Counseling

Should you Stay in a Marriage if you are Being Abused?

Should you Stay in a Marriage if you are Being Abused?

The following answer comes from Leslie Vernick. She has done a remarkable job capturing the heart of the issue, rather than allowing evil men to twist the Scriptures for their own purposes.  I am reminded of a quote from David Powlison who once wrote: “God is not a private refuge who shuts down recourse to other helps.” Women, a in an attempt to live pietistic lives or by immersing themselves in simplistic understandings of the text–primarily because it is all they have ever heard– continue to live a life of misery thinking that their suffering is a good thing, when in reality–as will be shown–is a horrendous evil that they are called to escape.

I pray this section is enlightening to many of you suffering under the heavy, abusive hands of wicked spouses:

This week one of my coaching clients shared that her Christian counselor told her that her role as a godly wife was to submit to her husband’s abuse and quietly suffer for Jesus.  She was told that setting boundaries was unbiblical and asking her spouse to change specific behaviors for her to feel safe or rebuild trust was demanding.  Is that true?

Does scripture encourage a spouse to patiently and quietly endure harsh and abusive treatment within her or his marriage?

The passage that we usually turn to support this thinking is found in 1 Peter 2:133:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith.

The entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but let’s see what Peter teaches us about how we suffer in a godly way as well and when we should patiently endure suffering.

First, let’s look at how Peter tells us to handle ourselves in the presence of abusive people.  Peter is clear that believers should be respectful of others regardless of how we are treated. Often in destructive marriages a spouse who is verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. 

Instead of responding to mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband, and God by her building resentment as well as her explosive or sinful reactions to his abuse.

We must help her choose a different path. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus, who, “when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22,23).

Second, Peter explains when we should endure abusive treatment.  He writes, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?  But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

The good Peter is talking about here is a moral good, a doing the right thing kind of good.  Although in this passage Peter specifically advises us to submit to authority, Peter himself was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been ordered by those in authority to stop.  Peter refused to submit because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).

In the same way when a wife refuses to submit to her husband’s sinful behavior, or stands up for her children who are being mistreated, or refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report, or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself,  she is doing good even if it doesn’t feel good to her spouse.

Her behavior honors God, protects her children and does what is in the best interest of her spouse.  (It is never in someone’s best interests to enable sin to flourish.)

When a woman takes these brave steps she will suffer.

She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her.  She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse.  She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken.

That’s exactly the kind of suffering Peter is talking about.  He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all.  Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.

When we counsel a wife that God calls her to provide all the benefits of a good marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her, or violates their marital vows we’re asking her to lie and pretend. This is not good for her or her marriage.

This counsel also reinforces the abusive person’s delusions that he can do as he please with no consequences. It would enable him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways, which is not good for him, for her, or for their family. That kind of passivity does not honor God.

Peter concludes his teaching with these words.  “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV).

If we encourage a woman to suffer for Jesus, let’s make sure we’re encouraging her to suffer for doing good rather than to suffer for staying passive or pretending.

  1. and I say “women” because in most cases they are the subjects of abuse  (back)
The Addiction of the Heart

The Addiction of the Heart

Over the years theologians have allowed specialists to handle the matters of the heart. Theologians deal with nobler issues leaving the matters of the heart to the Rogerians and Freudians. But this is how we have allowed secularism to win the day. We have allowed pop-psychology to offer answers to the questions of the heart. The Bible is left at a place of minimal use to be pulled at a wedding or funeral.

The area of human addiction is one of those areas. The porn addict, the one who abuses alcohol or drugs, and other types of addictions are defined as diseases. These diseases are outside of the expertise of the theologian and left to those of specialized clinical or psychological fields. Here again the biblical thinker is left out of the conversation. It’s not as if there is nothing to learn from the scientific community, but the reality is that the scientific and psychological community are certain that they have nothing to learn from us.

The matter of addiction, I propose, is one of those topics. If addiction is primarily an issue of the heart, then there is more to the discussion. People engage in addictive practices for all sorts of reasons, but the reason addiction exists is because false worship exists. Human nature, marred by sin, offers a life of contradictions. He/she may consider life through the lens of order and peace, but sin considers life through the lens of disharmony. The theologian/pastor has a distinct duty to bring people to see this contradiction and how to re-orient their minds.

The question has to do with human nature; the addiction of the heart. Addiction is disoriented worship. Sheer will-power will not do in such cases. Those engaged in such practices need immediate assistance in the community. One of the signs of an addict is the inability to enjoy normal life pleasures. Suddenly the common duties of day-to-day become burdensome and characteristically painful. The addict is engaged in a world that he has created. The world of the addict is a confined space. Usually he is unwilling to seek help due to the loss of privacy that it would entail.

Young man are especially prone to isolation. Isolation is usually a strong sign of an addict. Isolation is the antithesis of health. Another indication of an addictive heart is choosing new friends. The addict isolates himself from a safe community and enters into a community where accountability is minimal. a Parents need to be well aware of these changes in friendships. Though they may be harmless, addicts easily change loyalty to maintain their habits.

Finally, and this comes as no surprise to the theologian, the addiction of the heart is an addiction to other gods. Addiction leads to an explicit rejection of the commandments of God and the worship of God. When individuals begin to slowly divorce themselves from the life of the body of Christ it is time to reach out and take action. Pastors should not allow parishioners to make a habit of absence from worship. When someone has been deeply engaged in particular addictions for a long period of time it is because they have not experienced any form of intervention. Community in this sense becomes necessary to avoid such outcome.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the addict’s only hope. God’s people become the means of grace for those seeking refuge in other gods. The sacraments become even more meaningful to those who suffer under the weight of unending temptations. In bread and wine, men and women can rest and partake of the goodness of One who suffered and experienced temptations of every kind. The addict’s hope must be in Jesus. If he seeks any other savior the addiction of the heart will lead to death.

  1. The Psalmist deals with this in the first psalm  (back)
Pedophiles in the Church: A Dogmatic Introduction

Pedophiles in the Church: A Dogmatic Introduction

Updated 7/26/14

Sexual abuse is prevalent in the evangelical church! And what’s worse: we are not making it go away. The Roman Catholic Church has taken some steps to avoiding this cosmic crime against the least of these. But what has the evangelical church done? At this point very little! Some have treated–naively–pre-teen sexual abuse, that is, the abuse of pre-teens by older men (because most are men) like any other sin, such as adultery or murder.  They have failed to see that consensual sins are not the same as the manipulation and use of power to coerce/force little ones into sexual activities. The conversation, of course, is a lot more nuanced and goes beyond the quotations of a few verses or generic observations about how redemption applies to repentant abusers. That has never been the issue! No one denies redemption’s power; what we are discussing is how to best apply the command to protect the sheep from these false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing. a

The Bible places great weight on protecting the little ones in our community (Mat. 18:6). How we go about protecting the little sheep from such wolves is what we are considering. Obviously, there are pragmatic concerns, which deal with the congregation’s response to known pedophiles in their midst, and also, most importantly, the types of trigger reactions that take place when sexually abused victims are aware that the leadership of the Church has allowed abusers–repentant or not–to have access to the activities and regular life of the Church. Sexually abused victims suffer long-term effects that can take years to deal with through biblical counseling, but that can be easily destroyed by certain scenarios that well-intentioned leaders may not be aware.

There is a healthy conversation taking place in the Protestant world that is very helpful. Boz Tchividjian, being a key figure in this awakening from the evangelical slumber, is bringing this conversation to the center where it belongs. Questions concerning how offenders–specifically those who have abused pre-teens–are to be viewed by the Church, and what kind of actions need to take place to ensure the safety of children, and how to keep the repentant offender from re-enacting his devilish desires are being raised. I thank God for that.

There are secular researchers who have asserted that pedophiles fall into a unique category from other types of sexual abusers. Stephanie Smith observes that the question of  recidivism, that is, “The tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior,” is a hot topic today offering a few different schools of thought. The conversation is more nuanced than many in the Church admit. A few key points to consider when re-offense (recidivism) rates are discussed:b

1. Treatment options for those who have committed sexual offenses against children is a young and changing field. Although we know that the sexual abuse of children has been occurring throughout history, the idea of providing treatment to offenders is new and is largely untested with very little accompanying research. Much more remains to be learned about the effectiveness of treatment for child sexual offenders.

2. Recidivism studies require that the offenders have been caught and adjudicated within the time period being studied (five years, fifteen years, etc.). Many reported cases that will result in conviction might not be fully adjudicated within that time frame of the study due to the length of time involved in investigating and prosecuting such cases. Furthermore, the delay in the judicial process is also impacted by the fact that most abuse survivors do not immediately report the abuse.

3. Recidivism studies require accurate data regarding reoffending. The fact that child sexual abuse is one of the most underreported offenses makes it extremely difficult to collect accurate data on the recidivism of offenders. For example, the fact that there has not been a new report of abuse regarding a certain offender does not necessarily mean that the offender has not reoffended. It may simply mean that additional victims have not reported the offense.

4. Any study under discussion needs to be reviewed thoroughly to ascertain how “sex offenders” are defined. Are we looking at a broad or specific category of sex offenses? For example, are we considering only offenses against adults, or just offenses against children, or a combination of offenses against adults and children?

It is crucial to make proper distinctions. Not all offenses are created equal. Though all acts are heinous and deserve proper and immediate punishment first from the Church (excommunication) and secondly, by the state (some form of punishment that would be appropriate for the taking away of someone else’s humanity–which is what sexual abuse means for the abused victim), some offenses carry on a more heinous nature, especially as they deal with the manipulating and overpowering of a child for sexual purposes. Again, Stephanie Smith makes this point:

It is important that we distinguish between the different types of sexual offenders when addressing the issue of recidivism. For example, pedophiles represent a smaller number of offenders convicted for sexually abusing children. However, they tend to have higher numbers of victims and higher recidivism rates than any other type of sex offender. On the other hand, researchers have identified some sex offenders who assault adults that eventually stop perpetrating.  Thus, studies that do not distinguish between pedophiles and adult rapists do not accurately reflect the risks to children. (emphasis mine)

Churches, instead of becoming a place of protection, have become easy targets for sexual offenders. “Offenders are drawn to faith institutions initially for the same reason that they are drawn to schools, youth sports and other youth-oriented activities. It’s the easiest way to gain access to children outside their own families.”  It is important to stress once again that the issue of recidivism requires a certain ability to distinguish between offenses. We make a tremendous mistake if we believe that we can deal with all sexual offenses the same way and if we deal with sexual offense the same way we deal with adultery or other such sins. Further, we need to develop a more robust response from church leadership in such cases so that  leaders in the church are prepared to deal with such issues as soon as it happens.

Ecclesiastical leaders have not helped. Evangelicals are generally clueless. They have not read pertinent research nor have they received any type of training in sexual abuse. The reality is that our simple solutions are actually making the matter worse. May God give us a spirit of wisdom and may this God avenge his little sheep and those growing under this psychological burden and pain, for to such belong the kingdom of heaven.

What Role do Pedophiles have in the Church?

Jimmy Hinton’s article “What Place do Pedophiles Have in the Church?” has made the rounds more than once. Jimmy makes this a rather personal story as he recounts his own father’s history:

To make it more personal, my dad is the former minister at the same exact church where I now preach.  To make it even more personal, I was the one approached by one of his victims three years ago.  Three days later I reported my own father to the police, which eventually led to his confessions and subsequent 30-60 year prison sentence.  My dad and I still communicate fairly often and have frank conversations about how he was able to abuse over 20 children and keep it hidden from us his whole life.  He once wrote from prison, “You have no idea how many pedophiles there are in the church.”  But there’s where he is wrong.

His position is made explicit at the outset:

I believe that, while pedophiles can and should repent, the church is not in a position to welcome them into the assembly where children are present.  In fact, we have written into our policy that any known sex offenders will be removed from regular worship and will be offered an alternative worship with a group of adults only.  This can be at the church building or in a home.  But for them to participate in worship with children present is an act of sheer insensitivity and irresponsibility.

I speak in agreement with Jimmy’s position. c

My counseling training and the many books and people I have spoken to on this subject attest to the fact that pedophiles struggle greatly to flee from temptation while being exposed to children. We are dealing with a profoundly sick disease; a disease for which the Gospel has the answer, but the answer is not to re-incorporate those who have sexually abused the least of these d  into a community of faith where children play a large part. There are other opportunities for worship where this individual can worship. The Church has historically made exceptions for different circumstances. And this would qualify as a unique circumstance. If the individual is truly repentant, then he ought to gladly accept the leadership’s decision. The Church at large can be invited.

I pastor a church that is strongly committed to covenantal theology and that entails a robust view of the role of children as participants in worship and in the life of the Church. They are not viewed as second-class citizens. This generally means that we treasure little ones and we treasure them in numbers. Our churches, though small, are filled with covenant children. To place a known pedophile–or even to hide it from the Church–would be an act of betrayal by the leadership of the congregation. Pastors are encouraged to minister to these men in prison and pray for a genuine repentance, and to offer any assistance that is necessary to a repentant member of the flock while he serves his term.

Another element of this discussion is that some tend to minimize the pain of the abused victims, simply because they perceive that these victims live normal lives after their abuse. They fail to see the consequences that endure both physically and emotionally years after the abuse. They also fail to see situations that could easily trigger episodes in victims. We are not simply dealing with a case where two consenting adults engage in sexual behavior, but rather in a case where an adult used, manipulated, controlled, threatened, took advantage of, molested, and traumatized his victims. Whether the child was able to defend himself/herself is not the issue, but rather that an individual acted satanically and deceived and scarred the image of God in a profoundly physical and psychological way.

The Church is a place for safety. Under no circumstance would mothers feel safe knowing that a pedophile (repentant or not) was present in their midst. Under no circumstance would other sexually abused victims feel safe.

So, what’s the alternative? The alternative is to follow Jimmy’s advice. Since we practice a form of covenant renewal worship, we can provide that to any man outside the local assembly. We provide similar services in nursing home situations. As an example to consider, perhaps once a week, then, the pastor(s), other leaders of the Church, could provide a short service for this individual with the Eucharist and a call for this man to be renewed daily by the Word of the Gospel. Other adults may join to offer encouragement and accountability.

Our penal system is unfortunately too cowardly to deal with these men. Instead of dealing with them with quick justice e they attempt to find some way to reconcile them to society where they may have already victimized several children. If the penal system will not act, then the Church must. And first and foremost the Church’s duty is to protect the victims and those who may become victims if such liberty for sex offenders is offered in the congregation.

I offer a short story as an example of how not to act as a church.

Many years ago (over a decade) I did a series of sermons in what is called a week of Revival meetings in a small Baptist Church. The pastor, a strong-willed man, led the congregation for many years. He was a pleasant fellow. He had an allergy to formal theological training. He urged me to avoid graduate school. Gladly, I did not heed his pathetic advice. A year or so later I had Thanksgiving meal at his home. His forceful personality was striking and in many ways manipulative. During Sunday worship, he would tell the congregation to stop singing so they could listen to his solo performance of one of the verses. He was a gifted singer and also had a gift of revealing his arrogance in more ways than imagined. Several months passed by and I was informed that this pastor was let go because he had been molesting two little girls in the congregation. I was stunned, and at the same time disgusted by his actions. I wanted swift justice. I discovered that his sentence was…12 months. In 12 months that bastard who had possibly ruined the lives of two sweet girls was out. And here is the most despicable part of it all. After he left, he was embraced very quickly by a local church who accepted he and his musical gifts with open arms. I never heard of him again. But that small congregation preferred to place their flock–little sheep–in danger, then to act as they should.  All redemption comes from God, but wisdom dictates that we apply redemption in the lives of certain people in vastly different ways. May God have mercy on us and may He show His mercy to those victimized by these ecclesiastical terrorists.

  1. the analogy here is appropriate since sexual abusers are generally known to be close relatives or close friends  (back)
  2. see http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/07/25/sex-offenders-recidivism-church/  (back)
  3. I cannot rule out every imaginable scenario. This cannot be an exhaustive look at every ecclesiastical situation. I recently met a counselor in a mega-church of 4K+ who told me they have members of the Church who are police officers who are trained to sit and follow these repentant pedophiles during the Church service.  (back)
  4. It is important to specify that we are not dealing with sexual offenses between minors,  but the direct manipulation and molestation of little ones by young adults and older men/women; the Bible places a harsher judgment upon those who lead little ones astray: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”  (back)
  5. the death penalty as I affirm  (back)
God’s View of Counseling

God’s View of Counseling

Counseling doesn’t just inhabit clinical settings, nor is
it the property of several upstart professions practicing
in the wealthier countries. God’s view of counseling
cuts deeper, applies wider, aims different, lasts longer,
matters more. You live or die based on the counsel you
listen to—and the counsel you give. Counseling is not
just for those who “need counseling.” It’s not just something
that “professional counselors” do with “counselees.”
You can’t escape being involved in the Bible’s
view of the counseling process. It’s happening all the
time, whether you know it or not, whether you want it
or not. You are doing it to others; others are doing it to
you—today, every day, informally, and (very occasionally)
formally. – David Powlison

Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Theology is deeply intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God. We are intimately engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a certain 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 largely become a rarely pursued journey by the common parishioner, has fallen into the hands of arm-chair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be exercised 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 unapplied. 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. Jesus’ works on earth were all practically aimed at restoring flesh-beings to a more fulfilling humanity, even to the point of restoring a man to life (Jn. 11).

Counseling is necessary in theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Triniarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter, and our advocate. When others abuse us, 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).

In large 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. 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 in order to be transformed from glory into 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, for in it 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 Christmas Be Merry When I Am Grieving?

How Can Christmas Be Merry When I Am Grieving?

My three-year old son and I have a wonderful little work we do on Mondays and Thursday evenings. Our neighbor, who is a widow, no longer possesses the balance and strength to take her garbage can out. We head to her back yard and my son’s little hands grasp the garbage handle and out we go to drop it off at the curb. It is great training in service. And he is a true little gentleman already.

But something different happened this past Thursday. Our neighbor asked us to go inside and plug something in she was not able to do, which we did promptly. On our way out my boy looked at her and said “Merry Christmas.” She smiled at him, but as he rushed to get on his bike, our 86 year old neighbor looked at me and started to cry. Her husband, a dear man, and a grandfatherly figure to my children, died last year. “Don’t ask me to have a merry Christmas. I don’t know if I can,” she said. Her words were piercing. Her grief evident. Her husband of 60 years was no longer here with her. Her comfort and joy had departed.

And then last night we were struck again. In the middle of a cheery evening, my cell phone rang. The number was foreign to me, but I decided to pick it up anyway. It was my old college professor. She and her husband both taught my wife and I in a small Christian College in Central Florida. Since retiring, they both moved to beloved Pensacola, Fl. Once in a while we see each other and exchange greetings and memories. Last week, while visiting my chiropractor, she was there. It was a delight to see her again. She told me about her husband and how it would be lovely if we met for lunch one of these days. Then last night, that foreign number was hers. She called me to let me know that her husband of more than 50 years past away two days earlier.

My sister-in-law told us it was a difficult day for her and close friends who lost a loved one of 19 years of age. Death’s sting lost much of its potency, but its affects are very present.

How can Christmas be merry for those who are grieving? We often overlook those grieving this time of the year. In the midst of the grand narrative of the nativity, the incarnation of joy is reason for sorrow.

No more let sins and sorrows grow…

There is a paradoxical dimension to Christmas. In one sense, the “hopes and fears of all the years” are met in the God-man. But sorrows are still here. Incarnation theology always needs to be connected to a healthy psalmic lament. Our lives provide plenty of moments of disorientation. A loved one who dies days before one of the most festive days in the Christian calendar offers a lesson to all of us. The light of the world is here. The life of the world is here, but still death is not fully destroyed. The “tidings of comfort and joy” may be for some of us an exhortation to become comfort and joy to those who are comfortless and filled with grief this time of the year. Who are these people? Who are they in our own congregations? That mother who lost a son and whose memories are still freshly imprinted? That widow or widower who lost a lover and comforter? Who are they? Let us seek them out. Do not let their grief be a lonely grief. Only grieving together makes grieving a profoundly biblical emotion.

I weep for those whose loved ones are not here to share in the feast of the Christmas season. But Christmas is not just a message for the jolly; it is a message for the grieving also. Christmas means that grieving is not meaningless. In fact, grieving only makes sense in a world incarnated by God. Christ came for those who grieve. As the Psalmist cries out:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;

my eye is wasted from grief;

my soul and my body also (Psalm 31:9).

The incarnation answers the Psalmists’ petition.

Frederick Buechner once wrote that “The incarnation is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers… Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.” Those who are scandalized rightly by this profound event are those who can grieve rightly.

As I look across the street I notice that my neighbor’s sons have arrived. They will help her in her grief. The merriness of Christmas is not dependent on whether we are ready to receive it or not, Christmas is merry because the Rod of Jesse is here. But still our hearts ache and we are called to grieve with those who grieve. We grieve, however, with hope because our hope is here. And so we pray:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

The Addiction of the Heart

The Addiction of the Heart

Over the years theologians have allowed specialists to handle the matters of the heart. Theologians deal with nobler issues leaving the matters of the heart to the Rogerians and Freudians. But this is how we have allowed secularism to win the day. We have allowed pop-psychology to offer answers to the questions of the heart. The Bible is left at a place of minimal use to be pulled at a wedding or funeral.

The area of human addiction is one of those areas. The porn addict, the one who abuses alcohol or drugs, and other types of addictions are defined as diseases. These diseases are outside of the expertise of the theologian and left to those of specialized clinical or psychological fields. Here again the biblical thinker is left out of the conversation. It’s not as if there is nothing to learn from the scientific community, but the reality is that the scientific and psychological community are certain that they have nothing to learn from us.

The matter of addiction, I propose, is one of those topics. If addiction is primarily an issue of the heart, then there is more to the discussion. People engage in addictive practices for all sorts of reasons, but the reason addiction exists is because false worship exists. Human nature, marred by sin, offers a life of contradictions. He/she may consider life through the lens of order and peace, but sin considers life through the lens of disharmony. The theologian/pastor has a distinct duty to bring people to see this contradiction and how to re-orient their minds.

The question has to do with human nature; the addiction of the heart. Addiction is disoriented worship. Sheer will-power will not do in such cases. Those engaged in such practices need immediate assistance in the community. One of the signs of an addict is the inability to enjoy normal life pleasures. Suddenly the common duties of day-to-day become burdensome and characteristically painful. The addict is engaged in a world that he has created. The world of the addict is a confined space. Usually he is unwilling to seek help due to the loss of privacy that it would entail.

Young man are especially prone to isolation. Isolation is usually a strong sign of an addict. Isolation is the antithesis of health. Another indication of an addictive heart is choosing new friends. The addict isolates himself from a safe community and enters into a community where accountability is minimal. a Parents need to be well aware of these changes in friendships. Though they may be harmless, addicts easily change loyalty to maintain their habits.

Finally, and this comes as no surprise to the theologian, the addiction of the heart is an addiction to other gods. Addiction leads to an explicit rejection of the commandments of God and the worship of God. When individuals begin to slowly divorce themselves from the life of the body of Christ it is time to reach out and take action. Pastors should not allow parishioners to make a habit of absence from worship. When someone has been deeply engaged in particular addictions for a long period of time it is because they have not experienced any form of intervention. Community in this sense becomes necessary to avoid such outcome.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the addict’s only hope. God’s people become the means of grace for those seeking refuge in other gods. The sacraments become even more meaningful to those who suffer under the weight of unending temptations. In bread and wine, men and women can rest and partake of the goodness of One who suffered and experienced temptations of every kind. The addict’s hope must be in Jesus. If he seeks any other savior the addiction of the heart will lead to death.

  1. The Psalmist deals with this in the first psalm  (back)
Are there Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

Are there Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

This is a very helpful 30-minute round-table discussion on the grounds for divorce. Churches have failed in this area by encouraging further abuse instead of protecting the victim. Pastors/Counselors need to watch this as they deal with these matters in the Church. The covenant of marriage presupposes basic human rights. This discussion highlights the nature of God and how that ought to shape our view of marriage. This is a topic worthy of the Church’s attention.

 

Pleasing God

Pleasing God

Guilt. Shame. Pain. While we undergo these emotions from time to time, some undergo them more consistently. This endless cycle is stifling. Sometimes these are the result of deep sin in our lives. Guilt, shame, and pain can be gifts of God to bring us back to our theological senses. But usually they are the result of a poorly thought view of God.

In the Fundamentalist traditions guilt serves as an antidote to a life of poor discipline. If you didn’t read your Bible, here is a good dose of guilt to get you back on track. Sons and daughters will receive a healthy dose of guilt theology in their first 18 years. The intentions, though noble, are usually disastrous. Pastors and parents instill a vision of perfection; a vision that is unattainable. Children grow up then with a profound sense of worthlessness. Pietism becomes a form of life. Pleasing God becomes wishful thinking.

The other element is shame. We feel ashamed often. Like Adam, we try to hide. We hide knowing fully well that God knows our ways and even the hairs on our head. But still we hide. It is the common reaction of those who have done wrong; and of those who think they have done wrong. Adam sinned and he knew it. But sometimes we do not sin and do not know that we have not sinned. Do you see that point in the list of negations? Sometimes we do not sin, but our view of God causes us to think we have. This leads to shame. Sometimes there is genuine shame. We ought to feel shame for our wrong-doing. We should not boast in them. But I am referring to the false shame many of us are prone to feeling. We flee from God. We act naked when we are fully clothed. We bombard ourselves with false accusations. But in reality we are being self-deceived.

Finally, we feel pain. Helpless pain; a kind of mental dark room. The pain is real, but the reason behind the pain is not. I remember a friend who faced tremendous stomach pain before bed because he feared that God would harm him for something he did long ago.

All of this comes from a genuine desire to please God. But in the process we have formed an image of God that is not scriptural. Further, a view of God that can literally cause pain.

The Christian life is replete with difficulties. The Christian is already the center of abuse for what he says and believes. His life is a direct contradiction to most of the philosophies of this age. Yet, we build on that difficulty with unreasonable expectations. We run around wearing ourselves. We fail to see the shalom of God. We have no rest. We view God our Father as God our tyrant. DeGroat observes that “God’s faithful commitment to bringing about peace in our hearts opens up the possibility for us to relax into the arms of the faithful, attentive, emotionally available Father.” a

How do we please God? We begin to please Him by knowing who He is. Far from a God that dances around your grave, He is a God who dances with you. He does not seek your death. He is your life. Our cares matter to Him. We cast them in full assurance that He sees them and will answer them well.

We can please God with our lives. Our minds can be renewed. We can become God’s pleasing sacrifice (Rm. 12). We are to be daily models of repentance, as Luther once stated, but then there is also freedom through the Son of God. In Him, our guilt and shame was placed. We are united to Him in our pain because He has already endured pain for us.

  1. Chuck DeGroat, Leavign Egypt, 116  (back)
The Power of Labels

The Power of Labels

There is tremendous power in labels. We often are tempted to look at our neighbor and within a few minutes come up with some label about such a person. There is nothing wrong with labels. They can be used wisely. They can help identify certain people. It can help us minister to some in wiser ways. But our tendency is to label people too quickly. The How and When of labeling is a very important tool in our day-to-day interactions. Label sometimes becomes a cheap substitute for loving.

In labeling, timeliness is everything. When we label others we view all their actions through them. And if we have the tendency to belittle others our labels will often not be a very attractive portrait of certain individuals.

The Pharisees in the Bible were quick to label things as authentically Jewish or not. Though Jesus had a few labels of his own for the Pharisees, his primary concern was not so much in what category certain people fell under, His concern was in connecting with these people no matter their economic or social status.

Here is an important lesson for us: Do not label too quickly. Be slow to assume and quick to learn.

God labels us as “children” and “saints.” When Adam’s fall had labeled us forever as “sinners,” God did not cease to meet with us, but He sent His Son to speak to us and to give His life.

There is tremendous power in labels. Be slow to assess. Be gracious in your assessment, for in the manner you label so will others do unto you.

We worship as those marked by the gracious imprint of God. We should be grateful that God did not label us according to what He saw, but that He sought us and called us into His presence.