Discipleship Counseling Book Review

Stop Your Complaining-From Grumbling to Gratitude
By: Ronnie Martin
CLC Publications, Fort Washington, PA 19034

8 Chapters, 126 pages

411GDlVMsYL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_I purchased this book on the recommendation of Tim Challies on his website as one of the books I wanted to read while recovering from knee replacement surgery. I didn’t think I needed it mind you. I simply thought it would be an interesting read on a discipleship\counseling topic from an author I never heard of. The subject matter is complaining or grumbling and I had thought I do a pretty good job of tapping down that tendency.

After my surgery just as I was starting to read the book I was limping around with a moderate amount of pain when I stubbed my toe on the non-surgical leg. My wife was not home and after a rather normal “that really hurts” yelp I said out loud, “seriously.” No big deal you say? Well, who was I talking to since I was the only one home? The fact is whether or not I was conscience of it at the moment my comment was directed at God.

I was born with genetically bad feet and have struggled with them since the 3rd grade. Over the years, the foot problems has led to knee problems and knee replacements. I’ve had eight surgeries with one to go to try and eliminate the pain  in the feet and knees I’ve had over the years. Ask anyone who has dealt with chronic pain and they will tell you how it wears on you as you just get tired of it-period.

My “seriously” comment was I grumbling to our sovereign God for allowing me to stub my toe on top of a painful knee replacement. I was saying how could you let this happen knowing what I just went through. That’s me on the pity-pot I’m afraid. It was a big deal and I’m ashamed to admit that I privately complain or grumble far more than I’ve ever realized. [Read more…]

Terminal Illness

(This is a blog that I wrote in 2009. Then, as now, the subject of terminal illness has been on my mind.)

One of my best friends has cancer. He has had it for about 6-7 years. Over that time it has gotten better, then worse, then better and now worse. Each time it reoccurs the word “terminal” would be in the shadows of each conversation. My friend’s attitude over these years has been remarkable.

You see, my friend would be quick to point out we all are terminal. He would mean that in a physical and spiritual sense and of course be right. It is the spiritual sense of being terminal that we should be most concerned about. All people die physically but not all people spend eternity in spiritual death.

The world fears death of the physical sort for many reasons but really does not understand that sin is the fatal illness that causes the fear. We live in a world of mistakes, errors and poor judgments but never in a world of sinful people who sin simply because they are sinners by nature and by choice. Sin is marginalized and there is no real need for the gospel.

It is interesting to me that those of us who hold to the doctrine of total depravity (the terminal illness we are born with) can also be so blinded to our own depravity.

We’re pretty good at recognizing other’s depravity but when our own depravity is pointed out the defenses go up quicker than a politician spinning his adulterous affair. This is a form of self-righteousness that basically says, “who me a sinner” as if that is somehow an impossibility!

I’ve done it and if you are honest so have you. There is something inside of us that is so blind to our own sin that we react in horribly defensive ways. We seek to vindicate ourselves, defend ourselves, blame shift (the devil made me do it) or otherwise dodge responsibility.

The denial leads to further defensive posturing and word games that seek to camouflage what is really going on. We look in the mirror (James 1:22-25) and instead of doing the word we break the mirror!

I like what Lane and Tripp have to say in How Do People Change:

“Only when you accept the bad news of the gospel does the good news make any sense. The grace, restoration, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, patience, power, healing, and hope of the gospel are for sinners. They are only meaningful to you if you admit you have the disease and realize it is terminal.” (pg 14, How People Change, Tripp and Lane)

We tend to define sin as bad behavior. This is why even the world of unbelievers will admit to bad judgment, errors, or mistakes being made. Some of us would likewise seek to minimize sin by admitting to bad judgment, errors or mistakes. We would do this to avoid repentance and having to admit we sinned. The defensive mechanism is strong and self-righteousness is too often the default position.

Our biggest problem as believers is that we really do not believe we are the problem. We do not see that out of the heart the mouth speaks (Mark 7:21-22). Scripture is clear; our biggest problem is our own hearts.

Change that sticks comes through the heart. The first step is admitting our own sinfulness in a specific way. The good news only really becomes the good news when we accept the bad news that our hearts are the problem.

The Cross is then our only hope. The apostle Paul put it like this:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 7:24-25a, ESV

(My friend went to be the Lord on July 31st, 2010.)

Father’s: Disciple Your Children or Someone Else Will

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger,
but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4  NASB

A link to Al Mohler’s The Briefing led to an article titled Four-Year-Olds Discuss Love and Marriage at rethinkingschools.org.

The author of the article is an educator who works with four-year-olds and observes their conversations.

fathersThe author remarks that four-year-olds discuss things about love and marriage, no doubt parroting what they’ve heard from parents and others.

The author does not identify himself or herself as either male or female.  He or she works at a public nursery co-op in Chicago. His or her goal is to challenge binary thinking.

Binary thinking according to the author needs to be challenged in order to expand the minds of the little ones in his or her care.

The real goal is political correctness and this ought to be a concern for any Christian parent that uses public education.

The binary thinking that needed expanding in the conversation he or she over heard involved, you guessed it, homosexuality.

One or more four-year-olds said that boys marry girls and another said that girls can marry girls and boys can marry boys. Apparently, there was a slight disagreement among the four-year-olds.

The educator came to the rescue. What an opportunity to have a conversation and expand (change) the thinking of narrow minded four-year-olds.

The educator explained that love is the issue and not gender. Since love was the issue anyone can marry anyone.

Christian parents that take Ephesians 6:4 seriously should be alarmed.

You work hard to educate your precious four-year-old in the discipline and instruction of the Lord and in public pre-school their binary non-“pc” attitudes are corrected. Did you know? Do you care?

Please do not take this as a total dissing of public education. I realize that many have good reasons for using it including no other choice.

My point is this: Biblical counseling is discipleship as I’ve said many times before. Discipling and counseling your children could not be more important.

I think of a friend who told me that he had four little boys to disciple and that was his priority; His attitude was spot on. Parents must be on top of discipling their children because if they do not someone else will.

Do not assume the public education is neutral. It is not.

Even a casual observer of public education must realize there is an agenda afoot; There has been for some time. It’s just now it is more and more overt as a genuine Christian worldview is mocked and disparaged and corrected when your four-year-old innocently reflects the worldview of his or her Christian parents.

I am a grandfather now and my five-year-old grandson starts public kindergarten this fall after “graduating” from a Christian pre-school.

I am certain that my son is serious about Ephesians 6:4. I am equally certain that he will be on top of what my grandson hears, understands and repeats. I am equally certain my son will challenge the public school if and when my grandson is mocked, corrected or verbally abused by educators with an agenda. My son will be on guard.

I’m simply sad that we have to fight this fight in the first place.

Dads: disciple your kids because if you don’t someone else will and you probably won’t like it.

Is Biblical Counseling Applicable for Everyone? {Part 2}

(Biblical Counseling Basics Series)

Part One in this series, Is Biblical Counseling Applicable to Everyone, covered the topic of Salvation. In order for Biblical Counseling to be effective, the person has to believe the gospel and be in right relationship with God through Christ alone.

If a person does not truly believe the gospel of grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone then biblical counseling cannot be effective and any principles drawn from the Scriptures becomes nothing more than “take it or leave it advice.”

Here is an example of why getting the gospel right matters.

A very sweet Catholic lady had heard of my ministry at a former church and requested counseling for her and her husband for marriage issues. Her comment to me was along the lines of, “I like how you Protestants use the Bible.”

I thanked her for that but explained that “we Protestants” had major differences with official Catholic teaching on what the Gospel is. She said she knew that but never-the-less wanted to meet because she still thought the principles were valuable.

I agreed in the hopes that the Holy Spirit would lead the couple into the true understanding of the Gospel.

After a few meetings it became clear that what this sweet Catholic woman really wanted was for her husband to apply biblical principles to his life; in particular loving his wife as Christ loved the church and what that meant in her mind.

unshamed-of-the-gospelIn other words she wanted the Bible to be relevant to him; Her not so much.

After a few meetings it became clear that a person could accept a biblical principle yet not embrace the power behind the principle.

In this dear lady’s case she would not accept the gospel of grace and stuck to a gospel of good works. She understood that Scripture could be relevant to their marriage but saw it through the lens of her husband doing good works. She and her husband viewed principles connected with the gospel as a series of do’s and don’ts rather than the very power to change in order to be like Christ. They left counseling after a few meetings because I had to return to the Gospel.

A person must, first, believe the true gospel, and second, then believe the Bible is relevant and authoritative. There is no other way.

Too often we conservative Protestant believers get the gospel right but counseling wrong because we really don’t believe the Bible is neither relevant nor authoritative and prove it by opting for one psychological model or the other.

Nevertheless, the Bible makes important claims about its relevance and authority.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

Here Paul makes the basic claim the Scripture is breathed out by God (inspired) and is profitable (more than simply useful) for teaching (doctrine) reproof, for correction and training in righteousness.

The end result of taking Scripture seriously is maturity (completeness) equipping the person for every good work. The Scripture is therefore about life and because the Scripture is about life, it’s also about counseling.

Kevin Carson in, Chapter One, The Richness and Relevance of God’s Word, Scripture and Counseling, puts it this way:

“We live in a broken world where life is teeming with difficulties, pressures, concerns, and really tough circumstances.” [i]

The Catholic couple mentioned above wanted help with their marriage. The Bible speaks to all what biblical counselors call these presenting issues.

The Bible speaks of the biblical roles of men and women. The Bible speaks to conflict and anger. The Bible speaks to sex. The Bible speaks about parenting. The Bible speaks to forgiveness. The Bible speaks to sin; the obstacle in any marriage. The Bible speaks to finances; an issue mentioned in 50% of all divorces.

In other words, the Bible speaks to life in all these circumstances and more!

The only question is: does the believer see what the Bible says about these things as commands to be obeyed and/or principles to be applied to life as a RESULT of the Gospel working in their lives?

The Catholic couple can be excused for not “getting it” for the Holy Spirit has not yet opened their eyes to the Gospel of Grace. We Protestant believers do not have that excuse and the only question is: do we trust the Word of God to be relevant, sufficient and authoritative in our lives (2 Peter 1:3)?

[i] Scripture and Counseling, Bob Kelleman General Editor, pg. 30

Is Biblical Counseling Helpful for Everyone? {Part 1}

(Biblical Counseling Basics Series)

I became interested in biblical counseling while serving in my first church as an associate pastor. The church in question was of the integrationist model (late 1990s) meaning that psychology was integrated into the Bible. I was unfamiliar with the concept of biblical counseling in its purest form because the Bible school I had attended was also integrationist in its approach to Scripture.

A controversy arose at the first church and through the controversy I began to investigate the claims of Jay Adams and other pioneers within the biblical counseling movement.

Some of the critics of biblical counseling raised the question, does biblical counseling work for everyone?

It was and is a loaded question since no type of counseling works unless a person really wants to change.

A far better question would be is the methodology of biblical counseling applicable to anyone?

The answer to that question is no and my response was a person must be a biblical Christian.

All this came to mind as I re-read Professor Stuart Scott’s book, Biblical Manhood-Masculinity, Leadership and Decision Making.[i]

Before Professor Scott discusses masculinity, leadership and decision making he makes it clear what it means to have saving faith. Professor Scott states that saving faith involves:

  • Acknowledging the true reason for our existence and God’s full right to our lives and how we live them (Matt. 16:24-26; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 6:20).
  • Coming to God in humbleness. Recognizing you have nothing to offer God in your defense (James 4:6)
  • Asking Him for his mercy and forgiveness, instead of what is deserved (Lk. 18:9-14)
  • Believing in who Christ is and His payment for your sin (1 Cor. 15:3)
  • Believing that Christ rose from the dead as Lord overall and sits at the right hand of the Father pleading the case of all who believe (1 Cor. 15:4; Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 7:25) [ii]

These truths are pre-requisites that must be fully embraced by a person in order for counsel that is biblical to be effective.

Scott goes on to say that many people are self-deceived because they made a profession of faith via a decision for Jesus sometime in their life. He says that a prayer said or profession of faith in a person’s past is not assurance of salvation (although that is frequently implied by those encouraging a person to make such a decision with the add on of once saved, always saved).

Instead Scott emphasizes does the person have saving face NOW!
unshamed-of-the-gospel

Professor Scott puts it like this: “Are you believing now? Is it an ongoing (obedient and persevering) belief that demonstrates that you are a child of God. Christ offered this warning to all who would listen, ‘Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matt. 7:21a)

For this reason Dr. Scott always starts out with a person seeking counseling with the Gospel. He wants to be sure that they have fully embraced the truths that are essential to salvation.

A person must first be in a right relationship with God in the first place to be in the second place in a position where God can change them. The process of change is called sanctification.

The Doctrine of Salvation is not the only doctrine that must be fully embraced before effective biblical counseling can take place. Another doctrine that must be embraced is that the Bible is true, that it has authority and that it is sufficient to change a person who truly desires biblical change. Part Two will cover the relevance and authority of Scripture in the believer’s life.

[i] http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/resources/authors/stuart-scott

[ii] Link to Amazon Biblical Manhood

Why is Life Hard? – A Biblical Counseling Basic

Romans828Why is Life Hard?
(A biblical counseling basic)

Over the years that I’ve been a biblical counselor I’ve had the “why is life hard question” asked of me a number of times. The context is usually the person is going through some significant trial and/or struggling to change a circumstance they have little control of.

The answer is simply sin and The Fall.

When Adam fell, life became hard; not only for Adam and Eve but for every person that came after (Gen. 3:16-19).

I think this truth is empirically obvious. Natural disasters, wars, rumors of wars, starvation, disease, conflicts of every sort since man could record history, point to a deeply flawed planet populated by deeply flawed people. No exceptions.

The fact that our bodies start breaking down the minute after we are born is further proof that everything breaks down over time and is corrupted in some way (Rom. 8:20-22).

For example, at the time of this writing I still face two surgeries out of the four recommended. The doctors tell me that I have genetic bone problems in my feet and knees and that over time the bone structure has broken down to the point where I need “hardware” to firm up bone structure or replace bone entirely. While I can contribute to my pain with a poor diet the basic issue (genetic) is the result of The Fall.

I tell the people who ask me the question “why is life hard” that we live in a sin cursed world and because we do, things happen to us that we are not directly responsible for. We get cancer, have accidents, catch colds and at times our home may burn down because of a lightning strike. We live in a broken world despite its beauty. If you think about it you will realize there is much in life beyond our control.

I further tell the person we are sinners; including us who know Jesus as Savior and Lord. We cannot escape the fact we sin (1 John 1:8) against God and others. Furthermore, others sin against us.

The consequences of our sin and of others sin makes life hard.

People ask the “why is life hard” question because they are tired and/or because they have lost hope. If they are Christians they have lost sight of the Savior and of the Gospel.

The gospel brings hope. The gospel brings hope because it already solves our biggest problem–the problem of sin. While we still sin, we fight forgiven sin if we belong to Christ.  Jesus paid the price for all of our sins: past, present and the ones we have not gotten around to yet.

Thinking about that should bring us hope. Our suffering is temporary. Christ will return one day and make all things new, including the broken creation.

Once more, we are no longer slaves to sin and are instead slaves to righteousness in Christ. Even in the midst of a severe trial we bear testimony to a risen Savior who loves us and is with us in every trial.

In Christ we have a new identity and a new power to resist sin (Rom. 6:14) which makes change not only possible but inevitable if we seek to apply change from the inside out (Eph. 4:22-24). The principles of change apply even in the midst of great suffering. In fact, it is in the midst of great suffering that the greatest change is possible.

In Christ we come to realize that there are no accidents and nothing is beyond our heavenly Father’s control. It is not a cliché to say that… “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28, ESV

Note that the passage does not say all things are good; only that all things work for good for those called according to His purpose. That is hope for those that take the time to contemplate how God sees beyond our circumstances.

Why is life hard? Answer: Sin and the consequences of it.

Where can hope be found? Answer: In Jesus who is the gospel and its chief messenger. Our goal is to apply the gospel in our sufferings and trials.

Lying to Self by Misinterpreting the Facts (Matthew 7:1-5,12)

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10 ESV)

This was my passage one morning some time ago in my devotional. In the author’s commentary (Tabletalk Magazine) on the passage he said this:

“Each of us is prone to different sins, but if there is one transgression that we all have committed, it is the sin of lying…The great man of letters Mark Twain was surely on to something when he said, ‘A man is never more truthful than he acknowledges himself a liar.”’

I found this to be an alarming statement since I consider myself to be an honest person. This is not to say I’ve never lied. Certainly I have, I just don’t remember when. Or do I? Oh yes, there was that time back in 1977 when I told this whopper. Or was it in 1971 when I was bragging about something?

If you are like me, and you are, then you’ll minimize your lying to a few select occurrences way back in your past and like me, consider yourself an honest person. We’re so blind to the depth of our sin and so anxious to appear righteous that we are hopeless minimizers of our own problems. Here’s what the commentator said next:

“Twain’s statement, no doubt unintentional on his part, captures an essential biblical truth: ‘All men are liars’ (Psalm 116:11) Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

Think about that for a second-we will wink at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit. Ouch!

We like to confine those kinds of tactics to politicians but the fact is we all do it!

Each of us lives out our lives not on the basis of facts, but on how we choose to interpret facts. In other words, our perception of the facts becomes our reality. Consider an example with tragic consequences:

I once counseled a couple where the woman was convinced her husband was cheating on her. The situation was complicated by the fact that early in the marriage (some 25 years before) he had done so. He had repented she had forgiven him when it had happened.

Fact: The husband cheated on his wife 25 years prior.

Fact: The husband had repented.

Fact: The wife had forgiven him.

They both agreed to the facts and until the last year or two the incident seemed to be regulated to their distant past.

What happened is that this poor gal began to interpret various current circumstances as evidence that he once again was cheating on her.

When he worked overtime, it was because he was with another woman. Never mind his check stub showed overtime and he could produce witnesses that he indeed was at work when he said he was.

When something was out of place in their home it was because some other woman had been there to mess things up. The husband’s denials fell on deaf ears.

The woman would not listen to their adult son who told his beloved mother she was acting irrationally.

judgingIn this woman’s mind all types of circumstantial “facts” led her to conclude the husband was cheating on her again. She really believed she had figured it all out and had become a prosecuting attorney determined to be proven right.

The poor woman had worked herself into“suspicion frenzy” and was driving herself crazy and her husband as well. There was nothing the poor guy could do to prove his loyalty or put her mind at ease. Her perception was her reality. Her interpretation was the only interpretation.

“Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

I felt a great deal of sympathy for them both. The one time victim of adultery had become the victimizer with a heart of bitterness that blinded her to alternative interpretations of circumstances.

What she wanted; what she desired, no demanded, in her heart was an absolute guarantee that her husband had not cheated again and would not.

The husband even produced a hand written statement repenting again of the first offense, swearing he had not repeated the offense and committing himself to her alone.

She wouldn’t accept this and did not accept my counsel that at some point she just had to trust God explaining to her that we all are fallible and that speaking in absolutes from a human point of view does not recognize the weaknesses of our own hearts-even hers.

I further explained that we are so messed up we do not realize that even when we have facts we will twist the interpretation of those facts for the sake of our own benefit.

The poor woman did not understand this. She did not recognize that she had turned herself over to serving an idol of security. The normal desire to want security from her husband had turned into an absolute demand fueled by his long-ago infidelity. She could not or would not grasp that she had become a slave to her idol and looked to that idol as “her savior.”

Jesus dealt with the issue of judging righteously in Matthew 7:1-5:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV)

Sadly, the poor woman would not apply this passage nor any other and left counseling convinced that I was involved in the conspiracy.

“Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

This is an important truth. Jesus summed up what our attitude should be when interpreting the facts:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 ESV)

Biblical Counseling Training 2015 Attendee Feedback – Part 4

Between February 8th and 13th, 2015, eight members of Missio Dei Fellowship, besides me (P. Bruce Roeder), attended the biblical counseling training conference in Lafayette, IN at Faith Baptist Church.

For some of the people this was a first time experience and for others their second or third time. All are either members of our small group ministry or leaders of one of the groups. Our goal is to train as many people as possible in our small group ministry in the basics of biblical counseling.

I’ve asked those who attended to write some of their thoughts regarding the training. I told them that if lengthy enough I would publish to my Counseling is Discipleship blog that Missio Dei Fellowship publishes.

Below are the thoughts Sherri S., a second time attender of the training at Faith Baptist Church. Sherri will be pursuing certification with the ACBC.


Cross-and-BIble2-300x200Like last year, I was reminded that anything God shows me must first be diligently applied to my own life, before I can ever hope to be helpful to another struggling person. This year’s conference brought a renewed passion to be fervent in prayer for all things, not just a difficult trial.

Every session I attended this year was helpful.  The two that went hand-in-hand for me were:

“Desperate parents make the best parents,” and “Prayer:  Tapping into the Real Power for Change”

I began to see how similar biblical parenting is to biblical counseling.  The premise is the same:  We are called to be faithful to teach God’s Word to our children (and our counsels), and call them to walk in His Ways.  Yet, if God doesn’t move, there will be no power or change.  We were reminded that:

  • It is our human and sinful nature to try to boil everything down to just a few principles.  We want some kind of system or check-list that will put us in control and allow us to operate without God.
  • In parenting (and counseling) your weakness will not keep you from effectiveness if you believe the Gospel. Your delusion of strength will.
  • Fervent prayer is evidence of my desire for real change, (in myself, my children, and my counsels) and also shows my awareness that prayer is the means to receive the grace and power for change.
  1. When we are desperate, we are driven to cry out to God in prayer.
  2. It is good to pray for specific traits or characteristics [i.e. to be willing to stand alone, for sin to be found out quickly, to make the Bible the authority in life, to be humble and teachable, to hunger and thirst for righteousness and holiness]
  3. It is good to pray about specific sins and weaknesses [i.e. pride, stubbornness, unteachable spirit, deceitfulness/exaggeration, laziness, living for pleasure/money]

God doesn’t waste our trials.  He uses them not only to refine us, but often to move us from the place of “prayer”…… to fervent prayer.   We need to pray and pursue a passion for Christ, which is the missing ingredient in our fight against sin.

Idolatry by Another Name – Part 2

John MacArthur attacked the problem of incorrectly classifying addictions and compulsive behaviors as diseases over twenty years ago in his book The Vanishing Conscience:

Perhaps the most prevalent means of escaping blame is by classifying every human failing as some kind of disease. Drunkards and drug addicts can check into clinics for treatment of their “chemical dependencies.” Children who habitually defy authority can escape condemnation by being labeled “hyperactive”or having ADD (attention deficiency disorder). Gluttons are no longer blameworthy; they suffer from an “eating disorder.” Even the man who throws away his family’s livelihood to pay for prostitutes is supposed to be an object of compassionate understanding; he is “addicted to sex.”

These days everything wrong with humanity is likely to be explained as an illness. What we used to call sin is more easily diagnosed as a whole array of disabilities. All kinds of immorality and evil conduct are now identified as symptoms of this or that psychological illness. Criminal behavior, various perverse passions, and every imaginable addiction have all been made excusable by the crusade to label them medical afflictions. Even commonplace problems, such as emotional weakness, depression, and anxiety are also almost universally defined as quasi-medical, rather than spiritual, afflictions. MacArthur, J., F. Jr. (1994). The Vanishing Conscience (Electronic ed., pp. 23–24). Dallas: Word Pub.

As I noted in my blog post titled, “Are Addictions Diseases”, it should not surprise us that the world uses medical sounding language for addictions and bad habits. The world starts with the theories and ideas of men and arrives at the forgone conclusion that addictions must be diseases. Recovery programs of varying sorts then become the abuser’s best hope.

It should surprise us that the church often starts with the same presuppositions as the world does rather than to look at addictions and life dominating sin through the lens of Scripture.

Mark Shaw in his book, “The Heart of Addiction” gives us the biblical names for chemical addiction and substance abuse:

Chemical addiction problems and excessive substance abuse really have two biblical names: one is a general name and the other is more specific. In general, “idolatry” is the proper biblical name for substance abuse problems whether you consider yourself a drunkard, binge drinker, drug addict, substance abuser, or whatever name you wish to call it. The problem is biblically labeled as the sin of idolatry and it is a heart problem from within one’s sinful nature. Webster’s Dictionary defines “idol” as “a person or thing too much loved, admired or honored.” The substance abuser seeks to please himself with his “god of choice” above pleasing God… Shaw, Mark E., (2008), The Heart of Addiction-A Biblical Perspective (pp. viii-ix) Bemidji: FOCUS Publishing

Shaw writes from the perspective of a biblical counselor with a great deal of expertise in the field of drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, in the Scriptures the definition of idolatry is anything a person is enslaved too and not just drugs or alcohol. Idolatry may feel like a disease beyond a person’s control but in reality it’s slavery; it is slavery to a person’s god of choice whether it be pleasure, comfort, control, affirmation or anything else craved and worshipped other than the one true God.

Addictions1The person is so enslaved they believe they can control the idol because they get something they want from the idol (pleasure, control, affirmation, and power, to name a few) but in reality the idol controls them in a vicious cycle.

There are four examples of the word “idolatry” in the ESV version of the Bible in the New Testament:

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

Much could be said about verses 1-13 as to why Paul concludes this particular line of thought as to why the Corinthians should flee from idols but perhaps verse 11 offers the best reason why:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)

In verses 1-13, Paul makes reference to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and despite the fact that Christ was with them in spiritual form (vs 4) their cravings were their undoing and God was not pleased with them and all but a few perished in the wilderness. The idols were not the ones made of stone or wood but rather the idols that reside in the heart or inner man.

Paul’s warning to flee from the gods that can enslave us via our own cravings (James 1:13-15) is hard hitting. Paul is telling New Testament Christians to not follow the example of the people who perished in the wilderness. Calling an addiction disease or any other life-dominating sin a disease does not serve the person because it creates a victim mentality that says, “I can’t help it.”

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists idolatry as a “catch all” for the types of things that enslave us. He makes it clear in verse 21 that a person who is enslaved to these things he lists will not inherit the kingdom of God. It’s a significant warning and it does not serve a person to classify their idolatry as a disease simply because it may feel like a disease and thus believe they cannot control their cravings whatever they might be. Paul is clear that if we are controlled by idols via our own desires (James 1:13-15) we will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [6] On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:5-6 ESV)

Each one of the sins listed takes place in the heart before they become behaviors. A good example is Matt. 5:27-28 in Jesus’ warning against adultery. He identifies the issue primarily as a heart issue rather than “a change the behavior” issue. The person who refuses to repent of their controlling idols has more in common with the unbelievers who do not know the true God and whom will experience God’s wrath.

In each of the three verses cited above the use of the word idolatry conveys a significant warning. By calling controlling idols “diseases” and giving life dominating sin a medical sounding label gives the person a false sense of security that simply is not biblical. That Christian churches often take the psychology route and use the world’s terminology to soften sin and turn it into a disease should concern anyone who belongs to such a church. Do not soft pedal that which God condemns.

The last use of the word “idolatry” is found in 1 Peter 4:3:

Cross-and-BIble2-300x200Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. [3] For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.(1 Peter 4:1-3 ESV)

It’s interesting that in two of the Scripture examples the word “passion” or “passions” is used. In Scripture the word always means something bad as opposed to how we use the word “passion” or “passionate” as in, “he or she is passionate about his or her work.”

We use the word usually in a positive sense while Scripture equates the term with evil desires, cravings of the heart or otherwise in a negative sense.

All desires are not evil. They become evil when they become demands.

For example, the person who is passionate about their work may be craving affirmation and if they don’t get it they may act out angrily or vindictively. By the same token a person who is passionate about the work may be perfectionistic and may hold others to an unreasonable standard if they are in a position of authority over them.

In the passage, Peter simply calls the little gods that can control our hearts examples of “lawless idolatry.”

Lawless obviously means “without law” or lack of restraint. A biblical writer never equates life dominating sin with kid gloves and infers some kind of mental illness or sickness.

Instead the Bible calls for repentance and victory over life dominating idols:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Verse 11 gives genuine hope from that which can enslave us while the disease model can only offer coping devices. The consequences of ignoring what the Bible says about idolatry and issues of the heart are too terrible to contemplate. A person should know where their church stands on these issues for it reveals what the leadership really thinks about the Bible and the sufficiency of Scripture to deal with idolatry and the issues of the heart.

Biblical Counseling Training 2015 Attendee Feedback Part 3

Between February 8th and 13th, 2015, eight members of Missio Dei Fellowship, besides me (P. Bruce Roeder), attended the biblical counseling training conference in Lafayette, IN at Faith Baptist Church.

For some of the people this was a first time experience and for others their second or third time. All are either members of our small group ministry or leaders of one of the groups. Our goal is to train as many people as possible in our small group ministry in the basics of biblical counseling.

I’ve asked those who attended to write some of their thoughts regarding the training. I told them that if lengthy enough I would publish to my Counseling is Discipleship blog that Missio Dei Fellowship publishes.

Below are the thoughts of Elizabeth R.
Elizabeth R. is a small group member, women’s ministry leader, and my wife. This was her third experience at the Faith Baptist Church training.

Pastor Bruce


Cross-and-BIble2-300x200It had been a number of years since I attended training in Lafayette. God had thrown me a few curve balls in the last few years and it wasn’t possible for me to attend the training (Elizabeth is a cancer survivor.). I have a desire to disciple women and with our new counseling ministry getting started at MDF, Offering Hope to the City; I thought this would be a good year to go.

Besides, it was a long, hard winter and I was in desperate need of some spiritual refreshment, but God had so much more for me. I needed some reinforcement from what I had learned in the past, so I decided to retake Track 2 and I was not disappointed. I had the privilege of sitting under some of the most gifted biblical counselors from all walks of life. I was taught how the Bible is sufficient to help our brothers and sisters in Christ with such problems as anger,  eating disorders, bipolar disorder, pornography, homosexuality, and those suffering from sexual abuse, postpartum depression and infertility.

What I heard over and over again is that Christ and the Gospel has to be central in all our counseling and discipleship. The Gospel isn’t just for salvation and taking us to heaven, but for the “in-between” time of just “living life.”  Pastor Steve Viars did a (taped) session on counseling and our union with Christ. Using one of his former counselees as a case study, he explained how we need to make a person’s union with Christ the main emphasis. We need to avoid the 2 extremes in counseling: the purely behavioral model which only focuses on the put ons and put offs by slapping a bible verse on it, and the purely introspective model that only looks at the heart and has no application.

He showed us in Romans 6 how because of our union with Christ (being in Him) we have been:

– baptized into Christ

– baptized into His death

– buried with Him

– so that as Christ was raised

– so we too might walk in the newness of life

– if we have become united with Him

– we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection

In Christ, we have been given a new position and focus in life–we’ve been given a new hope.  Because of Christ’s death and forgiveness of our sins, we’ve been given the gift of  repentance. We have the power to change and can move on from our sins because there is no condemnation in Christ and we can never be separated from His love for us.  Because of the Holy Spirit working in us, we now have the power to offer forgiveness to others because we have been forgiven much. Instead of craving acceptance from the world and man, our joy is in His acceptance of us. But biblical change doesn’t stop there. Because of our union with Christ, we need to start living life serving others and not serving self. As Romans 12:2 states: “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”