Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pastors Should Beware of These Common Dangers.
Geoffrey R. Kirkland
Christ Fellowship Bible Church

Satan is a roaring lion seeking those whom he may devour. To be sure, he is chained and unable to spiritually destroy believers. Nevertheless, the chained monster hungrily pursues ministers of God and preachers of the Word so as to discourage them, discredit them, defile them, or distract them. Because of the cleverness of our great enemy and because of the proneness of our hearts to exercise little trust in God and wander into sin, all pastors must beware of these common dangers. Though not exhaustive, I’ll list five of the most common dangers to pastors.

1. Prayerlessness.
Honestly, prayer is hard. When else do you find (or make!) the time to be still, be quiet, be undistracted, and *fight* to be alone, quiet, focused, and passionate? In our unstoppably busy age and with our ever-increasing satisfaction that comes at amazing warp-speeds, one of the most difficult duties of the pastor can be to get down to his knees, open his bible before him, and call upon the name of the Lord for a lengthy period of time. To be prayerless is to exercise little trust in God. To live prayerless means that the man contents himself in his own abilities to perform the tasks that lay before him. But O how pastors must fight prayerlessness with holy violence. Get less sleep! Rise at midnight and pray for an hour for your congregants if you need to! Say no to some lunch appointments to go on a walk in the woods and meet with God. Shut off the entertainment and say no to the activities if you find yourself prayerless. Praying well demands time. You learn to pray by praying. And meeting with God in fervent and holy communion doesn’t occur in a 3-minute short prayer while waiting for the car to warm up on the way to a breakfast meeting. Diligently desire and passionately prioritize prayer. Pray in your praying! Down to the knees & up with your eyes to the heavenly Throne where the King of the everlasting ages beckons you to come and fellowship with Him in sweet communion.

2. Self confidence.
Relying on self proves to be the highway to spiritual calamity. Indeed, to state it again, trusting in one’s power and abilities and character to do God’s work will most assuredly give birth to a catastrophic disaster. The ministry of the Lord demands that the man of God utterly die to self -- daily! The Christian must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Christ. How much more must the man who speaks the utterances of God! How much more should the man who cares for God’s sheep slay every single shred of self-confidence and stake his focus supremely and exclusively on Christ and His wondrous power. Self confidence manifests itself in a plethora of ways. Little prayer before, during, and after sermons proves self-confidence. Lack of prayer before counseling appointments reveals self-confidence. More concern about your dress, your tie, your appearance, and your charisma more than being exegetically faithful and heart-grippingly direct in application is another proof of self-confidence. Too much trust in programs to build the church and excessive thoughts about being relevant and cultural and acceptable demonstrates self confidence. And this is tragic. Christianity at its very heart slays every part of self confidence and drives the sinner to Christ! So let every minister of the gospel flee to Christ regularly and passionately for grace and strength in every endeavor! Trust Christ alone.

3. Arrogance.
The very first sin in the history of the world was pride. The sin of arrogance rises up in rebellion against God in that pride seeks to be God. It doesn’t merely wage war with God (although it most certainly does this) but it wants to slaughter God and put self in the place of God as God. Over and over in the Book of Proverbs, Solomon states that God utterly hates pride. It is an abomination to Him. The prideful will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those who love self, trust self, enjoy self-accomplishments, and promote self-glorification prove they do not truly know God or themselves. Moreover, they misunderstand sin, man, God, Christ, the gospel, and the clear teaching of God’s Word. The pride of life is not from the Father but it’s from the world. So then, let men of God remember that local church ministry and every *single* sermon must be focused exclusively and exaltedly on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The way that a minister’s arrogance comes forth is when his sermons tend to be more man-focused than God-focused. It’s when the worship services cave into the cultural demands to serve what people want rather than what God requires. It’s preaching texts and giving clever stories to connect with the audience so they’ll be entertained, happy, and come back again next time -- and maybe even join their church! When people leave captivated more by the church, the minister, the sermon, or the homiletical outline more than by Christ and His substitutionary crosswork in all of its magnificent facets, arrogance has crept in for something has risen up to take the place of Christ alone -- and that’s the very essence of pride. Ministers, daily let’s slay our pride!

4. Lukewarmness.
It could be hard to tally in a handful of pages the many demands that rest on the shoulders of the pastor.  From service planning, to picking out music, to the selection of a sermon text, to the studying and praying and organizing and crafting of the sermon, to the meeting with congregants, to the counseling relationships, to leadership development, and to the love and constant care of his own wife and children in the home, it seems that endless *things* constantly blast the man for his attention and time and concern. (And let it be said that most of these things are important and good.) However, none of these things are good when they busy the pastor so much that his heart becomes lukewarm as he outwardly does the ‘job’ of pastoral ministry. O how common this can be. Just think of how many times our Lord confronted the Pharisees for their externalism. Few pastors are honest enough to state, after arriving on a Sunday morning after a real draining and exhausting week, and tell people: “Wow, I really don’t feel ready to preach for I’ve been so busy doing the duties of ministry that I’ve not been devoted to my Master.” Those statements are quite infrequent. And yet, that’s precisely the Lord’s counsel to the very wise, learned, theologically astute, and historically grand church at Ephesus. He told them that they’ve lost their first love. They had all kinds of activities and works happening, but their hearts were far from Christ. O let men of God warm their hearts early before meeting with people for meetings. Let us remember: we can do much after we’ve been alone with God in the early hours but we can’t do anything profitable in the day until we’ve met with God in the early hours. Kindle afresh the gift of God! Let the gospel grip you and blaze through your soul hotly and unstoppably! Meditate on the gospel! Preach to your soul what you endeavor to preach to others! Passionless preachers are dead preachers that persuade no one to believe. Take the gospel and dig them deep into the ground of your heart. Feast and focus on your heart!

5. Isolationism.
I wonder if you surveyed the average pastor how many close friends he would honestly say he has. Many pastors have no real close friends in the ministry or outside of their local congregations. There is that “pastoral pedestal” that they find themselves sitting upon (whether they like it or not) and who is he going to go to when he finds himself battling with lust? Where is he going to turn to when he and his wife are not sexually intimate? To whom is he going to confide in for accountability when he is battling anger with his children and impatience toward his small children in the home? How easy it can be for pastors to cover these up and not tell anyone because, after all, they’ve believed the sly and Satanic lie that they *cannot* tell anyone. Then the man digs himself deeper into the hidden nature of his sin by his own isolationism and lack of seeking accountability. Undoubtedly this is one reason why Christ Himself calls His church to be led by a plurality of godly, qualified, biblically-minded men to help and hold one another accountable. Sin happens. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. Temptations will certainly come. We are to bear each other’s burdens and pastor even our pastors. Have you ever asked your pastor: ‘who holds you accountable?’ That may be a good question to ask. Or, ‘where do you go in seasons of sin and temptation to wickedness?’ Though deep and personal, those are necessary questions to ask men in leadership. Popularity or being ‘the-guy-up-front’ can sometimes come with the false appearance that all is well and with the mistaken assumption that surely he has many men around him that guard him so that he certainly can’t fall into sin. But that line of reasoning is bad, unhelpful, dangerous, and tragic. Let pastors be open and honest with the leadership teams in times of struggle and hardship. Let ministers find other (and older) men to confide in and meet with for prayer, accountability, help, bible-reading, and nurturing. Yes, even the hard questions should be asked about sexual purity (in all its forms), marital fidelity, communication, intimacy, and happiness, financial integrity, disciplining and shepherding of the children in the home (and in family worship), and personal bible reading, prayer, meditation, and repentance. These issues should be asked of the pastor. And the godly minister will welcome these questions from other men who love and care about him and his soul.

More articles from Pastor Geoff are found at his articles page.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Core Tenets of Biblical Counseling
Geoffrey R. Kirkland
Christ Fellowship Bible Church

Consider the following characteristics that should have a place in the life of every healthy local church:
  • Counseling One Another
  • Loving one another
  • Reproving one another
  • Warning one another
  • Bearing the burdens of one another
  • Edifying one another
  • Encouraging one another
  • Serving one another
  • Instructing one another

Maybe you read those and thought to yourself that you’re doing those. You see others doing these things in your church. It goes far beyond the pastor or the elders in your church because there are many men and women who are helping each other in love and with biblical fidelity grow in Christlikeness. And truly, all of these biblical phrases have a part to play in biblical counseling relationships as one Christian helps another Christian walk in a Christ-honoring way through life.
Biblical counseling is the skilled application of God's sufficient Word to the hearts of God's people.

Let’s break that down piece by piece to understand this definition even more.

Biblical counseling is the skilled application of God's sufficient Word to the hearts of God's people.
Biblical counseling is true Christian soul-care. Far from being a self-help book, the Bible does provide everything a child of God needs for life and for godliness. This does not mean that the biblical counseling community rejects science, medicine or the medical community. But rather, biblical counseling affirms that the Word of God is the ultimate authority in matters of this life and in godly living. So, biblical counseling, at its very core, is one Christian reading and rightly interpreting the Word of God so as to help others to walk in a manner pleasing to Christ. This underscores the preeminent need for good hermeneutics (=bible interpretation). The Christian needs to know what the Bible says and where to go in the Bible to help others who are struggling. This is something, to be sure, that any Christian can (and should!) do. This does not leave all counseling cases in the lap of the trained and licensed professionals. It shows that the simplest Christian who knows his Bible and who is able to get at the meaning of the text as the author intended it to be understood and who can rightly and appropriately bring God’s Word to bear in pertinent situations is capable to counsel others through circumstances in life. So then, biblical counseling requires that Christians know God’s Word well to be able to bring truth to bear in specific times. Again, any Christian can do this. The Spirit-indwelt Christian, armed with the sufficient and powerful Word of God, is massively more competent to help a Christian battling with sin than an unbelieving, licensed professional.

Biblical counseling is the skilled application of God's sufficient Word to the hearts of God's people.
Biblical counseling requires good hermeneutics to get at the meaning of the text. But then, the counselor needs to know how to go from the meaning to the application of the text. So how does the Scripture about “giving thanks in all circumstances” relate to a friend’s life who is battling with crushing anxiety? How do the texts about fearing God help the struggling Christian who finds himself so often caving in to the sin of man-pleasing? For these questions, the Christian needs to have the Word and the meaning of the text, but he also needs to know how the text applies to a fellow believer’s specific situation. Far from the accusation that biblical counseling is an overly-simplistic method of helping by saying: ‘memorize this verse and pray more,’ biblical counseling commits to walking side by side with other believers in the bearing of each other’s burdens so that sin is put off and godly habits are put on in its place. Again, no licenses or degrees are mandatory for this to take place. The Christian who knows his Bible and uses it to diagnose and bring change in his own life is one who can do this to fellow believers in his local church with a committed relationship of godly love -- or, biblical counseling. 

Biblical counseling is the skilled application of God's sufficient Word to the hearts of God's people.
Every biblical counselor stands upon and glories in the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Word of God. The Bible never claims to be exhaustive in all areas of knowledge. But the Bible does claim to be absolutely sufficient for all that the Christian will need for all areas of both life and godliness. The Word is God-breathed and profitable … so that the man of God will be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible is not just an option for help when battling with down and out depression, sexual additions, self-mutilation, suicidal temptations, alcoholism, or schizophrenic tendencies. The Word of God is the ultimate authority because it is sufficient to help the child of God glorify Christ and triumph through this life -- even though the path may be thorny and lonely. It must be stated again that biblical counselors who affirm the sufficiency of the Word do not reject science or the medical profession. Medical exams and care from physicians are so important to look at the physiological elements of a person’s makeup. But it is the Word of God that changes the heart and teaches the Christian to endure whatever hard trial or physical ailment that may invade one’s life by the good and sovereign hand of God. So again, biblical counseling underscores and champions the reality that the Bible repeatedly claims to be adequate and perfect for the converting and changing of the heart so as to make God’s people more like Jesus Christ.

Biblical counseling is the skilled application of God's sufficient Word to the hearts of God's people.
Another central tenet of biblical counseling is the target of biblical change being the heart. The Word of God does not promote behavioral management or simple external change. Too many examples exist in the Scriptures to show that God is not impressed with outward righteousness if a person is rotten and full of wickedness on the inside. So biblical counselors take God’s Word and apply it to the lives of other Christians so that the heart is wooed by Christ and gripped by Christ and convicted by the Spirit and empowered by grace to obey the Word -- regardless of the trying life-situation a person may be in. A wife may be in a tragic and abusive marriage to a great deceiver and yet she can glorify Christ as her heart continually is drawn to Christ, to His Word, and to godly living even enduring the hardships of life. This is where biblical hope is so profound and beautiful. It reminds the believer that God’s promises are yes and amen and that God is working all things together for good for His people so as to conform them more into the image and likeness of God’s beloved son, Jesus Christ. So biblical counseling refrains from referring fellow believers to psychologists and psychiatrists because ultimate change occurs in the heart, by the power of the Word, in the context of the local church, for the glory of Jesus Christ, even if a situation in life or a trial in life or a pain in life remains the same or escalates in intensity. Sometimes the tendency is to do anything to get “relief.” But it just might be that God may allow a specific situation to remain (and thus, to withhold ‘relief’) so that the child of God will grow stronger in his heart-confidence in Christ, in his fear of God, in his fortification on God’s sovereignty, and in his commitment to prayer, Bible reading, and serving in his local church. And if this happens, biblical counselors can come alongside the counselees and say, “to God be the glory!”

Biblical counseling is the skilled application of God's sufficient Word to the hearts of God's people.
If biblical counseling pursues the heart and conforming the inside of the person more into the image of Jesus Christ, then it only assumes that biblical counseling can only happen in God’s people. In other words, if an unbeliever comes to a Christian for counseling, that relationship will be full of help and hope because it will be evangelistic in nature because there is something far more important than simple physical relief from a pain or relief from a circumstance, namely, the sinner’s peace with God. So, biblical counselors know and understand that all counseling is pre-counseling until the person is a Christian. For indeed, no person can understand the Scripture or obey Christ or live out the precepts of God’s Word if they are lost and dead in sin. Only true Christians have the ability to honor God, obey God, please God, and to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, in regard its lusts’ (Rom 13:14). This is not to say that biblical counselors turn people in the community away who genuinely need and long for help. Biblical counselors do not angrily or arrogantly shove people off if they’re tangled in sin and angry at God. Biblical counselors understand, however, the reality of God’s word and systematic theology derived from the Word that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor 2:14). This is why evangelism takes priority when a biblical counselor meets with a nonbeliever. This includes proclaiming the gospel in love, with patience, with compassionate urgency, and with fidelity in calling the unbeliever to repent of his sins and believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. And for the Christian, he has both the ability and the desire to obey and honor Christ above all things. Even if something is hard or seemingly impossible to do, the child of God has the indwelling holy Spirit, the power of prayer, his local church, and the counseling relationship to help him on the ongoing and progressive journey of sanctification.

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Some helpful words from Martyn Lloyd Jones answering the question: What is a Christian?

"You are not a Christian unless you have been made speechless!  How do you know whether you are a Christian or not?  It is that you 'stop talking.'  The trouble with the non-Christian is that he goes on talking. . . . People need to have their mouths shut, 'stopped'.  They are for ever talking about God, and criticizing God, and pontificating about what God should or should not do, and asking 'Why does God allow this and that?' You do not begin to be a Christian until your mouth is shut, is stopped, and you are speechless and have nothing to say"  (in Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Exposition of Rom 3:20-4:25 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan], 19).

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