And the mind and the voice of unbelief is disapproval. And so it leaks out all over the place. And so we find 100 different ways to telegraph that disapproval, and then we’re mystified that they never call us. See, Ishmael is a voice that whispers to the wayward mind, and Ishmael speaks to that prodigal and says to him or her, “Oh certainly they love you. Oh yes, they love you. They just don’t like you.” Of course they love you, they’re your parents, of course they love you, they’re in your family. Of course they love you. They’re on record for loving you. You’re just not likable. They don’t really prefer having you around. You kind of represent something that’s kind of appalling to them. You’re disgusting to them.
One of the skills that you and I have learned is how to get somewhere. Our culture is built on it, teaches you how to get somewhere, especially if you’re in a white collar world, it teaches you how to get somewhere. Well, you went to kindergarten in order to get to … Excuse me, elementary school.
You went to that Subway sandwich. You went to … just being real.
e’ve already heard a lot about it. There’s some people who suffer in their families with unbelief. And some of the most disturbing words that Jesus ever spoke were about family. And in Luke 12 verse 49, he says, “I’ve come to cast fire upon the earth and how I wish it were already kindled, but I’ve a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished. Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth. I tell you know, but rather division, for from now on, five members in one household will be divided three against two, two against three. They will be divided father against son and son against father. Mother against daughter and daughter against mother and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
I was thinking recently about the celebrity suicides we’ve seen recently and how several people have taken their own lives, people who were, from our assessment, living the life, people who seemed to have it all, people who seemed to have what we think would bring happiness, or what the culture around us would bring happiness. I think there’s certain people we can understand why that person would take their life, but these celebrities, like they’ve got it all. They’ve got fame, and they’ve got popularity, and they’ve got money, and they’ve got power. That seems like if I had those things I would be so fulfilled. I think that’s why our culture gets so rocked when celebrities, of all people, take their lives. We just can’t understand, “How could you have all that and still be missing joy?”
See, one of the things we begin to discover as we wait into this world of prodigality is that the worst lies aren’t the ones that our prodigals tell us. The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. This is why rugged love starts with strong enough to face evil. This is why I ask you to turn to Romans 12:9 where the word of God says, let love be genuine. Then, it pulls this second idea right up alongside of it, abhor what is evil. Then, we’re going to talk about the third idea in just a second. Let love be genuine.
The garden offers this extraordinary vision, this remarkable vision of the flourishing life, an existence that if anything was fully true and satisfying and good and delightful, but something happens. What happens? Prone to wander happens because paradise is not enough for these two. I mean, God has one simple rule, just one. That’s all there was, just one, and the serpent seizes upon this small law, this one rule, this one command ultimately based for their good, the serpent seizes upon it and incites this impulse to rebel, this impulse, this instinct to stray, to go rogue.
For those of you who have family members with PTSD, you can identify with them. That you have bore brunt in many occasions. That you have served in ways that are greater than most counselors ever have with your loved one. That the family member is going to be there more than the pastor is. I don’t mean that because that’s the best or I’m not trying to make a case for how the family should be. I’m saying that, that’s the way it is that the wife is there, the husband is there, the kids are there. The parents are there. It’s the loved ones that minister most to those struggling with PTSD, so my goal has been to help angle ministry toward the family and helping equip the family with how they can respond and minister to their loved one who’s going through PTSD.
If you help people read the Bible through the lens of the suffering and difficulty that life has always held since the fall of mankind into sin. It can help them understand that they’re not alone. When they see the story of David who was a combat veteran, who went out, killed people, decapitated them, mutilated the dead bodies of his enemies to get his dowry, and then in Psalms 6, he’s describing sleepless nights where he’s soaking his couch in tears and his enemies surround him and he’s wrestling with these realities, that begins to help people connect their story to the story of scripture in a way that helps them understand, they are not alone.
nd they would come home, many of them my colleagues, and some of them my friends, would come home and were diagnosed and occasionally medicated. And some even given pensions from the VA because of what they were going through with PTS or PTSD. However, there was very little hope for change. As I was coming out of the military, my peers were diagnosed, and they were given resources to learn how to cope, but they weren’t given any promise that, “You can work through this,” that “It doesn’t have to be like this the rest of your life.” Or as Curtis was saying in our last session, that, “You are not your PTSD. It’s not your identity.”
This afternoon, you’ll actually get a chance to meet a couple of their instructors and learn a little bit more about that program throughout the day. So, that’s a little bit of my background. Why I am interested in this topic and why I want to share with you a little bit about counseling from the biblical perspective in helping those wrestling with post traumatic stress. So, the talk this morning, this session is called Demystifying PTSD, because I really want to help people understand post traumatic stress in a way that takes away some of the stigma. Some of the fears, some of the confusion that often shrouds this very difficult issue. For starters, the diagnostic and statistical manual, the DSM, which is the book that is used by psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose and then, offer treatment for various different mental health issues. Defines post traumatic stress disorder as “an issue, a disorder, that arises in somebody after … One month after or anytime after one month from experiencing a traumatic event. And it is involves certain systems that are kind of clustered around three different areas”.
And David here what he’s doing with Bathsheba is such an act of ingratitude. The Lord’s said, “I’ve given you everything. How could you do this?” And I think if you were to know, and we don’t know for sure, but I doubt if David had written any psalms lately. I think, what he’s saying, is he had drifted from the Lord, drifted from the delight he had even when he’s dancing and rejoicing when the Ark of the Covenant comes into his capital. It appears that his heart has grown cold. He’s also guilty of neglecting his duty as king, verses 1 and 2. It says, “When kings go off to battle that he sends his underlings to go.” And in the context of that time in the rainy season you couldn’t fight. Now it’s spring, go fight. Another little detail in verse 2. Now when evening came David arose from his bed. Does that sound good to you? It’s not when I usually get up, in the evening, I don’t know. But you see what happens to David.
The implication there is, the real cause of worry, ultimately, is unbelief. They were not trusting in God. Oftentimes, the person who worries is desiring something in God’s place. They’re wanting their health. I had a person who was terrified of getting cancer, she doesn’t even have cancer, but she’s terrified of getting cancer. There are different issues going on. You could argue with her, well, statistically, it’s unlikely, you don’t have a lot of cancer in your family, you’re still fairly young. But can I tell her from the Bible, she’s not gonna get cancer? No, I can’t. Can I tell her she’s gonna live to see her children grown and married and grandchildren? No, I can’t make those promises. What can I tell her? I can tell her that God, Who is sovereign, has His plan, which is perfect for your life, and no matter what happens, whether He gives you cancer or not, that you can trust Him to do what is best, including taking care of your family. Some people, it’s financial security. They’re worried they’re gonna lose their house, they’re worried they can’t pay the bills.
And worry can become very life-dominating. That’s where all these things are together. A person who’s worried can get angry, when they’re threatened, they can become depressed. Worry can affect you physically. Laura talks about this, how when someone is really stressed on the inside, and they’re worried about a relationship, they’re worried about circumstances in their life, it’s going to affect you somehow, organically. Lack of sleep, tension in your stomach, digestive problems. Stress, worry, fear, all are related. And there are ways that we deal with worry sinfully when something concerns us.
And as you read in the Bible, trials are the ordinary experience of believers. People like in their families, people have these kind of idealized dreams of multigenerational peace and everybody’s on the same page. This isn’t what happens in Scripture. The very first couple, Adam and Eve, have one of their sons as a rebel against God who kills the other. And as you go through the rest of the people in Scripture, you have many, many trials. Abraham and Sarah where Abraham puts his wife’s purity at risk and then sleeps with her maid Hagar and there’s conflict in the home and Ishmael is kicked out with his mother. And on and on you go. In Jacob’s family, two wives and a brother beaten, tossed in, you know, Joseph tossed into a pit by his other brothers who were jealous and favoritism and on and on we go. In Ezekiel, you actually have an interesting chapter in chapter 18 where you have multiple generations. You have a believing generation followed by an unbelieving generation then another believing generation. The same thing happens in the books of the Kings where some righteous kings then they have wicked sons and vice versa. We’re going to have sometimes even in our own families. Jesus warned in Luke 12, From now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They’ll be divided father against son and son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, the daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. The Gospel itself will bring us, attract more trials of persecution. People have trials, as I said, so many of their trials are in their families.
He has a passion that His church be pure. A person who calls himself a Christian and is cheating people in his used car lot, or in his insurance or investment business, is troubling the reputation of the church to the entire community. I actually got a call one day from a pastor friend and he said one of my deacons is on the front page of the local paper today, but it’s not good, he’s been caught embezzling. The church has to take action as well. So sins which can damage the Lords reputation, sins which endanger the purity and unity of the church. Paul warns about those who cause dissensions. He also warns about a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. So if you have someone in the church, and this can also be a doctrinal issue, we talked earlier about differences of eschatology but we actually had in our church at one time two people who claimed that Christ had already come and was not coming back. That was it. And people who believe nutty things like that wanna share it with everybody else. And we had to clamp down on it and finally tell them to leave and they were no longer welcome here to protect the church from their influence. In a moral instance, that if you have, it’s just sadly so common today, people from Christian homes, young people claiming to be Christians and they’re living in fornication. A man and a woman not married to each other, take a cruise together or a vacation together, they’re gonna be in the same room, or it’s known that they’re living together and the church has to take action. What’s gonna happen if you don’t intervene? It’s going to spread and other people think it must be okay. And so there has to be again, loving confrontation but if they will not repent, that’s where it begins, you have to say, this is not right, you cannot do this and be a member of a church.
Peacemaking begins with confessing your own sin. Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. In the way you judge you will be judged, and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? For how can you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye and behold, the log is in your own eye. You hypocrite. First take the log out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” In almost every conflict which I’ve ever tried to mediate, when you get the parties together, what do they want to talk about? The other person, and what they did wrong. And the accusations begin to fly. Well Jesus is telling us that before you can deal with the sins of others, you must first deal with your own sin. He says, later you can get the speck out of his eye, but first you need to deal with the beam in your own eye.
Now, peace is kind of a funny thing because everybody says he’s in favor of peace, right? Even the President of Iran will say he’s in favor of peace and yet peace is hard to come by. We live in a world full of conflict, among nations, throughout the world. There are wars, there are revolutions, there are divisions. And among individuals, our courts are full of lawsuits, divorces, people in neighborhoods fighting, couples fighting, abuse taking place, shouting, hitting. Churches have divisions. Conflict sometimes over important doctrine and sometimes over the color to paint a room or the addition of another musical instrument that some people don’t agree with or a different kind of worship. Pair church organizations often have a lot of trouble with divisions that can take place there. Actually, one of our missionaries, I was checking during a break, and he’s teaching in a seminary abroad, and he’s concerned that the seminary, which has been there for many decades, may dissolve because of a conflict taking place right now among the leadership of the seminary. And he’s been teaching there for some years and he may have to go find another place of ministry.
There are some people who would have stopped this talk after the first half and just said, “Great, just look to Christ, believe in him, and don’t do anything else.” And that is not a biblical perspective either. And there’s some who seem to break out in hives if someone uses the imperative and uses a command even though the Bible is full of these commands as well, including commands to believers. And they’re so fearful of what they call molism that they, I think, shy away from the biblical imperatives. They will even say, both in preaching and in counseling, just tell people what Christ has done for them, not what they should do for Christ. Well, it’s not either or, it’s both and. Tell them what Christ has done for them. Don’t neglect that. Even if they’re already Christians, keep telling them. But then because of what Christ has done for them, they need to respond. An example of I think the wrong kind of counseling. This is an actual case that happened to me. A couple came in and the husband was enslaved to pornography of a very perverse type. He was neglecting his wife sexually and they went to their pastor and the pastor who had this mentality said, “All I can tell you is look to Christ.” And the wife said, “Well, do we need to like, “cut off the Internet, or put a filter on, “does my husband need some accountability?” “Just look to Christ.” Now, I think we should tell the guy to look to Christ but I think the Bible says a lot more than that as well, like flee youthful lust, if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. In the same way… I heard one time, again, someone of this mentality preaching through the Book of Ephesians. And as he came to the section, very practical section in four and five, he took a really big chunk. Immorality, impurity or greed should not be named among you, no filthiness or silly talk, let no one deceive you, don’t be a partaker of darkness, don’t participate unfruitful deeds of darkness. And he’s going through all of these commands that Paul is making, and he said, “All you need to know is that Christ has fulfilled this for you.” Now I would agree with the guy that it’s important for us to know when we proclaim the law that Christ has fulfilled the law for us or we’d be in despair because we fall short. But I don’t think Paul would have agreed that’s all we need to say about that passage.
Death. The kind of pressure that he’s undergoing. For some of us, we’re blessed. We have a position, we have a salary, we have people who are responding to the Word, responding to our counseling but we’re constantly complaining that God isn’t something and we just forget. Paul has no pension and Paul’s actual life is on the line and he’s saying, “I’m scared” and he’s looking to the Lord. The convergence of things that cause us hopelessness, despair, sadness, are legitimate. This is legitimate fear. I understand irrational fear very much in my own life. I’m a fearful person. A person of anxieties, person of melancholy. I am Eeyore, “We’re all gonna die.” My wife, Jessica, and you’ll know what I’m saying when you meet her, she’s Tigger. “It’s the morning, it’s a new day!” Right? But this is legitimate, sane fear. Emotional fatigue from external pressures of criticism, situational afflictions, bodily he’s tired, and all of this has made him sad. So let’s just pause there for a moment and say we get sad and we have pressures. Some of us imagine more pressures than there are but all of us have legitimate ones and there are times in your life when you will say, “I’m sad, I’m scared, I’m wore out, “I don’t have any rest, I can’t sleep, “and I’m afflicted”, and that statement, those statements, will not mean that you have no faith. Those statements will be undergirded by the faith you have to say them and to know that you are held by the one who undergirds all that stuff and gets through all that stuff. Because somehow he says, “But God”. Now here’s the thing, notice Paul can’t fix it all.
So number one, he can’t be everywhere at once, he’s local in a place. Number two, he has afflictions, he has fears that he cannot fix. Notice none of these circumstances change in his life. Something’s gonna change inside of him but his circumstances don’t change. It’s not fixed. It doesn’t go away. He’s gonna go to bed that night and everything is not made right and so you were never meant to fix it all. I know you’re trying so hard to. That’s why some of you are driving other people nuts. They have to walk on eggshells around you, they have to figure out how to talk to you ’cause you are constantly trying to fix it. And the thing is, being able to fix it all, being able to have the ability to do that, that’s described by a word like “omnipotent”, all powerful, able to fix anything and there’s only one person in the entire universe that has that quality and it isn’t you and it isn’t me, it’s God. You were never meant to repent because you couldn’t fix it. You’re meant to repent because you tried to fix it all. And Paul can’t fix it and he doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t know what’s gonna happen, that’s why he’s scared. He doesn’t know what’s coming around the next corner. He’s afflicted at every turn. To know everything is called “omniscience” and you and I, as a finite local creature, were never meant to know everything. Stop repenting because you don’t know everything. Start repenting because you’ve been trying to. That is the great temptation when these pressures come, to be like God: everywhere, fix it all, I know it all, I can manage it. And look at that remarkable penetrating freedom to deliver you from all that and just to say, “I gotta tell you, “this is a hard hard hard season of my life.” Just to say it. Because life under the Son is stressful. It involves criticism. It is psychologically, emotionally fatiguing and worrisome but God, but God, who comforts the downcast comforted us by whisking us away into a beach side cave where mystically He came down and we ate quinoa. It’s not like that. It’s just not like that. It’s not like that.
There is a time when faithful servants must rest, and they have a role to play, because after all, someone had to stay behind in the city, didn’t they, with the baggage? I think about those of us as we get older, we’re not able to physically able to do what we once did, and we wonder if being with the baggage is noble. And the answer from the shepherd king is yes. I declare it, as a way of being in the world for us, this is our rule. And I think about those of us who have known mental and emotional fatigue and disablement, and we wonder if we matter, and with the shepherd king, he says yes, you do. It is a way of being among us. In our organizational culture, this is our way. We will not fight one another. We will recognize each person’s role with the amount of work that they can do and the rest that they need. And then he says, all of us, join in this spoil, because God has done it.
Are you emotionally fatigued? It is ugly prayer that you need.
All the physical rest that you desire will not bring the rest you need if it’s emotional fatigue. It will help, it is important, but you’re going to have to ugly pray. Have you ever thought or noticed it like this, like I’ll think to myself in the fall, Midwestern fall, leaves turn different colors and things like that, we eat foods called chili, we watch football. And I’ll think to myself, if I just watch a football game, I’ll rest. And even if my team wins, the game ends, and I am not rested. Even if I laid there physically and did nothing and just put food in my mouth, not chili of course, that would be difficult, but you know, you know what I mean? It’s because whatever’s troubling me internally requires strengthening in the Lord through ugly prayer and there’s no way around it. No amount of video games for younger men, no amount of work in the yard, no amount of physical tinkering in the garage, no amount of taking a nap from the kids, no amount of whatever it is is going to do it, I must ugly pray.
And as we read the pattern, especially in the New Testament, the Biblical pattern, the Bible typically begins with the indicative, that is what God has done for us in Christ as the ground for the imperative, and that is what we do as a result. And you see this most clearly in the epistles of Paul where, for example, in Ephesians, chapters one to three, are description of the gospel, what God has done for us in Christ. And it’s a magnificent description of the gospel. Then, chapters four to six, it’s okay, therefore, and then it’s our call to be united and to love, and to put off and to put off, and to work these things out in our families. Likewise in Colossians, the first two chapters are description of what God has done for us. And then, three and four, put that into application. And Machen, J. Gresham Machen, says “Christianity begins in the indicative, not what we do. What God has done provides the foundation for what we do.” And I’ve been fascinated as well, in Ephesians, for example, where typically people will say, “Oh, well, the first three chapters of Ephesians are the doctrinal part, and chapters four to six are the application part.”
But when you read the application parts, when you read the very practical parts, these, too, are founded in the gospel, after Paul had presented the gospel in chapters one to three, when he starts giving these commands, he keeps going back to the gospel. And when he begins the put off, put on section, how we should not walk as the gentiles walked in all of their sin, then he says, “But you did not learn Christ in this way.” So the way we are to walk is the way we learn Christ. That’s the gospel. In verse 24, “As we put on the new self and the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” He’s talking about how this new self has been created by the new birth when we believe, when God made us alive, which he talked about in chapter two, in verse four, and likewise in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other just as God and Christ has also forgiven you.” So even in the very practical section, he keeps going back to the fact, “How can I forgive?” It’s because God and Christ has forgiven me, it’s the gospel that enables me to do this.
Psalm 23 is a good verse for fearing people, I’ve got an outline on that in your notes, I’ve got audios on that, to learn to trust God. That He cares for you as a shepherd. He’s the one who protects you. You can’t ultimately protect yourself. Those who are trusting God are characterized by boldness. Proverbs 28, the wicked flee when no one coming, pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. And when facing fears, especially OCD type fears, the critical question is what would God have me to do? I can’t, quite frankly, if God wants you out working, it’s safer to get out of the house than to be in defiance of God, watching TV all day. That safety is found in doing God’s will. There’s famous quotes by Stonewall Jackson, who said I feel as safe on the battlefield as I felt on my own bed. Now, there may have been a bit of unbiblical fatalism in some of what Stonewall Jackson said, but there’s also some truth in the sense that he had this trust in God that, for him, he was doing his duty. And if he’s doing his duty, he’s as safe as a man could be. Not to mention the fact that when the bullet finds me I’ll be with the Lord anyway. So safety is in doing the will of God.
Some people are fearful because of fear of imperfection. I may mess up, so I won’t even try. Yeah, you’re gonna mess up. Only God is perfect. You have to trust Him. Only God possesses certainty. Only God has absolute control. He is to be trusted. And that means you need to stop trusting in yourself. The Scripture says as we look to Him, then you will walk in your way securely and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear, nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. That’s Proverbs, chapter three, verses 23 to 26.
We should go back to where it begins, study how Christ leads you and how Christ loves you, and the visual picture of Jesus washing the disciples feet is very important. Many men have a horrible misconception of what it is to lead, as if lead means I can be selfish and she can’t do anything about it that is anti-Christ-like. It’s a disgrace that men think that’s what Christian leadership is and it gives those of us who believe in a male headship and the wives submitting, gives us all a bad name that there are men out there who think leadership, “I’m the boss and everybody else has to do what I want.” Leadership is making sacrifices. Again, leadership is losing what is best to the glory of God, for the good of your family, not I get what I want. Again, that’s why needs to go spiritual that he has a passion for the glory of God.
Sometimes, leadership will be leading your family in a direction your wife may not take as a her first choice but you are not doing it because that’s what you want. You are doing it because that’s how you believe you can best serve God and serve your family, to make that concrete, maybe your wife would really love to have a new car of a certain kind but you believe based on Biblical principle it would be financially irresponsible to do so, you may have to deny her that. Maybe the church you think the family should be going to isn’t the one she does but you have reasons why doctrinally or practically you think this is the better option, what would be ungodly would be to say, “I’m going to buy myself the fancy new sports car and you are going to drive around in the piece of junk.” That’s what many men treat as leadership. Sometimes leadership is, as best I can tell, I need to do this. Again, the motivation is for the glory of God, to follow the scriptures, not an act of selfishness which is an anti-Christ-like act.
A follow up related to this is, how can this husband help his wife understand that it’s not okay to belittle him in front of the children? It sounds like there is some criticism that’s coming out in front of the children, maybe in front of others. How do you deal with that lovingly as a husband?
The passages that come to mind are in Matthew 7 where Jesus says, “You need to get the log out of your own eye before you take the splinter out of your brother or your sister’s eye.” I would, if I were talking to that man I would ask him what are the log’s that you need to get out?” Jesus says, “When you’ve got the logs out, go get her splinter out as best as you can but what is she saying, even her criticism, even if she’s doing it in an ungodly way in front of the kids or in a sarcastic or unkind way, if there is truth, it’s between you and God and it’s sin and you need to do it with her. Maybe there are other issues that she’s not bringing up in front of the kids. First, repent before God then confess that to your wife and actually make a commitment as God helps you to change and then you can go to her. Matthew eighteen also gives an example, if your sister or your brothers stand against you, you first go to them.
Galatians 6 says you go gently for the purpose of restoring them. It’s not like I’ve had it with you criticizing me in front of the kids, and you criticize her back in front of the kids or you vent your anger to her privately so the kids hear you yelling through the door. It’s a matter of she has fallen into sin by doing this, probably she knows she’s sinning. If you come alongside and say, “I know I’ve sinned against you in these ways, I know that’s been very hard for you and I need your forgiveness.” I think you probably know you shouldn’t have done that in front of the kids. I would like you to ask you to forgive me for mine but also would you please in the future if you have a problem let’s talk privately and I admit that, I don’t know the details. There are a lot of situations, the wife says, should be, “I’ve been trying to tell him privately and I got so upset I couldn’t control myself.” For the spirit self-control that’s not an excuse but that is the way she lived it.
Have you been listening, have you tempted her to this? Then, you said, it, “I love you, I want our relationship to be better, I realize I’ve contributed to this and I want to forgive you,” to restore the relationship and not just to … One thing about the question is there is not really anything in the question that says, “This person sins,” their sin is being an important part of the problem.
Yeah, part of my goal has been with this has been that people would watch this and see these struggles, they’d get a little better grasp on how the scriptures can relate to them, and then also how the Lord can use his people to take what we know and move towards those who are struggling and walk with them in the midst of it rather than having to either push them aside or think it just needs to be fixed, but to see this huge place to enter in with it. That’s the beauty of the church when we are shouldering the load together. The Lord’s glorified in amazing ways.
Ellie, any thoughts for you on this project and what would be helpful?
Yeah, I think you said it really well that I’m hoping that this project really starts the dialog. I think everyone wants to be able to help people and having an answer for them is … You feel really helpful when you can provide an answer and list off and those easy answers are pat answers that just might not work in all situations. I think that these videos have done a good job of confirming that it is a medical diagnosis, that it’s not just something that is maybe a spiritual condition that just needs fixing with prayer. While we all definitely need to pray and there’s all spiritual issues connected with it, there’s other medical issues that go along with it.
I hope that within the church, within the church community, the idea of shying away from people with mental illness or shying away from the topic … Maybe not the people themselves, but just the topic of psychology or mental illness. I hope that these videos help start that dialog that there is actual medical conditions, it’s a very complicated situation on all levels for the individual involved as well as the people around it. I’m really hopeful that these videos will do something like that.
It seems like there could kind of be one of two extremes that probably aren’t helpful. Sometimes in the church it could be, “This is different,” and we stay away. Then there can be this naïve just jumping in of just listening to the person, not checking with the family, not realizing the depth of probably what’s going on and starting to come to understand some of the complexities of this, for sure.
Right. It’s very complex. For somebody to say, “Oh, I want to help you.” In some sense, you really got to know what you’re even … Just educate yourself and even just whether or not you can actually have the time to help. What’s really interesting I feel like with a lot of mental health cases is that my mom is convinced that she’s doing a lot of what she’s doing because she wants to help us. Her attention is on us and her attention is on other people, and she’s trying to help other people. But she fails to realize that if she really helps herself then she’s helping the whole family. A lot of times, too, it’s understanding that their intentions in their heads, they’re really good intentions. It’s just learning how to communicate with them and navigate through them and bring them back to what is reality, I guess.
This idea of training future ministers, training people who are interested in ministry, this isn’t a new one for you, right? This has been part and parcel of your whole ministry experience. I’m wondering if you both could tell us just a little bit about how you’ve sought to care for men and women who are interested in pursuing ministry together. How was that unfolded in your years together? Caroline, why don’t you tell me some about how you sought to do that at least?
Caroline Newheiser :
Jim started training people in ministry when we were living in Saudi Arabia and we had to open up many house churches which didn’t have teachers so he developed a program there which is a stepping stone to what he’s doing now. Through the years we’ve had the intern program here at Grace Bible and we’ve even had men live with us, students live with us off and on different times. God has equipped us I think for this step.
Caroline has made a lot of effort both in terms of hospitality and having some cases. I think back to having single Mike Kruger, Greg Welty, these guys are now seminary professors. Many people are now missionaries and pastors but having them or having them and their wives into our home, she’s been especially in recent years making some delivered efforts to mentor the seminary students’ wives and prepare them for what it is going to be like one day.
Good, so we can really step back and check our hearts. What are some ways that you think, instead of calling down fire on someone, what are ways that we think people need to be punished and we often carry that out?
In general, when people wrong us, our gut reaction is to respond in judgement or tempted to respond in anger. That can be saying hurtful words, expressed in that way. It could be ignoring them or doing other unkind things. We become tempted to really detach ourselves from the gospel, somewhat as these disciples did. What we need to remember is both God’s grace to us and also our calling to be messengers of mercy, which was at that time the calling for those disciples. Furthermore, as we are messengers of mercy, I often think of Romans 2:4, that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. If our hope is when we see evildoers and even when they do evil to us, it’s God’s grace and God’s kindness being reflected through us that, or the means by which God most likely will bring them to repentance rather than our judgmental anger.
This seems to intersect for me with something we hear a lot in marriage counselling. If a spouse is sinning, a lot of times the other spouse thinks it’s their job, almost to call down fire on that spouse, to make them pay for the wrongs that are being done to help them see the error of their ways. How do we change the heart of that spouse so that they’re not making the same sin here as the disciples?
I’m about to start crying again. I did cry a few times when I watched your observation videos.
There were pieces of it where I cried, not when Danielle was crying but I just cried at the bitterness of my heart because I knew that hardness was real and it’s sad to watch. It makes me pray for my girls very hard on a daily basis that we can have open relationship to talk. I would hate for them to have that hardness but I also trust that if that’s what the Lord takes them through whichever way that maybe they’re going to have their own struggles and that the Lord uses that for his glory so I’ll let him use whatever he wants to use. That hard heart is really ugly.
From that video I will say Caroline and I have gotten very close and that’s been a huge blessing that was something that was unexpected. She was always just the pastor’s wife and you say hello to them in the hall and they know your name because they know everyone’s name. That was a real sweet blessing that came from it is that we got to be much closer.
Honestly I think that’s a really experience that I think real counselees find as well is that when they do open up to someone rather than pushing someone away, they gain a relationship or friendship.
Having been someone who’s gone through the struggle in real time, real life, and then now as you watch yourself on the videos do you feel like you and Caroline, do you feel like it is an authentic representation of that process?
Yeah. Especially in cutting it down into three different sessions and trying to work with the time lapse in between them and still tie in the first session to the second session. I do think it’s a pretty good picture of what it could look like. The timing, it depends on the willingness of the counselee on how willing they would be to do the homework that was assigned and how the lord changes the heart ultimately. I do think it was pretty true to form in terms of the motions that are felt. When somebody feels like they really can be honest in front of someone and bear their soul and say things that they don’t want to say to anybody else because they’re embarrassed about them or they think are wrong I think you can really get down to the heart of the issue. I think Carolyn just portrays a person that’s very safe to be with. I would imagine that in one of the end of the sessions she says that she just prays for a connection, especially with the younger counselees that only the Lord can really draw a connection between her and the counselee if the counselee is going to feel safe enough to really be open with them. I think that was real in the videos that Danielle felt safe with Caroline. That she could be honest with her.
You start out at the beginning not wanting to be there. Watching it it’s almost uncomfortable watching you give that attitude to your councilor. Were you ever surprised by what you said or how you came off to her.
No. Watching it I almost feel like realistically that would have played out longer if we had had lots of sessions to go through. Me personally going through my eating disorder and people encouraging me to go to counseling that I didn’t want I was not kind for many sessions. It’s a pride issue and it’s an embarrassment issue about not wanting to admit that I have an issue that I cannot fix on my own. You want to go in and say, “I can fix everything on my own and that I’m choosing willingly to do these things and they’re not really as bad as what everyone around me is saying that they are.” Yeah, realistically if it could have been longer I would have been worse longer. Transitioning into bearing worse and then slightly softening at the end to move onto the next session, that was a little bit of an adjustment from a normal setting. It played out all right.
I’ve been really sadden by how often in the context in even solid evangelical churches these cases have come out. It’s very grievous. I guess if you would have taken thirty years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be having this experience. I don’t think that it’s because it’s gotten that much worse in thirty years as much as it as an ordinary church member I didn’t see as much as there was. In terms of the various ways counseling comes to me, adultery cases are a large percentage of what we have to deal with, and it’s heartbreaking.
Do you think that is increasing among the church, or do you think it’s just more that you get hard cases?
Yeah. I’m sure there are people accumulating statistics, and you see as the culture becomes more corrupt that we’re in Corinth, and so it’s not surprising that there’s more Corinth-like behavior or even people coming in with a past. They go back to those old sins sometimes, just temporarily. I would think it’s increasing just as the cultures become more corrupt sexually. What I have seen increase is more people talking about homosexual sin, but in terms of adultery, it’s always gone on. You go back to King David. You go back to the page of scripture, sexual sin has always been an issue. Both in terms of actual adultery, lust, and wandering hearts.
People also talk about emotional affairs. Just as we’re kind of laying the ground of thinking about adultery, how do you classify those or think about those, either as situations are brought to you or as someone throws out that label?
Have either of you in your experience with biblical counseling gone down the road with somebody where you’ve been pointing them to the scriptures, working with them and somewhere down the road what you discovered is that there is an underlying medical issue that you weren’t aware of that the person had that they were struggling with maybe? We’ll talk about this a little bit later but as it pertains to their diet or an actual disease that they have. Have either of you experienced that, saw that we have a physical problem here that needs to be dealt with before we can begin addressing where they’re even at spiritually.
Yeah, that’s not an uncommon thing. I think probably the most common one that I run into as a physician is with sleep deprivation. I could probably look out across this crowd and say, “How many of you slept eight hours last night raise your hands.” Anybody out there? One, two, a couple back up there. Good for you. Most Americans are sleeping six hours or under right now and that is by definition sleep deprivation. I think that’s a reasonable thing to inquire about and would come to your attention. If they can’t resolve it by turning the television off and going to bed a little earlier then you would want to move them on to a doctor.
We’ve seen cases before where a doctor would later say, “Well this person’s thyroid level is off.” That would be a factor. I think sleep has also been huge, where people go nuts when they’ve been sleeping almost none. A couple things I would add, one would be these are influences, they’re not determinative. Just like you’d want to know about a person’s life history, something happened to them, they were abused as a child, that’s relevant but it doesn’t turn them into something. Someone may have something going on physically or even with their brain that that’s an influence and you want to be aware if you can become aware. Sometimes you’re trying to help people and you’re getting nowhere and you might want to send them to a doctor because maybe there’s something going on here, I can’t figure out, some influence I’m not aware of.
So, what is biblical counseling? First of all, biblical counseling is God-centered. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “In all things, we want to be pleasing to him.” He writes also that whatever you do should be done for the glory of God. And this is a real break we would make with secular psychology. When someone comes to a secular psychologist, kind of like what can we do for you? What is your goal in our meeting with you? And the counselee would set the agenda. I had a woman come to me one time who was an exotic dancer living with a Muslim boyfriend, and she wanted me to help her get along better with her Muslim boyfriend. By the way, later I’ll mention I do not counsel women alone; there’s one reason why. Her goal, and there might have been some communication techniques or problem solving techniques you could have told her that should could get along better. And that would have been what she wanted.
But my job as a biblical counselor is what would God have to say to this woman. And first of all, if she professes to be a Christian, there are things about her life that she needs to repent of. And to come in subordination to God. She certainly doesn’t want to be yoked to nonbelievers. She doesn’t want to be involved in fornication of tempting others. So, it’s not about the happiness of the counselee. It’s not about the counselee achieving in life what he or she wants.
Instead of just, “Wow, we tried counseling, focused on that specific problem, now that problem’s back again. What do we do?” It’s kind of zooming out and saying, “Let’s look at it from a different angle and make sure we really pour resources into their walk with Christ personally. “Yes. I can say, in concrete terms, I can think of a couple where different ones of us have tried to meet with them. You think you solved the problem in that the crisis ended. They’re smiling a week or two later but then it keeps coming back. It’s like, “You didn’t finish the antibiotics and so the bug is never killed and it keeps coming back.”
The most recent approach has been much more intensive discipleship. Not firefighting with marriage crisis or even marriage problems, but just growing in Christ as believers with the fundamentals of the faith. Some have been using a book by Jerry Bridges called The Discipline of Grace. It’s not a marriage book, it’s a living as a Christian book but I’ve seen far better results with this couple from having spent months in that book just to grow in Christ than I did with all the firefighting efforts that proceeded it.
Some of this might be – with ongoing problems – maybe what we have in our mind is that intensive Biblical counseling should solve the problem and if it doesn’t, we’ve done the counseling wrong, something’s wrong with the people. It seems like I get questions like that quite a bit of, “We’ve tried this, it’s not fixed. What do we do?” Has your perspective of that changed, as you’ve counseled over the years, in what it takes to really help people grow?
We can’t be clueless anymore, we need to be aware of what’s going on, and know how to vote intelligently, and biblically, so that would be one thing. Also, churches need to be aware of how to protect their own ministries, so that they don’t become broiled in litigation that they don’t need, and yet they still want to be an outreach to the community.
Yeah. Is there any one particular area, one or two, that you say, “I find that most churches maybe might be ignorant of protecting themselves in this way.” If you had the opportunity to speak to church leaders you’d say, “Here’s one or two things that, if you’re not protected, or if you’re not aware of, you should have these things in place.”
Well they need to have well written governing documents, and written policies. For example, for the use of their facilities. A church might want to invite people from the community in for their wedding ceremonies and receptions. If you’re going to do that, there needs to be a religious fence around it, so that you’re not hosting a ceremony that conflicts with your religious doctrine. Counseling, I mean it’s wonderful to minister to the community, and I know Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana, Steve Viars, they have a wonderful outreach, I mean it just blows me away to hear about it. The important thing there I think is distinguish between the people who represent your ministry, and the people who are potential beneficiaries of your ministry.
Counseling brought us together.
Counseling brought you together. I think that’s actually a great jumping off spot. Because as I sit here today biblical counseling in many ways is part of the Christian culture. It’s relatively accepted. You both were there, the pioneers in the early days. The first question I’d like to ask is, what did the landscape looked like when you first became engaged in biblical counseling? Really maybe even before that for each of you individually, who got on board first with this concept of biblical counseling?
Well for me, it was, I was at a seminary. Was so ignorant to guys who say, you are a Armenian. Like a Armenia, Italy. I mean, I was totally ignorant. I was a jock. I got to seminary unconverted and partly, part of the conversion was seeing Jay Adam’s counsel and use the scripture and see people’s lives actually transformed. For me, it was part of my conversion and coming to grips with who I was with the seminar, it was more as a guilt trip. Kind of an interesting, it was a long story. That was for me the introduction to biblical counseling and so that shaped my whole Christian experience as well as ministry per se.
In the realm of biblical counseling we find that people come and they’ll sit across from us and emotions are very much on the forefront of at least people’s dispositions if you will. What is some of the encouragement or counsel that you would give to somebody who’s a biblical counselor who is potentially dealing with somebody who’s in an emotionally charged situation? What are the things that you’d say hey be aware of this, be cautious of this? Is there some practical insights that you might give just right off the top of your head?
Yeah. I would say that as a biblical counselor, one, we can’t afford to ignore the way people end up feeling. Whether you’re dealing with somebody that needs to forgive somebody or you’re dealing with a person that has uncontrolled anger, the fact is that the emotions play a significant role. You have to be aware not just of faulty thinking patterns or sinful behavior patterns, but how are the emotions at play here? Are they driving the person, which is often the case.
I would say then secondly that we need to be very much aware of the relationship between the way that we think and the way that we feel. At least in my perspective, one of the burdens of biblical counseling is to get people thinking biblically which in turn, I think, helps realign their emotions.
No, I know. It’s just me and the Bible and God. I just latched onto that and that was like, “This is what I’m suppose to be doing.” Now, when I thought about that, I thought just in my little church. I had no clue that what would happen did happen.
Along that line, as you’re looking at Titus 2 and thinking of women who are now empty nesters and understanding Titus 2 are supposed to be pouring into these younger women but maybe they feel like they’re not prepared enough. They haven’t set down when they’re 33 and thought, “This is the trajectory I’m going.” What would you say to them as they find themselves hearing that passage and thinking about their particular stage in life?
I think several things. A godly, mature woman need to understand Bible doctrine and be able to explain it. She needs to, of course, be able to explain the gospel. Just basic doctrine. She also needs to know the specific verses for the women and children and then in the context and how to explain those. Then she just needs to not be selfish. These empty nesters, like me and I’ve been en empty nester for quite a while, they tend to be selfish and they won’t get involved. They’re only playing with their grandchildren or they’ve gone to aerobics. That’s where they are. They’re just not obeying the Lord. I did write a book about this and it’s called Becoming A Titus 2 Woman. It’s for all women: young, single, married or old. They need to be thinking in these terms. I tried, in the book, to tell them how, by God’s grace, that they can practically develop this godly character and then what it looks like to teach and exhort the younger women.
Do you see a danger in having an under-realized eschatology or that this could be taken in that way? How you encountered many people who just throw up their hands and say, “I guess I’m just weak and will always be like this,” type idea?
There is an under-realized eschatology and there are people who make it, yeah, who make it sound as if, “Well, there’s no need to try. Just let go of everything. God has taken care of everything,” and that’s wrong. Again, it doesn’t fit with scripture. You have all of these passages in the Old Testament, New Testament that urge us to try hard, but they’re all wrapped up and intertwined with passages reminding us that it’s God who’s at work in us, and He’s going to complete that work, and that God is sovereign over that process.
One of the key truths in helping people understand God’s work in sanctification is, as you talked about, the imputed righteousness of Christ and the fact that he sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Barb, I know one of the statements you made in Extravagant Grace is “God is not disappointed in you. He cannot be disappointed in you.” How do you explain that, especially in light of passages that are talking about, like 2 Corinthians 5:9 is talking about, “We make it our aim to please God.” You hear that passage and it sounds like the flip side of that would be displeasing God and how does that square with His disappointment or not disappointment?
One point to make in beginning is that in order to be disappointed in someone you have to be naïve. You have to think that they are able and willing to do something they’re actually not able and/or willing to do. The heart of disappointment is naivete, and God is not naïve. God knows our sinful, foul, nasty hearts better than we do and that heart, even though we are a new creation, is still in us. God doesn’t remove that naughty heart when He saves us. God is not naïve about the depths of sin that we are capable of getting into, and neither, and I don’t know that I have time to unfold the whole work of the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit works in us, but if God is orchestrating in advance the moments when He’s going to cause you to will and to do according to His good pleasure and then the times when He’s going to not do those things, you’re going to stand in obedience, you’re going to fall when you’re left to yourself.
If He’s orchestrating all of that there’s no room for Him then to be disappointed when He leaves you to your sin. Again, we’ll go back to the Prodigal Son story. Is the father disappointed in the son? Well, I’m sure he’s not happy. He knows exactly what the son is going to do when he gives him the money. One way to decrease the number of sins in the universe at that moment would have been to not give him the money maybe. The kid would have had to stay home and sin in other ways I suppose. You don’t see disappointment and you don’t see anger in the father. You see a very calm leaving of that son to his sin for a period of time and then waiting on the horizon and rejoicing when he comes back.
One other quick thing, if I may. The other part of the conversation that has to happen is not just what is the correct sexuality to come in to people, but what do we need to do as a church to make that sexual ethic or viable lifestyle, and to easily, we’re saying to people in a lot of churches that I see, if you’re same sex attracted, you need to be celibate. Actually, in our church, that means you’re going to be really, really lonely. I kind of feel like saying to churches, you can’t call people to celibacy unless you are providing the kind of family and community that the Bible says churches should be.
I’m glad that you mention that because I know that you’ve written on a wide variety of topics. You’ve written on the book of James and then you’ve also, you wrote about the Trinity. I didn’t want this to go by without talking a little bit about that for a minute. Community and the trinity and what that means for life of the Christians. For those that are listening, tell them the name of the book that you wrote, what the theme of that book was and why you wrote it.
The book is called Connected Living in the Light of the Trinity, I think. Yeah that sounds right. I wrote it because I was looking for a book to recommend to people at church on the Trinity that didn’t have any Latin words in and couldn’t find any at that point. I thought, “I’ll write one.” What I was trying to do was to show how understanding that God is Trinity, makes the world of difference to your daily Christian life. It is such a good thing to know and it shapes so much of who we are as His people. Anything we learn about God is going to help us understand ourselves a lot better, because he made us. To know that God is trying, actually that is going to have huge implications for the kind of universe we live in and what discipleship and church life and all these things are going to look like. I was just trying to show how actually this makes a practical, joyful difference day by day to understand these things. It’s not obscure and irrelevant.
I’ll just push it deep. Could you give us one example of something when looking at the triune nature of our God that you said touches the Christian on a day to day level? Or should, at least.
The guy, he teared up and he said, “If what you’re saying is true, I would so love God. I’d go crazy for him.”
I think that’s the rub that the Gospel of God’s grace, his forgiveness for us who are unworthy of that, to really let that in and believe it. If we did let that in and believe it, it sets our hearts ablaze, but it’s actually hard to believe, and once believing it, to then wake up the next morning still believing it, after maybe you failed in some way. It’s like Martin Luther said, he had to beat the doctrine of Justification into the heads of his congregation. That’s what I feel like I need for me in my ministry to others, because it’s tough to believe from a human standpoint. Only God gives us the power to believe it, but then someone you’re talking to may believe it today, but then tomorrow afternoon, they’re not believing it for whatever reason and you got to preach it to them again.
Hearing that answer, that illustration of that couple, I mean, that really gets at the heart of it in so many ways of what the gospel can ignite in a heart when it’s truly understood.
My approach would be first to just let me help you from the bible. That’s what I’m equipped to do. I can use the bible to help you with your spiritual struggles. Then often it’ll be the counselees saying, “You know, maybe I don’t need these anymore.” I would say, “Well, tell your doctor that, ask your doctor if it’d be possible for you to cut back or to go on a process of getting off of the med under his supervision, and do that as a test case to see if you’re okay without it.” I’ve had people who have done that and have gotten off of the meds. The doctors aren’t always thrilled, but it’s not my decision, it’s the counselees decision. Then sometimes they may be afraid to get off of the med, and while in my opinion maybe I wish they’d try, I view that as a matter of their liberty to make that decision.
I just had someone that I was working with the other day who there are lots of marriage struggles that we’d been wrestling with, and kind of having worked through some of those. Then the question came up of, “Hey, I’m on these meds, and they help me with this, but the side effects are this.” Realizing he and his wife kind of never had really talked through that. So it seemed like my role was a lot just to help them think through wisely the pros and cons of using those and the hard issues behind it. Do you think does that seem like a reasonable approach or …?
Sure. There are cons. We’ve already mentioned the side effects. Many of them are undesirable, and some of them go beyond the emotional side effects, the physical side effects. But I would do it in a way where it’s interactive, not, “Get off of this,” but, “How do you feel about this? What do you think about this? How does it affect you?” I would try to point them more also to, “As you grow in learning to trust God more, as you grow spiritually, do you think that some of what you may be causing you to use this may diminish so that you could consider trying without it?”