Archive for February, 2011

It Takes a Good Person to Repent

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“In fact, it needs to be a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it (p. 57).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

That thought – it takes a good person to repent – almost makes me laugh. But I’m afraid it is too true to be funny. I have noticed that those I look up to most repent the best. Let me illustrate with a story.

Six years ago we were visiting friends from seminary (a couple my wife and I viewed somewhat as mentors). During the visit we walked our children to the park (so the adults could talk). Our play date was cut short by rain. My wife and I forgot our umbrella. To which my friend’s wife said, “I apologize. I packed an umbrella for my family and did not think of yours. Will you forgive me?”

I replied playfully, “Why should I forgive you because I failed to check the weather?”

Her response stunned me, “I want to love my neighbor as myself and I thought of my family without thinking of yours. That does not represent God’s character. I see that. I want to change and you were affected by it. Will you forgive me?”

Her repentance was clean. It was motivated by love for God more than personal guilt or embarrassment with people. I do not think I had ever repented like that in my life before that moment. Up until then repentance was only something I had done when I was caught or felt guilt. I cannot say that I had ever repented as an act or worship and exclusive longing to be more like God.

Her repentance also revealed how irrelevant I perceived God to be in that moment. I was thinking God was only relevant in that moment if I had stolen her umbrella or yelled at my wife because I forgot ours. I had reduced repentance to a “work” I performed to make up for what I did wrong.

I do not want to idolize my friend’s wife. But I do want to use this example to illustrate two reasons why we need Jesus to repent (admitting there are many more than two).

First, Jesus is the only one sinless, and therefore other-minded, enough to repent. As soon as we sin, we become focused on self-preservation. This mindset distorts repentance into an interpersonal tactic to get back on even footing with the other person. It is Jesus, the sinless One, who took on sin and was able to experience pain of sin without any defensiveness. Jesus is the only One to experience sin selflessly, so He is the only One who could respond to it appropriately. We are partaking of His righteousness even when we repent well.

Second, it is the cross that breaks the tendency to reduce repentance to a “work” I perform to regain God’s acceptance. I must understand that repentance is a gift that God gives me not a gift that I give God. My confession is merely the “thank you” response to God enabling repentance to be possible and effective at the cross. It earns nothing. God does not respond because of the eloquence, sincerity, or emotional intensity of my repentance. God responds favorably to my repentance because of Jesus.

The Trauma of Bitterness

Because bitterness is a sin we can often forget that it is precipitated by being sinned against (here I am assuming the bitterness is in regards to a legitimate offense). With this oversight we just call on the bitter person to overcome, and we often fail to offer legitimate comfort.

“I don’t want to forgive. I want to return suffering to one who made me suffer.” This is what we classically think bitterness sounds like – because that is a common demeanor of bitterness. However, in this post I am going to speak to other expressions of bitterness.

“I will not say what happened to me is okay.” This can be another voice of bitterness. Anger is held onto as the only link to justice. To reply, “Well, God doesn’t give any of us what we deserve,” to someone who has been sinned against in a painful way is more than unhelpful. It misrepresents God. God is just. God does get angry at sin (and not just the sin of bitterness).

Taking the time to listen and respond compassionate to the original sin represents God well. It need not “condone” bitterness. But the patient interaction recognizes that all bitterness is preceded by suffering. The God who calls us to forgive is not just the God who forgave us (Eph. 4:32), but also the God who comforts us in all our afflictions (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

“I am not able to be ‘over it’ yet.” The pain of suffering lingers. If forgiveness means to forget (and it does not), then continued pain would make it impossible to forgive. Often this struggle with bitterness stems from a wrong view of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not require the release of all emotion pertaining to a given event.

God wants to restore you and forgiveness is part of that restoration process. However, God is patient with His children. He does not compromise on what is for our good (and bitterness is one of the most unhealthy emotions), but He does restore us at a human pace. The commitment to forgive is not the culmination of that healing process. It is when you agree to enter the restoration God has for you from that suffering.

“I don’t trust God to handle it right.” This is when I am most tempted to yell, “SINNER!” and forget about the context of suffering. But embedded in this resistance is the fear, “What if God is not the good God I thought He was? If God does not deal with this well, then He is not for me.” That is a frightful thought. A thought we think we do not have to face if we handle the offense ourselves through bitterness.

Forgiveness is a time when the offense of the cross hits us in a new way. We see that God forgives sins against us at the same price He forgave our sin. What was initially a “great deal” requires great sacrifice and trust. The same God who came to me in my sin offering forgiveness also comes to me in my suffering offering comfort. BUT He also comes to my enemy offering forgiveness to them as well.

My intent has not been make forgiveness sound optional or bitterness sound acceptable. My goal has been to unveil another side of the struggle with bitterness and, thereby, equip us to the hurting side of the bitter person.

If you are someone currently struggling with bitterness, I would encourage you to draw near to God. That is not a guilt-statement pointing out the distance that sin creates, but is meant to be a word of encouragement to one whose continued anger may mask many fears about who God is and what He is asking of you. Until you allow God to comfort your suffering you will resist His call to forsake the sin of suffering through forgiveness.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.

Repentance Is Harder Than Eating Humble Pie

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Now what was the sort of ‘hole’ man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor—that is the only way out of our ‘hole’. This process of surrender—this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder that merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. (p. 56-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This makes repentance sounds like a great deal more than saying, “I’m sorry.” Lewis makes my average attempt at repentance sound junior varsity at best. Most of my repentance stops at an acknowledgement of wrong and an expression of remorse. According to Lewis, I am stopping at the beginning.

In addition to acknowledgement and remorse, I should be:

  • Confessing a heart that wants to be independent of God
  • Recognizing each sin reveals that my heart is pointed in the wrong direction
  • Unlearning a way of life designed to please me first
  • Re-training my mind, will, and affections to value God most
  • Experiencing a form of death to my “old self”

That is what I should do each time I am impatient with my children, neglect the care of my wife, or allow my emotions (i.e., anger, fear, depression, hope, etc…) to be unduly tied to temporal things. Each occurrence of sin is a time when I should remember who I am as a fallen creature with a bent to resist my Creator.

As I think abut it, I should add another sin to the list – repenting in a way that treats my sin as a trivial offense. I so agree with my sin that I respond to God as if He should see it my way. I so buy into the lies that made my sin seem “second nature” that I almost believe God is sorry He has to call me on my sin. I repent as if He and I both “know” that He meant that rule for someone else not in my situation.

I am not sure how else I could explain “casual repentance.” As I just write this phrase, it seems like a glaring contradiction. Yet when I do it, “casual repentance” seems so natural. I think this must be what Lewis is referring to the “self-conceit and self-will” that humanity has been perfecting (in the worse sense of the word) for thousands of years.

This reminds me how much I need God. I would not even repent right apart from His grace and His Word transforming my heart and my mind. I am also struck by how much this must impact my human relationship (even more than I see). If I am willing to “casually repent” to the Holy God, how much more guilty must I be with my friends and family? After all, in those cases I can fall back on, “I’m not the only one at fault here.”  All of this to say, I think we (very much including me) need to take repentance a bit more seriously.

God’s Words for Being Lied Against: Psalm 4

Case Study: If there was a word that Amy hated it was “politics.” She wasn’t good at it and didn’t want to be. Falsely she hoped that by never running for public office, she would be able to avoid it. But unfortunately politics is not the exclusive domain of professionals.

Two other women in her office knew what was “best” for the business. They were not the owners, or even the manager, but these women “had the boss’s ear.” Amy didn’t even realize she was setting off an office bomb when she offered to take on a new responsibility in order to gain some extra pay. But later she learned the significance of “by-passing” the “powers that be.”

Her two co-workers, who were peers by position title, were offended that Amy would try to show them up and cheat them out of money. Amy thought everyone knew her husband was a construction worker and that they were facing hard times during the down economy. Their husbands had stable salaried jobs.

The spin was ferocious. Soon Amy was a silent, distant, money-grabbing, power-player who wasn’t interested in the team atmosphere of the office. It was as if the other two women were professional character developers for a sitcom writer. Amy soon had a type-cast role that reinterpreted her every response. Whenever Amy finally spoke up, the other women were indignant that Amy would accuse them of slander “after all Amy had done.” This only made matters worse.

Amy’s first response was fear and her second response was hurt. She woke up at night thinking about losing her job. Then she thought about how miserable it would be to stay at her job now. Her 13 years at the office seemed like they had been thrown away in one innocent request for extra work for extra pay to supplement her family income. For weeks she cried frequently while eating, sleeping, or talking infrequently.

One day she started looking for words for her experience in the Bible (she didn’t know where else to look). She began in the Psalms and didn’t make it to the second page before she reached Psalm 4 and read her story written before she lived it. She returned to this Psalm often and even personalized it in her own words.

Pre-Questions: This case study is meant to challenge you to think biblically about the real struggles of life. These questions will not be answered completely in the sections below. But they do represent the kind of struggles that are being wrestled with in Psalm 4. Use the question to both stir application and to give you new insight into the psalm.

  • What is the hardest part of being blind-sided by consequences that don’t naturally flow from your actions?
  • How does a lie create an “alternative narrative” for your life that reinterprets your every action?
  • How should Amy find the strength and courage to persevere in her difficult work environment?
  • How should Amy respond to the fear and hurt she feels?

Read Psalm 4 in your preferred Bible translation. The “rewrite” of Psalm 4 below is an attempt to capture the words that God would give Amy to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This would be something Amy would need to pray many times as she struggled with insecurity.

A re-write of Psalm 4

1. Lord, I need you now. Please here me when I pray. I was trying to follow You even when this mess got started. You are bigger than this crisis and You offer more peace than a paycheck but I sometimes don’t see that. Be patient with me as I pray through this same thing many times.

2. How long will these two women spin my attempt to work hard as if it was an under-handed action? How long will they enjoy creating scenarios to reframe my words and seek for ways to substantiate their revisionist history?

3. Lord, I know You have saved me and set me apart for Yourself. That is why I can pray to You with confidence. I am Your child long before and long after I am their co-worker. You define me. I am not sure they even know me.

4. Lord, Cause them to be angry for the right reason (at deceit or laziness, not willingness to work hard). If they were angry at the right things they wouldn’t sin like this. Cause them to ponder integrity night and day and with each waking thought.

5. Show them their actions are not right. Show them the type of work and relationships You bless. Cause them to put their trust in You rather than their “pull” within the office.

6. Lord, I am sure they would say, “We think we are doing the right thing. Show us where we are wrong. If God can be against what we are for, we must not know God.” I can’t break through that kind of thinking. Lord, only You can. I give them to You.

7. Lord, I have more joy in You than they do in all their power and clout. I don’t want what they have and they can’t take what You give. When I remember this, I can avoid being drawn into a competition I don’t want to win.

8. This gives me a rest that I haven’t known in weeks. Lord, only You can allow a person to rest well in uncertain times. Keep this perspective impressed in my thoughts as I sleep, when I wake, as I go to work, and when I return home. Safety is neither a place or a dollar amount; it is being with You. Thank You for being ever-present.

Passages for Further Study: Psalm 55:19-23; Proverbs 26:4-5, 23-28; Jeremiah 9:7-9; Matthew 5:2-12; Mark 7:14-23

Post Questions: Now that you have read Psalm 4, examined how Amy might rewrite it for her situation, and studied several other passages, consider the following questions:

  • In what ways does the action of being lied about tempt Amy to take her focus off of God? How does this affect the things she thinks about and what she feels?
  • How does the “effectiveness” of lying shape the way we define “success” in life?
  • How would your answers to the “pre-questions” have changed as a result of reflecting on Psalm 4?
  • For what instances of being lied about or relational betrayal do you need to re-write your own version of Psalm 4?

Addiction: Trying to Cure Stress with Its Cause

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon “Still Searching for a King: 2 Samuel 24” preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday February 12-13, 2011.

In this sermon we saw the symmetry that marks every human life. Our sin causes disruption. But because we are so committed to or blinded by our sin we think we think more of the same sin is the remedy to that disruption.

In I Samuel 8 we saw:

The PEOPLE try to replace GOD with a KING.

In II Samuel 24 we saw:

The KING try to replace GOD with PEOPLE (an army).

Consider this reflection from a Christian philosopher on the ensnaring nature of sin.

“Trying to cure distress with the same thing that caused it is typically the mechanism that closes the trap on an addict (p. 131).” Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

Once this cycle begins, it can be infinitely self-perpetuating and self-devouring. Consider the following examples.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE: An individual tries to escape the stress of life through a substance. The abuse of substance creates more stress. The abuser then turns again to their substance to gain relief. The cycle is in motion.

LYING: Someone is facing a difficult situation and lies (creating an artificial reality – replacing God as Creator) to get out of it. When the lies are challenged by reality (stress) they lie again to cover up the first lie. Soon the artificial reality is elaborate enough for the liar to live in and they push away anyone who challenges it.

PORNOGRAPHY: Loneliness and insecurity drives someone to the computer for relief. They find pseudo-intimacy and pleasure without the risk of vulnerability. This makes real relationships seem even more risky and pornography even more “safe” and appealing. Soon any relationship that asks something of the person or wants to genuinely know the person is too dangerous.

JEALOUSY & CONTROL: A relationship is strained, so one person begins to express their jealousy through controlling behaviors. This puts a further strain on the relationship and increases the jealous partner’s feelings of distance. They try to remedy this through being more controlling. The cycle is in motion again.

Take a moment to examine your own life. What sins are you engaging that have entered the cause-cure trap? Before you will “stop it,” you must “see it” for what it is – sin making a promise of relief and paying you back with more life disruption. You are trying to dig yourself out of a hole.

It is this reality that shows the response of God (II Samuel 24:11-17) to be as gracious as it truly was. God was staging an intervention. God could see more clearly (than David or the people) that a mechanism had been enacted that would lead their expressions of wickedness to match that of the surrounding peoples. The destruction of military aggression would far exceed the 70,000 who died from God’s pestilence.

We see another principle emerge from this discussion: when we feel as if God’s response to sin is too severe, it reveals that our understanding of sin is too small. God saw the cycle, not just the event. Our response to seeming injustices of God’s punishment (this is not speaking of suffering), should be to examine our sin rather than question our God.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.

Disabled Death

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity (p. 56-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

When J.R.R. Tolkien was asked what the theme of all great novels his response was (slightly paraphrased), “Death, of course.” Death is something that all people have in common. Death is something by which we (eventually) measure each relationship, activity, and cause. When we ask, “Was this worth living for?” we measure that thing against death.

We talk about “cheating” death. We know that death has a claim on our life and we resent it. We want to make death wait as long as we possibly can before it seizes what is rightfully ours.

We know that death is final. Every moment of our earthly life has a “next chapter” that can redeem the one before it, except death. That finality is daunting. But not only is it final, death is unpredictable. We know we have a debt we cannot pay, but we do not know when the bill collector is going to arrive. At times, we live in fear of its coming. At other times, we live as if death were only a fairy tale.

All of this presumes two things. First, it presumes that we were made for this world. Second, it presumes that death was the ultimate end. Thanks to Jesus (and Him alone) both of these presumptions are now false.

Before Jesus’ death and resurrection we did belong to this world. We were bound to this world and were the property of its prince (Eph 2:2). The only hope or significance we could have achieved would have been bound to how well we could manipulate the people and matter of this world and extend our life to enjoy achievements.

Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, death was our end—at least in terms of anything good. We would have died, faced judgment, and then eternal punishment. Death would have marked the last time we would smile, laugh, rest, hope, dream, or love.

Jesus disabled death. He removed those fears for those who trust in His death on their behalf. No longer is death the bully club of life; death is now a transition not an ending. Death is a graduation, not a termination. Death is the point where investments are cashed in, not forfeited.

Death is when we hear “Well done!” not “Game over!”

The challenge for us as Christians is to change our view of death. Obviously, per the statement from Tolkien, we struggle to see death for what it is. I include myself in that number. At best, I tend to see death (and heaven) as retirement. The image of retirement has too much of an image of “slowing down” or “coming to an end.”

That is not death disabled. It would only be death maimed. Personally, I do not yet have that picture of death disabled—I long for it. I am still too attached to this world and all I am doing in it. I dread death (when I think of it) as an interference to the things I am passionate about now. I think that reveals that I am missing the significance of what Jesus did to death.

God’s Words for Our Insecurity: Psalm 139

Case Study: Jeff would tell people he was a private, introverted person; that he just didn’t want people to know “his business.” But it was more than personality or temperament. It was an insecurity that made relationships feel dangerous. Jeff had a hard time putting his finger on what it was that made him want to withdraw when conversation moved (or might move) beyond casual.

As Jeff got older, the reason that he settled on was that “nobody really understands me; nobody gets me.” He included his wife, kids, and fellow church members in “nobody.” The more he thought this way, the more he felt like an outsider and the more irrelevant every piece of advice for his loneliness and fearfulness became. If nobody understood him, then nobody could speak into his experience.

This belief began to crush Jeff’s marriage and overall sense of hope. Depression became his only comfort, his only friend, and painful reality. Repeated messages of “being misunderstood and alone” were the only thing that made sense of his life. But the explanation he sought as a means of comfort quickly soured into despair. The answer he created eliminated the opportunity to share his insight with anyone else. Jeff’s answer fed Jeff’s struggle.

Even when people (especially his wife and kids) shared that they loved or cared for Jeff, he would smile, but shrug it off thinking, “They cannot love somebody they don’t know and nobody gets me.” His unwillingness to receive their affirmation resulted in receiving less of it. That only confirmed his suspicion that they were only words of obligation.

When Jeff would get down he would often replay in his mind past experiences of being mocked or on the stinging end of jokes. These experiences gave more cold comfort to his pattern of insecurity-isolation-withdrawal as “the only right/wise course of action.”

It was in one of these dark times of reminiscence that Jeff mustered up the strength and courage to read his Bible. That day he turned to Psalm139 he had his life story re-written. Jeff saw that he was both understood and loved by God. This was uncomfortably comforting in a new way. It gave him the needed courage to begin to risk being known by his wife, then his children, and even a few close friends.

As Jeff risked being known by others he found that he could receive their love in a new way. With each good interaction his old story made less and less sense of his life, although bad (or even neutral) interactions still caused him to shrink back into the old insecurity. So Jeff decided to rewrite Psalm 139 in his own words to help him personalize the message that was transforming his life.

Pre-Questions: This case study is meant to challenge you to think biblically about the real struggles of life. These questions will not be answered completely in the sections below. But they do represent the kind of struggles that are being wrestled with in Psalm 139. Use the question to both stir application and to give you new insight into the psalm.

  • What is the difference between being introverted and being insecure or fearing relationships?
  • How did Jeff’s fears become self-fulfilling?
  • How could Jeff’s family and friends have helped earlier as Jeff’s fear of relationship caused him to retreat from their overtures of interest/concern?

Read Psalm 139 in your preferred Bible translation. The “rewrite” of Psalm 139 below is an attempt to capture the words that God would give Jeff to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This would be something Jeff would need to pray many times as he struggled with insecurity.

A re-write of Psalm 139

1. Wow! You know me, Lord. You get me, all of me!

2. You not only care to know the trivial happenings of my day, You are concerned about what I think.

3. You understand my fears and all I do to “protect” myself. The awkward things that I do which make other people pull away in confusion, You get them!

4. I may speak to others and they look at me funny, but you understand what I am saying, why I am saying it, and the response I am longing for to comfort me.

5. I am safe with you. Like a good parent with a fearful child, You hold me close with Your hands and do not let me exasperate my fears by running from my source of comfort.

6. This is overwhelming! It kind of makes me uncomfortable, but I like it. I am not sure I have the categories (yet) to make sense of what I’m saying. I know the words but not the experience.

7. But my fearful running really doesn’t make sense any more. Where could I go to escape being known by You? My fearful running was as foolish as it was impossible.

8. If I go to church and try to do lots of things and keep busy to keep people away, You know and love me there. If I do lots of bad things and withdraw to make You feel far away, You are still with me and love me even then.

9. If I wake up early to make earnest plans of how I can avoid as many people as possible, You understand what I am doing and never leave my side.

10. More than not leaving my side, You are prompting me through my pain and loneliness to turn around and return to Your community. Even in my fearful resistance, You are content to hold me in Your hands until I finally “get myself” and see my insecurity for what it is.

11. My old lies seem silly now. I would say, “Nobody understands me; nobody gets me; nobody can see into my darkness.” I would say these things even when You sent family and friends to penetrate that darkness.

12. My old lies were not too thick for you. You saw through them as if they were crisp morning. I thought I had convinced everyone, including You, when I had only deceived myself.

13. How funny! I thought I was unknown to the one who knit together my DNA and set me apart by name before the foundations of the world.

14. Praise God! I am known from the inside out, because I am made by the hands and in the image of the God of deep, personal, compassionate love! I am finally letting that truth penetrate my soul and spill into my relationships.

15. There was no hiding from You even when no other eyes had yet seen me. When I was a fetus you knew me like a quilter knows her quilt.

16. Before I was literally anything, You knew me and loved me. Even then You could write my life story and would enjoy reading of Your redemption for my struggles. But somehow I had convinced myself I was unknown and unloved.

17. Lord, these thoughts liberate my fearful heart! I feel a freedom to love and be loved emerging that is larger than I can put into words.

18. The thoughts of Your presence and love are more numerous than my previous thoughts of being mocked and alone. I used to wake up and fear the day because it had people in it. Now I awake and embrace the day because You are with me!

19. Lord, I see now that you hate mockery. You are against those who speak hate and use words to harm. Before when I heard words of destruction, I assumed they were true. And if they were true (false assumption), then You must agree with them (terrifying reality).

20. You are against such words and actions. They spoke falsely as if their words were true. I wrongly accounted the power of their words as Your confirmation of their words.

21. I can now reject what You reject, my God. I do not have to receive as true what You declare to be false and worthless.

22. I can now completely reject and despise what I once feared to be true. Those thoughts and memories were my enemies which held me as their captive in a prison of fear and isolation.

23. I invite You to search me, O God, know me completely. That is the key which has unlocked the prison of my fear and isolation. I AM KNOWN AND LOVED! Read my thoughts and see that I now draw comfort from that reality.

24. Whenever I begin to act as if that is not true, as if I am not known and loved by You, lead me back to the truth that unlocks Your freedom, peace, and joy. Remind me that You are with me and for me all the way to eternal life.

Passages for Further Study: Psalm 136; John 1:48; Ephesians 1:3-14; Hebrews 4:14-16

Post Questions: Now that you have read Psalm 139, examined how Jeff might rewrite it for his situation, and studied several other passages, consider the following questions:

  • How does the reality of being known and loved by God create the courage to allow ourselves to be known by others?
  • When we fear the harmful words of others and in our mind declaring them true, how are we also ascribing those harmful words to God?
  • How would your answers to the “pre-questions” have changed as a result of reflecting on Psalm 139?
  • For what instances of work or performance-based identity do you need to re-write your own version of Psalm 139?

Equipping Ministers Through Prayer Time

Most small groups end with a time of shared prayer requests and prayer.  This is more than routine and playing nice with spiritual expectations.  It is a recognition that information alone (even biblical information) does not change our hearts—God does. It is also a recognition that we were made for relationship with God and that to study God’s Word without consulting the Author is like buying your children battery operated toys for Christmas and not getting batteries.

More can be done during these prayer times to fulfill the model of the church found in Ephesians 4:11-13:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

The following steps are designed to maximize the ability of prayer during small groups to intentionally equip the saints for the work of ministry.

1. When preparing the lesson, identify the core life struggles to which the passage speaks (i.e., suffering, communication, hope, love, forgiveness, etc…). During the Bible study, mention that you would like members to reflect on these areas in preparation for the upcoming prayer time. With this, you are preparing to think about their spiritual growth as something that will be lived out in the community of this small group.

2. When you ask for prayer requests, let the class know they are free to bring any life challenge, but ask that they give special consideration to the subjects raised in the Bible study.

3. Provide the class with a “Prayer Request Journal” [link] page to record prayer requests in the class.  This will enhance the expectancy with which requests are given and is very important if members are truly going to minister to “one another” (Gal 6:2).

4. Ask the class to keep the journal in their Bibles and review it as they have their times of personal devotion.  This again raises the level of expectancy that prayer requests will be regularly prayed over.

5. Ask the class to write one letter or e-mail that seeks to encourage another member of the class with a portion of the lesson.  This repetition increases learning.  It also places the class in both the position of student/learner as well as teacher/minister.

6. Ask the class to seek to follow up in one practical way per week to a prayer request given in the class. If an idea comes to mind, as they pray for the request, they can write it on the “Follow Up” line beneath the request.  Once they follow through on God’s prompting, there is even a nice box to check.

We hope this serves as an enriching part of your small group experience.  One of the marks of good teaching is that it raises up new leaders and creates a context for each person to utilize his/her gifts.

Announcing: The Biblical Counseling Coalition Launch

I am excited to announce the launch of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. Below is the press release to let you know more of who the BCC is and what we hope to see God accomplish through the coaltion.

Leaders Unite to Launch the Biblical Counseling Coalition

 During the past year, over two-dozen leading pastors, biblical counselors, and Christian educators have been prayerfully discussing whether the time is right to launch a new coalition of organizations, leaders, and participants in the biblical counseling movement. Those leaders are excited to announce the official launch of the Biblical Counseling Coalition (

Pastor Steve Viars, the President of the BCC Board of Directors, captures the BCC’s purpose.

“The BCC is all about promoting relationships and providing resources. There are many tremendous organizations and individuals involved in the biblical counseling movement. The BCC seeks to connect such men and women in a way that creates a natural and healthy synergy. We believe that together we can accomplish more.”

The coalition’s Mission Statement further focuses the BCC’s vision.

The BCC exists to
strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions
by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling
as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.

The BCC wants to be a catalyst further strengthening and unifying already-existing biblical counseling ministries, churches, and schools committed to biblical counseling. The BCC is a bridging ministry keeping people connected to and informed about conferences, blogs, resources, and classes offered by other biblical counseling ministries.

The BCC’s Executive Director, Dr. Bob Kellemen, highlights the three-fold audience to which the BCC seeks to minister.

“We want to strengthen the biblical counseling movement by ministering to people who offer carepeople who are seeking care, and people who train care-givers. For example, on our site and in links to other sites, people will find blogs, book reviews, videos, and resource articles on a topic such as depression. Some of those resources will be written for those who offer care—pastors, biblical counselors, lay spiritual friends. Some will be written to help the person who is seeking care for depression to find biblical hope and wisdom. Some will discuss depression from a theological perspective so that those who train care-givers can be stretched through the iron-sharpening-iron process.”

The Biblical Counseling Coalition seeks to serve the entire church. Pastor Garrett Higbee, who serves as the Treasurer of the BCC Board, explains that:

“More than counseling, the vision of the BCC is for the entire church to speak God’s truth in love. We want to motivate and equip folks at the most basic levels of self-counsel, one-another ministry, small group leadership, and intentional discipleship. We want counseling with truth and love to become viral in the church and to be a foundational part of every discipleship-based ministry.”

Learn more about the BCC’s robust, relational vision of biblical counseling by visiting the Biblical Counseling Coalition ( At our “under construction” website you’ll find:

  •  The BCC’s Confessional Statement
  • The BCC’s Doctrinal Statement
  • The BCC’s Mission/Vision/Passion Statement
  • A Welcome from Pastor Steve Viars, the President of the BCC’s Board of Directors
  • A Welcome from Dr. Bob Kellemen, the Executive Director of the BCC
  • Bios of the BCC’s Board of Directors and Council Board Members
  • Testimonials: “Why We Need the BCC”
  • Coming Soon: A Listing of Resources the BCC Will Be Offering


The Biblical Counseling Coalition
5526 State Road 26 East
Lafayette, IN 47905

Email: and
Phone: 765-416-3222

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

 “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse… But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (p. 52).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This has to be one (among so many) of the greatest C.S. Lewis quotes. Blogging on this quote is like preaching on John 3:16. You begin to wonder, “What is left to be said?”

But I will begin by holding my own guild (Christian counseling) responsible for another modern revisiting of these concepts. I believe Christian counseling, as much as any other segment of Christendom, is tempted to reduce Jesus to merely a “great moral teacher.”

If we are not careful we will reduce counseling to “giving good advice,” and then reduce Jesus to the “ultimate good advice giver” whom we try to model. Even as I’m typing these words, (at one level) it doesn’t sound that bad to me. After all, I want my counsel to sound like something Jesus would say when helping someone in a similar situation.

However, I also believe that approach is very dangerous to the personal faith of the counselor and the counselee. The more I allow myself to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John through those lenses, the more I begin to read the Bible like I would read other books (just elevating it as “superior in content, breadth, or timelessness”).

“What is wrong with that?” you might ask. The problem is that I would be neglecting the authority of Scripture implied by the word, “Lord.” Jesus does not give good advice. Jesus teaches the way of life and deviation from that way is inevitable death, pain, suffering, and misery.

My advice as a counselor is not like the teaching (“teaching” here used as a stronger word than “advice”) of Jesus.  If my counsel is of any value, it is merely a modern application of what “the way of life” looks like in an individual’s circumstance.

I strive to model that same humble, compassionate character of Jesus so that my presence and presentation do not distort or make unappealing the content of Jesus’ teaching. But again, the imitation is out of reverence for the exclusive “way of life” that is being presented.

With that being said, I ask you, “How do you read the Bible? Do you read it like you read other books? How do the questions you are asking (of yourself and the text) change when you read the Bible and other books?”

I would also ask you, “How do you present the Bible to others when you reference it in conversation? How do you honor it’s authority while modeling the character of the ‘Word made flesh?’”