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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