All posts tagged Bible

Wisdom is Content and Experience

I was having a conversation with my 7 year old recently about toys. In my unbiased opinion he was showing a great deal of wisdom and self-control regarding finances and his primary idol. He would ask how much the various objects of his affection cost. We would look up the best available price (on my favorite “toy” – my smart phone) and he would tell me whether he thought it was a good deal.

I was impressed with his ability to gauge the value of toys. He was able to recognize overpriced plastic junk and once its value-to-cost ratio was revealed his affection for it subsided. Having him do chores to pay for extra “I wanna’s” and reading him Dave Ramsey bedtime stories (I’m not making that up) was really paying off. I was proud of him and I told him so.

Later that day he tried to apply his financial wisdom to an area of lesser experience – vehicles. We were driving and he said, “Papa, I know why Mama likes her van so much – it was cheap.” At that point I tried to describe the difference between something being “a good value” and it being “cheap.” He replied, “Yes, and Mama’s van was cheap.”

No matter how I tried to explain that a four year old, low mileage vehicle after a model change was “a good value,” all he could understand was that the van was cheap. When he got outside his sphere of experience he instantly transformed from a very wise 7 year old to an ill-informed car buyer (luckily we’ve got nine more years to work on that one).

Things that are obvious with children are often easy to overlook in adults or ourselves. Having a firm grasp and ability to apply a wise principle in one situation does not make one wise in all situations, or even in all situations of a similar nature (in this case, about finances).

I think, as Christians, we can often miss this. (Non-Christians also have their versions of this.) There can be a tendency to think that a timeless biblical principle is applicable to every situation within its subject matter. With this belief, we confidently make a biblical assertion and can’t hear reasons against it. We wind up sounding like my son talking about buying vehicles.

For example, consider conflict between two people. Many Christians will automatically say you should “take the log out of your eye before you take the speck of out the other person’s eye (Matt 7:3-5).” This is a wise and good biblical principle that applies to conflict.

But Scripture also says that “it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11, similar to Matt 7:1-2),” calls us to cease engaging with those who are unwilling to healthily engage in conflict (Matt 7:6 and Prov 26:4), and instructs us to admonish those who are in sin (Col 3:16). Similar examples could be given to various sins, forms of suffering, and relational dynamics.

What is needed to rightly apply these various biblical principles that apply to conflict? The ability to assess which directive best fits a given conflict; which comes through experience. Newlywed couples spend their first months and years trying to figure out how significant their differences are so they know with biblical principles to apply. Those in unhealthy friendships get caught trying to discern which of these applies.

What we see from this is that the sufficiency of Scripture is the foundation, but not the exclusive criteria, for the competency of the counselor. There are also the ability to assess the most relevant variables in a situation and the severity of a given struggle in order to apply the relevant portions of God’s Word.

This does not diminish the relevance or power of God’s Word, but it does highlight one of the key variables involved in “rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).” It reveals the necessity of being able accurately understand/assess/interpret a person and situation as well as you can a biblical text.

As we counsel (offer hope and direction) from the Bible, let us be sure to assess how well we understand the person and situation to be sure that our application of Scripture is wise and doesn’t cause us to sound wise in circumstances we know well and like my 7 year old discussing vehicles in areas we lack experience.

Directions for Running the Human Machine

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

“Moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine. That is why these rules at first seem to be continuously interfering with our natural inclinations (p. 69).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is funny how much we go back and forth on this one. Sometimes we desperately plead for an “instruction manual” for life. Other times we chafe at the idea of infringement upon our choices and preferences. This is not a conservative versus liberal distinction or a Christian versus pagan difference. This is a pendulum that swings in every human heart.

Directions for running the human machine would be moral in nature and are only needed if the machine tends to break down. The fact that we would ever ask for these instructions reveals our moral and wisdom inadequacies, but as soon as we catch a little positive (real or perceived) momentum we want to leave them behind.

The final sentence of Lewis’ quote reminds me of trying to teach my 4 year old anything. Our interaction starts innocently enough. I watch him struggle with some toy or game in the floor. His emotions grow down or angry. He looks to me for help. No sooner do I begin to speak than he thinks he has figured it out and says, “No, Papa. I know just what I’m doing” as he turns his shoulder between me and the toy.

On my good days I smile because that is such a picture of me. I ask God for help, but as soon as I think I’ve figured it out, I try to take life back. God’s plan might interfere with what I had in mind. At the very least, it would take away the joy and satisfaction of independence.

We have to begin to ask ourselves, “What is it that we really want?” Do we want simply to live well and experience love, joy, peace, patience, etc…? Or, do we want to conquer life on our own and define love, joy, peace, patience, etc…?

Most of us don’t want to completely rewrite the directions (Bible), we just see a few places where we could improve upon what God had in mind. Our situation is perceived to be the exception to wisdom. If that doesn’t completely blow up in our face, then we get a bit more comfortable in our revisions (being God’s advisor).

Eventually life catches up with us, we find ourselves in a mess, and we cry out for directions to life so that it wouldn’t be as painful. Yet when we hear the directions that would have prevented our pain, we often think they are simplistic and begin to make excuses: “You can be too legalistic about those things… Nobody really lives that way… Where’s the fun in that?”

The irony is that by the time we get into a mess and cry out for directions we are needing straight-forward advice, far from legalistic, and not having any fun. The ping-pong life of the human heart has returned serve. We beg, then we chafe.

In light of this, I would encourage us not to look for better directions but to find out how to become better students of what we have. I would further contend that becoming better students is not primarily a matter of the mind, but the heart. It is not our IQ, but our stubborn will that prevents us from following the simple, life-giving directions of our Creator. Following God’s directions begins with asking for a new heart.

Biblical Whining

I cannot tell you how many folks come in and start a counseling session by saying, “I don’t want to come in and just be a whiner,” or “I feel like I am just whining about my circumstances.”  Then they begin to talk about legitimately challenging situations in an awkward tone of embarrassment. When they are finished they apologize again.

This strikes me as odd. First, why would people schedule a counseling appointment and then apologize for discussing their struggles? I don’t think I apologize to my doctor when I am sick. Although I did when  I got a bad case of poison ivy while doing something stupid, but that’s another story for another post and I should have apologized to my wife not my doctor.

I fear that the answer to this first question is rooted in how disinterested and detached our culture and (too often) our churches have become. This leads me to my second question.

Second, why do we feel like discussing our struggles is whining? By this definition of whining large portions of the Bible would have never been written.

  • Job would have been gutted
  • Psalms, which discusses suffering, would be omitted
  • Proverbs would not contain many verses on getting counsel or listening to others
  • Ecclesiastes would be unnecessary
  • Lamentations would be unbearable
  • Paul would have had little information to trigger the writing of his letters
  • James would have never known of the suffering of the dispersed Christians
  • I Peter would also be missing

Consider Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The implication of this verse is that if we are not bearing one another’s burdens, then we are not fulfilling the law of Christ (strong charge!). This requires knowing each other’s struggles.

A quick definition of true (negative) whining – sharing a problem, not wanting another perspective on the issue, with no intention of doing anything differently, hoping the other person will fix it for you or just be miserable with you.

My burden is that this is NOT what the people in my office are doing, but they still feel like they have to apologize for sharing their burden. This is wrong! Many of our struggles become so intense because we do not share them with others while those struggles are more manageable. By the point of sharing, they may be so overwhelmed that they either only feel like whining or need the help of a well-trained counselor.

THE POINT: The Bible does not expect change to occur in isolation or privately. Actually, the Bible seems to assume that the more private we keep our struggles (both sin and suffering) the more intense our struggles will become. Therefore, let us “whine” like the Bible models. Let us discuss our struggles within our community of faith seeking hope, encouragement, and direction from those God has given us to share life with.

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

Wisdom is Content and Experience

I was having a conversation with my 7 year old recently about toys. In my unbiased opinion he was showing a great deal of wisdom and self-control regarding finances and his primary idol. He would ask how much the various objects of his affection cost. We would look up the best available price (on my favorite “toy” – my smart phone) and he would tell me whether he thought it was a good deal.

I was impressed with his ability to gauge the value of toys. He was able to recognize overpriced plastic junk and once its value-to-cost ratio was revealed his affection for it subsided. Having him do chores to pay for extra “I wanna’s” and reading him Dave Ramsey bedtime stories (I’m not making that up) was really paying off. I was proud of him and I told him so.

Later that day he tried to apply his financial wisdom to an area of lesser experience – vehicles. We were driving and he said, “Papa, I know why Mama likes her van so much – it was cheap.” At that point I tried to describe the difference between something being “a good value” and it being “cheap.” He replied, “Yes, and Mama’s van was cheap.”

No matter how I tried to explain that a four year old, low mileage vehicle after a model change was “a good value,” all he could understand was that the van was cheap. When he got outside his sphere of experience he instantly transformed from a very wise 7 year old to an ill-informed car buyer (luckily we’ve got nine more years to work on that one).

Things that are obvious with children are often easy to overlook in adults or ourselves. Having a firm grasp and ability to apply a wise principle in one situation does not make one wise in all situations, or even in all situations of a similar nature (in this case, about finances).

I think, as Christians, we can often miss this. (Non-Christians also have their versions of this.) There can be a tendency to think that a timeless biblical principle is applicable to every situation within its subject matter. With this belief, we confidently make a biblical assertion and can’t hear reasons against it. We wind up sounding like my son talking about buying vehicles.

For example, consider conflict between two people. Many Christians will automatically say you should “take the log out of your eye before you take the speck of out the other person’s eye (Matt 7:3-5).” This is a wise and good biblical principle that applies to conflict.

But Scripture also says that “it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11, similar to Matt 7:1-2),” calls us to cease engaging with those who are unwilling to healthily engage in conflict (Matt 7:6 and Prov 26:4), and instructs us to admonish those who are in sin (Col 3:16). Similar examples could be given to various sins, forms of suffering, and relational dynamics.

What is needed to rightly apply these various biblical principles that apply to conflict? The ability to assess which directive best fits a given conflict; which comes through experience. Newlywed couples spend their first months and years trying to figure out how significant their differences are so they know with biblical principles to apply. Those in unhealthy friendships get caught trying to discern which of these applies.

What we see from this is that the sufficiency of Scripture is the foundation, but not the exclusive criteria, for the competency of the counselor. There are also the ability to assess the most relevant variables in a situation and the severity of a given struggle in order to apply the relevant portions of God’s Word.

This does not diminish the relevance or power of God’s Word, but it does highlight one of the key variables involved in “rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).” It reveals the necessity of being able accurately understand/assess/interpret a person and situation as well as you can a biblical text.

As we counsel (offer hope and direction) from the Bible, let us be sure to assess how well we understand the person and situation to be sure that our application of Scripture is wise and doesn’t cause us to sound wise in circumstances we know well and like my 7 year old discussing vehicles in areas we lack experience.

Four Ways to Read the Bible

Many vibrant devotional lives have died in seminary. People are often surprised to learn this. Students come to seminary because of their love for God and His Word. But when the Bible becomes a textbook, it can lose its vitality. As with everything else, when you dissect it, it dies.

I remember being a seminary student who was enthralled with hermeneutics (the fancy word, along with exegesis, for principles of interpreting the Bible). As much as I enjoyed the subject and gleaned from it, the classes and books taught me to come to the Bible with dozens of questions that had little to do with God or me. I was excited about the original author, the author’s intent, the original audience, the original language, syntax, lexicon (not the little green people at the end of rainbows), and other ways to find the meaning of the text.

I still value hermeneutics, but that is not the focus of this post. This post is meant to cultivate questions for Bible study that focus primarily upon God and me (or you). The outline of the post comes from a recent video post by David Powlison on the prayer life of Martin Luther. In the video Powlison discusses four ways Luther responded to Scripture in his prayer life.

Dr. David Powlison – Martin Luther’s Prayers from CCEF on Vimeo.

Bible as Text Book

When we come to the Bible as a text book we are seeking to learn what and how to think. We want to know what is right, good, wise, and worthwhile. We come to it as innocent children eager to learn from trusted parents.

We recognize the world as a complicated and large place. We know that we are not capable of mastering it on our own. So we ask questions to fill our mind with the relevant facts and needed perspective to respond to the challenges we will face.

Bible as Hymn Book

When we come to the Bible as a hymn book we are seeking to find the majesty of God. We come to the Bible like children asking questions of their parents’ “glory days.” We want to be awed, inspired, and made to feel safe because of what we learn.

We recognize that we will never be satisfied with our own achievements. As creatures made to worship, we crave a thrill that we cannot produce. We were made with imaginations that require the presence, mission, and power of God to swim in.

Bible as Confession Book

When we come to the Bible as a confessional book we find everything we want to be (or would want to be if our perspective was right) and are not. Yet we do not find shame. We come as children who have failed and are seeking the comfort of a loving parent.

We recognize that light reveals dirt that was hidden in the shadows of our lives. But the inspiration and motivation developed in worship causes us to find value in the hard work of cleaning (okay, the children metaphor might be breaking down here). We ask questions that reveal our desire to get our character from where we are to what we see in our Father.

Bible as Prayer Book

When we come to the Bible as a prayer book we are seeking help in the journey from what we saw in the Bible as confession book to the Bible as hymn book. We come with the innocent faith of children who believe if we have seen in His Word, God can get us there.

We talk like children with their Father, when they know their request pleases the Father. As we ask God to make us more like what we’ve read and adored, we are like the child asking his/her parent to teach them the parent’s favorite hobby.

To summarize this post, as you read the Bible, never forget how God says we get into His kingdom and (my inference) come to understand His Word, “Truly I say to you whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it (Mark 10:15).” Let your Bible reading echo the heart of a child peppering his/her parent with questions of admiration.

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

Ally, Master, or Judge?

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

“Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the view of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or—a Judge (p. 87).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Lewis may be better known for his trilogy of liar, lunatic, or Lord, but this three-piece deserves some attention. This collection of phrases serves to convict the nominal Christian, politically Christian, or ethically Christian person. But it also convicts any of us who tries to reduce Christianity to a collection of teachings.

The core of Christianity is not what we think but Who we rely upon and Who has the final say in our life. Inevitably these things will impact what we think, but there may be others who think similarly for other reasons who are not Christian.

Pick your favorite moral position: abortion, honesty, equality, or marriage. There are many non-Christians who would agree with Christians on these subjects. Actually, there are many people who would be offended by Christianity who would agree with Christians on these subjects.

These same people would have no problem saying the Bible was enlightened, wise, or beneficial in its support of “their” position. What they would not say is that the Bible is authoritative on “their” position. They would not say that their position was rooted in the created order of the author of Scripture who invaded history to die for their sin and call them to repentance.

This is what it means to look for a Master (or find a Judge if you disagree) rather than an ally in Christianity. Christianity is not primarily rooted in what ethical or political system we prefer. Christianity begins with how we view our selves. Are we good people in need of better information, examples, training, and environment? Or, are we broken, selfish people in need of a Savior?

If we are good people, then finding a “Master” would be offensive. It would infringe upon our freedom and be a violation of our rights. However, if we are broken people who are blind in our sin, then to find a Savior who is a benevolent Master to lead us to life would be a literal dream come true.

The questions are, “What are we looking for?” and “What does our search reveal about us?” These questions echo us to some of God’s early words with His covenant people in Deuteronomy 4:29, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

When we search with all our heart and soul it means that we have abandoned the notion of finding the solution in our selves. We are aware of our need. We are not searching for an ally, but a Master.

For a period of time, it would be good to write this quote from C.S. Lewis on an index card and use it as a bookmark in your Bible. Each day as you read Scripture allow it to remind you of why you come to the Bible and what you hope to find.

How Christianity Works

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

“That is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and science: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal (p. 82-3).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

How much “how to” does the Christian faith and text of Scripture provide? C.S. Lewis begins to answer this question with the assertion, the Bible does not intend to be an exhaustive work – covering every detail of every task to which it calls a believer. Those who try define “the sufficiency of Scripture” to imply prescribing the details of life ask more of the sacred text than it contains. The logical conclusions of this assertion begin to become silly.

C.S. Lewis concludes his answer by asserting that the Bible is (or should be) the director, energizer, and Lord of all human learning. Applying these kinds of principles has been the center of fierce debate within Evangelical Christian Counseling. What role does the Bible play in developing a Christian psychology? Or, vice versa, what role should psychology play in developing a robust application of the Bible?

If the Bible did not intend to be exhaustive even on points it addresses extensively, how do we engage the field of counseling under the direction of Scripture, energized by Scripture, and submitting to the Lordship of Scripture while studying a complex field like counseling? As complicated as it sounds, every believer does it (or at least attempts to) every day.

I think we start by acknowledging that none of us do it perfectly and that there are no pure systems or exact principles for this type of work. We should also acknowledge that the more involved we become in the life of real people’s suffering and sin, the less clear the process will become. The more “lives” our subject; the less exact our science. Hence, chemists are more reliable than weathermen.

To answer the question better, we must examine the nature of Lordship as we experience it in real life. Lordship expresses itself through continual repentance and learning. I know Christ is my Lord not because I obey Him perfectly, but because each time I fail, I repent and learn more of His character.

Similarly, academic submission to Christ’s Lordship (expressed through submission to biblical teaching) will be expressed through repentance and learning. We will strive to know real, hurting people and use Scripture to help them. Sometimes we will apply Scripture in artificially rigid ways. Other times we will offer practical, “common sense” advice without thinking that it contradicts Scripture. It is inevitable that we will do one or the other (probably both) repeatedly.

The mark of a growing biblical counselor (and there is no other kind) is the willingness to repent and learn. The standard of repentance will always be the violation of biblical teaching. The content of learning will always be the fuller application of Scripture. However, the context of both repentance and learning will be the willingness to love others by placing ourselves in messy situations for which we do not have pre-scripted solutions.

That is how Christianity works. It provides the grace to allow us to repent and learn as we strive to do the things it calls us to do, love those it calls us to love, and carry out the mission it says should define our lives. It is in that reality of grace that “fuels” (i.e., source of energy or is the life for) all forms of the human arts and sciences are practiced by those who seek to be “Christian” at their trade.

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?’”

Bob Kellemen Responds to Brian McLaren’s Book “A New Kind of Christianity”

There are many books written and a few of them become popular.  But popularity is not necessarily a good measure of the biblical faithfulness of a given piece of literature, even in Christian circles.  Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity is a book that has begun to catch a significant amount of attention, positive and negative.  In his book he asks for Christians to engage with him in a conversation about their faith.

Bob Kellemen engaged in this converation through his blog.  He states his purpose in doing so:

My focus has been on pastoral theology or practical theology response. As a pastor, counselor, and professor who equips the church for biblical counseling and spiritual formation, I was asking: “What difference does our response to each question make for how we care like Christ (biblical counseling) and for how we live like Christ (spiritual formation)?”

Over the course of 13 blog posts (see below), Dr Kellemen examines the implications of Brian McLaren’s self-attested redefinition of the Christian faith for pastoral ministry, and for counseling ministry in particular.

I hope the readers of my blog get three things from these links.  First, and most obviously, I hope you get a thorough assessment of a book with rising popularity and influence.  Second, I hope you grow in your ability to read Christian literature critically (not “negatively” or “suspiciously” but considering the assumptions behind and implications of what an author says).  Third, I hope you hear a tone of Christian engagement that seeks to balance both grace and truth.  Our disagreements should always clearly reveal a desire to edify the church more than to disparage the one with whom we disagree.  I found that to be the heart and intention of Dr. Kellemen and pray you benefit from his reflections.