Discernment

51XNEXKH46L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Paul prayed for the Philippians (1:9-10), saying,

I pray that your love will abound more and more in full knowledge and clear perception, so that by testing them you may discriminate between things that differ in order that you may be pure and free from impediments for the Day of Christ.

“It’s an interesting prayer. What do you think he was referring to?”

Gaining enough knowledge and clear understanding of God’s truth that they would be able to distinguish between truth and error and, thereby, would be able at the judgment to honestly say that they had believed and lived in accordance with it.

“There’s a lot to that.”

There certainly is; but life isn’t simple. That’s why we have to spend time studying the Scriptures so as to be able to distinguish things that differ—after all, everything that glitters isn’t gold.

“A lot of people are mixed up right at that point aren’t they? They can’t distinguish between truth and error.”

Yep. You call that a lack of discernment.

“Discernment. Hmmm. Exactly what is discernment?”

Just what Paul said—the ability to distinguish between things that differ—even when they seem to be alike.

“Is it a separating process?”

You might say that. As a matter of fact, one of the Hebrew OT words for discernment is bin, a term that means to “separate one thing from another.” Many people have been duped by Jehovah’s Witnesses’ materials because they look as if they are Biblical. But they aren’t. It takes discernment to know that. Not everyone that quotes the Bible does so accurately. Paul wanted his readers to be able to make sharp, clear distinctions. How something is worded can make all the difference between whether it is a truthful or erroneous statement.

“I can see that. And it sounds like it can be difficult. Will God give us discernment simply by asking?”

Well, in Solomon’s case He did just that. One minute he didn’t have it—then poof! He did. However, that was a special occasion. Today, discernment comes when we prayerfully study and apply the Scriptures. The author of Hebrews said that one who is “inexperienced with the righteous Word . . . still needs milk.” Like a baby. He doesn’t understand much about biblical truth.. But the “mature” person’s “perceptual faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13,14). That’s discernment. And you see it comes by training in the Scriptures. The Bible is the standard for judging between the things that please God and those that don’t.

“So, if I don’t want to be a sucker for every well-packaged program that calls itself biblical, but really isn’t, I have to be “trained” so that my ability to perceive differences will become sharp enough to do so?”

You’ve got it!

“But how can I become trained?”

Such training should come from your church. If it doesn’t , you may have to do some reading up on it. I’d suggest that you might begin with my book, A Call to Discernment. That would get you started, anyway.

“Good, thanks for the explanation. Might just do that!.”

Quite welcome. In fact, after reading the book, you ought to be able to discern whether or not my book is true! Give that a thought or two!

“Huh?”

Ventilation

anger1Not too long ago there was a psychological theory called “ventilation.” I’m not sure whether or not it has died out everywhere yet. But theory or no theory, it’s still seems to be a popular idea—if you’ve got something churning inside, you’d better get it out, for you own good.

“What’s wrong with that?”

Well, several things. I think I’ll just mention two.

First, the self-centeredness of it is apparent. Who cares what happens to the other guy when I take out my ire on him—I’m the one who counts!

“Well, I can see that. What’s the second thing?”

Let me read you what God says about the issue in Proverbs 29:11:

A stubborn fool fully ventilates his anger,
but the wise, holding it back, quiets it.

“Wow! Didn’t know God had spoken about the matter!”

Quite explicitly. Who wants to make a fool of himself? And it doesn’t hurt you to “hold it back” as the Freudians thought, either. In fact the more you work yourself up into a lather that finally spills out, the worse things get—not the better. No only for you—but for everyone around you.

And first thing you know, you have to go around seeking forgiveness. To vent your anger is foolish in every way you can imagine. For sure, ventilation isn’t an option for the believer. Something to think about, eh?

“Yea!”

Pain

For the last week I have been suffering from a severe case of trigeminal neuralgia. It is like being shot in the side of the face over and over again. It is painful. I’m pretty good at handling pain, but this has become more difficult than any other I have ever had. I’m not writing for sympathy; I’m writing about it to make a counseling point.

“What have you got in mind?”

Thanks for not getting all gooey over my problem.

“Welcome.”

The counseling matter about which I am concerned is one that is frequently encountered. It has to do with God’s faithfulness. I have asked God to remove the problem which I have now had on and off for a couple of years. Never has it been so severe or lasting as this time. But He has not yet (if ever He does) done so. Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?

“Ah! that’s a common problem for many of us—I thought God promises to answer His children’s prayers, doesn’t He?”

Yes, He does.

“Well, then . . .?”

He has answered.

“What? Thought you said He hasn’t taken the condition away. . . . .”

I did.

“Well, then . . .”

You see He answers different ways: “yes, no,” and “wait awhile.”

Often, as in Paul’s case when his prayers SEEMED answered it was “no.” You see, He had something better for Him:

  1. a way to guard against pride
  2. a larger supply of grace to handle problems better.

“Wow! I guess we shouldn’t complain, then, but we should look for the blessing in the refusal.”

You’ve got it! And it is possible that later on when this was done, He would see fit to remove the pain (consider the case of Job, for instance).

Are You “Going On?”

The writer of Hebrews exhorts you to do so. Listen to his words:

Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God .  .  . (HCSB Hebrews 6:1)

In making his “Inspired Translation” of the Scriptures (never completed), Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, got to this verse and, misunderstanding it, inserted the word “not”: [“not leaving . . .” etc]. He, of course, was woefully wrong. The people to whom Hebrews was written were long-time Christians who had become dull, and could not appreciate strong teaching (see Ch. 5). Therefore, the import of this verse is that they needed to go beyond the first teachings of the faith to more meaty material, so that they could grow in the truth. They were still sucking on a bottle of milk (see 5:12-14)! He wanted them to mature.

Today, to the contrary, we are told that to mature in the faith, we must go back to the first principles (elements) of Christianity (“Preach the gospel to yourselves”) and concentrate on them.  This strange idea—so contrary to the true method of growth—is being rapidly adopted by pastors and people who ought to know better. The passage before us today strongly counters it. The trouble with this new view is—because it isn’t biblical, it doesn’t work; people do not grow that way. They grow strong spiritually when they “go on” to the meatier truths of the faith, and then put them to practice in daily living!

Have you discovered that you don’t grow by continuing to drink only milk? Re-read, the book of Hebrews (focusing on chapter 5) and learn differently!

 

Environmental Extremism: A One World View

No intelligent and dedicated Christian wants to debate the idea that we ought to be judicious about how we conduct ourselves in the planet that God has given us to inhabit and enjoy. Reasonable conservation is, of course, nothing more than good stewardship of those bounties. We applaud efforts at reforestation, preservation of Natural Wonders, and the like. But our views of the earth ought to collide with those of the environmental extremists who are more concerned about snail darters than about the livelihood of hardworking farmers whose efforts to earn a living are impeded by them. As believers, therefore, it is important for us to consider what God, Himself, has said about the matter. I want to suggest that, in passing, Paul makes an all-important statement in Colossians 2:22a that has been overlooked by many of our people. His words rest upon a world-view that simply is not shared by non-Christians. This dissimilarity in views leads to many of the differences that we find between ourselves and the environmentalists. Here are his words:

“These refer to things that are intended to be used up and perish.”

In the passage Paul is referring to “ascetic” injunctions concerning fasting, various uses of food and so on, that unbelievers and Judaizers alike sought to impose upon Christians. Paul would have us refuse to follow them. So, in passing—as I indicated above—he says that the things that the world holds sacred, to the Christian, are but items that God has provided for our use. His point is that when they are “used up” that’s OK (assuming they were used in a responsible manner). It is no great tragedy to deplete the supply of fossil fuels, for a species of unusual fish to become extinct, or for the wolves to be banned from lands where they attack and destroy herds of cattle and sheep.

“But that is a tragedy,” says someone. “After all, once they are gone—“used up” as your apostle put it—they are gone forever. To lose an animal species or a rainforest is to have suffered an irreparable loss!”

Yes, in that objection, you detect quite a different philosophy of existence. Christians should expect outcries from environmentalists about oil drilling in the Arctic, logging in the West, the use of SUVs on our highways, and similar human activities that they believe will noticeably affect the environment. Such objections to these activities are perfectly in accord with the one-world view of the non-Christian. He would be inconsistent to his basic philosophy of existence if he didn’t raise an outcry.

“What, then, are you saying,” asks a Christian?

Simply this. The unbeliever has but one world. He knows nothing of another world to come. He clings to every aspect of the present world‘s assets because, as he believes, once they “perish” they are gone forever. No wonder he is goes to lengths to preserve all that he can. But the Christian looks forward to a new heavens and a new earth that will be so far superior to the present one that he cannot stake everything on what now exists. He looks on the present world as a marvelous creation, in which God had provided all things for us to use and enjoy now—insofar as we can since it is under the curse of sin. Because of that curse, however, nothing will remain forever. Indeed, the book of Ecclesiastes was written to point out that nothing is permanent. And, in that book, like Paul, Solomon tells us to enjoy what we can so long as we are here and the deteriorating world in which we live continues as it is. The clash in opinions that occurs over various environmental issues is, in reality, a clash of a one-world and a two-world view of existence.

The Art and Science of Biblical Counseling

Counseling, like homiletics and most other aspects of ministry, is both an art and a science. There are specific skills to master—the Biblical disciplines of exegesis, hermeneutics, and theology, plus the counseling skills of listening, data gathering, note taking, and assigning good homework. It is an art in that each counselor brings his own personality and judgment to bear as he builds an agenda, decides when to press the indecisive, comfort the afflicted, confront the disobedient, encourage the fainthearted, or instruct the untaught.

As teen growing up in Waterloo, Iowa my pastor was David Moore. He was a kind and gentle man with a personality that embraced everyone in the room. He was not a pulpiteer but even as a young teenager I enjoyed his preaching because I knew and loved Pastor Moore and I knew my pastor loved me. I never remember a time when I met Pastor Moore that he did not give me a huge bear hug. When I left for college Paul Tassell became my pastor. Dr. Tassell was a short dynamo of a man, a powerful preacher, and a no nonsense kind of guy. He was full of joy and energy but he did not suffer a fool gladly. I never doubted his love for his people but he was not a touchy/feely kind of guy. I do not recall seeing him hug anyone—ever.

Both men were effective pastors. Their churches grew under their leadership and both were universally loved by their respective flocks. Yet they had very different styles of ministry. This will be true of good biblical counselors.

I have a friend who believes a good counselor will spend many hours with a counselee building a relationship before getting into the substance of the counseling issue. Typical counseling sessions, for him, will last 2 – 3 hours. I believe he is a good counselor and I know he has helped many. But this is not my practice nor is it what we teach our students to do. We believe it is far more loving and kind to get at the counselee’s problem as quickly as possible and get them on the way toward solving it.

Jay often tells the story an experience he once had with a dentist. Shortly after moving to California he developed a bad toothache. Since he was new to town he had not yet been to a local dentist so, upon the recommendation of a friend, he called for an appointment. He was greeted on the phone by the sugary sweet voice of a receptionist who gushed that she was so glad he had called and offered set up an appointment with plenty of time for the Doctor to “get to know you first so you will be comfortable with him as your dentist.” Since Jay needed a dentist and not a new friend he politely extracted himself from the conversation and called another dentist who, thankfully, went to work on his problem. This dentist became his friend because he was of genuine help with his toothache. It is a story Jay tells frequently when teaching students about building involvement with counselees. The obvious point being that a counselor will build involvement with a counselee naturally by offering him solid, biblical help, and doing so quickly.

I relate all this because of a document I read recently by a man who was critiquing nouthetic counseling generally and Jay Adams in particular. Referring to this example Jay often uses he wrote “Jay Adams believes good counseling is like pulling teeth! You just reach into the counselee’s life and yank on the problem regardless of how much pain it causes.”

Biblical counselors can certainly do things differently than Jay Adams or Donn Arms and still be quite effective. Biblical counselors can disagree with Jay Adams on a point of doctrine here and there—I certainly do (and I remain blissfully optimistic that Jay will eventually come around on the subject of baptism). But these kinds of mischaracterizations are inexcusable, intellectually dishonest, and cause great harm to students who read this kind of thing. Perhaps we are derelict by not responding to them more often and more aggressively.

Not Stuck After All

“I’ve about given up on that counselee!”

He’s a believer, isn’t he?

“Yeah. But he comes from a long line of loafers and no goods, and he’s inherited all their traits.”

Aw, c’mon!

“No, really. I’ve had it with him!”

Let me read you a passage from 1 Peter 1:18,19 in the CCNT/P:

. . . knowing that you weren’t set free from the useless behavior patterns that were passed down from your forefathers by . . . silver or gold, but with Christ’s valuable blood . . .

Christians are set free from their past. We’re not stuck with it. What a liberating thought—for both counselors and counselees!

“Yeah, but . . .. ”

Can’t have any buts when you’re talking about a biblical truth. Right?

“Yeah.”

Then, let’s begin by assuring you of the truth of this proposition. Until you believe it, you won’t be able to help your counselee the way you should. You need to be able instill hope in him—and that means you need the hope yourself.

“OK.”

Well, if you understand the biblical meaning of hope, it is nothing less than expectation, anticipation. It is expecting God to act faithfully about what He has said and promised. The “blessed hope” isn’t the blessed hope-so (we misuse the word hope to mean that). It’s the “happy expectation, the joyous anticipation.” What makes it a hope is that it hasn’t happened yet.

Now go home and pray about this passage, brother!

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous WasteHazardous waste is usually something infectious that poses a hazard to human health. We try to eliminate it in various ways.

It’s time for true Christians to begin to classify false doctrine under a similar label.

And—do everything possible to rid themselves and their congregations of it’s contagion. Waste of the nature that usually goes under that title is bad; but false doctrine is worse. It can damn people to hell and ruin the lives of genuine believers. We make every effort to rid our hospitals, our cities, our homes of such waste. How much effort do we make to eliminate doctrinal waste?

People consider a civil duty to rid the country of hazardous waste; too many Christians have a very different idea about doctrinal waste—they think it ignoble to clear out such doctrinal trash—even though it is far more harmful.

It’s time for a drive in churches to eliminate every book, pamphlet, video, internet, DVD, or other hazardous doctrinal product from their homes, their churches and their bookstores.

Do you agree?

Well, then, where will you begin?Waste

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