Category Archives: Counseling

Help My Denial!

augustine1

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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Filed under Books & Media, Christian Living, Counseling, Family | Parenting, Quotations

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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Filed under Apologetics, Christian Living, Counseling, Evangelism, Family | Parenting, Interpretation, Pastoral, Post-Modernity, Sanctification, Theology

“How Have You Sinned This Week?”

I have been a member in what are notoriously called “accountability groups.” They are a valiant effort by Christians to pursue holiness in the context of community. I remember some of the sweetest times in college were conversations over coffee where a brother would ask for forgivness, or share a struggle with x, or pray earnestly for the salvation of a loved one. 

Over the past couple weeks, however, I have been struck by the depth of my sin and my ability to mask that which lies beneath my humble rhetoric. I have gone through Wesley’s Questions of Accountability, which are very helpful. I have seen Bethlehem’s list of questions for the elder’s accountability. But these questions, I believe, could be helped by the simple question given as the title to this post: “How have you sinned this week?

 “What does this question do? It is two-fold: 1) It pinpoints the fact that this person has sinned in some way – whether it be lust, discontentment, anger, fear, bitterness… and 2) It helps produce an atmosphere that we do not have it together.

So much of my “accountability time” was wasted in vain pursuits of perfection in the eyes of men. How many of us can speak about how we are learning about our incessant pride? How many would say “amen” to the confession of discontentment? I fear that so much of our confession to one another is cloaked in pharisaic casuistry. On the front end of any accountability relationship, we would be helped in affirming before each other that we are not perfected, yet.

We would be helped if in the first meeting together, the other brother told us three or four sins they see present in our lives. This way we would not be self-deluded that we have deluded others. That way we would be humbled by God’s gracios rod on our backs. How humbling…yet how freeing would it be if we were truly vulnerable with someone so that we do not turn red (from embarassment or anger!) when we confess a sin or when they point out sin in our lives?

I think much time could be saved and more holiness could be harvested if we asked this question at our first meeting.

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People Pleasing and Kingdom Ethics

A Crowd 

I just heard a country song the other day that said, in essence, “I don’t care what people think about me. I’m gonna be my own man.” It reminded me of a DC Talk song “Jesus Freak” – ‘I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak…’ Now there is much to say in the Bible about people pleasing – that we should be more concerned with pleasing God than man. However, so much of present-day evangelicalism has forgotten the need to be conscientious of what people think of us. We have bought into the pietistic “just me and God” mentality that anything short of “I am an island” is deemed people pleasing.

There are two areas we should be concerned about what other people think. One, our relationships with non-believers should be characterized by a good reputation. The Gospel demands that we be different, but does it demand foreign-ness to the way the world operates that non-believers believe they could never be a Christian because it is so weird? That is, too many times Christians have tried to make their own subculture – from t-shirts, to bumper stickers, to romance novels – that we have failed to apply the Gospel to our everyday living. It’s as if Christians are meant to be seen as floating above hard circumstances in life. When someone dies, we are supposed to fight back the tears and say something spiritual. When we come in contact with a non-believer, whatever the conversation, we are supposed to turn the conversation into a rote three-minute prsentation of sin, Christ, faith.

What this communicates the non-Christian is that a decision is more important than a life-change. A life change does not entail them changing their name, their clothes, their music (necessarily). And so we ask someone to begin coming to Bible studies, prayer groups, Friday night fellowship – when they don’t know the language. It would be like expecting a Chinese man to speak fluent English upon stepping off the airplane. Not all things in China need to be desisted in order to be an American.

What I am saying is this, in the name of devotion we too many times deny the Name. We equate true spirituality with being strange.

Second, as Christians we are adopted into a family. We have expectations on how we should live. We cannot take our Bible into our prayer closets and shut the world outside. First John tells us that we know we are believers if we love the brethren. How many times in college did I forsake the fellowship so that I could be alone with God. Not that spending time alone with God is not needed. Rather, I am speaking about the kind of spirituality that declares, “I don’t care what you say about me, I love Jesus and that is enough.” Is this not reductionistic of the Christian life? Hasn’t God called us to care that my brother thinks that I sinned against him when I said such-and-such? Hasn’t God given us the family to keep us from sin – because we are afraid of what they and non-believers will think? Our Christian family is the incarnate expression of God’s displeasure with sin.

We need to start caring what people think if we want to be holy. Otherwise we will continue to walk around thinking that we have elegant garments when, in fact, we are buck naked.

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Dr Powlison’s Health Improved

For those of you who have been concerned and praying for Dr Powlison, he is getting better. From Jollyblogger

He said that for five years he had been living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder.  He was never able to enter deep sleep.  Now that he has been properly diagnosed and is being treated he is starting to feel like his old self again.  He mentioned that one of the great things about this is that, for five years he has been pulling back from involvement and activity and now he is in a place where he can begin thinking, praying and strategizing about where to plug back into activities.

[HT: Alex Chediak]

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Interpersonal Communication

A word from Joe Thorn:

Here’s a piece of advice for Christian bloggers. Please stop trying to be the theological version of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, et al. Regardless of the merits of their arguments, the attitude of such political pundits kills any real ability to communicate with people who may think differently. Persuasion generally does not result. I understand it in the political world. It’s the world for crying out loud. Pride and arrogance are values. But in the church, I find the approach nauseating, and all together unlike our Savior.

I found this the case while dialoguing with those who think substantially different than myself. As some of you know, I can get worked up about certain things – and have to apologize sometimes when my zeal becomes sin.

When I spoke with those from other seminaries I thought about the purpose of my trip. I wanted to learn from the locations and from the people. Listening was difficult as some arguments seemed to be weak. But I listened nonetheless. As I have experienced in the blogosphere, it is too easy to blast someone who says something you think is totally unfounded on the Scriptures. But blasting someone for the sake of truth does not justify the wicked use of words. Truth without humility fails to be truth. Instead, it becomes a justification for pride. It becomes the wedge in the door of our minds to defecating speech.

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Terror and Life

During the First Great Awakening, many people were criticizing Jonathan Edwards and the other preachers for “speaking terror to them who are already under great terrors, instead of comforting them.” In other words, why don’t you put a big smile on your face, tell people how much God loves them, and tell them everything’s alright?

Edwards response:

The critics are right if the ministers are scaring people with things that are not true. But if the things they say are true, they should continue to speak them since this is the most loving thing to do. That is, when we preach things that are true we are helping people understand the seriousness of eternity. We desperately need to see the utter hopelessness of our estate. We have settled for pats on the back when what we need is a kick in the pants. There is not one person reading this right now who thinks that they are alright. When you are honest with yourself when you lay down at night, you know that you should not have said that biting word or thought that horrible thought or looked at that thing or done myriad of other sin.

This is not just a little problem. This sin issue pervades your being. You can’t escape it. It is the monkey on your back that promises sweet pleasures, delivers nothing but cackles, and latches on tighter. As Edwards said, “The truth is, that as long as men reject Christ, and do not savingly believe in him, [however religious they may be], they have the wrath of God abiding on them, they are his enemies, and the children of the devil (Matt 8.38; 1 Jn 3.10)…”

The truth is: no matter how good your external actions are (going to church, giving to disaster relief, taking a meal to someone, etc.) your heart must be converted. You must be born again, to use Jesus’ words.

The truth is: you need to realize your miserable estate and treasure Jesus as your only hope of being acceptable to God. You are required to obey God completely…from the heart. It is not enough to not steal, commit adultery, lie, etc. You must love God with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND your neighbor as your already love yourself. You can’t do this. But Christ has. That is what it means to embrace Jesus as he has been offered to us in the Good News of God.

Edwards:
To blame a minister for thus declaring the truth to those who are under awakenings, and not immediately administering comfort to them, is like blaming a surgeon, because when he has begun to thrust in his lance, whereby he has already put his patient to great pain, and he shrinks and cries out with anguish, he is so cruel that he will not stay his hand, but goes on to trust it in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand, and go about immediately to apply a plaister, to skin over the wound, and leave the core untouched, would heal the hurt slightly, crying ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace.’ (Thoughts on the Revival, Part III).

Let us not forget that Scripture is very clear about the seriousness of life: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10.31).

Do not think that God will just look over your sin. Every time you sin you join the soldiers who mocking the Christ, spit in his face. Think this is too much? Sin is denying that God’s way is the best. What more, it declares that God has no place in your living. You proclaim that he is a fool and you are the wise one. You know best. Truth be told: Sin is a lie.

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