There Are Ways

There are ways and then there are ways! How something is done can make all the difference. Sometimes, when people read books about counseling, the cold print seems to indicate coldness of attitude on the part of the counselor. Especially can this be true when it is necessary to hold a counselee to his responsibilities before God. But it is important to know that the “necessity” just mentioned is two-fold.

  1. It is for the counselee’s benefit
  2. God requires it

Now, as I said, in making that point, it all depends on how you do so. There is a firm, rigorous adherence to the Scriptures that is absolutely essential to good counseling. There can be no compromise about this: what God requires, must be insisted upon. That is on the one hand. However, that insistence can be made in a spirit of loving care and concern, or in the spirit of the proverbial schoolmarm, using the hickory stick.

Granted, with recalcitrant counselees, verbal hickory sticks may be appropriate on rare occasions. But only when one digs in his heels and refuses to do what he knows that God requires. But even then, there is no need for the counselor to be harsh. Indeed, if he has half a heart, he will be crestfallen, will even plead, and will grieve if the counselee turns away from the truth.

He knows also that God’s people are “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” That means he will bend over backwards to be certain that every counselee knows precisely what God’s word teaches about his situation. He would have no one walk away from counseling ignorant of the biblical facts. This is not because he wants to cram the Scriptures down throats, but because he knows that in that book lies all the hope that one could ever have for solving his problems.

At every turn, in every situation, then, he is to exercise patience. His is to be a shepherdly care, at all times exhibited in honoring the Lord by ministering to His sheep. Whenever he fails to understand this and, instead, develops a cold, professional, white-coated manner, he has departed from his God-given role. Neither rudeness, roughness, austerity, nor complacency becomes a shepherd. He goes to length to save and restore all who stray.

So—let’ have no more of this effrontery! Let’s have no more false accusations hurled! Let’s have a true picture presented—please?

Update on Books by Jay Adams

We get calls regularly now from counselors, pastors, and students seeking to locate a place to purchase Jay’s books. I am sorry to report that a number of Jay’s books are, temporarily, out of print. Let me explain why. A number of years ago a friend of Dr. Adams, Dave Crawley, started a publishing company to publish Jay’s books. While most of Jay’s basic books are published by Zondervan, and are still available, Timeless Texts became the publisher of a significant number of titles. After Dave Crawley’s death last year his family made the decision to liquidate Timeless Texts’ inventory and seek another publisher for Jay’s books. As the inventory has become depleted many of the books have become unavailable.

Do not despair. Talks are underway with another, well established publisher, to bring most of Jay’s books back. We find ourselves, however, in a period of time during which some of Jay’s books will be out of print and unavailable. While this is a temporary situation, it will work a hardship on many who are studying biblical counseling. Let me make some suggestions.

First, go to the Timeless Texts website and see which of Jay’s books are available. If there are titles listed there that you do not have, NOW is the time to buy. Everything in stock is at least 50% off!

Second, search Amazon.com for available books but beware, do NOT buy a book for more than the original price. Some sellers have realized there are folk who so want to obtain these titles that they will pay confiscatory prices. If you do purchase from Amazon, please use this link. When you do we get a small cut.

Third, check out used book sites such as Alibris. Often you can find a used book at a good price.

Finally, if all else fails and you are a student who needs a book that is out of print to complete your studies, email me at donnarms@nouthetic.org. We may be able to help.

Please pray with us that this time of transition will be smooth and brief. If you already have most, or all, of Jay’s books I urge you to guard and treasure them. I often tell our students that 100 years from now our descendants will be reading and discussing Jay’s books in the same way that today we read and discuss Spurgeon, Calvin, Machen, and C. S. Lewis.

A Truly Blessed Life

There are fascinating developments in store for every true believer. Some of them occur in this life; they will occur to all Christians in the life to come. Ours is not a “dull, somber, uneventful, faith.” It is an exciting one—even now—if and when you enter into it with fullness and determination.

“What does that mean?”

It means that you don’t play Christian; you live your faith. It means that you get excited whenever you discover some new truth in the Scriptures. But, of course, that doesn’t happen if you aren’t studying them. It means that you are thrilled when a relative or a neighbor to whom you have witnessed professes faith in Christ. But, of course, that doesn’t happen unless you witness. It means that your heart is warmed to see that couple who were at each other’s throats come back together in loving care and concern because you counseled them. But, of course, that doesn’t happen unless you counsel people.

“In other words, unless we understand, believe, and do what Christians ought to know, trust Him to bless our lives, and do what He commands, there will be no joy to our faith?”

You’ve got it. If your Christian experience isn’t challenging, exciting, interesting—something’s seriously missing. So, get with it, Christian. As James says, we are “blessed in the doing”(James 1:25c).

Let the Sunshine In

I’ve lived in bleak wintry weather in the hills of W. Pennsylvania. I’ve shoveled snow two feet deep in Kirkwood Missouri. I’ve had my fill of strong winds and bitter cold blasts that go right to the bone. I’m thankful that at last I’ve been able to escape those things.

Sure, it can get cold here in South Carolina. In the winter the temperature can drop below freezing many nights—but the days are usually in the 40s and 50s. And then . . . right in the middle of winter . . . there can be one, two—or even a week—of 60-70 degree weather that suddenly descends like a blissful summer day. Plants are deceived into thinking its summer and begin to bloom—only to have their blossoms suddenly destroyed by a hard frost. Sweaters are once more exchanged for coats and jackets: suddenly, it’s winter once again!

But those few days of warmth! How they lighten the load. How they cheer the spirits. How they anticipate things soon to come in February, when the tulips appear and the jonquils grow tall. “Summer,” those days say, “is just around the corner; don’t give up hope!”

How foolish it would be to me to close the shutters when the winter sun shines brightly and warmly, saying, “This isn’t the way winter is supposed to be!” That’s the way that, conceivably, some weird, foolish person who was not raised up in the South might respond. But what foolishness it would be! Let the sun shine in! Enjoy the way it heats the home, driving down heating bills! Fling open a window and breathe the fresh balmy air that fills the house as it replaces that which has become stagnant within.

Let the news reports of blizzards in the North, Midwest, and Northwest have little effect on you. Let the bitter cold freezing TV reporters shivering while muffled from head to toe not squelch your enthusiasm for the relative warmth of your 50 or 60 degree day! Go on outside, work in the garden, get things ready for spring—that long period between winter and summer that corresponds to that equally long span of time and weather that divides summer from winter here in the South.

Summer in winter! Think of it. Unusual? Not at all. That’s the way that it is with God’s providence. Just when the trials that come seem no longer endurable, when cold shivers of doubt begin to run up your back, when frost covers your plans, when heavy clouds of despair gather in mass—just then God sends the warming truths of His Word to dispel the frost, melt the snow, crack the ice. Suddenly, like summer in winter, the sunlight of His truth shines through, breaking the clouds to bits, rescuing you from the desolation you feared looming on the horizon. No! You will not give up! How can you, when God Himself met your greatest need in Christ, surely He can meet even this one-no matter how like hardened ice it may seem.

God does not leave His children in the lurch! They are not “His chosen frozen!” He is always there—even behind the clouds. He is there in the sleets and snows of life; he is there on the frozen tundra. He is there ready to send the warmth of His loving care into your frigid existence. He is there!

That is the message of hope that Christian counselors have to bring to those who come weary from trudging through the drifts of sorrow and pain. Theirs is the work of opening the shutters to drive away the shudders! Are you interested in helping others View the sunlit warmth of God’s Word? Would you like to see the ice melt in the lives of those frozen with despair? Believer, you can do so. There are few things as exciting as seeing lives dreary and cold brighten in the heat of God’s glowing truth. Again and again, the joy of witnessing the melting of marriages grown cold, the thawing of frozen relationships, the softening of frosted souls, is the lot of biblical counselors. What joy to see the sun shine in!

We will be glad to help you enter into this joy. You too can be a counselor bringing the warmth of God’s blessing that alone drives away the chill of life’s winters. You can join those who regularly bring summer to winter as you help desperate believers experience God’s Son-shine!

Thank you!

Hello to all of you who sent me birthday greetings! I appreciate them very much. I am unable to answer each of you individually—so here and now I want to say thanks! May the Lord bless each with a long and biblically-prosperous life.
In Him,
Jay

Pastors and Problem People

No pastor likes to have problem people in the church. They can irritate, often become time-consuming, block progress and, among other things, stir up trouble with others. How should he relate to them? That’s always the question that a shepherd faces while tending his recalcitrant sheep. Sheep wander and get lost; they may be stubborn and obstinate. They do foolish things, and are vulnerable to animals of prey. Good shepherds feed their sheep, leading them to lush pastures. They use their staffs to pull them away from dangerous precipices, and their rods to beat off the wolf that would snatch them from the fold. Clearly, when you think of how Moses and Aaron complained again and again about the people of Israel as “obstinate” and “stiff-necked” it is easy to understand that the difficulty you experience is in no way new or unique. So, that’s the first thing: you must reckon on having problem people in your church just as a shepherd reckons with his flock. That is the nature of the ministry. It goes with the turf.

There are some ministers of the Word who lose patience with such people—they want to “get them out of the way.” The back door in their churches is always unlocked—sometimes standing wide open! They are always ready to show problem people where it is. Other pastors become discouraged; they wonder if there is something wrong with their ministry, and whether they ought rather to be selling insurance. Still others give up on their churches, anxious to move on to some place where they will find the people more “spiritual”—or, at the least, more convivial. Only to discover, of course, that such churches rarely exist. I suppose there are a dozen or more other reactions that might be mentioned, but surely these are sufficient to set the scene for what I am about to say.

And that is—difficulties with problem people is what ministry is all about! You aren’t really ministering unless you are helping such people to change. “HA!” you say. “I’d like you to see my bunch. Maybe you’d change your mind about that if you did. Change them? That’s nearly impossible.”

Well, perhaps it is. But probably it isn’t. Naturally, there are times to give up on a particular group of people. God finally did when He sent His people off into exile. But, of course, even then He worked with them for 70 years and at length brought them back to Palestine. Finally, there came a time when the cup of His patience was filled to overflowing, and there was a final end (Matthew 23:32; Luke 21:22). But that was only after God showed amazing patience and longsuffering. Very few pastors ever need come to that place with their congregations—and even if they might, how would they know when such a time has arrived. It is the place of a faithful steward of the grace of God to continue patiently working with problem people. Let the One Who holds the churches in His hand determine when to remove a lampstand. God has shown us great patience in His dealings with His people (indeed, and in his dealing with each of us as well!).

Paul has a clear word on the subject in I Thessalonians 5:11, 14:

Therefore encourage one another and continue to build each other up, as indeed you have been doing . . . We urge you, brothers, counsel the idle, encourage the timid, support the weak, be patient with everyone.

That, of course, isn’t the only passage that might be quoted. When you think of the amazing patience that Paul exhibited with the Corinthian church, you can see what patient forbearing means. But, for now, simply think about this passage alone. You will note, when Paul wrote these words to the church at Thessalonica, he wasn’t even writing to pastors in particular, but to all the members of the congregation (his words make that clear: “one another . . . brothers”). What were they (and certainly their pastors as well) to do about problem people? The answer? “Build them up.” “Counsel them.” “Encourage them.” “Support them” and “be patient with everyone.”

Now, of course, we are not speaking of schismatic persons—those who would split your church. Paul wants you to discipline them immediately before it’s too late (see Titus 3:10). After confronting them once or twice, if there is no change in their attitude and behavior, they must be subject to church discipline.

But we are talking about the run-of-the-mill problem person. The reason why God put you there is to minister to such people. There would be no work for an undertaker if no one ever died. Similarly, there would be no place for your ministry if there were no problem people for you to help. Indeed, helping such persons solve problems and grow in their faith is a major part of your work. “If you can’t stand the heat,” they say, “then get out of the kitchen.” You may have to. But better still, why not learn how to take it. Someone must do the cooking. And when you resolve to do so—to minister as fully as possible to problem people-you will soon discover that the changes that do take place are worth the effort. Soon you’ll learn to stand the heat like every good cook!

God’s servants have never had a good time of it (Read again Hebrews 11). But they served—in all sorts of situations, most of which were probably far worse than yours. And God blessed them. Sometimes it was only a few, but never as Elijah thought, none, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Often, a minister of the word was himself ejected from his place of ministry (John to Patmos, Paul to Jail). But even there God used them to continue to minister in different ways. Come on now, discouraged, disheartened pastor: the church is a hospital for the spiritually sick, and you are a physician of the soul. What good would a physician be in a hospital of well people? It is the sick and needy that Jesus helped. It is the sinner and the troublemaker that you are called to minister to. Remember what the word “minister” means—“servant.” You are called to serve God by serving His people. Ask God to forgive you for your discouragement, pick up your Bible once again, and go to work with patience and zeal!

Guidance

I once visited the Sunday School class of a Bible believing church. The study that morning was on Joshua 9, the story of the Hivities who came from Gibeon. Because they were afraid of the Israelites, they sent delegates requesting Israel to make a treaty with them. These delegates disguised themselves as travelers from a distant land outside the area Israel had been commanded to occupy. They wore old sandals and threadbare garments, carried old sacks and wineskins, and brought food that was dry and crumbly. They spoke only of victories that had taken place far in the past, not recent ones.

The teacher did a good job of reiterating the facts of the incident. Then he went on to apply it to us. Rightly, he showed that God had forbidden His people to make treaties with the people of the land of Palestine (Deut. 7:1-5; 20:16-18). Rightly, he pointed out that the people were deceived by failing to inquire of the Lord (Josh. 9:14), and rightly, he warned us of the deceptions of Satan in leading God’s people to violate God’s plain commandments. Then he asked, “How can a Christian know he is making a decision in accord with the will of God?” It was the question of guidance. The question was appropriate, and Joshua 9 has something important to say on this vital subject. His answer was something like this: “I asked my Christian friends and consulted some Christian books, and what I have come up with is that there are six ways in which you can know God’s will in reaching a decision.” Then he wrote the following six guidelines on the chalkboard:

  1. Scripture
  2. Prayer
  3. Advice of Others
  4. Circumstances
  5. Reason
  6. Peace

It is time Christians stopped following such advice!

Items 1 and 2, rightly understood, must stand. In his explanation of item 2, however, he did not properly tell us the place of prayer in the process of receiving guidance from God. His idea (a very common one, unfortunately) was that when you pray, you must be still and listen for some sort of answer from God. If that is true, why were the Israelites to consult the Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21)? Moreover, if God whispers answers in stillness, why bother with the other five items? Such replies would be better even than Scripture since they would be in English (we wouldn’t have the translation problem from Greek or Hebrew), and they would be directly applied to our individual situations. No, any such idea, even ideas of deep impressions or feelings received in prayerful waiting, must be eliminated, since they would render the Bible’s teaching either unnecessary or negligible. You would also face the problem of distinguishing impressions from God from those that arise out of your own prejudice.

Prayer to discover the Lord’s will should be that you may understand and use the Bible in a proper way. It should be prayer for ability and strength to do whatever you discover God wants of you as you study the Scriptures. We are not given the Urim and Thummim for our day, but we have been given an inerrant and infallible Book, which contains all we need by way of precept and example for living a life pleasing to God. All that is necessary to love God and our neighbor is found, in one form or another, in the Bible. Today we consult God by turning to His written Word.

What of the other four items the teacher listed? Is seeking the advice of others or looking at circumstances helpful when making a decision? Look at what happened to the people of God when they did just that. Joshua listened to advisers who investigated the claims of the Gibeonites, and sinned (Josh. 9:14). Looking at the circumstances—old wineskins, crumbly bread, etc.—was precisely what deceived them. Surely, their reasoning in the situation failed them. And their peace, or assurance that they were doing the right thing, was utterly false. Indeed, if the teacher had stayed with the Biblical passage itself rather than consulting his friends, he would have seen that the text is totally opposed to the notion that divine guidance is found by these procedures.

Consider the idea of “open doors” (another way to speak of circumstances). Suppose I apply for a visa to India and am turned down. That is a “closed door.” But what does that tell me? I can interpret it any number of ways. I can say, “OK, that means God does not want me to go to India; I’ll try somewhere else.” Or, I can say, “God is testing me to see if I mean business; I’ll go back to India if I have to swim!” Just what guidance does an open or closed door give? Absolutely none. The position of the “door” must be interpreted, and in the circumstances itself there is nothing to tell you just how to interpret it. So circumstances do not guide; they require careful understanding and are factors in decision making because the Bible applies to circumstances, but they are not sources of guidance. Some open doors lead to elevator shafts!

In the matter of advice from others there can be help, just as commentaries and other biblical expositions can assist in making a Scriptural decision; but that advice must be evaluated. Other’s opinions are no more valuable than, and can be just as misleading as, those of Joshua’s advisers who were deceived by the Hivites. It is not their opinions on what you should do that you want; what they can give you that is of value is help in discovering and in using Biblical principles that apply to your situation. Also, others may be of help in assisting you to understand the parameters of the situation about which you must make a decision. But when you discuss this matter with them and think about it yourself, be sure the problem and the situation are described and understood in Biblical terms.

Reason must be used in moving from the Scriptures to the problem as you apply Biblical teaching to your decision. But the effects of sin on the human mind have been considerable, and you must pray that God will enable you to interpret, to apply, and to implement His Biblical principles that converge on the issue at hand. Help from the consensus of commentators at this point, when it can be found, ought to be of some value too.

As for peace, let me clarify a passage that has been so frequently misunderstood and misused. That passage, to which the Sunday School teacher referred, is Colossians 3:15: “Let Christ’s peace have the final say in your hearts, to which you were called as parts of one body.” Because peace is to have final say or act as an umpire in our hearts, many have concluded that Paul is teaching that once we have peace about a decision we can know we have made the right one. Nothing could be more wrong. The passage has nothing to do with guidance or decision making. It has to do with love and getting along with other Christians as members of the body of Christ (cf. vs. 12-14 for context). When all is said and done, Paul writes, in the final analysis you must let the principle of peace among the members of the body control your words and actions. There is nothing whatsoever in the passage about individual peace. Your heart (the place where you think about such matters, and the source of your words and actions) is to be influenced by considerations of what will bring about and maintain peace among the members of the body. That is Paul’s concern.

Guidance comes from the Bible, prayerfully used. Circumstances affecting a decision must be evaluated with the Biblical parameters, and the conclusions of such evaluations must be stated in Biblical terms. The advice of others is to be sought, not for their opinions but for their assistance in using the Bible to help you make a decision that honors God. Your reason is not to be trusted and must always be subjected to the Bible at every point. Peace has no relevance whatsoever to the matter. Questions about other aspects of guidance, especially concerning the application of general principles to particular cases, cannot be discussed here. The Bible is the source of revelation from God and the only sure guide to pleasing God. Nowhere else can we find His inerrant Word: why then should we turn to other sources?

PARRESIA–The Church’s Need Today!

The Book of Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial, yet preaching the Word as he could from some rented quarter:

He preached God’s kingdom and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ with great boldness (parresia) . . . Acts 28: 31.

There is one word that runs through the entire book of Acts. It is that great Greek term parresia which here is translated “boldness.”  However, it is not the ordinary word for boldness.  It is a word that puts the emphasis not upon courage—though that lies behind it—but upon a particular kind of courage and boldness.

The word means “courage to speak without fear of consequences.”

Too many Christians (and preachers as well) lack this God-blessed quality which is why so little progress has been made in recent days in evangelizing a nation that is rapidly going down the drain. We complain about the fact that we have been remiss as a nation when it comes to truth, holiness and the like, but we are loathe to do what needs to be done about it, namely, to proclaim the one message that is capable of transforming a degraded society into one that pleases and serves God. Science won’t do it, technology can’t, politics is incapable, and only the Gospel has the power to do so. But if we remain afraid to open our mouths honestly and forcefully—as the preachers in Acts did—things will continue to go from bad to worse.

Read the book of Acts again, focusing upon this bold preaching of the apostles and others, and you will see how it was what made it possible for them to “turn the world upside down” as those opposed put it (Acts 17:6).  Actually, they were turning things right side up, but unbelievers always get things upside down.

On Being Nice

Question:  If you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, which animal yelps the loudest?

Answer:  The one that was hit.

I was recently reminded of this old riddle when I was asked during a Q & A session why Dr. Adams engenders so much anger among psychologists, integrationists, and even some who claim to be biblical counselors. In reality, the questioner was not seeking an answer so much as he was using the venue to take Jay to task for not being nicer and more accommodating. Still, I was glad for the “question” as it gave me an opportunity to make several points that I would like to repeat here.

First, for some, just to be told they are wrong is considered mean. Put yourself in the place of the “psychologist who is a Christian” (a better term than “Christian psychologist”). You have invested many thousands of dollars, years of time, and great effort in obtaining your academic credentials; you gain your livelihood from your psychological practice or teaching career; your standing in society rises from your expertise as a psychologist. Then along comes a guy who, no matter how softly and gently he may say so, tells you (and others about you) that what you are doing is illegitimate, harmful, and destructive. You have to either agree and admit the poverty of your profession or you have to defend yourself. Because your position is untenable, you are left only with attacking the messenger and complaining about his “tone.”

Second, the premise of the question is false. I know of a no more gracious and kind man than Jay Adams. I have been in the counseling room with him, seen him minister to grieving families at graveside, witnessed countless Q & A sessions he has held, interacted alongside with pastors who came to him for help with problems, and seen him minister to others during times of his own physical weakness and distress. I recently read through the transcripts of a symposium Adams had with a number of well-known integrationists. While one recent book takes Jay to task for not being more accommodating to these men, I came away from the read impressed by how patient he was with them.

Third, often his readers fail to understand his goals when he writes. Consider Competent to Counsel. Adams’ goal was to rouse his reader to action. The church had forfeited its responsibilities to minister to hurting people and had embraced a worldly approach to counseling. He wanted to stand in the way and holler, “STOP!” He could not do that without condemning the practice and urging a new course of action upon his reader. Had CTC had the tone employed by some writers today in the biblical counseling movement in which authors merely make suggestions, allow for nuances, see “both sides”, and offend no one it would have had no impact. The few copies that would have been printed would today be languishing in dusty obscurity on some library shelf and there would be no ACBC, CCEF, INS, or Biblical counseling programs in our seminaries.

Fourth, Adams’ readers often fail to also understand his intended audiences. Most of Adams’ books were written to help pastors and counselors. They are largely didactic and Adams labored over them to be clear and helpful. Other books, and especially his booklets designed to be used to give to counselees, are intended to minister. These are warm, pastoral, and kind. Examples are his How to Handle . . . series of pamphlets, Christ and Your Problems, How to Overcome Evil, and his wonderful but not well known series of three booklets written for those who have lost loved ones. A third category, however, are those things he has written to those who should know better. They are intended to make people think through what they believe, or are doing, and urge them to change. These, of course, have a different “tone.” In these he uses our Lord’s approach with Nicodemus:

“How is it that you are a teacher in Israel and you do not understand these things?”

Jay Adams has indeed thrown a few rocks in his day. It is instructive to note who yelps the loudest.

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