Monthly Archives: September 2018

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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Filed under Pastoral ministry

On being a human

Jesus, the Eternal Word of God, who is God and who is with God, became flesh. He was the true Israel of God, the true Son of God, succeeding where Adam failed, “Like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted.”
He, then, is the true Image-bearer of God, who came to restore to us the fullness of our humanity that we lost after the fall.

This is a deep subject, that will take further study. Pick up Colossians, to start with…

If this is true, then that means that Christ came to make us fully human again, instead of the twisted caricature that sin turned us into (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:10)

And if that is true, then why is it that so many conversations with Christians sound like their bodies have been invaded by aliens and they are trying to learn what it means to be human?

Think about it. There is a quick pause, as if they are thinking to themselves, “How would a human respond?” and they almost get it right, but not quite.

Maybe it’s just a Reformed thing…
I, for one, think that we should probably quit putting on some kind of a weird front, and just admit that we like Redbone, Dean Koontz, Stranger Things and let the chips fall where they may.

So today I’m coming out. I’m a human being. I like music and art and best-selling novels. I am currently binge-watching ER. I missed it when it first came out so Hulu is catching me up.

I love seeing God’s image in his creation. I love watching creatures create beauty, sound, lights, color, characters
I’m not afraid of catching sin through my eyes and ears. I have enough of it in my heart, but my savior is greater than my heart and has made me fully human again.
Praise his name forever!!

Now go be a human again.

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Filed under Anthropology, Men and women