Thursday, June 21, 2007

Analyze This?!

Some weeks ago I made a comment from the pulpit to ‘modern therapeutic models’ with reference to dealing with ongoing patterns of sin in believers’ lives. This provoked many to ask the question, and it is indeed an important one, “Should a Christian pursue professional counseling in dealing with crises, problems, and struggles in their lives?” This is one of those rough questions put to a pastor, because no matter how I answer it, I’m darned if I do and darned if I don’t. For many, the very idea of professional counseling is anathema, wicked, and just plain wrong, wrong, wrong. For many others, to question the role and purpose of the ever growing army of professional ‘Christian’ counselors , and their history with a ‘Christian’ counselor in particular, is narrow minded, archaic, and naïve to the extreme. Oh well. It is at this point any pastor, or believer for that matter, must say with the Apostle, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

I do believe there are some serious problems with the modern therapeutic approach to dealing with problems, crisis, etc. Do I believe that ‘Christian counseling’ as a profession is innately wrong or sinful? Of course not. Do I believe there is a place for mental health counseling and therapy? Yes- in more limited and defined contexts than seems to be the case in the common ‘therapy’ structure so prevalent today. There is a great deal of ‘grey’ in the Scriptures and a healthy dose of God’s common grace shed on these issues. Far be it from me to go God one better by proclaiming “ichabod” in these matters wholesale. Nonetheless, there are some important warnings and exhortations that we must heed from the Scriptures before we jump headlong into the therapeutic paradigms so common today .

I’ll just give just a few primary ‘warnings’ about what I see as dangers in the contemporary therapeutic models.

A Low View of the Local Church
We need to recognize that all of our struggles stem from sin and depravity (either our own or someone else’s). The solution for dealing with sin is repentance and faith in dealing with our own sin, and leading others to repentance and faith (and reconciliation) in dealing with their sin. We deal with our sin through ongoing formative spiritual discipline and even sometimes through a process of ‘punitive’ spiritual discipline according to Matthew 18:15-20. This process of repentance and change happens under the umbrella of biblical instruction, spiritual authority, and accountability. The context where this process of sanctification is fostered and nurtured is the local church. Now, the local church is the normative covering for spiritual development and growth (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-6:8; Galatians 6:1-2; Col. 3: 12-17), that is to say God can and does work in a myriad ways outside this covering. Yet we are directly instructed in the Word to find our health and formation in the context of the local church.

In my experience, many modern therapeutic approaches (in ‘Christian’ contexts) do not place a proper emphasis upon the role of the local church in this process of sanctification and growth. To put it a bit more strongly, I have gathered a distinct sense that many in the counseling guild see the local church and this biblical environ for change and spiritual formation as almost negligible. While there may be a host of valid reasons for such a low view of the local church, we cannot escape the biblical injunction to live and operate under this covering (however flawed we might perceive it to be).

An Improper Professionalization of Shepherding and Counsel
Simply put, I do not find much biblical warrant for receiving the bulk of our counsel and direction from professional sources outside the patterns of intimate and organic church ‘family life’. Many Christians have little involvement with God ordained pastors and shepherds, or other mature believers and so fill the very valid need for counsel through professional channels. Of course the problem lies fundamentally with the failure of believers to find help and direction through the normal ‘channels’ of God’s grace to us (meaningful involvement in the church, ongoing discipleship and counsel via natural Christian relationships, the daily pursuit of the spiritual disciplines) in such times.

But the problem also lies with the inability of a paid professional to properly address significant problems and needs in a believer’s life through an hourly session within the walls of the counseling room. There is an integration of many factors that bring change and spiritual development in a believer’s life that many expect to receive in a professional therapeutic context, and which this context is unable to deliver. Sadly, I do not see many people that are somewhat ‘trapped’ in a therapeutic cycle referred to the church family as a valid and crucial place for dealing with their problems and issues. I have yet to have one person come to me for guidance, instruction, and care as their pastor under the direction of their counselor. In fact, it is often the case that I have dealt with people in various struggles and crises (often as a direct result of deep patterns of sin) who have been in therapy (sometimes for years) with ‘Christian’ counselors who never even broached the subject of the church’s role (even in a very basic sense) in confronting and dealing with these issues.

Competent to Counsel
It is every Christian’s responsibility to provide biblical counsel and speak into one another’s lives. Sometimes Christians are too quick to assign responsibility and jurisdiction over to the professional therapy realm, when God is calling fellow believers to step into the gap. Let’s face it; despite the proliferation of therapies, medications, and helping models, these have been done little to stem the flow of psychological maladies, problems, and dysfunction. As said above, the framework for such mutual counsel, accountability, and change provided to us as believer’s is through the community of believer’s called ‘the church’. For many this idea of spiritual formation and growth under the direction of God’s ordained pattern for spiritual covering through the local church might be new. But I assure you that this is the normative pattern of Christian sanctification given to us in the Scriptures. Along with the references listed above, I would refer you to these passages regarding Church life and spiritual accountability: Acts 2: 42-47; 20:27-32; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-22; 1 Tim. 3:1-8; Titus 1: 5-9; 2:1-10; Heb. 10:19-25.

A Good Starting Point- Take ‘Spiritual Inventory’
The question must be raised, “When, if ever, should we refer someone to a professional counselor?” I almost never follow this course until I help a person or couple take spiritual inventory of their lives to determine if they are taking advantage of the means of grace God has already provided. Some questions in this ‘inventory’ might be: Is this person in Christian fellowship? Do they serve in the church? Do they regularly worship and sit under the preaching of the word? Do they have accountable relationships? Are they taking care of themselves physically? Do they recognize any patterns of unrepentant sin that need to be confronted and reconciled? Are they availing themselves of some basic biblical principles addressing their problems, concerns, and struggles? If not, then counseling will not serve its proper role. If, however, a person is exercising these means of grace, then counseling can be one of the ways God uses to grow that person in grace. Counseling is thus placed into a context where “first things are first” and can be even more effective than if this were not the case.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

FMO (For Men Only)- The Disciplines of Love and Marriage, Part I

[Wives, I know that you'll read this. After all, it was Eve who was deceived and fell into transgression. Oh, come on...I'm kidding! But do me a couple of favors if you do read this. First, suggest that your husband take a look if he doesn't already lurk on this blog. Second, pinky swear that you will not throw the points and issues addressed here in your husband's face the next time you think he is falling short in some way or another.]

Men, I'm convinced that marriage and its proper maintenance, like all good and glorious things given by God as a means of grace, is a discipline. This doesn't sound right to you, I'm sure. I think that if you're a man this seems right intuitively, but you wouldn't say this sort of thing out loud. You see, we live in an age of sap and sentimentality at every turn, especially when it comes to any discussion of love and marriage. This is why we don't like to read the books on marriage that our wives leave on our desks or bedside tables. It isn't that we don't want better marriages, or that we don't care, or can't read. It's just that we think these books are for the most part 'chickified' and full of saccharine soaked bullhonkey. (Right now you are perhaps stop reading, this is for men only.)

And you're right to feel this way. These books are written for chicks. That is the demographic. A manager at a local "christian' (oops...I mean 'positive and encouraging') radio station told me, without any chagrin, that the target demographic for 'positive and encouraging' radio was a 35-40 year old soccer mom ('If you get her, you get everyone else' he said. I accidently spewed some ice tea on him.) And, the same goes mostly for the all too prevalent 'christian' self help hogwash that graces the shelves of our local 'positive and encouraging' bookstore. Be honest- when was the last time you visited the Christian bookstore? You were either with your wife, buying something for your wife, or buying something your wife told you to buy, or looking for some clue as to how to actually get a wife (if you're single- and still reading at this point).

So, we rarely hear of the disciplines of love and marriage.

There is a great line in the recent movie 'The Break-Up' with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. The two (who aren't actually married in the movie but living in sin together- just work with me here) are embroiled in a bitter spat over her feeling unappreciated and angry at his laziness. She wants him to help with the dishes. He finally concedes.

Gary: "Fine, I'll help you do the damn dishes."
Brooke: "That's not what I want. I want you to want to do the dishes."
Gary: "Why would I want to do the dishes!"

This is a great picture of the sentimentalized view of love and the duties that attend to it. This is also a very feminized way of looking at love. In such a context discipline seems contrary to love. Discipline seems contrary to romance. Discipline seems contrary to intimacy. There is a reason that men are charged with the duties of discipline in parenting. We understand it. We operate well within the confines of discipline and structure. Men work well on the playing field. Men operate best in discipline and structure. It's the way God wired us. We want to know what we are supposed to do, what that guy over there is supposed to do, and how much money we'll make or how many points we'll score or how many people we'll kill if do it and do it right. We understand, "Do the dishes because you are supposed to and I won't sleep with you tonight if you don't." We might fight it in our rebellious flesh, but we understand it and know it's right. And we will do the dishes. We won't 'want' to. We won't 'like' to. And we won't whistle while we work. But we will 'discipline ourselves for the sake of godliness' and a good marriage. By doing the dishes.

Listen to the harmony of LOVE and DISCIPLINE that is presented in God's Word:

Proverbs 3:12 "For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines"

Proverbs 15:12 "He who neglects discipline despises his own soul"

Proverbs 13:24 "he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him"

Hebrews 12:11 "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful; but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness"

2 Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline"

1 Timothy 4:7-8 "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."

The deal is, discipline is NOT contrary to love, romance, or intimacy. And if we discover this as men, indeed embrace this reality, then we will bring great joy to our wives and great glory to God in our marriages.

So, I must ask you- how healthy, happy, joyful, intimate, and passionate is your marriage?
Next I'll ask you- how are you disciplining yourself for the sake of godliness in your marriage? How are you disciplining yourself in marriage for joy, happiness, intimacy, and passion?
Are you training yourself for the gold in your bedroom? What effort, what labors, what duties, what energy have you expended for the sake of your wife, your relationship, your sex life, your companionship? Look brothers, deal with it: NO PAIN, NO GAIN.

When Tori and I were dating I worked HARD at pleasing her, romancing her, talking to her, building trust, spending time, and all that good stuff that made our relationship so sweet. Oh, it didn't seem hard because it was new and fresh and exciting. But this is the way of all things under the sun. Throwing the football has lost luster for many NFL quarterbacks- but any QB will tell you that the discipline of training will redeem that 'first love' fever when you chuck a 35 yard beauty into the endzone for six glorious points.

Writing a poem for many of you guys, or a love letter, will be HARD work. Harder than anything you do all week in the office or on the field. But it will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness in your marriage! It should take planning, energy, time, and money to take your wife out for a nice evening. It will take 'discipline'- and it will show your wife that she is worth your time, energy, and money.

For many of us, communication will be a discipline. It will not come naturally. It will not be our innate response to our wives at the end of a long day. We are not naturally emoters, talkers, communicators. And this is the way God wired us. It actually helps us in many ways.And we would survive just fine for the most part if we weren't married. But, most of us ARE married, and there is a call in Scripture to love our wives as our own bodies.

This means in marriage we become 'one flesh' and we are to recognize the needs of our wives as just as important and valid and necessary as the needs of our own flesh. And they need to talk. They need to communicate. And they need you to talk, to open up, to (dare I say it) share. And this will take discipline. Training. Time. Energy. You'll need to LEARN it- not really by reading books on it, but by doing it again, and again, and again. It just doesn't do to say, 'This is how I am, deal with it". This is an affront to God who has put you as head of your wife and commanded you to love and care for her. It is an affront to your wife who was created by God in His image, and though different, is just as important as you are in His eyes. It is an affront to the gift of God in bringing together two complementary parts in marriage to bring glory to himself and good to the world in the one-flesh relationship.

It will take discipline to turn off the stinking idiot box (or shut the lap top, or put down the charts and graphs, what have you), go brew some coffee or pour some wine, make some little treat (cheese toast? that might count if your wife is particularly long suffering) and sit her down and say, "How did your day go?" Or, "Can I tell you about my day?" Or, "How's your time in God's Word?" Or, "Tell me about your conversation with so and so". Or, "Can I tell you about something that went on at work today?" I know, I know, you are thinking, "Dude, that seems gay just thinking about it!" Let me tell you my friend, 'wax on/wax off' seemed useless until Ralph Macchio got to smack some poor kid in the face. It is a discipline. And it will bear fruit.

It will take discipline to foster intimacy, passion, and good sex in the marriage bed. Your wife is physically wired different than you. You will need to discipline yourself in understanding what excites her, what brings enjoyment to her, and HOW her body works with yours for excitement, joy, and pleasure. It will take the discipline of self control to restrain your desires for the sake of hers. I will be honest here, I am better at pleasing my wife and fostering intimacy and enjoyment for her now after 12 years of marriage than I was on our honeymoon (though I did think I was the bomb back then). Why? Time. Learning. Patience. Practice. It all sounds counter intuitive to talk about patience and practice when talking about intimacy and sex. But only if we have bought the lie of Hollywood that good sex must be 'spontaneous'. Statistics and experience teach us that routine can be the best ally of a couple in having a rich and fulfilling sex life in marriage. Men, your commitment to discipline is a critical component to joy in the marriage bed.
So...MAN UP and BUCKLE DOWN! Discipline yourself for godliness and the joy of a godly marriage.

Next chapter...Five Disciplines that Will Bless Your L(W)ife

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Preacher's Plea for the Prayers of His People

Some time back I made a plea to set aside a Sunday to pray intentionally and purposefully for you pastors. I have not been very good at reminding you of this commitment, though I do hope that many of you have remembered on your own and have been faithfully praying for the men who have been called to 'watch over your souls' (Heb. 13:17). Could you help us in that most immense charge to 'watch our lives and doctrine and so save ourselves and our hearers' (1 Timothy 4:16) by praying for us?

A great devotional work that I think should be not far from your bible, devotional notebook, and other resources (concordance- I'm always scrambling about from page to page trying to find that one verse that always eludes me at the point of need; Vine's Dictionary- so I can get a quick grip on the basic Hebrew/Greek meaning of a given word; a good bible software package so you can have a host of these resources at your fingertips- get them online, free at e-sword, or at your local bookstore/gypsy Christian trinket and t-shirt hocker) is a collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision. It is relatively cheap over at Amazon or and also comes in a handsome leather bound easily carryable edition. This wonderful prayer companion has over 200 prayers on a host of topics penned by giants of the Puritan and Reformed faith (Bunyan, Baxter, Spurgeon to name a few). My wife, Tori, pointed out a powerful prayer for 'A Minister's Preaching' yesterday. I have had this book of prayers since seminary, but for some reason this particular prayer never caught me (and me being a preacher?!). It shall be printed out and taped to the inside of my Bible from here on...along with 'A Minister's Bible'- another great one.

A Minister's Preaching

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;
yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertinent to my subject, with fullness of matter and clarity of thought, proper expressions, fluency, fervency, a feeling sense of the things I preach, and grace to apply them to men's consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects, and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself, and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people, and to set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached, and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted, and help me to use the strongest arguments drawn form Christ's incarnation and sufferings, that men might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness, that I might be a pure channel of thy grace, and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people, and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way, or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer, or be harsh in treating of Christ's death, its design and end, from lack of warmth and fervency.

And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.


This great composition along with 2 Timothy 4: 1-5 are great weapons that I want to arm my heart and soul with as I stand before you each week. Would you pray this prayer (and this passage) with me and for me as I prepare to open up the Word for us each week. It would bless and strengthen me for what is often felt to be an impossible (but wonderful!) job.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Marquee Christianity

Want to have a few good laughs?

Go check out

Actually, with most of these church signs I often do not know whether to laugh or cry.
I didn't see this one on the website, but it was on a marquee around the corner from me,

"Try + oomph = TRIUMPH!"

Now, that's funny, I don't care who you are. The unbelievers in our midst must think we Christians have all lost our minds. I fear they are mainly right.

I make this solemn vow that Four Oaks shall never put such pablum on our marquee. That is, if we had a marquee. That is, if we had a building to put the marquee in front of. But, alas, the Four Oaks saga continues. I am thinking about going ahead and buying a big church sign and just putting it on my front lawn. I'll put some good stuff on it like, "Repent or Perish!" and "Stop, drop, and roll don't work in HELL!" or "King James was good enough for Jesus and it's good enough for me!" I think my neighbors would dig it.

It'd be a powerful witness.

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