Archive for February, 2013

Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope (Video for Step 6)

Step Six: LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience.

Below is a video from the “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar of The Summit Church (Durham, NC). For the various counseling options available from this material visit

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“I have already told you how my loss shaped my life [review step 4]. Letting go of that story, identity, and set of beliefs left me with only God. It was good to begin rebuilding my life from that solid foundation. Now I am beginning to understand my life with God and the Gospel at the center  [examples from previous list reinterpreted].”


Memorize: John 11:23-26 (ESV), “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “I know…last day” – What Martha believed about Jesus seemed very far off from where she was at the moment.
  • “I am” – What Jesus offered Martha was Himself. There was no answer to give meaning to suffering outside Him.
  • “Do you believe this?” – Our suffering story begins to be reinterpreted as we understand Jesus more fully.
  • “I believe” – Martha was not resistant to believing, however her experience of grief continued… but with hope.
  • “Who is coming” – Even in Jesus’ first coming his solution for grief was only “made sure” while not yet fulfilled.

 Teaching Notes

“In so far as this record was a defense against total collapse, a safety valve, it has done some good… I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.  Sorrow however, turns out to be not a state but a process.  It needs not a map but a history (p. 68-9).” C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed

“Every time someone dies, it reminds those watching that God’s work is not yet complete. Because of sin, death entered the world. Only when sin is completely defeated will death cease to be part of the equation… As you weep, know this: the One who weeps with you is not content for things to stay as they are. His death was a cry and his resurrection a promise. The living Christ will continue to exert his power and you will grieve no more (p. 6).” Paul Tripp in Grief: Finding Hope Again

“Death is, in fact, what some modern people call ‘ambivalent.’ It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered (p. 125).” C.S. Lewis in Miracles.

“That is what I love about the Psalms. They put difficultly and hope together in the tension of hardship and grace that is the life of everyone this side of eternity. It is not hard to recognize the environment of the Psalms. The Psalms live in your city, on your street, in your family. The Psalms tell your story. It is a story of hope and disappointment, of need and provision, of fear and mystery, of struggle and rest, and of God’s boundless love and amazing grace (p. 7).” Paul Tripp in A Shelter in the Time of Storm.

“Why doesn’t God tell us more about heaven? The children in the workshop concluded, ‘It’s a surprise!’ We then talked about the surprise party He is preparing for all who love Him. Jason got his invitation earlier than the rest of us. But we are invited as long as we have Jesus in our hearts. He will let us know when it is our turn to come to the party (p. 30).” Judy Blore in “How to Help a Grieving Child” from The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Winter 1998).

Tuesday Tweets of the Week: 2.26.13

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it’s funny…

C.S. Lewis on the Gospel Paradox

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

“There is a paradox. As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realizes that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God – it is just then that it begins to be really his own… The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose (p. 213).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Pick your greatest strength or personal asset: being nice (as Lewis refers to), intelligence, work ethic, organization, charisma, music ability, athleticism, etc… Place that thing in Lewis’ quote above in order to feel the appropriate sense of discomfort.

Chances are your response is like mine – that is mine (possession) or that is who I am (identity). Lewis says as soon as I think that way I’m wrong – I’ve lost what was given to me by God. How does that work?

What it can’t mean is that the attribute evaporates as soon as I take credit for it. Hard working people don’t cease to be hard working people because they take pride in being better than people who don’t work as hard. If anything, their pride leads them to work harder to maintain their identity.

Two things happen which make their strength “less their own.”

First, they lose the “credit” for their strength before God. When a personal characteristic becomes corrupted by pride no longer does God look upon that “strength” with favor. God does not love us like an employer loves an employee, but like a father loves a son.

An employer looks at the productivity to determine his/her opinion of an employee. The more an employee advances that company or increases the profit margin the more pleased the employer is. It doesn’t matter to an employer if the employee is motivated by fear, pride, greed, or benevolence.

A good father looks at what is best for the son/daughter and determines whether something is good on the basis of their overall well-being. A child can be excelling in a way that is exhausting or compromising his/her character and “winning” will not be seen as good.

That is why when we fail to offer our strengths (and for that matter our weaknesses) to God, He does not count that strengths as “credits” to our account. God sees the pride or false identity in our life and is right to warn of impending danger. That leads to the second thing that happens.

Second, their strength mutates from a blessing to a master – they belong to their strength instead of their strength belonging to them. When we fail to recognize our strength as coming from God, we begin to rely upon our strength for more than it can give.

Either we pridefully believe our strength is what makes us “good” and we judge those who are not good (by the standard of our strength), or we fearfully live with thoughts that we will not be able to continually live up to previous levels of “good.” Either way, we begin to belong to our strength instead of our strength belonging to us.

What is the alternative? It is giving our strength to God in recognition that it came from Him and receiving Christ’s righteousness through the forgiveness of our sins as what makes us “good enough.” When this happens our natural strengths can be restored and used for the purpose God originally gave them to us. They are ours because we are His.

To see the first 100 posts in this series click here.

Emotions and Forgiveness

So what does forgiveness mean you are committing to do with your hurt, fears, other emotions and imagination? The last section covered the interpersonal commitments of forgiveness and explains how forgiveness was designed to restore relationships after moral offenses. But what about the personal well-being and peace of mind of the forgiver, doesn’t forgiveness have benefits for the forgiver as well?

Yes, it does. No, it’s not necessarily selfish to ask. However, if we demand the benefits of forgiveness before we take the risk of forgiveness, we become trapped at the crucial point. In effect, we would be demanding to see the fireworks before we light the fuse. All of that to say, if you want this section to “convince you” to forgive, you will most likely be disappointed. But if you want to understand how forgiveness positively impacts your emotions (even in difficult cases), then you should find encouragement in this section.

In the section below we will trace the seven phase journey of forgiveness that is traveled by the one forgiving.

1. The context of forgiveness is always hurt. Forgiveness never begins as a pleasant experience. The emotions of pre-forgiveness are always raw. We never think this is a “good time” for us to need to forgive. The person we need to forgive is always the person who just sinned against us. We should never minimize the painful context in which forgiveness is granted.

2. Hurt is an experience that does not remove itself. Time does not heal moral offenses. If time heals an offense, then it was likely not one that merited forgiveness. We begin to feel trapped in the emotional bind; either we will forgive (which is “not fair”) or we will continually carry the weight of bitterness and mistrust. It feels like life is taking the side of our offender.

“Bad things tend to happen when you give offenses time to marinate in your heart (p. 158).” Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect?

3. Justice does not erase history (or emotion). Neither consequences nor punishment provide the relief that we hope they would. Our offender loses the benefit of his/her offense and may learn valuable lessons, but these do not provide restitution to us. Even if we are rightfully given something as compensation for the offense, its value either seems to trifle the offense or come across as penance. Justice doesn’t satisfy.

4. Repentance does not erase history (some emotion). Repentance is much better than justice at resolving the emotional pain of an offense. It now feels like apples are being traded for apples; prideful, self-centered response of sin for humbled, other-minded response of confession. But there is no sense of guarantee or control that would provide assurance that future pain could be avoided, so some emotional turmoil remains.

5. Forgiveness means something must die. We begin to realize exactly how devastating sin really is. Nothing short of death will stop it. Without being overly dramatic, we clearly see that something will die—love, trust, hope, a dream, dignity, respect… or Christ in their/our place. The only way to escape this maze of moral offense without losing someone or something we love is with a substitute.

6. We chose who/what to send to the cross. We begin to realize that the words “I forgive you” can be translated, “I apply Christ to your account. His death satisfies what your offense deserves in a way nothing else can… even my anger or revenge. I see in our relationship a picture of my attempt to be reconciled to God. My actions created a hopeless situation until Christ took my place so in our relationship I will allow Him to take your place.”

7. We are reminded of peace greater than our pain. In this memory, we find that forgiveness is not an action or a choice, but a dramatization or re-enactment of the gospel. As we experience the gospel in the emotional freshness (bad and good) of this experience, we are reminded of our journey from death to life (Eph. 2:1-10). We get another taste of hopelessness turned to victory and we remember (because life had distracted us) that our ultimate security and emotional safety is in Christ, not circumstances. This fresh realization places the offense back in its appropriate perspective; without minimizing the offense, it is swallowed up in the greatness of the gospel.

At this point in the chapter it should become clear that forgiveness does not add to anything that wisdom would not already advise if such an offer of grace from God were real. Our hesitancy to forgive (when we rightly understand what forgiveness means) is not a resistance to dangerous folly, but a doubt in or minimizing of God’s abundant grace to us.

Bitterness is a form of meditation, but on hurt instead of the gospel. When we allow the hurts of our spouse to walk us through the journey of processing the emotions associated with forgiveness, then “the meditations of our hearts” (Psalm 19:14) center on the gospel and point us to hope instead of doubt or dissatisfaction.

This resource was taken from the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication” seminar.

Part One: Saturday February 16, 2012
Part Two: Saturday February 23, 2012
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm or 6:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

Book Announcement: Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling

I’m honored to serve as a contributor to Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, a book published by Harvest House and produced by the Biblical Counseling Coalition, even if doing so does make me the “co-author of sin” (theological nerd humor… see chapter 9 to get it).

Release Date

You can order the book here.

Here is free sample chapter from John Piper and Jack Delk and a list of the endorsements for this book from an assortments of Christian leaders.

We’re grateful that Dr. David Powlison of CCEF has penned the Foreword. Here’s a brief excerpt of his words about Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling.

Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling … revolutionizes the meanings that our culture attaches to the word counseling… The discussion and case studies will give you a solid feel for how the Word of life speaks into the lives of troubled and troublesome people who face a world of troubles.

This book affirms that a good counselor is many things simultaneously: tender and firm, responsive yet purposeful, candid and tactful, patient yet urgent, attentive and instructive, profound yet practical, prayerful and hard-working, comforting yet challenging, empathetic and objective, flexible yet committed, faithful to Jesus Christ and relevant to any person facing any trouble… along with many other good and desirable qualities. While the ingredients of deft conversation are hard to capture on paper, the tone and content of what you read will give you a feel for how godly wisdom carries on a compassionate and constructive conversation.

Chapters and Authors

Foreword—David Powlison

Introduction: In Christ Alone—Bob Kellemen and Steve Viars

Part 1: A Practical Theology of Biblical Counseling 

Chapter 1: The Glory of God: The Goal of Biblical Counseling—John Piper and Jack Delk

Chapter 2: The Power of the Redeemer—Ernie Baker and Jonathan Holmes

Chapter 3: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit—Justin Holcomb and Mike Wilkerson

Chapter 4: The Unity of the Trinity—Kevin Carson and Jeff Forrey

Chapter 5: The Grand Narrative of the Bible—John Henderson

Chapter 6: The Sufficiency of Scripture—Steve Viars and Rob Green

Chapter 7: The Spiritual Anatomy of the Soul—Bob Kellemen and Sam Williams

Chapter 8: The Influences on the Human Heart—Jeff Forrey and Jim Newheiser

Chapter 9: The Problem of Sin—Robert Jones and Brad Hambrick

Chapter 10: The Centrality of the Gospel—Robert Cheong

Chapter 11: The Gospel in Balance—Stuart Scott

Chapter 12: The Pursuit of Holiness—Lee Lewis and Michael Snetzer

Chapter 13: The Weapons of Our Warfare—Bob Kellemen and Dwayne Bond

Chapter 14: The Hope of Eternity—Nicolas Ellen and Jeremy Lelek

Part 2: A Practical Methodology of Biblical Counseling

Chapter 15: The Biblical Counseling Ministry of the Local Church—Steve Viars and Rob Green

Chapter 16: The Health of the Church and Biblical Counseling—Deepak Reju and Mark Dever

Chapter 17: The Personal, Private, and Pulpit Ministry of the Word—Kevin Carson

Chapter 18: The Transformational Tie Between Small Group Ministry and Biblical Counseling—Brad Bigney and Ken Long

Chapter 19: The Goal and Focus of Spiritual Formation— Robert Cheong and Heath Lambert

Chapter 20: The Importance of Multiculturalism in Biblical Counseling—Rod Mays and Charles Ware

Chapter 21: The Nature of the Biblical Counseling Relationship—Jeremy Pierre and Mark Shaw

Chapter 22: The Key Elements of the Biblical Counseling Process—Randy Patten and Mark Dutton

Chapter 23: The Diagnosis and Treatment of Idols of the Heart—Howard Eyrich and Elyse Fitzpatrick

Chapter 24: The Power of Confession and Repentance—James MacDonald and Garrett Higbee

Chapter 25: The Power of Forgiveness—James MacDonald and Garrett Higbee

Chapter 26: The Ministry of Soul Care for People Who Suffer—Bob Kellemen and Greg Cook

Chapter 27: The Biblical Understanding and Treatment of Emotions—Jeff Forrey

Chapter 28: The Complex Mind/Body Connection—Laura Hendrickson

Conclusion: Unity in Truth and Love—Bob Kellemen and Steve Viars

Appendix A: The Mission, Vision, and Passion Statement of the Biblical Counseling Coalition

Appendix B: The Confessional Statement of the Biblical Counseling Coalition

Appendix C: The Doctrinal Statement of the Biblical Counseling Coalition

What You Don’t Need to Forgive

Not everything that bothers or annoys us needs to be forgiven. Forgiveness is only for moral offenses. When we try to use forgiveness as the method to resolve relational irritants that are not moral in nature several bad things happen.

  • We establish our preferences as the moral standard for our spouse – pride.
  • We begin to feel as if we forgive more than we are forgiven – self-righteousness.
  • We gain an increasingly negative view of our spouse – judgmental.
  • Our marriage begins to be built around an elaborate number of rules – performance-based acceptance.
  • We begin to feel as if God were asking too much of us – God-fatigue.

“What else is there?” we might ask. In What Did You Expect? Paul Tripp offers three categories of relational strain which do not call for a response of forgiveness (p. 94; bold text only). After describing what goes in each category, we will look at what kind of grace-based, constructive response is called for in each situation.

1. Human Weakness

Being clumsy, having struggles with a particular subject / aptitude, experiencing the limitation of a physical illness / injury, succumbing to the degenerative influence of aging, and similar experiences can negatively impact a marriage. These things can be annoying, fear-provoking, or upsetting, but they are not moral and, therefore, do not need to be forgiven.

The appropriate response to human weakness is compassion, patience, and assistance. A couple should be able to discuss the impact that each other’s weaknesses has on the other. Taking these conversations out of the “moral sphere” decreases the sense of shame commonly associated with our weaknesses. One of the most bonding aspects of marriage is creating a safe environment to acknowledge our weakness and be loved anyway.

A couple should also be able to discuss how they can support each other’s weaknesses. This is a big part of learning God’s design for marriage and will be expressed uniquely in each home. But not all weaknesses will be complemented by a spouse’s strength. In these cases we show our commitment to the marriage by allowing our affection for our spouse to trump our annoyance with their weaknesses.

2. Differences in Personality or Perspective

Being extroverted vs. introverted, optimistic vs. pessimistic, cautious vs. adventurous, concrete vs. abstract, and organized vs. fluid are all examples of difference in personality or perspective. These differences impact marriages in many ways, but they are not moral, and, therefore, do not need to be forgiven.

The appropriate response to differences in personality or perspective is appreciation, learning, and cooperation. Well-managed and humbly-discussed differences will be what provides a lifetime of enjoyment to your marriage. Pridefully condemning or demanding conformity will leave the two of you feeling defeated and rejected.

Because these are enduring qualities in your spouse which are likely different from your own, these differences are common sources of bitterness. Too often couples get caught trying to make each other “speak their language” rather than appreciating their differences. When this happens dating-attraction becomes marital-division.

3. Attempting to Do Something and Failing

As a couple gets to know each other’s weaknesses, personality, and perspectives, they will (or, at least, should) begin to attempt ways of “doing life together” that challenge and stretch both of them.  Frequently these love-motivated efforts will fail (or, at least, not achieve the desired result). These moments may elicit a sense of disappointment or shame, but they are not moral, and, therefore, do not need to be forgiven.

The appropriate response to differences in these instances is affirmation and encouragement. Attempting to do a good thing and failing should still be viewed as a good thing. It is at least two steps ahead of attempting to do a bad thing and failing, and one step ahead of being passive.

Responding to these moments with an appreciation that borders on celebration is an essential part of creating a marital culture where both spouses feel free to take healthy relational risks (i.e., flirting in new ways, repenting, willingness to try things your spouse enjoys, etc…). When we allow these moments to get caught up in the moral language of forgiveness we stifle the relational freedom we should be fanning into flames.

Read Ephesians 4:1-3: In a gospel-centered marriage a primary motivation for each spouse is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called [referring to salvation] (p. 1).” Paul tells us how we do this, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, being with one another in love (v. 2).” These actions and attitudes capture the essence of our response to marital annoyances and disappointments which do not warrant forgiveness. Paul tells us what the fruit of such actions will be – unity and peace (v. 3).

This resource was taken from the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication” seminar.

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

Tuesday Tweets of the Week: 2.19.13

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it’s funny…

C.S. Lewis on “A Gift to Who?”

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

“You cannot expect God to look at Dick’s placid temper and friendly disposition exactly as we do. They result from natural causes which God Himself creates. Being merely temperamental, they will disappear if Dick’s digestion alters. The niceness, in fact, is God’s gift to Dick, not Dick’s gift to God (p. 211).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It would be easy for an anxious person to think that God is more pleased with a calm person, because their life is bearing more of the fruit of peace. Similarly, it would be easy for an introvert to think that God is more pleased with an extrovert, because they fulfill more of the “one another” commands of the New Testament.

The same thought pattern could be used in evaluating God’s pleasure in our intelligence, attractiveness, various personality traits, and other factors that are significantly influenced by how God knit us together genetically in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139).

While this way of thinking is natural, Lewis is challenging us to consider whether it is accurate. He challenges us to realize that this is the equivalent of saying that God takes more pleasure in tall people for being tall than he does short people (assuming a culture where height is valued).

When we consider this question rationally (instead of through the bias of our own insecurity or pride) we realize it is silly. Being tall is not a virtue; it’s a blessing. God does not praise us for the blessing He gives us; we praise Him.

How is this helpful? It helps us have a more accurate picture of how we relate to God. We begin to realize every good thing in our life is a gift and that we are prone to label blessings as virtues.

When we realize that every good part of our life is a gift from God we are free to steward those gifts as evidences of God’s favor rather than living under the pressure to perform up to someone else’s gifting in order to earn God’s favor.

So what does that mean for Dick and his friend who (apparently) is more easily agitated? Dick should realize he cannot “coast” because of his naturally even keel demeanor. God will assess Dick’s faithfulness based upon what he does with what God gave him – “to whom much was given, of him much will be required (Luke 12:48).”

For Dick’s less patient friend, it means he is free from competing with Dick. God has no expectation that he “catch up” to his friend. He should strive to grow in patience at each opportunity when life presents an agitant.

But the main question this friend should ask is, “What strengths has God given me and how can I use them?” As this friend pursues his areas of God-given strength, two things are likely to happen.

First, he will likely become more patient as he follows God’s design instead of Dick’s standard.

Second, he will feel less resentment or insecurity around Dick (or other patient people) which will also aid his ability to handle moments when patience is required.

To see the first 100 posts in this series click here.

Romantic Conflict: An Introduction to a Gospel-Centered Marriage

The following message was given at The Summit Church on February 9-10, 2013. It examines the implications of  Jesus’ call to discipleship in Luke 9:23-24 for marital conflict and romance.

For the podcast or transcript of this sermon click here.

This sermon represents the core concepts that are developed further in the  “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage” seminar series that is comprised of:

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

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

Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication (Videos)

The videos below were taken from the live presentation of the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication” seminar. For the various counseling options available from this material visit

This seminar is part of a series of “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage” seminars that also includes:

If you are interested in the pre-marital mentoring program built around these materials, you can find everything you need at

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

Chapter 1
What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate:
The Obvious and Not-So-Obvious Things That Disrupt Communication

GCM Communication Part 1 from Equip on Vimeo.

Chapter 2
The Neglected Key to a Marital Communication

GCM Communication Part 2 from Equip on Vimeo.

Evaluation One: GCMevaluation_Listening

Chapter 3
Day-to-Day Communication:
The Oil in the Machine of Marriage

GCM Communication Part 3 from Equip on Vimeo.

Evaluation Two: GCMevaluation_Day-to-Day_Communication

Chapter 4
Conflict Resolution:
Navigating Differences without Dividing

GCM Communication Part 4 from Equip on Vimeo.

Evaluation Three: GCMevaluation_Conflict Resolution

Resource: Conversation Log

Chapter 5
Repenting with Excellence:
Changing the Momentum of Your Marriage

GCM Communication Part 5 from Equip on Vimeo.

Chapter 6
Uncomfortable Forgiveness:
Absorbing the Cost of Their Sin for His Glory and Our Good

GCM Communication Part 6 from Equip on Vimeo.

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

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