Category Archives: Rethinking Counseling

Let’s get past the technicalities

Imagine two church members have a conflict (imagine that!), and they both sin against each other, and never reconcile over the conflict. And now imagine that you get wind of this from one of the parties. I would exhort you with Ephesians 4.1-3: “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Let that be your guide, among many other big NT ideas, to help you wade through this situation to bring about a stronger unity in the Body of Christ.

No need to worry about:

  • Is this gossip? Gossip is 99% of the time in the heart of the speaker, that is between them and God.
  • Should I be hearing this? It doesn’t matter; you just heard it.
  • Should I tell them they need to go back to that person one one one in order to follow Matthew 18? Once there is a two-way conflict, it is no longer a true Matthew 18 situation. Matthew 18 is a situation that envisions one person has sinned against another, not a situation in which both have sinned.

Let’s just get past all the technicalities and help each other for Heaven’s sake! Let big, clear principles of love, faith, and unity of the Spirit be your guide and simply help people work through these things. Do not leave it up to somebody else. In God’s providence, if you have heard about the situation, it is YOUR responsibility to walk in a manner worthy of our high calling.

And then if you need help thinking through it still, ask one of your elders for wisdom. And no, you’re not gossiping if you do that!

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Does it matter whether I have been through it or not?

I know everyone means well. But it is an attack on the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.

What I am talking about is the understandable thought that experience helps more than anything else, even more than knowing the Bible.

Imagine someone loses a loved one to a tragic death. And in their church they have a friend who loves them very much, and knows the Bible very well. They also have another friend in their church who loves them just as much as the first friend, and knows the Bible just as well as the first friend, but also lost a loved one last year to a tragic death. Is it a no-brainer for you? Clearly, the first person they should talk to is the one who has the experience that could help!

Well, it’s a no brainer for me too: it doesn’t matter! Both are going to help equally! (plus, in the real world, you can talk to both, but that’s beside the point)

2 Peter 1.3-4: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises.” I just want you to notice how a Christian gains all things for “life and godliness”; it comes through the knowledge of God.

If you know God through the Bible, that will give you everything you need to grow in things pertaining to eternal life and things pertaining to godliness. If you know God through the Bible, that will give you everything you need to counsel others toward life and godliness.

I would challenge you: the next time you face a difficult challenge, and a godly Christian offers to help you through it, and even if they’ve been through the same kind of thing as you, what you need to think is NOT, “I’m so glad I’m talking to someone who knows exactly what I’ve been through,” BUT RATHER, “I’m so glad I’m talking to someone who knows God.”

What we need to suffer well or to fight sin is not someone who has suffered imperfectly or who has also fought similar sins. We need Someone who suffered for us and defeated sin. The best help is the person who points you to that Person.

The evil of the category of “mental illness”

I have many reasons why I generally disagree with the category of mental illness. I will just share one: it is a horror that people would put other people into some “lesser” category. Two examples of how you might unwittingly do this:

  1. Suppose someone says they suffer from “post-traumatic stress disorder.” You have heard of others who have struggled with that. You have seen the harmful effects of it. You have never suffered the kind of trauma they have experienced. So instead of seeing them as a fellow sinner made in God’s image, in need of God’s grace just like you, and instead of moving into their life to know them and love them and try to understand their experiences, you decide you are not gifted enough to minister to them. So you never really get to know them the way you might with someone who has no “label.” Or at the very least, you will wait to get to know them until they are “cured.”
  2. Suppose you know someone with Down Syndrome. You have internal compassion for them and their family, but you figure you can never have a regular conversation with that person. So you don’t even try. Maybe they visit your church, but you don’t even introduce yourself–maybe even unwittingly you ignore them because “regular” people have more to offer the church, more money to give, more ways they can serve. So instead of seeing them as a fellow sinner made in God’s image, in need of God’s grace just like you, and instead of moving into their life to know them and love them and try to understand their experiences, you decide you are not gifted enough to minister to them. They have “special needs” that you could never meet.

I pray the Lord help us see same-ness before we ever see differences. Every single human being has the exact same level of need for the gospel.

Is salvation dependent on being a forgiver?

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6.14-15)

I would encourage you to not move so quickly to, “this verse is not talking about works righteousness. Your salvation is not dependent on forgiving others.”

Yes, no verse in the Bible commands Christians toward works-righteousness. So you must not forgive in order to be saved. But does that automatically mean that your salvation is not dependent on forgiving? Just depends on what you mean by  “dependent” I suppose.

This text is pretty straightforward. So in order to not lose the clarity of Scripture, I would suggest hearing Jesus’ words in light of the doctrine of perseverance. Election is unconditional. But our calling is conditioned upon our election. Our justification is conditioned upon faith. Our sanctification is conditioned upon justification. And our glorification is conditioned upon perseverance. It is an unbreakable chain. It is all by grace through faith in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. But I think if we understand the order of salvation in this way, we can remain Protestant, and also give due justice to each text.

It is in this context that I can say (along with Jesus), “if you forgive–if you persevere in a life of forgiveness– your Heavenly Father will also forgive you– God will grant you access to His glory on the final day.” It is actually only those who are bent toward works-righteousness who have to understand that sentence in a works-righteous way.

So as always, I would remind you, if you remember what Christ has accomplished for you already on the cross, then you will persevere.

Secular psychology can send you to hell

Be very careful with language. Inaccurate language reflects bad theology, and bad theology can lead to hell. We know this when it comes to “abortion.” We often say “abortion” because that is what everybody says. Yet the word covers up the reality, which is murder. Unless murderers repent, they will not see the kingdom of God.

Homosexuality is similar in our discussions. Some might say “I’m a homosexual,” meaning, “I’m attracted to those of the same gender.” Or they might say, “this is just who I am,” meaning, “this is how God made me so it must be good, and I have to be true to my good self.” Yet that language is very confusing. The bible would use the word “homosexual” more in terms of practice than identity. And those who do not repent from homosexuality will not see the kingdom of God either. The language can mislead people into a life of unrepentance.

The same can and should be said of “alcoholism.” Those in the AA-type world believe wholeheartedly that there is a “disease” known as alcoholism. And of course, seeing something as a disease will lead to treating it very differently than if you saw it as unrepentant sin. The drunkard will not see the kingdom of God either. God spoke to us in words so that we could know him and know how to please Him. Let’s try and use words the way He intended. It’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death.

Are people born gay?

If you wonder about this, you have already bought into a lie. The lie is that there is such a thing as “gay.” And if you believe that lie, you are prone to at least two other lies. So let me speak to these three lies, and then say a word of compassion and hope:

  1. There is no such thing in the Bible as “gay.” What people mean by that word is that they believe some people are born with a  tendency toward homosexuality. Whether people are actually “born” with a “tendency” will be debated until Jesus returns. But what you must believe is that we all have sinful desires. Right now. Don’t we? And should human beings be categorized by any single sinful desire they choose? Sadly, the word “gay” is a way to make something sinful sound like something God designed.
  2. If you believe in the category of “gay,” you are prone to see people who practice homosexuality as a “people-group.” All the connections people have made to the civil rights movements of the past are all based on the lie of “gay” as a category.
  3. If you believe it is possible to be “born gay,” you are prone to misinterpret the lives of all sexual sinners. I am one who has committed sexual immorality many times in my life (Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has delivered me from this body of death!). But I do not know if the best way to describe me was that I was born heterosexual. Truthfully, I was made in the image of God, born a male, but not born a man. I was born as a baby, with no inclinations whatsoever to sexual sin (at least as far as I can tell). I do remember sinning sexually very young, but my thoughts and intentions and desires toward sex did not blossom (if you want to call it that) until my teenage years! Most people I know did not sin sexually as young as I did. Most five year olds (like my daughter) have not thought for a second about being attracted to any human being. They just want to read Curious George! To speak about people either being born with heterosexual or homosexual tendencies seems to be trying to speak about something that God never revealed to us (namely, the mysterious nature of human-cognitive-sexual development that is different for each person). And from my limited experience, it seems almost nobody thinks about sexual attraction in the first few years of life.

A word of compassion and hope: if you struggle with sexual sin, I understand. And I know sexuality feels more personal than most other sins (1 Cor 6.18). But I want you to know there is tons of good news for repentant sinners. You can actually crucify the flesh, along with its passions and desires (Gal 5.24)! And we have a Great High Priest, who has been tempted in every way we are, and yet never acted on any of it (Heb 4.15). And He will love you no matter what, if you repent and believe in him. And I mean, no matter what. He will love you. And so will our fundamental, conservative, fire and brimstone church.