Category Archives: Uncategorized

Wrestling with Counseling Models

Years of pastoral ministry has led to scores of counseling sessions. Bible college and seminary both taught what is typically called “Christian Counseling.” Basically, this is putting a Christian spin on secular counseling theory and practices. Years ago, I even went through the American Association of Christian Counselors‘ (AACC) “Caring for People God’s Way” course on VHS. While I have found great value in Christian Counseling, I have grave reservations about the secular components of its foundation.

Though I never completed the degree, I did take several courses in the behavioral health program at a secular university. I gleaned a lot from the role-playing sessions in the basic counseling skills course and enjoyed learning about a wide variety of counseling theories. The ethics course, on the other hand, was a little tougher – not due to the coursework, but as a result of seeing how powerful cultural influences are on the field. It was in that course I realized how difficult it would be to maintain a faithful witness to Scripture and be a counselor licensed by the state. It was also in that course that I gave up my desire to pursue a secular counseling degree and abandoned any plans of counseling outside of the pastoral ministry context. To further pollute my views of secular psychology, the APA has come out with some controversial statements about masculinity – this in a society so desperate for authentic men and not the boys in men’s bodies we so commonly see masquerading as the real thing. Thankfully, there are voices of reason out there that are pushing back against the progressive onslaught.

Moving on…

Through the years I have read various Biblical counseling texts, but have not been overly impressed with them. It wasn’t the notion of Biblical counseling that I had trouble with, it was the practical application – what did it look like in actual practice? Recently, however, I began listening to a Biblical Counseling podcast and have been impressed with it thus far.  I appreciate the focus on Scripture and how the podcaster gives practical examples of application.

If you are unfamiliar with Biblical counseling, take a look at this article.

This is not to say that I have abandoned Christian Counseling. Indeed, I think there is much to commend in the approach. For one thing, a lot of research has gone into the various therapeutic models. Furthermore, I think some models have an underlying foundation that is rooted in the Scriptures, even if this was, and is, unknown or unrecognized by its modern proponents. In particular, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy reminds me of Paul’s exhortation,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2 ESV)

Similarly, Paul says,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9 ESV)

You can also take a look at Colossians 3:1-11

While I have very serious reservations with certain aspects of secular psychology, I also think we need to be careful to avoid throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. We need to be able to chew the meat and spit out the fat and gristle.

This post is getting rather long, so I’ll wind it down. At the end of the day, I think both Christian and Biblical counseling models have tremendous value and people who are interested in the ministry of counseling can learn a great deal from both.

The Shocker in St. Louis

I did not think it would happen, but it did: the UMC took a conservative stance on a social issue at a General Conference. Much to my surprise, the Special General Conference passed the Traditional Plan – the one I had hoped they would. With the bishops throwing their weight behind the One Church Plan, and throwing in a big name like Adam Hamilton to speak on their behalf, it looked like the fix was in. But, thankfully, many brothers and sisters in Christ took a stand and upheld what the United Methodist Church already stated in its Discipline. Yes, you read that right. Despite some out there claiming that something new and sinister was passed at the General Conference in St. Louis, the truth is that the church voted to affirm and actually enforce what is already codified in The Book of Discipline. So, when you read a news story like the one produced by a Florida news station, just know that there may be a spin and more investigation is warranted.

It should be pointed out that the plan still has to go before the Judicial Council, which meets in April. However, there is certainly reason for traditionalists in the United Methodist Church to celebrate. The Church should be about the business of transforming culture, not being transformed by it. The UMC took a stand. Praise be to God.

It’s time for the UMC to Split

It is time… In fact, it is past time for the United Methodist Church to go through an amicable separation. For far too long we have been playing the game of trying to stay together and pretend everything is well. The reality, however, is that everything is not well.

I believe it was at the 2008 or 2012 General Conference that mention of an amicable separation was mentioned, only to have the typical knee-jerk spasmodic reaction that we typically have when someone mentions the idea. People were up in arms, calling for unity, and speaking about how foreign such an idea was. Garbage. The idea was not foreign. Indeed, many of us have thought about it for a number of years. The reaction of  many of the representatives at General Conference reminds me of the way the media reacted to the 2016 election: we never saw that coming. No kidding. To see something like that coming you have to get out of whatever ivory tower you are in and visit the commoners that populate the churches on Sunday morning. There you will find a wide range of folks. There will be everything from people who abhor the idea of a split to those who have their metaphorical “bug out” bags packed and ready to go.

If we would have taken seriously the words spoken at that General Conference years ago, a lot of heartache and ill will within the denomination could have been avoided. The new denominational structures would already be up and running by now and we could all focus on ministry instead of figuring out how we can muck up things for a while longer.

If you have been following all the chatter around the special General COnference this year, then you have probably formed an opinion about which plans you like and don’t like for moving forward. For me, the Traditional Plan is the way to go. Now, I understand a split will undoubtedly follow this move, but it will be good in the end. The Bishops seem to be obsessed with the One Church Plan, but unless following the PCUSA down the same path they took is your idea of good plan, then I would avoid this like the plague. The other plan they have been tossing out there, where we essentially have different jurisdictions of the church based on theology overlapping geographically, is the ecclesiastical version of a house of mirrors – you never know what you are looking at.

I think I’ll leave it at that for now.

The Surveillance State

How often we become, or create, the very things we fear.  This is the thought that came into my mind recently regarding the surveillance state.  I have long heard people talk about “big brother” increasingly invading our privacy and how we are living in times reminiscent of the book 1984.  While I do fear intrusive overreach, what I find intriguing is that the surveillance state we fear is not the product of the government.  So, if the G-Men are not the ones acting as “big brother,” then who is?  There are, of course, the obvious culprits in the tech industry.  However, there are also those that are less obvious.  In particular, I am thinking about those people who are obsessed with filming things on cell phones.  I am repeatedly amazed at how so many scandalous moments on the news come as the result of a cell phone recording.  It’s as if we are under constant surveillance.  And, sadly, this might not be too far from the truth.  But it is not the government, it is us, just as the old saying goes, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

This is not to say that video recording is a bad thing.  Indeed, security cameras and vigilant citizens have captured video of criminals and their crimes in a way that allows law enforcement to act swiftly.  At the same time, it can also help to sort out truth from fiction in those moments where two or more sides cannot agree on what was said or done.

No, the whole point of this rambling post is not to condemn video, but to point out that in some instances (and perhaps many) the very things we dread are our own creation.

A Denomination’s Descent Into Irrelevance

I have been a staunch defender of my denomination (The United Methodist Church) throughout my life as a Christian.  However, that being said, I have also been a witness to that very same denomination’s continuous descent into irrelevance.  I get daily emails from our News Service detailing all the trendy projects that we have gotten involved with or how we have joined in with issues that are celebrity causes.

I am saddened by what has happened, but I cannot say that I am surprised.  What, you might ask, has led this descent into irrelevance?  In my humble estimation there is no clearer answer than that the church has become obsessed with being culturally relevant.

What do I mean by this?  To me, it’s simple.  The church has chosen to alter or set aside it doctrines and discipline in an effort to be more acceptable to the mainstream culture.  While this sounds all well and good there are some serious difficulties that accompany such a strategy.

  1. The church was never supposed to conform to the culture.  From its inception, the church was countercultural.  The membership of the body of Christ is to “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” (Matt. 6:33 KJV) not to seek approval of the prevailing culture.  The church is to be in pursuit of holiness.
  2. By pulling up its theological anchor and allowing itself to be blown about by the winds of worldly culture, the denomination has diminished its identity and become just another unstable institution in an unstable world.  There is a longing out there for something that is consistent, steady, and willing to stand against the currents of our world.  The church has always been a rock that people could stand on during turbulent times.  But when the church seeks to appease the world by forsaking its doctrinal integrity, what you are left with is something built on shifting sands.
  3. Cultural appeasement is a slippery slope.  If we acquiesce to the whims of worldly culture at points A, B, and C, is there a point at which the process can, and will, stop?  Looking at other examples from mainstream Protestantism the answer appears to be, no.

This is something of a gripe session and it is late in the evening here, but it hurts me to see the way we have become obsessed with chasing after all the latest trendy projects while never looking back to make certain that we have not lost our way.

In the pursuit of relevance, we are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Let us return to our roots and consider our theological foundations that we may be better equipped to engage a hurting world.  After all, if we lose our identity by tossing to the side our doctrine and discipline, then we are just another social group.  And that is not what we have been called to be.

On Pause….

To the small number of folks who follow this blog, you may have noticed a lull in output this year. This is a temporary, albeit lengthy, situation. I will soon be able to devote more time to this site and I look forward to that.  There is much to discuss in culture, the church, and theology.  I will try to post some more photos from Israel and Jordan, and perhaps some photos from Europe as I have had the good fortune of being able to visit Wittenberg this year. 

So, until my next post, may God bless you and keep you. 

Some Christmas Links

I thought I would toss out a couple of links today for your perusal.  The first is a link to an article that was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society about a year ago or so.  It deals with the date of December 25 in relation to Jesus’ birth.  It is an interesting read that goes into great depth about the issue.  So, for that article, please click here.

The second link is to my favorite podcast, Unbelievabe?  The most recent show is a debate about the Star of Bethlehem.  The show airs on Saturday in England, but if you subscribe to the podcast, they will typically show up on your feed a day early.  To check out what they are doing at Unbelievable? and to listen to the Christmas show on Christmas Eve, then click here.

Enjoy, and have a very merry Christmas!

Shameless plug…

I know it has been a while since I posted something, but life has been somewhat hectic in recent months and the blog has had to take a backseat.  I will try to post more frequently, but my schedule is still pretty well packed for the next few months.  Nevertheless, I felt the need to say something about the books I have written, and just say with a grin that if you are still looking for that last minute gift… you could always purchase one of my books from Amazon.com

There’s:   rulestolivebykindle

Rules to  Live By: Sermons on the Ten Commandments

The contents of this first book are pretty self explanatory.

 

 

Starting Over: From Ruins to Rebirth   starting-over-kindle-cover

This second book I wrote for my teenage son while I was out of the country for an extended period of time.  The book deals with a range of topics from a Christian perspective.  The story follows two siblings traveling alone across what used to be the United States.  The world as we know it today had been ravished by war and only small pockets of people remained.  As this brother and sister pair travel along they run into various situations and have numerous conversations that lead to discussions of the Christian faith.  There is some violence in the book, but there is no foul language, and there is plenty of content to encourage further discussion about the intersection of Christianity and the world around us.

 

Traveler: One Girl’s Amazing Journey of Spiritual Discovery  Traveler Front

This final book was also written while I was out of the country.  It was written for my daughter and is aimed at the 10-12 year old age range.  The main character of the book travels to various places around the globe thanks to a very special playhouse in her room.   Along the way, she is exposed to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.  In her conversations with people from other countries, her Sunday School teacher, and her parents, she learns something about culture, other world religions, and how Christianity stands apart.  The book is a great tool for conversation around the dinner table.  If you would like to read a review of the book, click here.

 

Until my next post, have a Merry Christmas!

Grape Juice at the Communion Table

From time to time I will have someone comment on the use of grape juice instead of wine as part of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Often times, the comments are said in a mocking way to try and paint those of us who use grape juice as some sort of prude.  Still, there are others who are genuinely curious.  So, for those, here goes.

To begin, there is nothing wrong with using wine for the sacrament.  In fact, where I commonly worship nowadays, wine and grape juice are both available.  Now back to the point.

Wine is a stumbling block for recovering alcoholics.  A brother or sister in Christ who has left a life of alcoholism faces a horrid dilemma when coming to receive the sacrament if the only thing available is wine.  In a nutshell, they can choose to risk falling back into the grips of alcoholism after drinking wine, or suffer from a self-imposed excommunication.

Now, the vast majority of us are not alcoholics and will never be faced with such a dilemma.  However, it is a terrible thing to bar someone from sharing at the Lord’s Table because they refuse to return to a life of sin that Paul describes using  some rather harsh language – something about drunkards not inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9).

So, before making snide comments about those who choose to use grape juice for the Lord’s Supper, remember that there is a quite charitable reason for the choice.

The Lonely Text

A tragedy in much of the modern church is the lack of Bible-centered preaching. Perhaps you have sat in on a worship service where the biblical text sits alone by the wall while the one who brought it to the dance goes off and dances with something else. The scenario is familiar to many of us: a Scripture is read and the sermon hardly, if ever, acknowledges the text again.

Whenever I sit in such a service, I look around at all the people filling the sanctuary and think to myself, These people are starving for the Word of God. They come in and out of here each week looking for what the Scriptures have to say, and leave empty handed. It is my sincere hope that folks in such churches have the wherewithal to know that they are being spiritually undernourished and seek to be fed elsewhere.

With so many preachers delivering up “puff pieces” to congregations each week, it should come as no surprise that people are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face in the world. Consider this, according to research by the Barna Group, the top 6 reasons young people leave church are:

  1. Churches seem overprotective.
  2. Teens’ and twenty somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Popular “puff pieces” will never overcome these six items. The results of Barna’s research indicate that shallow and simplistic sermons simply will not do. A well-read, thoughtful, pastor who has a heart for Biblical preaching, however, can serve as the antidote to the poison that is destroying the spiritual life of so many young people.

So, getting back to the lonely text. There is simply no way that a person can leave church feeling that the Bible is relevant for today if the preacher ignores while instead choosing to tell fluff stories. If you are a pastor: feed the people! Don’t leave the text for that day’s message leaning up against a wall looking for someone else to come along. Be about the work that you have been called to and preach the Word of God.