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   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Circling the Drain Part 2

Today's guest blogger is Suzanne Holland,  Suzanne is especially passionate about reaching out to those who are suffering ongoing physical pain. She has graciously given me permission to swoop in on her blog, Near to the Healer, and repost anything that strikes my fancy. This is Part 2 on this subject. You can find Part 1 posted on Monday's blog.  

Yesterday, I wrote about an analogy that has been helpful to me when I begin to entertain the thoughts that lead to depression. If you haven't read that one, go back and look it over. Today, I want to write about the last sentence of that post: Hope is a decision.

What do I mean by that? Isn't hope just an emotional thing? We hope for a cure for disease and pain; we hope our favorite team will win; and we hope that our children will be successful adults. But the hope I’m talking about is a totally different kind of hope, and I’d like to share that hope with you today. The hope that I speak of is the hope that we as believers have in Christ. When we put our hope in Him, it means that we trust that He will be glorified in whatever circumstance we are dealing with. This hope is pretty much summed up in the following passage:

Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:2-5 ESV
Let me see if I can break this down for you. Basically, it breaks into three parts: The hope of God’s glory; the hope of our sanctification; and the hope of heaven.
First, as believers, we hope and desire that God would be glorified in all of His creation, and especially in our own lives. We love Him, and are grateful that He saved us from our sin, and so we want to glorify Him with our lives. That is the purpose for which we were created, according to Isaiah 43:7. When God is glorified, we fulfill our purpose. The only thing we have to do to reach that fulfillment is to strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to glorify God with our responses to the trials and joys He places in our lives. This is a hopeful thing!
Second, we have the hope of our sanctification. This means that our trial will make us more like Christ. If we respond rightly, it will produce in us endurance and character. The literal meaning of this word, character, is “a proof of tried worth.” In other words, when we respond rightly to our trials, we prove our worth in Christ, and His worth to us. We show the world His goodness and His glory. We show them that any sacrifice is worth knowing Christ, because we value His love so highly. We show them what a great God He is by trusting Him in our circumstance, and persevering with joy.
Finally, the hope of heaven gives us the strength to persevere. We are all sinners in the hands of a just God. He would have been perfectly just to leave us in our sin, ultimately leading to an eternity separated from His love. But that is not your story, my friend. By His mercy He saved you, not by works of righteousness that you had done (Eph 2:8&9). There was nothing you could do to save yourself. You would have had no knowledge of your sin, nor desire for a Savior, if your loving Father had not swept in at just the right time to stir up your heart toward repentance and to provide atonement for your sin. He gave you the great gift of the Holy Spirit to draw you to Himself and to strengthen you to submit to this trial you are facing right now.
Are your emotions circling the drain today? Have you allowed yourself to become so focused on your circumstance and yourself that you have forgotten where your true hope is? Be reminded of it today, and allow yourself to be scooped out of that vortex by the love of your gracious Heavenly Father. Make a decision right now that you will not give in to your fleshly bent toward self-pity and depression. Remember that you have the hope of glory: Christ in you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Abandoned in Marriage

Is it possible that there is a legitimate form of discontentment? I am aware there is a shockingly high percentage of Christian women who are discontent in their marriages because their husband is not emotionally or physically available to them. I have several cases in which the husband refuses to be intimate or give any physical affection to his wife. They live together like friends.

This kind of marriage can leave an enormous gaping hole in the life of a woman who wants a biblical marriage, and it creates a great deal of discontentment within her. She doesn’t want a divorce, she doesn't want to commit adultery, she wants her husband to love her! Most women won't talk to anyone about their situation because it is too embarrassing to reveal their husband doesn’t want or desire her. 

Often, the abandoned wife struggles with feelings of depression because she cannot change her situation. She cannot force her husband to love her! Her emotions are turned inward and over time she may be diagnosed with one of several anxiety disorders, or depressive disorders. What I typically find is the women over eats for comfort or under eats for control.

What do I say to that woman who is discontent for what appears to be a very good and biblical reason? Even in such terrible circumstances as these I must apply the same biblical solutions - I must teach her to look at her own heart. 

She has to be willing to admit and repent of any self-pity she indulges in. It is 
hard to think about being along in a loveless marriage because her husband does 
not emotionally connect with her anymore. Many women really struggle with 
being angry at their husband for rejecting them and their love. They are 
confused and often tell me they cannot figure out what they have done or said to 
turn him away. Because she cannot control her husband and make him love her
again there are great feelings of hopelessness. 

She is lonely and struggles with rejection, shame, and embarrassment. I have had a woman tell me when she attempted to seduce her husband he ridiculed her, laughed at her, and even told her to go put on some clothes! She was devastated. Through her tears she asked me if I knew what is wrong with her that he rejects her that way, that he is so cruel to her now. 

Like other women in this situation, she is full of fear. She is anxious and worries about the reasons he rejects her.  She's always heard men are very sexually oriented what is the reason he no longer desires her? Her imagination runs away concocting scenarios that are too horrible to dwell upon for long. If he is not interested in her then who is he interested in? 

Every one of these are common feelings and reactions to being abandoned within marriage and all must be addressed biblically in the counseling relationship. Gently and compassionately, we must help her discern what her own inner/heart issues are, and teach her to see this problem through the lens of Scripture. 

If you are biblically counseling a woman in such a situation, you will have to listen closely to what the counselee says to determine where her thoughts, beliefs, and desires are focused. Is her heart focused on herself or on what God is doing in her as a result of this sad situation? You may need to challenge what she says, and always point her back towards Christ. When her personal sin in the relationship is exposed, it must be worked through and repented of.

It is critical she understands that even this deep, deep sorrow and all of the aspects of her situation are under the sovereignty of God. As challenging as it will be, she needs to accept that she can become content in her marriage despite the sin of her husband. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Circling the Drain Part 1

Today's guest blogger is Suzanne Holland,  Suzanne is especially passionate about reaching out to those who are suffering ongoing physical pain. She has graciously given me permission to swoop in on her blog, Near to the Healer, and repost anything that strikes my fancy. 

I was talking with some friends about how to control our thinking the other day. There are so many good Biblical Counseling articles online about this, and I don’t presume to try to tell you anything new here. But, as my friends and I were talking, I began to examine how I have learned to keep my mind from going to dark places. I’m not always successful at this, and I do have my bad days. But for the most part, I am usually able to avoid the vortex that leads to depression

I like analogies and word pictures a lot. When I am struggling, if someone can give me a visual of the solution, it is much easier for me to make sense of their wisdom. I think this is why Jesus used so many parables and stories. Many of His were agricultural in reference, because most of his listeners were farmers. The world I live in is quite different, but there are still simple analogies that are helpful to me, and today I want to share one of those with you.

Have you ever watched a bathtub as it drains? At first, you can’t really see the vortex near the drain, but as the water gets lower, it is visible. If you drop a speck of anything into it, you can watch it swirl around the drain. It doesn't go directly in at first, but stays on the outer rim of the circling water. As it gets closer to the drain, though, it begins to spin faster, and soon disappears. Now, imagine that the speck is your dark thought, and the drain is depression.

You begin to entertain a thought that makes you sad. I’ll use an example from my own life: I recently saw a video of myself before my surgeries. I was playing with a friend’s children at the park, running, climbing, and basically doing whatever I wanted to. My first response to this was to feel sad that I can no longer do those things. This is the speck, and depression waits at the other end of the tub. The best thing for me to do right now is to pray, and ask the Lord to comfort me and help me to remember that He is good and sovereign, and think on the many good things have come about as a result of this providential event.

But let’s say I choose not to do that. I choose to continue drifting closer to the drain, feeding my sadness by nurturing angry, resentful thoughts about all that I've lost. I begin to ruminate on all the things I used to do that I can’t do any more. The best thing for me to do now is to remember the Word of God and His promises. He is a high priest who understands my weakness (Heb. 4:15). He loves me, I love Him, and He has a plan to bring good from this (Rom 8:28-29). God can provide a way out of this sadness (1 Cor 10:13).

But I choose not to do that. Instead, I continue thinking on how sad it is that I can’t play with those kids any more. I begin to worry about what will happen when my own grandchildren come along. If I’m this bad now, how will I be when that times come? And then, I’m sad and anxious about that. The best thing for me to do is pray, remembering the Scriptures that tell me I don’t have to worry or be anxious. Philippians 4:6-8 comes to mind, as does Matthew 6:33.

But I quickly shove those Scriptures aside so that I can entertain my own thoughts that I have now made bigger than God’s Word. As the video ends, I am left feeling very sad. The speck has moved from the far end of the tub, into the vortex, and is now circling the drain. The best thing for me to do is to call an accountability partner and tell her what’s going on, so that she can help me with my thinking. She knows me well, and has been in this “tub” with me many times. She knows all the Scripture I need, and will pray with me.

But I choose not to do that. Now, all I want to do is escape. I’m able to hold up my fa├žade until I get home, and I turn on the TV and flop down in front of it. My Bible is on the table beside me, but it is no longer appealing. Instead, I start channel flipping, watching scenes from old sitcoms through tears of hopelessness.

Do you see how that happened? Did you notice what each step had in common? A choice. At each point on the ride from the shallow end of the tub to the drain, I made a choice. I chose to think on my problem instead of thinking on Christ. I chose to allow worry, fear and anxiety to overtake the peace God has promised me. And I chose escape over fellowship.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, remember this analogy the next time you find yourself entertaining thoughts that make you sad or worried. Will you continue circling the drain until you are pulled down into the vortex of depression, or will you choose to take that speck captive before it’s too late? God has shown us, in no uncertain terms, that we have a choice (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 10:5). He is able to rescue us from the vortex of depression. His Word can scoop us out, even at the last minute. But we must be willing to be rescued! Hope is a decision. More on this tomorrow.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Root of Discontentment

Hi Everyone! I have just returned from sunny southern California, having attended the Annual Conference for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).  The day before I left, we had a lightning strike that took out several of our electronic devices, including our internet router and server.  That is the reason nothing was happening last week.  We are still resolving these issues, so blog posts will be up as soon as I find a secure connection to upload.

I was privileged to speak at the conference last week on the topic of discontentment. This issue is still fresh on my mind today, and so I thought I would share with you some of what I have learned about this terrible sin of the heart. I consider discontentment to be one of those insidious sins. Like bitterness, it grows under cover of something else making its way deeper and deeper in a person’s heart. It may masquerade as depression, anxiety, or anger. In fact, all three of those sins are components of discontentment.  Only when the root is uncovered can repentance and change begin.

One feature of discontentment is wanting what we don’t have.  For example, single people want a spouse- they are discontent with singleness. Childless couples want children. I have counseled women whose lives revolve around trying to get pregnant. Some of them are very upset that they cannot force conception to occur, or carry a pregnancy to term. They become angry - because God who could is not changing their situation!

The less fortunate want the material goods they see that others have. When my sons were younger, we bought them each a Starter jacket, which at the time was the greatest coat a kid could have.  I recall hearing about thefts and kids getting beat up because some other kid wanted their jacket.  When a person is denied something they want, they may become bitter toward God because He is not or giving them the “stuff” they think they need or deserve.  What they do not realize is that in being discontent, they are in many cases coveting what someone else has. Not only do they want what someone else has, they would be glad to see the other person lose it, making it equal deprivation.

Coveting is not a new problem; it was a problem all the way back in Exodus when the Hebrews complained about the food God miraculously provided for them.   God knew this pattern of discontentment would continue to be problematic for us, and He included a command found in Exodus 20:17.

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.

The discontented person has made their wants and desires into gods; whether it is having a baby, getting married, buying a new car, or having the latest version of the iPhone. When a person covets, he allows the desire for that thing or person to govern his relationship with other people (and God).  The discontented person tends to minimize their sinful responses of grumbling, complaining, jealousy, excessive working, and greed that reveal their internal heart attitudes toward God and His provisions.

This is why Discontentment is ultimately a worship disorder. People who are discontent with their material things should be encouraged to examine themselves; are they attempting to fill God’s domain in the inner man with things? Are they discontent with what God has given them? Are they overlooking God's blessings?

When challenged, the discontent person will admit they forget to be thankful for what they do have because they want something else-something that fits better into their idea of Utopia than what God has given them. It is important to realize that if God does not satisfy you, nothing will.

Pastor John MacArthur says, “We pursue treasures that really cannot be found, treasures that never truly satisfy and the harder we pursue them the more complex life becomes and this is because sin complicates everything.  The heart it seems is never satisfied, never content, at least not to the degree Christians are called to it.”

Contentment starts and ends in the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of the heart,
And how you act on those thoughts, beliefs, and desires. 

Contentment has nothing really to do with your wants, or needs; it has to do with God supplying that which you truly must have, and trusting and believing He knows what those things are. Contentment presses on in spite of unmet wants, needs, and desires. You learn it as you continue to trust God even in the midst of not having what you desire, and through asking God to change them to be in line with what He wants you to have and to become.  You will learn to be content through resisting the temptation to become anxious about all that you think you should have, and lack.

Contentment comes as you examine your heart, and through self-examination led by the Word of God, you weed out the worldly thoughts, beliefs, and desires that lead you to become discontent.  Contentment grows through selflessness, and doing the will of God in your life- even at personal cost to yourself. 

Seeking to be content on the heart level involves desiring to honor and glorify God, and embracing what He brings into your life. You will find contentment as you develop heart longings to glorify God, and to know Him in the midst of any given situation.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Hope for the Journey-Weary Christian

Along with the changing of the leaves and the shortening of daylight hours, another sign of fall in my world is the increase of people in my biblical counseling office.  Already this season I have encountered several women who do not understand God's unchanging, unmatched, and unceasing love for them. They do not understand their position in Christ. They are worn out, tired from the endless battle of trying to be good enough for God. They are discouraged at repeated failure to measure up to God's standards, and are fearful God won't rest His smile upon them. 

Here is the message you need to hear today and every day: You, Christian, are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10). There is nothing you lack, there is nothing missing in your justification or sanctification. 

It was God’s will that you are holy and blameless. Your holiness and blamelessness before God is something you are because of your union with Christ. You didn't earn it, you can't lose it or sin it away. "Holy" and "blameless" are understood to be positional. Jesus has wrapped you in His holiness and He has taken your sin upon Himself so as to make you blameless before God. 

God did this! God did this! God chose you before the foundations of the world were set in place. He chose you before you ever did anything good or bad, He chose you before you were able to respond to Him. He chose you knowing exactly who you were, He chose you when you were “dead in trespasses and sins” and “without hope.”  He adopted you out of your previous family- the family of death (Eph. 2:1-2) with full knowledge and awareness of what your heart contains (1 Sam. 16:7).  

God's motive for doing this for you is love. He loves you! Our great God who spoke the universe into existence chose you and saved you because He loves you! He brings Himself glory through redeeming you! 

You are complete in Christ, you have all you need (2 Peter 1:3-4) for life and for godliness. He has given you everything you need to complete the journey. He will bring you safe into His kingdom one day. You will stand blameless before Him and you will hear Him say "Well done" at the end of days. 

What a wonderful God He is!