Who are you? Leave me a comment.

Hello!

I am leaving for Youth Camp in Albania for 2 weeks. Will blog when I get back.

It is always fun checking the StatCounter to see who is reading my blog, and where they are from.🙂 I’ve noticed that while most of the people clicking here are from the US, a number of my readers are from Albania and a couple from Germany. This really interests me, and I’d like to know who you are!!

Please leave me a comment, and tell me who you are and how you happened across my lowly corner of the blogosphere. Thank you, and nice to “meet” you!

God Has No ‘Foster Children’

SevFoster Childreneral years ago, I read a book called “Three Little Words,” a memoir of a girl’s horrific childhood in the foster care system. Eventually she was adopted, as a teen, by a loving family. (This wasn’t something I read for pleasure – it was on my daughter’s public school summer reading list, and I was screening it.) While the material was inappropriate for 13-year-olds, it was a painfully raw and all-too-accurate glimpse of what some foster children experience.

Being shuffled through countless homes of indifferent or abusive foster parents obviously scars children. They come to see themselves as unloved, and presumably unlovable. Even the fortunate ones who are adopted face problems – they cannot trust adults, believe that they are loved, or understand what a permanent place in a family means. Many adoptions are actually disrupted when youngsters lash out and display belligerent behavior. Growing up in foster care means existing in constant limbo. Natural parents who don’t come through and foster parents who aren’t “for keeps” breed a deep-seated insecurity. Foster children often expect to be rejected – even after adoption.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter, the author of this particular memoir, describes an incident of teenage rebellion some time after her adoption had been finalized. When confronted by her parents, her first thought was that the adoption was over. She had long since steeled her heart against loving or being loved by anyone, and spent the first several years of her family life waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. She anticipated another rejection and ultimate return to the group home. Against her expectations and previous life experience, her parents assured her that she was irrevocably their daughter, and that it was high time to drop the “poor orphan” act. (They then punished her for her infraction).

That was the turning point for Ashley. Finally, she was able to begin building trust in her mother and father, knowing that no matter how “bad” she was, there was nothing she could do to make them reject her.

An awful lot of Christians are walking around with a “foster child” mentality, it seems to me. This is a mindset I’ve encountered in counseling, and it’s something I have fallen prey to myself at times. What we need to internalize is this: we are adopted sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ, and have a permanent place in the family (Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5; and John 8:35, respectively). Why is this so hard to believe? My answer, and it’s a fairly simplistic one, is because it takes humility to see this.

We did nothing to earn our status as His children; it was all of His grace…completely, freely, and lavishly bestowed on the unlovely delinquents we were when He found us. Pride wants us to earn our keep; to do something that will merit God’s approval. This is the carnal nature that prompted the Prodigal Son’s request to be made a hired servant. Humility, on the other hand, rejoices in the fact that we are fully known, completely loved, and sealed with the spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). We can cry “Abba, Father” no matter how distant we may feel from God, because He has set His love on us for Christ’s sake (Romans 1:5) and called us His own (Isaiah 43:1; 1 John 3:2). In fact, He loves us even as He loves His only begotten Son, Jesus (John 16:27).

By human standards, this is a difficult concept to grasp. Repeated rejection by human authority figures (and especially by parents) can pervert one’s view of a benevolent God. Nevertheless, the One Who has redeemed our unworthy selves loves us unconditionally, and has made our identity secure. Legal adoption is a binding covenant. John 1:12-13 illustrates this clearly:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

We have assurance that God really is as good as He says He is. He will never reject any who come to Him (John 6:37).

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ” Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

Foster children are literally slaves to fear. They live in constant anticipation of the next infraction – or whim of the legal system – to be the end of whatever tenuous family situation they are in. How does this sad mindset play itself out in a child of God?

Shame.

Guilt over failure and indwelling sin drives the insecure Christian away from the Cross, rather than towards it. He or she cannot face a God who is still perceived as a righteous Judge rather than a loving Father. God is both, of course; but what the fearful believer fails to grasp practically is that His righteous judgment has already been poured out on Christ, and there is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1). She fails to realize that her sin was already foreseen by God, has been forgiven, and is no longer held against her. As Jerry Bridges writes,

…He is, as it were, coming alongside me saying, “We are going to work on that sin, but meanwhile I want you to know that I no longer count it against you.” God is no longer my Judge; He is now my Heavenly Father, who loves me with a self-generated, infinite love, even in the face of my sin.

Pride.

While on the surface shame and pride may seem at odds with each other, actually they work in tandem. When a Christian sees herself as a foster child of God, she will seek to avoid Him when plagued with guilt – at least until she can “get her act together” enough to approach Him. However, it is actually the height of arrogance to believe that there is ever a time when we are more acceptable to God than another. Putting merit in our own works-righteousness or penance actually demeans the centrality of the Cross. C. J. Mahaney writes,

Paul called himself “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16). He wasn’t paralyzed by condemnation. He was exalting God’s grace by recognizing his own unworthiness and sin as he marveled at the mercy of God.

Fear of Man and People-Pleasing.

A child of God who does not realize her true identity is constantly anxious about where she stands with God. Desperately trying to earn the favor of her Father, which she doesn’t recognize she already has, she tries to impress others or appear more spiritual. For example, I had one bulimic counselee tell me she wanted to “redeem [herself] in God’s eyes by becoming a nutritionist, and hopefully help others.”

I confess that I have fallen prey to this mindset myself, when I make idols out of goals or “splendid vices” (George Whitefield’s term for spiritual activity done with wrong motives). Getting my book, “Redeemed from the Pit” published is very important to me, and now that it is becoming a reality I have been preoccupied with obtaining endorsements from well-known authors in the biblical counseling field. When they like my work, I somehow feel God approves of my endeavor. When they decline or suggest revisions, I despair – their opinion of my writing overshadows pleasing God. It becomes too easy to forget that my work is ultimately all for His glory, anyway. Although I would never say so out loud, being thought well of by “celebrity Christians” can eclipse the truth – that God neither thinks more nor less of me based on man’s opinions; and I have nothing whatsoever to commend myself to Him in the first place. He loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) simply because I am His daughter.

This tendency to think God sees us as others do takes many different forms, but the root is the same – doubting the reality and immutability of God’s personal and tender love.

The Solution

Let’s think about this logically: An omniscient God knew from eternity past exactly what you would be like, He saw every sin and dark thought that would enter your mind, yet He set His love on you anyway by electing you as His child. He called you out of darkness, then transferred you to the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Jesus Himself is not ashamed to call you His brother or sister (Hebrews 2:11), so on what grounds would He decide to kick you out of His family? What, exactly, would you have to do to “disrupt” your heavenly adoption, and get sent back from whence you came?

It’s time, as the Courter parents so bluntly put it, to “drop the poor orphan act” and realize we’re God’s for good. And that’s Good News. Intimacy cannot grow apart from relationship, and the entire New Covenant proclaims that our relationship as children is irrevocable. We didn’t do anything to earn it in the first place – we were all broken and flawed when God called us – so what makes us think we can lose His parental bond? Fellowship may be broken, just as in human families – but God promises to forgive and restore each and every time we humble ourselves to seek Him (1 John 1:9). Craven fear and cringing supplication have no place in the life of a child of God. Repentance is a gift freely offered to all who will accept it and return to God on His terms…no running, hiding, and fear of the boom lowering anymore. The writer of Hebrews poetically banished any possibility of seeing ourselves as foster children when he wrote:

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Five Phrases to Strike from Your Counseling Repertoire

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by Marie Notcheva

Platitudes & Christian Clichés

In biblical counseling, as in all forms of Christian ministry, we are called to exhort and encourage; listen and learn; love and give hope. Sometimes, however, words can hurt rather than heal. Although a counselor, friend, small-group leader or pastor may say something with the best of intentions, falling back on a platitude or Christian cliché can sometimes cause more harm than good to the listener.

Based on my experience as a biblical counselor and conversations with other women, I have identified five of the most damaging phrases that have made their way into the counseling room. Over the years, I have heard all of these used, and while I understand the intent behind them, they make me cringe.

Let’s look at the five phrases you should eliminate immediately from your counsel, and why.

  • “In order to feel good, you must DO good.” This is an old maxim of biblical counseling, often said to depressed counselees who find themselves in a rut. The problem is that it’s often not true, and usually adds to the counselee’s guilt and self-recrimination. A better approach? Get to the source of her depression. A woman who is depressed because of a verbally abusive husband will not be helped by this phrase; she very likely is already “doing good things” to the point of burnout, to no avail. Is the client depressed because of a death? Telling her to get her act together and wash the dishes will not help. The phrase implies that laziness is partially responsible for the depression, which is a dangerous assumption to make.
  • “How can I/we come alongside you?” This is a Christian cliché that is so vague it is usually impossible to answer. Say what you mean. Perhaps make a suggestion: “I’ll show up at your place at 11:00 am, do your laundry, and take you out to lunch. You could use a break!” Or, “Now that I know your family is struggling financially, let’s talk to the elders about getting a scholarship for your son to go to youth camp. By the way, there’s a fund in place to help pay heating bills for folks going through a rough patch.” The “coming alongside” offer can also be a thinly-veiled but heavy-handed way of saying, “I’m going to interfere in this very private matter you’ve divulged to me, whether you consent or not.” Don’t spiritualize your offer of involvement. Spell it out, and respectfully ask the counselee, friend, or parishioner for permission.
  • You have a very low view of Scripture (or Christ; or God).” This is usually a callous way of dismissing what the other person is saying, simply because you don’t agree with it. It is presumptuous in the extreme to assume you know her heart on such matters, and it is lazy counseling. If a counselee or member is attending an evangelical church of any stripe, and especially if she is seeking out counseling, it is safe to take her at her word that she believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. It is doubtful that she has a low view of Christ, and to tell her this is confusing and hurtful.

One woman I counseled several years ago had been told at her prior church that she had a low view of God, because she had taken a tough-love approach to her son’s drug addiction. Although I don’t know the woman’s pastor, I have counseled addicts enough to know that she took appropriate steps – and indeed had a very high view of God. If you don’t agree that the individual’s conclusion is biblical, do some research. It’s probably a matter of interpretation and you, as the biblical counselor, probably have the benefit of exegetical training. Engage the question; look at different angles and commentaries; reason together. Never dismiss her by telling her she has a low view of Scripture/God/Christ. Such sweeping statements are designed to be conversation-stoppers, and have no place in the counseling room.

  • “Stop carrying around a root of bitterness/bitter spirit.” This one is tricky, because it’s clearly a biblical warning. Bitterness is a sin, which ultimately destroys a person spiritually. The author of Hebrews cautions against letting such a spirit grow up within the Body, because it “corrupts many” (Hebrews 12:15). We see this all the time in the fallout of church splits, in the gossip and hard feelings that are left in its wake. The problem here is being careful not to lump every angry emotion into this category, and gloss over it with this verse. This approach is what has given nouthetic counselors the reputation of “throwing the Bible at people” or a “take one verse and call me in the morning” attitude.Having hurt feelings or struggling to forgive someone who has seriously wronged you is not bitterness. Often, counselors and pastors make the mistake of rebuking wounded believers for “bitterness” before they’ve even had a chance to start healing. At that point, what hurting people need is to be listened to; have their experience validated; have the wrong of what was done to them validated. Then you can begin to help them work through the process of forgiveness. Bitterness is a heart attitude that comes about when one sees all others as enemies; deliberately refuses to forgive; and usually is a result of a non-existent prayer life. Please do not forget that in some serious circumstances (such as sexual abuse, fraud, injury or murder of one’s relative), forgiveness may be a long, extremely painful process. Be very careful of bringing out the “root of bitterness” trump card.
  • “Thank you for sharing your heart.” Usually said with the best of intentions, this is the single most meaningless, cringe-worthy, condescending, cliché-sounding phrase in the ecclesiastical lexicon, according to women I’ve spoken to. It is meaningless because it is a non-answer, offering no resolve. It is condescending because it dismisses whatever the counselee (or parishioner) has said to the level of emotionalism. It is insensitive at best; insulting at worst. And rank-and-file church members know that.

One woman told me that this sounded like a pat-phrase taught in biblical counseling courses as a buffer; something to pull out when one doesn’t know what else to say. I know of another incident where a woman carefully documented details of incidents – with dates, names, witnesses and details – to give credence to a serious situation of abuse she had brought to her pastor’s attention. She was thanked for sharing her heart. “My heart had nothing to do with it,” she said. “They wanted facts? I gave them very specific facts. I’ve never felt so dismissed and unheard in my life.”

A better alternative to thank you for sharing your heart might be to thank the person for the trust they demonstrate in you by sharing this information with you; and then ask what action steps she would like you to take. This not only validates that the issue they’re addressing is important; it puts feet to the faith we profess to have. Faith and love both lead to action – there’s usually a reason they’re telling you something, and unless it’s over a coffee in Starbucks, it’s rarely just for the sake of sharing [their] heart.

As Christians, whether in the counseling room or out in the world, we’re called to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Although certainly none of us does this perfectly, thinking about how to make our words more meaningful (and edifying) might mean changing some of the ways we phrase things. Always try to consider how the listener will receive what you say, in her personal experience and situation. Frame your words accordingly, and in this way you will be demonstrating the love of Christ.

Russia is Again in Chains for the Gospel. The Lesson to Americans

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by Marie Notcheva

Earlier this month, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed into law some of the most repressive restrictions on religion since the days of Stalin. Known as the “Yarovaya” laws, the pretext for this crackdown is an anti-terrorism stance that supposedly restricts “extremism”.

Here is some of what the new laws cover:

  1. Foreign guests are not permitted to speak in churches unless they have a “work permit” from Russian authorities.
  2. If a friend or relative from outside Russia wishes to share his/her faith in your home the guest will be fined and expelled from Russia.
  3. Any discussion of God with non-believers is considered missionary activity and will be punishable.
  4. Missionary activity will be permitted by special government permission. Example: If one traveling on a train shares his faith without written permission the offender will be taken into police custody for the duration of the journey and will be fined 50,000 rubles ($1,000). Offenders from the age of 14-years-old will be subject to prosecution.
  5. Religious activity is no longer permitted in private homes. (Most churches in Russia are, in fact, home churches).
  6. Every citizen is obligated to report religious activity of neighbors to the authorities. Failure to be an informant is punishable by law.
  7. One may pray and read the Bible at home but not in the presence of a non-believing person. You will be breaking the law and be punished.
  8. If the church has purchased property it cannot be converted into a place of worship.
  9. In church buildings, it is not permitted to invite people to turn to God. Worship services are permitted but making a non-believer a follower of Christ is against the law.

Why does this matter to Americans?

Ironically enough, the atheist Putin has been seen as a conservative ally by some evangelicals because of his anti-gay policies and lip-service to “family values”. (Considering the abortion rate in Russia is three times the live birth rate, I doubt the preaching of “family values” is much of a priority to the government). More significantly, however, the Western media has been largely silent about this draconian step backward. While everyone was out chasing imaginary Pokemons last week, Russian believers are threatened with arrest for reading the Bible in their own homes, or preaching Christ in their own churches.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The Church in the largest nation on earth is being forced back underground – a full generation after the fall of Communism.

Over 7,000 evangelical churches are fasting and praying for a repeal of these laws. I don’t believe that we Americans are apathetic towards our Slavic brothers’ plight; rather, most people are just unaware with the limited media coverage given to international news – especially stories dealing with the persecution of Christians. But there is another reason it might be hard for Americans to know how to respond: We cannot even relate to legislation restricting religious liberty to that extent.

At least theoretically, this could never happen here. The First Amendment to our Constitution protects our freedom of religious expression and prevents government interference in worship and religious practice. Of course, we American Christians bristle when our Nativity displays are removed; prayer in public school was abolished and God was removed from the public square. Even those of us who are proponents of public education have to admit the progressively anti-God slant the curriculum has taken, and the lack of morality both in education and in society in general. The issue, and this is what leads to many of the problems we see in the counseling room, is that people don’t notice what’s being taught. (As an example, our town’s  middle school sex ed week includes making models of reproductive organs out of cardboard tubes and tinfoil. In a school of over 600 students, I was one of only 2 parents who would not permit her child to participate).

Whether across the world or in our own towns, we tend to miss a lot of attacks on the Christian worldview. Busy with careers, preoccupied with petty concerns or entertaining ourselves, much of what is damaging the Church flies below our radar (including entertainment itself, for that matter. I cannot understand how Christians can be comfortable watching the series, “Game of Thrones”). What’s going on in Russia is not so much a warning to us, as it is an object lesson of what a society whose leaders have rejected God can do to believers.

The Early Days of Hope  

In 1991, following the coup and disintegration of the Soviet Union, evangelical leaders were invited to the Kremlin for meetings and discussion of how to bring Christianity back into the public sphere. In an initiative called Project Christian Bridge, the Supreme Soviet publicly acknowledged the importance of Christian faith and morals, and how the lack of them had led to a spiritual vacuum in their country. They requested mass-production of Bibles; Christian schools and seminaries to be established; charitable organizations to help the poor and disabled. This ran counter to everything they had taught for the 70 years that Marxism had dominated their nation, and represented a massive turning to God when an evil system was proven to be a failure. In “Praying with the KGB,” Philip Yancey wrote this:

“Everyone is looking for a society so perfect that people don’t have to be good,” said T.S. Eliot, who saw many of his friends embrace the dream of Marxism. What we were hearing from Soviet leaders, and the KGB, and now Pravda, was that the Soviet Union ended up with the worst of both: a society far from perfect, and a people who had forgotten how to be good.

Twenty-five years later, and a demoralized nation has again put despotic rulers into place who, again, will try to stamp out the Gospel. However, as a Bulgarian pastor imprisoned by the Communists once wrote, “The Church is strongest when she is most persecuted. Christianity spreads most rapidly when it is oppressed.” This is unlikely to be the motive for Russian believers’ steadfast faith. When put to the test, the individual is either strengthened or broken.

The Russian Christians currently being put in chains for the Gospel demonstrate what faith under fire looks like. There are at least three lessons American believers can draw from this horrifying new trial:

  • Be informed about the persecuted Church. It’s not just Russia – the Middle East; India; Africa; many places all over the globe, believers are suffering terribly for their faith, yet do not renounce Christ. (Russia claims an Orthodox heritage dating back to the 8th century, which makes it somehow more stunning). In 2 Thessalonians, we see the godly character of a persecuted church, and how the faith of those under fire “grows exceedingly.” We are reminded to pray for these believers, that God may again be glorified through them.

    Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)

  • Rejoicing in all circumstances is possible. Realizing how minor and trivial most of our concerns are in light of what these laws mean for millions of Christians is sobering. I get upset over having to pay $30 for an oil change; I cannot imagine being fined $1,000 for sharing my faith. In fact, I’m usually too lazy to share my faith. I have sisters in Russia willing to risk arrest for the sake of Christ. Paul reminded the Philippian church that his chains actually advanced the Gospel and for that, he rejoiced! We have so much more to rejoice over: including living in a democratic society where we are free to proclaim Christ.
  • Our freedom should lead to gratitude and action. Our response to the oppression in Russia doesn’t necessarily have to be political, although that is one option. We have privileges such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and expression of religion that are being denied to millions of other believers, and we should be good stewards of them. Although we cannot build a Utopian society any more than Lenin could, we have the example from recent history of what a society completely devoid of Christ and Christian morals can look like. This should inform how we raise our children; how much attention we are paying to what they’re learning in school; our entertainment choices; how we vote; even how we pray.

Much is said in counseling about giving hope; but the emphasis needs to be on the object of our hope: The Person and work of Jesus Christ. Before we discuss how Christ must reform the culture, we need to focus on how he reforms our individual hearts. And, as the furnace refines silver, it is through trials that our faith grows stronger and impacts others. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson from our Russian brothers and sisters.

What Does it Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness?

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by Marie Notcheva

For the last several weeks, I have been doing a study on the Beatitudes with a friend. Today I realized that I have been reading Matthew 5:6 incorrectly for my entire Christian life.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” always sounded to me like a yearning for social justice. As believers in Christ, it naturally follows that we should want to see justice served in this world. This is not incompatible with the Bible’s teaching on caring for the orphans, the widow, and not looking down on the poor – or its many warnings against cheating and falsehood. An earnest desire to see the social structures of this world controlled by Christian morality sounds like a noble desire; certainly something that Christ would call “blessed.” It is reminiscent of the Lord’s Prayer: “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10; emphasis mine).

We want to see righteousness in this world, as the nations turn to Christ.

Social Justice or Personal Righteousness?

Except….that’s not really what Matthew 5:6 is about. It helps to take a step back and look at the preceding beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (verse 3); “Blessed are those who mourn” (verse 4); “Blessed are the meek” (verse 5). We see a progression here – in personal holiness. Being “poor in spirit,” as I wrote about several weeks ago, means acknowledging our abject moral failure before God. It means coming to the table empty-handed; which leads to a “mourning” over one’s personal sin. These two verses center on our sinfulness, whereas being “meek” reveals a spirit that is already seeking righteousness. Why? Because meekness centers on God’s holiness, not our sinfulness. We see in the beatitudes not a grocery list of qualities to add to our spiritual resumes, but rather a progression in sanctification.

“Meekness is a by-product of dying to one’s self,” preaches John Macarthur, and it is a result of deliberately yielding to the Holy Spirit. The characteristic of meekness is commanded in Titus 3:2, where believers are instructed to be “gentle and meek” to everyone; and in Colossians, God’s children are told to deliberately clothe themselves with meekness (along with other virtues such as kindness and humility). So, when we get to verse 6, and are told we are “blessed” if we “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” it is not specifically an end to racism or halting political corruption that is in view. It is the believer’s personal holiness and inner striving for righteous thoughts and behavior that Christ is referring to.

How Are We Satisfied in God?

This is a good starting point for almost any context in counseling. While we would all surely say we “hunger and thirst after righteousness” in the global, general sense, the question for heart-examination is deeper. Do we (or a counselee) still have that burning desire to be holy, just as Christ is holy, purely to please our Heavenly Father? Do we still have that sense of awe at His Majesty that we had when we were first saved?

The word in Greek for hunger is peinao, which means to suffer from want or be in need. Metaphorically speaking, it means to crave and seek intensely. Dipsao is the Greek word for thirst; spiritually, it describes those who painfully feel their want of (and eagerly long for) things which will refresh and strengthen their soul. So when Jesus says that such a hungry person will be satisfied, what does He mean?

John 6:35 links Christ’s reference to hunger and thirst to the spiritual realm: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” So, He is declaring “blessed” those who truly hunger and thirst for the “living water” and bread of life that only He provides. Earnestly desiring what Christ came to grant and fulfill leads to receiving from Him the greatest satisfaction there is – a right relationship with Himself. This is the Gospel – the whole Person and Work of Christ; and sincerely desiring His will in our own lives is what He means by “hungering for righteousness.”

The Spiritual Barometer

A sure-fire way to test if we have gone lukewarm is to consider how strongly we desire the righteousness of Christ – not in the abstract, but tangibly. A counselee may be asked what is satisfying her now; what would really satisfy her in the near future? Does she desire acceptance, fame, money, security or another (not necessarily bad) thing that can become a heart-idol? What do we do when we are not seeking or desiring God? A study of the Prodigal Son provides an excellent lesson on consequences of hungering and thirsting after the wrong things (as well as a portrayal of the Father’s extravagant grace in drawing us back to Himself). Tim Keller’s “The Prodigal God” is superb reading material for counselees who are prone to seek spiritual satisfaction elsewhere.

Do Expectations Destroy Relationships?

Do Expectations Destroy Relationships?

Posted July 7, 2016 on Biblical Counseling for Women

by Marie Notcheva

Recently, a friend of mine posted a quotation on social media from a female Christian writer. The citation exhorted other Christian women not to expect their husbands to help with housework; meet any of their needs except to economically provide for the family, and to simply try to “make his life as easy as possible.” What most caught my attention was a portion of the quote which was underlined:“Expectations destroy relationships.”

While undoubtedly well-intentioned, this sort of advice targeted towards Christian wives concerns me. It is not about the housework or a division of labor based on traditional gender roles. That is an individual arrangement that can be decided by couples based on preference. If a husband does not feel it is his role to give the baby a bath, fine. If she does not want to mow the lawn or snowplow the driveway, that is reasonable. However, as another reader pointed out, the quote seemed to imply that a woman who is honestly overwhelmed is sinning if she asks for help. She is not.

Many women fall into serious depression because they are overwhelmed by the demands of running a household (often while homeschooling children) and are made to feel guilty if they expect assistance from their husbands. Would we tell men they are wrong to expect their wives to cook their dinner? Iron their shirts? Meet their sexual needs? It would be hard to find a male writer willing to take this stance.

Even so, household chores are not the main issue I had with the quote. It is the notion that in a relationship, it is wrong to have any expectations of the other person.

The Bible sets forth some very clear expectations for both husbands and wives – they are to love and submit to one another (Ephesians 5); he is to be patient and gentle with her (Colossians 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7); she is to be industrious at home and assist with running the household (Proverbs 31); not contentious (Proverbs 25:24). He is not to be a drunkard (1 Cor. 6:10 and elsewhere); both are to be sexually faithful to each other (Hebrews 13:4), and the list goes on. God has set these expectations – why would it be wrong for either spouse to hold them? It would be extremely unhealthy to enter into any kind of relationship with no expectations whatsoever, but particularly into a marriage covenant.

Expectations are Necessary and God-ordained

Telling women “You won’t have a happy marriage if you expect anything from your husband” is dangerous for at least three reasons. First, it demeans men. A godly man seeks to honor and obey God by loving, serving, protecting, encouraging, comforting and helping his wife. He is the spiritual leader in the home, and is the one to whom his children look to see an example of Christ. It is rather condescending (if not insulting) to tell women to “expect nothing” of them.

Secondly, it saddles Christian women with the responsibility of their husbands’ happiness, and additional guilt if they fall short. These women are often already burdened by self-recrimination, trying to live up to their own standards of perfection, and usually blame themselves for their husbands’ short-comings. The last thing they need is to be rebuked for having “expectations.”

Lastly, telling women to have zero expectations in the marriage relationship opens the door to abuse. I have written about this before, and I firmly believe that sanctimonious messages like this contribute to the problem. The implication is that the woman is somehow responsible for any failings in the marriage; that it would all go so much better if she would just be a better “helpmeet” and stop expecting her husband to obey God. When women internalize such unbalanced messages, they are less able to recognize emotional abuse and the Church, by extension, continues to perpetuate the cycle. “Doormat theology” is not biblical.

Live up to It!

While it is certainly not correct (or realistic) to marry expecting perfection of one’s spouse, a healthy regard for the other’s spiritual well-being (as well as that of future children) demands a certain set of expectations. That is, in essence, what the marriage vows are: a commitment to live up to one’s God-given responsibilities (including to love, honor and cherish one another). If a woman does not expect at least this much of her husband, the relationship is already in serious trouble.

Expectations do not destroy relationships. Selfish people destroy relationships. The most important relationship men and women can ever have is with their Creator, and Christ Himself laid out some very clear expectations on His followers: “If you love Me, you will do as I command” (John 14:15). He expects us to live up to what we have already attained (Phil. 3:16), and part of this means behaving in a selfless and Christ-like way in our relationships with other people (most of all, our marriage). Failing to have any standards or expectations in a relationship, on ourselves or other people, is a sure-fire way for it to fail. God has given us the standard of what a healthy relationship should look like, and women need to work toward what God has called them to do – while expecting no less of their husbands.

Do I Want to be “Makarios”?

Do I Want to be “Makarios”?

by Marie Notcheva

BLOG-1-COR.-2-6

Practically speaking, the fifth chapter of Matthew is one of the most difficult in the Bible. While the theology behind the Beatitudes and Christ’s instruction on how His followers are to conduct themselves is not difficult to grasp, the unattainable standard of holiness He sets forth in this passage has endless implications to the Christian’s personal life – as well as discipleship in the counseling room.

The Beatitudes are counter-intuitive, because some of the states of being Jesus is calling “blessed” we would instinctively avoid. We might be ok with being gentle; and we certainly like to think of ourselves as hungering for righteousness, but mourning? Being persecuted, or slandered? Poor in spirit? What’s “blessed” about that?

The word used for “blessed”, makarios, does not mean “blissfully happy or contented.” Also used seven times in Revelation, (and twice to describe God in 1 Timothy), Jesus is after something much more than temporal warm, fuzzy feelings here. Makarios , from the root mak (large or lengthy), and denotes “the nature of that which is the highest good” (Vine’s Concise Bible Dictionary) and referred in Greek both to the state of the gods, or later, to the upper crust (elite) of society who had achieved material blessing presumably by upright living.

Now, Jesus pronounces God’s blessings on the lowly: The poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, the mourning. He reverses our understanding of what it means to be ‘blessed’. The elite in God’s kingdom, the “makarios”, are those at the bottom.

Is this what we want when we sign on as Christians?

The Blessing of Humility

Throughout the Gospels, Christ makes the cost of discipleship clear. However, Matthew 5 is a concise glimpse not so much at entrance requirements for outsiders; but a declaration of a present reality – what already characterizes the true Christ-follower. Each of the beatitudes is characterized by a type of humility. Perhaps Jesus’ opening statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is the most intriguing – what does it mean to be poor in spirit? Why would I want to be poor in spirit? What is He getting at here?

Spiritual poverty, like material, is characterized by a lack – not having something. Someone who is truly poor, like the beggar of Luke 16, is utterly incapable of helping himself and is awaiting crumbs. Spiritually bankrupt and without anything to offer before our Creator, God values those who seek Him realizing they have nothing of their own merits to offer. Being “poor is spirit” means being able to sincerely say, like the Pharisee of Luke 18, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is the opposite of resting in one’s spiritual pedigree, good works, or ministry accomplishments.

It is the beginning of the understanding of grace.

When beginning discipleship with a new believer, or counseling for a specific issue with a more mature Christian, this is a good starting point. Most of Matthew 18 (and Christ’s instruction to His followers generally) hangs on this first statement – recognizing our own spiritual poverty and brokenness is the beginning of a relationship with God.

The question we need to wrestle through then becomes, “Is this something that I really want?” The problem is, if we are honest, we want some of the glory for ourselves. Of course, we want to be counted as Christians; but how do we really react when mourning – does it challenge our faith, or do we count ourselves ‘blessed’ to have the God of all Comfort on our side?

Checking our Reactions in Persecution: Our Hearts in Anger

After demonstrating His priority on humility in the first part of the chapter, Jesus turns His attention to interpersonal relationships. This is where meekness and Christ-like humility is truly put to the test – it is easy, after all, to be meek, humble or gentle if living on a desert island (or in a convent). But in the messy world of jealousies, rivalries and petty gossip, can we really “rejoice” for being persecuted? Or, if provoked to anger, are we able to see that as seriously as murder? Christ is after heart attitudes here, demonstrating that anger and lust are as serious before God as their logical conclusions (murder and adultery).

What’s so difficult about this chapter is that no one is capable of living up to this standard – apart from Christ Himself. It continually reminds us that our thoughts are as loud in heaven as our shouts, and that God expects our responses to be rooted in humility. Often, people are suffering because of someone else’s sin. When someone continues to hurt us without remorse, it is almost impossible not to want to strike back. This is a good starting point in counseling (including counseling ourselves) to deal with the sting of betrayal or being slandered.

Praying for those who persecute us and loving our enemies is the hardest thing Christ has ever called us to do, but He declares it our greatest good. This is His definition of what it means to be blessed, although it is an intangible and often unappreciated blessing to us in this world. Taking a close look at how God defines blessedness (versus the short-sighted way we often see it) will help us and our counselees redefine our priorities and gain the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

Biblical Counseling Thrives in the Land of the Eagle

June 13, 2016

BC-Albania

by Marie Notcheva

BCC Staff: For this post, Marie interviewed Tim Pasma, Brad Brandt, and Sue and Blair Alvidrez  in order to share with us how biblical counseling is growing in Albania.


“As a young person, reading about Albania fascinated me because the nation claimed to be 100% atheist,” said Timothy Pasma, Senior Pastor at LaRue Baptist Church in Ohio. During the Communist regime, neighboring Romania and Bulgaria also outlawed most religious practice; and following the Soviet model, atheism was taught in the schools. Christians were imprisoned and killed in many places behind the Iron Curtain, but in 1967 dictator Enver Hoxha made Albania the first constitutionally atheist nation in the world. Most churches and mosques were destroyed, and there were reports of believers being sealed into wooden barrels and rolled into the Adriatic Sea.

It wasn’t until after the collapse of Communism in 1991 that the first missionaries were allowed into Albania. Little did Pasma imagine that a generation later, he would have the opportunity to visit – as part of a team providing training to novice biblical counselors.

From Grace Fellowship, with Love

The prelude to the biblical counseling movement in Albania came in 2007, when Grace Fellowship Church (pastored by biblical counselor Brad Bigney) sent Blair and Sue Alvidrez to Albania on a short-term mission trip. Later, after settling down in Lushnjë, Albania in 2010, Blair and Sue became the first certified biblical counselors in Albania – due to the Skype-based supervision of Brad Brandt and Tim Pasma. This connection led to Brandt and Pasma travelling to Albania to speak at biblical counseling training conferences arranged by Alvidrez. Along with Pastor Genci Cesula, Senior Pastor at Grace Church, and the collaboration of several Albanian pastors and missionaries, Blair established Koalicioni I Këshillimit Biblik Shqiptar (Albanian Biblical Counseling Coalition). The ministry now has a website, replete with counseling materials, training videos, and an Albanian-language blog.

“Biblical counseling is definitely catching on,” according to Alvidrez. He and his family now live in the capital city of Tirana, where he works with Cesula to disciple and train other pastors seeking certification.

“Many people said at first, ‘This is never going to work here’,” Blair noted, since there is an aversion to talking openly about one’s problems.

“One big hindrance is gossip,” added Sue. “No one wants to tell people their business. But word got out, and now we have people on waiting lists.”

Several Albanian pastors have submitted their exams and are nearing completion of their biblical-counselor certification. In addition, pastors’ wives are helping both with counseling and book translation. Word is spreading even beyond the borders of Albania: one church in Kosovo now also stocks translated biblical counseling literature, and pastors from Skopje, Macedonia, will attend the next training conference.

“Psychologized” Counsel

One of the difficulties of equipping believers to counsel is the influx of psychologized counseling theories. As is the case elsewhere, the sufficiency of Scripture in matters of soul-care can be confusing to well-meaning counselors who believe secular psychology must be blended with the Bible. Pasma says that psychologically based counsel is definitely gaining momentum in Albania. “Many of the missionaries come with an integrationist view and don’t like what we’re doing,” he said. “We had one man attend a conference who was very well-versed in ‘Christian psychology’ – he was almost hostile to what we were teaching,” Pasma recalled.

In Balkan nations, including Albania, the Church has been traditionally viewed as a house of worship, but not what Pasma calls “disciple-making institutions,” where people seek help for issues. “[Albanians] generally don’t see a meaningful connection between church and life.” In such a context, secular counsel makes more sense. Nevertheless, because of the conferences in Durrës, Tirana, and Korçe, interest in ministering the Word has grown, and relationships with schools and medical clinics have been established. The Christian-run ABC medical clinic in Tirana has sent employees to sit in on teaching sessions about anxiety and depression and have asked Alvidrez and Cesula to send them biblical counselors. The Alvidrezes have also been asked to help counsel at their daughter’s high school in Tirana.

The Big Picture – The Church as Part of Life

As in any postmodern culture, Albania faces its own set of problems that many would deny have spiritual implications. Pastor Genci Cesula cites both depression and marriage problems as being among the biggest counseling issues, but also includes pornography “addiction” on that list. Sexual immorality is becoming much more visible than it had been previously, and without a grounding in a Christian-Judeo heritage, morality becomes subjective. Assisting national believers to establish a growing, dynamic Church that is seen as relevant is a formidable task.

Both the American and Albanian pastors have tried to communicate that “church” is not a building; it is a body of believers interconnected and involved together in all facets of life. “Biblical counsel isn’t just ‘giving answers’, nor is it an ‘American thing’,” Brandt explained. “We want to help them to see what God has designed the Church to be—how to live as disciples of Jesus. It is exciting to see how God is raising up people all around the world who are hungry to learn the biblical answers to [problems in] their lives and heartening to see the dedication of His people all over.”

Albania, which means “Land of the Eagle,” is being renewed in strength. In Scripture, the eagle is a symbol of strength and being able to bear much weight (Ex. 19:4; Deut. 32:11). In fitting metaphorical fashion, Albania has risen in just one generation from oppressive atheism and tyrannically-induced poverty to one of the strongest Christian environments in the Balkans. Due to the unwavering work of Albania’s new generation of pastors and biblical counselors, the country is indeed “rising on wings of eagles” as new believers make His Name known.

“Me Before You” and Hollywood’s Culture of Death

“<em>Me Before You</em>” and Hollywood’s Culture of Death

 

by Marie Notcheva

Me Before You

On June 3rd , a “feel-good” movie designed as a ‘dramatic romance’ opened in cinemas nationwide. Being somewhat out of the pop-culture loop, I first heard of it when a European friend posted a disability rights activists’ petition to boycott the film on social media. The main character in “Me Before You”, Will Traynor, is an extremely wealthy, good-looking, educated British man who is left a paraplegic by an accident. Despite having a loving family, access to the best rehabilitative therapy, and a devoted caretaker, he decides to end his life at Dignitas, a Swiss euthanasia clinic.

Louisa, the caretaker, forges a strong bond with Will and tries to talk him out of it; but to no avail. Ultimately most of the main characters in the movie – including his family – cave in and support his “choice” to end his life, which Will has decided is no longer worth living. Amid swelling, emotionally-evocative music, he follows through on his plan. Pro-life activist Stephanie Gray wrote, “[Will’s family] all encourage, facilitate or are actually present at Will’s suicide the way he wants it.”

The Message 

“‘Me Before You’ literally romanticizes a death wish,” said Tom Shakely, executive director of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.  The main character, despite being in a far better situation personally, economically, and even physically than many disabled people, concludes that he is better off dead than to face the challenges he’s been handed. This is a slap in the face to the many physically disabled people who live productive lives, contribute to society and honor God in their circumstances. (I have a wheelchair-bound friend in Albania who organizes Christian camps for the disabled and shares the Gospel with anyone who will listen; and, despite Albania being far less handicapped-accessible than Britain or the United Sates, Klodi is rarely without a smile or kind word.)

Does this film really portray handicapped individuals? Worse, has the value of human life become so cheap that Hollywood presumes to tell the disabled they should feel worthless? Ben Mattlin, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy, wrote in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune:

“Make no mistake: Quadriplegia is hard, and it can be tempting to give up. Like Will Traynor, the paralyzed heartthrob in the movie (played by nondisabled actor Sam Claflin), I rely on constant assistance from paid aides and family members. It’s nearly impossible to find a job, let alone a restaurant or store without steps or with an accessible restroom. It’s a good thing I’m positively bursting with self-confidence and know I do want my life to continue. But how many of those who are struggling to maintain self-esteem, who feel unsure of their right to exist, possess the courage and sheer chutzpah to withstand the invidious message that they’re better off dead?” (Emphasis mine).

The Culpability of American Media

There has been much outcry about this film from disability advocates and anti-euthanasia groups, but I fear that they are like a voice calling out in the wilderness, drowned out by the culture at large. The ethical implication of euthanasia, often called “mercy killing” by its advocates, was so taboo until recently that it was rarely considered a viable moral option. Now, it is being debated (and even implemented) around the world as a “patient right.” American film culture, by glorifying this horrible tragedy, is partly responsible. As of June 2016, six states allow physician-assisted suicide to “mentally-sound, terminally ill” patients, as does the Netherlands where euthanasia practices are reported to be non-consensual at times. (“Physician-assisted suicide” is an oxymoron, as doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath to heal, and not to kill, before being licensed.)

Hollywood’s morbid fascination with euthanasia is not new. Me Before You is eerily similar to the 1981 film, Whose Life is It Anyway?, which also depicted a post-accident quadriplegic determined to end his life. However, two stark differences stand out: in the earlier film, the hospital administrator staunchly opposes the main character’s decision on moral grounds. In 1981, it was considered acceptable to “put to sleep” one’s aging dog; but mercy killing a human being was still a moral taboo. Secondly, the earlier film was dark and serious. Me Before You is a product of Hollywood’s modern  ‘culture of death’ which has been so white-washed that comedies are made about abortion (2014’s “Obvious Child”; 2007’s “Knocked Up”); and now we have a feel-good romantic drama about euthanasia.

American movies, unfortunately, are the unrealistic standard by which many young people worldwide set their moral compass. Whether we want to admit it or not, impressionable students are debating the relative morality of euthanasia versus quality of life in medical schools around the world – largely because it has become a “gray area” in American culture – in less than one generation. Hollywood has a tendency to grossly misrepresent and inaccurately portray entire people groups (such as American evangelicals in Soul Surfer; now the disabled in Me Before You); but people in other countries really believe our films represent American culture. (Case in point: just try and convince a Bulgarian teenager that American teens don’t all drive sports cars and carry Gucci purses, ala Mean Girls).

What is Our Response?

Obviously, Hollywood does not deserve anyone’s support at the box office for making films about disabled people offing themselves. Signing petitions to end “disability death porn,” as one activist group has termed it, is fine. But the Christian response is to influence the culture to the dignity of human life; to reignite the value of men and women made in the very image of God. This is the matter of principle, the point of discussion at which we diverge from mainstream culture. Human life is sacred. Here, it seems The Dove Foundation (considered the authority on “family-friendly” film reviews) colossally missed the point on Me Before You:

“Regrettably, despite the good cast and themes of love, devotion, and the love of life, strong language and sexual situations and comments prevent us from awarding the movie our Dove ‘Family-Approved’ Seal.”

Wait, WHAT??  They were more concerned with cleavage, “shirtless men in a few scenes,” betting on horses and swearing than with the glorification of suicide? When a shirtless man concerns us more than a suicidal man, our ‘Christian priorities’ are out of whack.

Every suicide is a tragedy. What Hollywood doesn’t show is the horribly painful ripple effect suicide has on the relatives, friends, and even strangers left behind. A year ago, I sat in a church for the funeral of a 15-year-old classmate of my son, and watched tears run down the face of another teen boy who had barely known him. For unknown reasons, the child had taken his own life and left a community reeling in shock. The effect would have been no less if the boy had been handicapped; terminally ill; or had Down’s Syndrome. Instinctively, we know how precious life is. I regularly interpret for terminal cancer patients (who do not look glamorous or attractive as the characters in The Fault in Our Stars, by the way). These men and women cling to life with tenacity, wanting to spend every possible moment with their loved ones. This is humanity. This is putting “you” before “me,” not the other way around.

Counseling any suicidal person (pre-emptively or remedially, after a failed attempt) is never easy, and their problems should never be minimized. This certainly applies to physically disabled individuals as well as any other depressed person considering suicide. But the truth is, most disabled individuals arenot depressed or suicidal, and they resent Hollywood’s condescending portrayal of them. Me Before You is a prime example of how far Hollywood has ventured from the sanctity of human life, and cries out for the truth of the Gospel (the Person and work of Jesus Christ) to give redemption and meaning to human suffering. The tragedy of films such as this is that they romanticize suicide; snub the Sovereign Creator; and reduce the moral and spiritual capacity of human beings to the level of animals.

“Why Can’t We Counsel Ourselves?”

Faithful-are-the-wounds-of-a-friend-but-the-kisses-of-an-enemy-are-deceitful.

by Marie Notcheva

Recently, I was talking with two girlfriends after a Bible study. The subject came around to biblical reproof, and how we accept it from others. Recently, I published an article on the damaging effects of criticism and how it can embitter a person; today, let’s look at at the other side of the coin: confrontation of a specific sin or attitude, offered in legitimate love and concern.

Although we like to think otherwise, we cannot view ourselves objectively. As my pastor says, “Scripture warns us that our heart is deceitful, and can trick us even when we think that our actions and motives are pure.” This is confusing, because we are in the best situation to know all the details of our circumstance better than anyone else. However, what we cannot see (particularly in painful circumstances which may be due to someone else’s sin) is that unresolved hurt and anger can easily lead to hardness of heart; cynicism; and ambivalence. Left to our own counsel, we may do what feels right or looks logical, without considering the harder commands of Christ.

Because we are filtering our situation through experience, we feel perfectly justified. It is difficult for all of us to hear constructive feedback clearly, especially when strong emotions and painful experiences are mixed into the equation. With even a scrap of biblical literacy, we can easily find justification for what we want. And while we may be partially or fully right, we still may become embittered in the process and thus forfeit intimacy with God. We need the objective third-party view of a wise fellow Christian.

Friends, Foes and Spiritual Authorities

Proverbs 27:6 reminds us that truly good friends are not those who simply tell us what we want to hear:“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy”. A person who gives you feelings-based counsel is not a friend; nor is someone who advises you to run from your church at the first sign of conflict. As a very straight-forward person, I appreciate my close Christian friends who are going to speak truth into my life. Often, situations are less than black-and-white, and a wise person considers all angles before making a judgement. And yet, while we may solve the world’s problems over coffee, the admonishment of a friend does not carry the same weight of authority as that of a pastor. A good pastor will listen; understand; exegete Scripture with you; and may caution you in the same way as a friend – but his counsel may be more objective; and certainly more authoritative.

This year, a very serious situation in my life requiring drastic measures (and the involvement of the Church) came to a head. My pastor, with whom I’d been in regular contact, wrote:

“…because I love you I think it is important to address what I believe I can observe from your own heart and responses in all of this. I know that you’ve been hurt Marie and I am sure I can’t imagine the pain and stress you’ve experienced.  But my concern for you is that it seems that your heart is hard in response to what you’ve experienced. I think there is a real danger that you are…solving the problem of your pain with your own solution, rather than following the path that God’s word has provided.”

The Bible talks about “confronting in love” and “rebuking”, but I honestly did not read this as a rebuke – rather, it was a diagnosis. Several friends had cautioned me to stay close to God; no matter how dark it got, not to let my heart grow hard; and similar things. But this was different. A perceptive observation from a truly caring (and patient) pastor helped me to see and want to deal with my own attitude more proactively. As my friend Kim said, “That’s why we need pastors. God knew that if we just judged ourselves, everybody would just ‘do right in his own eyes’ – God knew what He was doing when He established Church authority.” Of course this isn’t to say that churches never err, or that spiritual abuse doesn’t sometimes happen – but when leaders are truly motivated by love and concern for the members’ spiritual well-being, it is far less likely to be the case.

How Does a Hardened Heart Feel?

When I’m interpreting for patients in a cardiology clinic, I can anticipate the doctor’s questions: “Do you have any chest pain? Numbness or tingling down your arm? Shortness of breath?” These are always the first symptoms a physician uses to rule out heart problems. But what are the questions a “soul doctor” might hypothetically ask to diagnose a hardened heart? Perhaps:

  • Do you feel misunderstood, maligned by those who love you?
  • Have you experienced a loss of appetite for the Word of God?
  • Do you experience feelings of anger, unforgiveness or self-pity on a regular basis?
  • Are you having difficulty praying, especially for those who have hurt you?

Of course, close friends or a counselor/pastor with whom we’ve been speaking might not even have to directly ask these “diagnostic questions” to know the answers. They can often diagnose our heart-issues before we can ourselves, but a friend may be reluctant to tell us their concerns. A trained counselor or pastor isn’t. How we receive that feedback becomes the deciding factor of what we do next; and if we do not believe that the counselor genuinely cares for us, we may resist his or her counsel and become further ‘hardened’. That’s why it is so important to establish trust. Even a child will not accept guidance from someone he doesn’t believe wants his best.

The Treatment

When I was in college, I listened to a Christian hard rock band called “Petra”. (I know. Look, it was the ‘90’s. Don’t judge.) One of their songs, based on Psalm 95:7-8 and Hebrews 3:13 was called “Don’t Let Your Heart Be Hardened”. One verse went,

“Don’t let your heart be hardened/don’t let your love grow cold
May it always stay so childlike/ may it never grow too old
Don’t let your heart be hardened/may you always know the cure;
Keep it broken before Jesus, keep it thankful, meek, and pure…”

We don’t like to be “broken”. On Sunday morning, we sing along with Hillsong’s Brooke Frasier “Break my heart for what breaks yours”; but we don’t want to really be broken. Being broken hurts. Having a soft heart allows it to be bruised; and after so much of that, we allow ourselves to grow callused and cold. The only ‘preventative medicine’ for a hardened heart is to stay close to Jesus, Who describes Himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). He has already given us the prescription: meditating on His Word day and night; along with seeking good counsel from godly friends and mentors (Psalm 37:30). Hearing the truth spoken in love and taking the time to seek God on it ourselves emboldens us to face our own short-comings without condemnation – and gives us the courage to act accordingly.

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