourselves by trying to look perfect.
Amy reminds us many times in the book that change is a process. The person who wants to change is going to fail along the way, and for a person who is overcoming perfectionism, failure is a great reminder of how far they have come and how far they still need to go.  She once again takes the reader to the Scriptures and encourages us with Psalm 145:15: The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. [pg189)].

Appropriate for Individual or Small Group Use

In the back of the book are questions for each chapter that a single reader can answer as a part of devotional or study time. I found the questions to be thoughtful and aimed straight at the heart and suitable for personal journaling or as a homework assignment for a counselee.  They are also applicable for small group discussion.  

Picture Perfect is an excellent treatment of a difficult subject. It is intensely practical and biblical. I learned a lot about some areas where I personally need to grow and change to be more like Christ. This book is recommended for anyone who is a perfectionist, and for those who want to help them change. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Do YOU Respond to Change?

Today's guest blogger is Ellen Castillo. Ellen founded Word of Hope Ministries, a mentoring and discipleship ministry for women. You can read more of Ellen's writing and find out more about her excellent ministry here

My church just voted in a new pastor. (I wrote about our former pastor’s retirement HERE.) Since the recent vote (which was very close to unanimous) I have been pondering how the body of Christ handles change and new seasons. These four responses to change come to mind when uncertainty is looming:

  1. Some will freak out.  Some people simply do not like change. Why? Often it is a sense of a loss of control. Sometimes it is excessive worry and a distrust of people and God. Some will be angry because they did not get what they desired - their agenda did not win. 
  2. Some will flee.  Some will simply choose to run. Some will run physically as they leave for what they perceive to be safer shelter. Others will run emotionally as they avoid what is going on and avoid getting involved.
  3. Some will follow.  Some will passively just go with the flow. Maybe they are disinterested but most often they have adopted a “wait and see” attitude. Perhaps they need proof that this was the right move, so they sit and watch.
  4. Some will facilitate. Some will become proactive regardless of their feelings and opinions. They will assist leaders in the adjustment process, and they will lead others in that same direction. They push aside their own agenda, and purpose towards unity. 

Apply these same four responses to your personal life and any changes God may be bringing your way, whether it is getting a new pastor or something else in your circumstances. Are you freaking outfleeingfollowing? Orfacilitating?

The way that a church body responds to change in the church is a matter of the church’s COLLECTIVE hearts. In other words, to navigate the new fresh waters will require unity - unity with one-another.

The way that you personally respond to change is a matter of YOUR heart. Navigating the new fresh waters requires unity - your unity with Christ as you submit to His leadership.

Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Ephesians 4:16 “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

John 17:23 “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Ask The Lord to search your heart and reveal to you anything about your thoughts, beliefs, and desires (which are the core of your heart, everything about you that is immaterial) that are causing you to freak out, flee, or follow. Ask Him to empower you by His Spirit to be a facilitator in the change process. In order to examine those things that prevent you from being a facilitator, ask yourself some good questions. Good questions draw out the heart! For example:

What am I afraid of?

What do I want that I am not getting?

What is the worst thing that could happen?

What do I put my trust in?

What do I hope for?

What am I worried about?

What are my thoughts towards about this situation revealing about me?

What are my beliefs about this situation revealing about me?

What are my desires in this situation revealing about me?


That list will get you started. When God reveals sin in your heart, repent and receive His grace. When we repent and receive forgiveness, unity (ours with God) is restored.

Imagine a church full of repentant people - people asking themselves and each other good heart-provoking questions for the purpose of unity with Christ, and then unity with one another! It starts in our individual hearts, and only then can our collective hearts exist in unity. Unity will provoke a healthy response to change as we become facilitators who have stopped freaking outfleeing, and following!

As facilitators, we can embrace change with excitement, anticipation, and hope!

Isaiah 43:19 “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rejecting Bitterness When a Child Disappoints

Today's guest blogger is Linda Rice. You can read more of her writings here:
Resentment and bitterness came knocking on the door of Freda’s heart. Bill and Freda (story used with permission) had taken in a teen-aged foster child. As they worked with him, he grew more incorrigible rather than less. Finally, reluctantly, they notified Social Services to take him back. This scenario is not uncommon.
After he left, Freda felt weighed down with sadness and pummeled by temptations to resentful thoughts and bitter feelings. She and her husband had put so much into this boy–money, time, inconvenience, travel to see his mom, prayer, teaching on right and wrong, grace, and discipline. Especially, they had poured their love and longings into the effort of parenting him in a way that might help him out of hurt, anger, and rebellion. But he didn’t want anything to do with overcoming his anger. While they poured heart and soul into him, he spit back ingratitude.
By the time we talked, Freda had a good start on self-counsel. She said that to fight her bitterness she was refusing to open the door to resentful thoughts and was holding on to the truth of God’s loving sovereignty. “The lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,…and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:17, 19). He is loving and is also in control. In hardship, the twin truths of God’s love and sovereignty form an unshakeable foundation to steady thoughts and emotions. When adversity strikes, when we pour our lives into someone and love him and long for him to become godly or at least respectful in the family and society, but who returns to us ingratitude and belligerence, it is important to remember that God providentially put this person into our lives for a reason. We may never know the reason. We don’t need to. We don’t need to go on a hunt for it or even for “God, what are you trying to teach me?” What we need to do is submit contentedly to God’s overruling hand and obey Him. He is in control, has a good purpose, and has every right to direct unearned adversity into our lives.
Freda’s self-counsel was an exercise of love toward God by submitting to His sovereignty. There is a second key she was also turning, although her fresh feelings tried to restrain her hand. She was working to put on love for others, love with compassion-motivated pity. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger…be put away from you…Be kind to one another, tender-hearted…” In Greek, the word “tender-hearted” means “having strong bowels, compassionate.” Bitterness looks at self. It nurses a sense of offense into abiding anger. Tender-heartedness looks at the other with compassion. Exercised diligently, it can change one’s emotional response.
Bitterness feels pity for self, so to put it off we need to put on compassion for the other, in this case the child. Consider: A child who persists in rebellion is going to have many troubles in life which will rob him of blessings. He will hurt many people, which will drive them away and leave him alone and lonely. He is at risk of hell for eternity. What a terrible future! If we love him, we certainly don’t want these consequences for him.
Feelings of bitterness can knock so hard on the door of the heart that they threaten to rattle if off its hinges, and Freda’s feelings were protesting her right choices. She persisted and won the victory.
True love demands that we refuse to open the door to resentful thoughts, or to slam it shut if it is already open. Personalized, that means that I put off thinking about how offended I feel at such ungratefulness in my child and put on a pity for how that child’s ungratefulness is leading him into troubles. (This does not preclude firm, consistent discipline for the child who is still in the home.) Yes, I have poured heart and soul into this child, and yes, receiving gratitude and respect feels good, but if I expended myself for love of Christ who gave His life for me, is not He my reward? Why would I be looking for a reward from the child? How can I be as ungrateful to God as my child is to me? Rather, pity grieves over the ingratitude of the child for the child’s sake (and God’s), because an ungrateful heart leads to adversity and destruction (1 Cor. 10:10).
The two great commandments are keys to overcoming bitterness. Love God by submitting contentedly and gratefully to the trials this child generates. Love for God worships and thanks Him no matter the hardships. Love your neighbor, your child, by putting off thoughts of self and putting on love that is not cowed by the child’s anger but lovingly speaks necessary truths and delivers wise discipline. This love cultivates a compassionate pity for the child in his sinful state that produces long-suffering, prayer, and gentleness.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Being A Friend

I began blogging about friendships on Monday. We need so much help in this area, don't we? On the surface, a friendship may seem harmless or alright when in fact it may really be harmful and the other woman can be detrimental to your life in both practical and spiritual ways. I thought I would  help you with a few amusing characterizations of the kind of "friends" you should avoid. Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." 1 Corinthians 15:33 

Hostage-taking Hannah 
This kind of friend is very selfish and wants all of your time. Hannah does not respect your time and does not understand appropriate boundaries. While she may tell you she wants "just a few minutes" on the phone or after church, she will attempt to monopolize your day. If you tolerate it you will realize there is always one more thing, one more problem, one more story. She is usually the last to leave any gathering and others tend to avoid her. 

Hannah also does not want you to be friends with anyone else. She gets upset when she learns you are doing things with other people and thinks she should be a part of nearly every activity you are a part of. This is very self-centered and is more hostage taking than friendship.  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Penelope Problem 
A friend like Penelope doesn't know how to talk about anything other than her problems. From the moment you sit down across from her with your double vanilla ripple-dipple skinny latte she begins to lament about the people and problems in her life. It is an unending litany of woe broken only when she has to inhale or use the restroom.  Penelope is not interested in solutions to the dilemma's she brings to the table, she is only interested in venting. This is also very selfish and puts you in the position of being her full-time counselor and not her friend.  A fool expresses all his emotions, but a wise person controls them. Proverbs 29:11 

Discontented Debbie
Debbie is a dangerous kind of friend to have because she is discontent. Usually women like Debbie are never pleased or satisfied with anything. Debbie is a grumbler and a complainer and refuses to see the positive side or the blessings she has received. She doesn't want to hear about how God has graced her with more than she deserves, she is only focused on what she does not have. Debbie is ungrateful. In some way she believes she is entitled to more than what she has been given. This way of thinking is infectious and Discontented Debbie is someone to give a wide berth. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psalm 100:4

Angry Abbie
Abbie is an angry woman. Depending on the situation she explodes into an angry rage or stuffs it all inside. Snarky and sarcastic comments are the norm with Abbie, and most people walk away from a conversation feeling bruised. Be careful around women like Abbie; anger is catchy, and if you spend enough time around someone who is perpetually angry you will find yourself becoming like her. Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, Proverbs 22:24

Fearful Fran
Fran knows her friends struggle with the kinds of sinful patterns of living written about in this blog post. She doesn't say anything to them and soothes her guilty conscience by telling herself things like, "Who am I to judge?"  Fran is content to let sinners go on sinning without confrontation because to get involved in the lives of other women might expose her own sin, it might require her to make some changes in her own life, and it might move her out of her comfort zone. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1:7 

Friends, I suspect we all know women who fit these descriptions. We must be wise in our friendships because we tend to feed off of each other when we spend time together. It is right to lovingly rebuke and correct such women because we want them to grow and change into Christlike character! What a shame it is that women who struggle with these sinful character flaws remain in their sin because no one is willing to speak truth into their lives. Be a friend, love enough to confront. 

Learning to Be a Disciple

Today's guest blogger is Karen Pickering. Karen is a Biblical Counselor and founder of The Lytroo Retreat. Lytroo Retreat was created to minister to women who have been sexually abused.  It is an opportunity to shift your focus from your painful past to a hope filled future. You can read more about Karen and Lytroo Retreat here

I broke my ankle two months ago.  To say I’ve learned some things is an understatement.  I’ve watched as my five year old granddaughter, Arianna, mimics my movements.  She holds one foot up and hops because I hold my foot up.  She puts her foot on a pillow because I put my foot on a pillow.  When I started doing exercises to strengthen my muscles she got down on the floor and did them with me.  Saturday when my husband took us to town she insisted on wearing one boot and one shoe so she could be just like me.  I’ve started doing some walking without the crutches and I have a peculiar gait.  Later in the day I noticed Arianna was walking just the same.   The more we are together the more she acts like I act.  She has become a disciple of how someone who has a broken ankle behaves.  This behavior is not an outgrowth of duty, but of love. 

That’s what a disciple does.  They study the person who they want to emulate and they become like them, not so much from will power, but from simply being exposed to their manner of life and ways.  The more they study and watch the more they become like them. 

How else is Arianna acting like me?

It is my habit to study and read my Bible before I get out of bed in the morning.  Arianna will often join me there with her own books in tow.  (This is a good thing.)

I love chocolate.  I have to limit how much is in the house or I would eat too much, too often.  Arianna has that same love of chocolate.  (Not such a good thing.) 

It is my habit to thank the Lord before I eat.  One day when I took a bite before doing that Arianna in a disturbed voice scolded, “YOU NEED TO THANK THE LORD!”  (Good thing)

I’m not always patient.  When I hear Arianna say, “Oh for stupid!”  I know where she learned it.  (Not a good thing.)

I could go on, but don’t wish to incriminate myself any further.

Who am I acting like?  What is coming out in my actions because of who or what I have been studying?  Arianna’s watchful imitation reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24  “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”  It also reminds me of what Paul said in Colossians 3:3 “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

If I am a disciple of Jesus my life should be wrapped up in His.  I should day by day look to His interests, not my own.  Realizing  that true life begins and ends with Christ.  Knowing that there is no real life without Him and so there is no real sacrifice in living my life for Him.  As I fix my gaze on Him He is transforming me into His image. 

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”  2 Corinthians 3:18

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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Women and Friendships

I have recently read several excellent blog posts on friendship. I think a lot about the complexity, responsibility, and consequences of friendship among women. The Bible says very little about friendships between women. The only direct reference I could find was Paul's encouragement to Euodias and Syntyche to make peace with each other. There are other relationships between women that are written about in the Bible, but none that are strictly friendships. It's puzzling to me that the Bible is silent on such an important subject, but I trust God had His reasons for this. Even without direct examples for women, there is enough instruction in the Bible for us to know we must be careful about who we befriend. 

Here is what I know: friendships between women can be honoring to God or dishonoring to Him. Your friend will draw you closer to the Lord or lead you down the wide path of destruction. 

Choose Wisely

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)

Most of us learned the importance of choosing good friends at a young age. There were certain children we were steered away from because of their corrupting or negative influence on our behavior and character. One kind of person to avoid is a gossip. 

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts. Proverbs 18:8 (NIV) 

A woman who gossips as a lifestyle is not a good choice for a friend. She has no business telling you things in which you are not a part of the problem or a part of the solution. As good as it sometimes feels, we don't need to hear about the problems of other people, or what is going on in their private lives.  This sort of information is often shared when women spend time talking on the phone during the day or text messaging instead of taking care of their homes and tasks. 

I think this is what Paul was referring to when he wrote 1 Timothy 5:13. He writes of young widows becoming idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. Experience has shown me this kind of behavior is not exclusive to widows. There is just too much talking going on that is not edifying in any way. 

One way women gossip is through prayer requests. Why do some women think it is permissible to talk about the trials and heartaches of others under the banner of "prayer requests?" I understand asking for prayer for a friend, but it is better if you leave names and details out of it and just ask for prayer for a specific issue. Be a friend, don't gossip and stop those who begin to tell someone else's story without permission. 

Surround yourself with women who want to speak of Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 instructs us to encourage one another and build one another up. Hebrews 10:24 tells us to stir up one another to love and good works. When you are invested in the spiritual growth of other women and engaged in the business of living out the gospel in your daily life you will be beautifully fulfilling this mandate.  

[that] we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:12 (ESV) 

A good friend will point you towards Jesus, she will say and do things that will remind you to honor Him. When I meet with a friend, I want to talk about what the Lord is doing in her heart and life. I want to know what she is reading for enjoyment, spiritual growth, and what she is learning in her Bible reading. I want to hear about how her present life circumstances are reshaping her into the image and likeness of Christ. My favorite conversations are about spiritual things, rather than ungodly things.  I am not being a friend if the majority of a conversation has nothing to do with things that are eternally significant.  

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Ecclesiastes 4:19 (ESV) 

Women are caretakers by design. It is in our nature to want to nurture and care for one another. Remember, your friends can support you and pray for you, but they should not be the first place you turn in times of trouble. We can certainly help meet tangible needs and we can pray for each other, but ultimately God is the one who comforts us. Too many women bypass God and go to their friends when discouragement sets in or when tragedy strikes. 

On that same note, it is too easy to make other people our gods, especially if she is someone we admire or want to be emulate. I hear women talking all the time about this or that popular Bible study teacher who they just love and want to be like. Her word is taken without consideration of the exhortation to be Berean and examine the message to see if the teaching is actually biblical (Acts 17:11).  Christ is our example and He is who we are to imitate. 

This topic is so important as you can see from our brief look at it today. Check back on Wednesday when I continue writing on women and friendships. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Comfort for the Brokenhearted

I take the wounds of my counselee's very seriously. In Romans 12:15 the Apostle Paul tells us to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. While I may be less emotional than many women I know my heart breaks when a marriage goes bad, a child rebels, or a person enters into some other kind of crisis. 

The Lord gives us so many reminders that He is in the midst of our troubles. He refers to Himself as our Shepherd in Psalm 23, and the entire Psalm is full of imagery depicting God as our Comforter, Protector, and Provider. These are comforting truths to a brokenhearted person. 

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. Psalm 91:1-2 (NLT)

Those who are emotionally broken often feel as though there is nowhere to go, no one who will understand their pain. Psalm 91 reminds us the child of God will find their shelter in the Lord, He alone is our refuge and our ever present help in time of need (Psalm 46:1). 

God knows us personally and intimately. He lives within the Believer in the Person of the Holy Spirit. What amazing comfort to know that He searches us and He knows our thoughts, all our ways, and every unintelligible word we utter in the midst of our sobbing (Psalm 139). How wonderful to be assured that He cares for the brokenhearted as His very own. 

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on his faithful followers. Psalm 103:13 (Net Bible)

Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory.… Psalm 73:23-24 (ESV) 

It seems so difficult to see beyond the pain of the moment, doesn't it? Our wise and loving God knows we struggle here, and has graciously provided us with words of encouragement to bear up under the strain and sorrow of these times. 

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NIV) 

He will meet your needs. He will continue to love you and minister to you throughout this time in your life. He will bring something good out of all that you are presently enduring (Romans 8:28-29) if only you continue to cling to Him, believe in Him, and have faith in Him (Romans 11:33-36). 

He is enough. He is faithful. He is your comfort and your shield. 

Throw your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the godly to be upended. Psalm 55:22 (Net Bible)

Trust Him, cry out to Him, receive His comfort in your brokenness. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

And when you have turned again . . .

Today's guest blogger is Emily Duffey. Emily is a student of biblical counseling and is working toward certification. 

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

I turn to this passage a lot in my Bible. I don’t put myself on the same level as Peter, by any means—but I can empathize with being sifted, tested, tried. I turn here because I find encouragement in these words. In this passage I learn more of the heart of Jesus—the compassion that overflows from His heart over one of His children. “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”—what a comfort! What encouragement! Jesus Himself prayed for Peter, to be strengthened, that his faith may not fail.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

These prayers are precious to me, because it brings me before the throne of God, experiencing the heart of God. Knowing I have THE intercessor going before the throne of God on my behalf encourages my faint heart and weary soul in a way nothing else can.

“And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers…”

This is one of the verses that has continuously held my interest in discipleship. There was a time I thought that I’d messed up too many times, I had sinned too great, my hands were too dirty and marred with sin to the point the stain would never wash off my hands. I sincerely thought I was “washed up” and of no earthly good to the Lord. I remember reading this verse over and over, thinking it was impossible. I knew I would return to the Lord (as He causes me to persevere), but strengthen others? Encourage others—with these unworthy hands and a heart that is bent towards sin oh, so easily?

In Luke 22 Jesus tells Peter he will deny Him three times, and this was immediately after Peter pledges to follow Christ to His death. Peter goes from verbally pledging his life to Christ and within the space of a breath denied ever knowing Jesus. There’s nothing that keeps you or me from the greatest sin conceivable but the staying hand of God Himself. We are a breath away from the worst sin you can conceive—just like Peter.

In the book of John we see the last encounter between Peter and the resurrected Jesus.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs." He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" and he said to Him, "Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. (This He said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’” John 21:15-19 (ESV)

What a restoration . . . yet even in this reconciliation, this great ministry we are all called to be a part of, Jesus pointed out more to Peter in this passage than how he would be used of Him. Jesus told Peter how he would die. This story started off with Peter pledging his life even to death, and continues later with Jesus affirming this as reality in Peter’s life. What’s the difference between the two?

The second time there was a new promise—you, Peter, will persevere to the end and glorify Jesus in your death. You will strengthen your brothers. No longer will you deny knowing Christ, because Christ is the most precious thing to you.

Peter would proclaim His name. Peter endured—because Jesus prayed for him. Peter endured because the Holy Spirit continued to intercede on his behalf before the throne of God when words failed him. You and I have that same benefit of the Spirit of God interceding on our behalf. If we are born again Christians, we will endure to the end. We can move forward in confidence of God working out His perfect will in our lives. This is trusting God in action.

It sounds so simple—trust God! Of course! In your heart you may long to trust Him, yet you struggle in the moments when trust is most necessary. Sin likes to leaks out around the edges when hard pressed, and you may find your trust isn’t as concrete as you thought. The refining—the pressing—gives an opportunity to try again. The Lord graciously gives you an abundance of opportunities to learn to glorify Him!

Do you think you have stained your hands so greatly with sin that you are of no earthly good? Repent of your sin (genuine repentance on the heart level—if you need a reminder of what genuine repentance looks like, read Julie’s blog here: Turn from your sin and strengthen your brothers and sisters. Use the lessons God has taught you for the good of others. Trust God to perform His perfect work in you, a poured out vessel for His glory. Remember—it isn’t about you. It is all about Him.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Frustrating, Unchanging Person

We all know someone who needs to change, but doesn't; a person who has a persistent sinful habit they admit to participating in, but refuse to stop. 

As a biblical counselor I face situations every day with people who readily admit their sin problem, are experiencing consequences from that sinful problem, yet refuse to repent and change. 

As people involved in soul-care, it is very easy to become frustrated and angry with such people because we know how to help them! We know the end of the road they are on if they continue. We give them the answers, they agree with us, and continue on in sin anyway.

What to do?

One thing you can do is to remind yourself that you are not in charge of changing or "fixing" anyone. The responsibility of any people helper is to deliver the message, pray, and continue to exhort the counselee or friend. 

The message to deliver is that of reconciliation. 

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 2 Corinthians 5:18 (NASB) 

Our Lord is in the business of reconciling sinners to Himself. It is good to remember that God calls sinners while they are still sinners (Romans 5:8)! Having this attitude is Christ-like and will show through your words and your body  language as you meet with your counselee or your friend. 

Continue to give the gospel and remind your unrepentant friend of God's love for wandering sheep. Teach her from the Scriptures about consequences for sin being a love-reponse from God and about the reconciliation that is offered through the cross. If she professes to be a Christian, it doesn't mean she doesn't need the gospel- we all need it every day! 

Guard your own heart. 

It is so easy to become angry and frustrated with unrepentant people. The tendency is to just give up on them and tell them you cannot help them. This would be a tragedy. While you can't change anyone, you can continue to plant and water and hope that seeds of repentance take root in her hard heart. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Competent to Counsel?

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 also a student at Reigning Grace Counseling Center and is in the prcticum phase to become a Certified Biblical Counselor, offering the hope of the Scriptures to those who are hurting.

 I recently attended my very first Biblical Counseling conference. I was excited about this event, as several of the authors whose books I have studied were scheduled to speak there. The topics were very relevant to our culture, and I learned a great deal. It was truly a blessing for me, and I believe it has changed the direction of my thinking regarding this ministry for which I am being trained and prepared. This is what I want to share with you today, but first, let me give you a little background.

I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Before I was saved, I was completely sold on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, talk therapy and the like. I believed that these things were the solutions to people’s problems, and I studied hard to apply what I was learning. When I became a Christian, however, my view changed radically. I began to see that without heart change, there could be no real life change (Mark 7:20-23). Through a series of providential events, I came last year to study biblical counseling at Reigning Grace Counseling Center. Here, this idea of “Heart Change for Life Change” began to be fleshed out in my mind, and I began to ponder the idea of “one another ministry.” What does this really mean, and who exactly is qualified to do it? As I have pursued my certification, this question has continued to present itself.

Now, back to the conference. Several of the speakers over the weekend used a phrase with which I was unfamiliar: Hug, Pray, Refer. What they meant by this was that in the past, faith-based counselors have referred the really tough cases to “professionals.” We considered ourselves competent to handle such things as sadness, mild anxiety, and communication issues in marriage. Maybe even a little pre-marital counseling was comfortable for us. But if someone came in with panic attacks or clinical depression, we would give them a hug, pray with them and then refer them to a professional psychologist or counselor. The point the speakers were making, that we should be able to help these individuals, was a challenge to us as Biblical Counselors to consider our belief that the Bible is sufficient, and that we are qualified to help even the most troubled of our brothers and sisters. I fully and wholeheartedly agree, and I honestly cannot wait to be the one to help these counselees to see the goodness of God in their circumstances.

This did get me thinking, though, about another kind of Hug, Pray Refer situation that is similar and equally challenging. More than once since I’ve begun this training, friends at church have said to me, “A friend came to me and told me how she is struggling with ___________. I listened, but I just had no clue how to help her. I just gave her a hug, prayed with her and gave her the number for the Counseling Center at church. I know they can help her! I’m so glad we have that counseling center. What a blessing!”

Hug, Pray, Refer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I fully agree that it is a blessing to have a counseling center in our church, and I know that not every believer has the temperament and personality to counsel the so-called “tough cases.” But we are commanded to comfort one another with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). Jay Adams’ Christian Counselor’s New Testament interprets Romans 15:14 this way: “…you…are filled with all knowledge, and competent to counsel one another.” So why are so many of us ill-equipped to do that? I believe that there are three primary reasons.

The first, and most important, is simply a neglect of daily meditation on the Word of God. We are busy people, and becoming busier all the time. Bible reading, meditation and prayer tend to take a low place among family, work, home and church obligations. If we do not intentionally and purposefully make time to be in the Word each day, it simply will not happen. If you are not reading and meditating on the Word of God each day, how will you be able to minister that Word to your hurting brothers and sisters? You don’t need a Biblical Counseling certification to be able to share scripture and help your friend apply it to her situation. You need a close and solid walk with the Lord, nourished by daily reading, meditation and prayer.

Another reason I believe we pass off hurting people to the “professionals” is that counseling and helping hurting people can be hard work. It requires patience and time. If we’re honest, many of us believe that we don’t have the time or energy to follow up with that person, so we refer them to the Counseling Center. But did you know that there is often a long wait to see one of those counselors? That person standing before you, tearfully sharing her trial, may have to wait as long as six weeks to see a counselor. A fellow believer could bridge the gap between today and that first appointment. Your friend may not even need that appointment by the time it rolls around, if you commit the time and energy to help her.

Finally, we may refer hurting people to the Counseling Center because helping them ourselves leaves us vulnerable. If I listen to this person share her life, I might have to share mine, and that makes me uncomfortable. Many of us are putting up a cheerful fa├žade of when we come to church. Our guard is up, and we don’t want to share anything painful or private. Broken people are vulnerable, and they need vulnerable, broken people to come into their pain and help them heal. If we insist on hiding our own pain and troubles, we will lose the opportunity to be instruments in the hand of God to help someone who is not so good at the “church face.”

Do any of these reasons to hug, pray, and refer hurting people to the Counseling Center resonate with you? Think about the last time you felt ill-equipped to help a hurting friend? What did you need that you didn’t have? What can you do today to begin to prepare yourself to be ready to come alongside the next brother or sister in need? If God brings a friend in need to you, He will use you in whatever way He deems best. Remember, this is not about giving the right advice or saying exactly the right thing. God will use His word (Isaiah 55:11); you are merely the conduit. Even if your words are not perfect, His Word is, and it will never return void.