Category Archives: Pastoral ministry

Let not the sun go down upon your wrath

Many of us were brought up with the influential book Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams.

In that book, and the companion book The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Adams sets forth his system that became known as Nouthetic Counseling, which became tremendously influential. Many, in fact, teach that Nouthetic Counseling is the only true Biblical counseling. I have heard many pastors and professors teach that anyone who seeks another kind of counseling should be disciplined by the church.

Harsh treatment, indeed.

The first book is now almost 50 years old, and I wonder if it has brought forth good fruit or bad fruit. Theology has consequences.

But even more than that, now that I am older I am starting to see some of the problems. I am wondering if it biblical. It is my position that “Biblical Counseling” is neither biblical, nor is it counseling.

But that thesis is too great for one blog. I would like to simply look at one example: Adams treatment of Ephesians 4:26.

Be angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

Adams’ interpretation of this passage is found in Competent to Counsel beginning on page 220. He alludes to this interpretation throughout the book. Reconciliation is a big theme with Adams. In fact, I do not believe that it is over-simplifying his theory by saying that he contends that virtually every inter-personal conflict of every kind can be resolved by following the steps of Matthew 18. (See The Christian Counselor’s Manuel, page 52 and following).

His interpretation of Ephesians 4:26 fits into his thesis. He writes on this passage,

…Paul says that Christians must not allow one single day to pass with unresolved anger stored in their hearts. The principle is clearly set forth: “Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath.” In other words, every day Christians must handle the problems that have arisen. This does not mean that others must be confronted about every sin which they have committed. There are many matters that can be covered over by love…Yet there are some things that cannot be set to rest simply by covering them with love. They continue to rattle around down inside; they fester and eat away. Such problems need to be settled daily by personal confrontation. (Competent, 222)

At first glance, it seems practical and even Biblical. We all know those people who carry anger around with them and divide and destroy one another each day. The scripture is clear that we are to lay aside resentment and wrath and malice. Walking in love does indeed separate us from the world.

But at a closer glance, and now 50 years later, we see problems emerge. He does not define which problems are big enough to “confront” and which to “let go” except the ones that one cannot just let go must be confronted.

Suppose a woman has not gotten dinner on the table on time, and her husband, who loves to bully and threaten, decides that this is something that must be settled by personal confrontation. So he rails, reviles, threatens his wife, refusing to let her sleep until his anger is dissipated, only to start it again the next day – because they have to be reconciled daily.

Before you say, “That never happens”, just stop. It does. All the time. Until 2 or 3 in the morning, or all night. The favorite tactic of a son of the devil is to deprive his target of sleep, and Adams gives him the perfect excuse. He gets to define what sin must be confronted all night, and he must resolve it or she cannot go to bed.

To be sure, Adams would not condone abusive behavior. In fact, he might even confront it harshly. His disciples often do. But the heart of the issue remains, and the husband asserts his right to vomit his anger on his wife again the next time he feels like it.

Is this truly what this verse is telling us? Is the problem the practice, or is it the interpretation of the verse? It is saying that my anger is the fault of another who must be forced to bend to my will before I go to bed? This is how many tens of thousands of Adams disciples take it.

One of the problems with this interpretation is Psalm 4. Some, like Hendrickson, simply say that Paul quotes the Psalm and uses it for his own purposes. But there is no attempt to explain why Paul quotes this Psalm if his purpose is to teach about personal reconciliation.

Psalm 4 has nothing whatever to do with reconciling personal relationships. It has to do with worship. And Paul is using it the same way, being faithful to the text. The Ephesian Christians were also subject to injustice and wickedness and persecution.  Here is Psalm 4:

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, O you sons of men, Will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness And seek falsehood?
3 But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; The LORD will hear when I call to Him.
4 Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us any good?” LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
7 You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
8 I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

This is a Psalm of David, ultimately fulfilled in Christ. David was hounded, persecuted, driven from home, slandered, and greatly abused.

Christ also, as our mediator, suffered greatly at the hands of wicked men. And it made him angry.

It is true that when he was reviled, he did not revile in return. It is true that he didn’t carry resentment around. But he was angry at hard hearts. He was angry at death, the old enemy. He was angry at the hatred and envy and lying and murder that the religious leaders stored up in their hearts.

But being without sin, Christ used that anger to worship God and to deepen his trust (according to his human nature and office of mediator), and that is what this Psalm is about.

The Lord sanctifies and sets apart. The Lord has not abandoned us to the rage and hatred of bullies and oppressors, but has promised redemption. He is coming in judgment.

And he allows us to sleep at night because he loves us. “I will lay down and sleep because the Lord makes me dwell safely.”

So at night, when your anger is bubbling over; when the blasphemy and oppression and injustice of the wicked one seems far too powerful, far too brutal, far to great for someone like you to handle, remember this: It isn’t too small for God. He puts gladness in the heart. Put your trust in his promises and sleep, dear ones, for God is faithful and true and just. And he sees.

He sees Hagar fleeing with her son. He sees Moses in the wilderness. He sees David in hiding in the cave. And he sees you.

Instead of anger at night, meditate on that and be still.

You see, Paul is not talking about personal confrontation. That makes your anger (whether it is just or unjust) someone else’s problem. Further, why are you so angry with your children or your spouse that you are trembling with rage (which is the word in Psalm 4) at them. Are they truly your enemies?

Enemies, though, can cause great fear and helpless, despairing anger. And the way to put it off is not to shut off your feelings. It is to turn to the Lord in worship.

Be angry. Injustice, reviling, blasphemy, crime, slander, destruction, senseless crime, abortion, immorality, is ugly and hateful.

Be angry at the things God is angry over. Don’t be angry that moths and rust destroyed what moths and rust destroys. That’s what happens in this cursed world.

Be angry, but sin not.

And when you are angry and what God is angry at, take heart that his anger is perfect. His justice is perfect. He will take care of it. “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord.

So leave it in his hands. The injustice and wrongs of the day, the folly and slanders of the day, the attacks of the day – be angry. But when the sun goes down, go outside. Look at the stars. See if you can count them. Remember God’s promise to Abraham. He doesn’t lie.

And then take a deep breath. Open up a bottle of wine. Kiss your wife. Hug your children. Get out a board game.

Cut some pie. Put some whipped cream right on it.

Look back at the sky. He who created those stars hates injustice far more than you do.

He who spread out that black canvas to paint the galaxies on hates the slaughter of infants more than you do

He who feeds those coyotes that you hear howling and he gave the crickets their song hates theft and murder and greed and adultery more that you ever could.

So finish your pie. Kiss your wife again.

Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Don’t let your anger consume you. Don’t let it grow into that little ball of hatred that poisons everything.

Don’t let your anger consume you so much that you miss talking to a friend, you miss the smell of the night sky, the autumn night, the beauty of the creator, the calling of the dove and the hoot of the owl.

Be angry. But sin not.

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Filed under counseling, Goodness, Pastoral ministry

When God tests his people…

…That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7)

The idea of God testing his people has been on my mind lately.

I think about it frequently. I wonder why. I know that other Christians struggle with it.

“I’m just going through some testing right now.”

But what does that mean? Does it mean that God is giving you a final test that you had better pass?

Does it mean that God doesn’t know whether your faith is genuine or not and he is testing it to see?

Does it mean that if you can just get over the test with a passing score the difficulty will be taken away and then you can get down with receiving the blessing in your life?

A lot of questions. The answer to all of those questions is, “Certainly not!”

God already knows your heart, even better than you do. He is not surprised at your actions. When he called you and justified you and sanctified you, he already knew all about you. He isn’t going to say, “Wow! But I didn’t know you would do that! That’s it! I’m finished!” Certainly not!

Jesus came to call the sick, the sinner, the poor, the halt, the lame, the foolish, the ignorant, the outcast.

When God sees you, he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ. And he holds you firm with his almighty, infinite hand.

(John 10:27-30)  27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
  28 “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
  29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
  30 “I and My Father are one.”

When you are going through testing, it helps to read those verses again and again. “No one is able to snatch them from My Father’s hand.”

No, God doesn’t test for his own knowledge. His knowledge does not change with circumstances, but he knows all things by one act of divine will. His knowledge, like his being, is unchangeable, simple, undivided, perfect.

So why does he test us? We can only know what he has revealed.

Sometimes he tests us because Satan is slandering us in heaven (Job 1). Satan accuses us of only serving God because God gives us stuff. When everything is taken away, the beauty, majesty and wisdom of God shine through us to the world and Satan’s head is crushed.

Sometimes he tests us for our knowledge – so that WE would know that our faith is genuine. When the sun of tribulation comes up, genuine faith continues to hold to Christ.

But the greatest reason is given in 1 Peter 1:7. Faith is compared to gold. But it is buried under a lot of ore and dross. God tries us, as a goldsmith tries his gold. In the furnace of affliction, the dross is burned away so that the genuine, beautiful, shining gold remains – it is when we look most like our glorious Savior.

If you want to look like Christ, it begins with the cross. This life is a life of testing, the fires of the furnace, the pain of illness, and that is when the dross is burned away and the gold shines.

“The flames shall not hurt thee, my only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine”

If you meet someone and the light of Christ shines from them; when they lift up with words; love without hypocrisy, are kind without an agenda;

If you meet someone who lives 1 Corinthians 13 without even thinking about it;

Someone whose life and words and works are works of purity, beauty, love acceptance, kindness;

Who loves without fear…

You know then that you are in the presence of someone who has suffered much in the furnace of affliction.

It is how the gold of faith is made to shine.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey, Faith, Pastoral ministry

A bishop must not be a bully

1 Timothy 3:3 – God gives authoritative teaching on who is to be ordained to church office. It would be good to refresh yourself with this list.

One of them always strikes me: not a bully, (or “striker” in the KJV). A bully is pugnacious, always looking to tear someone down with his words. He is not concerned with learning, growing, understanding; he is only concerned with winning. Everything is competition, and he must come out on top, even if it means the destruction of everyone around him.

He loves to fight. He loves to watch someone wither under his words or his fists, for it gives him a sense of power to be able to exercise dominion over someone else.

You can spot a bully easily enough. It’s how they speak to the server in the restaurant, especially if she is a woman.

You can spot them when they speak to other Christians on social media. They aren’t afraid to use obscene language, insults, even blasphemous words; they don’t tremble at calling you RACA, or tearing you down with withering contempt if you disagree. They will not submit to God or anyone. Their words are words of death and pain; they are full of corrupt communication. They will offer you friendship only on their terms, only if you submit completely to every view they hold, or they will destroy you through gossip and slander.

You can spot the bully in the body language of his family. His wife is downcast, stands behind him in church. She’s not used to being addressed without him present. His kids are very “well-behaved”. They don’t act up like other kids, they look at the ground, sit very still in church, because they are terrified. A man leads his family. A bully terrifies them. He likes it that way. He enjoys the look of fear on the faces of the ones he is supposed to love. A bully is without “natural affection”.

This is why Paul commanded Timothy to also look at the kids. How a man manages his house is a clue as to how he will manage the church.

A bully seeks to control others by pounding them with the law and its consequences.

He is not fit for church office and must be removed if he has been ordained, or the whole church will suffer.

The church is a community of grace, love, salvation, peace. Bullies never allow anyone to rest.

Could this be why the church has lost its witness in the world? We have been controlled by bullies far too long. How can we expect God’s favor when we stridently and obstinately refuse to obey him?

Let your gentleness be known to all men. This is what the Bible says. But instead we extoll and exalt the bully. We ordain the one who wins at all cost, the one who terrifies the children into submission and fills the church with other bullies. We ordain the one who knows how to keep the uppity women in line and how to win arguments. But no matter what title we give them, to God they will always be false shepherds. For only God can raise up shepherds for the sheep. He tells us how to spot a shepherd. Do you think we should start paying attention?

But Christ is coming. And he will deliver his people from the ruthless reign of the righteous bully.

In the meantime, cast them out. And strife will cease. Amazing how that works.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Qualifications for office

Do unto others

It is easy to belittle the overweight man when you eat all you want and never gain a pound.

It is easy to ridicule the chronically ill when you haven’t been sick a day in your life.

It is easy to be exasperated with the parents of a special needs child when you don’t have a special needs child.

It is easy to say, “They just need to spank that kid more” when it isn’t your child.

It is easy to say abuse never happens when it never happens to you.

It is easy to say that sexual assault isn’t that bad, when it didn’t happen to you.

It is easy to say, “I know that guy. He is such a wonderful man. He could never do something like that” if you aren’t the one he has preyed upon.

It is easy to say there is no such thing as a wolf when you refuse to see the sheep’s clothing.

It is easy to rail against welfare and food stamps if you have never been hungry.

It is easy to scoff and mock the one who struggles with same-sex attraction when all of your sexual sins are vanilla and hetero.

It is easy to tell a woman that she has to return to her husband when you have never been in physical or emotional danger.

It is easy to tell a person with anxiety or depression to “get over it” when you don’t have anxiety or depression.

It is easy to say, “Words can’t hurt you” when you have never been subjected to the repeated and regular assault of vicious and contemptuous words.

It is easy to tell another parent how to raise their child.

It is easy to tell your unbelieving neighbor that all they need is Jesus when they are bleeding from wounds you can’t see and couldn’t understand.

It is easy to tell someone that racism doesn’t exist anymore – especially if you are white and middle-class.

What is hard is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

What is hard is to bear one another’s burdens.

What is hard is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What is hard is to “esteem the other better than yourself, in lowliness of mind.”

To do what is hard takes patience. To do what is hard means to give of yourself and be quick to hear. It takes sacrifice and love and empathy and kindness.

To do what is hard means we have to put aside our pride and understand that we are not the measure of a man, and our experiences are not the infallible, inerrant final word. To do what is hard means that we must put on Christ,

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:6-8)

But in order to do that, we must put to death the old man. It is the old man that is the expert on everyone else’s life. It is the old man that is the busybody and talebearer. The wicked are characterized by scoffing, not the righteous.

The new man is different. He is being conformed to the image of Christ, who never ridiculed, never mocked, never belittled. When the poor and the lame and the blind and the deaf came to him, he healed them. He listened. He fed them. He commanded us to do the same.

Paul said that the only one capable of helping someone with a fault is the “spiritual one” (Galatians 6:1). The spiritual one is the one led by the spirit, filled with the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, patience…”

The spiritual one is the one who has learned how to listen, to walk alongside the wounded. She is the one with patience and longsuffering. He speaks words of kindness and edification, not mocking and ridicule.

It takes the new birth to be a spiritual one.

Until you have learned to listen, study to be silent. You don’t know everything. Until then, pray for wisdom. Be diligent to listen. Quit being afraid of people different than you and don’t fear the reproach of men for doing what Christ commanded.

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phi 4:5)

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Patience

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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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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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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More notes on a remarkable book

So I finally finished reading “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” As I said in a previous post, I would let you know if I found anything goofy. Good news! Nothing goofy here. Just solid theology and an outstanding exhortation to all of us. Aimee does an admirable work here with human nature, the nature of salvation and sanctification, the holy catholic church and the communion of the saints. As I have said before, I don’t write book reviews, since I have completely forgotten how since my college days, but please go get this book and read through it. You won’t regret it.

I do have a few thoughts on the reaction to the book – in the myriad of blogs, tweets and comments, which I found quite distressing.

First, I am distressed and how many professing Christians seem to be completely obsessed by sex. It makes me sad that we can’t discuss friendship between men and women without “sex getting in the way”. We are obsessed with it. It occupies all of our thoughts and every waking moment. Aimee’s warning is proven by the aftermath. The modern evangelical is totally obsessed with sex. It’s sad to me.

Second, I am distressed by how many pastors confess that they cannot be trusted alone with a woman. Oh, they don’t put it exactly like that. They say, “I never text a woman. That’s how adultery starts.”

Or “I will never be alone with a woman, that’s how adultery starts.”

Or “I would never pick up a woman to give her a ride. That’s how adultery starts.”

So I would like to translate this for the layman. “I, a minister of the gospel, am so out of control and untrustworthy, that you cannot leave your wife or your daughters alone in my vicinity. I couldn’t even give them a ride to the hospital, because it is possible that I would be overcome with lust and attack them in the car.”

Really?

Why, then, are these guys ministers? So, you in the congregation, do yourself a favor. Whenever you hear an ordained minister confess that he has no self-control, and that he is so obsessed with sex that he cannot be trusted giving your daughter a ride to the hospital, or sending a text to your sister or wife, then please remove him from office. Why is he a shepherd to begin with?

And third, we really need to understand love and hate.

I was thinking this through as I was reading Aimee’s book. The Heidelberg Catechism says that we are “prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor.” God created us to love him with our whole heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But when man fell, he became obsessed with himself. He became a fool, and said in his heart “There is no God. I am, and there is none like me. (Psalm 14:1; Isaiah 47:7-8).

When we are redeemed from our sin and misery by Christ, we are taken out of ourselves and our obsessing with ourselves, and our thoughts are directed outwards, first to God and then to our neighbor. This is love. When our affections are placed upon someone other than ourselves.

John wrote,

9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. (1 Jn. 2:9-11 KJV)

So here is what I am thinking. When we are born again, when we are walking in the light, we become far less obsessed about ourselves and our “purity” and far more interested in the duties we owe to God and the duties we owe to our neighbor.

This is really what concerns me about current evangelical ethics. We have become so self-absorbed and narcissistic that when we see a woman broken down on the side of the road, our first thought is “How will this affect my purity?”

Do you see the problem? It seems that this is hatred. It seems that this is the problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees. He said,

23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Matt. 23:23 KJV)

The tithe, which is the duty we owe to God, was to be paid. But not as an excuse to act in hatred or indifference towards our neighbors in need. We might use as an excuse that we are very concerned with our purity, because it is the duty we owe to God, but we must remember what John wrote – this is a false dichotomy.

20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 Jn. 4:20 KJV)

As I see it, this is the problem with current evangelical ethics. We are so concerned with our own personal purity, that we turn our backs on those in need. So we have become exactly like the Priest or Levite who wouldn’t cross the road to help a man in need because of their obsession with purity.

We would empty our diaconal account to make sure someone is not cremated, while abused women and children starve for lack of resources. We pass by a woman in need because we fear that we might start the neighbors talking – or worse, that we might lose control and attack her, apparently….

I don’t get it. We obsess over whether Rahab sinned by telling a lie, even though the alternative would have been the death of the spies. We say to God,

‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.
25 ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.’ (Matt. 25:24-25 NAS)

But when you say that, be prepared for the answer from the Master:

‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed.
27 ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
28 ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
(Matt. 25:26-28 NAS)

Honestly, it is easier to obsess over your own personal “purity” than it is to reach out to a neighbor in love. It is easier to hide the talent in the earth. You can’t get hurt that way. You won’t catch adultery that way. You can keep everything the way that it is and not be bothered.

But you can’t love that way. The true motivation isn’t purity, it is laziness and wickedness. Jesus calls it what it is.

This is the real problem. I’m glad that Aimee wrote about it.

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Chantry, Hezekiah and Chloe

When thoughts collide…

Last week I was preparing for my Sunday School teaching on Hezekiah and the siege of Jerusalem. As I was preparing, I was struck by this message from Isaiah to Hezekiah:

Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard (2 Kings 19:20)

Hezekiah was in bad trouble. Sennacherib had conquered the whole world, and he was unstoppable. He had now surrounded Jerusalem and gave Hezekiah the terms of absolute surrender. There was no strength left in Hezekiah.

And Hezekiah took the letter demanding his surrender and laid it on the altar of God, crying out to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and telling God the problem. He spoke honestly and directly.

God delights when we call upon him. God takes pleasure in our prayers, when we speak to him honestly and directly. When we are in trouble, and when we are weak and helpless, fearful and doubting, in pain and in distress – God would have us tell him about it. He is our God, and we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:
15 And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. (Ps. 50:14-15 KJV)

But this goes against the culture of most churches. If you have been following the Tom Chantry trial, you see what so many people have suffered. People aren’t believed, they are silenced, when they complain about mistreatment or abuse, they are told to be quiet. To be thankful and put off their “bitterness” and their “complaining spirit”.

And so people are being groomed to take abuse and mistreatment, and put on the happy face. Let’s all play happy families. Only sinners are in trouble. Only sinners complain. Only unthankful people are unhappy.

But Isaiah didn’t rebuke Hezekiah for being bitter or for complaining. Hezekiah was in trouble, and God heard him because he spoke the truth to God.

And while I was thinking about that, I was also thinking about the household of Chloe.

For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house  of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. (1 Cor. 1:11 KJV)

If Paul had been a modern church planter, 1 Corinthians would never have been written. Instead, Paul would have rebuked Chloe’s household for gossip and bitterness.

How many of you have heard these?

“Now, Chloe. Have you gone through the steps of Matthew 18? I don’t want to hear about this.”

“This is just gossip. You need to repent of your bitterness.”

“We are right in the middle of a fund-raising campaign for the saints in Jerusalem. We can’t have this negative talk and gossip going on. It will hurt the Jerusalem Famine Ministry.”

“Chloe, have you spoken to a man about these things? In fact, it isn’t even your household. You need to go submit to your husband and let the men handle it. When women usurp authority, all sorts of gossip and complaining start happening.”

“I know the man who you say was sleeping with his step-mother. He’s a good man. Remember that he is innocent until proven guilty. I know everyone is talking about it, but we really need to get a handle on the undisciplined talk before it destroys a good man’s name.”

“Chloe, I can’t hear this unless you have two or three witnesses. No, the children don’t count. No, the women don’t count. No, those men don’t count. They’re just bitter.”

And on and on it goes.

Aren’t you glad that Paul wasn’t a modern Big Eva guy?

“I hear that Paul is coming to Corinth! Did you get your tickets yet? I hear he will have another epistle to the Thessalonians on sale in the foyer. His conferences sell out every year!”

I thank God for the pastors that are far more concerned about truth than their reputations or their bank accounts!

Hezekiah spoke the truth and was heard, even though he was surrounded by Assyrians. Chloe’s household spoke the truth.

It was when David finally spoke the truth to God that God heard him (Psalm 51).

In fact, all of the Psalms are about speaking the truth to God. Tell God what is going on. Tell God the truth.

And find a church that is more interested in the truth than in the cover-up. That is more interested in the health of the sheep than the hurt feelings of the wolf. That is more interested in being faithful to God than in their reputations and bank accounts.

We need more pastors that want to know the truth about your marriage, your families, your fears and your doubts and your struggles. This is what the church is for. God is not interested in the happy façade. He wants the truth.

Listen to Chloe. You just might learn something.

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Bad Listeners

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” (James 1:19)

Yesterday I was watching old reruns of Monk. I don’t know if you remember the show about the OCD detective. Tony Shalhoub is brilliant, but that really isn’t what this post is about.

Anyway, one scene in the show was the detective interviewing a witness in her home. While she was trying to tell him what she saw and what she experienced, he was extremely distracted. The items on her coffee table were out of place and disorderly. Monk, suffering from OCD, couldn’t hear a word she said until he rearranged all of her knick-knacks.

I’ve been thinking about that. Why are pastors such horrible listeners? Yes, I am talking about you – particularly Reformed pastors. This is a critique of my own tribe. I also have struggled with being a good listener, so these things are coming from my experience.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and they weren’t listening to anything you were saying? You can see the exact moment they shut down. They have already figured out what they were going to say, and anything else you might say is not relevant. I think it is a problem for pastors. We are really bad at listening.

Why are we such bad listeners?

I have a few suggestions:

  1. We are OCD with theological error. We completely miss someone’s trauma, but woe to the uninformed that uses the word “potluck” (you mean “pot providence”) or “My father was a good man” (THERE IS NONE GOOD; NO NOT ONE!) Just like Mr. Monk, if all of the theological ducks aren’t neatly lined up to our liking, we shut down. Seriously, when was the last time you allowed a theological mistake to just pass you by. Even the attempt to “let it go” causes our muscles to twitch, our words to stammer, our eyes to water…
  2. We forget to remember that Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitudes – like sheep without a shepherd. Are you compassionate enough to actually let someone tell you their story – even if it makes you uncomfortable, even if you don’t know what to say, even if it takes several hours? Jesus was moved with compassion. So should we be.
  3. Most of us heard Jay Adams tell us that after 6 or 8 sessions you have a discipline problem. We feel this urge to rush through, tell people what they need to do and move on. Depressed? Get over it. Still depressed? Church discipline! Angry at your rapist? Quit being bitter. Get over it. Move on with your life. We are convinced that we HAVE to give the solution, give the cure, tell them what to do to make this uncomfortable feeling stop. But only a fool answers a matter before he hears it. Listen first. Then speak. It’s what the Bible commands.

I was at a church years and years ago. There was a young man visiting. After the service, I was talking to a couple of the elders and this young man came up to us and asked “Is there a grocery store around here? I need some food”. The elders looked stunned, and then said,

“We don’t shop on the Sabbath Day.”

Really.

This is what I mean. Where is the compassion? Where is the discernment?

Be compassionate. Be educated. Be like Christ. Listen.

The hardest thing for a pastor to learn is this: You don’t have to talk all the time. You don’t have to have answers all the time. You don’t have to fill the air around you with a miasma of ignorant pious slogans. You don’t have to correct everyone that is wrong.

But you do have to listen. And you do have to be compassionate.

Let’s practice:

“Potluck, potluck, potluck, potluck.

“He’s a good man. He’s a good man. He’s a good man.

“God loves everybody. God loves everybody. God loves everybody…..

“Last Sunday I went to a restaurant…”

 

Let it go. There is a time and place for correcting theology, but remember that we would be in a far better place to do that if we first learned how to listen.

(By the way, Jay Adams was wrong here. Most people haven’t even gotten to the real issue until the 6th  session. They start out by seeing if you are trustworthy and willing to listen. If you shut them down the first session, they won’t come to you with the real issue. I believe that this is a major reason why nouthetic counseling has been so disastrous with trauma and assault.)

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