Category Archives: Counseling

Help My Denial!

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IN the latest Towers paper for Southern Seminary, Jeff Robinson asks Tripp about his anthropological view.

He asks: Why do Christians so often get the doctrine of man wrong? Don’t you think we often overestimate our own holiness and in so doing, we underestimate our need for God’s grace?

Tripp’s response: It is very hard for me to embrace that what I see in the mirror of the Word of God is actually me. I think that much of evangelicalism is people looking into the mirror and denying what they actually see. I think that’s a huge struggle.

I lived for years in my marriage as an angry man and I was deeply persuaded that the problem in my marriage was a wife who was discontent. The reality was that the Bible elaborately described what I was struggling with, but I couldn’t believe that it was me. I was so convinced that I was better than I actually was. . . . There is something dramatically wrong with me (emphasis added).

How true is it that when we are confronted by sin from our spouse, our first reaction is disbelief or blame shifting? We do not assume FIRST that we are in the wrong. If we had a healthy view of ourselves, we would start there and then look for external issues that would contribute to our attitudes and words.

This is what Augustine was primarily concerned with in his Confessions. He writes regarding his former life with the Manichees:

In Rome I did not part company with those would-be saints, who were such frauds both to themselves and to others. . . . I still thought that it was not we who sin but some other nature that sins within us. It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me.The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner. It was abominable wickedness to prefer to defeat your ends and lose my soul rather than submit to you and gain salvation.  [Confessions 5.10]

And so may we not be accused of committing abominable sins, but may we be quick to confess our sin and save our soul.

{Entire Tripp Interview in .pdf}

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Multi-Faceted Blessings

Godliness, while not guaranteed to change the original situation, often had an effect for good on the world. . . . The possibilities for the many-sided blessings of God are endless. Instead of my day being ruined, God has extricated me from sin and misery, and this is perhaps one of the most significant days in my life from the standpoint of growing into the image of Christ. I’ve learned how life works in God’s world. I’ve learned how the gospel works. I’ve learned profound lessons in a very tiny corner of life.

– David Powlison, Anger, 25.

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Question #8 Answer

What are the consequences of faith and obedience? We’ve already mentioned some of the subjective benefits. More objectively, maybe a dented fender or even a killing was prevented. Somebody else was kept from stumbling into sinful anger or murder on my account. And in the half dozen cars around me, maybe my courtesy and relaxed response prove catching.

-David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze, 25.

This point Powlison hit me hard because I too often merely consider my sanctification as indicative of my relationship with God. Here we see that our exercise of self-control entails others in our wake. If I am able to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit, then, perhaps, someone else may be enticed to pursue such holy living. Perhaps, my willingness to intentionally walk by the Spirit will keep someone else to go down the road to perdition.

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Question #7 Answer

How should I respond in this situation to glorify God? Do it. Repentance and faith lead to concrete changes in behavior, emotion, thoughts. Righteousness is just as specific as the sins described in question #2. At the simplest level, I may simply take a deep breath and relax, trusting that God is indeed in control. But God has other fruits in mind, too. I become a charitable, courteous driver. What does it matter if I’m two more car lengths behind? I’ll let a couple of cars in. God has set me free of both the hostile and competitive aspects of sinful anger. The traffic jam is no longer a dog-eat-dog battle. I offer thanks to God. I plan what I will say to the person I’ve stood up: not anxious excuse-making or blustering irritation, but the simple facts, an apology, and a concern for his welfare.

– David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) 24

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Question #6 Answer

As I mentioned earlier, I just finished reading the “Anger” booklet through CCEF. I am going to post a few excerpts that I found especially helpful.

How can I turn to God for help? Do it. Question #5 laid out the worldview in which problems now make sense. Mere analysis, however, won’t change me. Question #6 gets me moving. God wants me to seek him, to interact with him. I need to apply the truths of question #5, for example, by distinguishing between righteous and sinful anger. It’s not hard to tell that my anger fails the test of righteous anger: this traffic jam is not a moral evil! My anger has arisen because I served the false gods identified in question #3.

– David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) 23.

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Anger

I am reading one of CCEF’s booklets on anger by David Powlison. This is an area that I have struggled in for the last four years and am trying to tackle head-on. For any that know me, they know that I am a pretty forceful personality that presses forward. Anger comes in when I fail to remember God’s control and sanctifying work in my life through everyday situations. That is, when obstacles come in my way and keep me from accomplishing my goal, I boil. 

I want to post a few excerpts from Powlison’s book that have been helpful for me – and I pray they are helpful to you.

Questions to Alleviate and Kill Anger:

  1. What is my situation?
  2. How do I react?
  3. What are my motives?
  4. What are the consequences?
  5. What is true?
  6. How can I turn to God for help?
  7. How should I respond in this situation?
  8. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?

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The Lure of Opposition

One of the traps I have seen set for me while studying – not that it has not been set before and not that I have not tripped it – is the desire to be a contrarian. You read all these books and you want really bad to make a name for yourself or show that you know the intricacies of an argument so you’ll say something like this: “I liked the book, I think I would have explained things a little differently.” Or, “I can’t stand so-and-so, he doesn’t articulate x as well as he should.” 

This betrays two things (as I see it): 1) my lack of charity; and 2) my laziness.

1) Lack of Charity: If my first inclination is to pick apart someone’s writing and view, then I have not truly listened. Therefore, I am in no position to respond. This is an issue in epistemology where our presuppositions can keep us from gaining knowledge. The wider culture calls it being close-minded. And while most people ruffle at the idea, it is, more often than not, true. Although I may believe what I know to be true, I should bite my tongue and repeat the cpnversant’s argument in my head to make sure I have really listened. My first response should be a question rather than a statement. “Did I hear you right?” “Do you mean this?”

2) Laziness: The times I have quickly responded to someone I have read or listened to with a rebuttal as noted above, I have drifted off into imprecision and laziness myself. That is, I hear so many people say, “Yeah, I heard the speaker but he was a little soft on this.” I have been challenged several times in my short tenure as a theologian by someone when they ask the question: “How would you have said it differently?” So my question to you is: What precisely do you disagree with?

I think many times I have heard someone I respect give such a response to an opponent, but I forget that they backed up the assertion with a list of reasons. My ears keyed in on the “I disagree,” but not on the “why.” So many of us, I fear, want to appear like we know what we are talking about – that we are privy to knowledge unbeknownst to our hearers, when, in fact, we are blowing fluff. May God help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

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