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?

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

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.

Hating Evil

People often speak of the fear of the Lord and, thereby, mean different things.  “Fearing” God is a large concept embracing many aspects of faith.  One of these aspects is mentioned in Proverbs 8:13

To fear the Lord is to hate evil.

Indeed, the latter is a pretty good index of the former: how much you hate evil probably tells one how much you fear God.

To hate evil is not merely to hate evil that you see around you—that is all too easily achieved.  Genuine hatred of evil most of all begins with hatred of evil within yourself.  Is your hatred of evil genuine?

Judge Not

Most savvy Christians know that the prohibition to judging in Matthew 7:1 has to do with wrong judging, and not with judging altogether.

“I didn’t know that!”

Sure. In John 7:24 Jesus commands us to judge a righteous judgment. And, here in Matthew 7, he explains that he is speaking about the one who does not first take the log out of his own eye before he removes a splinter from another’s. That comment presupposes he will judge once he has dealt with his own sin.

“I guess I hadn’t connected that rightly.”

Yeah. But there are a couple of other things in the passage that also ought to be noted.

“Like what?”

Like v. 6.

“What has that verse got to do with the subject?”

Everything.

“Please explain.”

Gladly. Here’s what Jesus said: “Don’t give what is holy to dogs; and don’t throw pearls before pigs; otherwise, they may trample them with their feet and turn on you and attack you.”

See, that has to do with judging too.

“It does? Can’t see how.”

Well, for one thing, if you want to obey it, you will have to first determine who is a dog or hog!

“So?”

So, that’s judging.

“OH! I gotcha.’”

It’s none of our business to judge the actions and words of unbelievers; we have enough to do to rightly judge our own. Paul said, “What reason would I have to judge those who are outside [unbelievers]? Isn’t it those who are inside [Christians] that you are to judge?”(I Corinthians 5:12,13).

“Wow! That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?”

Very clear. But that’s not all. Jesus said that if you give valuable advice when trying to judge unbelievers (your dogs and hogs) they’ll not be able to assay its value and trample it underfoot, or turn on you because it wasn’t what they thought it was.

“Oh. Oh! I see that it can be dangerous to deal with such people.”

Proverbs has a powerful way of saying the same thing: “Whoever reproves a mocker gets insulted, and whoever corrects a wicked person invites bruises!” (Proverbs 9:7).

“Had no idea about such things. You mean he might punch me out?”

Literally or figuratively, yes.

“Woof!”

Yep. Lots of people who don’t have a biblical perspective, get angry over such reproof. It’s time we started focusing on those things in the church that need cleaning up before we take on the unsaved who can’t appreciate the value of biblical teaching.

“I can see that.”

Teaching is not Lecturing

Back in the 50s when I attended Johns Hopkins University, I remember vividly a professor on the first day of class saying to us, “Now I don’t care whether or not you pass this class. All I’m required to do is to present the material and it’s up to you to get it or not.”

I suppose he meant well—trying to motivate us to study by that approach— but it was clearly not the Christian approach to teaching.

The original terms for teaching and learning found in the Old Testament are so closely aligned that to remove the one from the other is to destroy both. In Scripture, the teacher is one who facilitates learning; not one who merely lectures, leaving the learning entirely up to the student.

If you teach, you will want to remember this fact. God holds you responsible to so work at the way you communicate His truth that there is no reason (short of his own resistance) why a student doesn’t learn what you have to say. It is your task to teach people; not lecture about subjects.

That means you must work hard at becoming a good teacher—one who has spent time not only gathering facts, but also discovering how best to present them so that those who hear cannot mistake what God says in His Word. Too often, in Christian higher educational institutions there is much of the same attitude that the “teacher” at Hopkins had. Too often the goal is for accuracy in presenting truth—and that’s all!

We train youth who need help learning God’s truth (while unlearning error)—especially when they come to us from the watered-down, secularized, paganized, “education” that they receive in our public schools. This is a double task that requires extra effort on your part. To teach such persons well requires knowledge not only of data, but also of those persons to whom we communicate it. It requires special concern, extraordinary effort, and meticulous care to see that our students truly “get it.” If you consider yourself a “lecturer,” then consider again.

Students will come with minds that have been marinated in continuum thinking—nothing is right or wrong, true or false—ideas are on a continuum somewhere between such poles (if, indeed, they are even recognized). In contrast, you must attempt to inculcate an antithetical mindset in which they will be taught absolutes such as saved/lost, true/false, right/wrong, heaven/hell, etc. This biblical approach to life will clash with theirs, and it will take extra effort on your part to help them make the paradigm shift involved.

Because of such matters, Christian teachers carry an additional burden. We must not glean our teaching methods from the world. Rather, each must develop those approaches to teaching God’s truth that neither add nor subtract from it, and in such a manner that they rejoice in it! That, indeed, is a great responsibility. Are you prepared, and ready to bear it?

Think About That

Lots of thoughts occupy the minds of counselees when they come for help. Some are hopeful thoughts; some doubtful. Some are confused; some are harmful, some downright hateful. Unless a counselor is aware of this fact, he will go on talking blissfully as if there were nothing to bother one’s self about. But that isn’t true. Early in counseling, he will want to coax these thoughts out so that he will know which to encourage and which to discourage. Moreover, he may have to deal with them before he can go further. You can’t deal with people abstractly as some, today, try to. Where there is doubt, for instance, he will have to make it clear to his counselee from James 1 that he shouldn’t expect God to answer prayer if it persists. That’s concrete, personal counsel. Faith must replace doubt. He knows that if it doesn’t nothing the counselee does can be expected to last. James also says that the person who doubts is like a wave that continually takes on different formations, the next never really the same as the last. James goes on to explain that a doubtful person is “unstable in all of this ways.” If that is so, nothing he does will be certain to last. Both his words and his ways will fluctuate; he cannot be relied upon.

So, it will be absolutely essential for your counselee to replace doubt with faith. Of course, the faith we’re speaking about is faith in the promises of God—not faith in the counselor. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It is, therefore, important to use and fully explain those biblical promises that counter the doubt that fills his mind.

What is true of doubt is true of any and all thoughts that debilitate counselees. These must be countered by God’s unfailing Word. But of course, the Word must be used concretely so that it may be mixed with faith, as we read in Hebrews. So, you will need to pray for your counselee as you open the Scriptures to him. Pray not merely that God will bless him as part of the body of Christ, but that the Spirit will so use His Word and that it will displace whatever it is that stands in the way of belief that leads to biblical action.

Counseling—because it involves concrete thoughts and actions—is perhaps the best antidote to that run-away biblical theology that falsely teaches application is unbiblical. Not only do biblical writers themselves apply Scripture concretely to those to whom they preach and counsel, they do so with great power (Cf. the exemplary application in I Corinthians 10!). What those who only want to talk about the “history of redemption” fail to realize is that there are always two strains running side by side in that history. There is what God is doing in history over the large, long-range scope of things, but there is also what He is doing in the lives of those involved-those who live in the milieu of that history. A clear example of this harmony of the whole with the part is found in the last chapter of Genesis where Joseph speaks of how God ordered his personal history 1) for his good and 2) to save a whole people alive. The theocratic, covenant people from whom the Messiah would come. To fail to recognize God’s hand simultaneously at work in both spheres—the personal and the corporate—is to fail to interpret the Bible correctly. And a failure to help people. Because of this failure on the part of those who see only the larger picture, perhaps there is no greater antidote to falsely using the Scriptures than to be forced to deal with the wayward thinking and living of individual counselees. Moreover, the providential working of God in Joseph’s life, again, points to the way that God deals with individuals. Providence, a principal doctrine daily in use by biblical counselors, shows how God cares and blesses His church as a body, but also every individual in it.

Jesus is not much of a Messiah, if He is viewed only as the One about Whom history speaks. No, He is a Messiah about Whom history speaks as a saving and providentially-working Savior Who changes the lives of His people—even settling their doubts, giving the faith, and enabling them to live for Himself. Just think about that!