Category Archives: Counseling

Ten Questions to Ask Your Spouse on a Date Night

One important sign of a healthy relationship is good communication. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each other.”

Salt not only adds flavor, but slows down the decaying process in food. What the Apostle Paul is saying is both our words and tone of voice should be pleasing to the ears and edifying to the soul. We should avoid harsh, critical, and dirty speech that tears others down and use our tongue instead to build up.

In the spirit of Donald Whitney’s excellent “Ten Questions” series of handouts, here is a list of ten questions I compiled to ask your spouse to promote good communication, such as on a date night…

1. What are a few of your favorite foods?
2. What are a few of your favorite hobbies?
3. What is one thing at home you wish you did better?
4. What is one thing at home you’d like me to do better?
5. Who is someone you deeply admire?
6. What is one of your favorite memories of our time together?
7. What is one thing I do that sometimes irritates you?
8. What character qualities do you most admire in me?
9. What is one lesson God has been teaching you?
10. Read 1 Corinthians 13. If I could better serve and show my love to you in one way, what would it be?

You can download a printable version of this discussion guide here.

Photo credit: Cody Black via Unsplash

God Has You Right Where He Wants You

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Normally, when we hear the word “contentment,” we immediately think of material wealth. We know we ought to be happy with that rusty car and last year’s cell phone model.

Certainly, God wants us to be grateful for our possessions. But He wants something more. God wants us to be satisfied not only with our stuff, but also with our situation in life — With the unique place He has put us right now. This may be even harder than being content with our stuff.

Are you content in Christ today? Do you recognize you have been treated far better than you deserve? Can you sing with sincerity, “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!”

In 1 Corinthians 7:17, while discussing marriage, the Apostle Paul makes an incredible statement on contentment: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”

Every Christian sovereignly summoned by the will of God has also been sovereignly assigned a unique place to serve. Paul says we have been “assigned” or appointed to this. The Greek word is merizo, meaning to divide into parts, to deal or distribute out. To put it bluntly, God wants us to play the cards we have been dealt.

Just think. The God of the universe ordained you to be exactly where you are at this moment. You aren’t there by accident, or some cruel twist of fate. It may feel at times like life is spinning out of control, or that poor choices drove you to where we are today. But rest assured. Nothing happens by accident! Even Joseph’s years in a filthy dungeon, and Jonah’s three day vacation in the belly of a fish were all part of God’s itinerary.

Pause for a moment and realize that God has sovereignly and lovingly chosen you to be exactly where you are today.

Paul instructs us to be content where we are, and to bloom where we are planted. This is so different from how we usually think. Teenagers look at the opportunities stretched before them and can’t wait to finish high school. Single adults can’t wait to find that special someone and get married. Newlyweds can’t wait to have children. New parents can’t wait for a full night’s sleep. Parents of teenagers can’t wait for some peace and quiet around the home. Empty nesters can’t wait to retire. And then, after all of that looking to the future, senior citizens look back and say, “Oh to be 20 again!” Do you see this vicious cycle? Everybody wants to be someone else, somewhere else, instead of where God has them today.

The Apostle Paul, however, exhorts us to accept our current situation as a gift from God. Instead of looking off to the horizon, we are to be content and thankful for today. We aren’t to compare ourselves to others and think, “Oh, I wish I was there,” or “I wish I had that.”

Paul knows contentment was not an isolated problem in Corinth, so he says, “This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17). It is a command given to everybody, including us. Just a few verses later, he repeats, “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called” (v. 20). Then again in verse 24, he says, “in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”

Now, it may be that one day, God will call us to a new situation (e.g. a single person to get married). But we can’t rush God’s timetable or grumble over the lot we’ve been given.

So stop right there. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving and contentment. God has you right where he wants you.

A Church of Biblical Counseling

Biblical counseling is at its best when rooted in the local church. In fact, it’s integral to everything a church does.

In chapter one of Biblical Counseling and the Church, Brad Bigney and Steve Viars develop this idea, showing how each church should not merely have a counseling center, but be a counseling center with several features:

  • Where Shepherds/Teachers embrace their role as equippers seven days a week (as opposed to the Sunday morning sermon only)
  • Where church members love being equipped for the work of service
  • Where the body of Christ is being built up
  • Where the focus is maturity in Christ
  • Where there is a thirst for and delight in sound doctrine
  • Where there is authentic communication centered on spiritual growth
  • Where everyone is part of a growing team

I’m thankful to see our own church growing in many of these areas. At the center of all this is Ephesians 4:12, which assigns spiritual leaders the task “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” This has become something of a life verse for me, for it helps define my role as pastor. I am not merely a provider, but an equipper. Not the soloist, but the conductor of the orchestra. Not the quarterback, but the coach.

I remember discovering this idea during my Pastoral Counseling class in seminary. We were reading a book by Jay Adams — I believe it was Theology of Christian Counseling — and he showed two ministry paradigms. At the center of both diagrams was a large dot, representing the pastor. In the first diagram were arrows pointing outward in every direction to many smaller dots, representing unbelievers who all needed to be evangelized. The pastor tried to spread his attention evenly between all the various dots, but had minimal impact because the quality of training was minimal. In the second diagram, however, only a few arrows extended from the pastor to unbelievers. He still shared the gospel with a few individuals, but instead of trying to reach them all, he invested most of his time in training other believers, and thus multiplying his impact. This second model of ministry is more concerned with quality than quantity.

How can a church practically grow into an equipping center? There are many ways to do this. Some churches groom future leaders through small groups. Others have a formal training institute. Some pastors are highly relational, bringing a few others along for a ride, doing life together in the spirit of Jesus. Some of the ways we’re trying as a church to develop “ministers” are through men’s retreats, leadership and membership meetings, women’s conferences, teacher training sessions, a marriage workshop, a church library, sermon podcast, book table, and communicating ministry opportunities to the whole church. Of course, Sunday morning itself is still prime time to train the flock as the Word is preached and people gather to read, pray, sing, and encourage one another, exercising their various gifts.

As a church grows spiritually and begins to share the load of ministry with their pastor, they will reap rich and eternal dividends. Bigney and Viars are right. “Counseling is far more than just ‘fixing’ a problem; it’s also an opportunity to lead someone closer to Christ, helping them to taste and see how good He is (Ps. 34:8)”. Oh that more churches would take up this sacred calling!

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Book Review: Biblical Counseling and The Church

CounselingAs a church grows, so do its problems. That’s because we’re all sinners. But this is good news, because it means more people are finding the gospel of grace!

In order to keep up with people’s hurts and struggles, a church needs to think carefully through its counseling strategy. Thankfully, there’s a brand new book that can help. It’s called Biblical Counseling and the Church: God’s Care Through God’s People.

I’m glad to see a growing emphasis on biblical counseling in the local church. What better place for counseling to occur than where the word of God is preached, where elders are appointed, where ordinances are administered, where discipline is practiced, and where the body can help each other along? But setting up a new counseling ministry or re-tooling your existing program is a daunting task.

This book has six main sections:

Part I – More than Counseling: A Vision for the Entire Church
Part II – Biblical Counseling and Small Group Ministry
Part III – Biblical Counseling and Conflict Resolution
Part IV – Equipping Biblical Counselors
Part V – Biblical Counseling and Outreach
Part VI – Biblical Counseling in Historical Perspective

Want to start a counseling ministry in a small church? Confused about the difference between biblical counseling and Christian psychology? Ready to branch out and use counseling as an evangelism tool in the community? This book can help you with all these, and much more.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the book’s size or breadth of topics. Just pick one or two chapters that seem most relevant to you and use them as a starting point. It’s meant to be a practical book. You’ll probably glean a few tips along the way, and more than likely, get hooked and want to read more.

Healthy churches will make biblical counseling a priority. This is not an optional program, but an essential part of the ministry of the Word (Ac. 6:4; 20:20). This book will help you do it right.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Amazon Vine product review program.

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Are Christians a Bunch of Hypocrites?

maskAre Christians a bunch of hypocrites? The story of Josh Duggar makes you wonder.

Let’s look briefly at what happened. A teenage boy, hormones raging, caves under temptation and molests several girls. He later admits his guilt to his parents, seeks reconciliation, undergoes counseling, and asks Jesus to forgive him and change his life. Now an adult, he devotes his time to promoting morality and discouraging others from repeating his mistakes. That’s the situation as I understand it.

Josh’s behavior as an adolescent was reprehensible. It was a stupid, selfish thing to do. Jesus condemns just the thought of lust, let alone touching a girl intimately before marriage (Matthew 5:27-30). No confession can erase the harm done to those girls. It is a regret Josh will carry the rest of his life.

But one look at God’s law reveals we are not so different. We may not be guilty of Josh’s specific sin, but if God were to play back a single day of our lives, there’d be more than enough evidence to prove we too have transgressed his law and deserve judgment. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

The good news is that God didn’t leave us in that sin. He sent his Son Jesus, the only one capable of living perfectly. Jesus obeyed God’s law down to the smallest point, then died on the cross to be punished as though he had committed our sins. Three days later, he defeated death and rose again. All who look to Jesus and repent of their sin can be forgiven and washed clean. Yes, even that one really dirty stain you’re afraid someone will discover. He can wipe it clean and give you a fresh start.

Christianity is not a religion for good people. It’s a religion for bad people who need mercy. Josh Duggar qualifies. So do I, and so do you.

So back to the original question. Are Christians a bunch of hypocrites? Sadly, some people in the name of Christianity point their finger at others while harboring secret sin of their own. They may fool others temporarily, but they never fool God.

A genuine Christian, on the other hand, says, “I’m not yet what I should be, but I’m not what I was. I am a work in progress, a sinner saved by grace, and Jesus can save you too.” That is not hypocrisy. That is honesty.

Is it hypocritical for a cancer survivor to raise money to fight cancer? Of course not. They’ve been healed and want that cure available to others. In the same way, Christians are survivors of a disease called sin. We’ve found the cure in Jesus, and want others to find it too.

This article first appeared in the Minister’s Message of our local newspaper, the Hi-Desert Star. 

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Photo credit: Mykl Roventine

Conference on The Gospel & Mental Illness

Here’s a conference coming up in October that I would highly recommend. Mental illness and PTSD are growing concerns in our area and probably yours too. I pray for the day when our church will have a team of skilled counselors (some of our own members!) who can minister the gospel and help the needs of our neighbors struggling with mental illness.

ACBC

 2014 Annual Conference
Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (formerly NANC)
Grace Community Church — Sun Valley, CA
October 6-8, 2014

We live in a broken world, beset with overwhelming problems: disease, pain, death, sorrow, sin and mental illness–clinical depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and panic attacks. Our culture assumes people diagnosed with mental illness are stuck, doomed to struggle for the rest of their lives against a problem without ever experiencing real and lasting change.

As Christians we know better. The world is broken, but God has invaded that world with the power, light, and hope of his Son Jesus Christ. Whether you’re tormented with panic attacks or thinking of committing suicide, Jesus can help. We want to show the church how Jesus brings healing to those experiencing the most extreme problems of mental illness.

Keynote Speakers:

  • Dr. John MacArthur
  • Dr. Heath Lambert
  • Dr. Charles Hodges
  • Dr. David Powlison
  • Dr. Bob Somerville

Breakout Sessions include:

  • Child Discipline that Disciples
  • Dealing with Anger in a Godly Way
  • Fear and Worry – the “Acceptable” Sins
  • Understanding Emotions Biblically
  • Seven Ways God Uses Trials to Lovingly Transforms Us
  • Singles and Their Relationships
  • Understanding Depression
  • And Much More!

Early Bird Registration for this three-day conference is as low as $131 for ACBC Certified Members and $156 for Full-time Students. For details and pricing, check out the conference website.

Too Deep?

3401461484_864c71e54f_z“[In 2 Timothy 3:16-17], Paul is telling Timothy that the Scriptures are able to equip him totally for each ministry he will ever have to perform. Counseling is clearly one of those good works Paul had in mind when he wrote these assuring words to Pastor Timothy.

” ‘Yes, but aren’t some problems too deep for a pastor to handle?’

“Those problems are usually too deep for a pastor not to handle: ‘For the Word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even the division of soul and spirit …’ (Heb. 4:12). You cannot get to a deeper part of human personality than the division of soul and spirit. ‘… and it (Scripture) is the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ You cannot get to a deeper level of human motivation than the thoughts and intents (or motives) of the heart. Only a man of God equipped with Scripture is capable of discerning those deeper thoughts and motivations. All that is necessary to equip the pastor to fulfill his ministry of changing people is found in the Bible.

-Lou Priolo on “Presupposition Four: The Bible and Psychology,” The Journal of Modern Ministry 2.1, p. 65.

Photo credit: Leol30

Finding Freedom from Addiction

Last week, Colorado and Washington State took a bold step and legalized marijuana for recreational use. How should we react? Should we celebrate the private liberty of individuals to do what they want with their own bodies? Or should we mourn the fact that drug abuse and possession by minors will likely increase?

Let’s take a step back from marijuana for a moment. The fact is, we already have plenty of addictive substances that are fully “legal” in our culture. Alcohol can be addictive. Nicotine can be addictive. Prescription drugs can be addictive. Even comfort foods can be addictive. And let’s not forget other activities like gambling, pornography, shopping, and video games.

 If there is anything you find yourself constantly craving — that you can’t live without or that you would do anything to get — you are struggling with an addiction. It can be a miserable way to live.

Thankfully, the Bible offers great hope for addicts. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

This verse offers three basic steps for addicts: 

  1. Remember you are not alone. Your temptation is “common to mankind.” It is shared by thousands of others. Whatever your struggle, know that you are not the first to face this temptation, and you will not be the last. Other people have beaten this habit, and so can you. 
  2. Trust in God. He is faithful and can give you the power to say “no.” Those who know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord receive strength from above. “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22). 
  3. Look for an escape route. Addicts can feel like they’re being held hostage against their will. But God says there is always a “way out.” The Bible, the Holy Spirit, godly friends, and a loving church are just some of the keys God provides to unlock those handcuffs and escape the bondage of sin. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

The legalization of marijuana may continue to be fiercely debated. But this much is clear: addiction is something we all struggle with. And only God can give us the power to say no and follow Him.

This article first appeared in today’s edition of our local newspaper, the Hi Desert Star

Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net