Counseling/Pastoral Issues

Trinitarian Leadership

“…that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up…” -Apostle Paul

The primary purpose of the Trinity is to use authority over us that edifies and builds, not tears down. In Paul’s pastoral letters he wishes to use his God-given authority to draw people to the Gospel. This is always the first and foremost desire of the leader/authority figure: to bring people to the Gospel by an authority that edifies, not beats you down. Notice how the Father uses his authority over the Son on earth. The Father doesn’t add threats to his desires for the Son, he adds encouragement and affirmation: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
He doesn’t say, “My Son, go to the cross, or I will make you go my way.” There is a tender authority in the persons of the Godhead that is beautifully pictured in the pastoral ministry of the Apostle Paul.

785px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectWhen you read Paul’s letters a you are left with this sense that the Apostle wants to see restoration in the Church not through the means of threats, but through prayer, gentleness, and humility. Do you want to see your son and daughter change a particular attitude? Do you want to see a friend abandon their destructive ways? Build her up. Tell her the gospel. “My dear friend, I come to you as your sister in Christ. I want the best for you. It pains me to watch you self-destruct. How can I serve you during this time? Do you want me to check up on you every three hours?” “My son, dad has not always been here for you. I have sought other hobbies to entertain myself when I should have been spending time with you. Please, forgive me. It hurts me to see you making these decisions. Is there a way I can help you find truth through this confusion?” There is an inherent authority given to the saints when they speak life into the lives of their fellow parishioners. This authority needs to be edifying.

Authority that is admired and loved is an authority that is edifying. The fundamentalist exercises authority through threats—“do this or else.” The pietist exercises authority through perfection –“If you fail me you are ruining our family’s reputation and there is no way back!” The Biblical Christian exercises authority by serving and edifying before demanding and expecting. Oh, yes, there are ways of getting what you want, but you may get what you want while losing the heart of the one you love. And that, beloved, is not biblical Christianity.

Paul summarizes Jesus’ life:

Though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God
something to be possessed by force.
On the contrary, he emptied himself,
in that he took the form of a servant
by becoming like human beings are.

The most authoritative man in history became a servant while being an authority. The God, who is Three and One, and One and Three, is first and foremost a God who expresses his authority to build, not tear down. Our God, our Trinity is a Trinity that exercises gracious, loving, and life-giving authority.

  1. see particularly II Corinthians 13  (back)
Counseling and the Spirit

Counseling and the Spirit

Theology is intensely intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God.” We have deeply engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a particular type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has mostly become a rarely pursued journey by the typical parishioner, has fallen into the hands of armchair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be used at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not bear fruit unless applied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God.

Counseling is necessary for theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Trinitarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter and our advocate. When others drive us to madness, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above, and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

To a great measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to enter the process. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have to be transformed from glory to glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit. It is there we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)
How can I understand unless someone guides me?

How can I understand unless someone guides me?

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

In Acts 8, we are reminded of the familiar story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The wealthy Ethiopian had been worshipping in Jerusalem.  Upon his return home he began to read aloud the words of the prophet Isaiah. Intrigued by them, he sought the help of someone who was capable of interpreting that text. The Ethiopian found an interpreter of Scripture, but also an interpreter of life. Philip’s interpretation was not only a Messianic interpretation but also a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:14-15, which promised that Yahweh would sprinkle the nations. The Ethiopian was sprinkled/washed clean from his transgressions. He began to see that Messiah suffered so that he might have life.

This passage establishes in many ways the need for biblical counseling. Counselees are asking Philip’s questions. Their lives torn by a host of events have clouded their understanding of life, and sometimes even the Bible itself. It is incumbent then, for counselors, to come alongside the hurting and the needy and provide an accurate view of their lives through the lens of the Bible.

Jesus is the starting point of all healing. He is the suffering servant, who received no justice, according to Isaiah’s prophecy. The interpreter/counselor begins by pointing to Jesus. He guides the counselee to see that Jesus is the answer to his despair. But he is not simply pointing him to a concept, but to a Person. Jesus, as Person, died and suffered. Jesus, as concept, offers no hope.

Notice that Philip ran to him. Philip understood the pain and despair of the eunuch. Philip was troubled by the eunuch’s lack of knowledge. The Spirit guides us to those who are most troubled, whether rich or poor. Philip, the counselor, then asked a question.

A few observations concerning the text above:

Notice that Philip asked him a question. Counselors are in the question-asking business. A porn addict may benefit from a stern rebuke, but the porn addict has already been rebuked by his own conscience, which is why he is seeking interpretation. A porn addict needs to probe his motivations and his justifications behind seeking his sinful habits. He needs to think through his worldview before he can see that it is deeply flawed. Questions will bring these assumptions to the surface.

The counselee needed help. Counselors cannot help those who do not wish to be helped. The counselee acknowledged that his answers, his attempts to be good, his efforts to get away from certain habits were not paying off. He realized that unless someone guides him his efforts will all be in vain.

Guiding someone is a form of life interpretation. The counselor needs to take the counselees’ assumptions about the world and dissect them so that the counselee can see the context surrounding his sins. He may be oblivious to his own environment. He may not know that the culture he is imbibing is causing a greater urge to immerse himself in those sins. He needs guidance to see that his interpretation is flawed.

Finally, notice that the eunuch invites the counselor to come and sit by him. This is not always the case. The work of the Spirit, of course, was already humbling the eunuch. His worship experience had already softened his own mind to seek wisdom. In some cases, the counselor needs to make aware to the counselee that he needs help and guidance. At times pride will keep the individual from seeking any help. He is certain that his lack of knowledge of the text and of his own life is not a problem and that in time he will learn to deal with it. This is where community life becomes crucial to the individual. If sins are simply seen as separated acts from the community, then they bear no weight on anyone else besides the individual. If, however, sins are communal by nature, then making known to the addicted man that he needs guidance becomes a necessary component of community life. The hurting has little hope of finding a right interpretation if he has no one willing to point out his need of one.

The eunuch was baptized. Philip’s interpretation offered him a perspective that changed him and caused him to act upon it. Counselors offer interpretation that will change the course of action of the counselee. Counselors, by God’s grace, will offer a message of hope. Jesus is that hope. The One who received no justice offers justice in the sight of God to those who humble themselves and seek his guidance. Jesus sat with us and offered us an interpretation of our lives that made us whole.

Die Before You Die: Meditations on the Death of a Friend

Die Before You Die: Meditations on the Death of a Friend

It was the always precise C.S. Lewis who urged in Till We Have Faces to “Die before you die, there is no chance after.” This briefest of Lewisian homilies reminds me of our Lord’s words in Luke 9: “For whoever tries to save his own life will destroy it, but whoever destroys his life on my account will save it.” This biblical and glorious paradox certainly underlined Lewis’ statement. Lewis had experienced the death of his mother at an early age. He saw the vast wrath of war as he lost close friends. When he wrote of death it was not merely a result of research but from a deep experiential pain. His book A Grief Observed is an apologetic for dealing with pain when those closest to you die. When his wife, Joy, died, he wrote: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

My family, and especially my wife, who knew Melanie Branch so well, grieve today. We grieve because someone whose life shone so brightly the Gospel of Jesus was removed from this earth. She no longer grieves, but we grieve in her absence.

Today I stood outside the chapel with many others because there was no more room in the chapel. Many had come to bid farewell to a life well lived. My dear brother and pastor Rusty Branch stood bravely and broken to eulogize his bride before the cloud of witnesses. He offered a parallel between the three virtues of classical Christianity, namely, truth, goodness, and beauty and their manifestations in the life of his bride. His bride of 15 years, offered in her 38 years of life, a Christian manifesto of truth in her search and determined hope to see others embrace a biblical vision for the education of their children. She left an astounding legacy. My family is a recipient of this investment she made in her life. In the name of truth, she died before she died. She sought truth not for self-aggrandizement, but self-giving.

This dear sister not only breathed truth into the life of others, but she also embraced goodness. She was good in the sense that she embodied the good. Anyone who knew Melanie–even from a few encounters–understood her lucid view of the good life. It was not replete with “work harder” banners, but with a sincere “God has been good to us” theology. It was rich, simple, and unfading. Melanie died before she died by showing that goodness is the art of bestowing a glorious image of our Lord to others in the midst of pain.

Most powerful were her husband’s point about her beauty. Though she was overwhelmed by the choking power of cancer, yet her love of the Triune God provided a life-filled, hope-saturated example of beauty. While her body slowly died, she sought after the beautiful. God’s image becomes even more sobering and precious as his saints begin to see the life to come through the eyes of faith. The beatific vision becomes clearer and the eternal glass that separates life and death become less distinguished. She embodied beauty in life and God robed her with his beauty in her death.

I did not know Melanie as well as many, but the multitudes who came to witness this lovely saint speaks more than words. They all shared similar stories of a woman who endured the unspeakable pain of seeing a disease overtake her little by little, but who died for others before she died.

May the God of all peace comfort her husband, Rusty, and her children, Emma Rae, Elizabeth, and Allen. Your wife and mother died well. She died before death. She was a faithful servant. Her job is done. She will die no more.

The Secretive Nature of Pride

A section in Richard Lovelace’s monumental Dynamics of Spiritual Life caught my attention. The section of the book deals with the role the flesh and the world play in keeping revival from taking place. Borrowing liberally from Jonathan Edwards he observes that “spiritual pride is secretive, it is hard to detect except through its effects.”a Quoting Edwards:

The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, that they are low in grace; and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are; and being quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies. But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home…that heis not apt to be very busy with other hearts.

Lovelace elaborates by saying that the eminently “humble Christian is as it were clothed with lowliness.”

  1. Lovelace, 245  (back)

Shepherding by Faith

Peter Leithart offers a much needed note to pastors:

Pastors must carry out their vocations in faith. Shepherding in faith means recognizing that Jesus is the Good Shepherd of His church; shepherding in faith means trusting that Jesus will care for His sheep and lambs; shepherding in faith means trusting that Jesus will make up for the shortcomings and failures of the pastor, that He will fill the gaps and do His work. A pastor who acts in faith can leave many things undone because He knows there is another Shepherd who covers him. A pastor who acts in faith knows that he’s not the savior of the church. Jesus is.

All that means that a pastor actually has infinite resources to meet the infinite needs of his congregation. Those resources are not the resources of his skill, training, or diligence, not matter how skillful, well-trained, or diligent he is. The available resources are the infinite resources of the Shepherd who leads His sheep by the Spirit.

Counselor: Know Thyself

Phil Monroe over at Musings of a Christian Psychologist offers some helpful insight for the counselor. He writes:

The best counselors know themselves well. No, I don’t mean that the best counselors are self-centered. Rather, good counselors understand their biases, foibles, strengths and challenges. The best counselors know themselves inside and out and notice when they start to project their own thoughts and feelings onto others.

Why is this capacity so important? A counselor must see and note the difference between yourself and the client in front of you. This is vitally important if you are going to be of any help to that person. When we fail to see the difference, we end up counseling the other person as if they were an extension of ourselves. As a result, we fail to challenge our own biases and assume what helped us will help them.

Two applications he makes are simple, but helpful:

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  2. Ask your friends who you really trust to give it to you straight about your annoying habits.

 

Creational Model for Counseling

My friend Dustin Messer offers a healthy way of considering Christians in need of counseling help.

He says that,

…instead of merely “seeing through sin lens” we should also consider a a “creational lense.” That is, instead of the first question of a person being “where are they depraved?” perhaps it should be “where are they dignified?” Maybe one reason the fundamentalists liked Adams was because he too viewed the world through a “fall, redemption” paradigm. I think it is imperative that we recover “creation” and “new-creation” in our worldview visavis counseling.

Five Steps to Purify our Homes in a Pornographic Culture

The conversation about pornography is a conversation we need to keep having as men. The secrecy or the fear to be caught needs to be replaced with a fear of a loss of wholeness and a loss of communion with God and man. Some thoughts on how to begin purifying our hearts and homes:

First, parents need to be very aware of these issues. They can no longer assume their children are being raised as they were. Exposure to pornography is everywhere. So, the question is not, “how to keep your children from ever looking at porn?” the question, “how will they react when they see it?” Fathers need to have honest conversations with their boys about their temptations and their thought life. If fathers talk now they will not have to later. Capture their hearts and their words early.

Second, do not be naïve about the potential for porn in the home. Allowing young boys to have laptops in their rooms is setting them up for failure. In fact, most addicts began looking at porn when their parents bought them their first TV for their room or their first laptops. The same can be said for cell phones, iPads, Kindles, and any other tool that gives teens access to the web. Set guards like covenant eyes or clean router that blocks pornography use in the home.

Third, husbands love your wives. Spend more time with them than your buddies outside of work. If you love and build up your wife often you will be less tempted to look at other women. It is not uncommon to see men virtually abandoning their wives to pursue their own joys and pleasures. I hope men have good male friends, but when those friendships substitute intimate, loving moments with their spouses they are not only damaging the bond of marriage but mis-prioritizing their lives.

Fourth, limit your internet use outside of work necessities. A home that is constantly connected to the internet is a home that lacks connection with one another. Use times at home to converse, discuss, sing, play, etc. and use your internet time sparingly.a

Fifthly, if you struggle with porn addiction, speak to a pastor or to a friend who is either far removed from his days of addiction or someone who lives a life free of porn. One of the problems with addicts is that when they are finally ready to confess they will tell another friend who struggles with porn and the two end up feeding each other in their weakness. They end up providing each other a pass when they fail.

Finally, worship faithfully. There is no substitute for faithful worship. When you worship the Triune God faithfully God renews your mind (Rom. 12:1) and he renews covenant with you. Be present. Participate in the life of the Church. Do not allow entertainment to become your worship. You are what you worship and God has called you to lead your family into worship faithfully.

Let’s begin this conversation if we have not already done so. And by doing so we will begin to purify ourselves and our homes.

  1. Establish a time when no cell, tv’s, or laptops are prohibited.  (back)

The Science Behind Pornography Addiction

Here is an interesting video demonstrating the science behind this dangerous addiction. I would also add William Struthers “Wired for Intimacy. How Pornography hijacks the male brain” as a remarkable look at the psychological affects of porn on males. As always, no Christian man should keep this addiction from secret. There is no healing in secrecy.

The second video details a porn experiment. It illustrates the nature of porn addiction and how it produces the same affects as other addictions.