There are Times . . .

. . . When counselors may become so overwhelmed by a counselee’s situation that, along with Job’s wife, they want to say something like, ”Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

In such circumstances, what must they do?

Answer:  remember the many words of Scripture that make no such allowance for such bad advice (for instance, 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Now, I know that frustration because of both the counselee’s response and the problems to which he is responding badly is common. It is easy, therefore, for you (as a counselor) to conclude that you are simply “not up to it.” And, in many respects, you aren’t—you can’t seem to figure out what God would have you advise and do in a particular instance. But there are several things you can do rather than utter some sort of exasperated advice. Let me list them:

  1. You may seek further information about, or details concerning those aspects of the problem that seem fuzzy, puzzling, or unclear.
  2. You may pray and ask the counselee to pray that you will become further enlightened in the biblical advice that you don’t have at the moment.
  3. You may consult (by permission from the counselee) with another counselor—or bring him into the next counseling session.
  4. You may find a clue to where you have taken a wrong (unbiblical) turn in counseling by consulting your notes. You do take notes, don’t you?
  5. A check on past homework given—and how well it was followed—may help.
  6. More time out of session for praying, searching Scripture, and thinking about the counselee’s problem may help.
  7. Check out the fifty failure factors in the Christian Counselor’s New Testament/Proverbs to see if any of these apply.

Never hesitate (very long) to admit you are stumped. But make it clear that God isn’t—be sure he understands that the insufficiency is yours alone. But insist that there is a proper biblical answer. And it may not be the one either you or the counselee likes.

But one thing must be clear: God isn’t stumped!

Providential Care

In my opinion, unless a counselor is well aware of how God works for the good of His children, and is able to communicate something of those facts to counselees in times of distress, he will be a pretty sorry counselor.

I like what Chrysostom had to say about the providential care God showed for Joseph in the house of Pharaoh. He points out that Joseph was really in a far worse prison when living in Pharaoh’s household near a wild, lascivious woman than when he was jailed. He sees the imprisonment as blessed relief! Of course, he also goes through Joseph’s entire life to show how, at every turn, step by step, ordering each event, God was working out everything for His ends and Joseph’s good.

Providence, as we have previously noted, is God at work in His world doing those things in both general history and personal histories to achieve goals that, at the time when He is in the process of effecting them, may seem only puzzling or even tragic. That is because we lack the comprehensive knowledge that He possesses. Yet, all the while, nothing is actually meaningless, haphazard or unplanned. The tragic automobile accident in which one life is taken and another spared, was really no accident. It was but one element in the working out of God’s benevolent purpose to every believer that it involved.

But to believe in providence, one must also believe that God is in charge; that He is sovereign over all things and all creatures. If He were not, there could be no providential ordering of events according to a plan that was moving forward toward gracious outcomes for His own. Yet, perhaps in order to preserve some sort of unbiblical freedom for men, some foolishly deny this sovereign sway of God over His creation. In their world, man is the maverick, a loose cannon on board ship. But whenever this is postulated it turns out that man becomes more than he really is, and God less than He actually is. He turns out to be a god foreign to Scripture, and man is jacked up until he become a creature foreign to our experience.

Providence, to put it simply, is the true God doing what He pleases. And, praise Him, the thing to remember is that pleases Him to bless His people!

Compromise

Compromise is one of the largest problems of the modern “evangelical” church.

It isn’t entertainment carried on to attract numbers. It isn’t marketing tactics taking over instead of evangelism. As serious as these and other problems are—and they are—the spirit of compromise is an even more basic one. Indeed, why does one depend upon entertainment instead of truth to attract the lost? A willingness to compromise truth for numbers. Why do people rely on marketing principles rather than Scripture to draw men to Christ? You’ve got it—they are willing to compromise truth for success. Compromise is a significant issue, indeed, we might say, the basic issue today.

But compromise also may be found in the ministry of counseling. People who are willing to become certified by the state simply in order to receive third-party insurance funds compromise themselves for money. People, who are unwilling to stand for the sufficiency of the Scriptures in order to receive the approval of others who scoff at those who do, compromise. These and endless other compromises of the truth of God are made by those who seek to find ways of amalgamating Scripture with the unbelieving systems of counseling set forth by people who know nothing of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Some even compromise the integrity of the Scriptures when they knowingly misuse passages in order to support teachings and methods of counseling that are unbiblical. At its heart, counseling eclecticism is compromise. Some preachers even avoid counseling altogether, justifying their failure to properly shepherd the flock by echoing the statements of those who erroneously speak of “The Primacy of Preaching.”

Compromise is rife in the pulpit itself. Men who preach nice, soft-as-cream-puff essays, or who present truth in cardboard-like form with little or no application—not to speak of specific application—often do so out of a spirit of compromise. “It’s truth,” they (inwardly) reason, so God may use it without the necessity of driving it home to people who might become offended if I do. And, to think of presenting God’s Word in red-hot second-person form . . . “unthinkable! That’s utterly taboo! You just can’t get that personal with people! You might drive some away.” Avoiding passages of Scripture and difficult doctrines, with which it is known that members of the congregation disagree, is another form of pulpit compromise.

Thank God compromise isn’t universal in Bible-believing circles! Here and there, standing out from the crowd, are those stalwart leaders who will not compromise truth for reasons of popularity, success or anything else. It is they who hold God’s truth and God’s Name to be of greater importance than anything else. They seek not popular acclaim—and often get the opposite from the majority—but the future “well done” from God.

Sufficiency—Another Explicit Statement

Often biblical counselors who understand what Paul’s use of the word “noutheteo” means turn to 2 Timothy 3:15ff to prove that we have, in the Bible, all we might ever need to do effective counseling. They rightly point out the fact that it provides what it takes to carry a counselee through the four stage process of change mentioned there, to a place where he is able to live rightly in the future. Three times in that context, in various ways, the apostle says that the inspired Scriptures are sufficient to make the man of God adequate to deal with every difficulty that has to do with loving God and one’s neighbor. The passage should be so used.

In addition, another portion of the Bible frequently cited to provide the same thing is 2 Peter 1:3, where we are told that the Bible contains all that we need to find eternal life and live in a godly way. This, too, is a powerful testimony to Biblical sufficiency. If “all things necessary” are provided, what else could we possible wish for?

Yet, there is another passage, often omitted in such discussions, to which I want to call attention today. It is found in Hebrews where the writer tells us that God will “equip you with every good thing for doing His will, producing in us what pleases Him through Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 13:21).

That verse ought to be more frequently on the lips of those who contend for the sufficiency of Nouthetic counseling. Let’s take a second glance at it:

  1. The verse affirms that equipping necessary for doing God’s will can be found in Jesus Christ. The information and the know-how that it takes to counsel correctly is what Hebrews is referring to. It is precisely what a biblical counselor must have. And here, we are assured, he does—if and when he is willing to search it out. What an important fact that is!
  2. In addition, the verse states that “every good thing” for doing God’s will is available for the Christian counselor and counselee. That means in every case where there is a problem of loving God or one’s neighbor—the goal of all biblical counseling—what is needed is there for the taking. There is no excuse for claiming he doesn’t have all he needs, or for turning to non-biblical counseling for help.
  3. Along with the Scriptural information that He provides, we are told that God is at work using it to produce in those who need it those changes which please Him. It is important to help others, of course, but what biblical counseling, at its core, is all about is pleasing God. This happens whenever a counselor honors God by presenting the biblical way to help, and when a counselee accepts and follows it.

Observation

If you want to counsel effectively, it will take time to learn how to do so. I am appalled at the way some jump right into counseling after a short course or reading a few books as if they knew all there is to know about the task.

Certainly, any believer can counsel someone out of the knowledge of the Scriptures that he has—so far as that goes. And, in situations where no one is available, God may graciously enable the “counselor” to provide some significant help from the Bible. But I am not speaking of such occasional, casual, Informal, emergency counsel. I’m talking about a preacher or elder who intends to do counseling regularly at his church.

What he received in seminary, or Bible College by way of counseling—even if it was truly of a biblical sort (which is rare)—hardly supplies enough information and experience to enable one, who recognizes a calling to counsel as a part of his ordination, to do so. He will have to devote himself to the work, learning all he can of the Scriptures and how to apply them practically to counseling cases. This will, as I said, mean devotion to the task—and it will take time.

One of the ways in which he may improve is to sit in with a truly biblical counselor who is successfully helping others. There is no better way to discover how the principles and practices that he has learned should be applied. To sit down before and after a case in which he participated as a trainee, and discuss the case with the counselor whom he has observed will probably be as helpful an adjunct to his reading and formal work in school as is possible. Indeed, he may discover that it is far more helpful.

I have heard would-be counselors during a course remark that there was so much material to remember. They seem frustrated with it: “How will I ever get it all accomplished whrn actually counseling?” But I point out that when you are putting principles into practice, you don’t move from one to another in sequence, the way you learn them when studying. Rather, you use many of them in tandem–at the same time. It is amazing to see how four or five principles, learned separately in a class, come together as you actually use them during a session.

Once a student discovers this fact by seeing it in practice in another, and by beginning to see various practices coalesce in his own counseling, it all comes clear. But observation, and counseling under supervision are the two key factors that help new counselors make rapid effective progress. We can help you at INS with all of the information you will need (and you will need it all); but you will have to obtain the rest by  obsetvation. Let me warn you however, when you choose and begin to observe a counselor, be absolutely certain that his practice conforms to the teachings you have learned and to the biblical counseling practice he affirms. What a person does in counseling is what he really believes; even though it man not conform to what he says he does. Not that he lies about his practice; he may have simply fallen into practices that are of less value, less comprehensive, or different from, those that he learned and still (wrongly) believes he is still following.

However, if you find a good counselor to observe and discuss cases with and you will be glad you did.

Revelation

Then, there’s the Book of Revelation.time

Studies have shown it was written about 67-69 AD. That it was before the destruction of Jerusalem (70AD) is clear since in the book the temple is still standing, and one of the major portions of the Revelation is devoted to the description of the Roman invasion of Palestine that ended in the destruction of the temple and the city. During this horrible event over 3 million people were killed. No wonder Jesus spoke of it as a time that was not like any other before or after!

At the outset, the book tells us that the “time is at hand.” The same words were repeated in the final chapter. The book was not to be sealed as was the book of Daniel (in direct contrast to what was said there in the last chapter of his prophecy). Daniel’s material, in part, was for the far off future. So it was sealed until “the time of the end” (of the Old Testament period). Because, in contrast, Revelation spoke of times that those who first read it would live to see, John was instructed not to seal his book—and, note the reason given: “for the time is at hand!”

The list of Roman rulers, culminating in Nero Caesar (666), was contemporary. The angel tells the reader that the woman was sitting on the city of seven hills (everyone knew Rome that way). Moreover the angel calls it the great city that is reigning over the rest of the earth. That the book is contemporary, and (except for the 20th and 21st chapters) not still future, is clear from the internal evidence.

If you want to learn more, read my book, The Time is at Hand.

Tramping

The words “church tramp” may immediately conjure up an image of people you have known who don’t seem to get along very well at any church and who are constantly on the move from congregation to congregation. I am not talking about those who move for legitimate reasons, such as a dramatic change in their doctrinal beliefs, because their congregations have turned liberal, or because they have been taken over by some schismatic faction. I am talking about those who, like the hummingbird, hover for a while at one flower and then another but never stop their wing motion long enough to settle down anywhere.

People like this often cause trouble wherever they go. They may come declaring that the church they left is full of heresy or problems and that they are so glad they have finally found a church (yours) that stands for the truth. But it is not long before they are somewhere else in town telling someone else the same story about your church. What can be done about this problem?

Are we to everlastingly be plagued with such people and the trouble and distrust they bring, or is there something that can be done to stop this flitting from church to church? And, is there some way to minister to them so that we can reclaim them from this life of ecclesiastical vagrancy? Yes, there is an approach that will do both. The only difficulty is in getting enough congregations to begin doing what needs to be done. I often speak about this topic when I meet with a ministerial group in a community. There I propose a biblical solution and urge the group to adopt and follow a policy that, if enough pastors and people agree, will virtually put an end to the practice.

If you are encouraged by the policy I set forth, you may want to share this article with your pastor, who, if he thinks it has merit, may in turn wish to share it at the next evangelical ministerium. At the very least, he may wish to work out an arrangement with those pastors in town with whom he already has working arrangements.

A deceptive, flattering temptation faces a pastor and church whenever someone defects, declaring that the former church has serious deficiencies he at last finds remedied in yours. How glad he is to be with people who mean business! It isn’t easy to think objectively when someone is feeding you such heady stuff, but if you follow this policy, you will be able to keep your senses, and not even that kind of obsequious prattle will affect you. But first, let me tell you about an incident that happened when I was pastoring a church.

I had no more than arrived on the scene as the pastor of a new congregation when I received a call from a neighboring pastor. He said, “Mr. and Mrs. I. M. Tramp have been attending our church for several weeks now and want to join. I understand they were members of your congregation for a while; can you tell me anything about them?” Because I had so recently arrived, of course I could not. I replied, “No, I don’t know them; I just arrived in town about a month ago. But I’ll talk to my elders about them and let you know what I find out.”

When I did, the elders said, “Oh, the Tramps, eh? Yes, they were members here; but they caused all kinds of trouble, and after working patiently with them for over a year about their schismatic activities, we were forced to excommunicate them.” Hearing this, I immediately called the neighboring pastor and told him the story. “Thanks,” he said. “I had no idea.” About six or eight months afterwards, I bumped into this pastor at a meeting, and I asked him, “Whatever happened to the Tramps’!” “OOOH,” he replied, “I hate to talk about it. We took them in, in spite of what you told us, and just last week they split our church and walked off with half a dozen families.”

Church tramps are no bargain. They are a Jonah in your boat!

A minister of the gospel has no business welcoming a church tramp into his congregation in the first place. If he has wandered out of the fold of a true shepherd of Jesus even though that shepherd doesn’t teach every jot and tittle correctly, you should lead him back. Now, understand, I am not talking about sheep that have left the fold of a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. Take them in immediately. In fact, you should do all that you can to lure them away from any place where the gospel is undermined and the Word of God is despised. But what I am talking about is a straying sheep from a sheepfold that is under the care of a true shepherd of Christ.

When you discover a stray appearing regularly in your services, you should speak with him, saying something like this: “It’s nice to have you here, but you tell me you are a member of the congregation pastored by Bob Greene?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that puzzles me. Bob preaches the gospel. What has happened; have you changed your doctrinal beliefs or something?”

“No, I just don’t seem to fit in there very well. I have had problems with some of the people. But, even after only two weeks here I can tell I am going to really get along well.”

At this point you say, “Well, I’m glad you have enjoyed our services and like our people, but the reason you give for leaving Bob’s church and coming here isn’t biblical. What you should do is work out your problems over there. In cases like this Bob and I have an understanding. This is what we do. I shall call Bob, and we will all meet together to discuss your problems thoroughly and to figure out what God expects you to do about them. I will be glad to offer any help you request in this matter.”

If the potential tramp agrees, perhaps you will save him from making a career of tramping. If he is already making a career of it, perhaps you will be able to turn him from it. At any rate, you have done the right thing before God and before him, regardless of how he responds; and don’t forget, a church tramp is no bargain.

“What you say may be right, but won’t he just go to another church?” Doubtless, that is what will happen in a number of cases, but consider:

  1. You must do the right thing regardless of the outcome.
  2. You don’t know what the outcome will be; perhaps he will respond properly. After all, no one has ever confronted him this way before.
  3. You will have saved your own church future heartaches.
  4. After he causes trouble at the church that accepted him, the pastor of that church may wish to join in the agreement with you and Bob.

Of course, you won’t get all of the Bible believing churches in town to agree to follow this or some similar policy right away, if ever. But the better churches are likely to respond favorably, and when more and more churches agree, it will become increasingly difficult for tramps and potential tramps to run from church to church. How exciting it would be for church after church to respond in the same way whenever a stray attempts to flee from place to place.

Think this over carefully. Doesn’t something like this need to be done in your town? Think of the last bad experience you had with a church tramp. Do you want that again? And think of him. But most of all, remember the proper processes set forth in the Bible for handling interpersonal problems (Luke 17:3 ff.; Matt. 18:15 ff., etc.). The practice of receiving such persons cannot be justified biblically, and it is time that pastors and congregations stopped encouraging these tramps to sin by doing so. Aiding and abetting sin is sin. Think. Think and act.

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What Does It Mean to be Saved?

In the deep South, in most churches, people talk about being “saved.” But, when you ask them what they mean by that, the answers vary—sometimes quite radically. Some groups say you must be baptized by them and join their church to be saved. Others claim that you must walk down an aisle. Still others say things like “take Jesus into your heart and He will save you.” What is it to be saved, and how does the Bible say that you can be?

The biblical usage of the word translated “saved” is precisely the same as ours. A newspaper headline that reads “Child Saved From Drowning,” means he was rescued. To be saved is to be rescued—rescued from sin and its consequences. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (that’s what Romans 3:23 has to say about everyone, including you). When God saves someone He rescues him from the penalty of sin, which is eternal punishment in hell. He also gradually rescues him from the power of sin in this life. And, ultimately, He rescues him from the very presence of sin by taking him to heaven. That is what it means to be saved.

But, it is of the greatest importance to know how to be saved. About this matter, as I have already indicated, there is no unanimity. What does the Bible say?

In Acts 16:31, in response to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your house.” Salvation is received by faith. When Scripture says that you must believe “on” (or “in,” or “upon”) Jesus Christ, it is talking about something more than mere assent. The Bible is clearly saying that you must depend upon Jesus Christ. But, what does that mean? It means that you must entrust your entire life, here and hereafter, to Him. It means that you must depend wholly upon what He has done, to be saved.

But what has He done in order to save? Jesus Christ died on the cross, bearing the punishment that was due to all who throughout the ages will believe on Him. He rose from the dead, giving evidence that God accepted His penal, vicarious sacrifice. The wrath of God fell on Him instead of them. All who trust Him as Savior have their sins forgiven. This is the “good news” that the apostles proclaimed around the Mediterranean world and that you are now learning in this blog. If you depend upon the saving work of Christ on the cross you will be saved.

Notice, the “gospel” is good news to be believed; not good deeds to be done. News has to do with something that has already happened; not with something yet to be done. You cannot be saved by depending upon your good works, on ceremonies like baptism, or church membership. Nothing you have done or ever could do will save you. You must look away from yourself and others and look in faith to Christ alone. It is depending on the Lord Jesus Christ alone that saves. You cannot be saved by some vague invitation to “come forward,” or to “let Jesus come into your heart.” There must be an understanding of the good news that Christ died on the cross for guilty, condemned sinners like you, and a willingness to depend on His death and resurrection to save you from your sin.

And, in trusting Christ as Savior, you must be willing to admit that you are a sinner. When the Bible says that you “have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” it means that, apart from God’s forgiveness, there is no way in which you can have eternal life. He will not allow unforgiven sinners to live in His perfect heaven. You must change your mind about yourself (apart from Christ you are unacceptable to God), about God (He is not a Santa Claus who accepts all into heaven) and about Christ (He isn’t just a great man; He is God come into the human race to save sinners).

Is God at work, convicting you of your sin and the need for a Savior? Then repent, change your mind; submit yourself to Jesus Christ and He will make you a new person and change the direction of your life. Trust Christ today.

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Forgiveness After Forgiveness?

The Lord’s Prayer is confusing. I have understood that once forgiven by Christ, you don’t need to be forgiven again. But in that prayer, we are to pray for forgiveness of our trespasses. And in the footnote to it, we are told that if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven. How come?

That the prayer is for believers—once-for-all-forgiven people—is clear: they are to pray to God their Father. They are His children.

What’s with this asking for forgiveness, then?

There are two kinds of forgiveness:

  1. Judicial forgiveness:

When you trust Christ as Savior, you are eternally forgiven—a forgiveness that needs no repetition or addition.

  1. Parental forgiveness:

Once in the family, God never kicks you out. But, when you do wrong, the Father (note the recurrence of this word in the passage) expects you to ask for forgiveness, and as Father He gives it. The footnote is like a child asking for the family car keys and the Father saying, “You’ll get them when you ask you brother for forgiveness for the wrong you did to him. That’s fatherly (parental) forgiveness.

Does this help?

Yep. Thanks.

There’s Always a Way

That’s what people say when they don’t know what it is! Then, they unsuccessfully try this and that to no avail, and finally say, “It’s too much. I can’t handle it.”

The strange thing is — they were right about it at first: there always is a way—God’s way!

That way may not be one to our liking, it may not be one that we find easy, but He has an answer to every problem that a Christian ever faces. That’s what He told us in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

Look it up. You will find three things that He says about tests that come a Christian’s way:

  1. No problem overtakes a believer but what is common to other believers. That is to say, no one’s trial is unique. People are always complaining “Nobody has ever had to face what I’m facing”—or words to that effect. They are wrong. Many have before—and have (by God’s grace) been able to overcome it.
  2. God will not allow a Christian to be tested beyond what he is able to handle (if he handles it God’s way, of course). God promises: though the problem isn’t unique, it is uniquely suited to each individual believer.
  3. God will, with the test, also send the way out in order that one may be able to handle it.

What wonderful promises!

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