Thursday, September 21, 2017

What is Idolatry?

Golden calves and false gods

If you're like me you don’t normally spend your day thinking about idolatry. In fact, most of us don’t even give it a thought and if we do, we think of the Old Testament—golden calves and people worshipping “false gods.”

But idolatry is deeply intertwined with most sins we embrace. Our hearts, the mission control center of everything we do (Proverbs 4:23), are prone to idolatry. We are worshippers by nature and many of us live every day choosing to love something else more than we love God. The problem is we are deceived and we don’t usually see our own idols unless we intentionally seek them out.

Scripture on Idolatry

The apostle Paul describes idolatry in terms of an exchange:

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator who is forever praised” (Romans 1:25).

The first commandment speaks to idolatry:

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

And Jesus states the great and foremost commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37-38).

Idolatry has to do with love—loving God and serving others. If what we love most is not God then it is idolatry. Our hearts are to be set completely on God. We are to love God with everything and give him our undivided complete devotion (Matthew 16:24,25).

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

Remarkably, In the book of 1 John, John writes about what genuine fellowship with Christ looks like and then ends his letter with a warning about something he hasn’t even mentioned:

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

In other words, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. Why? Because nothing but God will satisfy your heart (Psalm 90:14, 63:5).

Idolatry robs God of the glory that he alone deserves (by allowing a person or thing to capture our heart, mind, or affections more than God).

What does an idol look like today?

So what does idolatry look like in your own life? Is there conflict in your relationships? Your idolatry, my idolatry, takes a huge toll on our relationships. Your wife, husband, children, friends, co-workers, or fellow students are affected by your idolatry. What we want the most, what we desire the most, affects our relationships. It impacts everything whether we choose to admit it or not.
You are an idolater and so am I.

Paul Tripp says,

“Do you have any conflict in your life? Do you experience moments of irritation toward someone you would otherwise love? Are there people who simply push your buttons more than others? Do certain things drive you crazy on a daily basis? The answer to all these questions is that we think of our lives as our own and we are more committed to the purposes of our OWN kingdom than we are to God’s. We need to recognize that the people in our way have been sent to us by a wise and sovereign God. He never gets a wrong address and he always chooses just the right moment to expose our hearts so he can realign it to his” (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands).

It's easy to love people who are easy to love, but God puts people in our lives who hurt us and are difficult so that he can expose our hearts. When someone does something we don’t like, when we are hurt or discouraged, or when our marriage isn’t what it used to be, it is then that we find out 1) what we believe about God in the circumstance, 2) what we believe about self—our rights, goals, desires, and 3) what we believe about what is important to us.

Conflict, harshness, and pain exposes what is in our hearts. How we react reveals who rules our heart. Do we focus on what we think we deserve or how we were wronged and treat that person poorly or do we focus solely on pleasing God and serving and loving that person?
When something no longer deepens and intensifies our love for Christ it begins to compete with Christ. What do you live for? If God is in his rightful place our lives WILL function the way he has designed us.

We were made to find our greatest joy in God not in things or in other people.
“O God...earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you... Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” (Psalm 63:1–5)

How to identify idols

What could be an idol in your life? These questions can help you determine if a desire has become an idol in place of God:
  1. If you are unhappy, what do you believe will make you happy? How would you answer- “I will be happy if ________.”
  2. Do you parent with idols in your heart? Do you not want to be disagreed with? Do you not like your comfort compromised?
  3. What do you love?
  4. What do you live for?
  5. What most satisfies you?
  6. What prevents God from having first place in your life?
  7. What do you think about the most?
  8. If you lost ________would it rattle you? “What would happen if you lost ________?”
Below are a few examples of wants and desires.
Are you willing to sin to get any of these? Are you willing to sin if you think you are going to lose any? Do you run to these for refuge instead of God?
  • Having the perfect house
  • Looking a certain way
  • Being recognized at work
  • Having the latest iPhone
  • Getting married
  • Approval of other people
  • A hobby
  • The best lawn in the neighborhood
  • Appreciation
  • Success in business
  • A spouse
  • Happiness
  • Security
  • Good grades

Call to action

So the real question is:
  • Do you Love God with all your heart?
  • Do you DESIRE to love God with all your heart?
God has never been willing to share his WORTHINESS with any other “gods.” Be honest if other “gods” are fighting for your loyalty, your energy, your love and your devotion. If there is chaos (ungodly emotions, relationship conflict, lack of peace, security, hope, joy) in your life, are you willing to ask God to work on your heart so these idols are put back where they belong? The good gifts from God were never meant to be masters but servants.

Pursue God. Love him. Enjoy his gifts!

About the author

Karen McMahonKaren McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her three children and their 12 year old yellow lab...and sushi too.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

David vs. Goliath: “Perception Problem” - 1 Samuel 17

If there is one story that is well known to believers and unbelievers alike, it would be the story of David and Goliath.   The story of 
David and Goliath has become the stereotypical expression for events with matchups that include a likely winner and a likely loser.  Even if someone doesn’t know the story completely they know what commentators mean when they describe an event as a matchup between David and Goliath.  What can a believer learn from such a familiar narrative in the Bible? In this short blog, I would like to unpack how this familiar story can be applied and diagrammed for those facing what appears to them as insurmountable challenges in life.

Setting the Stage

Old Testament narratives are designed to instruct, encourage and instill hope.  The Apostle Paul says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).  Therefore, this story, along with many other O.T. narratives are intended to be historical records which instill hope in God.[i]   The characters in the story play an important role in leading the reader to this outcome.  As Fee and Stuart point out, “God is the hero of all biblical narratives.”[ii]  Samuel sovereignly records this because it was an opportunity for God’s people to remember that they must hope in God.  Remember, the story serves a similar purpose for us.

We must put our hope in the true God.  
The one who is with us, even when we think all is lost.

Saul and Israel’s Fear

The narrative begins in the valley of Elah.  The Israelites on one side and Israel on the other (1 Samuel 17:3).  Both armies ready themselves for battle.  Then comes a man from the Philistines named Goliath.  His size, his strength, his armor, and his words struck fear into the hearts of the Israelite army (1 Samuel 17:11,32).   Saul was now advanced in years and would certainly not be able to represent God’s people.  Someone would have to fight this Giant.  The one who would be able to kill this giant would find riches, honor, and marriage to the King’s daughter.
It is interesting to note what fear can do to those who lose hope.  As soon as they took their eyes off trusting in God and put them on this Giant their hearts melted with fear.  Fear and worry can easily melt the heart of anyone who believes that their God is too small to care for a problem so big.  Take notice in the story that you don’t hear a call to fast and pray to the Lord.  Saul isn’t found seeking direction from God.  Instead, Saul decided to seek to resolve the challenge by seeking a warrior from Israel brave enough to fight this giant.  Fear and worry often lead us to try solving the problems we face in our way.  Before we become too self-righteous, thinking we would never respond in such a way, perhaps we should ask ourselves a question:

  1. Do you and I always turn immediately to the Lord when our problems seem too much to bear?

  1. Have you found yourself consumed with trying to figure out how you will solve the problem you are facing but then after trying it your own way recognize that you must trust in the Lord for the help?  

Israel was in a real predicament.  Lives were at stake.  The problem before them was so great that they struggled looking to the Lord. They needed to trust in the God of Israel who brought them out of the land of Egypt and helped them in the conquest of the promise land.

Isn’t it interesting how we tend to forget what God has done in the past during a problem!

God in his loving mercy shows kindness by helping lift our spirits in unexpected ways.

 Israel’s gracious God is about to lift his people’s spirit by an unexpected shepherd boy.

David’s Faith

David, who was obviously not old enough to go to war continued to tend the sheep back home (1 Samuel 17:20).  His father asked David to take provisions to his brothers who had went to war.  Shortly after David arrived Goliath came out and continued to taunt Israel.  David also saw his size, his strength, his armor, and heard his words, but they did not lead him to fear as it had done with Saul and the Israelites.  David responds by saying, “Who is this Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God.”  His response spread through the camp until it fell on the ears of King Saul.  As David stands before Saul he says, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him.  Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”  What incredible faith in the living God!  What a different perspective of the problem.

 When David saw this problem, he viewed it through the eyes of faith.  Oh, that we could be like David when we face challenges.  If believers desire to respond like this, we too must look at our problems with eyes of faith.  God allows trials in our lives to strengthen our faith not destroy it (James 1:2-3).  Unfortunately, the only thing that Saul could see was David’s outer appearance.  This young man had the faith in God that King Saul should have expressed.  An unexpected shepherd boy, with extraordinary faith.  He shares with Saul how God had protected in the past and that he will protect him against this Philistine.  David says, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).  

Looking through the eyes of faith helped him maintain his hope in the Lord while others hearts were full of fear.  The faith of David ought to remind us that…

The same God who has taken care of us in the past will take care of us in the present and into the future.  

Saul tries to talk David out of fighting this giant, but he could not change his mind.  Even if there are others around who are discouraging us, our faith can strengthen our perspective. As David walked out onto the battle that day to a taunting giant cursing his God, his faith gave him strength.  He said, “The Lord will deliver you into my hand.”   David’s God was bigger than this giant.  Goliath was just a small problem that David’s God could handle.  His desire was that “all would know that there is a God in Israel (1 Samuel 17:46).  David acted because that is what people of faith do.  

People of faith don’t have to live in fear and worry.  
They must put their hope in the Lord and act in faith like David.  

What Can We Learn!
Our problems often reveal our personal perception of God and reveal the kind of faith that is in our hearts.  It is important to remember that our trials do have a purpose in our lives.  These moments are opportunities to trust in the living God.  Like David, most of us could recount ways God has cared and protected us in the past.  Remembering and reflecting on these moments should fuel our faith and keep us from shrinking back in fear.  The story of David and Goliath also ought to remind us of God’s care for his people.  We ought to be amazed with God’s care and protection of his people even while they were not trusting in him.  We have a God filled with mercy and grace who cares deeply and loves us even when we don’t deserve it.  The Lord protects David from Goliath, restores hope in the living God to His people, and sustains the one who’s line the King of Kings would come.  

Remember, your perception of God matters when you face challenges.  
Our God is so big, his love is great, and his steadfast love will remain forever.


1.      How do your trials reveal your personal perception of God?

2.      How has God demonstrated his care for you in the past and present?

3.      What thoughts consume your mind when you are facing a trial?

4.      What is the difference between someone who trusts and someone who fears?  How does this impact your testimony of the living God?

5.      How does the story of David and Goliath encourage you to hope in God?

6.      Look up Hebrews 13:5-6, 1 Peter 5:7, Isaiah 43:1-3, and Job 23:8-10 and reflect on God’s gracious promises.

Note: The complete PowerPoint Teaching Diagram can be found in the BC-Alliance Online Resource Center.  

Written by: Josh Stephens – Executive Director – Biblical Counseling Alliance

[i] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 869.

[ii] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 106.

Monday, August 14, 2017

BC-Alliance: Interactive Focus Groups

Biblical Expectation:

Proverb 27:17, “As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Two Dimensional Approach:

Biblical Instruction: The first portion of the instructional time is geared toward examining a subject/topic biblically.  The BCA is devoted to the Scriptures declaration of being sufficient for every area of our life (2 Peter 1:3).   This time will take place through a 45-minute teaching format.  It is our hope that each attendee will be actively engaged in “renewing their mind” for the glory of God. 

Relational Interaction: As the instructional time comes to an end, there will be a short break as we shift gears to the interactive dimension of the evening.  The interactive groups will last 45-minutes as well.  This portion of the evening is where the attendees will have the opportunity to interactively sharpen each other through guided group discussion. 

  • Each group will be led by a team from the BCA regional board to aid in maintaining the focus of the topic. 
  • They will also allow you to be introduced to others who are actively engaged in discipleship/counseling in different ministries in the area. 
  •  A relational network of biblically minded Christians who can provide help and consultation to each other.  Each of us know different people in different locations with different needs.  These friendships will also provide you the opportunity to refer someone you care about to a ministry/individual that will make biblical change the priority. 

One of the ways you can help us prepare is to head to and register for the Interactive Focus Group so that we can prepare well for your arrival.   The second way is to encourage others to come with you.  The first four months are open for everyone to come and enjoy for FREE.  After this period, the cost is only $5 for those not holding a level 2, 3, or 4 membership to the BCA.  We hope to see you there!     

Josh Stephens

Executive Director

Biblical Counseling Alliance

Monday, February 13, 2017

What is Biblical Love? 

The holiday of love, Valentine's Day, is almost here again. It’s a day when people show feelings of love, affection and friendship for each other. Red and pink hearts, roses, and statues of Cupid are what seem to symbolize the feeling of romance and love on Valentine’s Day. But sadly the world has cheapened the meaning of love. The world promotes many false ideas about love: love is a feeling, love is sex, love happens when you are fulfilled, you can only love others if you love yourself first, if it's love it will knock you off your feet...The American Heritage Dictionary defines love as "an intense affection for another person based on familial or personal ties."
But are any of these “biblical love”? And what is biblical love?
Real love, as expressed in Scripture, is so much more than a feeling. God deliberately chose to express his love to us. What is the greatest expression of love? The greatest expression of love is the love that Jesus Christ showed for his bride, the church. Christ willingly left heaven and came to earth, lived a perfect sinless life to suffer and die for us, taking the punishment that we deserve. Jesus Christ demonstrated his love by dying for us. Biblical love is active and self-sacrificing.

Love does not depend on a feeling

Love is giving, love is sacrificial:
  • God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son… (John 3:16)
  • He loved me and gave himself up for me…(Galatians 2:20)
  • Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)
  • God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)
Christ’s love is demonstrated on the cross. He loved when he could have justly condemned. Christ gave and provided richly for us. He pursues and actively does us good.
God gave us two commands:
  1. Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength
  2. And love your neighbor as the way you already love yourself
What does biblical love look like practically?
We show our love for Christ by submitting and serving him out of love and by loving others sacrificially—a sacrifice of our rights and interests for the other person’s good. A sacrifice to not follow our natural inclinations to return evil for evil, to consider others better than self and seek to live in peace with everyone. A love that wants to make wrongs right, that strives to be patient and kind, not insisting on its own way or rehashing a wrong done. A love that suffers long and is kind, that does not envy or parade itself, is not puffed up or behaves rudely. A love that  is not provoked, that thinks no evil and bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.
This kind of love is countercultural. It is not the world’s love. Loving like this is a high calling and we cannot do it. It is not natural. We need the Holy Spirit’s power to love the way Christ loved.
Thankfully, God’s love does not depend upon what we do; it depends solely on…

What Jesus Christ did!

Christ loved us when we were not worthy to be loved (Ephesians 2:1–3; Romans 5:8,10; 1 John 4:10). He loved us when we were still sinners. Christ-like love (agape) is not merely a feeling or a passion—it is a commitment. We are to imitate that love by being the initiator in love; we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our love for others should not depend on what they do or whether they deserve love or not. We did nothing to deserve Christ's loving sacrifice; we deserved hell and Christ gave us life.
Meditating on some of the ways in which Christ has loved his church should spur us on to love like the One who loved us first:
  • He has given me abundant life (John 10:10)
  • He has demonstrated His love for me through His actions towards me and for me (Romans 5:8)
  • He has freed me from the bonds of sin and released me from the destiny of hell (Romans 6)
  • He gave himself for me (Ephesians 5:25; Romans 5:8)
  • He continues to intercede before God on my behalf (Romans 8:34)
  • He has accepted me in Christ (1 Peter 2:5)
  • He was made a Savior that he might be with me (Matthew 1:23)
  • He gave himself up for my transgressions (Romans 4:25; Galatians 1:4)
  • He paid the ransom for my debt of sin (1 Timothy 2:6)
  • He offers gentle patience to bring me to repentance (Romans 2; Psalm 25:18)
  • He has reconciled me to him (2 Corinthians 5:18–21; Colossians 1:20–23)
  • He has forgiven me (Ephesians 1:7; 4:31–32)
  • He has provided me the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) to teach me and comfort me
  • He has chosen me to be counted holy and blameless by him (Ephesians 1:3–6)
  • He has made me a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • He has justified me—given me His imputed righteousness (Romans 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:2)
  • He has given me abundant life (John 10:10)
  • He’s cancelled out all my debt: (Colossians 2:13–14)

Go and do the same

Let us not love like the world loves, but let us love like Christ did. Giving freely what we have freely received from God:
  • Sacrificially–sacrificing rights and interests for someone’s good whether they deserve it or not
  • As we love ourself–caring for and meeting others needs
  • In action–demonstrating not just with words but actions—giving of self, time, attention
May the Holy Spirit empower you to love with a love that is not your own this Valentine's Day. May this love be a heart attitude given to others for the glory of God. That's biblical love.

About the author

Karen McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her three children and their 12 year old yellow lab...and sushi too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Are you enjoying a transparent community?

Posted on January 25, 2017 by Karen McMahon in Healthy Faith.

This last week I was reflecting on the horrible punishment of solitary confinement. Nearly every state uses some form of solitary confinement to control prisoners. I read about a research study at McGill University that paid a group of male graduate students to stay in small chambers equipped with only a bed for an experiment on sensory deprivation in isolation. They could leave to use the bathroom, but that’s all. They wore goggles and earphones to limit their sense of sight and hearing, and gloves to limit their sense of touch. The plan was to observe students for six weeks, but not one student lasted more than seven days. Nearly every student lost the ability “to think clearly about anything for any length of time,” while several others began to suffer hallucinations.
The findings were not surprising. God created us as relational beings. He also knows the human heart and warns us what happens when we isolate.
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1).
Like those graduate students in the controlled study, our isolation will cause unclear and distorted thinking about everything.

We were created for community

One of the most intrinsic qualities God put into us is a desire for community. God designed us to live the Christian life in community. It is one of the graces God gives us to fully experience Him—our most important relationship.
But we were not only created to desire community, we need a community where we can feel safe to self-disclose, to seek counsel and to give counsel.
In our church we intentionally seek to build and knit life in koinonia; in fellowship, in community. This community living looks different for everyone but we know it is essential for growth in Christlikeness. Our goal is an open, redemptive community. Sinners saved by His grace doing life together—imperfectly.
We need others to help us grow and mature (Galatians 6:1).

Authentic community takes time

How would you describe your community? Are your close relationships spurring you on towards Christlikeness? Are your companions compassionately helping you to work through sins and struggles biblically? Do they even know you struggle?
I was talking to a couple after church and they mentioned the pain they were going through with a rebellious adult child. They had recently formed new connections in the church and were looking forward to having an authentic community that would counsel and support them. The body of Christ should be that for them and I pray that happens.
But authenticity can take time. We don’t self-disclose easily. “Can I trust you,” “How will you respond when I reveal the real me,” and “Are you going to judge me,” are some questions we may wrestle with.
Maybe you're afraid? Some of us have been hurt in the past when we were open and vulnerable. We may hide the truth because we don’t want sins exposed.
We need to remember that because of the fall, being open and authentic is not natural. What is natural is to hide and cover (fig leaves) because we don’t want to be naked and ashamed (Genesis 2:25). We fear being judged or gossiped about, and might wonder if we share our struggle will someone be competent enough to help us?
Whatever the hesitancy is, we promote transparency by being transparent.
When someone comes to me for help I want to make sure nothing hinders them from being transparent. If they think I don’t struggle or have it all together when we first meet they certainly know better when they leave. Like Paul, I remind them “...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of which I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). I'm a sinner who needs a Savior.

Who knows the real you?

In your church, in your small group, in your marriage, are you transparent? Do you let people know the areas in which you are weak? Do they know you have an anger problem? Struggle with lust? Does your small group know your marriage is on the rocks or that your child is rebelling and you are hurting?
We are deceived if we think we can do this Christian life alone. We cannot. God put us into the body of Christ and we need this grace as we pursue holiness. Intentionality is key.
I love the word intentional.
  1. Are you intentionally building and knitting your life in the community of authentic like-minded believers?
  2. Have you intentionally landed in a relationship that keeps you accountable and welcomes you to hold them accountable?
Being transparent in community is part of the Gospel-centered life. We are saved alone (individually) but we are not saved to be alone. We are to live our life in Christ with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means our closest relationships should be motivating us to love God more, love others more than self, and walk in a manner worthy of His calling (Ephesians 4:1–3; 5:1–2).

Questions to ponder?

  1. Do you see your need for connectedness?
  2. Are you experiencing true community where you are receiving biblical help for struggles?
  3. Are you growing in Christlikeness? Progressively changing day to day through the help of others?
  4. Do others know the areas you need their support in?
  5. What hinders authentic biblical fellowship for you?
  6. What is the risk of not having koinonia?
Maybe you are blessed to have a solid biblical like-minded community. Here are questions you can work through to help each other grow and change. God does the growing, but we have our part to play.

Questions to ask each other

  1. What are you reading and studying in addition to your quiet time that is deepening your relationship with God? Tell me about what that looks like in your life?
  2. In what ways have you sensed God’s activity in your life? What is he doing?
  3. Are you reaching out telling others about Christ?
  4. What has been your greatest disappointment since we last met? How have you handled this?
  5. Is there any hatred, bitterness, spite, resentment, or unforgiveness in your heart toward another person? Have you gossiped about any person or situation?
  6. How have you managed your tongue? Have you been sharp, unkind, or said things you should not have said to anyone? Have you used language that is inappropriate (swearing, laughing at inappropriate jokes)? Have you compromised your integrity in any way by your speech?
  7. How have you served others since we last met?
  8. Are you spending too much time at work or in other activities at the expense of family, others, and your spiritual life?
  9. Have you spent good quantity and quality time with your spouse, children, mother or father? What have you done since we last met to enhance relationships? Are you praying together?
  10. Are you giving to the Lord’s work financially? Have you misused your finances by buying things you don’t need at the expense of your tithe and other responsibilities?
Click here for the full word document of questions.
It is impossible to enjoy complete koinonia if we are not willing to be transparent.

About the author

Karen McMahonKaren McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her three children and their 12 year old yellow lab...and sushi too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Seeking Godly Counsel!

I am certain you have experienced those moments in your life where you need to make a decision and you simply respond without seeking God's counsel.  Perhaps you have experienced one of those moments where you just can't seem to find your keys.  As you rant and rave about where they have gone, someone in your household asks you, "HAVE YOU PRAYED ABOUT IT."  On such occasions I say to myself, "Why didn't I think of that."  To often it is easy to get angry, worry, or fear over these small or large situations when we have the opportunity to seek the Lord.  Our propensity to think we can handle life situations on our own tends to permeate much of our thinking even after salvation.  Whether your situation appears small and inconsequential or large and overwhelming it is important to bring these decisions before the Lord.  Romans 11:34-36 expresses God's majestic wisdom in comparison to mankind.  

God doesn't need our advice, we need His!

There has never been a point in which God has needed counsel or advice from us.  We on the other hand, are in desperate need of God's counsel.  James 1:5 declares, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." Seeking Godly Counsel is incredibly important to our Christian walk.  Pursuing after God's wisdom expresses our need for God and His wisdom.  When we ask for wisdom to do what is right, for the right reason our God will generously give it to us.  This leads us to an important biblical principle. 

Seeking God's Wisdom expresses our dependence on God rather than our desire to be independent from God. 
The book of Joshua in the Old Testament records a stunning story of Israels conquest of the land that God promised to give them.  The people of the land had been wicked for years and God had commanded the people to take possession of it.  The conquest started with Jericho, then, Ai, and would soon enter the region of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9).  The Gibeonites deceive Joshua and the elders into making a covenant with them only to find out later that they were actually the people from the next city they were supposed to conquer.  I believe that Joshua 9:14 gives the moral of this story within the conquest.  Joshua writes, "So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD."  It is quite impressive that Joshua would record such a leadership blunder so that we would be reminded of how important it is to seek counsel from the Lord.  This leads us to another biblical principle. 

Forgetting to seek Godly counsel can have perilous consequences.

Believers will never get to a point where they are not in need of God's wisdom for their lives.  It is our responsibility to express our dependence on God by remembering to ask regularly for His wisdom so that He can guide us by His Truth.  

Practical Application: 

Am I characterized as a person who seeks God's wisdom in both large and small circumstances?

What situations are you currently in need of God's Wisdom?

Are you asking God for His Wisdom with the right motive? 

How quickly do you recognize your need for God's counsel?

Am I seeking worldly counsel before I seek Godly counsel?

Are the people you seek counsel from influenced by the world's wisdom or God's wisdom?

Josh Stephens 
BC Alliance: Executive Director

Josh serves as Senior Pastor of Community Baptist Church. He graduated with an M.A. in Biblical Counseling and an M. Div. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Biblical Counseling from Southern Baptist Theological Seminar. Josh is certified as a Biblical Counselor through ABC and ACBC.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I’m a Biblical Counselor and I’m (Depressed) Sad

What ever happened to the word sad? It seems like it’s been lost. We don’t use the word much anymore but instead describe a variety of our emotional experiences with the broader word “depressed.”
Personally, I don’t really like the word depressed because it has various shades of meaning. I know my own personal experience can never be captured by a single word nor can one word describe this intense struggle many have and seek help for.
In my own life and in counseling others I don’t avoid the word depressed, but I’m careful to use Scriptures’ detailed word pictures instead when speaking to the experience. God’s Word throughout has a biblical language that tells of depression so by using His terms “depression” is packaged with biblical meaning.
  • Suffering, downcast
  • Despair, sadness
  • Apathy, numbness
  • Fear, anxiety
  • Emptiness, brokenness, loneliness

God speaks to depression

Trying to make sense of depression is no easy task, and if you struggle with it or are helping a loved one who struggles, it will take time, love, and mercy.
I’m so glad God’s Word gives us counsel and speaks to depression at length! The Bible describes the experience of depression from Genesis to Revelation. Just examine the lives of Job, Elijah, King David, Jonah, Cain, Hannah, King Saul, and Jesus Christ. Their lives reveal the experience of depression in an intimate and expressive way.
“My soul thirsts for God...why are you cast down O my soul and why are you in turmoil within me.” Psalm 42:2,5
She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly…’O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant…’”
1 Samuel 1:10–11

We live in a fallen world

There are those who think it's wrong for believers to ever struggle with distress, sadness, heavy sorrow or even gloom that affects their daily life. They think of Paul who says, “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and see being depressed as not rejoicing in the Lord.
But throughout Scripture it teaches that joy and sorrow can exist in our hearts at the same time. We can rejoice in our blessings in Christ while feeling the distress of trials. The two can coexist. I know this because it hits personally. All this year I’ve been feeling the heavy burden of distress while rejoicing in my blessings in Christ. I have had joyful sorrow in the midst of a tragic loss.
“A time to weep and a time to laugh…” Ecclesiastes 3:4
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while if necessary you have been distressed by various trials.” 1 Peter 1:6
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed…” 2 Corinthians 4:8–11
Because we have fallen bodies and fallen natures depression can have a physical or spiritual cause, or combination of both. There is no doubt that true medical problems can depress a person’s mood, so we need to be obedient to Scripture; be a good steward of our bodies and make sure a doctor rules out an organic issue for the cause of our depression. With that ruled out, we then need to take a serious look at the spiritual cause.

A functional unbelief

What causes spiritual depression? Simply, it’s a heart and behavior issue. We believe but help our unbelief (Mark 9:23). What is functional unbelief? It’s belief that says “I must have something other than God and His promises.” It is hoping and trusting in _____ (fill in the blank). It says...
  • God is not good enough to save or
  • God is not good enough to satisfy
Spiritual depression is a functional unbelief that the Gospel justifies or satisfies. It is an unbelief in what the Gospel has done for a person applied to daily life. It is a struggle one has to believe and trust in God.
Regaining a Godward focus and bringing the Gospel to bear on a heart that is controlled by something or someone other than God is what’s needed. We are all prone to Gospel drift. When weary, crushed and despairing it is the Gospel which is the power of God that takes us from being weary and crushed. (Philippians 2:12-13).
What does it look like to functionally believe? It begins with a clear understanding that we are rebels who need rescuing by a merciful God.
  • God is that good that He saved us and
  • God is that good that we can be satisfied in Him no matter what happens in our life

Turning from misplaced hope in loss

Let's address one cause of spiritual depression—misplaced hope. We can have misplaced hope in sadness over loss. Loss of anything.
Our memory is powerful. It can both bless and haunt us. Loss can lead to depression if left unchecked. Loss of things like a valued job, good health, a spouse because of divorce, responsibilities due to aging, finances, a house, or in my case, a husband through death.
Depression can also result from a psychological desire that is lost or a desire for something that becomes a “need” and an unmet need can result in depression. This could happen if a desire for love or approval from others is unmet, wanting and not getting recognized in school or at work, a lack of respect from a spouse or child, seeking and not getting admiration from others, or the small daily losses of living with a distant spouse. These psychological losses can cause our hearts to forget the Gospel and drift to a focus on sinful desire - satisfying self through people and circumstances.
We need to turn daily from misplaced hope in loss and ask if our hope is in people or things instead of God? We need to examine our response in grief and loss and ask if we are depressed due to the effects of a loss or unmet desire? If so, how God honoring is our response to that loss - despair, isolation, hopelessness?
It matters how we think about all losses because our thinking produces emotions and actions. If we try to satisfy self outside of the Gospel and our ultimate hope is in things or a person, we will be controlled by what we desire most. Being controlled by anything other than God will not satisfy. Only Christ truly satisfies (Psalm 107:8-9).

Fight, fight, fight

You and I need biblical thinking in all areas of life. Like the Psalmist in Psalm 119, I need to intentionally fight through daily bouts of wrong thinking caused by loss. If I don’t fight against wayward thoughts and rest in what truly satisfies and can never be taken away, I will despair.
When self talk has my ear, I begin to doubt that God is good and question what has happened.  My feelings can consume and my focus switches from vertical (God) to horizontal - my circumstances.
There is no doubt loss and sadness hurts. The feelings are real. But sadness has purpose (Joseph, Nehemiah) and hope is found in the One who knows and has a plan (John 11:4). We can press on in sadness and grow in grace.

Only two ways to respond to trials

When trials and testing come we have two choices. Either we trust in the sovereign God who loves and cares for us, or we trust in self by listening to the lies of our heart. We trusted in Christ for our salvation, why do we find it so difficult to trust in Him for our sanctification (change)?
This trust IS A CHOICE. We must choose what to think about. Choose to be reminded of our identity in the Gospel (who we are in Christ) and speak truth about God, His redeeming love, His provision, and His character to our hearts. God has promised to provide for those who belong to Him and we must minute by minute choose to remember and preach that truth to our hearts.
Being downcast is not wrong in itself unless we are sinning because of it. Feeling depressed is not automatically sin unless we are controlled by these feelings. Jesus felt depressed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “...He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…” Matthew 26:37–38. But He intentionally (despite His turmoil) submitted His will to the Father, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” Luke 22:44.

The Gospel focus

Know this, the presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of spiritual depression. But God intends to use pain and trials to shape us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9–10) and always available to help.
We must learn how to fight through times of difficulty by mind renewal and heart change. Know that Jesus knows all our troubles. Reach out and seek help from your family of faith or find a pastor, elder, or biblical counselor. Daily be reminded of who you are in Christ. Serve others despite feelings because serving others will take the focus off of self—Christ came to serve not to be served. Cultivate gratitude in everything (Ephesians 5:15–21) and…
Fight the good fight of faith in His power.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope” 1 Thessalonians 4:13.

About the author

Karen McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her three children and their 12 year old yellow lab...and sushi too.

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