Archive for June, 2014

Reflections on a Counseling Training Trip to South Asia

From June 13 to 23 I was in South Asia training national pastors in counseling. As I expected going into the trip, this was an experience from which I am sure I learned more than those whom I taught. It was my first experience working with first generation church planters in a region where Christians comprised less than 1% of the population.

I was immediately struck by how committed they are to their faith. Many traveled by train between 12-24 hours to be at our events. Several were divorced because their wife left them after they became Christians and have not been able to see their children since.

In spite of these conditions, intense heat, and poor sanitation they are a joyous people. They enjoyed singing and breaks were filled with conversations; although, due to language differences, it was often hard for me to follow along as much as I would have liked.

Counseling was a new concept to most of them. Their culture does not have “professional counselors.” There are no abuse shelters for battered women or residential facilities for those with addictions. While they are a very warm people, they are very private. It is very counter-cultural to talk about personal or family struggles because of a strong shame stigma.

Here was our basic training outline:

  • Examining the differences between justification and sanctification with an emphasis on why understanding both is important for counseling.
  • Examining the call to live in open relationships so that all pastoral counseling is not crisis counseling – hidden lives wait until things become “that bad” before they reach out for help.
  • Teaching the skill of listening as the foundational skill of counseling interaction.
  • Teaching a process for how the gospel speaks to sin-based struggles.
  • Teaching a process for how the gospel speaks to suffering-based struggles.
  • Overviewing the job description of a Christian husband and wife.
  • Overviewing a spectrum of biblical options for how to address conflict.

However, as we presented the biblical concept of living in open relationships, they were receptive to the idea. I was encouraged to hear them share their fears about it; this represented their first step in living out what they were learning.

Here are some of my takeaways from the trip. Some are questions/observations from how the teaching was received. Some are questions/reflections on the culture and implications for counseling as it develops there.

  • When should counseling be inserted into the training of first generation church plants in an unreached context? As new believers are being taught the gospel, how to administrate the sacraments, how to plant churches across their country, etc… when and how do you introduce lessons on counseling / one-another care? How do you balance the call to reach those who are rapidly perishing with the call to care well for those who have already been reached?
  • How do you care for the plight of women and children in these contexts? Domestic abuse was obvious throughout these areas. It is well known for being a leading area for sex trafficking. But there is little political will to stand against the atrocities. There were many signs the younger generation was burdened by these problems. But where there is the absence of laws, legal enforcement, and abuse shelters, how do you effectively care in situations that can become very dangerous to engage without legal support / protection?
  • How should counseling look in a context where the average church size is 10 members (i.e., house church), most members have been believers for less than 3 years, and they come from a culture steeped in superstitions that are still strong in the minds of many believers? There is an unmistakable beauty in these rapidly reproducing house churches, but there are also challenges to thinking through pastoral care with limited people-experience resources.
  • First-world conflict and third-world conflict, while often about different things, look remarkably similar. Our selfishness can attach to different things, but James 4 still captures the human experience regardless of socio-economic differences.
  • Pastors struggle to prioritize their families in every culture. Whatever our context it is easy to think we’ll make it up to our family later while we invest time God intended for our family into ministry. The result is that Satan takes a short-term loss for a long-term gain.

This was an experience I am sure I will continue to learn from as I reflect further. I hope to experience comparable opportunities in the future. I invite you to reflect on and pray over these matters. The questions that confuse me do not alarm Him.

God is doing great things all over the world. Getting to see it and participate in it outside an American context was very beneficial for my realization of this; not that I would have denied it, but I could not fully appreciate it (and appropriately pray for it) until I had seen it. If you have not taken the opportunity to be a part of an experience like this, I would highly encourage you to talk to your pastors and pursue an upcoming opportunity.

“What Is Mental Illness?” (Part II of II): A Proposed Definition

This is one blog in a series where I will be reflecting on the subject of mental illness. My purpose is not to lead the reader to the same conclusions I have, but to facilitate better conversations and reflections on this subject within the church.

In the previous post I examined several definitions of mental illness and tried to summarize their key points of similarity and difference. In this post, I will offer my definition of mental illness and highlights the points I am trying to emphasize with this definition.

Mental illness is a life struggle, which is common to all people to some degree, that significantly (degree of impact) and persistently (duration of influence) impairs an individual’s mental-social-emotional ability to function. With the exception of responses to trauma, this impairment is beyond a normal response to their life circumstances. The strengths and weaknesses associated with particular personality qualities and aptitudes are not mental illness.

Mental illness may have its cause in the physical body (i.e., brain chemistry, habituated neural pathways, genetics, glandular system, viral or bacterial infection, etc…), environmental causes (i.e., trauma, poor socialization, abusive-neglectful home life, etc…), personal choices (i.e., the consequences of sinful or foolish decisions on a spectrum from isolated bad choices with significant emotional-relational implication to addiction), or a combination of these causes.

The primary declaration made by the term mental illness is outside help is needed because the passing of time is unlikely to produce the desired decrease of symptoms. Based on this definition of mental illness any number of soul-body physician-counselors may be relevant and effective in assisting the process of change. A mental illness may be a true disease, a syndrome, or a consequence of life choices / circumstances.

This definition seeks to protect the distinction between “normal day-to-day emotional struggles” and “mental illness,” and, thereby, protect against over-diagnosis and prescription. At the same time, this definition seeks to acknowledge that the symptoms of mental illness are commonly experienced by every person; recognizing that the symptoms of mental illness are not the mental-emotional equivalent of a sixth sense or third arm. This protects against stigmatizing those who struggle with mental illness like emotional mutants in a therapeutic X-Men movie.

The bullet points below clarify key points in this definition.

  • Common to all people – emotional regulation, reality testing, and social awareness are struggles all people face
  • Degree of impact – in order to qualify as a mental illness a struggle must impair someone’s ability to function
  • Duration of influence – in order to qualify as mental illness a struggle must last longer than is normal for its trigger
  • Outside personality trait and aptitudes – the advantages or disadvantages of particular personality types or aptitudes should not be confused with mental illness
  • No one universal cause – our cognitive-emotional systems and struggles are too complex to reduce to a single cause
  • Multiple relevant helpers – the term mental illness should not result in an exclusive or restricted domain of helping relationships; effective care for complex problems will cover the spectrum of formal to informal care

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

A Guided Tour to Augustine’s Overcoming A Besetting Sin (Lust)

Augustine’s Confessions is his written testimony of salvation being recounted to God.  This excerpt is taken as he recounts how God delivered him from sexual sin.  It picks up in the middle of Book 8.  Augustine has just finished recounting how the conversion of a man named Victorinus (an influential and intelligent man like Augustine) played a role in his coming to faith.  Simplicianus is a friend who is talking with Augustine and has just finished telling him of the conversion of Victorinus.

The blocked texts in this article are meant to guide you in a personal reflection during your reading of Augustine’s struggle with sexual sin.  It is hoped that whatever sin (life-dominating or otherwise) you are struggling with, this article will encourage and instruct you.  It is not being proposed that Augustine’s story is the model for everyone, but merely that Augustine is vividly honest about his struggle and, in doing so, illustrates many excellent truths of Scripture about how people change.

Only minor changes have been made to the original text as translated by Albert Outler.  (1) Old English words were exchanged for their modern equivalents – “didst” changed to “did.”  (2) Scripture references were added into the text instead of being given as endnotes. (3) Chapter subtitles were added to help the reader pick up in the middle of Augustine’s book.  (4) Bold face emphasis was added in several places to highlight aspects of the writing particularly applicable to the purpose of this article.

To help you read this article, remember that Augustine dictated this text and expected it to be read aloud.  Reading silently was not common at that time.  For this reason, it may take you a few paragraphs to adjust to a syntax that was prepared for an oral audience.

To Download the Complete Article Click Here: BLOG_AugustineConfessions8_BCH

It can be helpful to listen through a reading of this portion of Augustine’s reflection as you seek to remember and implement this article.  An excellent version is available narrated by Max McLean through The Listener’s Bible Company.

Bible Verses on Addiction

Effective Biblical Counseling can never be reduced to the question, “What does the Bible say about [topic]?” Both life and counseling require more than having the right answer to a question. Counseling (or Christian friendship that seeks to embody the “one another” commands of the New Testament) is when one person joins another on his/her journey to cultivate more of the fruit of the Spirit in his/her life by overcoming some life struggle.

What you find below should be considered the “map” for this journey. God’s Word helps us see both where we are (stuck in sin and/or suffering) and where we want to be. The Summit counseling ministry hopes you find both direction and encouragement for your journey in these passages.

This list is updated periodically.

Every sin is designed by Satan to enslave people in opposition to the true freedom in which God desires for us to live.

John 8:31-36, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

1 Peter 5:6-11, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

2 Peter 2:19, “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”

We can live in bondage to any thing (good or bad) and thereby live an empty life of sadness.

Mark 10:21-22, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

James 1:14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

The Bible is vivid about the effects of addiction on an individual.

Proverbs 23:29-35, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?  Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.  Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.”

Addiction is a form of idolatry. We make great sacrifices to/for our god (substance/activity). In the end we become as lifeless as our god.

Psalm 115:4-11, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.”

There is hope to resist each moment of temptation you face.

1 Corinthians 10:13-14, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

Ultimately, addiction is a way we are trying to pursue life, hope, or relief outside of God.

Luke 9:23-25, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’”

Other Passages to Study: The book of Judges for a description of continually getting clean and relapsing; Descriptions of a “fool” in Proverbs, 25:28; Ecclesiastes 7:18; Isaiah 1:5-7; Galatians 5: 16-26, 6:1-5; Ephesians 5:15-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5

Other Topics to Consider: Character, Change Process, Codependency, Contentment, Guilt & Shame, Lying, Pornography

Bible Verses on Adoption

Effective Biblical Counseling can never be reduced to the question, “What does the Bible say about [topic]?” Both life and counseling require more than having the right answer to a question. Counseling (or Christian friendship that seeks to embody the “one another” commands of the New Testament) is when one person joins another on his/her journey to cultivate more of the fruit of the Spirit in his/her life by overcoming some life struggle.

What you find below should be considered the “map” for this journey. God’s Word helps us see both where we are (stuck in sin and/or suffering) and where we want to be. The Summit counseling ministry hopes you find both direction and encouragement for your journey in these passages.

This list is updated periodically.

Romans 8:14-17, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Romans 8:22-25, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Galatians 4:1-7, “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

1 John 3:1-3, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

Other Passages to Study: Matthew 5:9; Luke 6:35; John 1:2; 2 Corinthians 6:17-18; Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 2:15; Hebrews 12:6-7; Revelation 21:7

Other Topics to Consider: Family Life, Parenting, Self-Esteem (Identity)

A Collection of Quotes on Addiction

What follows is a collection of quotes on this subject. They are not meant to sequentially walk through the subject or to comprehensively cover the subject. Their purpose is merely to expose you to a variety of thoughts and perspectives by Christian men and women.

“No matter how they start, addictions eventually center in distress and in the self-defeating choice of an agent to relieve the distress. In fact, trying to cure distress with the same thing that causes it is typically the mechanism that closes the trap on an addict—a trap that, as just suggested, might be baited with anything from whiskey to wool (p. 131)… The exposure event is thus a severe mercy, a potent bearer of shame and grace (p. 135)… In important respects, ‘the addiction experience is the human experience,’ since we all ‘have a habit’ where sin is concerned. Addiction shows us how the habit works, where it goes, and why it persists. In fact, we might think of addiction as a lab demonstration of the great law of returns, the law of longing and acting and the forming of habits that lead to renewed longing (p. 147)… When in full cry, addiction is finally about idolatry. At last, the addict will do anything for his idol, including dying for it (p. 148).” Cornelius Plantinga, Jr in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin

“You can control things, but you cannot control God or your relationship to him. Proper worship is not only putting God where he belongs in your life but also surrendering control of your life to him. Impersonal things so easily seduce us because they put us in control, the place where every sinner wants to be. Here is one of idolatry’s great allures, yet it is at once also one of its great dangers. You and I were never meant to be in control, and when we are, we always make a mess out of things… The enslaving, addicting quality of idolatry must not be understated or ignored (p. 100)… Perhaps the biggest and most tempting lie that all of us tend to embrace is that our greatest problems exist somewhere outside of us (p.113).”Paul David Tripp, Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God

“Sin is more than conscious choice. Like a cruel taskmaster sin victimizes and controls us (John 8:34). It captures and overtakes (Gal. 6:1 )….  In other words, sin feels exactly like a disease. It feels as if something outside ourselves has taken over. In fact, one of Scripture’s images for sin is disease (e.g., Isa. 1:5-6) (p. 33).” Edward T. Welch, Addictions a Banquet in the Grave

“Who would have thought? The treatment for addiction is to want something better than your addictions (p. 3)… You do your addiction because you like it. Maybe you want to change, but at the same time, you don’t want to change. You are caught between wanting to trust God and wanting to be God. Acknowledge this and you are walking in the right direction (p. 14)… You addiction went from being a friend to a lover to a slave-master (p. 25)… Right now [as you leave your addiction] it feels like you are giving things up. But in reality you are inheriting a new kingdom (p. 28).” Edward T. Welch in Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction

“All sin is ultimately irrational….. Though people persuade themselves that they have good reasons for sinning, when examined in the cold light of truth on the last day, it will be seen in every case that sin ultimately just does not make sense (p. 493)…The Bible’s depiction of the human race is that today it is actually in an abnormal condition….  In a very real sense, the only true human beings were Adam and Eve before the fall, and Jesus.  All the others are twisted, distorted, corrupted samples of humanity (p. 518)…  Our view of the cause of sin will determine our view of the cure for sin, since the cure for sin will necessarily involve negating the cause (p. 616).” Millard Erickson in Christian Theology

“They become conscious of the fact that they have been merely fighting the symptoms of some deep-seated malady, and that they are confronted, not merely with the problem of sins, that is, of separate sinful deeds, but with the much greater and deeper problem of sin, of an evil that is inherent in human nature (p. 227, emphasis added)… Sin does not reside in any one faculty of the soul, but in the heart, which in Scriptural psychology is the central organ of the soul, out of which are the issues of life.  And from this center its influence and operations spread to the intellect, the will, the affections, in short, to the entire man, including his body (p. 233).” Louis Berkhoff in Systematic Theology

“In fact, the longer we struggle with a problem, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that problem (divorced, addicted, depressed, co-dependent, ADD). We come to believe that our problem is who we are. But while these labels may describe particular ways we struggle as sinners in a fallen world, they are not our identity! If we allow them to define us, we will live trapped within their boundaries. This is no way for a child of God to live (p. 260)!” Paul Tripp in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand

“There is a progressive character to this string of words that describes the turning away of the believer. The sinful heart, not wanting to live under the convicting light of truth, lives in the shadows and becomes weak and unbelieving. The unbelieving heart, having lost its confidence in God, has no reason to continue to persevere and begins to turn away. And the heart that has turned away, no longer sensitive to the truth of God, becomes increasingly hardened to the things of the Lord. What the passage [Heb 3:12-15] describes is a subtle acceptance of sin patterns, an acceptance that grows until it becomes a hardened turning away from the living God. What a terrifying warning (p. 144)!” Paul Tripp in War of Words

“Sin is what we do when our heart is not satisfied with God (p. 9).” John Piper in Future Grace

“Sin is not just about willfulness; that is, conscious stepping over God’s boundaries. Sin is also about blindness; that is, not seeing what needs to be seen in order to live as God has called me to live. The sinner is both willfully blind and blindly willful (p. 42).” Paul Tripp in “Strategies for Opening Blind Eyes” Journal of Biblical Counseling

“This is how idolatry grows in our hearts.  We want things and we aren’t sure God will give them to us, so we put our trust in other gods. This is THE problem of the human heart—misplaced trust. We value, love, and trust something in creation more than the Creator, and since there is nothing in creation that is intended to bear the weight of our trust, we are bound to live in fear.  All other loves must be subordinate to your love for Christ (p. 149).” Edward T. Welch in Depression A Stubborn Darkness

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.

A Collection of Quotes on Anger

What follows is a collection of quotes on this subject. They are not meant to sequentially walk through the subject or to comprehensively cover the subject. Their purpose is merely to expose you to a variety of thoughts and perspectives by Christian men and women.

“The very fact that [God gets angry] tells us that anger can be utterly right, good, appropriate, beautiful, the only fair response to something evil, and the loving response on behalf of evil’s victims (p. 1)… The Bible makes it clear that anger is not a ‘thing.’ It is a moral act of the whole person, not a ‘substance’ or a ‘something’ inside you (p. 2)”David Powlison in Anger: Escaping the Maze

“Anger is easier to describe than to define (p. 14)… Our anger is our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil (p. 15)… Let’s begin with a humbling observation: most human anger is sinful (p. 27)… The problem lies not in wanting something but in wanting it too badly (p. 51)… James’s answer for angry hearts is not ‘how-to’ but ‘Whom-to’: we must go to God himself (p. 64)… To receive God’s forgiving grace, you must own your anger. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble [James 4:6]. We must not blame our past or present circumstances (p. 70)… True strength in God’s eyes means victory over one’s temper more than ones’ enemies (p. 85).” Robert Jones in Uprooting Anger

“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is probably the most fun. To lick your wounds, smack your lips over grievances long past, roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontation still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” Frederick Buechner in Better Families monthly newsletter.

“Patience is the evidence of an inner strength. Impatient people are weak, and therefore dependant on external supports—like schedules that go just right and circumstances that support their fragile hearts (p. 173)…God undertakes vengeance against sin not only by means of hell, but also by means of the cross.  All sin will be avenged—severely and thoroughly and justly.  Either in hell, or at the cross (p. 268).”John Piper in Future Grace

“Talk is not cheap because interpretation is not cheap. The way we interpret life determines how we will respond to it (p. 15)…  What is wrong is not just vocabulary and tone of voice, but a way of looking at life that does not agree with what God says is right and true (p. 22)… We confess that our communication struggle is not primarily a struggle of technique, but a struggle of the heart. Our war of words is not with the other people; it is a battle within (p. 30)… John 6 points us to the core issue of our words: Our words are shaped by the dream that resides in our hearts. They are determined by the bread we are seeking (p. 101)… Truth that is not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it becomes distorted by human impatience, bitterness, and anger (p. 228).” Paul David Tripp in War of Words

 

“If I can hurt another by speaking faithfully without much preparation of spirit, and without hurting myself far more than I hurt that other, then I know nothing of Calvary love (p. 32).”  Amy Carmichael in If

“Pride is a mental attitude based upon faulty assumptions about ourselves. The pride that breeds anger usually takes the form of frustration (p. 105)… We are very quick to justify our anger because we think it produces results… We must understand that no matter what evidence we see of anger’s effectiveness, it is a lie… We need to see it for the terrorist it really is and despise it as God really does (p. 107).” Brian Borgman in Feelings and Faith

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

Sexual Abuse: Where to Begin?

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor JD’s sermon “Consequences: 2 Samuel 12-16” preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday February 5-6, 2011.

After hearing the life events of Tamar, many people who have experienced sexual abuse may be unsettled by the trigger of their own memories. Sometimes it is uncomfortable that Scripture speaks to the breadth of life’s experiences. Often the question emerges, “What can I do about it? How did it affect me? Shouldn’t time have healed this?” These are painful questions.

The counseling ministry would recommend the book On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Diane Langberg and the women’s past hurts Freedom Group as resources for this struggle. We encourage the Freedom Group because, in the words of Dr. Langberg,

“Recovery—learning not to live based on the fear—must also occur in the context of relationship. It cannot occur in isolation (p. 151)… It is important to understand that you cannot figure out relationships by yourself. We learn about relationships in relationships (p. 169)… Learning to tell ‘normal’ hurt from ‘abnormal’ hurt is a difficult process (p. 170).” Diane Langberg in On the Threshold of Hope

Sample Exercise:

It can be a fearful thing to even buy a book on sexual abuse. To help with this we have provided a sample exercise from the book One the Threshold of Hope. One sample cannot capture a whole book, but hopefully it will be enough to prompt you to take the next step.

Dr. Langberg asks victims of sexual abuse to rewrite the Isaiah 53 passage of the Suffering Servant as a way to help them see how Christ can identify with their suffering. She says:

“Turn what you read into a prayer. Use the word of Scripture to help you articulate your pain, your questions, your fear, your anger… Rewrite the Scripture passages as you read. Personalize them. Take Isaiah 53, and write it so it speaks about your life. Then look hard at the similarities in your life and the life of Jesus (p. 182).”

The example below is an attempt to rewrite Isaiah 53 to put the experience of sexual abuse into words.  Dr. Langberg provides another example of rewriting Isaiah 53 in her book on pages 182-186. I would encourage you to read Isaiah 53 in your preferred translation of the Bible, before trying to follow along with the personalization below.

Isaiah 53 (Personal Rewrite)

1. I spoke and no one believed what I said.  They thought I was a liar or a lunatic. Even when there was great reason to believe me, they refused. The truth was supposed to set me free, but it made me an outcast.

2. I was a young child. He knew and “loved” me. I was weak and vulnerable in his care.  Was it my body? Was there anything about the body of a child that could allure such destructive passion? If so, I’ll hide my beauty. I’d rather not be seen than attacked. To be known is dangerous.

3. Oh, the way he looks at me now. He hates me. He looks at me, knows what he did, and despises me as his reminder. I feel like others can see it too, and reject me. When I speak people back away from me. I want comfort. I keep getting rejection. I am sadness. Grief is my best/only friend. People find it easier to pretend nothing happened and turn their eyes (literally and figuratively). I represent what people want to forget.

4. Is this worse than the cross? Is this what made you cry “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” instead of the nails? I know why people thought God had abandoned you. I have thought the same of myself.

5. You [Jesus] did this voluntarily? You bore this so we would not be alone in this moment? I don’t yet know how it is supposed to heal me, but I am amazed. I can’t get anyone to believe me and You would join me. You must want peace for me worse than I do!

6. I have run from my pain in so many directions: people-pleasing, promiscuity, cutting, thoughts of suicide, perfectionism, denial, withdrawal, and more. None of them worked, yet You bore the penalty and walked the journey of each road to buy me back and set me free.  That kind of love is so foreign to me it scares me.

7. You, too, were tortured and silenced. You surrendered Your voice because they took mine. They took Your clothes too and You said nothing. You plunged fully into the depths of my pain to rescue my drowning soul. I was so silenced I could no longer call to You, yet You came.

8. People scorned You because of Your suffering. I too have been judged for my suffering.  I judge myself and wonder if it was “my fault.” I want to scream, “No, I wasn’t asking for it!” You were cut off from the “land of the living.” I feel as if I walk though life with a dead soul. I hate being ostracized because of someone else’s sin.

9. I hate being grouped with the “dirty people”—hookers and sluts. But that is how I feel, dirty. I did not give myself to another, but I do not get to be “pure” and do not feel I can associate with the “pure.” But I didn’t do anything wrong. I have to believe that. It’s true. Why is it so hard to believe?

10. I don’t know how to talk of Your involvement in my suffering, God.  You were not blind. You were not sleeping. Your character does not change? God, be patient with me if I skip this question for a while. I fear I want survival more than redemption right now. Work with me at a pace my soul and mind can bear. I’m trying to pray “I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).”

11. When/if I find comfort for this pain, I would gladly share it with the world, or at least anyone who would care to listen to me. Help me believe that peace is more than a fairy tale like unicorns. I long to join with Christ in His journey through suffering to life—life unshakable and impenetrable.

12. Pray for me, Jesus! Pray for me!  I am beginning to realize that if I have held up under this weight for this long, I must be in “the strong.” You identified with me in my suffering. Help me identify with You in your victory over sin, suffering, and death. Instead of losing myself in the crowd, in my numbness, or in the dots on the ceiling (where there is no life). Let me lose myself in You (Life Itself)!

Event: Porn Again? Guiding Couples through the Initial Pain

Pornography is a painful intruder into many marriages.  The fact that it is “common” does not make it any less painful. The chicken pox is a “common” illness for children, but we still take them to the doctor and provide care when they’re sick.

For pornography, however, it can be very awkward for a couple to know what the best form of care is. It feels like the pain has already been done, we cannot undo it, and stopping it presents its own set of struggles:

Pornography is private enough, how do I know he’s stopped? If I ask if he’s struggled, I don’t want him to lie and I don’t want him to say yes? Until he tells me he slipped, I think he is just giving me the right answer. Worrying about all this makes me feel like his mother more than his wife.

The flip-side of those struggles present themselves for the husband:

I can tell her I’ve not looked at porn again, but she doesn’t trust me. Why should she? That is what I said when she asked before. If I tell her when I fail, it will hurt her. It almost seems right to protect her from the truth. When we focus on my struggle with porn, I start to relate to her like my mother and resent it.

It is in light of these struggles (and others), that this training we will address:

  • How does a husband viewing pornography affect his wife?
  • How does pornography relate to adultery?
  • How and to whom should a wife share her pain and receive comfort?
  • How does a husband protect and comfort his wife after his sin has hurt her?
  • What are the do’s and don’ts for a wife after learning about pornography?
  • What are the do’s and don’ts for a husband after he’s been caught?

This will be a hour and half presentation by Brad Hambrick, Pastor Counseling at The Summit Church. The target audiences are both those whose marriage has been affected by pornography and those who care for such couples (small group leaders, pastors, counselors, etc…).

Date: Thursday April 21, 2011
Time: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Location: The Summit Church (Brier Creek Campus) Suite 111
Address: 2335 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

Anyone in the community is welcomed to attend. This event will highlight Converting Hearts Ministries (CHM; www.convertinghearts.org). CHM provides counseling services and a residential program for those struggling with alcohol, drug, or sexual addiction.

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex & Intimacy

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

QUESTION 1: How do you transition from “sex is wrong” to “sex is right”? How do we move from shame into freedom? How do you transfer from guilt associated with sex to pleasure with sex?

Click here to read my reply to Question 1.

QUESTION 2: How do I keep my thought-life pure leading up to the honeymoon? What about masturbation—is it sinful? How do you navigate from the sin of lusting for your fiancé to the lusting of your spouse (or is that a sin)? How does attraction change when you get married and begin having sex?

Click here to read my reply to Question 2.

QUESTION 3: If sex is painful for my wife, how do I help her through it? How can I practically serve, respect and honor my wife on the first night?

Click here to read my reply to Question 3.

QUESTION 4: What’s a good way to honor my wife in sex? What common things are dishonorable?

Click here to read my reply to Question 4.

QUESTION 5: Are men supposed to “lead” in sex as in other parts of the relationship?  Is there an appropriate balance for initiating intimacy?

Click here to read my reply to Question 5.

QUESTION 6: How do you overcome expectations you have from past sexual experiences?

Click here to read my reply to Question 6.

QUESTION 7: How long is reasonable for my fiancé to get over my sexual past?

Click here to read my reply to Question 7.

QUESTION 8: How do we control the carnal nature of ourselves and replace it with selfless love that the Bible teaches with regards to sex in marriage?

Click here to read my reply to Question 8.

QUESTION 9: What’s a way to handle one of us saying no to sex? How do you deal with times when you want sex and the other doesn’t? What do you do if you are not having your physical needs met? When the other person is not in the mood and you are – how do you deal with that?

Click here to read my reply to Question 9.

QUESTION 10: How do you ensure you and your spouse are having “enough” sex given a hectic and busy weekly schedule? How “intentional” do you find yourself having to be to have a “good” sex life? Are encounters scheduled a la date nights? What is the best way to maintain passion within sex as your marriage progresses?

Click here to read my reply to Question 10.

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.