Suffering and Victory

October 29th, 2014 No Comments

In Genesis, it tells us that God created the world in six days, and after looking over his work, he proclaimed that everything was “very good.” Early in the third chapter, however, the serpent appeared and deceived Eve. She and Adam ate the forbidden fruit, thus bringing evil into the mix. When God “discovered” the sin, he cursed everyone involved and part of the curse was that there would be animosity between man and man, and between man and the world he lives in. What we see around us is the result of that curse.

God could have simply wiped man out and started again, but instead, for whatever reason, he didn’t. He allowed history to continue on, allowing man to fight and bicker against one another, making things ugly. Throughout history God was always there asking men to come back to him, to stop their rebellion against him and thus against one another. But they refused.

Then Jesus came to earth, lived among us, died as our head and in the process took the penalty and shame of our sin, and rose from the dead to prove it all.

When we come to him, we relinquish everything we thought was ours, and give it over to his control. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Our becoming Christians means we die to ourselves and change our allegiance to him. Part of this is that we stop trusting in ourselves for our wellbeing and give that responsibility over to him. read more…

A Great Witness

October 28th, 2014 No Comments

Straightforward in many ways, complex in others, he knew that he was tactless and readily admitted to being churlish, yet he was an admired pastor, a patient counselor and affectionate husband, father and friend. He shrank from violence, but his moral courage never failed. The contrast between sensitivity and his vehement denunciation of anyone of whom he disapproved may seem to us puzzling, until we realize that the profits of the Old Testament harangued their contemporaries in exactly the same outspoken manner. As always, Knox took the Bible as his model. This searing honesty discomfited his friends as well as his enemies, but his unflinching faith in God earned him the respect not only of the leading reformers of his day but of the machinating politicians at the Scottish and English courts.

John Knox, Roslyn K Marshall, pp. 215, 216.

Discovering Anger

October 28th, 2014 1 Comment

Pastor Mike,

My friends and family all tell me that I’m bitter and always angry. I agree, but they tell me to “just stop it!” And I can’t. I get angry because people say and do mean things to me. Of course I get angry, wouldn’t you? At the same time I know that the Bible tells me not to be bitter or angry. Please help.

Angry in Troy


Hi Angry,

Let’s begin with an example of what I think you’re saying and then give you something to think about along the same lines.

Here’s what I hear you saying: Suppose you spent two hours on a new hair-do and when you were finished, thinking this is the best ever, you walk out of the bedroom and your roommate takes one look at your new hair and exclaims, “What in the world happened to your hair? Are you alright?” She hurts your feelings, insults you and all your creativity, and you naturally get angry with her. Is that about right?

Let’s change the example slightly. Suppose your roommate loves your hair and you go out into the world wearing it proudly on your head. On the sidewalk outside your apartment, you meet the local mentally challenged girl sitting her wheelchair. She can hardly talk, everyone knows she is very slow mentally, about the age of a four year old, and when she sees your hair she exclaims in a loud voice, “What happened to your hair? Are you alright?” She hurts your feelings, but because of who she is and the challenges she lives with, you don’t get angry with her. Instead, you reassure her that you don’t have anything wrong with your hair, instead that you did it on purpose and you think it is lovely.

Okay, assuming that these two stories might really happen, what is going on here? In the first case your feelings are hurt by your roommate who ought to know better. And you blow up at her. In the second, your feelings are hurt by a woman who can’t know better. In the first case you get angry, and in the second you don’t. Instead, you gently help the second to understand that you have created a wonderful work of art.

Now let’s go a step lower in the illustration. What was going on in both of these scenarios immediately after the comments by the two women about your hair? You quickly assessed the situations and made different decisions based on your assessment. In the first case, you decided to get angry and, in the second, you decided not to get angry. In the first, you decided to yell at your roommate, in the second, you chose to speak kindly to your neighbor.

Another layer down and you realize that at some time in your past, you trained yourself to react in these two different ways in these two different situations. To use another illustration, suppose you took karate lessons for five years. Then, one night you were walking along, minding your own business and out of a dark shadow a man leapt out to take all your money. Five seconds later, you find yourself dusting off your clothes with the mugger lying in a heap next to you bleeding from his nose, holding his knee, and moaning loudly. What happened? Did you make any decisions? Yes. Did you spend a lot of time thinking about the decisions, or planning them? Yes, you did. But not in the moment. You spent five years preparing for this moment. You made all the decisions ahead of time and when the proper moment availed itself, you shifted into autopilot and beat up the mugger. Decisions made quicker because of habit, training, or some other kind of preparedness, are still decisions being made.

If we go back to your decisions to get angry or to not get angry, we can see that you have spent many years dealing with hurts and insults and other things people have done against you by becoming angry. In circumstances that allowed it, you lashed out against your enemy. In circumstances where lashing out was impossible, you simply stuffed the anger and seethed inside. Incidentally, this not releasing your anger is called “bitterness.”

I hope, by now, that you are beginning to understand that none of us “just get angry.” We choose to get angry depending on the situation. How our anger is expressed depends on the situation. When the anger is not expressed, but not gotten rid of in a godly way, it becomes bitterness and eventually comes out in other ways.

I have more, later. I want to explain how you move from naturally becoming angry to naturally becoming loving.

I hope this helps.

Mental Drift

October 24th, 2014 No Comments

Dear Pastor Lawyer,

My question is what do you do with thoughts I didn’t intend? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: I’m working in the shop, and my mind starts wandering all over the place, and eventually my thoughts start going to inappropriate places for most the afternoon, without trigger. I didn’t intend for this, and being what it is, I confess it as sin. What else should I do?


Thoughtful in Moscow

Dear TM,

Ah, the joy of mental drift. One thing leads to another and, Bam! You’re thinking sinful things. One minute you’re thinking about how to get the widget into the whosit. The next, after a few minutes of drift, you’re thinking about doing something sinful. I know the situation well. You’re not alone. Which is why I’m publishing this note.

The key is to stop the drift or if you have drifted, to get back to where you need to be, without serious sin.

One of the fruits of the spirit is self-control, and the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole mind. So, if you can start on the right track from the beginning, you’ll have a more difficult time drifting. This means you have to wake up in the morning, conscious of being in the presence of God, and train yourself to be worshiping him in whatever you put your hand to do. Even what seems to be non-Christian endeavors are really opportunities to give thanks, to be grateful, and to be in prayer about. Hammering nails is a great miracle, for example. Remember how difficult it was to hit a nail when you first started? How hard was it to cut a straight line? Now you do it without even thinking about it. But it is a marvel and very praiseworthy, if you’ll begin to think like that.

Being in the presence of God all the time will make mental drift more difficult.

Now, suppose despite your preparations, you drift off anyway. The first think you should do is to confess your thoughts as sinful. Next, get right back to being in the joyful presence of God. And, ask God to reveal to you when you are being tempted to think thoughts that don’t glorify God. Sometimes the initial drift is not sinful, it is only later, after chasing the theme down the road that they are sinful. Ask God to reveal to you the direction you are headed so that you can stop in time. Doing this quickly and consistently will be the key to keeping from major sin.

Above all, everything should be done with joy and gratefulness to the Lord. Living in the presence and active relationship with God is the key. So rejoice all the time, pray without ceasing, singing psalms, hymns and songs in your heart to the Lord all the time.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have questions.


October 15th, 2014 No Comments

When you run to God with tears of sadness, you don’t run to One who is passionless and stoic, but One who grieves with and for you.

Paul Tripp

The Importance of Language in Counseling

September 24th, 2014 Comments Off

Language is very important in counseling. Of course, God created language and he uses it all the time. He used it to create the universe. He used it to visit us in history. He used it to communicate with us to help us in our infirmity. We use it to communicate with one another. Involving people in the communication, thus language of God, is one of the goals of counseling. Consequently, language is very important in the counseling process.

Language is a two-way vehicle. It communicates information from one person to another. It can also be thought of in the opposite direction, it is the means by which one person receives information from another. It is very important for the counselor to keep both directions in mind when he interacts with the counselee. read more…

Halo Data

September 22nd, 2014 Comments Off

Gathering data is one of the most important parts of giving good and godly counsel (Pro. 18:13). The two primary ways a counselor can gather data are directly and indirectly. Jay Adams says “overtly and covertly” (The Biblical Counselor’s Manuel, p. 257ff.)  Direct information comes as a result of asking the counselee for information and their responding by telling you what they think. Indirect information comes as you observe the counselee during the time you are with him. You notice he is sleepy, or rigid, or nervous, or that his eyes are dilated, or that he is sweating. You can tell a lot about a person by simply observing him. The information you gather when simply observing is called halo data. It is the data that goes all around the direct information you are gathering.

I agree with Bob Smith about observing halo data in a depressed person:

Depression is one of the conditions with much halo data. The first place to look is the most obvious — the counselee’s face. His face literally oozes a “what’s the use” attitude. His eyelids tend to droop, the corners of his mouth are turned down and seem to pull the entire facial expression down with them. His face is long, grim, and sad. He appears listless and generally expresses an air of helplessness or hopelessness. Written on his face is what is going on inside him.

All other visual and auditory clues or data follow the same pattern. His voice is quiet and his speech tends to be slow. His voice is a monotone with little or no expression. As he talks tears may come to his eyes. He may not look at the counselor but at the floor. He sits with a droop to his shoulders as though pushed down by the weight of the corners of his mouth. His hands rest limply in his lap. There is very little motion of his body as he talks. He walks slowly and at times almost shuffles. There is little life, spring, or bounce that shows some expenditure of energy. He is interested in doing what he does with as little effort as possible.

This describes the classic depression. All these things are not always present but there will be varying degrees of some of the signs present in most depressed people.

Occasionally a depressed person displays the exact opposite signs. He is overactive, fidgety, impatient, irritable, and talks fast but with disconnected speech. However, his physical symptoms are those of the classic depression.

The Preconditioning Level

September 19th, 2014 Comments Off

The preconditioning level is “the long-standing underlying pattern of non-biblical responses which often stems back into childhood.”  It is a term used by Jay Adams in Competent to Counsel to describe the third level of involvement in the counseling process (p. 148).

When the counselee comes to your office, he tells you what brought him to you in the first place (the presenting level), but the presenting problem is usually caused by something else going on in his life (the performance problem). When the performance problem is identified and examined more closely, it becomes apparent that behind the presenting problem stands a long pattern of life decisions and behaviors that result in the presenting problems. These patterns are called the preconditioning problems and are the result of things going on at the preconditioning level. Taken together, the presenting level, performance level, and the preconditioning level all point to the status of the heart. Out of the abundance of the mouth the heart speaks, acts, thinks, and is (Luke 6:43-45). read more…

Complicating Problems

September 16th, 2014 1 Comment

A complicating problem, also called a secondary problem, is a problem that comes as a result of not handling the primary problem correctly in the first place. Jay Adams gives an example of complicating problems in his book Competent to Counsel, when he discusses how sin, not dealt with Biblically, spirals downward, out of control. He said, “Sinful habits are hard to break, but if they are not broken they will bind the client ever more tightly. He is held fast by these ropes of his own sin. He finds that sin spirals in a downward cycle, pulling him along. He is captured and tied up by sin’s ever-tightening cords. At length, he becomes sin’s slave” (p. 145). He goes on to use the event of Cain and Able in Genesis four as an example of this. Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted by God (4:5). Then Cain sat, seething and becoming more and more angry. God went to him and warned him not only about where he was headed, but also gave him a way out (4:7). Instead, Cain killed his brother Able and compounded his sin (4:8). Later, Cain added lying to the pile of sins (4:9), and he was forced to become a wanderer and a vagabond (4:12, 14). read more…

The Concept of “Presentation Level” and “Performance Level”

September 11th, 2014 Comments Off

Working with people and their problems is often like working with an onion. To get to the heart of the matter, you often have to peel off several layers. People usually come to me with issues in their lives that they know they need to do something about. They know they are having trouble. What they don’t know is that the problems they know about are usually caused by problems they don’t know about. Sometimes these problems are sinful; sometimes they are not.

In either case, if you want to help a person with the problem they bring to you, you will need to go back and work with the underlying problems before you can help them with the problem they presented in the first place. In the biblical counseling world these two levels have names. The first level, the one the counselee brings to you is called the presentation level. The level that is usually causing the problems at the presentation level is called the performance level.[1] There is another deeper level as well, but this will be dealt with in the next question. read more…

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