The Write Way

I’ve been writing a book. In order to do so, I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching, studying, and digesting materials from the Scriptures and commentaries. I wonder, sometimes, when other people write. how they do it. With me, it’s hours of commitment to work, prayer, thought discussion. I couldn’t do it without these.

Yet, when I read some of the materials that are published today I wonder—did people spend much time on this book, pamphlet, article, or not?

Writers, please give us something to sink out teeth into when we read it—please?

I have picked up (and put down), purchased (and regretted I did) any number of books that probably shouldn’t have been written. The titles are great, but the content doesn’t measure up to them. How about some really good stuff?

What do I look for in a book? Something I didn’t know before I read it that makes it worthwhile reading. Something that challenges my beliefs, views, etc., and makes me think. Something that let’s me know what problems people are facing that, perhaps, we could do to help them deal with. I could go on; I won’t. I will say this: when you write, please make it substantive.

“I Never Talk About Religion or Politics”

That’s what you hear people say. But times have changed; now all people want to talk about is politics.

It isn’t as popular, however, to talk about religion today—unless derogatorily. Frankly, I hope the era of excessive talk about politics will soon recede and men and women will once again talk about religion. There once was a time, older people told me, when, after a Dwight L. Moody campaign in Baltimore, streetcars filled with people singing hymns could be found rolling along throughout the city. It was because Moody suggested that something be done to reach sailors at the harbor of Baltimore, that Port Mission was formed—a mission at which I worked one time, evangelizing young children, and out of which we held street meetings for the populace. There was a day, then, when religion—not just any religion but the religion of Jesus Christ—was a chief matter of discussion. May such times reappear!

What can you do to help that transformation of this secular country to take place? You can begin to speak more about Christianity wherever you are. Things have changed so that in many communities people don’t even know their neighbors. They are isolated from them at times when they can simply talk. People used to sit out on their porches on a summer evening, visiting and chatting with each other. Now, they spend time in front of an HD wall TV in air-conditioned comfort. Progress? Electronically? Yes. Socially? No. What came naturally, yesterday, must be done deliberately today. It is necessary to “make time” to do what just “happened” in past eras.

So, what shall we do? Well, it will take creative new ways to bring about what once were “givens.” It will mean thought, effort, and dedication if we are ever to bring about conditions where people, in mass, begin to congregate around discussions of the faith. Perhaps you can be a catalyst in your community. For starters, you can talk more to more people in more places about Jesus Christ. Perhaps you can become a “community organizer”—not for some political cause—but for the Lord!

Providence

Providence is the name of the biblical teaching that God not only planned His work, but actively works His plan.

Since we know that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), we can be assured that He is working out a beneficent plan for each of His true children that is going to turn out well.

We can, therefore, say, whenever a situation arises that may not be very pleasant

  1. God is in the problem
  2. God is up to something in the problem
  3. God is up to something good in the problem

Every truly saved person, therefore, may take heart, knowing that in the end, God has something in view that in this life, or the next, will be seen to have been for his very best.

Sometimes God allows us to see that outcome in this life; sometimes He doesn’t. Often we see only parts of it. Usually, that is the case. Joseph is one of those exceptions (See Genesis 50:20). Indeed, since He is working “all things together” it’s virtually impossible to begin to understand all of the ramifications of what is happening. (Even Joseph didn’t know what effects his words would have throughout the centuries and in your thinking today!). We don’t know all things; we can’t, therefore, put very many of those infinite number of things “together” to see the overall pattern of His plan at work.

So, then, what do we do?

Trust. Or, as the song rightly puts it, Trust and Obey.

Reasons

There are always reasons behind every action. What they are and how they impact Christian counseling is important to understand. That is why so many counselors attempt to “dig out” these reasons. But the task isn’t always quite so simple as some suppose. The first reason why is because we cannot know what is in another’s heart (the inner source of outer actions). That is clear from such passages as 2 Chronicles 6:30 and the like. So, what can a counselor do to discover (as fully as possible) what it is that motivates a counselee?

First, we can ask him. Biblical counselors are not Freudians. Freudians always suspect a wrong answer to any such question asked of the counselee. They believe that down deep inside, in the unconscious, lies the true answer—and it is unknown to the counselee, who will answer by rationalizing his words and actions. Since we believe that we ought to “believe all things” as Paul instructed in his hymn on love, we begin by asking, and then trusting, the counselee. More often than you might suppose, he will hit the nail on the head. When he has difficulty getting it out, we may need to help him do so. Of course, in bringing forth the truth we must always be careful not to “feed” him suggestions of our own which will shape his answer. Before all else, check the first answer on his PDI (Personal Data Inventory) before you attempt any other ways of obtaining the answer you are looking for. You may have to ask further questions about what he has written there, if it isn’t altogether clear but. Again, you should be careful not to add your own ideas to his answers.

But what if he lies? Counselees sometimes do. How do you discover the truth? One way, which presupposes that you take his word for the truth, is to assign homework that is based upon his answers. If he has lied, and your homework is to the point, at the following session, you will discover that he has either done incomplete, poor, or otherwise inadequate homework . In investigating “What went wrong that this wasn’t done properly?” you will often uncover the truth. Homework built on erroneous assumptions will fail. That is the reason you will soon be able to uncover either the lie or the truth (since the lie doesn’t work). Both pieces of information will give you a good beginning from which to move.

Whose Plans Are Accomplished?

Many think that God proposes, but man disposes. But they have it dead wrong!

Man simply doesn’t change God’s plans, as that statement indicates.

From all eternity God planned (rather than proposed), and man does what He planned in the first place. Now, this happens in such a way that man does what he intends to do (without any pressure exerted upon him to do it), but it always turns out to be exactly what God planned for him to do.

What man does fulfills God’s plans.

If you don’t believe me consider Genesis 45:5,7 and Genesis 50:20—

Now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.

God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.

Joseph’s brothers had one intention, which they carried out, but God had an entirely different intention—which they also carried out! Both their intentions and God’s were accomplished in such a way that they were rightly held responsible for their actions, and God’s will was carried out by them.

For more biblical instruction in this matter, consider—

this man, delivered up by God’s predetermined plan the foreknowledge, by hands of lawless men, you killed by crucifixion!     Acts 2:23

In this city it is true that Herod and Pontius Pilate together with the Gentiles and people of Israel gathered together against Your holy Servant Jesus, Whom You anointed to do those things that Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.  Acts 4:27-28

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of Yaweh will prevail.         Proverbs 19:21

Man proposes; God disposes!

What to Do About It

“What do you do when you don’t know what to do?”

Are you serious, or are you presenting me with a conundrum?

“No. I’m dead serious. I have a decision to make as to whether or not to do something. I’d like to do it but I don’t know whether its something that the Lord would approve of.””

Ah. I see.

“And it’s been bugging me for days. I can’t tell you what it is, either. I have to keep the matter quiet until I decide. Without any data, do you think you can help?”

Possibly. Let’s consider the matter abstractly—strictly from the side of the principle involved.

“You mean, in something like whether or not I feel a prompting in my spirit or not. Or whether I feel peace about the matter? Both of those ideas have been suggested. But the problem is, I don’t feel anything but confused,”

Good!

“Good? What do you mean good? Do you approve of me being confused?”

Certainly—I’m glad you haven’t had any feelings that you interpreted as God’s direction. Those ideas are never taught in the Bible, and have led many people into serious trouble. To try to follow feelings as a guide is like trying to catch a wave. They’re never the same. Feelings are up one day and down the next with the weather, or what you sate for lunch. Even apart from not being a Bible instruction, it’s on its foolish when you think about it.

“It didn’t feel right, I’ll admit.”

Didn’t feel right? There you go—depending on feelings anyway!

“What I meant is it didn’t seem right.”

A bit better. But what if you had said, “I considered the matter, and I didn’t find any biblical basis for proceeding with it?” Don’t you think that a statement something like that—where you are looking for an objective answer from God’s Standard would have been better? Of course, you would have had to do so to be honest.

“Well, I did look at the Bible, and I couldn’t find anything to help.”

There is a biblical principle that may fit your case.

“Tell me about it.”

It’s found in Romans 14.

“I thought that book was all about theology, and stuff like that.”

Well, there’s certainly allot of theology in Romans, for sure, but that’s not all that’s there. Some very practical matters are there which—rightly so—are based on theological principles.

“Oh. Well tell me about Romans 14.”

O.K. Here’s what he writes in verse 23,

But whosoever doubts is condemned if he eats, because he doesn’t eat in faith; and whatsoever isn’t done in faith is sin.

“But my problem has nothing to do with eating.”

I didn’t think that it would.

“Well, then, why bring it up?”

I told you we were going to examine a principle that might help you. The principle is “whatsoever isn’t done in faith is sin.”

“How does that help?”

Just this way. There were Romans who didn’t know whether or not they should eat certain foods—we needn’t go into that here—because they thought that doing so might be sin. Paul says, until you are sure that it isn’t sinful to do so, don’t. It’s that simple. I like to call it the “Holding principle.” You put the matter on hold until you can determine biblically whether or not it is or isn’t sin to do something.

“Hmmm I think O see it now: to move ahead in this matter would be sin if suspect it might be. But what if it isn’t sin?”

At this point, that doesn’t matter. Until you determine from the Bible (not from feelings) that it isn’t sin, you should take no further action. Of course, if you determine it is, that settles the matter. But of you’re not sure, you shouldn’t go ahead because if you do, you are doing something that you think might be sin, can you do that in God’s sight ? Of course not! To so what you think might be sin (even if it really isn) is sin on your part because of your attitude . . .”

“What do you mean my attitude?”

Simply this, you would be willing to do something that you thought might be sin—that is a sinful attitude. So even if the act—whatever it is—isn’t sin; your attitude in doing it is sin.

“Got it! I put it on hold until I’m sure, biblically, that it’s OK to move ahead.”

You did.

Blessings!

Objections to Biblical Counseling

Be prepared to receive them! You can be sure that they’ll come. There are so many out there that have been brainwashed into thinking that counseling must be done by a “professional” psychologist or psychiatrist that they rebel when they’re told that a preacher or laymen is doing counseling. You can understand their objections, and you should respect them for voicing them. At least they‘re concerned! You should have less respect for those who talk behind your back and are not man or woman enough to come out and challenge you. It’s the “Sauls” of Tarsus who, when converted, turn out to be “Pauls.” Learn to respond, cheerfully, cogently and challengingly. Those are the people we are especially concerned to win over to the truth.

Objections will come. You should become prepared to meet them. Most objections will take the form of “Who do you think you are to be doing counseling?” Your answer, of course, is that you are a child of God; that He has commanded to do so. The Galatians 1 passage, along with Colossians 3:16, along with Romans 15:14 are warrant enough for you to respond to a fellow believer. Learn all you can about those passages in order to be able to satisfy those who want a reason for the ministry you’re engaged in. Of course there are other passages such as 2 Timothy 3:15ff, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to which you might also wish to turn as well. But don’t confuse the discussion by citing too many passages. Know a few well, and indelibly impress them upon your listener’s thinking. Remember, in all of those passages the noun “nouthesia” or the verb “noutheteo” is used. And don’t forget that the word has the three elements: loving Confrontation, out of familial Concern, in order to bring about God-pleasing Change.

The object isn’t always to win the objector. Rarely, will you “convert” anyone to biblical counseling on the spot. But get them thinking biblically. Urge them to study the passages you’ve mentioned. Try to set up another time for further discussion. That, of course, is what you do with believers. So far as unbelievers are concerned, you will want to explain that you don’t knowingly counsel unbelievers, so he has nothing to worry about! But you might tell also him that you do pre-counsel [evangelize] people like him. Then, go ahead and do so. In all cases, you need to be able to give a thorough, reasoned response to objectors. Remember II Peter 3:15, 16.

As you do more and more counseling, you will eventually have people who can testify to the effectiveness of God’s word in their lives. Many of the people you have counseled will be willing to testify to the facts should you need them to do so. But never appeal to their testimony as the fundamental reason for doing Nouthetic Counseling. Always rest your case on Scriptural authority. Their testimony is merely illustrative; God’s Word needs no corroboration. And never ask anyone to testify unless he has agreed to do so beforehand.

My hope is that many people will object to your counseling. Not because I wish for difficulty to come your way. But because I hope you will make such an impact upon those around you that they can’t keep still about it. When people object, it’s usually because something is happening. Actually, many object because they are interested and want to understand. “There’s no better way to find out whether there’s anything to this Nouthetic stuff,” they assume, than to put some hard questions to its adherents. That’s good. And when you’re prepared to meet all of their objections, that’s very good!

Nouthetic counselors ought to be savvy about what they are doing, and why they do it. But they will not get that wisdom and knowledge apart from study. There are plenty of books to help. And that’s one reason why the Institute for Nouthetic Studies exists. If we can help you to be able to give a reasoned response to objectors by offering training in Nouthetic Counseling, please let us do so.

Missionary Giving

Other than those that I have preached, I have never heard a sermon on what I consider to be, perhaps, the greatest text on the subject; namely, III John 8. Which is as follows:

We, therefore, ought to take up (support) such men so that we may be fellow-workers for the truth

Gaius, along with unnamed others, had been thrown out of the church by Diotrophes (whom we assume was the pastor), who refused to share the limelight with visiting missionaries sent out by John. Gaius’ “sin” was that he gave money and supplies for these traveling missionaries to get safely to the next Christians’ home.

John is furious about what he did. And he tells Gaius to continue to support them in the future—no matter what the pastor might say or do. Indeed, he was soon coming with full apostolic authority to deal with (“remember”) the problem and the problem-maker!

In the midst of that discussion, John wrote the verse listed above. Playing on the Greek (in which he was writing), he says, Because these missionaries refused to “take” any support from the heathen to whom they preached (so as not to sully Christ’s name[i]), Gaius and other believers ought to “take up” such men. When one does so—supporting them in their work financially or otherwise—one becomes a “fellow-worker” for the truth.  He is looked upon by God as if he too were out there on the mission field preaching the Word. What an incentive to give!

It’s about time to hear some sermons from this passage—don’t you think?

 


[i] There were man travelling sophists who were simply out to make money. They wanted not to be confused with them.  They were not “selling” the gospel! The passage lends itself to a sermon about money-making in the church as well.

How to Counsel an Unbeliever

The following lecture is part of our “Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling” course. In this lecture Jay answers his single most frequently asked question. For more information on this entire course go to our website at www.nouthetic.org.

 

 

Frame It!

Betty (my loving wife) paints. I’m not talking about refurbishing the exterior of the house but about the kind of painting that eventuates in pictures hanging on the wall. She’s good at it, so I like to listen to what she says about it. Recently, she told me, “A picture isn’t a picture until it’s framed.” Profound! She’s right. Putting a frame around a painting makes all the difference. It defines, delimits, focuses and sets off the thrust of the painting. Truly, it makes a picture out of a painting.

While there is much more to a painting than the frame—try hanging an empty one on the wall—the frame enhances the painting. It is a shame to see good work diminished by either no frame or a poor one that fails to complement the painting. A picture becomes a picture when it has a frame!

The same is true of a sermon. Many preachers never take the time required to frame their sermons. And even when they do, some choose frames that clash rather than blend with the sermon itself. What is a good sermon frame? It is one that directs the listener’s attention to the focal point of a biblical message. This may be done in any number of ways, but let me list just two.

First, a good sermon frame is one that limits. A painting with a frame is bordered on all sides. That is also true of a good sermon. It does not extend out in every direction covering all sorts of topics and ideas thrown together in some haphazard fashion. Rather, it confines the sermon to those elements that are central to the Scripture portion from which the preacher is speaking. A good frame holds one’s attention upon what is inside of it. Likewise, a good sermon frame restricts a preacher to the topic at hand. In that way a preacher helps his listeners to concentrate on the one thought of the passage rather than distracting them by extraneous ideas.

There are a number of ways in which preachers may fail to limit their messages. The may wander off onto tangents. Usually, these are chunks of thought that interest the preacher, but have little direct bearing on the main point of the passage. They are bits of information that have caught his attention, about which he thinks (usually wrongly) that the congregation will be as interested as he is. Better to jot them down and file them for future use when they do pertain to the truth of another message. Take it as an axiom that whatever doesn’t directly contribute to the message of the hour will detract from it.

Some preachers fail to frame messages when—unlike the writers of Scripture—they think that they must say everything about every subject. It can’t be done. The attempt is futile. Biblical writers don’t do it, so why would you think that you need to? What am I talking about? The idea that unless you treat every aspect of any subject you have failed to preach the truth. It took Paul years to preach “the whole counsel of God” at Ephesus; how do you think that you can do so in less time?

Jesus, for instance, told His disciples that when they would ask anything in His Name the Father would give it to them (John 16: 23). Now, apart from the fact that this promise was made to them in the context their future ministry, even if the passage can be applied to us in a secondary way, it fails to tell us everything about how to pray. Elsewhere, James says that we must pray rightly (not to satisfy our desires), that to be “effectual” it must be uttered by a “righteous” person, and that we must pray without doubting—in faith believing. We would have to refer to numerous passages about prayer in order to gather the entire scriptural doctrine of prayer. But neither Jesus nor James did any such thing. Nor do you have to do so. What you do need to do, instead, is to know and hold all aspects of prayer in the back of your mind when preaching about any one of them so that, some day, when you preach about the next aspect, you won’t contradict what you said in a previous message. In each biblical passage the writer (or speaker) has a particular point to make, so he didn’t go into all aspects of his subject. Nor should you!

Secondly, as an appropriate picture frame pulls the eye inward toward the object that the painter wants to emphasize, so too a good sermon frame helps to attract ear to the focal point of a message. A common thread running throughout the message may accomplish this. Like a ribbon tying up a package (to change the simile) a sermon frame packages truth. A word, phrase or example repeatedly referred to throughout the sermon will often accomplish the same thing. Or a matching introduction and conclusion-a match that keeps the main subject before the listener and summarizes it in the conclusion—is another way to appropriately frame truth. A question asked in the introduction, then raised again and again within the message, and answered only at the end also tends to frame things well.

In short, we may say that the scriptural message stands out most vividly in a sermon when it has been properly framed. Good preachers always do it. Go thou and do likewise!