What does your sign really say?

Sign4Several times each week on my way to and from church I pass a couple of church signs—you know, the sort on which you place letters to spell out words and sayings. I grit my teeth over and over again as I cannot help but notice that there is not only a failure on the part of these churches to communicate an intended message by these signs, but rather a howling success in communicating a wrong one.

One of these churches has the words TO GOD BE THE GLORY, emblazoned in letters two or three of which have either fallen out of line or out of sight. If it were true that this happened only one week to be corrected soon as discovered, it wouldn’t make any difference. But there they hang, perilously teetering from their perches week after week, calling attention to the fact that the members of the congregation seem not to really care about glorifying God after all—at least that’s what one might readily conclude from the apparent neglect that the disorder evidences. It would be better to have no sign at all than to have one that disgraces God rather than glorifies Him. That the intended message might not be one that connects with the average unbeliever is an additional point that I shall not discuss.

The sign in front of the church across the road is usually neatly cared for, and its message is changed with regularity. But it has a fault of a different sort. This sign is much larger than the first and can carry at least three fairly long lines of wording. And—you guessed it—the message that it sets forth is unreadable because, typically, all three lines are used. It’s unreadable because you’d have to stop your car on a busy street to be able to do so. It is cluttered with too many words to take in at a glance—or even two or three glances! I’ve tried.

So, what am I saying? Simply this: when it comes to using signs either do it rightly or don’t do it at all! Pastor, if you have one—take a look at yours.

p.s. This church has a new pastor and the sign has been fixed.

Empirical Evidence?

minion-clipboardQuestion: What empirical evidence do you have that Nouthetic Counseling is superior to other forms of counseling?

Answer: Quite frankly, none. Do you wonder at that? Let me tell you why you shouldn’t. To compare Christian counseling with other forms of counseling is to compare oranges to apples (no, let’s say, oranges and socks!). Consider the goal of Christian counseling over against that of others. Most counseling seeks to solve a person’s problem in order to bring relief. That is the prime goal. In Christian counseling, however, the goal is to honor and glorify God, whether or not relief is obtained. How, then, do you compare the outcomes?

Moreover, since the object of biblical counseling is to bring about change in the counselee that honors God, how would you test for that empirically? Would you put his soul in a test tube, shake it up and hope it turns blue? How would you test whether God was honored, whether the motives of the counselee were sound (since God looks upon the heart; not merely on outward behavior) or whether he only made changes outwardly? How would you determine the extent of the Holy Spirit’s work in the counselee’s life so as to make the desired spiritual changes? In other words, there is no way to obtain empirical evidence. Since it is biblical attainments that are under consideration, it is impossible to get statistical evidence for the spiritual changes that the biblical counselor seeks to bring about.

Then, further, why would we need any tests anyway? The One Who tries the hearts of men is the Lord. He infallibly knows what is happening within the person. We can look only at his outward behavior and listen to his speech. It is He Who tests; and that is all that counts. Besides, from the counselor’s perspective, success is measured not by the outcome of the counseling sessions but ultimately by whether the counselor did those things that were biblical, thereby honoring his Lord. Success may be measured in many ways; Christians should measure it in terms of how well the counselor followed the Bible in a given case. And once again, there is no way to test this except by comparing what he does with what the Scriptures require of him.

So, what does the Christian counselor have to demonstrate the effectiveness of Nouthetic counseling? Nothing, as I said before. And he is absolutely content to say so. He must do as well as he can to meet biblical requirements in order to please God, and then let the chips fall where they may. He knows that his performance as a counselor will be flawed since he is not perfect. But he also knows that when he asks for forgiveness for failure God measures his success by that as well as by the performance. So, given the goals, given the persons at work (the counselor and the Holy Spirit) and given the kinds of outcomes that are expected and achieved in the sight of God, it would be not only foolish but arrogant to attempt to test Nouthetic counseling by some human apparatus. We do not have to set results of the sort that they might wish before the world, so long as we honor and please God. On Judgment Day, He will reveal the statistics! Any counseling claiming to be “Christian” that makes much of statistics thereby invalidates itself as such by showing that its goals and outcomes are not thought of in biblical terms.

Since the human counselor is not the only one who is at work in Christian counseling, the Christian has an “unfair advantage” over other counselors. With the Holy Spirit enlightening the minds of counselees and enabling them to overcome sinful propensities that hinder growth, producing His fruit through His inerrant Word, what profit would there be in trying to determine how well a human counselor counsels? In effect, he is but a catalyst, ministering the Scriptures in ways that the Spirit utilizes to bring about change in counselees. The Spirit is the ultimate Counselor. The whole concept of empirical evidence, statistics and the like, begs the question. And the thought of attempting to obtain them is repugnant. Sorry, but that is how it is.

Take Note of This

Do you forget facts about your counselees? Unless you are highly exceptional, you will. That is to say, you will unless you do something to forestall forgetting. It’s important from week to week to be able to refer to what you learned before. That is one way to measure progress or the lack thereof. Moreover, unless you keep a running agenda of items to discuss, you will be likely to forget some essential items on that agenda. But to hold all of that in your head from week to week, together with much happening in between sessions, and in addition to the new data coming to light at each week’s session, you would have to be a genius. No, most of us aren’t able to do that. What then should we do?

Take and keep notes—that’s what! If you don’t take notes in counseling, you are remiss. Note taking is an essential element in the process. It is orderly and helpful. How shall you do so? Should you wait until the session is over, and then write out all that you can remember of the session as some do? Why would they do that? Well, they think that taking notes during sessions can be distracting both to the counselor and to the counselee. And some think that the counselee might be hesitant to say certain things if he sees you taking notes. But, for many years I have taken notes, taught others to do so, and have had no such problems. One thing, however, that I do consider important along the lines just mentioned: if a person is speaking of illegalities in which he is involved, I usually put down my pen and listen. Then, after the session I write out what I learned. That is the only time I think it is important to hold back on note taking.

“How do you take notes? Isn’t it difficult to do so and listen at the same time?” Quite to the contrary. I find that taking notes makes me concentrate on what is being said. In addition, taking notes requires me to make sense of what I have heard. I have to understand—at least to some extent—merely to do it. And taking notes enables me to be sure that I have things straight. I find myself from time to time saying a counselee, “Now let me get that straight. You said . . .” Then I carefully copy what is said into my notes. I do this whenever I think that the counselee wants to be sure that I have understood something or other. Indeed, I have had counselees lean over and look at the notes and say, “Be sure you get that down.” I use the notes also as a means of reminding counselees in weeks following what they said before. This is important if they are now denying what they said then. It is especially useful to put important data in quotation marks so that you will have exact material to refer to.

There are times when a thought or statement in the discussion distracts you from the course you want to take. If you have been taking notes, once you have finished dealing with that, your notes will remind you about where you left off. Thoughts about items you will want to deal with later also come to mind while talking. A short note to this effect will help you not to forget so that you can raise the issue when later on you have an opportunity to. I find the practice especially helpful in that regard.

Note taking is not difficult. Once you have done it for a short while you will find that it comes easily and that you will not want to counsel without doing so. Notes retained, carefully coded and filed, will become a means for you to remember and study your own counseling. And, should the counselee turn up again at a subsequent time, you can always turn to your notes to refresh your memory. Try it, you’ll like it!

About Counseling

Counseling is difficult work when done well. It’s not a shrink sitting leisurely in a soft chair taking notes, while a counselee spills the beans about his past life.

“Sometimes I get that picture of it—indeed, it’s often what you see in cartoons and elsewhere.”

Right. But, though that sort of thing may be true of the few psychoanalysts that still exist, it isn’t what you’ll find many other places.

“Oh? What is it like?”

Well, I can only tell you a bit about true, biblical, nouthetic counseling—but, above all, I can tell you that it’s hard work!

“How so?”

We sit at a desk, where we take notes, use the telephone when necessary, lay our Bibles for use, write out assignments, place hand-out pamphlets, and so forth. Instead of the shrink, get the picture of someone who means business and who is hard at work doing it!

”That does change the picture radically! Tell me more, please.”

Well, for one thing, in data gathering, we carefully follow the principles of listening in Proverbs 18:13, 15, 17 which insist that 1) you listen for all of the facts essential to the difficulty before giving any advice; 2) that you actively help gather facts when it is difficult for counselees to remember or verbalize them; 3) that you gather data from all who are involved in the problem. Then, these must all be considered in the light of the Bible’s teaching. And . . . well . . .I’m afraid that’s a process that would take too long to describe here. That’s just for starters.

“Do you counsel husbands and wives separately, or together?”

You don’t put people back together by keeping the apart! That Proverbs 18:17 verse is important in this regard; you ought to look it up sometime. If you don’t follow it, you’ll obtain distorted, incomplete, or otherwise flawed data. And you can’t work very well with those data. Of course, we counsel them together—if we can get both to come.

“What do you do if only one will come?”

There are many important considerations to keep in mind when that happens. For one, we allow no gossip about the party who failed to come. Gossip—even about one’s husband or wife—is sin. And, then in order to try to get the missing party to appear we. . . But, here, this is getting too long. Let me suggest that if you really want to go into such matters in depth, you ought to take our course.

“What if someone can’t afford it?”

Well, it is far less expensive than you might think—and surely, than most other programs. Go to our website and check it out.

Are You Troubled?

Are you troubled by the machinations of wicked persons? Well, you ought to be since God is! But is it all one-sided? Are God’s people the only ones to endure ills—and no one else?

Listen to what God said about this matter:

There is no peace for the wicked says my God.   (Isaiah 57:21 HCSB)

Take heart in the fact that the wicked are like the troubled (storm-tossed) sea (v. 20) They do not have true, lasting peace. Oh, they have their seasons of happiness, revelry, etc., but these don’t last. Nor are they truly satisfying. God sees to that. He troubles them inwardly—even if you can see no such trouble outwardly—Be assured of this! He calls them through their troubles to repent. Some do—and it may or may not make the headlines. But, of course, most do not. So God brings judgment. Now that is real trouble!

Regardless of how they respond to troubles, be assured they do come!

Stories

Stories—Their use in preaching, SS classes, etc. can be good or bad, depending . . .

When they are used instead of going to the Bible as the source of belief and action, they are a real detriment. They become a source that may or may not be in accord with God’s Word. And when they are simply accepted as authoritative, exemplary, etc., people are usually led astray. If they are interesting, compelling or otherwise seemingly helpful, they are especially dangerous.

On the other hand, if they are used to illustrate some text that has just been faithfully exegeted they can clarify, they can illustrate, they can show how to follow its teaching, they can demonstrate how something is possible, or (sometimes) even prove something to be true.

Most speakers use stories (illustrations)—but how do you do so?????

Habakkuk’s Encouraging Word . . .

is always a word that merits reading in times of serious trouble:

             Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines,

            Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,

            Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

            Yet, I will triumph in the Lord,

            I will rejoice in the God of my salvation (Hab. 3: 17,18, HCSB).

 

In an agricultural nation such as Israel, crops and animals meant survival. But to the writer, there was a greater source of assurance than these basics. He rejoiced in the Lord in spite of lean times because he knew that God controlled all things and these matters could be safely placed in His hands! Do you do the same when all else seems scarce and threatening?

Christians Do Fall

They fall in a variety of ways—

They fail in their endeavors to serve the Lord., They fall in the ways they represent Him before the world They fall in their relationships with one another. They fall in raising their kids. Face it—Christians fall; there is no denying it. Some pretend—putting on a “good front.” But every discerning believer knows that it is a front and not what is behind it! If you are genuine, you will admit that you fall in many ways, again and again (seven times is not a limiting number here).

Well, what shall we say about it? Is there any hope for us? Can we do better? Yes. First by taking hope. Listen to this:

Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up . . .       (Proverbs 24:16).

The words “righteous man” are the OT equivalent for the NT testament “saint.” As you can see from the juxtaposition of “fall” and “righteous” the latter word doesn’t mean without fault!.

There is great assurance in this verse—God doesn’t let His children wallow at the feet of the world, utterly defeated. In repentance, believers find the Lord takes them by His hand and lifts them up! Take these reassuring words to heart, believer: they are for you when next time you stumble and fall!

Preaching Isn’t Counseling!

Unfortunately, some fail to recognize the fact. Or, at least they seem to do so from the way in which they write about the two.

When they utter or write the old worn-out phrase “The primacy of preaching,” for instance (as indeed some still do in spite of all that’s been said to refute that foolish notion), they betray their misunderstanding of the difference between the two ministerial activities.

What these traditional old-line pulpit orators are saying—whether they realize it or not—is that preaching is more important than other ministries of the Word—including counseling. Is not all ministry of equal importance?

Some of these “thinkers” have gone so far as to declare that their people don’t need counseling because of the excellence of their preaching which adequately deals with all of their problems! One would have thought that Paul would not have spent so much time counseling if that ever could be true. Yet, he tells us that he counseled each one of the Ephesians during his pastoral ministry there in Ephesus, and that he engaged in the activity day and night (Acts 20:20). Do they think his preaching was so poor that he had to make up for it by counseling? Do they think their preaching superior to the apostle’s?

Away with this talk! Counseling and preaching are distinct activities. One ministers the same Word, it is true, but I quite different ways. Let young preachers understand this and take heed. They should learn how to counsel—not merely learn to preach. The preacher, for instance, knows (or ought to) what he is going to talk about when he preaches. His knowledge quotient need be less than the counselor’s who never knows what issue may arise in any session, and so must be prepared for everything!

Love by Life

In 1 Kings 3:3 we read,

Solomon loved the Lord by walking in the statutes of his father David (HCSB).

What a clear and explicit statement of how one goes about loving God! These days, there is much confusion about this very point. There are those who would tell us, in near monkish terms, that one loves God by all sorts of personal disciplines and denials. Yet, we find no such things in the life of David—a life, in general, that is mentioned here as exemplary enough to hold up as an example. Of course, David had his faults—which are set forth in the Bible, but for the most part, he was willing to follow God’s commands, and repent when he failed to do so (there are no greater repentance psalms in the Bible than those written by him).

Don’t let anyone tell you that by following man-made restrictions and regulations one best loves God. Col. 2: 23 says it all:

Of course, they have a reputation for wisdom because of their self-imposed worship and supposed humility, and ascetic treatment of the body, but those things are of no value in keeping the flesh from satisfying itself.

God Himself has set forth the terms by which He is served in love. These, here, are termed “the statutes of David.” That does not mean that he set up his own statutes, but that he faithfully followed God’s (for the most part, that is—note the qualification about the high places in this verse).

If you want to love God, you will do as the Lord Jesus (Who never failed to do so) did—you will keep His commandments. Fundamentally, love is not a feeling. Love is giving: “God so loved the world that He gave”; “He loved us and gave Himself for us,” etc. The great commission is explicit: “teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.” These statements all reflect the same activity, namely, giving.

In the passage from 1 Kings, the word “walking” is the usual Hebrew expression for speaking of one’s lifestyle (or, as we also put it, how one conducts himself). So, John says in his two short epistles that he is delighted to hear how the reader’s children “walk in the truth.” That is, they live lives characterized by God’s truth. And, tying all of this together, he speaks in those letters of “love in the truth.”

 

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