The Leaven of the Pharisees

In the past few months, I have been gently critiquing some of the problems that I see with nouthetic counseling. Nouthetic (or Biblical) counseling was a movement begun by the late Dr. Jay Adams, a professor of pastoral theology at Westminster Seminary. It has spread tremendously in the past few decades among conservative churches. It is beginning to lose favor in the traditional  Reformed Churches, but is prevalent in the neo-calvinist churches. Current champions of biblical counseling are Heath Lambert, John MacArthur, David Powlison, Elise Fitzgerald and many others.

It is not my intention at all to paint these men and women as dangerous heretics. I have greatly benefited from much of their writings. I also was trained in the school of nouthetic counseling, so my critique is towards myself, in the guise of a confession. I was wrong. In my zeal to be a good counselor, to help people with their problems, to be faithful to scripture and to my vows, I believed and taught certain things about counseling that I greatly regret. I’ve written about these things here and here.

So please understand me. If someone that you know subscribes to nouthetic (or Biblical) counseling and does NOT teach or believe these things that I am critiquing, please scroll down and ignore me. I can speak to myself and tell you why I can no longer call myself a nouthetic counselor. I also wish to warn anyone else following my path against some of the pitfalls.

Many nouthetic counselors love the Lord Jesus, teach some very good things, and have been a great benefit to the church. But they are just men and women. They make mistakes. Everything must be judged by the light of the gospel.

There – hopefully that will ease some of the ranting that I am sure to get.

OH! – one more thing. I fully subscribe, without exception, to the Three Forms of Unity, and always have.

Now to my point.

The heart of nouthetic counseling is the idea that every problem a person seeks counseling for is addressed in scripture. The verse that they continually use is this one:

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2Ti 3:16-17 KJV)

The idea, then, is that everything that we need to be perfect, “thoroughly furnished” as men and women of God, is taught to us in scripture.

I agree with them so far. Everything that we need to be perfect and thoroughly furnished for all good works is found in scripture.

But when you couple this with Adam’s behaviorism, you run into problems. Behaviorism is the belief associated with B.F. Skinner that all problems can be solved by positive reinforcement for good behavior, and negative reinforcement for bad behavior. To be sure, Adams would have rejected all legalism and behaviorism in principle. He taught that Jesus alone can cleanse the heart from sin.

But when it came to our sanctification and our walk with Christ, he was greatly influenced by behaviorism, as anyone who has suffered through nouthetic counseling can attest. Do better things, and everything will work out fine. Adams whole point was the “put off/put on” model of scripture. Quit doing bad things, start doing good things and your problems will be solved.

The nouthetic emphasis on the sufficiency of scripture, coupled with the leanings towards behaviorism created a strange view of scripture and an odd sort of counseling.

Whatever the problem is, find a bible verse to solve it. Do what the verse tells you. Everything will be fine.

  • Depressed? Rejoice always, again I say rejoice!
  • Worry too much? I say unto you, do not worry. Consider the lilies of the field.
  • Anxious? Be anxious for nothing, but in everything let your requests be made known unto God.
  • Husband abusive? Win him over by your meek and quiet spirit.
  • Pornography? Let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn
  • A crazy man like Saul trying to destroy you? Go to him one on one and tell him his faults.
  • What if a group of soldiers are at your door asking where the men went. What do you do? Lie? Misdirect? Refuse to answer? Too bad Rahab didn’t have time to look up what to do in the latest best seller. She just had to wing it.

Many of you have been through this and know what I am talking about. The wreckage of lives is immense.  When you start to feel anxious about being too legalistic, then you can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” or “by the power of the Holy Spirit, of course” and then maybe you won’t hear the moans of despair and hopelessness in the innermost souls of those over whom God has made you a shepherd.

If they continue being anxious or worried or if their husband is still addicted to porn, you can always excommunicate them for contumacy, not doing what they are told, and get back to your football game in time for supper.

This was me. I found myself looking through scripture for the solution to all of life’s problems. Jay Adams even wrote a counselor’s study bible, and a commentary for counselors on the book of Proverbs. “Here’s what the bible says about it. Now do it, or we will excommunicate you for contumacy. If you have the Holy Spirit, you can put off worry and put on thankfulness; put off sadness and put on rejoicing. Just do it.”

By the power of the Holy Spirit, of course.

And the mire of despair grows thicker and thicker and there is no way out.

So what is the problem? Do we throw away the sufficiency of scripture? Do we then need to add a melting pot of theology and ideas that come from other religions or philosophies?

The way that nouthetic counselors put it, it is as if these are the only two options. I know. It is what I was taught and what I believed. Either you find the solution to schizophrenia, depression, worry, anxiety, abuse, PTSD, addictions in prooftexting the scripture, or you might as well convert to Hinduism or Jungism and be done with it. Going outside of scripture is an act of unbelief and worthy of church discipline. (Yes, I have actually heard that).

But I would suggest that these two options are not the only two. And I believe this is what Jesus was warning us of when he warned us to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed in the sufficiency of scripture. So did Jesus. So what was the problem?

The Pharisees believed that every problem and everything that anyone needed to know could be found by searching the scriptures. Problem? Solution. No matter what the issue is, the solution could be found in the law. With, of course, the centuries of rabbinical tradition. Sound familiar?

They would even thank God for the grace to do it. “I thank God that I am not like other men!”

So what was wrong? Jesus told them:

39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
40 “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life (John 5:39-40).

And that was the problem. They viewed all of scripture as a textbook of moral behavior, rather than a testimony of Jesus Christ. If you miss Christ, you miss everything.

Cain and Abel isn’t about love in the heart or selfishness or blood sacrifices versus fruit sacrifices. It isn’t about the best sacrifice versus the cheaper sacrifice. It is about Christ and faith.

Jacob and Esau isn’t about stew and self-centeredness and sharing and hunting or staying home. It is about the promise made to Abraham, which is about Christ.

David and Abigail isn’t about submission or rebellion. She was a wise woman because she sided with David, the anointed of God, the picture of Christ the conquering king. She wasn’t given any other option. It was “kiss the Son and live” or “submit to your husband and die”. When we look at the account as a moral fable, we miss Christ. And when we do that, we miss everything.

Rahab isn’t about which occasions are acceptable for lying and whether or not it was wartime or not. I have read book after book after book trying to either defend Rahab or to judge Rahab. But it isn’t about that at all. It is about faith. And faith is about Christ. Rahab didn’t have the time to read the current best-seller. She had to rely on faith. And that was the whole point. God has placed the salvation of the world in THESE people. I better choose sides carefully.

When you read the scripture as a series of moral stories designed to tell you how to behave, you have sprinkled the bread of life with the leaven of the Pharisees, and you miss everything.

The gospel is not the law. Nouthetic counseling always changes the gospel into the law. Nouthetic counseling tends to start at Ephesians 4 and miss the first three chapters completely. But without the first three chapters, the last three chapters are simply another exercise in good works, B.F. Skinner to the rescue. Do this and live. The expurgated versions of scripture always seem to do that.  I studied systematic theology. Then I studied counseling. And the twain ne’er did meet. In theology 101, I learned Christ alone. In counseling 101, I learned “do this and live”.

But “do this and live” is the law, not the gospel. Life never comes from the law.

When I read what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I was convicted. I was searching the scripture for prooftexts – do this and live. If I can find the life principles then I can overcome depression, anxiety, worry, PTSD and any other problem life can throw at me.

And I counseled that way as well. Do this, and you will live.

Now my counseling is different. “Let me tell you about Jesus.”

What does that have to do with my PTSD? Everything. He bought you, body and soul, from sin and all the power of the devil. He has redeemed you and nothing can take you out of his hand.

God has given him dominion over all principalities and powers, might and dominion. All authority has been given unto him. So he gives his wisdom and his spirit to the children of men. So you can get to someone who can help you with PTSD, because Jesus died for you. You can cry out to him because he died for you and he knows you. And he loves you.

You can go to someone who can help you with your anxiety and can talk to you about fear and worry, because Jesus died for you and loves you.

Job cried out to God for a mediator. And God became flesh, the mediator of the New Covenant.

He didn’t give you a bible verse about whether to take job A or job B. He didn’t give you seven steps to be free from pornography. He didn’t give you a bible verse to give you the marriage of your dreams. He didn’t give you an instruction manual for your kids.

He gave you new birth, and filled you with the Holy Spirit so you can be free to make music, paint pictures, cook a fabulous meal, make the world a little more beautiful and a little more colorful –just because you are a human and he died for you, restoring your humanity. You can sit with your kids and play with them with joy and freedom without worrying if they are being raised right, getting enough spankings, being breast-fed long enough, or any of the other jillion things we all worry about. Because Jesus rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for you AND your kids. He didn’t give you an instruction manual. He gave you a witness of Jesus Christ, and told you to tell your kids about it.

He didn’t call you to bondage to the law, but to freedom in the spirit, and that changes everything. It doesn’t do away with the law, it fulfills the law!

That is what the Bible teaches. It isn’t a series of moral prooftexts. It is a book of life, a testimony to the one who IS life. Jesus didn’t come to show us what do do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus IS life and he came to call us to himself.

And all of scripture bears witness to him. From Abel to Zechariah, from Abraham to Malachi, from Moses to Haggai. The Pharisees, old and new, search the scriptures for the key to a happy life, for the keys to financial health, the proper diet. Our local grocery store sells Ezekiel 4:9 bread, for crying out loud! As if that is what Ezekiel 4:9 is about!

Really? God’s people are in exile. The temple is about to be destroyed. God’s presence is about to leave the temple for good because of the idolatry that is there. His people are about to be divorced, scattered, slaughtered, imprisoned and destroyed – and God says, “Let me tell you how to make really good gluten free bread.”

This is what we’ve come to. You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have life, but they are what is testifying of ME!

When you miss Christ, scripture becomes a gluten free recipe book, a treatise of vegetables and fish, a self-help guide to a fitter YOU. Ugh.

Don’t miss Christ in scripture. He is what it is about. Learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

And the more we know of Christ, the more we are set free from sin and misery and the power of the devil. And this is how I counsel. Let me tell you about Christ. About freedom, about mercy. Let me tell you about love.

Book after book after book written on how to overcome your problems. Here is a list of bible verses that tell you what to do. Seven steps for this, six steps for that.

The old hymn said it best:

“Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word; Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.”

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Hope in the Dark

This is from my daughter about the journey my wife and I have gone through.

Cabbages & Kings

It’s been a year. A year since I left at ten o’clock at night to pick up my parents from the airport. It was a clear cool night. I wore a blue and green striped shirt. I dropped my suburban off at their house and took their sporty crossover. It had the things my mother needed to make simple car rides slightly less agonizing. A heating pad, extra pillows, room for her wheelchair in the back. When I’d spoken to her on the phone, she’d said she didn’t hurt, she was better. It still hadn’t sunk in.

They were returning from a trip to Italy. Business or pleasure? It was neither, really. It was a last resort. A trip planned on faint tendrils of hope. None of us dared hope too much, though, because the agony of this last resort failing would break us. It was too good to be…

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God so loved the world

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John. 3:14-17)

In Numbers 21, there is an account of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness. As usual, they were rebelling against God, angry with him, and constantly complaining. God sent poisonous serpents among them and many of them were dying.

Moses made intercession for the nation, and God told him to do something rather strange:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Num. 21:8 NKJ)

Moses made the serpent, put it on a pole and walked through the camp. Everyone who looked at the serpent lived.

Jesus reminded Nicodemus of this story. Jesus was teaching this highly educated and respected bible scholar something about the kingdom of God that was impossible for Nicodemus – or any of us – to see, unless we are born again by the spirit of God.

It is natural for us as image-bearers of God, to ask the question, “Am I right before God?” We all seek to determine whether we are worthy to enter the kingdom of God – or, to put it in our modern terms, whether we are saved and will enter the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus comes again. Especially those who have been brought up in the church, as Nicodemus was.

Those of you who were raised in the church, who attended Sunday School and sat through sermons, have you asked that question? “Will I be ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?”

Do I belong to him? Or, as Nicodemus would have put it, “Am I worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Naturally speaking, we look to ourselves to answer that question. Am I holy enough? Have I done enough good things? Do I know the answers to the questions? Have I had a “Christ experience in the heart?”

Early in the history of our country, the Congregationalists of New England focused on regeneration. People were taught to look at the regeneration experience to determine if they were born again. This led to the abuses of the Revivalists and eventually to the heretic Charles Finney – looking for bigger and better experiences. Finney made the excitement of the revival a means of grace, and denied the necessity of atonement.

Nicodemus would have looked to his law-keeping.

But Jesus cuts through all of that. He reminds Nicodemus of the rather strange account in Numbers.

Do you remember Nicodemus? How did our fathers live through that and not die of the poison? They looked outside of themselves to a serpent that God provided. It was put up on a pole.

You could look to your heart, but all that was there was poison and death. Life is outside of yourself.

And Jesus went on. In the same way that God loved his nation Israel, God also loved the world. The same way that God told Moses to lift up the serpent, the Son of Man will also be lifted up.

“That whosoever looks to him would not perish of the poison that is destroying them – sin – but have life without end.”

The point is this: salvation is outside of ourselves. It isn’t in our hearts, in our good intentions, in our good works, in how much we desire God, in how much we love God or love one another –

In fact, it isn’t in ourselves at all. Certainly, new life will affect behavior. But new life isn’t found in how well we behave or how we feel.

Are you cast down and anxious? Look to Christ.

Are you doubting and fearful? Look to Christ.

Are you struggling with sin? Look to Christ.

Do you doubt whether it is possible to be saved if you have done too many horrible things? Look to Christ.

Do you see him with the eyes of faith? He is nailed to the cross and dying. He is bearing your poison and will die from it. Your crimes are nailed above his head in the sight of God. Your doubts and fears, your sins and crimes, your thorns and thistles – all of your poison – is nailed to his cross.

And when he rises from the dead, do you see him? Do you see how he left all your sins in the tomb? All of your fears and doubts are buried with him. The old dying man of greed, hatred, unbelief, is buried with him. And his sacrifice was accepted by God. He rose from the dead! The Holy One of God did not see corruption, so that you might know for certain that in him is life.

Look to him and live. Quit looking to yourself.

Your hope of salvation is not in whether your faith is strong enough, whether your experience was spectacular enough, whether your works are good enough. All you will find there is poison.  Your savior is not found in your heart or in your faith or in your experience, or in your works. Your savior is found in heaven at the right hand of God. He was crucified, dead and buried for us. He rose from the dead for us. He ascended into heaven for us. And will come from there to judge the living and the dead. Look to him where he is, and live.

Believe the record of the apostles, and live. Look to him in the word and sacrament, and live. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.

Look to Christ and live.

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Before Abraham was, I am

57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. (Jn. 8:57-58 KJV)

When Moses saw the burning bush, God spoke to him. God said that he had heard the groans of Israel in slavery in Egypt, and that he would remember the promise that he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moses asked his name.

God said, “I am who I am”. This was the Holy Name of the Holy One of Israel.

The word “god” can refer to many things – even princes or angels. It can refer to false gods or the one, true God. But the name YWWH – which sounds like the Hebrew for I AM – can only refer to the one, true eternal God. To refer that holy name to anyone or anything else was the highest form of blasphemy according to the revelation of God.

And Jesus of Nazareth referred it to himself. If he was not the one true eternal God, then he deserved to be stoned. The Jews would have been right.

But if he was truly the one, true, eternal God then he is to be worshiped and adored and feared.

When he rose from the dead, God declared him to be without sin. The grave could not hold him for he was free from all sin. He then showed himself to truly be the Holy One of Israel, as Peter declared on Pentecost:

27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.

29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.

30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;

31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.

32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.

(Acts 2:27-32 KJV)

Peter, quoting from Psalm 16, shows how the scripture declares that the one who rises from the dead is indeed the one true eternal God, and is therefore to be worshiped. If he is raised from the dead, then he is holy and without sin, for the wages of sin is death. If he is without sin, then he spoke only the truth, including the truth about himself. Which means that the Holy One of Israel is none other than Jehovah himself.

3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Rom. 1:3-4 KJV)

This is also confirmed by John’s vision in Revelation:

8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. (Rev. 1:8 KJV)

Only Jehovah can say of himself “which is, which was, and which is to come”. This refers to absolute, unchanging being, not created being. Created being is becoming, changing, moving, contingent. But uncreated being is absolute, eternal, unchanging. The very first verse of the Bible makes the difference between uncreated being and created being – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Before the beginning, there was only God. All things were created by him. All that is not God was created by God. Uncreated being is set in contrast to created being.

In Revelation 1:8, Jesus of Nazareth is given the titles of uncreated being, that is, the name and attributes of Jehovah Himself.

In John 8, referenced above, Jesus refers to himself as above time and space – eternal, uncreated being. The same person who is not yet 50 years old is also the I AM of Abraham.

To use the language of classical Christology, the one person – Jesus Christ – exists in two natures, without division, without separation, without confusion, without change. One person in two natures, true God and true man.

That which can be said of God can be said of Christ. Eternal, which is, and which was and which is to come, the I AM of Abraham, immutable, absolute, the Holy One of Israel.

And that which can be said of man can be said of Christ, except sin. Finite, changing, weak, hungry, human, growing, learning, not knowing, bleeding, hurt and dying, submissive to the Father, learning obedience.

And yet there are not two persons, but one person. One Lord. One Jesus. One Christ.

The One who was laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths was the same almighty being that appeared to Moses at the burning bush.

The One who learned his alphabet is the same almighty being that spoke the worlds into existence.

The One who spoke to the woman at the well in Samaria was the Commander of the Lord’s Armies, who led Joshua into Canaan and overthrew his enemies.

The One who listened to the widow pour out her complaint was the one who struck Uzzah dead for touching the ark of the covenant.

The One who filled the earth with his glory in the sight of Isaiah was the same almighty being who was bruised for our iniquities, nailed to a Roman Cross and left to die.

The One who thundered at Job’s friends from heaven was the same almighty being that cried out, “I thirst” on the cross.

And this is necessary for our salvation, for only the same human nature which sinned can make satisfaction for sin, and only the infinite, almighty Son of God can bear the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and redeem others from it.

And this one person is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born of Mary, crucified, dead and buried. And on the third day he rose from the dead.

And today he is still true man, but glorified, as we will be. The heir to the throne of David ruling over all things according to the scripture, giving us a sure pledge that where he is, we will one day also be.

And he is also true and eternal God. We can cry out to him, for he hears our prayers. We commit our ways to him, for he is able to keep all that we’ve committed unto him against that day. We will never be ashamed, for he does not change, he is almighty, everywhere present, and and no time absent from us.

The same I AM that heard the cries of Israel in Egypt and remembered his covenant with Abraham is the same almighty being that took the form of a slave and submitted himself to the wrath of God for us and for our salvation.

So what do we do?

18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,

19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.

20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”

21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,

23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,

24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

(Heb. 12:18-25 NKJ)

God in these last days has spoken to us by his Son. We no longer stand before Sinai fearful of the thunder and fleeing from the voice of God. We have come to Sion, the city of Jesus Christ, the heir of David, the Mediator between God and man, true man and true God. If we refuse the gentle waters of Shiloah, the river of destruction will flow (Isaiah 8 and John 9). God’s patience is not unending. The Day of Judgment will come. Hear the voice of Jesus – “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.”

He is willing to do it, for he knows what it is like to be tired and hungry and weak, being true man. And he is able to do it, being almighty God.

But at the same time, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. The one who came in a manger will appear the second time for judgment.

This is Christianity. This is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the way, the truth and the life.

No one comes to the Father but by him.

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A plea for sobriety

This has been a hard week for a lot of folks I know…men and women who have been assaulted, bullied, ridiculed, and mocked know that pain – the pain of being outcast, unclean, unwanted. Ben Sasse summed up the dynamics of sexual assault perfectly this week. But there have been so many that have suffered.

This past week, I have heard from many, many of these people.

They told me that when they heard the president mock Dr. Ford, they didn’t see him. They saw their classmates, their peers, their abusers.

They told me that when they saw the pastors laughing and joking, they didn’t hear those pastors. They heard their rapists laughing at them and mocking them.

When their Christian friends ridiculed the accuser, mocking her as a liar unheard and rashly, they didn’t hear their friends. They heard their teachers and parents refusing to believe them all over again. They heard their pastors mocking victims from the pulpit all over again…

One survivor told me that when she heard the crowds laughing and cheering the president on, it sounded like the Romans at the arena. She wondered about compassion, sobriety, respect, at such a serious subject.

I wondered if so many of my Christian friends realize what they lost this week.

In our partisan rush to support all things conservative, we told the whole world, “Don’t come to us with your sexual assault stories. We don’t want to hear them. We don’t care.”

We really did. We supported the mockers. We ridiculed a woman that we never met, never spoke to, never had any first hand knowledge about, before a hearing even took place.

It didn’t matter what the truth was. We didn’t say, “Let this play out. If he did it, then he is unfit.” No. We said immediately that she was lying, that he couldn’t do such a thing. And if he did, he was only 17.

We mocked her for being ugly in High School, for being at the wrong place, for drinking too much…We posted the ugly, hateful memes, we rebuked our friends, and unfriended anyone who differed with us – all to support someone we never met and don’t know at all, before any hearing happened.

And what did we gain?

But we told every survivor in our community not to come to us for help. That we don’t care. We won’t listen.

I hope it was worth it. We traded the witness of the gospel for a seat on the Supreme Court. That seems like a lose/lose to me, no matter what happens from here.

By the way, I have never met Kavanaugh, nor have I met Ford. I am not the one doing the job interview, and no one listens to my opinion at all. So my concern is not at all who is or is not on the Supreme Court. I have nothing to do with that.

But I am held accountable for my love, my witness, and how clearly I present the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am judged by God for the ninth commandment, bearing false witness. I am judged for my words and my actions. Am I so absolutely sure of the truth of this situation that I can ridicule, mock and slander the other party, no matter which side they are on or which political views they subscribe to?

I am posting this because I love the church of Jesus Christ, I love my Lord, and I love the truth of the gospel.

I am posting this because calling your own people to account is not an act of disloyalty, hatred, or blasphemy. It is an act of love.

If you have not partaken in these sins against our brothers and sisters, then scroll past. I’m not speaking to you.

But for the rest, I can’t remain silent anymore. I will not by my silence be a partaker of these sins.

If you wish to unfriend me, there is nothing in scripture that says we must be friends on social media. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ then you also are my brother, whether we are friends on Facebook or not.

I am posting this for all of those – men and women – who have been abused, bullied, mocked, and ridiculed and still bear the marks. There are those who care, who are concerned, who will listen.

21 Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.” (Gen. 42:21 NKJ)

13 Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted. (Isa. 49:13 NKJ)

5 He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished. (Prov. 17:5 NKJ)

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Filed under Abuse, assault, Words

Do you wish to get well?

5 And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8 Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” (John. 5:5-8 NAS)

I read this account a day or two ago and it has been on my mind since then. I don’t know if you have had that experience, where something that the Lord says grabs you and you mull it through your mind. “Do you wish to get well?”

What a question! He’d been unable to walk his whole life. Why would Jesus ask that question?

“Do you wish to get well?”

One of the tremendous privileges that God gives us as his people is the ability to choose. And yes, I am Reformed. But the question among the Reformed is not “Do you have free will?” The question, properly understood, is “Do you have the ability to choose to do that which is pleasing to God apart from regeneration?”

This we answer, “No. Before the Holy Spirit quickens us, we are dead in trespasses and sins.” We are unable to do that which is pleasing to the Lord – even to seek after him, as Paul teaches in Romans 3.

But this is a different question than “Does a person have the ability to will and to choose, and is that choice free?”

Without free will, a human is not a human. I decide if I want to marry this woman or that woman. I decide to love or to hate and to destroy. I choose to hurt or I choose to heal, choose to smile or choose to frown. No one coerces me.

It is not my nature, nor is it the will of God, that places my will in bondage. It is sin. Luther masterfully discusses this in his classic “The Bondage of the Will” so I will not belabor that point any further.

But it is the devil who hates the image of God in me. Being in God’s image, I have the ability to choose – I am not a horse or a mule that must be led about by bit and bridle. It is the hardness of sin that makes me like that. Regeneration sets me free. (Think about Psalm 32:9).

9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, (Ps. 32:9 NAS)

Jesus did not come to make me a horse and a mule, to drag me like a robot and force me to behave. He came to give life and healing. He came to restore and redeem me as a human being, in the image of God.

A man like this one, unable to walk, has been severely limited in choices. He couldn’t even decide to get into the water, for he had no one to help him. He had no strength, no friends, no resources.

Which means that he had very few choices.

Jesus didn’t come to put him in further bondage. He came to set him free. The curse that is on the world took away his voice – who would care about the opinions of a poor crippled beggar? And it took away his choice. He was at the mercy of forces outside of his control.

Jesus came to restore to this man far more than simply the ability to walk. He came to restore the image of God that the curse had taken away. He came to give him back his voice and give him back his will.

“Do you wish to get well?”

“You don’t understand, Jesus. I’ve been here a long time. I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool. I can’t get to the water fast enough. Whether I want to or not, I don’t have the strength.”

“Get up and pick up your bed.” And he was healed.

After he was healed, his will was set free. He picked up his bed and he walked.

Of course, he immediately got into trouble with the Pharisees. Abusers hate when the “sinner” has the gall to speak, or to choose, or to make decisions. Their power is over when the bed is picked up. When Jesus heals, the Pharisee loses control.

And the devil never gives up his kingdom easily.

From this point on, the Jews sought to kill Jesus – because he healed on the Sabbath day – the very day that the prisoner was to be set free, according to the scripture.

“Do you want to be well?” Do you want your voice back? Do you want to be light and salt in the ugly and dark and hateful world? Do you want to know the Sabbath rest and be at peace with God and with the world?

Do you want to be free of rage and free of the ugliness that has been binding you to the ground for so long? Do you want to get up and walk?

Are you ready to fly? Do you want to soar above the petty kingdoms of this world and see where Christ is, at the right hand of God? Do you want to be free from sin? Do you want to be well, to be free of covetousness and the love of money that keeps our heads in the trough so we can’t see the sky.

Jesus didn’t come to make you a horse or a donkey. He came to set you free.

This world and the devil have assaulted your body long enough. You have been denigrated and rejected, hated and mocked and scorned. You have had your choice taken away like the ground under a plow (Psalm 129). That is the curse on this world.

But Jesus’s question is for you: Do you want to be made well?

Speak to him. Tell him how powerless you are. Speak the truth to him. Tell him about how you have tried to overcome, but cannot. The water is too far away, and you are too weak. You have no resources. Your will is bound. Your strength is gone. You are helpless and without hope.

Tell him how long it has been.

He didn’t come for those who think they see. He didn’t come for those who think they walk. He didn’t come for the rich or the powerful or the entitled. He didn’t come for the ones on the top.

He came for the hungry, the oppressed, the afflicted, the widow, the orphan. Those that don’t have the strength to get to the water.

He came for those who have had their choice and their voice taken away. And he wants to hear you. He wants you to be the beautiful, strong, wise, and righteous one that he created you to be.

So here’s the question for you: “Do you want to be made well?”

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

What to do When Hope Seems Non-Existent

Great Monday morning thoughts!

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The most damaging counseling mistakes

This could also be called, “Lessons from Ignaz Semmelweis.” He was a fascinating man. He was the first one to suggest that doctors wash their hands between patients. He was ridiculed and soundly mocked, put down, and outcast for it. Everyone knew that sickness came for spirits, bad air, bad joojoo, or God’s curse. What did handwashing have to do with it? He’s just being worldly. There’s got to be Bible verses about the evils of medicine. Isn’t it “trusting in man” or something like that?

I used to think the same way. I was taught that anything learned about counseling from a (hushed gasp) secular counselor, or, the most shocking of all, the psychologist (!) was just one step away from inviting the devil to dinner. I heard of a sermon where the pastor said that anyone who goes to a psychologist is denying Christ and the sufficiency of scripture. Stupid hand-washers!

I say this to my shame, for I used to believe and counsel the same way, and have since repented of my ungodly, unbiblical attitude.

If we will put aside our pride and listen to the voice of simplicity, and just “wash our hands” we will learn from our mistakes and quit killing the souls of those who come to us for help.

Here are the biggest mistakes we still make – soul killers – in no particular order. By the way, for you “nouthetic” people out there, each one of these mistakes is a mistake because it contradicts scripture, not because unbelievers say they are wrong. I agree with you that scripture alone is our only guide. So let’s hear what it says. So here is my list. I suspect there will be more to come.

  1. We say, “It takes two to ruin a marriage”. Or “It takes two to fight”. No. The Bible nowhere teaches this. Abel didn’t cause Cain to sin. David didn’t provoke Saul. Jesus didn’t provoke Judas. Joseph wasn’t to blame for his slavery. Stephen didn’t cause his stoning. And on and on. In fact, David said, “I am for peace, but when I speak they are for war.” (Ps. 120:7). There is a difference between David and those who sought to kill him. They wanted him dead because they “were for war”, not because “it takes two to fight.” Quit making this completely unbiblical statement. It simply isn’t true.
  2. When we hear of pornography use, we say, “Are you satisfying him in bed?” This one astounds me. Everyone listen up: Pornography and marital sexuality are as different as night and day, dark and light, good and evil. One is an expression of our one flesh intimacy, an act of love and mutual dignity and honor. The other is assault. A man who assaults doesn’t learn how to not assault by being taught to assault his wife instead. Just stop. Porn is death, murder, darkness. It isn’t “sex with the wrong person”. It is as far from the love of marriage as death is from life. Just stop. Now read Ephesians 5 again – from the beginning, not just the “submit” part. Fornicators need Christ and repentance, not a “porn-star wife”. Sheesh.
  3. (Similar to 3) We hear of a man committing adultery, and assume it is because the wife isn’t loving him enough. This comes from a horrible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7. If you want to know what it really means, you can listen here. But, again, adultery is not simply sex with the wrong person. It is death, folly, madness – assault. The same applies, by the way, with the sexes reversed.
  4. When we hear the cry of the soul against injustices done, and we say, “You are just bitter.” Not only is this NOT the meaning of “bitter” in the scripture, the hatred of sin and the cry for justice is NOT sinful. It is what it means to be in God’s image. Jesus will not come in justice because he is bitter, but because he is just. We long for that day. We long to see our enemies destroyed, and justice reign. It is what Psalm 72 is all about. The promise of the kingdom is NOT that we should quit being “bitter” but that Christ will come with justice and righteousness in his hands. This is how we learn to put off anger, wrath and malice. Not by pretending that injustice is OK. You can learn more here.
  5. When someone is weeping, we assume that they are trying to manipulate us. Very common, but again, contrary to scripture. I am so glad that Jesus doesn’t treat us like that. Paul said to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Can someone show me the passage that says, “Beware of those who weepeth, for they are seeking to manipulate thee.”? Compassion with wisdom can only be taught by the Holy Spirit.
  6. We automatically assume that depression is a sin.  Depression is sometimes medical – an imbalance of chemicals.  Counselors, learn the signs of depression and get people to medical help if needed. But sometimes, our sighs and tears are just the proper response to living in a cursed world, far from the shores of the celestial city. We aren’t home yet, and sometimes that makes us sigh and weep.
  7. We make the same assumptions with every medical condition we don’t want to deal with. Chronic illness? Just laziness. Bipolar? Just rebellion. Adhd? Just a scam. Tourettes? Just looking for attention. They could stop if they wanted to. This one makes me want to scream at people.
  8. We assume that every problem that anyone can have can be fixed if we just find the right thing to rebuke them for.

And so we have turned into the most heartless bunch. Cruel, unkind, uncaring, fools. Heaping burdens of shame on those who come to us for help. It is no wonder that people won’t see pastors for guidance anymore. We forgot how to be compassionate. We look for the simple fix, when maybe we just need to listen, to stop and hear, to offer a kind word. Maybe point someone to Christ, who sweat great drops of blood, who was afraid,  who wept at the tomb of Lazarus – KNOWING that he was about to raise him from the dead.

Weeping doesn’t mean I don’t believe the promise; fear doesn’t mean I’m not trusting God; sadness doesn’t mean I am unthankful. These things mean I am human, just like my Lord. And he came to redeem this flesh and this blood. He suffered with every infirmity, and was without sin, to redeem me, body and soul. The day will come when every tear will be dried, but that day is not today.

So excuse me if I weep now and then. Don’t mind me if I get afraid sometimes. Don’t sing “joy, joy, joy” at me when the infirmities of the flesh are sometimes too much to bear. Yes, I know that God is good. Yes, I know that he is coming again. Yes, I know that all things work together, and so on. But right now I’m sad. If all you can say is “All things work together for good!”, then just go away.

These are some of my thoughts today. What are yours? What is the worst thing you’ve heard? It seems like I am missing some. I expect that this blog will be continued…

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Filed under counseling, Grief, Pastoral ministry

Worrying about worry

Today I was reminded that worrying is a sin. So I started to worry about whether I worried too much.

And then I started thinking – it is true that worrying is a sin, but how do you overcome the sin of worrying. Do you worry about worrying? Do you work hard trying to overcome worry? But it seems that working to overcome worry simply involved more worry.

At least, I worry that it might.

And then I started thinking about the relationship of good works to the gospel. We know that our only righteousness before God is the righteousness of Jesus put on our account by faith. We know that we cannot ever do even one work that can stand before the judgment throne of God.

We also know that those who continue to live in sin have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. How these two concepts relate is sometimes difficult. The Reformed Creeds (such as the Heidelberg) put good works into the category of thankfulness to God for our redemption. The Bible teaches that good works flow from a thankful and renewed heart. But how does that work?

There are particularly yelly preachers that like to yell at people about everything that they are doing wrong. They like to make sure that you know that worry is a sin, and lusting is a sin, causing people to lust is a sin, They yell about gossip and slander and anger and covetousness. They usually then add a list of other things that aren’t sins  just in case someone is getting away with doing something fun. It’s as if they ran out of sins to yell about so they had to invent a few more. So they yell about alcohol and cigars and dancing and tattoos and movies and boycotting Disney and ABC and what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath. They yell about cakes and piercings and rock ‘n roll (or maybe not that one so much anymore) and haircuts. But there is always something. And when you confront them with the gospel of Jesus, they will say, “yes, but now that you are a Christian you are supposed to be thankful. BE THANKFUL. WORK HARDER AT IT. MORE GRATITUDE, YOU TOTALLY DEPRAVED SCUM!”
You know the type.

So I wonder about whether they have the relationship between the gospel and works right. Are good works those things that we do because we feel guilty about causing Jesus to go to the cross to begin with? Are they those things that we do so that we make sure that we really do make it in the end – proving that we are actually thankful enough to earn the free gift of grace? Is God the harsh slave driver just waiting for us to worry about something so that he can zap us and teach us a lesson for our own good?

Think about the Sabbath. The yelly preacher will be happy to give you a whole list of things that you are and are not allowed to do on the Sabbath. In fact, he will probably shout them at you. It’s a day of rest and thankfulness, you scum. Work harder at being thankful. Rest more now or God will get you, you filth of the earth…
Do you see the problem? How do you work hard at resting? Should we worry about whether or not we are resting enough? That doesn’t really seem like rest to me…

And as I think about worry, it occurs to me. Worry is a sin. Jesus made that clear. But that highlights my sinful nature, doesn’t it? The only thing I can do with a command to rest is to work harder at it, defeating the purpose. The only thing I can do with a command to not worry is to worry more about whether I worry too much and try harder to stop it…

And then I see what the writers of the catechism meant when they wrote, “I daily increase my guilt.”

That can’t be the gospel. So let’s think about the sin of worry.

Yes, I worry. And, yes, worry is a sin.

The gospel teaches me that the perfect righteousness of Jesus is put on my account, and that all of my sins – including the sin of worry – is nailed to his cross, put away forever. If I worry about that, that one is nailed there too.

And whether I worry or whether I don’t worry, Jesus has it all covered. He cannot love me more. I cannot be any more righteous that I am right now.

So I have nothing to worry about…

Do you see, now?

I can rest. I can stop worrying, because even my worrying is paid for by the blood of Christ, now and forever. I can give it to him and put it away and rest.

And I move a little closer to understanding what resting in the gospel means and what it means to put off worrying. I won’t get it perfectly in this life, but I don’t have to worry about that anymore, because Jesus already knows, already died, and lives forever making intercession for me, preserving me, guiding me.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

The gospel is not a Bobby McFerrin song. The gospel is not a yelly preacher screaming at you to quit worrying, work harder, do more, stop being such a horrible sinner, you jerk!

The gospel is the most liberating, freeing, comforting message you can imagine. Jesus is the propitiation of our sins, and not our alone, but the sins of the whole world.

This is the only way we can put off worrying. That’s the only way we can put off any of the other sins as well. By looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We abide in him, for without him, we can do nothing.

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Filed under ethics, Gospel

The Opinions of men

Recently, I saw that someone posted the following quote from Dr. Jay Adams:

In my opinion, advocating, allowing and practicing psychiatric and psychoanalytical dogmas within the church is every bit as pagan and heretical, and therefore perilous as propagating the teachings of some of the most bizarre cults. The only vital difference is that the cults are less dangerous because their errors are more identifiable.

I am sharing my response to this here – not because I have any wish to be controversial, but because I really think that it is time we as conservative, Reformed Christians, started to compare the words of our heroes to the scriptures and to the creeds. It is supposed to be what we do.

So here is my response:

Statements like these from Dr. Adams have caused more harm to the body of Christ than anything I can think of in the last 30 years.

“In my opinion” – the opinion of Dr. Adams has been elevated to creedal status, woe be to anyone who may question it.

Those who have dedicated their lives to the study of the human soul and to the easing of the suffering of so many millions are dismissed if they use “heretical” words like trauma, narcissist, abuser, pedophile…
Victims are cast out of the church and wolves are given safety within because we look for quick proof-texts, and refuse to do any soul-searching.
Those who have suffered unspeakable trauma and suffering are given 8 sessions with their pastor, not allowed to speak their story, given a few proof-texts and then cast out of the church for “bitterness”.

All because Dr. Adams had an opinion. This opinion is not backed up with any scripture, which is odd (since it is purportedly based on Sola Scriptura) but simply declared so to be.

So I would ask here – what scripture is used to cast everything with the title “psychiatric and psychoanalytical dogmas” into the bowels of hell? By what authority does Dr. Adams’ opinion supersede the creeds of the church?

Why is it, that in the ancient Heidelberg Catechism, which we all revere, we learn that good works are “not such as rest on our own opinions or the commandments of men” but are based upon the law of God, which is further defined as the Ten Commandments, – why is it now that Dr. Adams’ self-declared opinion is the criterion by which thousands and thousands of sufferers are allowed no relief, no second opinion, no question, and no other answers?

Some serious things that we should perhaps think about…

To back up my whole point, I am well aware that I am now going to be branded a dangerous heretic and anything I might say will be suspect from henceforth – because I dared to question Dr. Adams opinion.

How many of those suffering from real mental illness are allowed no relief because of this man?

How many have been beaten and abused and raped by their husbands and sent back home because of this man?

Those who follow Adams would have rebuked Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus for bawling like a baby.

I’m sick of it.

Yes, he said some good things, and some of his critiques were valid.

But he was just a guy. His opinion isn’t a creed. Speaking of trauma and narcissism and abuse and PTSD and depression isn’t heresy. It is naming what most of the Psalms are all about. We are created in the image of God, and naming things is what we do.

I would add a few things here:

When God created the heavens and the earth, he gave names to some of the things that he created. When he created man, he gave man the task of naming the animals. Men and women exercise their dominion as image-bearers of God by naming. Any study, any discipline, and lessons, first begin with learning the names of things.

The scripture gives us the outlines, the framework, the first principles. But because we are image-bearers of God, we are called to use wisdom and give things names as we study them.

Classifying biblical concepts is not being “worldly”. It’s called wisdom, and it is what we are called to do. I thank God for those who have spent their lives studying and classifying human behavior. The bible says that Jesus knew the hearts of men, and answered accordingly. We don’t have that ability, because we are finite. So we are called to listen, to classify, to stop our mouths, to hear what others might have to say.

But that takes work. It is a lot easier to simply classify all opposition as heretical, cult-like and evil and be done with it. But this keeps us steadfastly bound to our ignorance and happily immune from loving our neighbor.

God would have us reach outside our little bubbles and see that there is a huge world out there that cannot be explained by Christianized behaviorialism. Skinner is not the gospel, no matter how you baptize him.

Think about it.

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