The Privilege and the Burden: A Personal Glimpse – by Chase Maxey and David Elston

For this week’s blog, we’d like to give you a personal glimpse of our own hearts as biblical counselors. In Galatians 6:2, Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Bearing one another’s burdens – this is the calling of all Christians in general and of the manner in which we aim to counsel at BCTM in particular. It is a calling that is both a privilege and a Kingdom-minded burden.

We often thank the people we meet with for the privilege of allowing us into their stories, for the honor of being trusted with the intimate details of their lives. And we mean it every time we say it! But even more than that, what a privilege to be a small instrument in the hands of the Redeemer, a vehicle of His grace to them! What a privilege to be able to shine His marvelous light into the darkness of the fallen hearts and broken lives of our brothers and sisters. We often ask ourselves, “Who are we to bear witness to such a movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people in a fallen world?!” Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17), and what a humbling honor for the Lord to use our unclean lips to speak the word of Christ into their particular situation.

And yet what a burden, but a Kingdom-minded burden – because we share in these struggles with you! Ed Welch, who is my (Chase’s) dear friend and mentor, a man of God, a faithful and loving husband, a professor and biblical counselor, often reminds us: If you aren’t moved by a person’s story, then your counseling will not be truly helpful. It is part of the calling of the counselor to be affected by those we walk with. This is one of the hallmarks of biblical counseling: We intentionally do not maintain clinical expert-to-patient distance, but move toward the counselee in brotherly compassion and empathy.

But there is a line to walk. On the one hand, we should be affected by those who ask for help. Asking for true help, by the way, is such a mark of God’s children. On the other hand, we can never forget that there is only one True Counselor – the Lord Himself. In and of ourselves, we cannot fix people’s hearts, relationships, and situations. Only the Triune God has the power to do that. As the sinful nature persists, there is a part of us that wants to help when we see someone hurting, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong when, rather than trusting them to the care of God and praying for The Lord to work in their lives, we desire to play God and do the work ourselves. We think, “I can fix this situation if I can just say the right word, find the right Scripture, ask the right question.” That is neither good for us nor good for them. At that point, we’ve stopped pointing them to the only One who can help them and instead we are pointing them to ourselves – measly jars of clay.

On the outside, it may not look like much of a difference between being an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer and attempting to be a redeemer ourselves. The people we meet with may not sense the difference. But, there certainly is a radical difference! It is an attempt to carry a different kind of “burden,” the burden of redemption that we know we were never meant to carry. A burden that we know only the Savior himself can and should and does carry.

The most helpful thing we’ve found in walking this “line” is a regular habit of prayer for the people we’re meeting with. These times of prayer are doubly beneficial. It is beneficial for the counselee because we’re petitioning God on their behalf to work in their lives. But it is also beneficial for us, because it reminds us that this is His work, not ours (Phil 1:6, 2:13); and it reminds us that salvation – past, present, and future – belongs to Him, not us (Psalm 3:8, Rev. 7:10). We are learning how to apply Isaiah 30:15 to the work of counseling: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

As you finish reading this, would you say a prayer for us and our families – that we would grow in oneness as He, The Father and Spirit are One, and that we would be disciplined and faithful to do this work of helping others connect life and Scripture in a Kingdom-minded way?

Grace and Peace to you all, Chase and David

 

 

If you are interested in bringing this or any other Roundtable Counseling discussion to your church or business in a relaxed, interactive environment, please contact us at 601-709-8254 or connect@bctministries.com.

To access more encouraging truths, learn more about the ministry of BCTM or to become a BCTM partner, please visit our website atwww.bctministries.com or connect with us on Facebook at facebook.com/bctministries.

Please share this post with anyone who may be encouraged by BCTM’s weekly blog. We would love to expand our reach, so please help us share the grace of the gospel. To sign up to receive these blogs via email, visit our website and subscribe to our monthly newsletter (bottom left).

Grieving with Hope – David Elston

We must never forget that before the resurrection occurred, the cross was everything but victorious to the disciples. Friday was everything but Good Friday. Imagine the finality Mary and Mary Magdalene must have felt when they watched the stone rolled in front of the entrance of the tomb. That is the modern day equivalent to covering a coffin in the ground with dirt. The Bible doesn’t tell us the emotions of the two women, it just says that when Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.”

What shock, what sickness must have been in the hearts of these two women as they watched the limp body of Jesus laid in the tomb! What knot of grief must have been in the disciples as the stone was rolled in front of the tomb! They had placed every last ounce of hope in Christ and the kingdom that he promised to establish. They had entered into Jerusalem just five days ago with their heads held high as their Master was praised with palm branches as King. And now those same heads wagged with shame over the complete humiliation of that King.

You can imagine the doubts that may have run through their minds: “What happened? Where did things go wrong? Did evil, sin, and the devil win? Why didn’t God protect his Holy One from corruption? Why didn’t God preserve the honor of his Son? I thought he was the one to redeem Israel. Was he not the Christ, the Son of God?”

Doubts of this nature surely passed through some, if not all, of the disciples’ minds. The overwhelming mood of the disciples before the news of the resurrection is one of complete shock. They can’t remember a thing Jesus said about coming back from the dead (Jn 20:9). All they know is that the person they had come to love above all things was gone.

Many of us have felt it in some measure – that seemingly meaningless void that is left when a loved one dies. The thought, “But you were just here.” The thought, “Just yesterday there was life in that body that is now so cold.” The disciples had left everything and followed Christ. He had become their everything. And now – he was simply gone.

But there is always that disbelief, that strange hope when we lose a loved one, that we will find them still sitting in their favorite recliner when we return home, that we will see them pulling up in the driveway for a visit when we look out the window, or that when our phone rings, it might be them calling to catch up. But then, of course, we realize such hope is in vain – we’ve forgotten that our beloved is no longer there. And what grief when that realization comes!

Perhaps the disciples were experiencing the same strange “foolish” hope concerning Jesus, thinking that they would find him just around the corner arguing with a Pharisee or see him reclining at the dinner table at Lazarus’ house in Bethany. For the disciples, however, that hope wasn’t so foolish. In just another couple of days, their Beloved would, indeed, be just around the corner. He would actually be eating and drinking with them again. What unspeakable joy must have filled their hearts at the sight of their Beloved, alive and well!

In the same way, the resurrection of Jesus is a promise to all of us who have lost loved ones in the Lord. Of course, it is good and right to grieve when we lose loved ones, because death is a corruption of our Creator’s good design of this world. And we know from the death of Lazarus that Jesus grieves over death as well (John 11:35). So we grieve deeply over death in the present, but as the Apostle Paul says, we “do not grieve as those who have no hope.” We grieve with hope because we know that by the power of the resurrection we will, indeed, see our beloved again. We will, as it were, once again see them pulling up in the driveway for a chat, or come home to find them in their favorite recliner. So, by faith in the promise of the resurrection, we grieve with hope!

 

 

If you are interested in bringing this or any other Roundtable Counseling discussion to your church or business in a relaxed, interactive environment, please contact us at 601-709-8254 or connect@bctministries.com.

To access more encouraging truths, learn more about the ministry of BCTM or to become a BCTM partner, please visit our website atwww.bctministries.com or connect with us on Facebook at facebook.com/bctministries.

Please share this post with anyone who may be encouraged by BCTM’s weekly blog. We would love to expand our reach, so please help us share the grace of the gospel. To sign up to receive these blogs via email, visit our website and subscribe to our monthly newsletter (bottom left).

How We Counsel – Chase Maxey

Almost every couple in marriage counseling walks in with fingers pointed at one another: “It’s his or her fault.” If he would just change and she would stop nagging we would be fine! If it were otherwise, they probably would not be in counseling. But, praise God that they are coming in and asking for help.  What an awesome sign of the Holy Spirit moving! Asking for help is no easy task, and who doesn’t need help?! We all do, it’s just whether the Holy Spirit allows us to see how desperate we are and seek Him and help from His people.

Therefore, once the Spirit encourages His people to humbly ask for help we begin the counseling process like this:

  1. We aim to always be slow to speak and quick to listen well.
  2. We build relationship and “earn the right” to speak into someone’s life.
  3. I ask the Counselees if they believe that I love them as a brother in Christ.
  4. I ask for permission to speak into their lives while praying for wisdom.
  5. When difficult words need to be spoken or delicate situations require addressing, I remind them that a sinful man like me is attempting to speak the truth in love.*
  6. Then, we pray together asking the Spirit to lead us as we do further relational work.

*Noteworthy from #5: Truth and Love must go together – God is Love and God is the Author and Perfecter of (Capital “T”) Truth. We can think many things are (lowercase “t”) truth, but if we don’t have a biblical rationale for everything we think, say and do, we should be suspect of our motivations, because our thoughts, feelings, and emotions will lie to us in a split second! Remember, just because something is “true” to you or me, sure does not make it True as God defines all Truth. Even as passionately as we may believe it or absolutely convinced we are right.

I hope this quote by Warren Wiersbe blesses you as it has my wife and me:  “Truth without Love = Brutality and Love without Truth is Hypocrisy.” The Apostle Paul through the Holy Spirit’s direct guidance put “truth” and “love” together because they cannot exist separately. May this change the way we do relationships starting with marriage and moving out from there.

Please consider the hardest times in your life. Are you bitter and resentful about the hardships and struggles in your life, or have you learned something about yourself and more importantly about the Living God and who He says you are? If you are struggling with not getting what you want, that is no surprise, but we must know how to deal with such relational turmoil. Recently, I met with a couple who blamed each other for the issues in their marriage. And, I must admit, at face value without all the information, one party appeared to be totally guilty and the other, a helpless victim. But, as we walked together for a fairly short and hard season we learned that all of our hearts are to “blame.” But, we aren’t looking to blame anyone. Together, we were searching for the work of the Holy Spirit in each person. It’s easy to find the sin in someone’s life, but it’s an arduous yet joyful journey to discover the work of God’s Spirit, and this takes hard work! Of course, this seems counterintuitive but it’s the very relational struggles that God uses for His Glory and our good. Remember, God’s story of Redemption has been exactly the opposite of what we would expect from the very beginning. Have you read it recently? His Story will shock you!

The Jealousy of God – David Elston

In our last blog, The Heart of Conflict, we heard the bad news about our jealous hearts: that our heart of disordered desires is really a heart of disordered worship; that beneath our fights and quarrels is really the worship of something other than the Creator God. Having heard the bad news, praise God, this week we hear the good news: the jealous heart of God.

Picking up where we left off in our last blog, James 4:5 says, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’?” In other words, God created us to worship him; and because of that, he is jealous when we worship other things. God designed our hearts to love him above all things, and he is jealous when we give it to other lovers. God made our bodies to serve him alone as master; and he is jealous when we serve other masters.

But what exactly is jealousy? What are you saying when you are jealous? When you are jealous for someone, you’re saying, “That’s mine! That’s my wife! That’s my husband!” For God, jealousy toward his creation and creatures is always right and proper, because as the Creator, everything belongs to him! Likewise, when God sees us flirting with the world, he says, “No! You belong to me!” When God sees us seducing and being seduced by the objects of our desire, he says, “No! You’re mine!” This is the part of this passage that just blows me away. Despite all the countless ways we sin against God and one another, we are wanted! Despite all the ways our hearts betray the Lord, we are still wanted! Despite all the ways we prove unworthy of his love, God still wants us for himself.

Of course, God is not jealous in exactly the same way we are. God is not jealous because he needs us. God is not jealous because he is lacking. After all, one of the other attributes of God is that he is utterly self-sufficient and independent. God is not desperate for your attention. He is not wringing his hands saying, “If only they would love me!” But God is jealous for things to be made right. He is jealous for the worship that is due his name. He is jealous for us to live in the way we were intended to – for his glory. Don’t let his lack of need for you make you think that he does not also fiercely desire you!

So you see, the jealousy of God is good news, because it means we’re wanted. In fact, God’s jealousy is what propelled Jesus to give everything for us at the cross, even the very blood in his veins! Because it is only by the untainted blood of God’s Son that an unholy, jealous people can be cleansed for a relationship with a holy, jealous God. It was with a jealous love that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. It was a jealous love that God demonstrated in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And it’s only by the cross that James can say what he does in verse 6: “But he gives more grace.” What a line! “But he gives more grace.” To put grace simply, God gives us good things we don’t deserve. As we become less and less worthy of God’s love throughout our lives, God’s grace abounds all the more. God’s grace invites you initially to trust in him for the forgiveness of sins. And God’s grace also stays with you even as you struggle with sin for the rest of your life. God’s grace bids you come as you are, today, despite your sinful heart. And God’s grace sanctifies you tomorrow, the next day, and the next. In spite of all we read about ourselves in James 4:1-5, God gives more grace. This grace is what makes him so much more desirable than anything on this earth!

In Christianity, we are not called to leave our desires at the door. Rather, we are called away from our desires for the world TO the better desire for Christ. That’s what James does in verses 7-10. He calls us again and again back to the true worship of our jealous God – a better desire. Because it’s only as our vertical relationship is renewed that our horizontal relationships can be renewed. It’s only as our hearts begin to worship rightly that our hearts begin to desire rightly. As one Puritan preacher said, “The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is the expulsive power of a new affection.” Whatever sinful mess you are in, you worshiped your way into it. Now worship your way out.* Our God does not call us away from our earthly desires to a heavenly boredom. He calls us to take pleasure in something that is deeper, richer, and more beautiful than anything we could ever find on this earth – namely, himself.

* Paraphrase from Mike Wilkerson’s Redemption

The Heart of Conflict – Chase Maxey & David Elston

Do statements like these sound familiar?

  • “You make me so mad!”
  • “You’re driving me crazy!”
  • “If you would do what I say, I wouldn’t nag so often.”
  • “I had a hard day at work, give me a break.”

Jesus says the things we say reveal our deepest beliefs and desires. After all, as Jesus says “what you say flows from within your heart.” So think about what is revealed about the heart in the above common statements. They demonstrate that we believe our behavior is controlled by things outside of us – other people, a job, the weather, and so on. But, Christian, is that really true? If taken to its extreme, we feel as if we are never at fault for anything, but instead victims of circumstance. But is that biblical? Is it the weather’s fault that I lost my temper with my children? Is it my bad day at work that made me short with my spouse?

Determining the cause of conflict is central to the process of marital and relational growth and healing. James actually asks this very question in James 4:1 – “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” And he answers: “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” In other words, your temper can be blamed on one thing alone. Not the external circumstances of your life, but the internal desires of your heart. James repeats it several ways so we understand how comprehensive this is for understanding the cause of sinful conflict: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (4:2). James is not speaking of ordinary, good desires, but inordinate – out of bounds – desires, that somehow we’ve considered “normal.” This happens when good desires become ruling desires, hijacking our hearts. We become demanding as if we are saying “my kingdom come, my will be done.” This is the antithesis of how Jesus graciously teaches us to pray.

James’ point is simple: we fight because our hearts’ desires are out of order. While our culture may call these “mental disorders,” as biblical counselors we speak more about hijacked hearts and minds trying to play god. Remember dear brothers and sisters, the Creator defines His creation. And as His most prized possessions, He will stop at nothing to bring us unto Himself. As part of the created order, we must listen to how Our Loving, Gracious Heavenly Father instructs us how to live in His world, not the other way around!

Of course, external circumstances, unhealthy family dynamics, ways you are sinned against, and many other important shaping influences matter greatly. They are powerful temptations toward certain behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. A bad day at work, a critical spouse, a friend’s betrayal – these are contexts that can certainly help us make sense of how conflict is happening and will continue to happen. But they don’t explain why it is happening and said difficult circumstances sure do not define who we are. He defines Himself and His people, so let’s listen to Our Father and King together and learn what He desires from His people since Jesus purchased us with His blood and faithfully and graciously gave us His Holy Spirit to dwell in us. If we understand conflict to be present, we are only beginning to understand the problem. We must delve further into why it’s there in the first place.

James dives deeper before pointing us to a solution. These fights and quarrels not only reveal a heart with disordered desires; these disordered desires reveal a heart of disordered worship! We do not behave our way into sin so we cannot behave our way out of sin. We worship our way into sin, therefore we must worship our way out of sin.

James says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” He is not claiming that we are all guilty of adultery on our spouses, but adultery toward God, in the sense that we are being unfaithful to the Lord by devoting ourselves to things other than him. According to James, by following after the disordered desires of our hearts we’re actually worshiping false gods, something totally incongruent with the new nature and new identity we’ve been given in Christ.

In essence, this is the same thing Jesus told us: where your treasure is, there will your heart be. So where is your treasure? Is it in your career? Your children? Is it in your possessions and appearance? Or in your intellect and books and degrees? To put it differently, whatever you value most (treasure) will hold your deepest devotion (heart). And if that treasure is anything other than Christ, if the heart is devoted to anything other than Christ, you can be sure that it will cause all kinds of sin, such as fights and quarrels. And, to be sure, we can always find our hearts lusting for things other than the Risen Savior. But, He knows this and if you are a believer…. Jesus has already forgiven you! This may sound too good, but it’s nonetheless TRUE!

Having described how our fights and quarrels reveal hearts that have strayed from God, James gives us some very good news: “But [God] gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” That is an amazing statement! Yes, God is gracious to the humble. But he is also gracious toward the proud by opposing them….PLEASE feast on such truth. We see this in Jesus’ loving, tough opposition to the proud Pharisees. God is not content to let us remain in our disordered desires and worship. He is gracious in that he uses our trials and suffering to recapture our hearts to worship him and follow his desires. That is why, as James says earlier, we can “count it pure joy” when we “meet trials of all kinds” – because we know that through such trials he is purifying our hearts to worship him. So external circumstances, rather than being the scapegoat for wrongdoing, are actually the very things that the Father graciously uses as discipline to lead his children back to himself – the only One who can redeem the heart of conflict.

The Gospel Teaches Us to Play: A Personal Story – David Elston

“Come play trains with me, Daddy.”

“Come on, let’s wrestle on the bed!”

“You watch Peppa Pig with me?”

Without fail, when I come home from work each day, I am greeted by one of these requests from my three-year-old son, Judah. Of course, it comes with an irresistible hug and a big smile. It fills my heart to have the kind of relationship with him where he looks forward to me coming home and waits all day for me to play with him. Mommy doesn’t quite wrestle or play trains like Daddy does…

About a year ago, however, neither Judah nor I knew how to play. I’d sit down with him and he’d just start bashing his trains together. Or he’d play with his trucks for thirty seconds and then go and find his bag of dinosaurs and dump them out, which would last for two minutes before he went to find his giant Lego blocks. He simply didn’t know how to play. He didn’t know how to pretend.

And so he and I began to work on that. We focused mainly on his collection of Thomas the Train engines:

  • “Uh-oh! Thomas fell into the water! Percy, can you escort him to the Steamworks?”
  • “Oh no! Have you seen James’ coal car? I think Diesel must have hidden his coal car somewhere in Judah’s room. Thankfully he left some hints…”
  • “Thomas, this is Sir Topham Hatt speaking. The Queen of England will be a passenger on Annie and Clarabel today, and you must make sure she has a quiet and gentle ride around all of the island of Sodor. Can you take her?”

It has been one of the joys of parenting to see Judah actually learn how to play. My wife and I will hear him back in his room pretending to be Sir Topham Hatt, chiding the trains for causing “confusion and delay.” His “bashing” has gone from 100% of his play time to about 10%. And he’s actually engaging his imagination into his activities, such that he can even play by himself. Victory!

But as I said earlier, Judah was not the only one who didn’t know how to play. I didn’t. And in some ways, I still don’t. You see, Judah’s lack of play was due to childish ignorance. Mine is far darker in nature. There is often a resistance to playing within me. If it is not there at first, after 30 minutes or so of make-believe, it will be there: a nagging sense of “I’ve got to get up and go do something real, something that matters.” I could give that feeling a harmless name like “restlessness.” I could justify it and say that it is just an introvert’s need for some “time alone” after a long day at work. But at its core it is a failure to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That may seem like quite a jump. Let me explain. The Bible points out what we all at least subconsciously know – that before God and before the world we as humans are insufficient. We fall short of the purpose we were meant to fulfill. There are two typical responses to that.

One typical response is that we feel we must do something about our insufficiency. And so we set about life to establish ourselves through our accomplishments and relationships and possessions (etc). Paul describes this response in Romans 10:3 as “being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own [righteousness].” As much as I hate to admit it, when I am playing with Judah and feel restless, I am operating as one needing to establish myself, feeling like playing with my son is not contributing to my sufficiency before God and man.

The alternative and biblical response to that feeling of insufficiency is to admit our inability and, rather than attempt to establish it ourselves, we accept God’s provision for it: the gift of righteousness through his Son, Jesus, which was wrought in his life on earth and offered up at his crucifixion. Because of Christ, there is no lack in those who believe. We are sufficient and righteous before God. And so, as I sit at the Thomas the Train table, if I believe the gospel, there will be no restlessness, since my insufficiency has been taken care of by Another. I am free to play.

So Judah is not the only one who is learning how to play here. As I teach Judah how to play, Christ teaches me how to live. By the gospel giving me freedom to play, it is essentially freeing me for selfless love toward my son. As I play with Judah, I am doing something that in no way advances my career or builds up my portfolio or really benefits me in any way at all. It only benefits him. What a way to represent our Savior to our children!

Our Savior stooped down, as it were, to “play” with us on earth, loving and living perfectly among us. And what did he gain from it? Nothing – he was crucified! We gained from it, of course, but his entire life was one of serving others with no present return on investment! May his example inspire us, and better yet, may his gospel free us to do small and seemingly insignificant things like play with our children.

When Culture Feels Scary – Dr. Tim Lane, Guest Blogger

Personal message from Dr. Tim Lane:  Having known Chase Maxey for years, I consider him a close friend, a co-laborer in biblical counseling, and a dear brother in Christ. As colleagues at CCEF, I saw the Lord grow Chase’s passion for loving people well in this fallen world. My soul is deeply encouraged by how our Father is graciously using Biblical Counseling & Training Ministries (BCTM) to further His kingdom by pointing hurting people to Christ – the only Hope for our weary souls.

When you reflect on the past few months in the U.S. – political unrest, racial tension and debates over immigration policy, to name a few — do you find yourself pessimistic and fearful or optimistic and hopeful? Depending upon where you stand on particular issues, a wide variety of responses can be seen. For some, it may evoke celebration. For others, deep sadness. Some, anger, and for many, a great deal of fear. Yet, looking at our particular zeitgeist in comparison to what believers in the Old Testament and the New Testament faced has a way of providing helpful clarity as well as deep optimism. Yes, I said optimism! I am talking about deep biblical optimism, not pollyannish optimism.

In order to get some perspective, let’s consider one example from the life of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 18, we learn that he is near the end of his second missionary journey. He is leaving Athens and heading to Corinth. That, in and of itself, is worth considering. Paul’s time in Athens bore little fruit as far as we can tell. There was no successful church plant there that we are aware of. As Paul leaves Athens and arrives in Corinth, he says this,

I came to you with great fear and trembling (I Corinthians 2:3).

Prior to his time in Athens, Paul had experienced significant persecution for his work of spreading the gospel. The bottom line is this; Paul is struggling with fear as he faces opposition. He is a minority in the cities where he moves and preaches the gospel. He is outnumbered. People think he is crazy and narrow-minded. He is an outcast. His values are at odds with the culture he is moving and living in. Corinth, itself, was a challenging city. Not unlike many of our modern cities in the world.

It is within this context that Jesus speaks to Paul in Acts 18. Listen to what Jesus says and how it is very relevant for believers today.

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

The last phrase in verse 10 is a game changer as we ponder how we relate to our culture as Christians. Paul certainly hears words of encouragement that bring new strength and resolve to his efforts. Jesus promises to protect him and be with him in the midst of his work in Corinth. But Jesus goes another step. It is a positive statement that changes Paul’s perception of those he will encounter as he goes about his gospel work.

Jesus says that many of Paul’s present adversaries will be his future brothers and sisters in Christ. Not all of them will. Paul will experience ongoing persecution and rejection. That comes with the territory as we follow the King of a very different kingdom. Yet, as Paul relates to his current enemies with a tone and posture of grace, conviction, humility and tenacity, people will find hope and grace in the One whom Paul knows and proclaims.

How are we doing as a church in the 21st century within the context of our culture? Are we pessimistic or optimistic? Do we live in fear or in hope of the advancing kingdom of God; a kingdom of grace, mercy, forgiveness and joyful repentance?

What about your particular church? Do we see the cultural challenges of the day as opportunities for pastoral apologetics; a winsome and persuasive display of God’s kindness and call to a changed life?

What about you? Do your family members, co-workers and neighbors enjoy your company or hope you don’t show up due to your strongly held opinions and the way you express your convictions? Are you fearful and self-righteous?

Paul’s tone and demeanor shifted radically upon receiving Jesus’ counsel. It is the same counsel that you are receiving today. The King is on the move rescuing folks just like you and me. In fact, he wants to use folks just like you and me. We have an opportunity to be the church and represent our gracious King. This starts by building bridges and connecting with people; especially with those whom we may disagree.

Sound scary? If so, know that you have the same promises and encouragement from Jesus as Paul did as he moved to Corinth.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the Founder and President of the Institute for Pastoral Care, a non-profit that equips local churches in caring for their people, and Tim Lane & Associates, a counseling practice located in Peachtree City, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. He has a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Counseling.

Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

Beginning in 2001 until 2013, Tim served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation) in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

Tim and his wife, Barbara, now live in Atlanta, GA, as he continues to counsel, write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally.  To connect with Tim, please visit http://timlane.org/.

Just who do you think you are? – Chase Maxey and David Elston

I struggle with _______ because of ________. How do you fill in those blanks?

  • “I have a temper because my father had a temper.”
  • “I have trust issues because of my parents’ divorce.”
  • “I get drunk because I need some kind of escape from the stress of life.”
  • “I crave approval because I never received it as a child.”
  • “I am crazy because my kids drive me nuts!”

Why do you have the struggle that you do? What is the cause of it? What part do your childhood, family, past experience, current circumstances, biology, and relationships have to play in who you are today? If you had a harsh, critical parent, it is not hard to see that there is some kind of connection between that and your fear of rejection. If your father was an angry person, there are definitely ways in which that could tempt you towards anger. These situations make total sense. But is it as simple as cause and effect? No, biblically speaking, we are not simply products of our environments.

Why are we the way that we are, then? From where does our identity come? First of all, we do acknowledge that our environments are powerful shaping influences on who we are. They are contributing factors in what we do. Our childhood, biological makeup, relationships, sufferings – these things provide the context in which we do all that we do. David Powlison, speaking of these influences says, “In fact, the Bible teaches that God actually arranges the stage on which you live. He is the Lord of history, including your local time and place, and your personal history. Your particular matrix of influences provides the context in which your faith (or your self-will) plays out, in which he meets you (or you shirk him).” So these things are influential and shaping, but they are not determinative or defining. In other words, they are not the foundational factor in who you are or the ultimate cause of what you do.

So what is our identity? If our biological makeup, childhood experiences and family don’t define us, then what does? Or Who does?

For those who trust in Christ, your identity is based on him. Part of the wonder of the gospel is that in our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, we have gone through a death of our old self and the resurrection of a new self that is bound to Christ (Romans 6:1-7). We no longer have our own identity, but one that is wrapped up in Christ’s identity. In other words, we are not defined by being a child of an alcoholic father, but by being a child of a holy, loving, heavenly Father. We are not defined by the things that we have done and that have happened to us, but by the things that Jesus has done. We do not live as individual beings living out individual stories, but as members of Christ who are living out Christ’s story.

So does that mean everything else about us is no longer a part of who we are? No! Just the opposite, part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to take everything about us and everything that has happened to us and redeem it! Those things that once defined us are now, in Christ, the raw materials out of which he is making a beautiful masterpiece (Eph. 2:10)! By the power of the gospel, we are given identities that are deeper than our earthly circumstances and more foundational than our fallen human experience.

And so the way we think about and relate to our abusive father is transformed as we come to know our Heavenly Father, who did everything he could to keep us from harm (to the point of sacrificing his own Son). The experience of our fallen humanity – broken bodies, minds, and relationships – rather than being defining, become secondary, a part of a bigger, more foundational calling that God has placed on our lives to glorify him by “lead[ing] the life that the Lord has assigned to [us]” (1 Cor. 7:17-24). If we are in Christ, we are not helplessly chained to the crippling effects of an unhappy childhood but set free to “walk in newness of life” by our adoption into a new family. If Christ is the foundation of who we are, if He defines us, then everything else about us is redefined accordingly. What hope there is in Christ for broken sinners like us!

Biblical Counseling and the Sufficiency of Scripture – John Kwasny

Early in my marriage, my typical response to something breaking or needing repair in our home was simply to buy a new one. Now, this method would have worked just fine if we were an independently wealthy young couple. But, alas, we were not. So after years of frustrating my wife with my lack of Mr. Fix-it knowledge and skills, I discovered the beauty of YouTube repair videos. Google almost any repair issue on the planet and find a handyman who can actually walk you through the process on your phone! Miracle of miracles, I have now been able to fix many of the routine things around my house, much to the joy of my wife and the gratefulness of my budget.

Is that how we look at Scripture when we look to “repair” a difficult problem in our lives? Do we use the Bible like a Google search, hunting down verses about anger, addiction, anxiety, and marital problems in order to fix those problems? Or maybe find ourselves wishing the Bible could be turned into a YouTube video, guiding us step-by-step towards an ultimate repair. Unfortunately, this can be what comes to mind when we hear Biblical counselors speak of how the Scriptures are sufficient to speak to our problems. With this thinking, the Bible is reduced to just another self-help book which is read only when I have a problem to solve. Unfortunately, there is also a great possibility of disappointment when it appears that the Bible doesn’t really address my particular problem.

So let’s briefly consider what Biblical counselors really mean when we talk about the sufficiency of Scripture for our problems. First, it acknowledges that Scripture is the ultimate authority for life. There are all sorts of people, philosophies, and systems that claim to be authorities on why we develop problems and how to solve those problems. But the only trustworthy authority for how to properly address our problems is God’s Word. All explanations and solutions must be grounded in the truth of Scripture.

Second, it emphasizes Scripture as Special Revelation. We can certainly learn a lot about people and their problems by a true, scientific observation of the world around us. Yet, we know that God’s Word is defined as “special revelation” because it alone teaches us how salvation is found in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone. Solving humanity’s problems begins with the worst problem of all—being lost in our sins and headed for eternal death!

Third, it recognizes that Scripture teaches us who God is and how we are to respond to Him. In one sense, what more do we need than to know who God is and what it means to be His redeemed child? The Bible is so much better than any self-help book because it reveals God to us, shows us our sin, and points us to redemption and sanctification in Christ! By definition, that is sufficient for our ability to handle all the problems in life, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, it demonstrates the comprehensiveness of Scriptural principles to attack spiritual, emotional, mental, and relational problems. The Law, the prophets, the narratives, the Gospels, the epistles—all of God’s Word is applicable to teach, rebuke, correct, and train God’s people in righteousness. The principles of God’s Kingdom found in the Bible are sufficient for us to learn how to solve problems God’s way. Even though we use all sorts of modern labels to describe our problems, there are always Scriptural principles that are to be learned in order to address those challenging problems.

Finally, it means that Scripture sufficiently feeds our hearts, minds, and souls. The Holy Scriptures are the bread and meat provided for our spiritual growth. Rather than looking at the Bible as a just a Google search for solving our problems, we must see it as the spiritual food that will give us the spiritual health to face our problems. The Word of God, empowered by the Spirit, changes the way we think, act, live, feel and relate. It does this not by just giving us information to apply, but by offering transformation for our lives!

When we consider something to be sufficient, it is ENOUGH. Scripture is enough to solve our ultimate problem of sin and death, as well as the other problems that emanate from our core heart issues. When we understand that Scripture is sufficient, we will seek wisdom that is grounded in God’s Word and rightly apply God’s Word to our lives. For example, the Psalms (and other books of the Bible) contain many instances of individuals crying out in despair, pain, anxiety, and fear. Scripture never minimizes the pain or heartache expressed in these passages; rather, God’s Word invites us to pour out our hearts to the One who loves us enough to die for us. While our problems and struggles may look differently from the outside, we all share the same kinds of heart struggles – and our Father aims for the heart every time. As grateful as I am for YouTube repair videos, how much greater is it to have the Scriptures at our disposal—the authoritative and sufficient Word of God to answer all our real problems!

Why isn’t God helping me? – Chase Maxey & David Elston

“Why isn’t God helping me?”  

If you find yourself asking this question, you are not the first to do so. Perhaps you are asking a variation of it, such as “Why is God silent?” or “Where is God?” The question is not necessarily unbiblical nor ungodly. It is essentially the same question Jesus asked on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46). One major difference, however, between Jesus’ question and ours is that Jesus truly was forsaken by God. His Father really had abandoned him. And that makes all the difference in the world for us as we ask the same question about our situation. Jesus was forsaken so that his people never would be. Jesus was abandoned by the Father at the cross so that you and I can be assured and confident that God will always help us, that God will never forsake us (Ps 40:11; Ps 37:28). So, as we attempt to make meaning out of our suffering, “God is not helping me” is not a valid interpretation! So then, what meaning do we make of our pain?

Jesus’ words on the cross are actually quite helpful here. For the Jew of Jesus’ day who was watching the event take place or listening to the story of Jesus’ death, the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” were not just an expression of pain to God. No, these are the words that begin Psalm 22. For most of you, if I simply said, “In the beginning…” you could easily finish the sentence – “God created the heavens and the earth.” Likewise, for the Jewish audience of the day, when Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1, it was a passage they knew so well that they could fill in the rest of the words themselves. So by quoting this single verse, Jesus gives Psalm 22 as the key to understanding both his suffering and our own.

This Psalm tells the story of someone in the midst of terrible pain. Can you find yourself in any of these verses? God seems silent and distant to this person (v. 1). He was hurt and humiliated by friends and family (v. 6). He’d been attacked without cause and was exhausted by the pain (v. 14, 16). He has lost absolutely everything, even the shirt off his back (v. 18). If there is anyone who knows your pain, it is this person. When Jesus cried out those few words about being forsaken, it was an abbreviated way of saying all of these things at once. The person suffering in Psalm 22 is him. But that’s not all he was saying, for the Psalm does not end there.

Jesus knew that his story did not end in defeat. A wise mentor once told me, “The story always ends well for the believer.” Jesus’ story is the supreme example of this. Who would have imagined that it would end well for the man who was bleeding, asphyxiating, and weeping as he hung from the cross? And yet, as the story ended well for him, so it ends well for all who trust in him. Is Jesus in your story? If not, it is hopeless. But if he is, your story is brimming with Hope!

If you go on to read the rest of the Psalm, the very person who had suffered so greatly in the first half of the Psalm goes on to interpret his pain redemptively in the second half. Jesus knew that, despite all he was experiencing in the moment, his Father was actually at work in his suffering. Though it seemed like proven fact that God did not love that Man hanging from the cross, Jesus understood it as a moment of great endearment between the Two of them (John 10:17). Though God seemed silent at the scene of his execution, Jesus knew that no moment in history would ever speak as loud and clear (Ps 22:27). Did you know that God is at work in your pain? Do you see the love of Christ for you in your pain? If you doubt such things, look no further than the cross, the key to understanding the mystery of suffering and the love of God.

Like Jesus, we cannot suffer well if we automatically equate pain with the absence of God. We will often not be able to know the exact reason why we are suffering, but by his word we can know that he loves and sees and hears us (Gen 16:13). And as we learn to hear his word, we will learn to suffer well. We will often not be able to feel the presence of God with us in our pain, but we can choose to trust the promise of his presence instead (Acts 9:4). Ironically, feeling follows faith, not the other way around. We must learn to do as C.H. Spurgeon (a man of great suffering) once said, “When we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”

So when suffering enters your life, don’t simply ask the question, “Why isn’t God helping me?” and leave it at that. No, learning from the Man of Sorrows, we have to interpret our pain by what we know to be true of God, rather than interpreting God by what our pain seems to say about him. God is not silent! Sometimes we just lack the ears to hear his voice.

Why can’t I be happy like everyone else? – Chase Maxey and David Elston

Last week, the Roundtable Counseling blog started a mini-series on the most common questions raised by counselees, starting with “Why can’t I be normal like everyone else?” This week, we turn our attention to a related question:  

Why can’t I be happy like everyone else?

This question is never said in response to a moment of discontentment. No, when someone asks this question they have been unhappy for long enough that they have begun to despair. They’re frustrated with life: long bouts with illness and disease, difficult relationships, wounds from the past. Of course you are unhappy! Look at how hard life has been. Look at what is going on in your life. Unhappiness is reasonable under such circumstances.

A friend of mine who once asked this question was feeling disqualified in her faith because she was not as happy as her atheist sibling. I asked her, “Where do you get the idea that happiness is the thing that proves our faith true?” I think she was both encouraged and challenged by this question. Encouraged, because she realized her struggle with depression did not disprove her faith or her Christian witness. My friend was going through life feeling disqualified to share her faith because of an unbiblical assumption, that is, that happiness is the standard by which everything is measured. A common assumption of our culture is, “If something makes you happy, it is good and true; if something makes you unhappy, it is bad or false.” But my friend was also challenged, because now she had to ask herself the question, “If happiness is not what proves or disproves my faith, then what does?” This is exactly the kind of question we want to ask. Biblical counseling, by revealing this kind of unbiblical assumptions, not only gets us asking the right question, it also takes us to the only trustworthy place for answers: The Word of God.

Behind the question, “Why can’t I just be happy?” hides an assumption similar to my friend’s: happiness as the purpose of life. But notice Paul’s counter-intuitive summary of God’s purpose for us in this life: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). In other words, God’s will for us in this life is not to develop our happiness but our holiness. Just by looking at the word “sanctification” we can see that this is true. Sanctification is the process of being made sanctum, which is Latin for “holy,” not “happy.” We’ve bought into the cultural misunderstanding that life is about the pursuit of happiness, but biblically speaking, life is about a pursuit of holiness. Note, Paul did not say God’s will is simply “your justification,” that moment in which we are declared righteous before God. No, God’s will is “your sanctification,” the lifelong process in which the Holy Spirit makes us like Jesus.

But it is not only our culture’s fault that we have such assumptions. We must also recognize our role in the matter. In their right place, there is nothing wrong with desires for things like marriage, food, and sex. The same is true for the desire for happiness. But if one of these “wants” becomes a “need,” then we are in trouble. There is a world of difference in humbly and gratefully asking the Lord to give us a spouse and demanding the Lord to give us a spouse because it is our right and our due. Likewise, the desire for personal happiness can easily become a demand for personal happiness. When that happens, our heart is hijacked by the inordinate desire, no longer piloted by the Lord but by a false lord, in other words, an idol. What do you need? What do you want? There is a radical difference between wanting and needing! Our answers to those questions reveal the functional gods of our lives.

But isn’t “joy” a fruit of the Spirit? Indeed, joy is a fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying that joy is a part of being like Jesus. Yes, we are commanded to “rejoice always.” Paul even says that “we rejoice in our sufferings” (Rom 5:3). But biblical “joy” is a far cry from personal happiness. True happiness, what the Bible calls “joy,” is far less about ourselves and far more about the Lord. What most of us mean when we say “happiness” is satisfaction in present circumstances. It means we are happy about the way things are going in life – the friends we have, the jobs we work, the money we earn. But as Christ said, these are things that “moth and rust can destroy and thieves break in and steal.” Joy has to do with God’s kingdom, finding satisfaction in the treasures we have in Christ. Happiness is totally dependent on shifting circumstances; joy is totally dependent on the work of Christ, which is finished and unchanging.

So let’s apply this in the ordinary context of marriage. Joe and Susie come into the counseling room with the complaint of being unhappy with their marriage. When pressed further, they admit that what they really mean is their spouse is not fulfilling their desire for personal happiness. Like we said above, Joe and Susie’s perceived need for happiness is actually a desire that has become corrupted into a demand, which distorts their entire relationship: the way they think, speak, and treat one another. Joe will be happy with more sex, more free time, and less nagging. Susie will be happy with more service, less demands, and a bigger house. Now, there is legitimacy to some of these desires. But there are two problems: (1) these are not just simple desires but self-serving demands and (2) the primary purpose of marriage is not the personal satisfaction of the individuals but the sanctification of the couple.

Joe and Susie, like all of us, must be reoriented to the truth that God’s purpose for our lives – especially marriage – is sanctification. When marriage becomes about the Lord, all kinds of things begin to fall into place. As their marriage becomes about growing in Christ-likeness rather than happiness, Susie becomes less nagging and Joe less demanding. Gradually, as “happiness for me” is replaced by “holiness in us,” they begin to find each other’s expectations less burdensome and each other’s shortcomings less frustrating. Joe begins to serve from the heart. Susie begins to forgive from the heart. This kind of growth is what we mean by “sanctification,” and “growing in holiness.”

Are Joe and Susie happy? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s alright (even though it doesn’t feel alright!), because they are right where God has called them to be, growing in Christ-likeness. And most importantly, rather than being a means to personal happiness, Joe and Susie’s marriage begins to be a holy, joyful reflection of Christ and the church.

Why Biblical Counseling? – Chase Maxey

Contrary to popular belief, biblical counseling is not “take two verses and call me in the morning”.  Nor is it instruction for people to “just trust God”, “try harder”, or “pray more”. No, true biblical counsel comes from God through His Word and is intended to be shared with others to encourage, help, and speak the truth in love.  It acknowledges the reality of pain and suffering in this fallen world while pointing people to the One who knows our struggles and gave Himself to draw us near.  BCTM’s counsel aims to serve the glory of God and the good of people. What we believe informs how we counsel:

  1. Biblical Counseling’s authority is the Word of God.

Biblical counseling is not a man-made idea like the thousands of secular psychologies. We don’t look to the DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistics Manual) for our answers. However, psychologies can be very helpful in locating pain. It puts a name on something that hurts or helps define various symptoms of a larger problem. Man can put helpful words around struggles but doesn’t have the solution in and of himself to cure the ultimate problem. Sure, we can change behavior, and our family tree is definitely a shaping influence on our lives. But shaping influences do not define us. God does. Our identity is in Christ alone, and His Word is sufficient for all things.

  1. Biblical Counseling has a biblical view of who God is, who man is, what man’s problems are, and solutions to those problems.

We aim to understand who God is, so we can know ourselves and then love and care for His people made in His image. Problems and people are complex, so answers to difficult issues are never easy. Discovering this truth is part of the counseling process. In fact, the process is usually more important than the content or “presenting problem.” For example, in marriage counseling, how the husband and wife discuss their struggles is usually more important than what the struggles actually are!

  1. Biblical Counseling aims for the heart.

We believe the Bible is not another best-selling self-help book promoting personal happiness, but the Living Word of God moving us toward a real and vibrant personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Ultimately we are all addicted to sin, our hearts are wicked and deceitful above all things. So, as biblical counselors, we are not surprised by anyone’s sin. We attempt to understand total depravity of the human condition, but more importantly we aim to be thunderstruck by the grace, mercy, and forgiveness found only in Jesus Christ. We are no longer dead in our transgressions, but His grand story of redemption is difficult for sinners like us to believe.

  1. Biblical Counseling is most concerned with God’s holiness, not only personal happiness.

Most people enter counseling saying, “I just want to be happy or normal.” The gospel is much better than happy, and what is normal anyway? As people, of course we want to be happy, but we are built for eternity, and are being refined on this side of Glory into the likeness of Christ. The process often hurts, so we must exercise patience and wisdom as we walk with God’s people, because we know there are no quick fixes for true and lasting change.

  1. Biblical Counseling depends on the Holy Spirit – we seek long-term biblical change.

Biblical counselors can’t fix you nor your spouse nor your children. But we are called to rightly divide the word of Truth when the Spirit decides to move. Our litmus test is the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Where do we see the Spirit increasing these in our lives? What is the Spirit up to – and are we celebrating His movement? We are constantly looking for the good, the hard, and then the bad – in that order! We are on a grace hunt, not a sin hunt.

  1. Biblical Counseling is “we”.

Given what we know about the total depravity of all people – and what we know about believers’ adoption into the family of the Father – we counsel others as one brother to another, as brother to sister rather than expert-to-patient. However, we do believe the Lord calls some in the body of Christ to be trained and equipped to provide wise counsel according to His Word. All BCTM counselors are trained to think biblically, rather than to lean on various ideologies. Since we all share in the same kinds of weaknesses and sufferings, we help one another along in the journey to become like our true Elder Brother and Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our counselors and staff realize our own need for Jesus and understand that we continue to grow in grace along with our counselees. Every wise biblical counselor surrounds himself with wise counsel, and we are no exception.

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