Good advice from the Journal of Biblical Counseling on how to helpfully counsel unbelievers. From J. Alasdair Groves' “How Do You Counsel Non-Christians?” which is well worth reading in its entirety:
- Don’t forget the obvious: know and love the person. Counseling involves building a friendship.
- Help the person look in the mirror. Ask good questions that help the person see their motivations and reinterpret their life.
- Find out what the person thinks about God. Very often, the person rejects a version of God who has very little to do with the God of the Bible.
Christmas made me a little sad this year. On one hand, everything could not have been better. Our five kids are healthy and happy. My wife is a blessing and marriage is joyful. All four of our parents were there and in good health. We had the resources to give gifts and have a great party with good friends. There was no tension, no pain, no hostility, just love and celebration. It was just about perfect.
So why was it a little bit sad? Because it can’t last. Even in the best moments (like Christmas) are tinged by the reality that there are no guarantees that you’ll get another one like it. That’s part of the tragedy of what happened in Newtown, CT. Health will fade. People we love will pass. Tragedy strikes. Relationships become difficult. Money goes. Death ruins everything, if I read Ecclesiastes correctly. Nothing gold can stay. Even the very best moments in this life are tinged with the sadness that they cannot last, will not last.
But all of this did give me a fresh hope for the new heavens and the new earth. How amazing it will be to experience for the first time joy utterly unalloyed with sorrow. How wonderful to enjoy love without the shadow of death!
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
I can’t wait.
I trust this is not true of all churches, but I have discovered that elder meetings can have an unexpectedly difficult social dynamic. There you sit at the table with a number of godly men. You are hashing out this or that issue. And somehow the room feels tense, even political!
“Why is he contradicting me?” “Is he just posturing?” “Why did he say it like that?” “What a jerk!”
Truth be told, you can see my own small-heartedness and sin in such responses. But I am confident I am not alone.
Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned about the social dynamic of elder meetings: fear of man sometimes keeps us from saying the things we should say, and fear of man sometimes provokes us to say things we shouldn’t.
Sam Allberry has written an insightful and compassionate article on how the gospel speaks to people who experience same-sex attraction.
His conclusion: There is a huge amount to say on this issue, but the main point is this: the moment you think following Jesus will be a poor deal for someone, you call Jesus a liar. Discipleship is not always easy. Leaving anything cherished behind is profoundly hard. But Jesus is always worth it.
You can read the whole thing here.
If you are in the mid-Atlantic region, you might want to check out the Gospel at Work conference. The goal of the conference is "to promote a biblical, healthy theology and practical application of work that seeks God's glory, the good of others, and our own joy."
9Marks speakers doing plenary talks include Mark Dever ("Work as Worship") and Michael Lawrence ("A Theology of Work"). Os Guiness ("The New Christian Renaissance"), Bob Doll ("Work as Discipleship"), and Eric Simmons ("Work as Faithfulness") are also giving plenaries.
And I will do a breakout session on authority, how to work for a bad boss, and how to be a good boss.
Are you really a Christian?
Goodness, that's a tough question to pose to someone who professes to be a believer. And handing them Mike McKinley's book Am I Really a Christian? can amount to that very thing.
I would not encourage you to knock on the door of every nominal believer you know and hand them this book, but can you think of one person who might be ready to RE-consider that question? Here's an encouraging story I received this weekend from a pastor:
Last night we had the privilege of baptizing Anne. Anne grew up in a legalistic church. In college, she was a diligent student but got caught up in the college scene and, having never truly trusted in Christ, fell into immorality.
However, during the summer of 2011, she came to DC to do a summer internship on the Hill. While there, she lived with her brother and attended your church. She was struck by how many people she saw worshipping Christ, loving the gospel, and truly living for their faith. It was the first time she heard the gospel faithfully taught and applied.
Here's where 9Marks comes in: when she left at the end of the summer, her brother gave her a copy of Am I Really a Christian? by Mike McKinley. Initially, Anne was frustrated with her brother, because she assumed she was a Christian, and she refused to give the book a look. But over Christmas break her mind changed. Intent upon proving him wrong, she read the book and realized she wasn't truly following Christ.
For some time she wrestled with the reality that she had no desire for Christ. But after much prayer and pleading from her brother and his wife, Anne ended up coming to our little church plant that her brother had found on the 9Marks Church Search map. After a few weeks of attending our church, Anne emailed me to get together to talk about "the process of true conversion and repentance."
I know you see the gospel change people's hearts regularly, but if you're like me, your heart breaks for those who hear the good news of Jesus Christ and walk away seemingly unchanged. I just wanted to let you know how God used your church, 9Marks, and Mike McKinley's book to lead one home that may have appeared to get away.
Can you think of just one friend who would benefit from Am I Really a Christian?
An old, but good prayer for the New Year from The Valley of Vision:
Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
but may rely on thy Spirit,
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth thy praise,
testify thy love,
advance thy kingdom.
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbour,
thee, O Son, at my helm,
thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.
Give me grace to sanctify me,
thy comforts to cheer,
thy wisdom to watch,
thy right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.
May thy fear be my awe,
thy triumphs my joy.
From Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word of God (2.8). If you’re looking for a profitable spiritual exercise this Christmas, try reading through this and stopping to praise God for the truth described in each sentence here:
But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father's Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own.
Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.
Every so often, I have conversations with some single guy or another who has his eyes on a great young lady but is concerned that he’s not “all that attracted to her”. Basically, he’s worried that if he pursues this woman he’s going to wind up spending his life in the nightmarish prison of a long-term, committed love relationship with someone that he doesn’t find to be extremely physically attractive.
I have little patience with this kind of conversation, so I’d like to offer four thoughts that may be helpful to you if you are this guy or if you know someone like him:
- Have you looked in the mirror lately? It’s unlikely that the paunch hanging over the waistband of your cargo shorts represents her idea of masculine perfection. And even if women are less hung up on physical appearances, you’re probably not the romantic and emotional connection she’s been dreaming of her whole life either. We’re all making compromises here, Jack.
- It could also be that all of the porn you’re looking at is warping your perception on this matter. You know that women don’t actually look like that, right? The virtuous, godly, stay-at-home wife with the body and moves of a porn star doesn’t exist anywhere except in your mind.
- The Bible says if you choose a wife based on appearances rather than character, you’re a moron (Proverbs 31:30).
- We can choose to be attracted to our spouse. We don’t need to let beauty be defined by Madison Avenue or the Internet. Just because our culture declares something to be beautiful or unattractive doesn’t make it so. The Bible tells us to delight in our wives and their bodies (Proverbs 5:18). Your wife should be beautiful to you because she is your wife.
The question “How hot is she?” seems to be one that only single men ask (though I guess the recently departed and little mourned “young-pastor-bragging-about-his-smoking-hot-wife” phenomenon didn’t help). It’s just not that big a deal to well-adjusted married people. If you find a woman who loves Jesus, whose company you enjoy, and who will be a faithful companion through the joys and trials of life… you should probably marry her. If she'll have you.