The charity of clarity

No one likes to be confused. If a doctor or a mechanic or a teacher bamboozle and befuddle us, we get annoyed, frustrated, and even angry. We demand clarity: “Look, can you please explain that again, this time in plain English.”

No one likes to be confused – with one exception – and that’s in the most important matter of all – our eternal destiny.

Let a salesman confuse us about a car and we get angry. But let a preacher confuse us about salvation and we’re quite happy.

When a lawyer clearly explains two possible options, we compliment him. When a preacher clearly explains the only two options – heaven or hell – we criticize him.

Why is clarity in every area of life to be commended, but clarity in the greatest issues of life and death to be condemned as “uncharitable”?

Well we could never accuse Jesus of a lack of clarity or charity. Rather,  it was His charity that produced His clarity. In fact, wherever there is charity in a heart, there will be clarity in the mouth! A compassion for souls will produce clear sermons, clear pastoral counsel, and clear parental instruction.

How can we say that charity produces clarity?

Consider Jesus’ first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. He packed a lot into that first sermon, so much that we are still unpacking it 2000 years later. But as he concluded it, he returns to the basics: there are only two gates, two roads, two types of traveler and two destinations. It’s as if he says, “Whatever else you take away from my sermon, take this: “There are only two options.”

A Third Way?
From the Garden of Eden onwards, humanity has been on a desperate search for a third option, a third way to be saved. We realize there is a wrong way, and we don’t want to be on it – I mean who wants to be with Hitler, and BinLaden, and Kim Jong-il? But we don’t like the only other way – bit too narrow, bit too demanding, bit too unpopular. So let’s make up a third way.

And many preachers cooperate with this desired confusion. By neglect, by design, by fear, or by whatever, they leave people in sufficient fog to give them some hope that there may well be a third option. And such preachers are often admired and praised: “So compassionate! So kind! So warm!”

Jesus hurricanes this deadly mist away: “Two gates, two roads, two travelers, two destinations, two trees, two fruits, two foundations, two houses…two, two, two. Never, ever three.” There is no third option for “nice” people. There is no third option for “covenant children.” There is no third option for “church attenders.” We are either dead or alive, dead in sin or born again, asleep or awake, darkness or light, against Christ or for Christ, a Pharisee or a Publican, a child of the devil or child of the living God.

There is no “in-between” category, there is no “miscellaneous,” there is no “and all the rest of us.” There is no third gate, no third road, no third kind of traveler, and no third destination.

THERE IS NO THIRD OPTION!

And it’s not love to suggest there might be. Not in sermons, not at funerals, not in counseling, not in books, not anywhere.

The more we clarify these matters, the more the hearts of lost sinners will be exposed, the more they will see the broad gate they have entered, the broad road they are on, and the deadly destination they are heading to.

And the more angry they will get – at least initially. Because, for some weird reason, confusion is comfortable and usually preferred in spiritual matters. “Keep your clarity. Give me the fog!”

But clarity also, eventually, provokes passionate prayer, earnest seeking, and fervent calling on the name of the Lord for ourselves and for our loved ones.

In these foggy and confusing days, may God  give all of us far more of this compassionate Christ-like clarity in our hearts and minds, and in our words and in our walk.


8 ways to help depressed Christians [Video]

Here are eight guidelines for helping depressed Christians. In the video I cover the following points:

  1. Be prepared for it
  2. Don’t assume it is caused by a specific personal sin
  3. Check depth, width, and length of symptoms.
  4. Don’t rush to medication and don’t rule out medication
  5. Take holistic approach both to cause and cure
  6. Give hope
  7. Involve family & friends
  8. Re-establish spiritual disciplines

The books I mentioned are Dealing with Depression and Grace for the Afflicted.

Click here to view the video on Vimeo, and if you sign up for Vimeo (it’s free) you can also access the video file for downloading.

Any other advice you would give?


Children’s Bible Reading Plan (54)

This week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

The first 12 months of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

The first 6 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in pdf.

And here’s an explanation of the plan.

 


What do Bob Kellemen and Matthew Henry have in common?

Over the last few days I’ve been interacting with Bob Kellemen’s new book, Equipping Counsellors for your Church (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). I’d like to conclude the series today by answering some potential objections to Bob’s vision of “every Christian a counsellor” and “every church a church of biblical counseling.” 

Objection 1: We’ve never done this before. We’ve never thought like this before.
Maybe, but if the Bible commands us to do this, shouldn’t we listen? Shouldn’t we maybe confess, “I’ve not done this before…but I should have…and by God’s grace I will.” Yes, it’s a change from thinking “I need to call the pastor…” to “I need to call Joe or Mary, etc,” but it’s a blessed change.

Objection 2: I’m too old for this.
If anyone needs this kind of spiritual friendship it’s those who are entering the most trying stage of life. You don’t need hundreds of spiritual friends, but even one might be a huge help to you as you weaken and gradually withdraw from active church life. Wouldn’t you love to have someone to come to you in the nursing home or in the hospital with spiritual counsel rather than the latest gossip.

Objection 3: I don’t feel up to it.
Romans 15:14 says you are up to it! And the Bible can make you up to it. It’s not your own words but God’s that are needed. Of course, you will have limitations. Part of wisdom is knowing when you are out of your depth and you need outside help. But don’t underestimate the deep and lasting influence of being a humble, loving Christian friend.

Objection 4: I’d be afraid of people breaking confidences, etc.
That’s why we need to create and cultivate not just an element of openness and transparency with one another but also a commitment to integrity and loyalty to one another.

Objection 5: I’ve got enough problems myself without trying to help others.
Yes, you have many problems. But the Christian community can help you with them. And as you are helped, you can begin to help others too. Also, this is not just about problem-solving; this is about discipleship. It’s not about just reacting to the latest emergency, but about helping one another towards Christ-likeness and Christ-nearness.

Objection 6: It’s just not me – I’m a very private person.
There are many ways for this kind of discipleship/counseling to happen. Some will have very public role whereas others will have a more private role. Some can be trained and equipped to specialize in help for marriage problems, or depression, or parenting, etc. Maybe some could even be trained in the long-term to offer counsel in the local community. However, even for those of us who are more private, there can be more private roles. We can all pass on a verse from our own Bible reading or from family devotions. We can all ask a friend, “What did you enjoy in the Word this week?

Objection 7: Shouldn’t we leave spiritual counsel to the pastor and the professionals.
Well, of course, the pastor and elders will always retain a large role. That cord will not be cut. And, of course, there are some spiritual issues and complications of life that would be better dealt with by someone with more specialized knowledge, experience, wisdom, and training. However, there are lots of other issues/matters/problems that can be dealt with among spiritual friends. With prayer and training we can all become better spiritual friends and through ministering the Word on a one-to-one level we can supplement the pastor and elders work.

And, yes, there are special situations where even the pastor will recognize that he needs special counsel from specially trained and experienced people. However, there are many situations where there are perfectly capable people in the congregation who can speak wisely and helpfully. And anyway, we’re not talking just about extinguishing fires, problem-solving, etc; we’re talking also about discipling, the positive upbuilding of one another to closer communion and conformity to Christ. As Bob says, “Everyone is a counselor. The question is really whether it’s good or bad counsel.”

And just in case you think this just the latest modern church fad, hear Matthew Henry:

It is a comfort to faithful ministers to see their work superseded by the gifts and graces of their people. How gladly would ministers leave off their admonishing work, if people were able and willing to admonish one another! Would to God that all the Lord’s people were prophets. But that which is everybody’s work is nobody’s work.

Buy Equipping Counselors for your Church here and watch the book trailer here.


Turning a dream into reality

Bob Kellemen has big dreams. In Equipping Counselors for your Church, he envisions churches not only as places with biblical counseling ministries, but as places of biblical counseling. He says, “My goal is not the production of yet another program or yet another ministry on the sidelines. My goal is the promotion of a congregation-saturated mindset of every-member ministry with an entire congregation passionate about and equipped to make disciples” [10].

Although initially skeptical about Bob’s vision (partly because I misunderstood it), his book gradually brought me on board and I’ve been thinking about how to turn Bob’s dream into reality in a local church I’m involved with. Practical man that he is, Bob has already provided lots of tips on realizing the vision. However, he also repeatedly admits that implementation will vary depending on the background and character of the each church. So, here’s my own plan for realizing the vision in the local church I’m working with:

1. Preach on Romans 15:14
Bob’s exposition of this verse was perhaps my favorite section in his book, and powerfully persuaded me of the biblical grounds and realistic possibility of what he was advocating. This verse is a huge encouragement and challenge to the church of Christ.

2. Distinguish between formal and informal counseling
A lot of Christians are turned off or frightened by the term “counseling” and would be horrified at the thought of seeing themselves as a “counselor.” One way to overcome this barrier might be to change the “counseling” terminology to something like “Discipling One Another” (that’s the phrase I use in the course I’ve started teaching) or “Spiritual Friendship” or “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Even if we keep the term “counseling,” it’s vital to communicate the distinction Bob makes between formal and informal counseling:

Every member of every church should be equipped to speak the truth in love in small groups, in the foyer, over the backyard fence, at the dinner table, and at the diner—the informal model. Additionally, some members with gifting, passion, calling, and commitment may focus their ministry on intentional and intensive ongoing biblical counseling—the formal model [254].

3. Focus initially on building a culture of informal counseling
If you start by calling for volunteers for “Marriage Guidance / Bereavement / Terminal Illness Counseling Training,” then most folk will run in terror, and those who do volunteer are probably the wrong people. So, instead of rushing to get formal counseling classes off the ground, focus first on building a culture of informal counseling.

Challenge people to multiply the number of relationships they have with others in the church (why not add at least one new relationship each year or month?), and to deepen the nature of the relationships they have with others in the church. “Are they simply family relationships where you focus on sharing the latest family news? Are they business relationships where you usually talk about how your careers are going? Are they leisure/hobby relationships that major in fishing, hunting, shopping? Are they social or cultural relationships with an emphasis on the births, deaths, marriages and gossip in the community? Etc.,”

What we want to do is develop the spiritual quality of these relationships so that eventually Christians casually and easily enquire how others are doing spiritually and what their spiritual needs are, but also ask for, offer, and receive spiritual counsel.

4. Model informal counseling/spiritual friendships
We can encourage people along these lines by giving a good example of what “spiritual friendship” or “informal counseling” means in practice:

  • Tell people what you most recently read from your Bible or a Christian book and how it helped you.
  • Ask people what they have been struggling with and if there is anything you can do or pray for.
  • Educate people in what kinds of things to say/not say in specific situations (e.g. bereavement, depression, miscarriage, etc).
  • Share a meal with a person or a family and guide the conversation to spiritual matters.
  • When you read the Bible with anyone, just speak a few sentences of explanation or application.

5. Encourage people to start with family and friends
As perhaps many Christians have never really shared much from their spiritual experiences, nor felt comfortable asking people about their spiritual lives, maybe the best place to start is at home with family or with friends. Husbands and wives, why not make it a daily practice of sharing with one another at least one thing you read from the Bible each day. Ask your children what they would like you to pray for. Or ask your friends to pray for a specific need you have. Just begin to build confidence, vocabulary, and comfort in speaking about spiritual matters with one another and then gradually venture forth into other people’s lives as well.

6. Anticipate, listen to, and deal with objections
Any changes in churches usually involve some friction. Bob recognizes that and provides some great material in his book on managing change and resolving conflict. Tomorrow I’ll post seven objections that I tried to head off at the pass when introducing this concept to a church.

7. Share “37 Ways to Love One Another
On the subject of answering objections, Paul Tautges has put together a great blog post in which he gathers together 37 passages highlighting the huge biblical emphasis on horizontal relationships and responsibilities in the church. Which Christian can honestly look at these verses and not feel the cumulative pressure of the duty and privilege of ministering God’s Word to one another?

8. Identify and Train for Formal Counseling
As the “informal counseling” culture builds, it will help us to identify some to be equipped and trained for more “formal counseling” roles in specialized subjects. Maybe encourage people to start praying that the Lord would lay a special burden on their hearts for people with particular needs (e.g. depression, miscarriages, substance abuse, marital conflict, bereavement, long-term illness, etc).  Bob’s book provides a helpful template for identifying and training people for specific counseling roles. He also points to numerous teaching and equipping resources.

9. Keep the vision alive
Despite the length of time that all this will take, and despite the difficulties and discouragements that we will inevitably face, let’s try to keep Bob’s vision alive in our minds and in the minds of our congregtion as well. Let’s keep dreaming of a church full of Christians ministering the Word to one another both informally and formally, and then reaching out into the community with God’s healing words for a broken world.

Buy Equipping Counselors for your Church here and watch the book trailer here.