What Should I Look for in a Biblical Counselor?

crocus

Let’s face it. Sometimes life just doesn’t go the way we planned and we need a little help. Whether it is a struggling marriage, a wayward child, or some type of past issue that needs to be dealt with, sometimes we just need a bit of support to help us get our feet back on the right path again.

Unfortunately, while there is no dearth of counselors (we also call them therapists), good biblical counselors can be hard to find. Even those who claim to be Christian counselors can be wrapped up in man’s wisdom and philosophies.

When I went to college as a young adult I started out majoring in psychology. It’s all a bit hazy now, but about halfway through that major I recognized that it was not the career for me. It was–and still is– a quagmire of philosophies that are in opposition to biblical wisdom. Christian psychology is generally a mixing of earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom that becomes impossible to separate.

James 3:15-17 says this–

 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 

We can see from these verses that earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom not only shouldn’t be unified, but they really can’t be. They are in complete opposition of one another.  And yet this is exactly what Christian psychology tries to do. It is very similar to the idea of theistic evolution. It is an impossible and absurd attempt to unify man’s wisdom with God’s wisdom. And it changes the Gospel in the process. No part of evolution can be true if the Gospel as presented in scripture is true. They are mutually exclusive. According to scripture, death was the result of sin. And this is impossible with the theory of evolution.

So is the case with human psychology and biblical counseling. In human psychology, self is the center of everything. The temporal healing of man and a better life is the ultimate goal. But the Bible teaches that God is the source of true healing. Reconciliation with God and right living before God is the ultimate goal. While it may not seem so, they truly are mutually exclusive. We cannot have both God and self at the center of our lives. We cannot be driven both by God and by self. We must choose one.

(And here’s a curious tidbit for those of you who would like to know more– did you know that much of the psychological theories and presuppositions were developed with the help of spirit guides, which, in other words, means they come straight from demons? I didn’t either. Until I wrote this article. I didn’t learn that in my classes at college. You can read more about that here and and there are more resources here.)

Martin and Deidre Bobgan have this to say about the transition from faith in God’s Word to faith in man’s theories–

During the last sixty years much has happened to undermine the faith of those who once believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for those issues of life that are now being addressed by psychological counseling (psychotherapy). Previous to the influx of psychological theories and therapies, Christians turned to the Scriptures to understand themselves and to live accordingly. They turned to the Bible regarding attitudes and actions. They sought God regarding personal feelings and relationships. They found solid solace, strength, and guidance during difficult circumstances. Moreover, they learned the difference between walking according to the old ways of the world and walking according to the new life they had received through Christ’s death, resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit. Much of this has been lost as Christians have been adding the ways of the world to the way of the cross.We have witnessed this grievous transition from faith in God and His Word to faith in the psychological systems of men for nonorganic issues of life.*

I couldn’t agree more.

And if we are searching in the wrong place for help and if we are listening to earthly wisdom from below, then the verses from James above assure us that it will lead us into chaos and confusion.

So what should we look for in a biblical counselor when we do need a little help? How can we assure that we are receiving wisdom from above and not from human philosophies? Here are eight questions we can ask–

1. Does the counselor teach that we can only have peace and reconciliation with God through repentance and faith? (Mark 1:15)

2. Does the counselor call sin sin? Or does he/she cover sin up by calling it a disorder or disease? (Galatians 5:19-21)

3. Does the counselor use the Bible? (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12)

4. Does the counselor recognize and point out “acceptable sins” such as selfishness, pride, anger, resentment, unforgiveness? (James 4:6; Philippians 4:6; many others)

5. Does the counselor give assignments for Bible Study, resulting in a closer relationship with God? (Psalm 119)

6. Does the counselor acknowledge God’s sovereignty and the scripture’s sufficiency in all they say and do? (Job 42:2; Psalm 19; 2 Timothy 3:15-17)

7. Does the counselor focus on bringing glory to God through the situation at hand? (I Corinthians 10:31)

8. Does the counselor focus on the eternal ramifications of sinful behavior, along with the temporal consequences? (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27)

A godly counselor will talk about these eight things with so much love and grace. While being unafraid to speak the truth, they will do so in a way that is loving and kind. One of the finest examples of this is Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Jesus Christ always spoke truth with love to those whose hearts really wanted to know the truth. There was no hard edge or frustration. He is the one and only perfect example.

But He did speak the truth. Which is what we can and should expect a godly counselor to do if we truly long for permanent change.

Today, we have God’s Word to show us how to live. It is there that we find help for permanent and powerful change. A true biblical counselor recognizes this. I leave you with one final quote from the Bobgans–

The Bible is not meant to work independently from God Himself. The Bible is sufficient because the Lord Himself works through His Word. If a person tries to use the Bible apart from Christ ruling in His heart, he may claim that the Bible lacks practical answers for life’s difficulties. However, it is through the Bible that God reveals Himself and works His divine power in Christians. The Bible is more than words on a page. Every word is backed by God’s mighty power, His perfect righteousness, His love, His grace, and His wisdom. Thus God not only gives precious promises and instructions for living; He enables a believer to obey His Word. That is why the Bible is sufficient for life and conduct. Paul declared that he would not depend upon the wisdom of men, but on the power and wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1.) Not only is human wisdom foolishness in comparison with God’s wisdom; human words lack the divine power necessary to transform a person into the likeness of Christ and to enable him to live the Christian life according to God’s will. God uses the wisdom and power of the Scriptures to enable believers to please Him and bear fruit. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:2-8.) No psychological doctrine can even come close to that claim, nor can it add power for godly change.*

Amen.

 

*From PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Martin and Deidre Bobgan (free PDF is available by clicking on this link)

You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

19276737682_8d211d9a3a_b

Have you ever noticed that almost everyone loves Chick-Fil-A? The other day we went to one for a mid-week lunch and it was lined up almost to the door. In a world where fast food has lost much of its popularity and is considered quite unfashionable, Chick-Fil-As are still always busy. Why is this?

I believe it is because when you go there you will find their restaurants clean and organized and the employees respectful and helpful. Of course this isn’t true across the board, but there is a much greater chance of finding a Chick-Fil-A like this than any other fast food restaurant.

How does the owner of Chick-Fil-A accomplish this? This article states that Truett Cathy screens his franchise owners. They must exhibit Christian values and be involved in their communities. It’s a Huffington Post article that puts a negative spin on it (of course!). But, actually, what Cathy is doing is completely lawful. He’s protecting the reputation of Chick-Fil-A, which he owns. (Funny how you never see Huffington Post talk about the unfairness of progressives forcing business owners to bake wedding cakes…)

So why does having Christian values make a difference?

The Bible teaches us many things about life and human relationships. And it is clear that when we put them into practice, life is generally better. We avoid so much heartache and pain and generally experience so much more peace and joy when we don’t lie, steal, cheat, or hate. We have a much more restful home when we love, forgive, discipline our children, treat one another with respect and kindness, and live out the roles God has established for Dads, Moms, and kids. And we run much better restaurants and companies when we are honest, fair, train our employees to treat others with respect and kindness, and operate with integrity.

Christian principles make for a better restaurant, family, church, workplace, and LIFE.

Psalm 1 puts it this way–

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

The ironic thing is that even unbelievers love what results from living this way, don’t they? Chick-Fil-As are filled with customers who are unbelievers. It is because they love the outcome of this unappealing way of life, they just don’t want to do the work or make the sacrifices to have that same outcome in their own personal lives.

This goes the same for parenting. The world (and even other Christians who are following the world when it comes to disciplining their children) longingly watch parents who are actually enjoying their well-behaved and respectful children. But these godly parents are diligently following scriptural principles and making sacrifices to experience God’s wonderful promise that children are a reward (Psalm 127:3). It doesn’t just happen. Other parents watching them–whose children are unruly and unmanageable and make life so difficult– long to have the same results as their friends. But they are completely unwilling to follow the biblical principles in order to do so.

Well, you just can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

You can’t have the positive effects of living life based on Christians principles without…actually living life based on Christian principles. And that does take work and sacrifice and usually comes with its own share of mocking and ridicule, no matter where you live.

Interestingly enough, one can actually live a life based on the principles of the Bible without actually being a Christian and fare pretty well from a temporal perspective. I have seen this many times. Couples that live out and have instilled these Judeo-Christian values in their kids and who are living a life of harmony and success because of it. (In fact, these actually can be some of the hardest people to reach because they don’t see their need for a Savior.)

Perhaps this, too, is why America was so wonderful for so long. Perhaps this is why she attracted so many from countries all around the world. Being based on those same Christian principles created her reputation of being fair and free and safe and full of opportunities.

Of course, that’s all changing rapidly now.

We can’t change the world. But we can, like Truett Cathy, change our corner of the world. We can change our families by following God’s ordained roles for men and women and by training our children according to biblical principles. We can change our place of employment by doing our jobs with integrity, honesty, and diligence. We can change our churches by teaching the Bible, treating others with grace and mercy, and by calling out sin. Living life according to biblical principles not only makes our lives better but it also makes life better for those who live with and around us.

God wrote the Bible for us. He wrote every word for a reason. Our job is to study it and to live it out. Psalm 1 is not a promise but a principle. Some Christians have really hard lives and hardly seem to prosper at all. But you can never judge a book by its cover. The poorest Christian may be much more prosperous in eternal treasure than the richest one.

One thing we do know for sure: The way of the ungodly shall perish.

 

 

What Does Your Love for Self Cause You to Do (or Not Do)?

IMG_3089

The last week or so, I have been really reflecting on how much we all do because we are concerned about our own selfish good. This has come about through a couple of conversations, through a sermon of by Pastor Dean (found here), and through our Sunday School study of Philippians. As I mulled these things over during the past few days, I recognized the two things they all pointed to: A Savior that never did anything–not even one tiny thing–out of selfishness. And, second, the weakness of believers–those that the Savior has saved–that can hardly do anything without at least a tinge of selfishness.

Selfishness gets almost all of us in one way or another, doesn’t it? Sometimes we are obvious in how we go about it–we demand our way, our rights, our desires. We are very noticeably selfish. But, for others of us, we are viewed as the nicest, most unselfish people in the world, even while we are being selfish. We agree with everyone, we don’t confront, we don’t have the hard conversations–all because we hate conflict and we don’t want to rock the boat. We will selfishly do anything to avoid even a hint of controversy.

For others of us self takes on a whole life of its own, as we grasp for praise and glory, growing comfortable in a life of boasting so that we can make sure others see how great we are. Pride grows out of self-absorption and we start to believe we know everything and, along with this, comes the insatiable desire to win every argument and always be “right”.  Even when it doesn’t matter at all.

And then for others, we like our comfort and our relationships and our churches and we just aren’t willing to sacrifice them to stand up for what’s right. Again, love of self rears its ugly head. When it comes right down to it, we’d rather have a friend go to hell and still have them as a friend, than to risk that friendship to share the Gospel.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I am not saying that we should always speak up. There is great wisdom in knowing when not to speak. I tend to be one of those that speaks up too much and I have spent a lifetime working on timing and, most often, not speaking at all and praying instead.

But sometimes we do need to speak up–especially when it concerns the Gospel and other biblical matters. Knowing how to do that gently and with love is important. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my greatest concerns in the area of discernment is how unloving these “discerners” can be–treating it as if they are on a treasure hunt and it is some great competition. Some even seem to gloat with glee when they discover something. Pride is often rearing its ugly head in these scenarios. (Okay, that was a bit of a rabbit trail, but I just had to say it!)

Our struggles with selfishness show themselves in our homes as parents and spouses (As we fervently avoid battles, insist on being right, are lazy in nurturing and disciplining our kids, and as we lack a servant’s heart–home always tells the true tale); in our churches (as we insist on certain ways to do insignificant things and as we are unwilling to call out sin); and in our work places (as we demand our desires or stay quiet at the water cooler.) This is the nitty gritty of Christian living for all of us. If you will allow me to use a cliche: This is where the rubber meets the road.

The key is this: We always have to ask ourselves–why are we speaking up? Why are we not speaking up? Why are we doing a certain action? Or not doing a certain action? Why are we thinking what we are thinking? And then we must run it all through the grid of the Word, making sure that our own desires aren’t getting in the way of speaking, doing, and thinking what’s right.

Truthfully, I don’t know most of you at all. I don’t know how SELF worms its way into your thinking. I don’t know if you are one who demands your own way or if you are someone who sits back and says nothing to avoid conflict. I don’t know if you are someone who is always pushing your own agenda and opinions on others or if you are someone who timidly won’t say anything so as to not rock any boats.

But what I do know is that all of us–in one way or another–fight a battle with our greatest enemy of SELF. Today would be a good day for all of us to take a good look in our hearts and see how we are doing in that battle. Are we winning? Or losing?

Philippians 2:5-8 encourages us to have the mind of Christ. If we read verses 3 and 4 right before this section, we can understand that an important part of having the mind of Christ is diminishing our view of self.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Do we really understand exactly what Christ did by coming to earth?? This is probably worthy of its own post, but, I will just say this: As we begin to grasp and gain a deeper understanding of exactly what Christ did so that we could be saved from eternal damnation, our battle with self takes on a new importance and we gain a deeper desire to win that battle! Our enemy of self must be beaten if we are to be like Christ and if we are going to live effectively for Christ. There is no other way. Selfish people are useless in–and even detrimental to– God’s Kingdom.

As my pastor said the other Sunday in this challenging sermon: There is only one throne in our hearts. Who is on yours?

I leave you with these wise words of John Newton, the former slave trader, who was amazingly saved by grace (and who actually went on to write our beloved hymn Amazing Grace)–

Beware of SELF! This is the worst enemy we have to deal with!
 
Self-will,
self-wisdom,
self-righteousness,
self-seeking,
self-dependence,
and self-boasting.
 
It is a large family–and I cannot count up all the branches! They are all nearly related to Satan–and they are all a sworn enemy to our peace.
 
If we lie low–then the Lord will raise us up.
But if we will be something–then His arm will surely pull us down.

That monster SELF has as many heads as a Hydra, and as many lives as a cat! It is more than twenty-five years since I hoped it was fast nailed to the Cross! But alas, it is alive–and still mixing with and spoiling everything I do!

 

And to that I say a rousing AMEN!!!

 

 

(Note: The Hydra was a serpentine mythological water monster with many heads.
For every head chopped off–the Hydra would re-grow a couple of new heads.)

 

Interconnected Strands

strands

Yesterday morning I was awakened by a familiar buzz. I didn’t know who would be texting me that early but I reached over and, fumbling to put on my reading glasses so I could actually read the text, I picked up my phone.

I squinted my eyes to take in the unfamiliar number and opened the text. It was from Discover card, asking me if I had made a purchase at Sunoco in the amount of $4.98. Somehow they had gotten my cell phone number (I do not remember giving it to them) and decided to start texting me about purchases. While most early mornings, neither my husband or I would ever be at a Sunoco gas station, this particular morning was one where my husband was busy doing snow removal. I knew he often stopped there to grab a snack and drink. I was sure the charge was legitimate.

I decided to get out of bed since I was awake and as I did so, I pondered the interconnectedness of everything in our lives. Even a credit card charge by my husband comes to my cell phone. Everything is connected. Here’s another example: Have you ever looked at something on Amazon and then went over to Facebook, only to see ads for what you were just looking at? Personally, I find that rather creepy. And now there are apps out there that track your kids’ phones so you know where they are at all times; security systems, lights, and furnaces that can be turned on and off by your smart phone; and fitness devices that track every step you take and every place you go and then provide that information to any device you desire. In this world of technology, everything is connected.

While I could (and perhaps should) write on the privacy we are giving up willingly in this world that is interconnected in so many different ways, I am actually going to go a different direction.

These strands of life interconnecting and forming one whole is exactly how we should be living as believers. All strands interconnect and wind around one another, each affecting the other.

Sometimes we like to pretend that a certain strand can remain separate from the rest of our spiritual life, but that is a naive thought. For example, we like to believe that our “entertainment” strand isn’t part of the whole. Way over there with that strand we can fill up our minds with ungodly movies, music, and books and oddly believe this will not affect the whole. Or we do it with our “family” strand, acting like a completely different person at home than who we portray out in public, somehow believing that we can freely express our anger and selfishness there in that safe space, all the while keeping that “family” strand far away from the whole of who we really are. One final example would be our “online” strand. So often we think who we are online is separate from who we are in real life. We seem to believe that our “online” strand, and the angry rants and selfish posts that go with it, are there own separate strand far away from the rest of who we are.

But it just doesn’t work like that. Everything we are and everything we do is a reflection of who we are in Christ. We can’t separate any strand of life from the whole. I admit it would be nice if we could. But here is what God’s Word has to say about this–

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’[a] This is the first commandment.

Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

James 4:4-5  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

We can see by these verses (and there are so many more, as well) that following Jesus means giving our whole ball of interwoven strands to Him. We can’t separate out the parts we don’t desire to surrender to Him. To try to do so only leads to one thing: hypocrisy.

It is hypocrisy to say we love Jesus and then to continue in any sin. Whether it be yelling at our spouse; tuning in to a radio station that plays songs filled with lyrics about sex outside of marriage, drug use, and violence; or its being unkind and self-absorbed online. While we are certainly going to sin sometimes (as humans, we can’t reach perfection here on this earth), the Holy Spirit will fill the hearts of believers who are in the Word with conviction and repentance. The more I am in the Word, the more often this happens.

And, contrary to what you might think, this life of surrender and obedience is a much more joyful and peaceful place to be. Sure, it’s no fun facing our sin. But there is something so comforting and amazing in knowing that the Almighty, Omnipotent Creator actually cares enough about me to show me my sin and to grow me to be more like Christ. Life is so much better when we stop rebelling.

Total obedience yields a life of true joy and peace. I am convinced of this more and more each year. But we must remember that this isn’t some solitary decision. As life ebbs and flows and changes, some days it is easier to surrender to the Lord than others. There is no magic pill that makes this lifestyle easy. But we must keep trying.

If you have a strand that you have tried to keep separate from the whole, I encourage you to surrender that strand to the Lord. It’s part of the whole, anyway, whether you realize it or not. Give it all to God. He will not disappoint.

 

Technology Is Like a Razor Blade

manipulation-smartphone-2507499_1920

Razor Blades work great to remove paint from glass. They have other very helpful applications. But they are also dangerous and must be handled extremely carefully.

It sounds like technology.

The other evening I watched a group of teen-aged girls come in from the frigid cold to the warm indoors. The first thing each one of them did–without exception–was to stand for a few minutes at their phones, posting photos from their adventure outside. And then their phones were put away and they started talking.

But this incident reminded me of just how much technology has changed our lives.

That group of girls can’t remember a world without texting and social media. They can’t remember a time you couldn’t FaceTime or Skype someone who lives far away or follow your favorite movie star’s personal life.

But I remember. And the changes are staggering if you really stop and think about it.

But just like that razor blade, the changes are not all bad. There are amazing things that make our lives so much better. I have two daughters that live in a different state than me. Technology makes this so much more bearable. They can send me photos, text me at any time, and we can FaceTime. It makes them feel so much closer. When I lived away from my parents they got an occasional letter and a weekly {very expensive} phone call. This was all we had. There are so many other good things. We can listen to podcasts of godly preachers at the push of a button. We can find free or almost free copies of Christian classics written by godly men long ago. We can use social media to talk about our faith and to point people to God’s Word. And so, of course, we must be grateful for the good things.

But just like that razor blade, technology has an edge. And it will bite. It must be handled very carefully or it can be very dangerous. What are some of the biggest dangers that we must watch out for? Here are a few that I think are worthy of your consideration for yourself or your children–

1. It drives us to be consumed with ourselves. Social Media is designed to glorify self. Look at me! See what I’ve done…see my amazing family…see how I have succeeded…see how cool I am. We twitter our important opinions and expect people to take note. It tends to be a big promoter of SELF. Now don’t hear me saying that posting photos and opinions is sinful. It isn’t. These things can be wonderful tools for family far away to stay in touch with us or a way in which we can point people to Christ. It is our attitude that determines if it is sinful not the act itself.

2. It divides families. When I was growing up, we had one TV. We had to watch the same thing or not watch TV. Now everyone can go their separate ways. Parents are in the family room watching one TV, while their teenager is on their tablet in another room binge-watching a Netflix show, another one is playing video games online, and a daughter is snap-chatting with her friends. They are never together. And the TV is rarely off.

3. It is the greatest thief of family bonding time. Parents have grabbed onto technology as the escape they need from their children. And so, instead of communicating with them and talking about important, eternal things during the hours they have with them in the car, in restaurants, and even at home, they hand them an iPad so that they will shut up and let them alone. This may be the greatest tragedy of all because these kids grow up without having any solid relationship with their parents. In a world of over-worked parents, the iPad has become the tool that is killing their family bit by bit. Of course, giving a child an iPad at a restaurant occasionally or on the a long car ride to Grandma’s isn’t sinful. But if it is habitual, it will harm your family.

4. It promotes gossip. We know far too much about everybody and we like to talk about it. Did you see what so-and-so posted? Did you hear about this person? Or what that person said? Social Media turns us all into busy-bodies if we aren’t extremely careful. While it can be a valuable tool to keep us informed on the people we love, we must be vigilant in taking our thoughts captive in how we think about that information.

5. It has altered our attention spans. In a world driven by photos and two-minute videos, we find it harder and harder to concentrate.  Watching and looking require much less thinking than reading or listening. As we spend less and less time reading and concentrating it becomes harder and harder to do so. It is only with great intention that we can change this. It has become an almost natural thing for young people to hate reading. And this is a grave tragedy. A grave tragedy indeed.

 

These are just a few dangers. There are so many more. The Christian life can never be one of status quo. We are not called to just let life happen while we apathetically stand by. We are called to make intentional choices that move us towards holy living and becoming more like Christ. We do this by examining every single thing through the grid of God’s Word. We do this by scrutinizing the fruit of every thing that comes along. And in doing this, it not only helps us to avoid sin, but it also helps us to keep ourselves from experiencing the worst fruits of those things that can bring such good to our lives but also have potential to cause unbelievable damage.

We cannot sit idly by as our kids are gobbled up by their smart phones. We cannot allow the TV to bring its messages into our homes 24/7. We must be proactive in controlling technology or it will control us.

So how do we change this? What are some practical ways?

A few things I would suggest are this–

1. Don’t turn the TV on at dinnertime. Whether you live by yourself, there are just the two of you, or you have a houseful of kids, let mealtime be a time of discussion or reflection.

2. As a rule, keep iPads, DVD playeres, and headphones out of the car. Exceptions can be made for long trips but, other than that, intentionally use this time to talk about the things of the Lord, to listen to uplifting music together (try some hymns!), or to just play games and have fun together!

3. Put boundaries around the use of phones, video games, TV use, etc. that are doable (and not extreme). Whether it’s for your kids or yourself, going about change in this manner will make it doable and bring small positive changes instead of making it feel impossible.

4. Live intentionally. We must stop letting life happen to us and be more intentional about where we want to go. Year after year passes by without any change at all, if we don’t intentionally work at it. My pastor often quotes something his mom used to say to him: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Yes! This is so true!

5. Live balanced. When my kids were teenagers they had a friend who wasn’t allowed to have any junk food. When she came to my house, she would eat and eat and eat any sugar she could find here. I’ve watched the same thing happen with a couple of girls who weren’t allowed to ever watch TV. They would come to our house and just stare at the TV, unmoving. This is a good lesson that teaches us that removing something that isn’t sinful in and of itself can cause our kids to become obsessed with it. It is often wiser to teach our kids how to use it beneficially and balanced than just eliminating it. This goes for us without kids, as well. We must live balanced lives. We can spend time on social media, but we shouldn’t live there. We can check our smartphones, but we shouldn’t be obsessed with them. It sounds silly to write but I have seen quite a few older people obsessively scrolling through their phones. This is not just a younger generation thing.

 

I hope this helps. I hope it helps us recognize the dangers of technology and also gives us some ideas on how to go about making positive changes in our lives as well as in the lives of our families. Mostly, I hope it reminds us all that this wonderful thing called “technology” is sharp as a razor blade and it will cut us if we aren’t careful.

 

Four Ways to Love Our Men

people-2561053_1920

I awoke yesterday to hear that Matt Lauer had been fired. Now, I knew he was extremely left-leaning and a typical reporter, but, as newscasters go, I did think he seemed like a nice guy.

As I tried to wrap my brain around the latest casualty of the sexual harassment and abuse accusations, I felt sad. There have been several over the past few months and, while not surprising, they are just…sad. I know as much about these guys and their accusers as I do about the peanut head bug (yes, a real insect) that lives in the Amazon Rainforest (i.e. nothing), so I have no idea what the truth really is and I will refrain from sharing any opinions on such tragic situations. But perhaps these accusations can raise a conversation that we Christian women should probably have.

Let’s think for a moment about men.

Men love sex.

Sure, there are exceptions, but as a rule, most men were created by God to love sex. As young men, they can hardly go a few minutes without thinking about it. This obsession might diminish slightly as they grow older but their love for it remains. Men love sex.

And Hollywood and marketers use this love for sex to achieve ratings and sales. Anywhere you turn, sex is being sold. It doesn’t matter if it’s a war movie or a commercial for deodorant, sex is often what’s for sale. It is appalling.

On our TV screens, fornication and naked bodies abound. Crude and dirty jokes are the norm. And many–even Christians– just watch, with nary a thought to turn it off. Radios croon out lyrics encouraging premarital sex, cheating, and all other varieties of sexual sins and it is justified by the excuse that it’s only the tune they like–they are not listening to the words. (Impossible, by the way, since your subconscious mind hears everything.)

The internet is loaded with pornography that is hard to escape. Even a simple search on a site we consider safe will sometimes bring naked images to our screen.

And this push to sell sex has reached us in personal ways we never imagined. Co-workers show cleavage, church ladies wear short skirts. Even at homecoming dances, our teenagers wear the latest styles that leave little to the imagination–torturous for the young men accompanying them.

Men cannot escape the constant battle and efforts of this culture to remove the purity of their minds. There is nowhere they can turn. Even in church this battle is fought, as even the sanctuary is no longer a sacred place where a man can get away from women who are dressed immodestly.

I think we can see that Satan has hijacked sex. Literally. He has mangled and destroyed it, warped it and corrupted it until it has become something Christians don’t even want to talk about. But sex is a beautiful gift from God the Father. He designed it specifically for a married couple. And when used in this way God is not only pleased but He is also glorified.

And so we can see that there are two utterly opposing views–the world’s view of sex and God’s view of sex. And Christian men are often caught in the cross-hairs of these two viewpoints–knowing the view they should have, but constantly being pulled to the world’s side of things wherever they go.

So while a man is absolutely and completely responsible for his own sexual purity, I do want to raise the conversation that there are four things we women can do to help our Christian brothers as they fight this tough battle of purity in their own lives–

1. As girls and women, we can dress modestly. As parents, we can require our daughters to do the same, explaining that this is a way we can show Christian love to the boys and men around us. We can make sure that we and our daughters are clothed in such a way that it doesn’t lead a man to think sexual thoughts.

2. As moms, we must keep our young and teen-aged boys away from sexually impure entertainment and work hard to protect them from online pornography. We can and should help our husbands in this area as much as we are able to, as well. This may well be one of the most challenging and important jobs we will ever take on.

3. As women who love the men in our lives, we can pray for them. Pray hard, that God would protect them as they walk through a world that is obsessed with sex at almost every turn.

4. And as wives, we must be sure to love our husbands in all ways, including in the bedroom. God designed sex to be beautiful and wonderful in its biblical context. If our husbands don’t feel loved in this way we leave them open to temptation.

 

Life is often ugly and messy. This is one of those things we don’t even like to talk about. But sometimes things just need to be said. Again–let me be clear–men are 100% responsible for their thoughts and actions. They will be accountable to God for what they think and what they do. But I hope, as Christian women, we can come alongside our Christian brothers in love and support as they fight to stay pure in a culture fixated on sex.

 

 

A God-Centered Life

God-Centered

Have you ever stopped to think about what your motivation is for anything you do in life? Why do you take care of your kids? Why do you want to be financially well off? Why do you want to be kind to others?

And the question that begs to be asked is this:

Are we doing it for God or for ourselves?

Are we living a God-centered life or a self-centered life?

I am doing a Bible Study on Colossians right now (click here for this great resource) and I was really challenged by the author’s words in this week’s study. He first shared this about the fall of man that I never thought about before–

“The new creation is the result of Christ’s deliverance from the fall of Adam. In the Garden of Eden, Adam lived before God in a state of righteousness. However, he acted in disobedience, and the result of his sin was disastrous. His entire nature was transformed. He became a self-centered individual instead of God-centered. His sin also affected the entire human race. All men now bear the nature of Adam–sinfully depraved and spiritually separated from God.” p. 67* (italics mine)

I don’t think I ever thought about the fall in this way before.

So if along with our sin nature comes a self-centered life, this means that, after we are saved, we should be transformed from that self-centered, sinful creature into a new creation that is growing more like Christ and become more God-centered every day (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But is this what we are doing? Is this even something that we are being encouraged to do?

And let’s take it a step further: Even if we look like we are becoming more God-centered in our lives, is this actually true?

The author goes on to say–

“So often among Christians, character development takes on a self-centered orientation. We pursue it for our own benefit and self-improvement.” p. 70* (italics mine)

Oh my goodness. If that isn’t convicting, I am not sure what is. Oh, how often have I done this very thing? Claiming my desire is to be more like Christ but really simply desiring to have an easier/better/more fulfilling life.

This becomes very evident when we simply take a look at the Christian bestsellers on the book shelves (or on Amazon) today. There are books about how to have better relationships, better budgets, and better health. Books about how to fix our anxiety issues, our depression, our anger, our addictions. Most of these have one goal: To give us a better life.

But is this what the Christian life is all about? Is it a self-centered quest to have the best life we can have? And even if we say no to this question (because, obviously, we know from scripture that this is not our goal), are we living out what we say we believe?

Personally, I was really challenged by this. Even though I claim high and lofty spiritual goals, when I think of my desires in the light of biblical truth, I can see that they are tarnished with selfishness.

The problem is that, as sinners still stuck with our fleshly desires (I John 1:8), it is so hard to separate these two things. Of course we want to please the Lord. But it is natural to want to please ourselves. We wouldn’t be human if we wouldn’t want better lives. And so we have to sort through this messy dynamic.

And to complicate things further, even the most beautiful thing can be done for the wrong reason. Works of charity may be completed so that we receive personal glory. Supposed grace may just be a cover for our own desire to avoid conflict. Kind words may be a manipulative tool to get someone to do what we want. We want to kick our addiction, live within our means, or organize our homes to make our lives better and, often, glorifying God has nothing to do with it at all.

It’s just all so complicated.

And yet in Colossians 3:17, we can see that our motivation for everything we do–every word spoken and every action completed–should be based on our Lord Jesus–

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul reiterates this–

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Scripture makes it clear that our life is to be God-centered. And, yet, all around us is a Christianity that is self-centered.

So how do we A) evaluate our motives? and B) change in this area?

These are challenging questions for us, since, as humans, I am not sure we can ever get 100% beyond being tainted by personal motivation. And, thankfully, God–in His great kindness and mercy–actually makes our lives so much better when we follow Him. Isn’t that kind of Him? There isn’t anything innately wrong with wanting a good life, a better marriage, or to kick a sinful habit. These are good things to want and the fact that we receive joy and happiness from these things is exactly what God intended.

The sin enters in when we only do what is right when it conveniences or benefits ourselves. In fact, as I was thinking about this, I realized that this may be the best test for our motivation–

Do I stop doing what is right when I don’t get the results I want?

If I try to be a submissive wife (or a loving husband) but my spouse doesn’t respond the way I want, do I decide that obedience to the Lord just doesn’t work and forget about it?

If I work on a big charity project at church and I watch all of the credit and glory go to someone else who didn’t do near as much work as I did, will it keep me from ever doing it again?

If I have forgiven someone who has offended me but the person keeps offending me–over and over again–do I eventually give up and hold a grudge or do I continue to respond in a biblical manner?

If I have given all of my energy to change a sinful habit in my life and I am not getting the results that I hoped for, do I continue in a path of obedience or do I cave in a fit of hopelessness?

These are just a few examples. We can come up with dozens more we face each day. Are we doing what is right because we want to please our Lord or are we doing what is right for ourselves? What is our motivation?

Living a God-centered life is no easy task. Reading this chapter made me realize just how self-centered I still am. And, honestly, this is one area that you can really only judge yourself. We really can never know the motivations of someone else, as they are locked away deep in our hearts and minds. Sometimes we even have a hard time understanding our own motives, don’t we? Past experiences, choices, abuses, neglects, and sins are powerful contaminators of our motives. These things can heighten our desire to protect ourselves, to look out for number one, and to prove ourselves.

But this is in complete opposition to scripture, where we find that we are to become God-centered in all our decisions (which also means becoming others-centered). (Mark 12:30; Philippians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:12-15).

And, once again, biblical Christianity crashes headlong into cultural Christianity. Biblical Christianity says live for Christ (Philippians 1:21), deny yourself and take up your cross (Matthew 16:24) and do what’s right (John 14:23; James 2:20) and cultural Christianity says “you deserve to be happy” and “God wants you to fulfill your dreams”.

So how in the world do we remove the indoctrination of a culture that is speaking the opposite of what we are to actually be living? There is truly only one anecdote and that is the Bible. The Word is truly like a mirror, revealing our innermost secrets and motivations and giving us the hope for change through the Holy Spirit.

God has not said “fix yourselves” and then left us on our own. Instead, He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us rightly divide the Word, which will, slowly and surely, transform us more and more into His likeness.

And, yet, so many of us simply spend such little time studying God’s Word. We cannot grow in this area of pure motivation without being in the Word. It is simply impossible.

Life is hard. And evaluating our motivations for purity makes it even harder. Why am I doing what I am doing?  This is a critical question that we must ask ourselves if we are to live a holy and pure life that is centered on God.

* From Seeking Things Above by Steve Pettit

Weathering the Storms of Life

storm

Trials in life generally do not fit into our well-laid plans, do they? Along with wreaking havoc to our schedules and in our families, they also tend to fill us with uncertainty, doubt, frustration, and hopelessness.

But should this be our response? What part does faith actually play as we face real-life trials?

This past Sunday my brother, Pastor Dean, preached two sermons on weathering the storms of life. In listening to them I was challenged, encouraged, and convicted. Mostly convicted. Sometimes God brings something my way that affects me profoundly. This was one of those times.

The fact that Pastor Dean and his family are currently experiencing their own considerable trial gave these sermons a notable authenticity. These two sermons, given from his own search of the scriptures as they weather their storm, take us beyond the typical platitudes as he unpacks what the scriptures have to say about trials and our response to them.

And so for today’s post, I want to refer you to these two sermons by Pastor Dean. Be encouraged and uplifted–and perhaps also challenged and convicted–as you weather your own storms, whether they be small or large. This is for those experiencing small trials (like a car that won’t start) and large trials (like an unexpected health diagnosis) and everything in between. In other words, this is for all of us believers. I am confident that you will find these worth every minute of your time. I truly hope that many of you will take the time to listen to these.

 

Part 1:

WEATHERING THE STORMS OF LIFE

Part 2:

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE STORMS OF LIFE

 

Click here if you’d like to listen to more sermons by Pastor Dean.

Please note: If the link doesn’t work, click on the down arrow at the top right of the page. I have found I sometimes need to do this in order to listen on my iPhone.

A Lop-Sided Faith

lop-sided

The other day someone shared an article with me. They were disturbed by the post’s point and wondered what my opinion was. The blog post was a call to share in brokenness and dysfunction together. To look for the little bright spots in the state the writer found herself in, rather than sharing that there is a possibility and great potential to fix the situation, by applying the Word of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

If that seems vague, it is because it is intentionally so. I have no interest in throwing this blogger under the bus, so to speak. I just see this as another post that is encouraging Christians in a lop-sided faith.

Have you, too, noticed the propensity of this? The “Christians” of today want a faith that makes them feel less guilty about their sin. They want an encouraging, build-me-up kind of faith. They don’t really want to deals with their sins (or the sinful self-wills of their children). They have no interest in the hard work it takes to grow in holiness and purity. Since it is much easier–at least in the short-term–to stay in that bad place, it is quite comforting to have someone tell you that it is okay to be there.

Of course, there is a fine line we walk here, though. Since we are all sinful and we all do struggle, an encouraging word is such a blessing! It is so comforting to know we aren’t alone in our struggles. So I am not suggesting that we don’t post and share these things. No, that is not it at all.

What I am concerned about is that we share only these things.

The Christian faith is one of building up but it is also one of holiness. It is one of encouragement but it is also one of self-examination. It is one of growing–through words that build up and words that confront sin.

If you find yourself only drawn to posts that comfort and build you up, may I encourage you to also read and look for posts that challenge you to grow and take you out of your comfort zone and into the scriptures?

While there are an abundance of verses that comfort and build us up, there are just as many verses that challenge and confront our sin. We must be so careful to keep a balanced view of the Bible and of our faith.

Balanced writers will share their struggles but they will also offer challenging words from the Bible to confront their own sin, as well as yours. Bible-centered writing will view all of life through the lens of scripture, rather than through the broken and dirty lens of our culture. It is my hope that this is what you will find here at Growing 4 Life and–if it is not–that you will let me know. I want to encourage and to challenge you. I hope to do both. Because this is what the Bible does for us.

The Bible is the perfect Word of God–offering us both God’s love and forgiveness in our sinful, broken state and yet challenging us to grow holier and purer with each passing moment. It calls us to love but it also calls us to truth. It calls us to be kind but it also calls us to discern. It speaks of God’s amazing grace while still calling us to moral purity. It gives us hope for eternity, while challenging us to run the race of life well in the here and now of a fallen world.

It is my hope that you will find all of this here, as well. Not in perfection, of course, since I am not perfect, but in a way that shows that I love the Word of God so much that I build by life –and this blog–upon it.

And it is my hope that I will encourage you to do the same–to build your life upon the whole Word of God and not just the passages and verses that make you feel better. It is in this way that we have a whole and sound faith to see us through all of the storms of life. It is in this way that we grow more holy and pure. And it is in this way that we have eyes opened to the false doctrine that is all around us, even within our own churches.

Let’s keep the whole counsel of God’s Word as we move forth in our Christian life, instead of falling prey to the lop-sided faith that is so prevalent today.

 

 

Five ways to know that you are too in love with yourself

adult-1867664_1920

Somewhere in the second half of the last century, psychologists started declaring that many of the ills and woes we experience are simply because we just do not love ourselves enough. Somewhere in the late 70’s or early 80’s the church jumped on this same bandwagon and started promoting self-esteem as a biblical concept (it isn’t).

While, of course, we read in scripture that we are created and loved by God, scripture also makes it clear that self-esteem is not our issue. Several places we find that self-love is an attribute we all have and the command is to love people as we already love ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Philippians 2:3-4).

Part of our sin nature is to be in love with ourselves so much that we end up hurting others around us. As the culture and the church has encouraged us to love ourselves more we haven’t seen it solve problems but instead create them. We have seen a rise in family breakdowns, church splits, shootings, racial tension–to name just a few. I think it is safe to say that self-esteem is not the answer to the world’s or the church’s problems.

But the damage has been done and even we Christians have soaked up a bit of this by just living in this culture. As I thought about my own life over the weekend, I can see how my love for myself can be so damaging to my relationships. And I thought of these five ways that demonstrate that we are really just far too in love with ourselves. Think about these things in light of how you relate to your family and your friends. At church, at work, even as a spectator at your child’s sports activities. Think about these in relation to yourself instead of someone else who might come to mind. It is my hope that my own personal examination will encourage you to do your own personal examination–

1.  We are easily offended. Our offense is based on the fact that we have been hurt personally. Whether the offense is actual or just perceived doesn’t matter. This will often lead to holding a grudge and being bitter. This is a sure sign that love for self is dominating our actions.

2. We are difficult and grumpy when things don’t go our way. We all get a little frustrated when our plans go awry. This is certainly natural. But when we love ourselves too much we take our internal frustration and let it affect us externally, making life miserable for all around us if things aren’t going the way we think they should.

3. We grow defensive if anyone dares to confront us. Instead of humbly listening and carefully evaluating, we immediately lash out and close our ears. This is a sure sign that we care more about our own personal feelings than we do about growing in Christ.

4. We only want to talk about things that interest us. Have you been in one of those conversations where someone is animatedly talking about themselves but as soon as you mention something about your own life, their eyes glaze over and they walk away? That is the extreme form of this but many are the one-sided conversations that exist in this self-centered age. If we only talk and never listen, it is a good sign that we are too in love with ourselves.

5. And, last but certainly not least, we arrange all of life for our own comfort and convenience. We won’t serve because it’s inconvenient. We won’t stand up for truth because we don’t want the pain of being mocked. We don’t attend church because we are tired. We will sacrifice God’s scriptural principles on the altar of our own selfish desires.

Now, look, these five things should prove to us that we are too in love with ourselves. We all are. It is probably the biggest battle we Christians face as we struggle to grow in our faith and in obedience. Sure, a few of you may have won this battle, but I know I certainly haven’t and I am guessing most of you haven’t, either.

But we must fight this battle because so much is at stake. If we lose this battle, we lose so much. We lose the respect of those watching us (and people are watching–family members, co-workers, church and school families). We lose close and warm relationships, because people are afraid to tell us the truth. Our relationship with God suffers because we are not living in obedience to the scriptures. And we lose our power of living as an example for others to follow, as we are the people that no one wants to be like.

I feel like this is a battle I have struggled with all my life and I still remain in the trenches fighting against myself. In Luke 9:23 Jesus makes it clear that this is what the Christian life is all about–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

We can see from this that–no matter what pop psychology and philosophies are saying–that the only way to serve Jesus well and faithfully is to deny ourselves. This is in direct opposition to what we hear in most churches and is unpopular in the extreme. But it is what we read in scripture–not only in Luke but in others places as well, such as Luke 14:25-27, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, and Ephesians 5:1-2.

The Christian life has us swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream in a raging river. It is no easy task and we have the opportunity to clearly show that we have chosen to swim the opposite direction of the world (and most of the church) in how we respond and react to the circumstances around us as we face the daily trials of sickness, financial woes, relationship difficulties, and disappointment. This is an often neglected and ignored light that all of us can shine in this dark world obsessed with “self”.