Book Review – Biblical Counseling and the Church

April 26, 2016

51ulwfhk9xl-_sx329_bo1204203200_If there is one area that I wish I had stronger training in, it would be in counseling. No one tells you in seminary that you’d do so much counseling on the local church level. Perhaps part of the problem of pastors seeing so many counselees is that the church has lost it’s obligation and privilege to counsel one another? Bob Kellemen and Kevin Carson and others helpfully renew the church’s responsibility to do just that.

In Biblical Counseling and the Church, we are reminded that each of us in the church of Jesus Christ are empowered to speak the truth of the Gospel to each other. Counseling then becomes a natural expression of the “one anothers” of the New Testament and the process of discipleship. The book begins with chapters highlighting the need to see counseling as the vision of the entire church. Then, this is followed by chapters focusing on small groups as an advantageous medium for doing biblical counseling within the church. The book moves on to consider the relationship between counseling and church discipline, the process to equip biblical counselors in your church, how counseling can be used as a means of outreach, and finally the history of biblical counseling.

While a multi-author book will have stronger and weaker chapters, overall the book did an excellent job of presenting the case and providing the means for seeing counseling be an every-member ministry of the local church. If you want to take some of the burden off your pastor, pick up this book and pass it on to others in your church. Each of us, gifted with the Gospel, can pass it on to others who are hurting and suffering and therefore counsel one another.


Common Grace and Secular Entertainment

January 20, 2016
It seems that celebrities tend to die in 3’s. For instance, June 23, 2009, Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett, all died. The phenomenon goes all the way back to deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison who all died (incidentally at the age of 27) in late 1970 and early 1971. To this day, when a celebrity dies, pop culture fans follow the news to find out who will go next. It certainly is a superstition, but when favorite pop celebrities die, it makes us think about our relationship to them, especially as Christians.

Recently, we’ve had another slate of them passing. It’s hard to determine the correct triad of deaths, but Lemmy, founding member of British metal band, Motorhead, David Bowie, influential musician and actor, and well-known British actor Alan Rickman all died relatively near each other, all from cancer. The outpouring of sympathy and remembrances and reflections on the online community was great for all three members. If you followed hard rock or metal, you knew Lemmy as a talented bassist and vocalist. Even if it’s not your style of music, you can see there exists talent. Bowie, in his various incarnations over the years, has been a greatly influential musician and actor. Many of us probably know “Space Oddity”, “Under Pressure” (with other legendary musician Freddie Mercury), “Fame,” and others. My generation first was introduced to him as the Goblin King in the movie The Labyrinth. Alan Rickman, a stage actor, who our first memory from the movies is as Hans Gruber from Die Hard, is best known for his beloved adaptation of Severus Snape from the Harry Potter novels put to screen. The movement of what we thought of as an evil character in the first few books moves forward to a tragically heroic man who did what was necessary in a world gone mad, because of love. Even if you don’t know who any of these people are, there is no denying their talent.

And therein lies the conundrum for Christians. How do we handle talent, that we know to be God-given, that isn’t offered back to God? None of these three we’re friends to the church.Heavy Metal music is known for its dark and depressing themes. Bowie has flirted with sexual ambiguity and his songs haven’t lent us to believe that he sees much hope in Christianity, and Rickman’s appearance in the sacrilegious Dogma, should show us he also doesn’t see much good in the church. So, why should Christians care about pop culture, and how can we learn to appreciate God-given talent, even if not redirected back to God?

Culture isn’t ever neutral. It’s a reflection of the worldview of the culture-makers themselves. And we’re all culture-makers. God is a creating God, and He has made us to be like Him. It’s impossible to escape the desire inborn in us, to create. So, Christians and non-Christians seek to do just that. In fact, some of the most beautiful art, poetry, literature, and architecture have come from the hands of non-Christians. We can revel in talent and ability simply because it does in fact come from God, and it is beautiful. Even non-Christians struggle to divorce themselves from the beautiful because that talent they possess, comes from God who alone is beautiful.

So, I’m not saying get into Motorhead, or buy Bowie’s latest album, Blackstar, or run out to Rickman’s movie, Dark Harbor. But know this, we live in this world of pop culture, whether we try to hide ourselves in monasteries or not. We are products of it, and are still immersed in it. Our children are in it. Our neighbors are in it. Our co-workers are in it. It behooves us not to throw babies out with the bathwater when a talented pop culture persona does something out of sync with God’s Word. It means we pray for them, we challenge people to investigate and understand the worldviews behind what they do, but we also laud the beauty of the creative work they produce. 

Let me leave you with a scene from Bowie’s latest song, “Lazarus.” He had been battling cancer for 18 months before the new album was released the same weekend as his death. He was obviously exploring death, and while he couldn’t see that Jesus offered the only hope, he was grasping and searching. He sings, ” This way or no way, You know, I’ll be free, Just like that bluebird, Now ain’t that just like me.” Clever lyrics, a haunting song reflecting the searching of the world for hope. We know the our only hope of freedom from death and the curse is Jesus Christ. Yet, we can still appreciate how non-Christians are reflecting the image of God in their art, even when they don’t realize it. We should appreciate that talent, and pray for the ones who produce it to give it back to God. 


Book Review – A Lost God in a Lost World

November 25, 2015

We truly live in a lost world. We live in a world that has rejected God. The problem is that worldliness has infected the church. Our churches tend toward looking like the world, rather than the authentic Christianity of the New Testament. Melvin Tinker in his new book, A Lost God in a Lost World, tackles these issues in a clear and effective way.

The solution is to make less of the world and to make more of God. In that vein, Tinker addresses a number of problems that exist in the church and the solution that is rooted in God. He begins by addressing the weightiness (the immense glory of God) and why that should root out the problem of idolatry in our lives. Tinker articulates key points on the necessity of the cross, of Gospel proclamation, of grace, and of being heavenly minded. In sum, Tinker offers us a mini-systematic theology complete with the problems that exist in sinful man (and in sinful churches) and the solution rooted in various points regarding who God is and how God operates in the world.

David Wells in the forward writes, “If our vision of God is clouded, or our knowledge of him is deformed, living in a hostile cultural climate becomes an unequal contest.” Surely, we live in a 1 Peter context with a hostile culture around us. The solution is not to mimic that culture but to live out a unique culture rooted in the supremacy and majesty of the Triune God. To get there, Tinker simply reminds us of the beauty and majesty of God from the Word and reminds us of it’s significance for serving as our framework for life and the church.

If you’re like most in the church, you’re concerned by the lack of growth; both in our own lives, and in our churches. Tinker will remind you the solution is not in fads or programs or in mimicking the culture, but instead is in a bigger picture in our hearts and minds of God. While some more detail on how that would look (rubber meets the road) would be helpful, overall, he sets a good foundation for us to work on in each of our contexts. Highly recommended.


Memories of Thanksgiving

November 21, 2015

 

It’s not the event itself that makes you nostalgic, it’s the memory of the event.

I remember back to a life of memories of the second Monday in October. It always seemed nice to have the three day weekend with no shopping Armageddon following it. I remember the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the corn, the stuffing, the home-made rolls. And the pies… Dear Lord I remember the pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Pecan. You name it. It was there. That was of course because my mother wasn’t able to make enough food only for us. Clearly she had to make enough for an invisible army that was going to attend. I remember her maxim for how many mashed potatoes to make: one large potato for each of us, and then add 2 or 3 others for good measure. But I digress…

Certainly my experience of the event may not have been as profound as many Americans. Yet, so much of it was the same. A meal with the family. An opportunity to be thankful for what we had. Time spent with family (whether we liked it or not!). And whatever the historical reason why we celebrated, we simply wanted to enjoy a good meal together and to be thankful. And, while I may not always have been thankful at the time, I’m thankful for the experience and the memories to this day.

While so much is the same, so much is different. In a few short days we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. There will be turkey, pie, and all the trimmings. There will be traditions and family, and good times had by all. And while the proclamation of giving thanks for survival in a new land in 1621 might be more profound than giving thanks for the recovery of King Edward VII in 1872 (although Thanksgiving was celebrated informally in Canada as early as the 1578 voyage of Frobisher), at the foundation, they are the same: being thankful for what we have, no matter what we have. I haven’t been able to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving since moving to the US (it’s hard to make the trip back to Canada for the weekend), but I am thankful for the many years of Thanksgiving celebration that I did have. And I’m thankful that, even while I celebrate the event on a different day, I’m thankful for my homeland, my family, and Thanksgivings of bygone days.

And that’s what being thankful really means. It’s not about being thankful when in plenty. It’s about being thankful in all situations (1 Thessalonians 5:18). There are times in our life where we don’t have all the family support or even the big turkey on our table. That doesn’t mean it isn’t time to be thankful. Have a roof over your head, but stovetop stuffing on your table? Be thankful. Don’t have a roof over your head, but have friends and family that help to take care of you, be thankful. Don’t have friends or family to take care of you? Be thankful you are alive and have breath. Everyone has something for which they can be thankful. The question to ask yourself this year is, in plenty or in want, what can I be thankful for?

I missed Thanksgiving in Canada for another year. But I celebrate my Canadian holidays in abstentia (my wife is gracious to me that way). I don’t have to be present to celebrate Victoria Day, Canada Day, or Canadian Thanksgiving. I can be thankful that I can celebrate here, both Canadian and American Thanksgiving. I can be thankful for family, for food, for fellowship, for friends, for everything I have. And I can be thankful for, the things I once had, and the things I will have. I’m thankful for the memories of things past, and the memories I make today. What are you thankful for today?


Book Review – Gospel Conversations

November 2, 2015

One of the areas in which most of us are poorly trained by the seminaries is counseling. We spend much time studying good and important things, but considering the inordinate amount of time that most pastors spend on speaking Gospel truth into people’s lives, you’d think we would do a better job of preparing people to do just that. I’m finding in 15 years of ministry, that I’m woefully under prepared for the counseling that I do, and that I am looking for further training. What is wonderful though, is that there is a great abundance of resources being published to help address these most pressing needs. Robert Kelleman, in his new series, Equipping Biblical Counselors from Zondervan is filling a large gap in those resources. His newest, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ, is exceptional, not just for pastors and counselors, but for all in the body of Christ who want to minister like Jesus did.

Kelleman’s previous book in the series, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives and another companion book edited by himself and Jeff Forrey, Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World (both from Zondervan), offer helpful resources to most pastors and counselors and the dedicated layperson. The first offers a helpful look at the entire counseling process and the theology behind it, in particular, the 8 ultimate questions of life to apply Christ’s truth to, and whereas the second devotes copious resources to understanding how biblical counseling uses God’s Word as it’s source. Both are excellent, but where Gospel Conversations shines in that it is designed for all of us in mind.

Gospel Conversations, though is written as a second work following Gospel-Centered Counseling, in that it is the continuation of that discussion and bringing what we’ve learned into actually doing counseling. The beauty of this though is taking the principles that Kelleman lays out and seeking to apply them to all our Gospel conversation, not just to the formal counseling situation (think Tripp’s, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands).

Kelleman employs his “four compass points” of biblical counseling to speak Gospel truth into any situation. These points are:

  • Sustaining – “It’s normal to hurt.”
  • Healing – “It’s possible to hope.”
  • Reconciling – “It’s horrible to sin but wonderful to be forgiven.”
  • Guiding – “It’s supernatural to mature.”

Kelleman uses these four points to build off speaking the truth in any Gospel-focused conversation, whether it be formal counseling or simply speaking to a brother or sister.

These points are developed along 5 or 6 further points of development (21 in all) through the handy acronyms of GRACE, RESTS, PEACEE, and FAITH. Each one develops the points further into helpful characteristics for counseling. For instance, under the 5 Sustaining counseling competencies of GRACE, Kelleman wants us to develop the following:

  • Grace Connecting
  • Rich Soul Empathizing
  • Attuned Gospel Listening
  • Comforting Spiritual Conversations
  • Empathetic Scriptural Explorations

All of these points, rooted in God’s Word, provides a helpful map of helping each person in each situation. So many Christians, “don’t know what to say,” when people are hurting. Myself, with the recent loss of our unborn baby, struggled through some severe depression. So few had anything helpful or sustaining to say from God’s Word. How wonderful would it have been been to hear the kind of words outlined above through that acronym, and which Kelleman develops further, to help to sustain me in my dark depression?

Keep in mind, this isn’t an easy book. It’s certainly prepared as a textbook format, and Kelleman, while offering some foundations of biblical counseling in the beginning, also presumes we’ve got a good understanding of those foundations before we begin. That being said, for those who are interested and willing to be stretched and grow in how they speak Gospel truth into people’s lives will be richly rewarded, not only through how they apply the Gospel in their own lives but how they apply it in each others as well. You’ll apply Gospel truth to a number of real situations that will shape how you apply those same truths to those whom you meet.

Are you frustrated that you “don’t know what to say,” or frankly, that what you do say is unhelpful (often too, the case for Christians), then I would recommend Gospel Conversations, as a helpful tool to train you to speak the Gospel into any and all of life’s circumstances.


Book Review: The Blender Girl Smoothies

September 30, 2015

The following is a book review from my wife Tracy.

Every week in our house we have “Smoothie Tuesday”. Our kids in particular look forward to their weekly concoction of fruits and sometimes veggies. We have had several smoothie recipes in our rotation that we all enjoy, but I was very glad to come across this book and find many, many new ideas to try.

In The Blender Girl Smoothies, Tess Masters gives a wonderful introduction to smoothie-making that will please beginners as well as advanced blender-users. The book opens with some helpful introductory information including the proper order for adding ingredients to the blender, as well as a basic formula to help you create your own recipes. The end of the book includes recommended resources as well as information on various ingredients and the nutritional profiles of various fruits, veggies, and superfoods.

One of the best features of the book is the full-color illustration of every smoothie. The recipes are divided into fruit-based recipes, green smoothies, and dessert options. We have tried several of the fruit recipes and everyone, including the kids, liked them. I am even motivated to try some of the green recipes! All of the recipes use easily-found ingredients and feature clear instructions. Each recipe also includes three optional “boosters”. These could be herbs, spices, extra veggies, or superfoods. Some of them are pricier items, but since they are optional, the smoothie will turn out just fine even if you don’t choose to use them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to expand their smoothie recipes. These blends taste great and they are practical to make. We will get lots of use out of this book.
I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.


Is the Reformation Over? Part 1

September 28, 2015

It seems that every era is guilty of forgetting the lessons of the previous one. We often think, a bit nostalgically perhaps, of the lessons we learned as we were growing up, and how the current generation has not learned those same lessons. There is an election in Canada happening shortly, and a potential candidate made a crude joke about the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, and then apologized for making it saying she didn’t know it was a death camp. One may wonder how quickly we can forget such a thing, but even in the church, we are so forgetful about the lessons of the past.

The arrival of the so-called, “People’s” Pope to the United States recently is one such event in which we have forgotten our past. It certainly should be expected that Roman Catholics would be excited about the arrival of their highest religious leader. It also shouldn’t be surprising to us that people who have no strong religious connection would welcome the Pope, since he has been advocating issues toward the Left that many would welcome, despite the cognitive dissonance this should demonstrate.

What should be surprising is the amount of Protestant Christians who were whipped up into a Pope frenzy with his arrival, forgetting that, according to that Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church, as heirs of the Reformation, we still are condemned to damnation because of our theology (Council of Trent, Canons 9, 12, 14, 23, 24, 30, 33).

While certainly there has been change within the Roman Catholic Church over the years, there is much that has not changed, and therefore should make us Protestant Christians wary of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. While there are so many issues on which we disagree, and are reflective of underlying fundamental differences (Popery, Mariolotry, the Mass etc.), at the foundation, there are two differences that set us apart as Protestants.

First, a history lesson. Why are we called Protestants? Because our historical forbears “protested” against the theological errors within the Roman Catholic Church. While it was not the design of the these people to leave the church and form their own denominations (they were “Reformers” of the Roman Catholic Church initially), ultimately, the fact that there could be no reconciliation over these issues should give us pause today in our relationship with Roman Catholicism.

At the core of our difference is two things:

1) The Basis of our Authority
2) The Basis of our Salvation

First, on what basis does our authority exist? In Roman Catholicism that basis is the authoritative interpretation of the Magisterium. “Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Vatican I, Dei Filius, 8). Further, “In matters of faith and morals the bishops speak in the name of Christ, and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. This religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, ch. 3, n. 25).

In contrast, as heirs of the Protestant Reformation we hold fast to the doctrine of sola scriptura, or that Scripture alone is our only basis of authority. In the Words of Martin Luther, “The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.”  Smalcald Articles II, 15. Many years later, John Wesley could remark, “In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.” (Popery Calmly Condemned, 1779). The Westminster Confession of Faith gives us further detail how this looks for Protestants, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” Chapter 1, Section VII. Ultimately, this is rooted in our understanding of the nature of Scripture being God’s divine revelation to man and sufficient on it’s own (2 Timothy 3:16). 

We believe that we do not need some ruling body to tell us what we shall believe, but that each of us, can turn to God’s Word to interpret it and understand it for ourselves. In fact, the Bereans (Acts 17:11) are commended for being more noble because they searched the Scriptures to determine if what they were being taught was true. We as Protestants have the Bible in our hands in our language so we can understand it for itself. It is it’s own sole authority and not I, nor any other person, can bind your beliefs to one interpretation. Therefore, we cannot in good conscience agree with Roman Catholicism which puts the Word of God ultimately in the hands of only a few, and binds their hearers consciences to only church approved teaching.

Next week, I will address our second point of departure, namely our fundamental differences on the issue of saving faith, justification, and imputed righteousness.


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