Category Archives: Counseling

What Should Be Shared with Our Wives – Part 2

Another post on this subject here at the blog Sunday Women.

Megan’s observations:

NEVER share your negative speculations. There are people in ministry who are tough to love, but it’s destructive to share assumptions about their motives.

RARELY share information particularly disturbing to your spouse. Me? I can’t stomach details of substance abuse, so my husband loves me by keeping silent.

RARELY share hurtful information that has no solution. If it can’t be fixed, don’t bother sharing.

SOMETIMES share hurtful information that has a solution. These things can be fixed or, at least, helped.

SOMETIMES share hurtful information because its burden is too great. Some secrets need the additional comfort, wisdom, or prayer that only your spouse can give.

OFTEN share information that will soon be public knowledge. This gives your spouse a chance to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepare.

ALWAYS share encouragement. Spiritual fruit, progress in holiness, and success in gospel labor are things every spouse needs to hear.

Good thoughts for us as elders/shepherds. Read the whole thing.

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The Power of Words

Part 1 – God and Words

Part 2 – Jesus the Word and Words

Part 3 – The Gospel and Words

Part 4 – The Christian Life and Word

Just me and my Bible – How to Handle

Four great quotes from BTW on why, “Just me and my Bible” is foolish and not spiritual.

Here’s one:
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”

—Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 1.

True Humility and Love

Really good insight on true humility working out in not being smarmy but in asking questions of the other person!

Years ago I remember a friend telling me that C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect: “When you meet a truly humble person you won’t walk away thinking about how humble he was. You’ll walk away thinking what a great time you had and how much you were able to share about yourself.” I had forgotten that this was from Mere Christianity, until today when Justin Taylor linked to the quote, as did a commenter on this blog. Here’s the real thing:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

Lewis’ point is well taken, and, as always, well put. The humble person does not draw attention to his humility; he draws conversation out of you.

There are hundreds of ways to love and a myriad of ways to demonstrate humility. But one of the most effective ways to accomplish both is to simply ask questions. True, it’s possible to be nothing but a smooth talking salesmen who cares little for the actual person across the table. But every virtue can be faked from time to time. So let’s not let that deter us from giving others the gift of our curiosity.

Almost everyone loves to talk about themselves. So loving others as we want to be loved should entail asking lots of questions. Ask how the couple met. Ask what their kids are like. Ask what their plans are for the summer. Ask what you do with a packaging degree. Ask where they learned to speak French. Ask when they first came to the United States. Ask what they miss about being at home. Ask if they’ve seen any good movies or read any good books. Ask where they’re from and what they are studying in school. Ask about their health and their jobs. Ask about sports or the weather or the local news. In time, ask about Jesus. Ask about their church. Ask about what they’re learning in the Bible. Ask how the difficult conversation went last week.  Ask how you can pray.

Hard for Some, But Doable For All

Yes, I realize that question-asking comes easier for some than for others. But I don’t think it comes easily for most of us. Even the extremely extroverted are rarely extroverted in ways that center on others. I’m a borderline extrovert-introvert (if you pay those tests any mind). I am outgoing around my friends and like to lead. But it’s much easier for me to be in my study than meeting new people. I don’t think I’m the best model for asking questions. My wife is probably better at it than I am. I’m sure too many people who know me could think of stories where I didn’t try very hard to engage them in conversation. But learning to ask good questions and make other-centered conversation is something I work at. And for all those who feel too shy or awkward to launch into question-asking at the oddly-seated wedding reception, I’m here to tell you that loving others with your questions is a skill you can develop.

It wasn’t until the end of seminary that it really dawned on me that I could ask adults questions or lead in conversation. My whole life I had allowed others to draw me out, include me in, or do the hard work of helping others talk. Teachers asked me questions. Parents  asked me questions. Adults at church asked me questions. I was a relational sponge, conversationally inert until someone cared enough to wring me out.

I’m not sure how I learned to ask questions. Maybe I saw it modeled in more mature Christians. Maybe God worked in my heart. Maybe moving across the country by myself gave me more sympathy for outsiders.  Maybe I just figured I need the skill to survive in ministry. Whatever the cause(s), by the time I graduated seminary I found myself more at ease in engaging strangers in conversation. Suddenly I noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, like the newcomer all by herself or the young man in the circle not saying a word. I still don’t think I am the most gifted conversationalist, but I certainly have better ears for listening and know how to ask better questions.

People Need to Talk

I remember reading an essay by Chuck Kloosterman not too long ago where he mused about why complete strangers will disclose so much to him in an interview. He surmised (or maybe it was the man he was interviewing, I can’t remember) that people feel an insatiable need to tell their stories. Most people will tell you more than you might imagine, simply because someone asked.

We are highly verbal creatures. Which is no surprise because we know God because he has spoken to us. Even with all the appropriate cautions about the disembodied relationships taking root in the new social media, the fact remains that most of us would rather talk to a friend over the phone or by email than sit a room together saying nothing. We love and feel loved, to a large extent, through words.

Like a Good Neighbor

And one of the best ways to love others and demonstrate humility in putting their desires before our own is to ask questions. Don’t be the Brian Regan Me-Monster intent on regaling your audience with tales of the airport in Zurich and how you get, like, a thousand emails a day. And while we’re at it, don’t be the One-Word-Willie wither who shuts down conversations with a series of monosyllabic “Fine’s” and “Good’s.” (I’m not saying we should be afraid to talk. Refusing to answer good questions can be as rude as not asking them.)

What I am saying is that most of us need to see conversation as a way to care for others and not as something we wait fo others to do for us. It would be an exercise of courageous humility for many Christians (especially the young) to make the family dinner table or the church foyer an audience of for our questions instead of our quietness. Not to put too fine a point on it, many of us, pastors by no means excepted, need to grow in our ability and desire to simply talk to others. Love your neighbor as yourself and make him the center of your attention.

Wisdom and Justice

I have put this post up at The Apollos Project and applied it to parents. Here, on The Shepherd’s Blog, it applies to leadership positions within the church. During a long, protracted conflict within our family of churches, this one lesson was drilled home to me again and again. Innocent lack of wisdom on my part can lead to real or perceived injustice on the parts of others. I as a leader need to be aware of the power I have and the unintentional hurt I can cause. Read the whole thing. Chap

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong…So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this …for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart…1 Kings 3:10-12

As a leader, I will be called upon to make a myriad of decisions. Should we do this ministry or that? Should we do it at one time or another? Should we allow one thing or another? Should I recruit one person or another?   Truly leaders need the wisdom of God!

But as an imperfect leader, I will err. There will be times that I will not make the wisest choice. As a person in authority, I will unwittingly have made a poor choice. No big deal, right? We all make mistakes, right?

Except that this verse highlights an oft misunderstood principle by those in authority. In 1 Kings Solomon prayed for wisdom to administer justice. Why? Because when a leader is wise, his followers experience justice. But when a leader is unwise, those underneath him experience that lack of wisdom as injustice.

This principle not only applies to the leaders of countries but also to the leaders of churches and leaders of ministries. When a ministry leader is wise, his or her followers experience a just and fair time. But when we lack wisdom, those we lead will often experience this lack of wisdom as injustice. They feel our decisions as fundamentally unfair. Our innocent lack of wisdom can cause others pain.

So as we lead through the myriad of decisions that come our way, let us cry out for the wisdom of God to lead our church or our ministry. And let us sympathize with them when they feel the effects of our unwise choices. No, we will not lead them perfectly. Only the kingdom of Christ will bring in perfect wisdom and justice. But understanding this principle will help us treat those underneath us more gently, kindly, and compassionately.

Are Christians to Feel Guilty All the Time?

From Kevin DeYoung – Excellent Post. Leaders need to understand this dynamic to counsel ourselves and counsel each other. The elders were just talking about this. Chap

I imagine there are plenty of Christians who rarely feel the sting of conscience or the pangs of regret. But I also know many, many Christians (including the one I see in the mirror) who easily feel bad for all the things they are not doing or are doing less than perfectly. In fact, I’m convinced most serious Christians live their lives with an almost constant low-level sense of guilt.

How do we feel guilty? Let me count the ways.

  • We could pray more.
  • We aren’t bold enough in evangelism.
  • We like sports too much.
  • We watch movies and television too often.
  • Our quiet times are too short or too sporadic.
  • We don’t give enough.
  • We bought a new couch.
  • We don’t read to our kids enough.
  • Our kids eat Cheetos and french fries.
  • We don’t recycle enough.
  • We need to lost 20 pounds.
  • We could use our time better.
  • We could live some place harder or in something smaller.

What do we do with all this behind the scenes guilt? We don’t feel stop-dead-in-our-tracks kind of remorse for these things.  But these shortcomings can have a cumulative effect whereby even the mature Christian can feel like he’s rather disappointing to God, maybe just barely Christian.

Here’s the tricky part: we should feel guilty sometimes, because sometimes we are guilty of sin. Moreover, complacency as Christians is a real danger, especially in America.

But yet, I don’t believe God redeemed us through the blood of his Son that we might feel like constant failures. Do Peter and John post-Pentecost seemed racked with self-loathing and introspective fear? Does Paul seem constantly concerned that he could be doing more? Amazingly enough, Paul actually says at one point “I am not aware of anything against myself” (1 Cor. 4:4). He’s quick to add, “I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” But it sure seems like Paul put his head on the pillow at night with a clean conscience. So why do so many Christian feel guilty all the time?

1. We don’t fully embrace the good news of the gospel. We forget that we have been made alive together with Christ. We have been raised with him. We have been saved through faith alone. And this is the gift of God, not a result of works (Eph. 2:4-8). We can be so scared of antinomianism, which is a legitimate danger, that we are afraid to speak too lavishly of God’s grace. But if we’ve never been charged with being antinomian, we probably haven’t presented the gospel in all it’s scandalous glory (Rom. 6:1).

2. Christians tend to motivate each other by guilt rather than grace. Instead of urging our fellow believers to be who they are in Christ, we command them to do morefor Christ (see Rom. 6:5-14 for the proper motivation). So we see Christlikeness as something we are royally screwing up, when we should it as something we already possess but need to grow into.

3. Most of our low-level guilt falls under the ambiguous category of “not doing enough.” Look at the list above. None one of the items are necessarily sinful. They all deal with possible infractions, perceptions, and ways in which we’d like to do more. These are the hardest areas to deal with because no Christian, for example, will ever confess to praying enough. So it is always easy to feel terrible about prayer (or evangelism or giving or any number of disciplines). We must be careful that we don’t insist on a certain standard of practice when the Bible merely insists on a general principle.

Let me give another example. Every Christian must give generously and contribute to the needs of the saints (2 Cor. 9:6-11Rom. 12:13). This we can insist on with absolute certainty. But what this generosity looks like–how much we give, how much we retain–is not bound by any formula, nor can it be exacted by compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). So if we want people to be more generous we would do well to follow Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians and emphasize the blessings of generosity and the gospel rooted motivation for generosity as opposed to shaming those who don’t give us much.

4. When we are truly guilty of sin it is imperative we repent and receive God’s mercy. Paul had a clean conscience, not because he never sinned, but, I imagine, because he quickly went to the Lord when he knew he was wrong and rested in the “no condemnation” of the gospel (Rom. 8:1). If we confess our sins, John says, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We aren’t meant to feel borderline miserable all the time. We are meant to live in the joy of our salvation. So when we sin–and we’ll all sin (1 Kings 8:461 John 1:8)–we confess it, get cleansed, and move on.

This underlines one of the great dangers with constant guilt: we learn to ignore our consciences. If we are truly sinning, we need to repent and implore the Lord to help us change. But if we aren’t sinning, if we are perhaps not as mature as we could be, or are not as disciplined as some believers, or we are making different choices that may be acceptable but not extraordinary, then we should not be made to feel guilty. Challenged, stirred, inspired, but not guilty.

As a pastor this means I don’t expect that everyone in my congregation should feel awful about everything I ever preach on. It is ok, after all, for people to actually be obedient to God’s commands. Not perfectly, not without some mixed motives, not as fully as they could be, but still faithfully, God-pleasingly obedient. Faithful preaching does not require that sincere Christians feel miserable all the time. In fact, the best preaching ought to make sincere Christians see more of Christ and experience more of his grace.

Deeper grace will produce better gratitude, which means less guilt. And that’ s a good thing all the way around.

Spiritual Discouragement and Spiritual Perfectionism by D.A. Carson

D.A. Cars0n tells the story of meeting people who are discouraged by their sense of failure:

More than ten years ago a gifted pastor I know told me that at the age of fifty or so he was contemplating leaving pastoral ministry. Perhaps he would serve as an administrator in some sort of Christian agency. When I probed, I discovered that his reasoning had little to do with typical burnout, still less with a secretly nurtured sin that was getting the best of him, and certainly not with any disillusionment with the gospel or with the primacy of the local church. His problem, rather, was that he set extraordinarily high standards for himself in sermon preparation. Each of his sermons was a hermeneutical and homiletical gem. Anyone who knows anything about preaching could imagine how much time this pastor devoted to sermon preparation. Yet as his ministry increased, as legitimate demands on his time multiplied, he found himself frustrated because he could not maintain the standards he had set himself. I told him that most of us would rather that he continue for twenty more years at eighty percent of his capacity than for six months at a hundred percent of his capacity.

He moves on to talk about the source of this unhappiness with himself.

Rather, this unhappiness, sometimes descending to despair, is the fruit of frustration that perfection is not achievable. Yet it springs not from generalized aspirations for utopia, but from biblical declarations of the power of the gospel placed alongside our own shortcomings. It springs from the conviction that, granted the power of the gospel, perfection ought to be a lot more attainable than it is.

It springs, in short, from panting after perfection; it is another kind of perfectionism. Immediately one must say that pursuit of perfection is at many levels a good thing, a needed thing, plausible evidence that the gospel is at work in our lives. Many is the mature Christian who is acutely aware of the ongoing struggle with sin, yet who avoids the disabling despair of the few. Indeed, it has often been noted that the godliest of Christians are characteristically most aware of their sin, yet equally aware of the limitless measure of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus. What is it, then, that makes the pursuit of God and of holiness the characteristic mark of many disciples yet so utterly debilitating for some intense and devout followers of Jesus?

What is the Biblical solution? First, to realize that the Bible presents stark contrasts of absolutes. AND to realize the Bible presents narratives of the failings of God’s people. The Bible presents both!

The Bible itself speaks to this issue in various ways, and some of those ways are cast as stark antitheses.

In apocalyptic literature, for example, there are faithful followers of Christ, and there are diabolical opponents. People wear either the mark of the beast or the sign of Christ; there is nothing in between. Similarly in wisdom literature: one follows Dame Folly or Lady Wisdom, but not both. That is why a wisdom psalm like Ps 1 casts the choice in absolute antithesis: either one does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the path of sinners, and sit in the seat of mockers, while delighting in the law of the Lord day and night and meditating on it, finding one’s life before God is like a well-watered fruit-bearing tree, or the wicked are simply “not so.” The Lord recognizes and owns one path, while the other perishes. There is nothing in between. The Lord Jesus can preach in many different styles, but included among them is wisdom polarity: reflect on the antitheses at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

On the other hand, over against such antithetical presentations of holiness and sin, of faithfulness and unbelief, are the many narrative portions of the Bible where God’s people are depicted with all their inconsistencies, their times of spectacular faithfulness and their ugliest warts. Abraham the friend of God repeatedly tells half truths; Moses the meekest man loses his temper and consequently does not get into the promised land; David the man after God’s own heart commits adultery and murder; Peter the primus inter pares, the confessor of Caesarea Philippi and the preacher of Pentecost, acts and speaks with such little understanding that he earns a rebuke from Jesus and another from Paul. In such narratives there is no trace of the moral polarities of apocalyptic and of wisdom. There is instead an utterly frank depiction of the moral compromises that make up the lives of even the “heroes” of Scripture.

In short, the Bible itself includes genres and passages that foster absolutist thinking and others that warn us to recognize how flawed and inconsistent are even those we recognize as the fathers of the faithful. Certainly we need both species of biblical literature, and most Christians see a sign of God’s kindness in the Bible that provides us with both.

  • The narratives without the absolutes might seem to sanction moral indifference: “If even a man after God’s own heart like David can fall so disastrously, it cannot be too surprising if we lesser mortals tumble from time to time.”
  • The absolutes without the narratives might either generate despair (“Who can live up to the impossibly high standards of Ps 1?”) or produce self-righteous fools (“It’s a good thing the Bible has standards, and I have to say I thank God I am not as other people are.”).

We need the unflinching standards of the absolute polarities to keep us from moral flabbiness, and in this broken world, we need the candid realism of the narratives to keep us from both arrogance and despair. Most of us, I suspect, muddle along with a merely intuitive sense of how these twin biblical heritages ought to shape our lives.

Do you get what he is saying? The Bible presents both absolute standards and teaching. And the Bible includes narratives of God’s people failing. Depending on which you look at will influence how you look at holiness. Those given to discouragement at their imperfections need to look at the narratives. And of course at the cross.

The second factor is how we attach the cross of Christ to all this. The intensity of the struggle against sin easily generates boundless distortions when we do not return, again and again, to God’s love for us manifested in the cross. There alone is the hope we need, the cleansing we need, the grace we need. Any pursuit of perfection that is not awash in the grace of God displayed on a little hill outside Jerusalem is bound to trip us up.