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Choosing A Church

People choose churches based on various things, as you know. In my opinion, the list includes the following in this order:

  1. Location– If someone can find a church which includes all, or most of, the rest of this list, they will go to that church first.
  2. Doctrine – People can, and do, ignore closer located churches if one that is further away adheres to their doctrinal choices.
  3. Friendliness – Just because a church believes the way you do, does not make up for bad behavior or lack of friendliness on the part of the members. Friendly members can make up for a lack of some of the following items.
  4. Structure (organizational) – Members may ignore the lack of structure for a while, and some members will never quite have a problem with any lack of structure, but in the long run, many of those who are troubled will go away without ever verbalizing their feelings. Structure in the church emphasizes the Biblical mandate that all things be done in order, as well as give people a sense of security as members. A structured organization implies long term progress and success. People feel a sense of purpose and direction.
  5. Worship and praise – If all of the above is functioning as is expected, it will be evident to the membership. This releases the members from the stress of concerning themselves with the direction of the church, or its longevity. This frees the person to focus more so on their relationship with the Lord. Worship and praise comes naturally to people who are not pulled emotionally by distress, problems, and lack of clear direction from the pastorate, and church leadership.
  6. Preaching/Teaching styles – A congregation which feels free to express their worship and praise due to their sense of stability and purpose, will more readily appreciate the message from the Word taught or preached. Because they will see much of the teaching and preaching being lived out in the practices of the church, through the actions of the pastor(s) and leadership, they will also be more receptive to instruction.
  7. Upward mobility – Upward mobility is that opportunity for members to move into leadership positions, as well as possibly, into the pastorate. Ephesians 4: 11-16 clarifies the need for training and preparation of the membership for the work of the ministry. Each member should be instructed, at an appropriate time in their growth in the Lord, their personal calling from God. This would include training, instruction, and direction, on the part of the church leadership, as well as the pastorate. The concept is the same as the possibility of being promoted at work. This is an effective incentive for people. The same will be true in church. The church must brand itself, not only as a place of seeking and finding knowledge in Christ, but as a place where they may be ministered to, and also where they may minister to others.
  8. Ministry opportunitiesinternal – If all of the above is in place and functioning correctly, People within the church will have options for ministry and personal involvement. People who volunteer demonstrate a love for their church, and they will invite others to “their” church.
  9. Ministry opportunitiespublic – As members mature, they also tend to become restless (wanting to do more). These mature members need to have outlets for the desire to serve the Lord. There should be opportunities available, or at least, encouraged, as means of ministry. This may include personal ministries outside the church, but under the umbrella of the church’s authority. In some cases, members should be encouraged to start the on congregations, which also may be under the “umbrella’ of their present church authority. Members who are ready to “move up” and don’t find the opportunity at their present church will leave and look elsewhere.
  10. Money management – This is a two sided sword. On the one hand, if all of the above are function appropriately, the member will give and trust the money is being handled appropriately as well. On the other hand, if some or most of the above are not functioning well, the discouraged members struggle being motivated to give their minimum, much less over and above. In some cases, the members will “punish” the church, pastor, and/or leaders, by withholding financial support for the church in total.

Persons who come to the church from other congregations, will compare what is offered at this church to what was offered at the last church. More mature believers who look for a (new) church, will have slightly different, but nevertheless just as important, concerns:

  1. Do I agree with their doctrine? Self-explained.
  2. Are they open to my participation? These more mature Christians do not want to leave one church where they had limited opportunities for ministry, just to end up somewhere else where the situation will be the same.
  3. Will I be used effectively while I am attending there? Is the pastor confident in him or herself, enough to work with someone who may be better qualified than them in some areas of ministry or function? Some pastors are intimidate by Christians with strong character who are also professionals or better educated than they.
  1. Will I have preaching and teaching opportunities (and not just teaching the youth)? More mature Christians want the opportunity to do more than just attend church and have someone preach and teach to them things they already know. They want to start preaching and teaching as well.
  2. Will I have the ear of the pastor(s)/Leadership? Every church has a group of people who have a closer relationship with the pastor, and those who are on the fringes. This was so in Biblical times as well. The problem comes when someone who is willing to do more and be more available to the pastor or leaders for ministry, is left out of the “inner circle.” These persons will tend to interpret this as if they are not welcome, or not appreciated. These will eventually leave the church. Those that feel that they have the pastor’s ear, or at least that of a leader who is close to the pastor, will feel they have someone with whom to share ideas and offer suggestions, and, at least, be heard. These people can be expected to do more, be more available, and to be more willing to give (financially) more to the work of the church.

REGLAS PARA MI VIDA

  1. Soy responsable de mí mismo, de mis acciones y de mis decisiones.
  2. No culparé a los demás por lo que decido hacer, ni por los resultados de lo que hice.
  3. Otras personas me deben nada, a menos que haya habido un acuerdo claro antes de tiempo, sobre lo que se debe. (Por ejemplo: mi trabajo)
  4. Otras personas no tienen que gustarme, ni yo a ellos.
  5. Otras personas no tienen que respetarme, yo tengo que ganar el respeto de la gente por la forma en que me comporto. (Por ejemplo: tomando buenas decisiones y controlándome de una manera piadosa)
  6. Si quiero hacer algo bueno para otra persona, elegiré hacerlo sin esperar que tengan que estar agradecidos por lo que hice. (Por ejemplo: hacer favores por los demás)
  7. Puedo elegir que me guste a mi la gente, pero no debo esperar que les guste yo a ellos.
  8. Si otras personas actúan como tontos o niños, no debo dejarme aspirar a hacer lo mismo. (Por ejemplo: enojarme y discutir)
  9. Si trato a los demás de una buena manera, eso no significa que deben tratarme igual a cambio.
  10. No puedo controlar lo que otros dicen de mí, pero puedo controlar si resulta ser verdad. (Por ejemplo: Si alguien dice que soy un mentiroso, no voy a mentir, demostrando que están equivocados)
  11. Soy un hombre (o mujer) de Dios, no permitiré que el enemigo me controle a través de las acciones de otras personas. (Por ejemplo: comportarme como ellos, o dejar que controlen mi ira con su comportamiento)
  12. Debo ser amable, si quiero tener amigos, pero eso no significa que otros quieran automáticamente ser mis amigos. (Vea la regla 4 arriba)
  13. Sólo porque creo que algo es verdad, no significa que otros estarán de acuerdo conmigo. (Por ejemplo: simplemente porque alguien es un cristiano, quizas ellos todavía no necesariamente entienden correctamente la instrucción bíblica, o posiblemente no estén de acuerdo con ella)
  14. Está bien que otras personas crean de manera diferente a mí.
  15. Sólo porque creo que algo está bien no significa que debo hacerlo, siempre debo considerar las consecuencias. (Por ejemplo: si confronto a alguien quizas decidan que no quieran tener nada que ver conmigo en el futuro)
  16. Sólo porque algo se siente o parece correcto, no significa que es correcto para ahora. (Por ejemplo: incluso si algo es lo correcto, puede que tenga que esperar el momento adecuado)
  17. La ira es una señal para mí que no estoy manejando algo bien, tengo que leer las reglas anteriores y hacer cambios.
  18. A otras personas pueden escoger comportarse mal, pero Dios quiere que yo elija comportarme de manera piadosa en todos los casos.

¡LA REGLA MÁS IMPORTANTE DE TODAS!

Nunca dejes que lo urgente se adelante a lo importante.

Reglas Para Mi Hogar

  1. Este es un hogar cristiano. Siempre reconoceremos a Dios, y estaremos agradecidos por Su misericordia a nosotros.
  2. Todas las personas que viven en esta casa asistirán a la iglesia. Esto significa, por lo menos, los servicios de Domingo.
  3. Todas personas serán tratados con respeto. Esto significa que la grosería, responder con falta de respeto, el maldecir a alguien, la violencia y otros comportamientos similares, no son aceptables bajo ninguna circunstancia.
  4. La violencia nunca es aceptable ni permitida. La única diferencia es donde uno está defendiendo la salud y / o la vida de uno mismo o de los demás.
  5. Maldiciendo en general no es aceptable.
  6. Todos los que viven en esta casa participarán en mantenerla. Esto significa que todas personas van a ayudar con las tareas. Cada persona va a ayudar, pero la ayuda de cada uno, se decidirá de acuerdo a su edad, habilidades, etc. El hecho de que alguien tiene un trabajo no es una excusa para no ayudar en la casa de alguna manera predefinida.
  7. Beber alcohol, ya sea, no es permitido en absoluto, o permitido sólo a un nivel muy limitado. La embriaguez nunca es aceptable, bajo ninguna circunstancia.
  8. El uso indebido de drogas, legales o no, nunca será aceptable. Las drogas ilegales no se permiten en esta casa. Ni en su persona o consumidas en su cuerpo.
  9. Cualquier persona que está drogada, o borrachos con alcohol, no serán bienvenidos en esta casa.
  10. Los niños deben obedecer a los adultos, y los adultos deben tratar a los niños con respeto firme y disciplina saludable. Aparte del uso de una paleta (tablita) o cinturón, los niños no pueden ser golpeados físicamente por nadie, en absoluto.
  11. Cualquier persona que tenga 18 años de edad, o más, debe estar contribuyendo al pago de gastos en esta casa de alguna manera. Si la persona no está empleada y, sin embargo, es lo suficientemente sana como para trabajar, debe irse de la casa cada Lunes, Martes y Miércoles para buscar trabajo y llenar solicitudes. Pueden regresar después de las 2:00 pm cada día.
  12. Si usted come en esta casa, aunque usted compra la comida o no, y si usa platos o no, usted todavía debe de ayudar a lavar los platos cuando es su turno.
  13. Todas personas son responsable de la limpieza de esta casa. Si usted ve algo que necesita atención, entonces hágalo. Recoja las cosas del suelo, ponga los platos usados en el fregadero (y lávelos), tire la basura, etc.
  14. La pornografía, ya sea en Internet, por materiales físicos (como revistas, fotos, videos o cualquier otra cosa), no está permitida ni es aceptable.
  15. El fumar (cigarrillos, puros, o cualquier otra cosa) no es permitido o aceptable en esta casa. Si usted fuma en otra parte, no traiga el hedor del cigarrillo en el hogar en su ropa tampoco.
  16. Esta casa no es un motel. Hay un cierre de puerta (curfew) de 12:30 a.m. para personas mayores de 18 años de edad. Si no regresan a esta hora, entonces deben encontrar otro lugar para quedarse hasta la mañana. Las únicas excepciones serán emergencias o empleo, e incluso, se espera una llamada telefónica.
  17. Si usted rompe algo que usted personalmente no posee, entonces usted debe comprar un reemplazo.
  18. Gritándose el uno al otro no es permitido ni aceptable.
  19. Ropa que necesita lavarse deben colocarse en el lugar designado (es decir, el contenedor de ropa), y no se permite dejarla tirada por aquí o allá.
  20. Equipo eléctrico que produce sonido (TV, radios, etc.) debe mantenerse a un nivel de volumen que no perturbe las otras salas. Las únicas excepciones son durante los momentos de celebración cuando se esperan sonidos más fuertes.
  21. Cada persona puede preparar su propia comida, sin esperar que se deba cocinar o alimentar a todos los demás en la casa.
  22. Si usted tiene ciertos alimentos que desea usar por sí mismo, entonces usted debe etiquetar los elementos, poniendo su nombre en ellos. Por lo tanto, nadie está autorizado a comer alimentos (ya sea en el refrigerador o en la despensa, o en otro lugar, que tiene el nombre de alguien más en él).
  23. Para controlar la posibilidad de cucarachas u otros bichos, si usted come en cualquier lugar que no sea la mesa de la cocina, debe inmediatamente (después de terminar) llevar los platos al fregadero de la cocina (e incluso lavarlos) y limpiar cualquier cosa que pueda atraer los bichos
  24. Se espera que todos los invitados se visten modestamente, incluso cuando están en ropa “cómoda”, especialmente por la tarde y por la noche.
  25. Gente invitada no pueden invitar a otras personas a esta casa, bajo ninguna circunstancia, sin el permiso claro y expreso de los propietarios.
  26. Gente invitada no pueden quitar ningún artículo de esta casa sin el permiso claro y expreso de los propietarios.
  27. Gente invitada no tienen permiso de hacer llamadas telefónicas de larga distancia, o cualquier otro tipo de llamada telefónico que incurra un costo, sin el permiso claro y expreso de los propietarios.
  28. Gente invitada no pueden darle a alguien más permiso para hacer algo en esta propiedad, que no ha sido ya declarado y aclarado, sin el permiso claro y expreso de los propietarios.
  29. La expresión sexual de los individuos se limitara a la privacidad de sus propios cuartos. Homosexualidad, o lesbianismo, no es una práctica aceptable en esta casa, bajo ninguna circunstancia.
  30. Las personas que no están casadas legalmente, no pueden dormir en el mismo cuarto. El llamado “matrimonio de la ley común” no se reconoce en este hogar.

Counselors like King Solomon

First Kings 3:16-28, tells a story of two women who came before King Solomon. Each was claiming that a certain baby was theirs. What had happened, was that one of the women accidentally killed her baby by rolling over on it during the night. When she awoke and saw what she had done, she went and exchanged her dead baby with a living one of another woman. When the other mother realized what happened, she search for and found her baby in the custody of the other. The situation grew to the point it was brought before King Solomon. He listened to both sides, then he gave his counsel. He ordered the baby be cut in half and for each woman to get half. The real mother cried out begging the king not to kill the baby, but instead to give it to the other woman.

Earlier, King Solomon was approached by God, in a dream, and offered the opportunity to choose any blessing he might want. Instead of riches, a long life, or other similar possibilities, instead Solomon said in 1st Kings 3:9 (NASB) “Give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” Even at his age, he was young at the time, he understood that he needed God’s wisdom to lead the people as a king. Christian counselor are in the same boat, as it were, they are also in need of God’s wisdom for counseling the people He sends the counselors.  And, while it is true God promised Solomon that no other person would ever compare to him in his wisdom, God does promise to give wisdom to those who ask for it.

Though James (1:5-7) does promise wisdom for those who ask for it, He also places a condition on getting it, (v.6, NASB) “But he must ask in faith without any doubting…” Doubt is the opposite of Faith. Faith places certain conditions on the believers as well. Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Notice the key words here, “substance” and “evidence.” These two words imply something that can be checked and corroborated. I can hope I will win the lottery, but that in no way proves I actually might win. On the other hand, I can hope to get rich, save money, invest it wisely, and have actual “evidence” of a chance of achieving my goal. In other words, “evidence of things not seen.”

Solomon understood that because he was young, his immaturity could cause him problems. He had lived under his father king David (a man after God’s own heart), and had seen him fail miserably. He understood that just believing in God was not enough to help someone make wise decisions. There was something else needed, and it was something not already available to people without God’s help. As counselors, we must also come to the same understanding. There will be many occasions where we will have a situation brought to us to “judge.” Yes, I said judge. Before you can offer your wise counsel to a person, regarding the circumstances they present to you as their problem, you must make a judgment as to the truth.

As you already know, much of what people present to a counselor is better known as symptoms. These symptoms are the result of the perceived problem by the client. Remember, people do what they do, because they believe what they believe. Therefore, they make decisions based on what they believe to be the problem. In reality, most of these perceived problems of clients are actually their reactions to false and incorrect beliefs. The number one reason most people have “problems” in relationships, especially, is that they are believing some lies. These lies have either been a part of their lives for so long, or the lies are mixed in with truths to the point, that the persons believe they are all the truth. Some people, like the woman who accidently killed her baby, will stick to their lies to the point that they would rather lose everything than to admit they are lying. Those people would hurt others, rather than to admit the truth and find a solution.

To be able to discern this, a Christian counselor must learn to judge carefully. Do not be afraid of judging, and stop believing the lie that the Scriptures call on us to not judge others. Notice the following from Matthew 7:1 (KJV). “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Most people read this verse and stop here. So, they will argue that the Bible instructs believers not to judge others. But, Matthew 12:33 (NASB) says, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” See, a tree is known by its fruit. This means you have to look at the fruit to make a judgment as to the kind of tree. For example, if we look up into a tree and see oranges hanging there, do we then say, “Hey, look, it’s a lemon tree?” Of course not, we see the fruit, judge that they are oranges, and know the type of tree immediately. And, please do not say that you don’t understand that the Lord (who is the One quoted) is actually speaking of people and their ways. Yes, we are expected to judge, but we are expected to leave the judgments which belong to God in His hands. Our need to judge is so that we can make good and correct decisions. We are not allowed to judge the sins of others, this is God’s prerogative alone. Notice also in Matthew 7:2 (KJV), “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” If we are willing to be judged in the same manner we judge others, then we can go ahead and make the judgment.

As counselors, we are to make judgments regarding the actions, behavior and decisions of our clients. These judgments are important so that we may better discern the real problem, and therefore be better able to help people. When we are, inevitably, presented with a situation which will be as difficult as the one King Solomon was, we must be prepared to make the right judgment. The “right” judgment will, also inevitably, need to be the one that God wants. For you, as a Christian counselor, this means working your way through the lies which have trapped the client in a life of problem, and identifying the truth which will “make them free.” To be successful at this, the Christian counselor must learn to make careful judgments.

You may not like the analogy I am about to use, but Christian counselors are much like judges. May times couples come before a counselor, not with the intention of finding a solution, but instead with the desire that the counselor will “judge” that they are right and that their partner is wrong.  Counselors tend to reject this expectation, but they still have to judge the truth, which sometimes does mean judging one right and one wrong. Without this judgment, the Christian counselor will fail to arrive at the truth. And, it is the truth, not the honest intentions of the counselor, which will help find the correct resolution to the problems presented. It may feel uncomfortable to make these judgments, but the Christian counselor is expected to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, which leads us into all truth (John 16:13).

Just as with King Solomon you are going to encounter those situations where one person is clearly wrong, but you also do not want to be seen as choosing sides. So you will have to use the “cut the baby in half” test. For example, let’s say you have in your counseling office a couple. The husband committed adultery and the wife is there, with him, trying to see if you can help her decide her options. She could choose to try to work things out, or she could just go for the divorce. This means you will have to help her by causing something to happen which will be obvious to her. In this example, you ask the wife to consider separating from her husband for three to six months, while he makes some character changes. You are actually suggesting something that will challenges both persons. In his case, the question is will he show that he wants to save his marriage by doing whatever it takes, or will he argue that the consequences should not be so hard on him. If he argues, he is like the woman who stole the child. He won’t care that he is still hurting his wife and marriage, he just wants things to be the way he thinks they should.

In the wife’s case, the test is to see if she actually wants change in him, or just to punish him for being bad. In the former, the goal will be that she imposes these consequences on her husband, because where there are no consequences, there is permission. On the latter, just punishing her husband will serve little value other than making feel slightly better at the moment. In either case, husband or wife, they will either see the benefit of making those personal changes and ending up with a healthier and happier marriage, or they will be so angry and self-centered that they don’t care of the long term damage to their relationship.

As a counselor, you will be confronted with the “cut the baby in half” situations, much more than you might anticipate. Sometimes the situation will seem much less drastic, as compared to an affair. For example, you have a client who seems to struggle with doing what you are counseling him to do. You can “test” him by giving him some homework which should not be hard to do, and can be done easily in one week’s time. If the person does the homework, you can be more confident that he will also take future steps you may counsel. If he makes excuses why he did not get the homework done, then you know you’re wasting your time with someone who is playing at wanting to change. King Solomon could have listened to the women’s arguments and pleadings all day long, and might never be able to figure out who was telling the truth, and who was lying. By threatening to cut the baby in half (the test) he knew that the real mother would not want that to happen. He knew that somehow she would show that she was the real mother. In this case, the real mother would rather give her child away, than allow the baby to be killed. King Solomon’s wisdom was such that he knew that testing people was quicker than just listing to tons of words. Christian counselors should learn this aspect of counseling. We are judges. We have to make judgments on a regular basis. The goal must be to make the best, fair, and most impartial judgments possible. To do this, we need that wisdom from God. And, besides just asking God to give us wisdom (which is fine, but, in my own opinion, the lazy way to get it), we are to study the Word of God, take it to heart and memory, and use it when we make those judgments.

Finally, 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB) says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” This is, without question, one way to get this wisdom of the Lord for making right judgments in counseling. Keep studying.

 

A Happy Marriage – The Elusive Dream For Many

As a counselor of 30 years, I have had the opportunity to speak at many marriage seminars, retreats, and other similar gatherings. On top of that, I have counseled with hundreds of persons, as well as many couples, regarding their marriages. I have come to the conclusion that those of us who do choose to get married, do so with a dream in mind that often turns out to be elusive. We don’t exactly think carefully about how we were expecting things to turn out realistically, we just sort of had in mind that things would just work out okay. Some people, fewer than most, I will also admit, begin their marriages with fantasies of grand and wonderful relations which will get better and better, and more enjoyable as time progresses. You know the type, “He or she will love me for the rest of my life, they will always be on my side, they will always be romantically attracted to me, and only me alone, they will be happy just being married to me.” Then reality hits, and many times the persons are left devastated and angry.

Am I saying that there is no chance of a “happy” marriage? No, but it will depend on your idea of what “happy” means. Happiness is something we decide on our own. The dictionary defines it this way, “the state of being happy.” The word “happy” has two definitions: 1) “Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment,” and 2) “Fortunate and convenient.” The second definition is more about mannerisms, like, “He is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy.” So, I will concentrate on the first definition.

If you are married, especially those who now may have been married for many years, do you and your spouse “feel or show pleasure or contentment” regarding your marriage? Well, we hope so, right? Let’s look at the words carefully and evaluate their reality in real people’s lives and marriages. You can have a good idea of how you personally feel about things, even your marriage, but you cannot be completely sure of someone else’s feeling, no matter how enthusiastically they emphasize them. People have been known to lie, right? And, there is no human on the face of the Earth that does not tell even a tiny, small, white, lie at some time or other. So the question is, how can you be sure that your spouse really is “happy” with your marriage just because they say they are?

30 years of counseling has taught me that, too often, people will say one thing and mean another. I have had men and women in counseling sessions argue how much they “love” their spouse, and then in the same session, threaten to divorce them because they are so angry. I have had women who come to see me complaining that their husbands have been abusive and hateful toward them, while at the same time claiming they don’t want to divorce. I had one situation, which has unfortunately become an expectation of mine regarding many marriages, where a man came to counsel arguing that he wanted his marriage to get better and improve, but, after additional counseling, I came to find out he was hiding the fact that he had been “talking to” another woman. A person can argue that they want to save, or improve, their marriage, and at the same time continue behavior which is clearly damaging the relationship.

Marriage is hard work. Not impossible, but nevertheless hard. A marriage will not just work out okay, it will require both individuals to choose to make sacrifices and compromise on many issues. It seems, often, that many persons who get married think that they can be married, and get all the benefits which come along with it, and still be free to live in any manner they want. I often hear the argument, “But what about me?” Their question alludes to their belief that they should be able to live and do as they want, and that their spouse should just accept it, and not confront them regarding their beliefs. This is solely a selfish egotistic self-serving concept. The correct question should be, “What about us?” One person once argued, “Are we supposed to stop being individuals when we get married?” The person was expecting me to say, “No.” Instead, I said, Yes!” At least from a Biblical perspective, we are called to become “one.” The idea is that two persons decide to leave their individual separate lives aside, and begin new lives working together for mutually benefiting purposes.

Is it possible for couples to have a “happy” marriage? Of course, but certain things will have to happen. I have, for the purposes of this writing, identified four issues of marriage which any couple must resolve to have a “happy” marriage.

First of all, the couple will have to have a sit down session and carefully outline plans for their future. According to my own statistics, after 30 years of counseling, of the people who come to see me, only 2 percent have any semblance of plans for their future. This means that upwards of 98 percent of most couples who encounter problems in their marriage have little to no future plans. Why is this important? Because, couples who do not work out plans, will then not work together to achieve those plans. The result will be that each person will attempt to accomplish their own goals and plans within the relationship, while expecting their spouse to go along with them. It should therefore be no surprise that so many marriages end up with two people at odds with each other as to the direction of the relationship. Often, it seems, people marry with the idea that the other person will just go along with everything they think is right or okay.

And, even when they do start to discuss their “plans,” the argument usually turns to one or both complaining that the other is not listening. To a lot of people, if you do not agree with them that means you are not listening to them. The argument is that if you are really listening to them, then you would agree with everything they say. Uh, I don’t think so! They seem to forget that part of what drew them together was their differences in some aspects of their personalities. The Bible, in the book of Amos, chapter 3, verse 3, asks the question, (KJV), “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” The answer to the question is supposed to be a clear, “No!” If two people don’t agree on the direction or means of travel they will not head in the same direction, or by the same means. Once while counseling a betrothed couple, I encountered one the funniest, and saddest, moments in my counseling career. The groom-to-be, a Mexican man, and his bride-to-be, a Chicana, sat in front of me as we went through our second session of Pre-Marital Counseling. I had asked the couple how many children they were planning to have. The man, in usual machismo attitude blurted out in Spanish that the couple would be having five children. The lady, in full Chicano form, stared at him as though he had three heads. “Five!” she uttered in English, “Are you crazy? We are not having five kids!” The man started at her for a moment, turned to look at me, and then returned his stare at her, “We ARE having five kids!” His face starting to turn a shade of red. “No were are NOT!” returned the woman. “Yes we ARE!” He emphasized the last word rather clearly. “Okay,” she said. She shot me a glance and then faced him with a smirk on her face, “I’ll have the first two and you can have the last three.” I steered them off that subject, with a caution to discuss the issue further among themselves and find a compromise of some sort. I then changed directions and asked the man what they had decided about working, whether one or both would get a job. His answer, once again, was quick and specific. “I am going to work and she will be staying at home. “You ARE crazy,” she said in a voice about two octaves higher than her regular voice level, “I am going to work. I ain’t staying at home!” “Yes you are!” he shouted back. “Who’s going to make me?” she responded. He didn’t say anything at that moment, but his eyes were on fire as he stared hard at her.

Most of the couples which I have encountered who do have plans for the future have been couples who had been married for some time. They did not start off with those plans though. They were just as blind and plan-less as most other couples. What changed was that they went through a difficult time. A near break up, a trauma of some sort, a difficult emergency, or some other similar thing, forced them to rethink their circumstances. One couple struggled through the infidelity of the wife. Right on the brink of divorce, the couple worked out some painful issues and began healing. Years later, the couple is one of the happiest I personally know. They have plans for the future, they know where they are headed together, and both are working to make those plans a reality.

Secondly, they need to work out certain rules and agreements between themselves, to which they will adhere with the intention of maintaining peace and order in their relationship and home. God has rules which must be followed (the Bible), countries have rules which must be followed (the law), businesses which want to succeed have rules which must be followed (their policies and procedures), even gangs have rules which must be follow. But, sadly, most families and homes have little to no rules at all. When I ask couples if they have any rules for their home or marriages, they will say, “Yes.” But when I ask them to show me a copy of their rules, they will tell me that they have these rules only in their heads. This means that two different persons, have a set of rules in their heads which likely do not agree with the other person’s definition or interpretation. One lady told me that one of their rules was that there had to be peace in the home. In the same session, the husband later said, “Peace? Peace is when she shuts up and quits nagging me!” Clearly they did not have the same idea of peace in the home or marriage.

90 percent of the folks who come to see me not only do not have rules for the homes or marriages, but they wouldn’t recognize a home or marriage rule if it came up to them and kicked them in the knee.  Many of you, who are reading this are in the same boat. You don’t have a set of written (yes, I said written) rules or agreement for your home, much less your marriage. If you will go to my website – practicalcounseling.com, you can find a copy of suggested home and marriage rules. I have yet, in all these years of counseling, had a couple come to see me who was in desperate trouble, and who also had and followed their personal rules. I once had a couple who came to see me because they were living unhappily at home with the adult children. They came to me complaining that there was no peace in their home. After telling me the whole sordid story of the problems these adult children were causing, I told the couple that I was going to suggest something that would immediately, as of that same date, resolve their problem. I helped them write some rules for the home, which I told them to share with their children that very afternoon. Later that evening, as I watched a favorite TV show of mine, I received a call from the husband urging me to come over to their home. He sounded distressed and excited. I could tell that something big had happened. He sounded worried and troubled. As I drove close to their home I saw a car which looked as though someone had run it into the couple’s car on purpose. I noticed the screen door with a big rip in it, and the back door’s glass pane as broken. As I exited my car, the husband came out running toward me exclaiming that his wife was upset and needed to speak with me. As we spoke, his wife came out also. “Pastor!” she shouted, “look at what they did.” She explained that when she got home, and got her adult children to sit with her at the kitchen table, she started telling them the new rules when her son jumped up angrily and started screaming at them about how bad of parents they were. Her then got his things and left the home. As he was leaving, the screen door did not immediately give, so he punched his fist through it ripping it. Then the daughter also got mad and called her boyfriend to come and get her. Then she got into her car and rammed it into her parent’s car. The only other person there was the husband’s sister. When they told her the rules would apply to her as well, she became irate and took her son and her belongings and left screaming at them that they were terrible Christians. When the wife finished telling me the story, she waited to see what I would say. I looked over to the house, turned and glanced at the cars, and turned again to the wife. “Sister,” I asked, “is there anyone left in your home that will cause you troubles?” She frowned and said, quietly, “No.” I smiled and said, “There you go. Mission accomplished” I turned and went back to my car. To this date, this couple enjoys peace in their home.

Thirdly, they need to clarify their relationship with relatives, friends, co-workers, and others. I don’t have good statistics on this one. I can only tell you that relatives, friends, co-workers, and others, if allowed by either or both of the couple, can cause more problems than they should be able to cause. And, that was not a typo, I did mean, “If allowed.” As with my second point above, the “happy” couple is one who has worked out considerations and limits when it comes to other people. In-laws tend to stick their noses into a couple’s life because they think that just because they are related by blood there is some law somewhere that gives them the right to so do. Relatives, with their “good intentions” have, over the years, caused much distress with married persons. In many cases, by interfering, well intended relatives end up making matters much worse than they would have otherwise. I know of one couple which ended up in divorce due to that fact that the brothers of the wife kept threatening the husband. He decided that getting out of the relationship was best for his physical health. Another question regards “friends.” What is a friend, and do you know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance? A friend is given privileges that you would never give an acquaintance, at least I hope you wouldn’t. On top of that, when is it okay for a husband or wife to have a “friend” of the opposite sex, which is also not the friend of the spouse? How many affairs begin between friends who like each other? Hmm?

Couples who have “happy” marriages don’t deceive themselves. Any marriage can be destroyed by an affair. The way to avoid the possibility is to purposefully establish certain guidelines by which the couple will live and abide. Make it a clear point as to what is and is not acceptable in any relationship with relatives, friends, co-workers, and others. Have this discussion now, before something terrible occurs, rather than in my counseling office when you are both in trouble of divorce. One of the dumbest things I have heard from people who come to see me is, “This will never happen to me!” Every marriage on Earth is one decision away from a divorce. What will your decision be?

Finally, they need to agree on specific definitions for much of the language they will use with each other. A couple came to see me, with the wife complaining that her husband, “never communicates with me.” I asked her how many children they had, and she said four. I told her that there had to have been some communicating to get the done. Communication. It can be such a daunting word.  To a counselor, the art of communication is more than just spending time talking with each other. There are some nuances which most people overlook. Let me prove the point.

Let’s use the sentence, “The time is right.” Depending on where you put the emphasis, you could be saying something different. For example, “THE time is right.” The emphasis is on the word “the.” This emphasizes the idea that there is a specific time for something or other. Such as id someone said, “NOW is the time.” But, if we say it this way, “The TIME is right,” we could now mean either that the hour on the clock shows the time to do something, or this season of the year is best for some action, or that some political opportunity is at hand, for instance. And, if we say it this way, “The time IS right,” we may be asserting that action should be taken immediately, and that there should be no hesitation. Finally, we could say it this way, “The time is RIGHT.” This would lend the understanding that there has been no error in the understanding of when something should happen.

This is the problem which plagues many couples. They have a vague idea of what communication means, but they become so angry that their spouse is not doing it. It is more than just speaking or taking time with each other. It requires at least two persons to consider and agree upon certain “rules of communicating,” such as no yelling, walking away, quitting, and so forth. It also requires those people to agree on specific definitions to generally used words. For example, you and your spouse each take a piece of paper and write these words down: love, faithful, adultery, abuse, and sex. Now without speaking or sharing your papers with each other, write down simple definitions to each word. What is it, what does it mean, what does it include, and are there any exceptions? You will find that you both will end up with different definitions. So you may both use the same words in what seem to be the same statements, but you will each have a different context for the use of the words. Good communication will require both persons to make some adjustments in conversation style, language, and intent. Even then, there will still be some confusion, but it should be considerably less.

So, what was my point after all of this? Marriage takes work to make it work. A “happy” marriage takes even more work, but the result is worth the effort.

 

 

 

 

“I’m Not Sure I Believe Anymore!”

These were the words of a young wife who came to see me for counseling. Her husband of a few years had left her for someone else, and she was angry and mortified at the prospects of divorce. “Can’t God just make him get right?” she cried. She grew up in church where she heard and was taught that God, not only could, but would, help His “children” resolve and fix all their problems. She cried saying that her pastor would always tell the congregation that no matter what the problem was, you just had to “trust in Jesus,” and God would work things out. So, here she was just a few years into her marriage, and she was facing what seemed an eminent divorce, and she was angry that “Jesus” had not fixed her marriage problems, and made things right. She was angry, frustrated, disillusioned, and doubtful if God even existed at all.

For me, this was not a rare or strange circumstance, in my 30 years of counseling, I have encountered this frustration in many “believers.” In fact, most of the persons who come to see me for counseling are “believers.” I put that word in quotations, because they claim to be believers, and since I cannot read minds, I assume they probably are. On the other hand, their lives do not prove it. Most people, like the young wife above, have religious ideas about who God is, and what He is supposed to do, and how. Too many times, also like the young wife above, they believe things which were told to them, rather than what they themselves read and studied in the Bible. In other words, they are believing what their pastors, teachers, and other “Christians” told them, and not what God Himself told them via His Word. Therefore, many persons hold onto strange beliefs, as to who God is, and what is to be expected of Him. Then, when things do not turn out the way they were told, they get mad at God for not complying with what these other people taught about Him.

The biggest part of the overall problem, from my estimation, is that these angry and frustrated people forget that God gave them, as well as everyone else on earth the right of self-will. They will hear those words on still have no clue what they mean. They will argue they understand that self-will means someone can choose whether or not to obey God, but in the next breathe, they will argue that God should make their children, husband, wife, or someone else they care about, behave correctly and stop doing the wrong things. And, if God does not force these wrong-doers to change and behave, they blame God and get angry with Him. If God were to force the people to do right and behave, then He is just a liar, and no real God!

What went wrong in the young wife’s marriage? Was it that God lost control of her husband, or that He did not make the husband act correctly? Is God refusing to help her, when she is adamantly believing that “Jesus is the “answer?” Or, was it that at some point in their marriage one of them began doing what was wrong, and the other was no doing what was right? The Bible teaches in James 4:17 (NASB), “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” In our discussions, I came to find out that the husband had done other things which should not have been acceptable, and that the wife did not impose consequences on him. The principle here is this, “Where there are no consequences, there is permission.”

As we continued counseling, she mentioned these unacceptable actions and behavior on the husband’s part. Each time I asked her if she imposed consequences, she said, “Yes.” But, when I asked her to tell me what the consequences were, she would explain how she would either get mad at him, and tell him off, give him the cold-shoulder, or at times, the silent treatment. Each time I said, “In other words, you did nothing, right?” Consequences are real if there is something we might lose, which we do not want to lose. God works like this, He will let you suffer the consequences of your choices. If you do something wrong, then He will probably not rescue you from the consequences. The same is true of when you don’t do what is right, you will probably suffer the consequences. So then, why was her marriage in shambles? Why had her husband left her for someone else? Why wasn’t Jesus fixing her marriage and problems? Because they both made decisions which had real and serious consequences. The only thing God did was to keep His word and let them suffer the consequences of their choices. Until she comes to understand this truth, she will continue to be angry with, and frustrated by God.

Did Jesus Make Mistakes?

The answer to this question is not a simple “yes,” or “no.” A religiously motivated person will have no problem instantly shouting “No!” to the question, at the top of his or her lungs. On the other hand, those of us who have actually read the Word and consider it’s teaching, will understand that while Jesus was fully God, He was also fully human. Humans make mistakes. Mistakes are not “sins” in the “I willingly choose to disobey the Father” variety. To come to a Biblical and healthy, as well as not heretical, understanding of this subject, we must consider a couple of things:

  1. When God calls us to be perfect, what does He mean by that? (Matthew 5:48)
  2. Is sinning and making mistakes the same thing?

In response to a question on Wm. Paul Young’s Blog, Ulrike Mccullagh wrote the following, in which she emphasized a special point regarding this subject.

“We seem to forget that when Christ set aside his majesty to ‘slip into humanity’ he also left behind what he ‘knew’ and had been involved with before the incarnation. For Jesus to be fully human, he cannot have been like our many versions of Superman or Super heros. He had to cultivate and tap into his relationship with the Father breath by breath, moment by moment and through this receive instruction and insight into the moment, the task at hand and into the future much like the prophets of old and much we ourselves now. I also believe like any good father, Jesus’ Papa would have said on occasion ‘Why don’t you try it out, work out how it fits together, how it works best for you’”

Like us, Jesus also had free will, He could have chosen to follow His own path, and not that of the Father’s, but instead, He denied His own temptations (Hebrews 4:15), and obeyed. But, is this what we are talking about here? That Jesus never made any mistakes of any kind? That He never accidently cut His finger while sawing a board, or cutting some cheese for dinner? That He never stumbled over a rock, or that He never uttered a word which bothered another person? If Jesus truly was tempted as I have been in my own life (which is what Hebrews 4:15 states), then He was TRULLY tempted.

When I consider Matthew 5:48, which calls for us humans to be perfect like God is perfect, I shudder a bit. On the one hand there is nothing, let me emphasize that again, nothing, that I could ever do in my lifetime, under my own power, with the abilities and skills which God Himself has given me, that can in any way possible even by the largest stretch of my imagination (and I have a great imagination), even come close to complying with the demand that I be perfect. Isaiah 64:6 make the point even clearer, when the writer utters the mournful statement, “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” On the other hand, I also recognize that my “perfection” cannot be based or founded in me, but in Christ the Lord. Hebrews 12:2 answers the question for me about how I could ever even have a slight chance of being “perfect” as the Father is perfect. It is Jesus who will, and does, make me perfect in the eyes of the Father. I can be “perfect” like God through the shed blood of Jesus the Christ on the cross.

The next part of this question must be, “Does being ‘perfect’ like the Father, specifically mean that I must never make even a mistake in my life? I don’t believe that God makes mistakes, but in His Word (the Bible), He said, more than once, that He regretted having done something. Did He make mistakes? Didn’t He know that Lucifer would sin and become Satan? Didn’t He know that Adam would eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which, incidentally, He put into the Garden on purpose, right? Why did He have to ask Cain where his brother Abel was? Didn’t He know? Why did God flood the earth and kill all those humans, didn’t He already know they were going to sin? Why didn’t He stop them? And, there are many more examples in the Bible which seem to question whether God got it right. Did He indeed make some mistakes along the way? Is our existence some experiment of God’s? Is He learning how to get it right? All those things look like mistakes, but even if they were, none of them means that God sinned. Making mistakes is not the same as sinning.

If Jesus never made a human mistake, then He has no knowledge of what it means to be human, and He would be wrong to ask us to follow His ways, because He would know that we struggle complying with that command one hundred percent. If not making mistakes is the example, then I know, without a single doubt, that I will never pass the test, but, if Jesus was all human, just as He is all God, then I can rest assured that the human Jesus blew it sometimes. And, the Bible gives us some indications that this is true.

  • John 2:1-12 tells of a story where Jesus’ mom invited him and his friends to a wedding she was attending. When they got there she told Jesus that the wine was running out. I guess she wanted to impress her friends by getting her son to get more wine, even though he was just an invited guest. When she made her request to him, His response began with the word, “Woman.” Instead of the more loving term “mother,” Jesus addressed her like she had no relationship to Himself. His mom must have gotten her feeling hurt.
  • In Matthew 21:12-13, we are told of an incident in which Jesus gets angry and overthrew tables, knocked over chairs, and in anger yelled at the people who were in the temple that day.
  • In Mark 11:12-14; 20-25, there is a story where Jesus, who was hungry spotted a fig tree in bloom. Knowing that a blooming fig tree would have lots of figs, Jesus went to the tree to get some of the fruit. When He found it had none, He cursed it.
  • The politically correct people of today would have a “field day” with some other of our Lords behavior as well. He used epithets regarding the Pharisees, He made judgments about some people around him, He spoke badly of rich people, He told some people they were the children of Satan, and once He called a woman a dog (really!).

As a human, Jesus was fully human He had feelings as we do. He got angry (as we have already seen), but he also cried (John 35:11), and at times He was sad (Luke 19:41). Did He ever laugh? Well if you had to deal with those hard-headed disciples, I am sure you would find many moments of laughter. I am convinced He laughed at Peter lots of times. He used the restroom just like the rest of us (no disrespect intended), He had to take baths, and I believe His breathe sometimes didn’t smell any more fragrantly than ours.

So, with all this evidence from the Bible itself, was Jesus “perfect?’ Well, yes, as fully God, but, as fully man, well … it depends on how you define “perfect.”

Adult and Minor Children – How to handle problems

Section One – Adult Children

Helping is doing something for someone that he is not capable of doing himself.

Enabling is doing for someone things that he could and should be doing himself.

  • Being the Bank of Mom and Dad, or the Bank of Grandma and Grandpa.
  • Loaning money that is never repaid, buying things they can’t afford and don’t really need.
  • Continually coming to their rescue so they don’t feel the pain—the consequences—of their actions and choices.
  • Accepting excuses that we know are excuses—and in some instances are downright lies.
  • Blaming ourselves for their problems.
  • We have given too much and expected too little.

Two separate yet intrinsically combined things going on when we look at the pathology of enabling our adult children, what are those two things?

  1. We have the issue of the dysfunctional child himself—the product of our enabling.
    1. Most often, we are dealing with adult children who have no concept of healthy boundaries as they pertain to their parents and grandparents.
    2. Many are dealing with addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, gambling, and more.
    3. Some of these children are involved in illegal activity, while others have been in and out of jail numerous times.
    4. Some are abusive to us.
    5. Some have jobs while others do not, most have extreme financial challenges.
    6. Others are still living at home, and some have even moved their spouse or “significant other” into their parents’ home with them.
    7. Many have been in and out of treatment centers, most often at the urging (and cost) of their parents.

While we cannot change the behavior of our adult children, we can change how we respond to their actions and to their choices.

We can, and must, begin to establish healthy boundaries and rules.

  1. Then, we have the issue of our own personal health and growth (or lack thereof.)
    1. For many of us, we have spent years taking care of, bailing out, coming to the rescue, making excuses for, crying over, praying for, and otherwise focusing an unhealthy amount of time and attention on this adult child, that we have neglected our own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.
    2. Many of us have neglected other family members as well, as the adult child has taken so much of our energy.
    3. Some of us are now experiencing severe financial ramifications from having enabled our adult child.
    4. Others are finding their marriage falling apart as tempers flair and situations spiral out of control.
  2. A Sense of Entitlement (What real obligations do you have?)
    1. For many of us, we have spent years taking care of, bailing out, coming to the rescue, making excuses for, crying over, praying for, and otherwise focusing an unhealthy amount of time and attention on this adult child, that we have neglected our own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.
    2. While there is nothing wrong with helping an adult child, you have no obligation to do so after they are 18 years of age in Texas.
    3. Do not let culture get in the way of your child’s personal development and maturity.
    4. If you don’t have a clear understanding of your obligations and responsibilities, you will create a sense of entitlement in your children.
  3. Children Who Refuse to Grow Up (Kicking them out of the nest)
    1. Just like the eagle, sometimes it is necessary to kick them out of the nest.
    2. Start early speaking with them about the time they will be expected to move out on their own, this will help them be less fearful.
    3. Letting Go of Our Grown Adult Children (Seeing them as adults)
    4. Sometimes parents do not allow the adult child to leave because it is they who are afraid, this will only serve to create issues which can be avoided.
    5. Adult children who do not leave when it is time, will start to resent the intrusion of their parents in their personal life.

Section Two – All Children

  • Teach Your Children About Money and Money Management (savings, budgets, etc.)
    • I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, if your children think that money grows on trees, it’s your own fault. Yes, I mean you, the parents.
    • Money as a substitute for attention and spending time together.
    • Paying the bills, buying food and clothing, and providing shelter, is not enough, they need personal attention.
    • The main reason children do not learn to manage their money correctly is because the parents do not manage their money correctly either.
    • Money problems is the number one reason for divorce.
    • It is also the thing about which Jesus taught most.
  • Raising Children With Tough Love-Parenting Tips (Setting healthy boundaries)
    • Set rules for the kids when they are young, and help them follow the rules as they grow up.
    • Have clear consequences for any violations of the rules, and do not avoid imposing those consequences when the time comes.
    • Keep your word about the rules and consequences, if you don’t, then you are just a liar.
  • Closing the Bank of Mom and Dad (Teach them how to earn the things they get)
    • Teach them early in their lives how to save money, open a bank account, set a budget, and so on.
    • Give them an allowance for completing assigned chores.
    • Reduce the allowance for chores left undone or incomplete.
    • Offer bonuses for extra efforts.
    • You must meet their needs, but never give away a privilege without a condition.
  • Raising Independent Children – Not Moochers
    • Teach them how to find their own answers and solutions to their problems, whenever possible.
    • Problem solving skills help children to grow up depending on themselves for their needs.

Section Three – The Internet and Technology

  • Carpal Tunnel, sleep cycles, and isolation.
    • The repetitive motions will start the syndrome sooner in life.
    • The blue light from the screens of cell phones, tablets, and computer screens will interfere with the sleep cycle of the child.
    • Too much use of technology will spur isolationism, a lessor ability to interact with others (opposite sex for marriage), and so on.
  • Cell phones for children
    • 21% of children 8 years and younger use smart phones! Wow younger than 8! And 78% of children aged 12 to 17 already have a cell phone.
    • You may be surprised to find out that only 61% of youth use privacy settings on their social media sites and 52% don’t turn off their location or GPS services. This leaves their locations visible to strangers.
    • But the scariest revelation to me was that 14% of children have posted their home addresses online.
    • And before you say, “OH my child would NEVER do anything like that, because we’ve had the “talk” with them; realize this study also revealed that almost 70% of the youth polled admitted to hiding their online activities.
    • Add this to the fact that less than half of the parents are aware of what their child is doing online.
    • In many abusive relationships, one of the two will use the cell phone as a means of manipulating and controlling the other (threats, etc).
  • Internet access.
    • 1 in 4 use their phones primarily as a computer for online access, the other 75% use their tablets or other mobile device. So even if you think they’re not online because they don’t have a phone- ask yourself- do they have a tablet, an iPod, an iPad, a kindle? These need to be monitored just as heavily as smart phones.
    • And let’s not ignore the regret of Sexting. It’s taken more than one Weiner down (Anthony Weiner, the former US congressman to be exact). And a study performed by USC researchers discovered that 20% of teenagers said they’d received a “sext”, but only about 5% admitted to having sent one.
    • And if that’s not enough, over half of the kids aged 10 to 17 admitted to posting risky comments or photos online. All the while, 25% of them said they use their mobile device to hide this type of online behavior from their parents.

How Do You Know?

During a recent conversation with a fellow Christian who was arguing that he wanted to start digging deeper into the things of God, I challenged him with what seemed a simple question.

I asked him, “Do you believe that the earth is spinning at 1,000 miles per hour?”

He paused a moment and answered, “Everyone knows the earth spins.”

“How do you know that for certain?” I asked.

“Because that is what we have been taught all of our lives,” he said with much confidence, then he hesitated, “Right?”

I asked him another question, “Do you believe that the earth is round?”

With a frown of suspicion on his face, he responded, “Of course!”

“How do you know that for certain?” I asked.

“Because …” he said slower this time, “that is what we have been taught all of our lives. What are you getting at?”

I smiled, “Well, in Genesis, the Bible teaches that God created the earth and that it was just formless water. Then, God opened a space inside that water, like a giant air bubble, and caused dry land to appear. After that, it says, He put into that same space, in the water, the stars, the sun, and the moon. Do you believe that?” I asked him.

He stared at me for a moment, as though he was trying to see through a dirty window.

Then, as though he had caught onto something, he asked, “That’s a trick question, right?”

“No,” I smiled again, “That is the truth.”

“So you’re saying we live in a giant air bubble inside a lot of water?” he asked incredulously.

“Whoa!” I replied smiling even more, “I didn’t write the Bible, nor did I inspire it. Read it for yourself. Genesis 1:1-17”

He snatched open his Bible and started reading out loud. I waited until he finished and asked him, “Do you believe what the Bible teaches about the creation of the earth?”

This time, though, he just stared at me, then down to the Bible he was holding, and back up to me. He opened his mouth to say something, then looked back down at the Bible, then back up to me.

“This is very different from what we have been told, right?” he said.

There are many godly believers who want to “dig deeper” into the Bible, as my friend said, but the first thing they have to confront is the question whether they are prepared to believe what they read and whether they are ready to change their minds about what is true.” Too many believers want to learn more about Bible teaching but will struggle greatly when they are confronted with something that differs from their existing beliefs.

From the first day you entered a school class, you were faced with a globe of the earth. The concept of a round earth was immediately implanted in your mind, and then it has been reinforced continuously since then. We hear about space, and trips to the moon, and possibly other planets. We are told the earth spins around at 1,000 miles per hour, and 67,000 miles per hour around the sun, and over hundreds of thousands of miles per hour through the Milky Way Galaxy. We are told that nothing existed, but that the nothing exploded and, due to that, we now have a universe. I could keep on going with all that we have been taught, and we have accepted all of that with little to no real proof. If the scientists say it is true, we accepted it as truth. You can go outside this very moment, look up into the sky, and if you pay attention to your natural senses alone, you will notice nothing that proves the earth is spinning. Yet, regardless of what your senses tell you, your mind will argue that the earth is spinning. Why? Because that is what you already believe.

On the other hand, people who claim the name of Jesus, will read the Scriptures and love them and want to hear about them. But, when they run across a teaching which challenges what they already believe is true, they will depend on their senses. My friend, after reading the Genesis passage, looked up into the sky. He looked up and then spanned across the whole sky.

“I don’t see any water up there,” he said as if that alone was the entire proof that it did not exist.

“Can you feel the earth spinning,” I asked him.

“No.”

“So, you believe that the earth is spinning, even though your senses have no proof, but you cannot believe the Genesis teaching because your senses tell you there’s no proof, right?”

My friend is typical when it comes to those of us who claim to believe in a God. When people hear what they already believe, proof or not, they will accept it without question or challenge. Evidence is not required or expected. But, when the Bible teaches something that is challenging, people will immediately consider their senses, life experiences, and what they already believe as the test before they will accept the Word of God. The teaching in Genesis is a perfect example of this conundrum in which many believers find themselves often. They believe scientists much more readily than God Himself.

God, in and of Himself, is a real challenge for us as humans. Just the idea that some being exists which is capable of impossible things, is all-powerful, knows everything that has, is, or will happen, and can be in one or more places at the same time, is intimidating.  Next to a being like this, we are seemingly nothing but tiny specks. No wonder the atheists don’t want to believe in a God, it diminishes them. Any person who can consider the existence of such a being without unnerving awe is crazy. Yet, “believers” throw the name of Jesus around as though it was something easy to grasp.

Think about what we claim to believe. First, that there is actually an alien being that is that powerful, and that the most solid “evidence” we have of His existence is the Bible. I put quotes around the word “evidence” because I am using the word loosely. Using evidence to prove anything requires that you first decide what you will accept as evidence. One group of people may accept somethings as evidence, while others may reject the same. In any case, we all know the Bible was written by men, who the Bible itself claims were inspired by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Bible claims that it is its own evidence. Other than the Scriptures’ own claim of evidence, there is no other evidence that the Bible is the actual “Word” of God. We either will accept this or not. This is a simple decision of the mind.

I don’t know about you, but I do not accept anything as truth until I am able to put it to test. I have had to do this with everything I have believed my entire life. I have believed things, in the past, which turned out to be lies or error. Those times resulted in bad decisions, problems I did not need to go through, and loss of relationships or benefits. Just because I believed that something was true, did not prove it was. The results eventually taught me the truth. So, I changed in how I accept the truth. I challenge everything, and what is true will prove itself through acceptable evidence. When I deal with the Bible, the Word of God, I do the same. I do not believe anything until I find enough evidence to support what the Scriptures claim. One caveat, though, I have no problem allowing the Bible to be its own evidence. On the other hand, I will challenge the Scriptures. I know there is nothing wrong with this because the Scriptures themselves teach that God is just fine with being tested.

In the third chapter of Malachi, in the 10th verse, the Word claims that God issued a challenge to believers. It quotes the Lord as saying, “Test Me.” I, for one, will not argue with God. If He says, “Test Me,” I will test Him. This is not some attitude problem on my part, it is obedience. My senses tell me that I should just “humble” myself before the Lord, and grovel at His feet, just because He is God, I mean, who the heck do I think I am? On the other hand, am I going to disobey God because my senses tell me different? Notice in the book of First John (4:1 NASB), “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” If I just accept everything I read, or am taught as being, in the Bible as the truth, I might deceive myself. God is warning me to pay attention. He does not want me to fall for lies, and start believing heresy (stuff that sound like the truth, but is not). So, He instructs me to “test” and see if it is from Him or not.

You probably remember the Biblical story of Jesus’s forty day fast (not eating for that time period). Satan appeared to Him and tried to tempt Him. At one point, the enemy even quoted Scripture to the Lord. Do you understand? The devil himself read from the Bible, word for word, and he was still lying. Just because the Bible says something is not enough to prove it is from God. The Bible truthfully quotes Satan as saying something, but it also teaches that everything Satan says it a lie. Satan is quoted in the Bible, right? But, we should never take what he says as truth, just because I is quoted in the Scriptures. That is why God instructs us to test the spirits to see if they are from Him. Along with this, we have the problem of hundreds of version of the modern day Bible. Each was translated according to the understanding of the translators. One person may understand the meaning one way, while another person will understand it differently. On top of that, we have the problem of word usage. Modern words are affected by culture, tradition, region of the country, slang, work related terminology, and so on. In the days when the Bible was written, they had the same circumstances. This means that without careful study and research, one may end up with false interpretations. It almost sounds as though we may not be able to get the correct meanings and therefore the actual truth to which God wants us to come to an understanding.

How can we really know the truth? The Bible gives us that answer as well. In 2nd Timothy 2:15 (NASB), the Word says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Notice the phrase at the end, “Accurately handling the word of truth.” There is a right and wrong way to “handle” the Word of God. God’s own challenge to His children is the right way, “Test Me.” To do this we have to, first of all, identify what we will accept as evidence. My opinion is that we must accept the Bible itself as our foremost evidence. To accomplish this, we must study and research the various Bible versions, and make a decision which we believe is best for our use. Then, we must find, within those pages, the evidence it espouses, then study and research it. My method is to find the principles it teaches, and then put them into action, and see the results. My personal argument is that the results will tell you if what you believe about God and His Word is true or not.

When I use the word principle, I am using this definition, “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.” This means that the principle will become my foundation in determining how I will or will not act or respond in certain situations or circumstances. For example, in Proverbs 3:7 it says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is…” The principle is, “People do what they do because they believe what they believe.” Now, with this principle I can make certain and specific decisions, and come to certain and specific conclusions. I can know that humans will always behave in some specific manner, or make similar choices, because of what they believe. So, if a person believes he is superman, he will then start dressing up in a costume with a big “S” in front of it and try to fly. Sure, they are probably crazy, but they believe what they believe, so they do what they do. In regards to believers in God, those who believe that God blesses those who tithe and give offering will then pay tithe and give an offering. If a person believes that God can be trusted, he or she will then live calmer lives, because they believe God will help them through those tough times.

Now, if the principle I mentioned above is correct, anyone can use it to make certain and specific decisions and choices in their lives. If the principle is applied correctly, it will have the expected results. This, in and of itself, will become part of the evidence which in the end will either sustain the belief that God is real or not. The beauty of using Biblical principles as evidence is that they are not dependent on our feelings or senses. They either work or they do not.

My friend decided to do some research on the question of how God created the earth and heaven. He is still researching, but he does admit one thing. If he reaches the conclusion that the Bible is correct about how God created the heaven and the earth, he had some rather big changes to make in his idea of reality. But what about you dear reader, how do you know what the truth is?

Blind Leading the Blind

The problem with spiritual blindness is that those who are spiritually blind don’t know it.

This is why we are exhorted in the Word to make a self-examination.

(See 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB), “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?”

The point here is that there actually is a test.

  • No, it is not one of those multiple choice kinds.
  • This test involves applying the Word of God in your life, examining the results, and then testing the again.

In 1st John 4:1 (NASB), it says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

  • The Lord clearly instructs us to put everything to the test, even His own Word.
  • How do I know this? Look at the verse, notice the words, “to see whether they are from God.”
  • This clearly shows that God not only has no problem with us testing His Word but that He wants us to do so.
  • This way we can come to learn how to tell the difference between His Word and the voice of others.

Notice this confrontation between the Lord and the Pharisees found in John 9:38-41 (NASB), “And he said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’ Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, ‘We are not blind too, are we?’ Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

  • Can you see (pun intended), the Lord is saying that the Pharisees failed the test.
  • In their case, they would remain blind, because they did not want to see.
  • They were face to face with God in the flesh, and they did not recognize Him because He was not behaving the way they believed He was supposed to behave.

Additionally, Matthew 13:13-17 (NASB), says, “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

  • This is Jesus explaining that He uses certain techniques to get His message across to those who really want to hear, and understand while allowing those who do not want to change to keep on acting like they do not understand.
  • Notice as well, that it tells us that there are those who are blessed because they can “see.”
  • This ability to “see,” for these people is a “blessing,” or rather, a gift from God

In the Bible, this inability to understanding things is referred to as being blind.

  • Spiritual blindness comes about for different reasons.

One of those reasons is found early in the Bible in Deuteronomy 29:4 (NASB), “Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.”

  • Here we can see that God not only is capable of “blinding” people spiritually but obviously, He actually did it.

Why He would do this is also something that would have different reasons for happening.

  • One of those is that the people involved are not ready to understand, from God’s point of view.
  • This could happen because He is not ready for them to understand and do the right thing because His plan calls for something different.
  • As an example, He hardened the heart of Pharaoh, so that the king would not release the Jews and God could take the opportunity to demonstrate His power to the world.

Another reason why God would keep some people from “seeing” is found in Romans 11:25 (NASB), “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”

  • Because God has a plan and that plan must work out the way He wants it to, He has kept Israel from understanding some things about who Jesus truly is, so that there would be ample time for people who are not Jews to get saved.
  • See also Romans 11:7-8 (NASB), “What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, “GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.”
  • See how God intentionally kept Israel (the Jews) from understanding and acting on that knowledge, until He is ready for them to do so, until then, they will remain “blind.”

Another reason why some people are “blind,” is found in 2nd Corinthians 4:3-4 (NASB), “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

  • Satan has been given the power to “blind” the eyes of those who are not going to be saved.
  • If they were to understand that Jesus Christ is the Lord, then they might get saved, and that is not part of the plan in their case.
  • These people, who do not see, but act as if they do, often turn out to be people who also end up fooling true believers with their erroneous religious beliefs.
  • The book of Galatians speak clearly of this problem.

Jesus’ response to us, regarding these blind people is to, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14 (NASB))

In our case though, we have different instructions from the Lord, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 (NASB)).

  • In this verse we see the process which God expects from us so that we may be able to really “see,” and know that it is truly God speaking, and not some other voice.
  • In our heads we have three voices.
    • One of them is the voice of God, the second is the voice of the enemy, and the third is our own voice.
  • Which is the most powerful of the three, you might ask? Your voice.
    • Too often our voice is so strong and powerful in our heads, that it actually sounds like what we would expect God’s voice to sound.
  • In truth, God’s voice is the still small voice which you have to stop and listen to, so that you can recognize it and know it truly is His voice.
  • But, we do not always know if it really is God’s voice.
  • To know this, we must become “transformed.”
    • This means to stop thinking the way we always have, and start thinking the way God wants.
  • Once we start thinking His way, or as the Word says, by using the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), we will be able to know it is His voice, as best as we can.

This transformation, or rather the ability to see and not be blind, requires us to use the tools He put at our disposal.

  • Those “tools” are simply the Word of God. Notice what Hebrews 4:12 (NASB) says. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
  • It is the Word of God that “transforms us,” opens our eyes so that we may see, so that we may use it, and lead others to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The way we learn to use the Word of God correctly, and use this tool in the proper way is to follow the instructions of the Lord in 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB), “Be diligent (study) to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
  • The study of the Word, the testing of the Word, and the application of the Word, is what will be required to stop being “blind,” and “seeing.”

The final question is this:

  • Are you able to take God’s Word as the truth, just as you take a scientist’s word at what they say is true.
  • When there is a conflict regarding what scientists say and what the Bible says, how do you decide which to believe?
  • Your answer will decide whether you are blind or not.

 

 

Does evil exist?

PracticalCounseling.Com recently received an email for Pastor Juan Pérez. In it, the person asked an important question which deserves review. Here is the question, and Pastor Juan’s answer.

Dear Pastor Juan,

The reason for this email has to do with something you wrote about God creating evil since there is nothing in the world that exists that He did not create.  I ran across the following article that I thought you might find interesting.  Let me know what you think!

Does evil exist?

The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!”

“God created everything? The professor asked.

“Yes sir”, the student replied.

The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil”. The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question professor?”

“Of course”, replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?”

“What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?” The students snickered at the young man’s question.

The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”

The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?”

The professor responded, “Of course it does.”

The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.”

Finally the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?”

Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”

To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”

The professor sat down.

—————————————————————————————————

Dear Sister,

On the “evil” question, the argument made by the material you sent me is excellent. Taken from the perspective of the student’s argument, he was totally correct. From that perspective and in that context.

The question which must be asked is if the Bible teaches evil as an absence of “good” and/or the failure to obey God, as compared to an actual existence of evil? For example, will the Anti-Christ be “evil” due to merely to the absence of “good” or lack of obedience to God in some man, or will he be “evil” because he will be the manifestation of an intentional decision to act against God?

If it is the former, then every human being, who has not accepted Christ as his personal Savior and Lord, is “evil.” This would be true according to the student’s argument. And, I must admit that depending on your exegetical skills, and applied principles for interpreting the Scriptures, there are some references which seem to suggest the same argument. But, the argument here would simply be that they are “evil,” or do “evil,” because “good” or obedience to God is absent, not because they are necessarily making that choice.

Keep in mind that “Sin” (which is clearly referred to as “evil” in the Bible) “entered” into the world” (Romans 5:12). The argument in the Scriptures is not that God left the world, thereby creating an absence of “good,” which would then leave “evil,” but, instead, that something which already existed (“Sin”/evil) was introduced to humankind due to an intentional choice made by Adam. What “entered into the world” was no some absence, but something which was real in and of itself.

Additionally (though I could keep on going for quite a while on this subject), Isaiah 45:7 (KJV), states, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Some versions translate the word “evil” here as “calamity,” but both have the same idea in Hebrew. Who am I to argue with God when He says He created “evil?”

Finally, I tend to subscribe to the principle which states: “What I do, does not decide who I am, who I am, decides what I do.” For the plan of God to work out the way the Bibles teaches it will, “evil” is a necessary component. If we do not have a clear choice, not just an absence of one, then we do not also have free will. If beings with free will have the choice between “good” and “evil,” with both being viable options, then the choice to do “what is right” (James 4:17) becomes a true and valid decision. “Evil” must exist, so that we can choose to reject it, and instead, choose to obey God.

God does not have to be evil to create it, He would have to be “evil” to do it. In His great wisdom, and according to His overall plan, He need only create it, or allow it to come into existence, to bring about the intended results. The Lord can then take advantage of “evil’s” manifestation (“Sin”) to bring about His intention: the salvation of humans.

The Douay-Rheims Bible says in Romans 5:20, “Now the law entered in, that sin might abound. And where sin abounded, grace did more abound.” There is a need for a real “Sin/evil” in God’s plan.

I hope this helped. Nice to hear from you again.

God bless you.

WHY DO I HAVE TROUBLE OBEYING GOD?

Why do some people struggle so much living the Christian life as they understand the Lord wants from them. They tell themselves that they want to do what is “right,” but they find themselves often going against this desire, and giving in to baser urges. As a counselor, I have often had people in my office who have struggled, or may be presently struggling, with such things as drug addiction, over-eating, pornography, alcoholism, and other similar debilitating habits. Once when speaking with a client who was struggling with pornography, he asked me, “Don’t you get attracted to see porn?” I thought about his question for a moment, because I knew that even if he did not intend to, he was also asking a greater question. He simply wanted me to say “Yes” or “No.” To me, though, the question also included, “Do you struggle with anything?” I gave him his answer, “No, I am not drawn to seeing pornography as such.” I explained that I like women, just like any other healthy male, but that viewing them in questionable circumstances did not in and of itself draw or keep my attention.

On the other hand, the greater question, was the one he did not voice, “Do you struggle with any bad habits?” Well, I am a 65 year old man who weighs roughly about 300 pounds, when I don’t wear anything or carry heavy objects with me. I included a picture of myself in this article, so that you may get an idea of what I am saying. I don’t have any problem with showing my picture. Hiding my looks won’t change my weight or size. And, on top of that, I love myself and have a healthy respect for myself. Still, that does not take away the fact that I obviously struggle with my weight.

When it comes to serving God or living the Christian life, I don’t have any serious problems, but I have to admit that I have a bad habit when it comes to food. Whether it is because of over-eating, not exercising, erroneous understanding of nutritional consumption of food, or that I eat to make up for all the love I did not get when I was a child (yes, some people do that), the truth is I am fat. So, since I struggle with something in my life, and other people struggle with serving and obeying God, what could be the answer for all of us? What may have to change for those people to stop struggling with their obedience, and for me to eat less, or at least healthy? I decided to use overeating as an example of figuring out why we humans have a proclivity towards self-indulgence and not doing what is the correct or healthier thing.

While doing some research, I came across a Psychology Today article by a fellow named, Billi Gordon, Ph.D. The article was titled, “Compulsive Overeating and Habit Formation.” In it, he admits that he is, “black, morbidly obese, and have a Ph.D. in neuroscience.” The fact that he is black has little to nothing to do with the article, but the fact that he has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and is morbidly obese does. His educational achievement implies that he must have, at least, a working knowledge as to how the body functions, and why we respond to stimuli as we do. And, he does.

Dr. Billi Gordon starts off his article by saying, “Habits are simple forms of frequently repeated learning that often occur subconsciously.  For example, you walk into a dark room and flip the light switch because you want to turn on the light, and you’ve learned to flip a light switch to accomplish that.  This habit is a goal-oriented behavior; you flip the switch to achieve the goal of having more light.  Flipping the light switch, like all goal-directed habits, is motivated by consequence. But have you ever had a bulb burn out, and forgotten to change it?  Yet, every time you walk into that room, you still flick the light switch. This habit is a stimulus-response behavior. The stimulus of entering a dark room causes the automatic response of flipping the light switch. So, stimulus-response habits differ from goal-directed habits because they are stimulus, as opposed to outcome motivated.”

I know, some of you are scratching your head wondering what he said in everyday language. Well, he says that the reason some people over-eat is because they learned to do so as a response to something else. For example, I don’t watch TV every time I eat, but I eat every time I watch TV. It works like this, I can wake in the morning and not be hungry, work throughout the day and have a light snack or lunch. I allow the work to distract me from serious hunger pangs, but the minute I sit down in front of the TV, the stimulus-response behavior kicks in and I want to eat something while I watch my shows. The urge gets stronger the longer I sit there, until I get up and get me a “snack.” After watching a couple of shows, the stimulus-response behavior kicks in again, and I want another snack, even though I am not hungry. So, I get another “snack.”

A different way of saying this is that our mind expects specific things to happen at certain times. You enter a dark room (stimulus), so you need to turn on the light (desired result), so you reach for the light switch (response). You sit in front of the TV (stimulus), but you need to be doing something else besides just sitting there staring at the television (desired result), so you get yourself a snack, which gives you something to do (response). The problem with this is that in both cases you achieve your desired result, so then you are motivated to continue to repeat the behavior each time you are faced with the same stimulus. This, in turn, becomes a pattern (or habit) you will continue to repeat.  The more you repeat the behavior, the more permanent it becomes. Every time you get whatever it is from the behavior you desired, you increase the probability of doing it again.

Dr. Gordon went on to say, “Neuroscientists have long understood the distinction between goal-directed behaviors and stimulus-response behaviors. Normal eating is goal-directed behavior.” What he is saying here is that when people eat normally, it is because they want to achieve one specific goal, and that is to satisfy their hunger. They become hungry (stimulus), which causes them to think about what food they may want to eat (desired result), and therefore they go about getting something to eat (the desired result or goal). This is how we were intended to respond to hunger in a healthy manner.

On the other hand, Dr. Gordon, explains the following: “Compulsive overeating is a complex stimulus-response behavior. The stimulus may vary (boredom, anger, happiness, sexual frustration, fear, or anxiety).  The strength of the response may also differ (from eating until your stomach feels slightly uncomfortable to eating until you vomit).  The consequence of compulsive overeating can run the gamut from being slightly overweight to morbidly obesity or bulimia nervosa.”

So, he explains that one reason why people over-eat is because they are responding to stimulus of which they may not be aware. If a person becomes depressed, for example, his develops a desire not to continue depressed. But, his mind may not be able to process a healthy manner in which to achieve this because he may be ignoring, or not be aware, that he is suffering a depression. So this depression, of which he is not aware, will produce a response behavior of some sort. For our example, the person would develop a response behavior would use food as a means of soothing the persons feelings, and giving the person the impression that they are not depressed, because they enjoy the taste of the food they are eating. It is obviously a temporary fix, which will result in further stimulus to eat more, to keep trying to feel better. This is also the process which gets someone addicted, and then it keeps them addicted. Now, with all of that said, what’s the answer to help overeaters stop overeating? Well, it’s not that easy. Why? Because the answer is also the problem.

The answer is for the person to consciously choose a desired result, begin, and repeat as often as necessary, new desired behavior(s) which will lead to achievement the goal. In other words, and for example, a person could tell himself that he wants to lose 50 pounds. Then he could reduce his eating and possibly exercise. If he continues to repeat the behavior (eating less and exercising) he should start seeing varied levels of success with time and effort. If he then decides that he is “happy” with the varied results, he will be motivated (stimulus) to continue repeating the new behavior. After some time, the new behavior will no longer be new behavior, it will be a natural part of his behavioral pattern. Theoretically, he will continue to lose weight, slim down more, and continue to be motivated to further progress at weight loss. Now remember, I said this answer was also the problem. Why? Because we love our food.

Before I came to know that Lord, I was addicted to cocaine. It produced my desired results (to make me feel better, stronger, and more active), I loved using it (stimulus), so I found ways to get hold of more (response). I repeated this behavior over and over as much as I could, and it always produced the same results, at least until it started not doing so. I learned something valuable from my addiction; you cannot truly kick a habit as long as you continue some of the behavior regardless of how small the behavior. For example, addicts who “quit” their drug of choice tend to take on a new addiction, though the new addiction may not be similar to the old one. For example, one of my clients, the one who struggles with porn addiction, used to also be a drug addicted. His drug addiction was an obvious addiction, hard to hide for too long. Pornography is different, the addict can continue his addiction for a very long time without showing outward signs of the addiction. Some alcoholics, who give up drinking, develop an overeating habit, and put on the pounds. Being an alcoholic can cause you to lose friends and family, but being fat won’t necessarily produce the same results. Some addictions hide behind the word obsession. For example, many persons who were sexually molested as children, will develop unhealthy behavior in response to what they deem bad or abusive behavior of people around them, which results in their own bad behavior towards anyone they believe is out to harm them, whether it is true or not. Their stimulus is the fear of being hurt again, their desired result is to be safe, and their response behavior is to attack others to protect themselves. They, of course, do not perceive their behavior or intentions in this manner, they are convinced that they are doing the “right” thing to protect themselves. So, they continue to repeat the same unhealthy responses which produce negative reactions in other people, proving to them that they need to continue their pattern or behavior. Just wanting to quit a bad habit, addiction, obsession or bad behavior, in and of itself, is not enough. Why?

Dr. Gordon, continued: “Well, as it turns out goal-directed behavior doesn’t always begin in the prefrontal cortex. Two goal-directed behaviors contribute to habit formation in the dorsal striatum: the pre-frontal cortex, and the ventral striatum.  When the pre-frontal cortex initiates a goal-directed behavior, the more it is repeated, the more deeply it is encoded by the dorsal striatum. When the ventral striatum generates a goal-directed behavior, dopamine is released by the mesolimbic pathway, which makes the dorsal striatum more likely to repeat the action in the future. In the dorsal striatum, dopamine initiates action, but in the ventral striatum, it signals reward.”

The basic idea here is that there is a chemical which your brain produces which can either prompt you to good and healthy behavior or prompt you to addictive and unhealthy behavior. This chemical is called Dopamine. When you do something that you want to do, your brain rewards you with a shot of dopamine. Not because you did what is right or healthy, but just because you did what you wanted. The problem is that this happens naturally, and most of us never even get close to becoming aware that this is happening. We do what we want and we feel good, so we repeat the behavior, and we continue to feel good about it. When I say “good” here I am not saying that you feel that what you did was a good thing, no. I am saying that your brain gives you a shot of Dopamine, and you enjoy it without even knowing what happened. That reward you got (the dose of Dopamine) is enough to get you hooked on the behavior.

And how does that work? Dr. Billi Gordon said, “Hence, the brain releases more dopamine when you want to do something than it does when you do it. That’s because, in the reward game, the trick is getting you to want to do something enough to do it; once that happens, game over. That’s problematic because the larger amounts of dopamine released in wanting to eat, make wanting to eat more pleasurable than eating. Hence, compulsive overeaters can eat beyond the point of a pleasant, healthy experience. It is not the eating experience that is driving the compulsive, addictive behavior but the extra dopamine derived from wanting to do it because of the reward cue. This scenario is the signature of any and all addiction.”

Yes, I hear you asking, “What has all of that have to do with my struggle in my Christian walk? Well, the reason so many of us struggle living “right,” or obeying God, is because it is not what we want to do. No, I don’t mean that we want to be bad people and go to hell. I mean that when we do what we want, instead of what God teaches us we should through His Word, we get a hit of Dopamine, because we did what we wanted. We are, in essence, rewarded for our disobedience. Keep in mind that humans are naturally selfish. This is how God made us. When we behave selfishly, we are simple behaving according to the natural expectation of this human life. When we behave selfishly, our brain rewards us with a fix of Dopamine, and the chemical only serves to increase our desire to continue to be selfish.

The “fix,” will require that we purposely set a goal which is achievable, work toward achieving the goal on purpose, repeat the necessary behavior to achieve the goal (be less selfish and more selfless), until we succeed. Then we will get a hit of Dopamine for having succeeded. This shot of Dopamine will serve to motivate us to continue to be selfless, and less selfish. We will never totally rid ourselves of the addiction to selfishness, but we can succeed in being much more selfless, if we learn to control how and when our brains reward us with a hit of Dopamine.

So, for example, if I feel like I am not living “right” before God, I don’t read my Bible “enough,” pray “as I should,” or live he way I am “supposed to,” and if I understand how the reward system in my brain works, I can choose to do something different. I can choose to read two or three verses each day (something easily done), and because I did what I wanted, I will get a hit of Dopamine and feel good at my success. If I chose to pray while driving to work, instead of for one hour on my knees next to my bed (how uncomfortable), whether the drive is long or short, I will have met my goal. I will get a hit of Dopamine, because I succeeded at doing what I wanted. Or, if I do one good thing for some other person, because I am a Christian, then I will feel good about my walk with God, and get a reward from my brain with a shot of Dopamine. In these three cases, because of the expectations I placed on myself, and the achievability of the goals, I will succeed, get my hit of Dopamine, and will be motivated to repeat the behavior. I will then repeat the behavior, succeed again, get my Dopamine reward, and develop a habit (a type of addiction, but a “good” one), of living right before the Lord. The more I repeat the behaviors, the more Dopamine reward I get, the more I want to obey God. So then now, I am obeying God because that is what I want.

This is why you will see those people who seem to be so content and happy obeying God and living “right” before Him. It is not that they are better people or Christians than you are, it is that they have learned behavior which produces a Dopamine reward for their efforts. Maybe they would not explain it the way I have, but they would probably say something like, “I obey God and live “right” before Him because He love me (a Dopamine hit) rewards me by blessing me (a Dopamine hit) for my obedience and selflessness towards others (a Dopamine hit.), and that pleases Him (a Dopamine hit).

Am I saying that I am addicted to Jesus? Yes! Yes I am!  My brain rewards me with a Dopamine fix every time I even think about wanting to obey Him, even before I actually do so. So I purposely think about how I can obey Him, what He wants me to do, and how I can serve others so that He will be pleased. All of this results in my brain rewarding me with a Dopamine fix, which increases my desire for another fix, which means I must repeat the desired behavior so that I will get my fix. In other words, the more I behave as Jesus wants, the more I will want to behave as Jesus wants. I win, He wins, and others will win as well. I guess you could say  get high on the Lord. Would you like a fix too?

 

Put to the Test

Do You, As A Counselor, Pass The Test?

In chapter 2 of the book of Revelation, in the first seven verses, Jesus sends a message to the church at Ephesus. In this message, He makes one interesting statement, among the rest. (NASB, verse 2) “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.” It caught my attention that the Lord indicated that there is a way to “test” church and ministry leadership. In the case of the Apostles, I asked myself (since He did not explain) what a test like that would include. Without doubt, we are to test others and even the spirits (the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and so on that tend to move us in specific directions. The Lord, through His Word, exhorts us to challenge these in 1 John 4:1 (NASB), “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” In the following two verses, our Lord even gives a method of this testing, “2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”

Notice that in John we are not given a way to directly test the prophets, but instead we are given a way to test if something is from the Spirit of God. The point is that if you know what things are from God, then anything else will not be from Him. Though we are not given a specific step by step method of identifying false prophets (or apostles, pastors, teachers, evangelists, counselors, and so on), we are shown that there is some testing involved, and that the responsibility falls on the believer to do the testing.

So, how do you put a counselor to the test? Well, each type of ministry to which God calls people has a specific and certain expectation. For example, the prophet of God is tasked with speaking forth specific things which God wants people to know. In the case of prophets, they must be correct 100% of the time, or they are not prophets of God. In the case of Apostles, they are tasked with overseeing local churches, and exhorting those churches in the knowledge of the Word of God. Pastors are tested by the evidence of their love for their congregations and how well they prepare the sermons and teachings. Teachers of the Word are similarly judged as pastors, except they are specifically expected to be able to explain the Word in a manner in which the listeners, or students, will better be able to understand what is being taught, and then be able to teach others themselves. Evangelists are tested by their results, and how many people are saved at their camp meetings and other events.

The calling of God on a person will also include the expectations of that ministry. In the case of counselors, there are specific expectations anyone should have of counselors.

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

The most important aspect, at least to the clients, is the expectation of privacy. They come to the counselor believing the counselor will not share any of the specifics of the session in a manner which will identify them as the ones who may have said those things. The come to the counselor in confidence of this privacy. Over my 30 years of counseling, I have learned that when people believe their conversation (legally referred to as their “communication,”) will be kept private and not disclosed, they will be much more willing to open up and discuss things which they would normally never consider telling another person. Over all these years as a counselor, I have had many things shared with me that most people would find troubling. As a counselor, I once was told by a member of a local church that they were stealing money from the offering collection as they counted the money after it was taken into the ushers’ office. The person who seemed troubled by the theft was still doing so at the time of the counseling sessions. I know the church and the pastors, but I could not let them know that someone was stealing from them due to the confidentiality clause as a counselor.

Under the Texas Rules of Evidence (revised 01 April 2015), “Rule 505. Privilege For Communications to a Clergy Member,” the General Rule states – “A communicant has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing a confidential communication by the communicant to a clergy member in the clergy member’s professional capacity as spiritual adviser.” As counselors certified by New Life Christian Counseling Ministry, our counselors are bound both legally (by this law) and doctrinally, because we have a policy that confessions will be kept confidential and must not be disclosed. At New Life, we consider people’s communications during a session to be an act of confession, and therefore private.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND SKILL

Besides the fact that I have counseled for about 30 years, I have had the need, on occasion, to go to a counselor on myself. I know plenty of counselors, many of those I trained them myself, I know their skill levels and experience in counseling. When I chose my counselor, I looked for someone who had been counseling longer than myself, and who, at least to my knowledge, was a better counselor than myself. Think about it, who really wants to go to a counselor who has little to no experience in solving problems and who has little to no training. But, you might ask, what about those counselors who have just finished their training, are newly certified, and have no actual experience counseling people, should no one go to them? The answer to this great question is, “It is their responsibility to continue their training and personal development through reading related materials and books, attending additional seminars, conferences, and the like, and volunteering to attend sessions with more trained and experienced counselors.

The question is, “How does a counselor get experience in counseling?” The answer is, “By counseling.” Like myself, all counselors start “at the beginning.” You take on clients whose cases may seem not too difficult and you work with them in identifying the problem(s), figuring out what the solution needs to be, and then teaching the people involved how to take those difficult steps to a successful resolution.

APPLICATION OF THE PRINCIPLES AND TEACHING

The next test I would put to a counselor is to judge how their relationships with those around them, especially with their immediate families. How a man treats his wife, or a woman her husband, and how they treat their children will be a huge factor as to whether I want them counseling me. When Paul uttered, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ,”  in 1st Corinthians 11:1, He was calling on people to look at his life, to check him out, and make their judgments on him as to whether we walked the walk. Any counselor worth his salt would have no problem with you looking into their private lives in regard to the things they counsel others to do. I do not tell people to “keep your eyes on Jesus,” I tell them to keep their eyes on me and see if I am keeping my eyes on Jesus. A “good” counselor will be able to use portions of his or her life as examples of how the client can also make changes in their own lives. Just as Jesus and Paul said “copy me,” every Christian counselor must be able to say to any person, “Live like I do, and you will be okay with God too. Why is this true? Because a counselor should never ask someone else to do something that they would not do themselves, if they were in the same predicament. It is easy to give advice, but a whole other thing to live that advice oneself.

PERSONAL MOTIVATION

The final question I would have of any counselor, Christian or not, is “Why?” Why did they want to become counselors? As someone who has counseled for about 30 years, I know there are a varied number of reasons why people choose this route. When I first started studying psychology, my single most reason for doing so was to be able to manipulate others into doing what I wanted. I had no healthy reason for my efforts. I figured I would work in this field, make money, and have the power to control others. There are counselor, Christian and non-Christian, who have a “God complex.” This better-than-thou attitude is common in psychology, psychiatry, and counseling. You can identify some of these people by the critical, and often, judgmental manner in which they conduct their counseling sessions.

As part of counseling training, we put the new counselors through practice sessions. We get those who have already completed the course to play the role of the clients. During one such practice session, I asked a certified counselor to play the role of a man who was struggling with pornography. He sat before the “counselor” and explained that he had been viewing porn and was asking for help. The “counselor” asked, “Don’t you know it’s wrong to see pornography?” to which the “client” answered, “Yes.” Then the counselor pointed a finger at the “client” and told him to “stop doing it.” Yes, we all started laughing as well.

The sad fact is this is the type of counselor I have too often encountered throughout my 30 years in this ministry. Some of these “counselors” are rigid, religious, strict, and merciless people of little to no compassion. The poor clients who come to see these “counselors” will leave the session feeling worse than when they came. A Christian counselor without mercy and compassion is not a “Christian” counselor. The reason why a person should want to become a Christian counselor is because he or she loves the Lord. We do not counsel people because we want to help them, we help those we counsel because we want to please God. With all the troubles in this world, the focus needs not to be on the hurting and suffering people, but on Jesus who loves them and wants to use us to minister to those people. It is not what counseling can or cannot do for those who need help, it’s about Jesus, and Him crucified. He is the answer which a counsel should endeavor to help the client come to recognize. There is a saying that if a man is hungry we can give him a fish to eat. It goes on to say that we then must also teach him how to fish, so that he can learn to feed himself. But as Christian counselors, we must add one more step, and that is to lead the person to come to know and accept Jesus Christ as His Savior. This way, he will be fed, learn to feed himself, and will have within him the bread from above that satisfies all hunger.

PASSING THE TESTS

Those are the four areas in which I judge counselors. Those are the four areas I want others to judge me as well. I am willing to be judged in these areas like I judge them.

Words of “Affirmation?”

A while back, I had the opportunity to discuss the topic of “positive affirmation” with a fellow believer. Her argument was that she was not receiving an adequate amount of positive affirmation from people in her life. She stated that her “love language” was “Words of Affirmation.” There are “officially” 5 ways to express or receive love (it is explained): the 5 “love languages.” The term was first coined by Gary Chapman in his 1995 book. The “languages” are Receiving Gifts, Spending Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation.

While I will not take time to argue for or against this, I do have a problem with how some people may interpret the concepts. The young woman I mentioned above was sincere in her concern. She felt isolated because others in her life did not make the effort to make her feel included and wanted. She believed that people should reach out to others and support them emotionally, while also using language which helps them feel “safe” and “loved.” She was in my counseling office because she had, also recently, been involved in a relationship with a man who was not her husband. Though she had not actually (according to her) had an illicit sexual affair with the man, she had compromised herself by hiding the relationship from her husband and actively participating with the man in questionable behavior.  Her only “defense” for her actions and decision was that she had been feeling unwanted and ignored for quite some time, and the man made her feel better about herself with how he used his words.

Noemi (not her real name) complained that she had had a strong relationship with the Lord up until not long ago. She said that a Bible study she had been attending had been ended and she missed the constant positive affirmation of the members for each other. I asked her to explain to me how the group affirmed each other positively. She explained that they would always use positive words regarding others, and “never” used language which could be interpreted as judgmental. With tears in her eyes, she told me how good the group’s use of this “love language” made her feel about herself. After the group was closed, she said she began to feel empty inside.

I had not read the book before, so I took the time to read it and found it does not include this kind of hogwash. First of all, the writer would have been astonished that this young lady interpreted his intention behind the “love language” in the manner she did. His point seemed to be clear to me that this was primarily a set of techniques used in relationships which were understood to be long term (my words not his). He mentioned children, wives and husbands, and persons dating, in the greater context when explaining how these “love languages” could best be used. Other relationships played a lessor role, to say the least.

One point for sure, at least in my estimation, is that Gary Chapman did not intend for someone to identify their “love language,” and then begin to expect every other person on the planet to respond to this one single person in that way. Noémi’s understanding of the Mr. Chapman’s explanations was exactly that. Even though she was not in long-term, personal, relationships with the greater number of people in her life, she was holding them responsible for her emotional health. And, to make matters worse, she put her dependence on them, as compared to putting it on her husband. As it turned out, the husband was mostly clueless about what was going on. From her descriptions, he seemed to be an okay guy. Goes to work, comes home afterward, turns in his wages to the family bank account, and mostly likes spending time at home with his family. What was her problem with him? (You might ask.) Well, he was not a Christian. She knew he wasn’t a believer when she married him, and then later began to get upset because he was not motivated to go to church with her.

It was around that time she began attending the Bible study. At first she was surprised. Everyone was friendly, but more than that, they always spoke “affirming” words to each other. I asked her about this, “Did they ever speak of sin? Did they ever point out wrongdoing and how there are consequences for those actions? Did they ever exhort (push and motivate) you to a greater service of our Lord?” She stared at me for a moment and lowered her eyes.

“No,” she said softly, “The told me I was just fine the way I was. We affirmed each other,” she argued, “We affirmed each other in our love languages.”

I challenged her response, “Let’s see, these ‘languages’ are ‘Receiving Gifts, Spending Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation, right?’”

She answered, “Yes.”

“So you gave gifts to each other?” I queried.

She answered, “Yes.”

“And,” I then asked, “How did you handle the ‘Physical Touch’ language?”

Her face turned red, “That is where I met the other man. He was a friend of the couple who held the Bible study. I was told he recently became a believer, but had not yet accepted Christ in his life. He seemed to know a lot about the Bible, and he was very affirming in his use of his words. We sat in a circle around the room during the teachings, and he would always sit to one side of me or the other. One day he slipped his hand over mine, and I felt a sort of electricity go through me. When he did that, I felt like he was using his love language with me.”

“Physical Touch?” I asked.

“Yes,” she brightened up, “You see, his love language and mine fit together.”

What I then wanted to do was reach across the room and knock some sense into her. What I did, though, was explain something to her.

“Noémi,” I began, “That is not the use, Gary Chapman, intended for those ‘love languages.’ His intention, at least in regard to your situation, was that you would learn your husband’s ‘love language’ and then for you to act toward him in that manner. Then opposite would also be true, your husband could learn your ‘love language’ and then start treating you in that manner as well. Mr. Chapman never intended for you to come to the conclusion that someone else was supposed to use their own ’love language’ on you for their own benefit.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“What benefit,” I asked pointedly, “did this other man get from a relationship with you?”

She blushed, and said, “Me spending time with him.”

“And,” I emphasized, “If this wrong relationship had continued what else was he going to benefit?”

She blushed again, “You mean sex, right?”

“And,” I emphasized again, “what was your benefit from all this ‘love language’ stuff in the end?”

She lowered her head and said, “My husband found out. He no longer trusts me. I think he hates me, and he is thinking of divorce.”

I wish I could say that Noémi was an anomaly (something out of the ordinary), but instead she is in the norm. Like too many other persons, she goes to church, Bible study, and other such, and is taught good material in a bad way. In her case, the couple holding the Bible study should have paid attention to the fact that this other man always seemed to end up sitting next to Noémi. Secondly, if they are going to use someone else’s material, they must be faithful to the intent and teaching of the writer and author. Thirdly, they should have gotten to know Noémi better. They may have found out she was having marital problems and maybe referred her to a counselor.

In church settings it is a bit more difficult, but then that means the church is even more responsible with making sure they are teaching well, and clarifying their teachings well enough for people to hopefully get the correct idea and understanding. There are many people, believers, Christians who love the Lord, like Noémi out there. They listen to a teaching or sermon, decide that understand what they heard, and then begin living in accordance with the erroneous understanding. Consequently, these well-intentioned people will too many times make terribly bad decisions.

Finally, as I explained it to Noémi, the truth is that we do not “need” the affirmation of any human being. What we “need” is to drink water, eat food, and breathe air. Without one or more of these three things, we will die. Short of death, and certainly to accomplish some goals, we will “need” (but not in the same manner by any stretch) some things to accomplish those objectives. For example, if I want safety in my life, I may “need” to find shelter and some friends for support. The “need” for safety, and the “need” for food, should not be confused or even compared. The problem becomes even trickier when we use the word “need” for emotional objectives. “I need someone to love me,” or “I need someone to think I am important,” or “I need someone to want me,” are all lies. We do not “need” those things, we need to breathe, eat, and drink, and also we need God.

As Christians, we are always using and throwing around all kinds of phrases. “Jesus is the Way,” “Keep your eyes on Jesus,” “Trust in God,” “Have faith,” and multiples other such quotations. Too many times, the users of these phrases do not really understand them, because if they did, it would change their lives. My counseling office has seen too many “believers” who frequently use these and other such phrases, yet they still end up in my office with serious problems and/or questions. Why? You might ask. Because, either they did not listen well when being taught, or did not the necessary questions to get the correct answers, or they were not taught correctly. The teachers will blame the students, and the students will blame the teachers.

The ONLY person you and I “need” affirmation from is the Lord. His affirmation is the only one without a negatively selfish ulterior motive. When He affirms you, it will be because you obeyed Him and did what was right in His eyes. It will not be to just make you feel better or good. People who want affirmation with the objective that they can feel better about themselves are like those in the following verses, 2 Timothy 3:6-7 (NASB) “For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The dictionary defines the word “Affirmation” in this manner: “a solemn declaration made under the penalties of perjury by a person who conscientiously declines taking an oath.” That means the person who is affirming is saying something they believe to be truthful. Nowhere in the definition does it imply that you affirm someone to make the feel better about themselves. Even Gary Chapman, in his “The 5 Love Languages” does not distort the idea behind the word’s intention and definition. He clearly emphasized, if not said so directly, that if a person’s “love language” is “Words of Affirmation,” that this means their spouse is stating true things about them, not just trying to make them feel better. If the wife, for example” cooks well, cares for the household well, and so on, and her “love language” is “Words of Affirmation,” then her husband’s remarks and statements about her service in their marriage is warranted, desired, and beneficial.

Satan loves a person who plays the victim. Those people are so easy to fool and manipulate, like the women in the verses above. In too many cases, these people are not actually looking for ‘affirmation,” they are really wanting other to feel sorry for them and to take responsibility for making these victims feel better. That is called co-dependency, and it is a sick idea.

No! Dear Saints. You do not “need” to be affirmed by anyone but the Lord. If your ‘love language’ truly is “Words of Affirmation,” then let that be because you truly are doing all those things for which you want affirmation.

The “Mind” of Christ?

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.” “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

An article I recently read spoke about “mental models which are used “to view the world.” It went on to say, “These mental models are not reality. They are tools used to view reality. They are our perspective on life.”

These “mental models,” if I understood correctly, beliefs we have regarding anything and everything. For example, I you believe that pretty people are successful, and that you are not pretty, then you will see life as a failure. People have these beliefs of just about everything in their lives. Whether your belief about something is distorted, then your responses to those beliefs will produce results which are also not beneficial to you. The problem, as I believe the writer of the article was aiming at, is that tend to look to models which are not to our benefit and often not true. This leads to the next step in the process, we start to understand reality in an incorrect manner. People do what they do, because they believe what they believe.

God created Adam with a healthy perspective of what is real. After he disobeyed, he and Eve lost their healthy perspective of reality, because they now saw themselves as failures. And, due to their actions, the virus of “Sin” was passed on to the rest of us. As the writer of the article said, “We are each operating from a faulty mental model.” The writer noted that one way to check our perspective, to see how healthy it is by comparing it to other perspectives. The first on the list was God’s perspective. “We need to compare our mental models to God’s mental model.” The writer then pointed out that, “Only God’s mind is perfect.” Those of us who believe in a God, can more easily accept the concept that God is perfect. By this we mean that God is incapable of doing wrong, erring, failing, making mistakes, and all those kinds of things. Perfection in God’s case means flawless and without fault. The Bible uses the word “perfect” in regards to others as well, for example Noah (Genesis 6:9), an animal used for a “sacrifice of peace offering (Leviticus 22:21), Asa’s Heart (1 Kings 15:14), Job (Job 1:1), and finally, Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:15). There are also other uses for this word in the Bible, but I will limit myself to these because they fit in the context of this article. When the Bible used the word “perfect” regarding these last examples, it is never meant to be understood as perfect in the same sense as God. The “perfection” of created beings will never achieve equality with the perfection of God. God is perfect, but those other references can easily be understood as translations which more actually meant something like were righteous, obeyed, or as in Lucifer’s case, perfect of the purpose. This is why we must compare our perspectives (mental models) initially with that of God’s, so that we can have the perfect model to try to emulate.

As we compare our personal perspective with that of the Lord, we can see where we need to work on our perspectives to align them better with His.

As well, as the writer points out, we need to, “compare our mental model with other’s to see if we are on track.” We must, I hope it’s obvious, to remember that everyone is different, so therefore, they will have different perspectives of the world. With this in mind, it is important we search for others who are like-minded, those who tend to see the world similarly as we do. In Ephesians 4:13 (NASB), “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” This verse supports the argument that unity in Christ means believing the same things. When we surround ourselves with like-minded believers in Christ, we are ourselves sustained and encouraged. Our perspectives will tend to meld with those of other believers who see life as we do, and this results in a stronger “mental model” But, the writer of the article did warn, “If you share something personal with someone who thinks radically different than you it only leads to frustration.” Have you ever tried to argue with someone who is convinced of what they believe? If you have, you realized that it was not easy, and more so, it could lead to a more serious confrontation. But, arguments are not the point of this emphasis, spending time listening to someone whose world perspective differs greatly with your can have the result of changing your perspective. If the change is toward the positive, that’s good, but if the change tends toward the negative, this could be dangerous.

Men like Jim Jones, who over time convinced over 900 persons that He was the Christ, eventually led them to all kill themselves with poison. The persuasion of his was not over night, he took years with some of those people. Lies are not always obvious or clear. The writer of the article said this, “If you aren’t sure ask God what the truth is about someone.” You may not get a verbal and immediate response, but the Lord will get it across to you that this is or is not someone you want to spend time with, much less listen to their arguments. Many times, the way to identify the right or wrong in others is to be aware of the right or wrong in ourselves. How can we best do this? The writer of the article made some great points, “Also ask God what the truth about yourself is and believe what He tells you. Write down the things He tells you and review them often. God will tell you the truth about everything. He will tell you what the truth is about everyone in your life.”

I am going to take this a step further. Ask God the truth about yourself. How does He see you? What does He believe you need to change or improve? What areas are there in which you need to grow? Then, write them down. Take about a month and listen for His still small voice. He could speak to you from a preacher, preaching a sermon. He could speak to you from an angry person who is telling you what’s wrong with you. He could speak to you from a TV show you are watching. He could speak to you during prayer, worship, and/or praising Him. In any case, listen and you will hear Him. Once you have your list completed, review the list. Then ask Him on which item you should begin working. As you work on this list, your perspective will focus on the fact that you are working at obeying God’s will in your life, instead of your own. The benefits are numerous, but I Will give you one with which to begin. Learning to love others. The writer of the article put it this way, “We are to love every person in our lives. God may tell you to love some people from a distance and just pray for them. Do whatever God tells you to do. Just make sure it’s from Him. 1 Corinthians 2:16 (NASB), says, “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.” When you were saved by our gracious Savior, He put into you the Mind of Christ. This means that you now have the capability of understanding things from a heavenly and divine perspective. The reason so many believers still struggle, is that they have not yet made a decision of what reality really is. For example, we will in a real world. This is a real statement of fact. So therefore we must interact with this material world. This is true, right? But notice this verse, John 15:19 (NASB), “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Did you get it? We (believers of Jesus Christ) are not of this world. We are aliens, in a sense. We are not like everyone else on earth, we have the eternal God above living inside of us though His Holy Spirit. Christians are the only people on earth who make this claim, No other religion has this mental model, this perspective. When we were saved we were also recreated into new “creatures,” or beings, if you will. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NASB), says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Do you see? This is not just gaining some new perspective or mental model. This actually means we have been converted by God into different kind of humans, sort of like what Jesus became after He rose again from the dead. Therefore, we are not to have a new mental model, or perspective, because we believe differently, we are to believe differently because we are new beings, new creations of God, which are different from others on the earth. We are citizens of the new kingdom of God, we are only residents here in the United States, or whatever country we live in. We are now just visitors.

With all of this in mind, we must learn to be these new creatures, and think in that manner, and respond in that manner. Remember that what we do does not decide who we are, but who we are decides what we do. People do what they do, because they believe what they believe. To get that last part right, we must focus on learning to hear God’s voice. We need His leading and knowledge. The writer of the article made some last point, “Knowledge from God brings peace and resonates in your spirit as truth.” For example, on the point I made earlier about loving others, notice the writer’s perspective on this, “Don’t think too deeply about other people and their problems. They aren’t our responsibility. Leave them in God’s hands. Love them the best you can but don’t get sucked into other people’s problems. Pray the best for them and let God handle it. All we need to do is whatever God tells us to do and nothing more.” If we would follow these instructions, we would never find ourselves being taken advantage of by others. We would have healthier relationships with other people, and, most of all, we would be obeying God.

One last point, right is not always right. You may consider something, decide that it is right and okay, and even convince yourself of its correctness. Yes, we must always consider doing the right thing, for the right reason, but what if you read something from the Word of God which tells you to do differently? You may be one of those people who believe that any taking of a life is wrong. You may convince yourself that even if someone you love was in mortal danger, you would not take the perpetrator’s life to save your loved one. But if you love life so much, you must also love your loved one’s life enough to take any action, even causing the death of someone who is attempting to take the life of your loved one. If you take no action, you violate your belief that all life is valuable. At certain times, right and wrong is just not as clear as all of that. But, as believers of the One God, we can come to the understanding, yes, take on His perspective that sometimes a life has to be lost to save another. This is what Jesus did. He did not want to die, but He wanted to obey the Father. The same God who, in the Old Testament, often sent the Israelites to destroy whole nations. He knew that this was necessary, because God is all knowing. He knew what would happen if they were not removed from the scene. We may feel differently from God on this subject, as well as with others, but we must never forget the verse I listed at the beginning of this discourse. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB), “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” With the mind of Christ, we can come to a better understanding of much of God’s Word. We can also come to understand and even accept those decisions of our Lord’s which we may emotionally disagree. Keep in mind that He ability to think and decide is so beyond our comprehension, that is we tell ourselves that we full understand some decision of His, He still has more to say on the subject than we have concluded. Let’s learn to trust Him on every point and subject. Let’s allow His mental model (perspective) to so influence our own that we sort of get lost in His, and become more like Him in all things, so that He will also call us “perfect.”

Words of “Affirmation?”

A while back, I had the opportunity to discuss the topic of “positive affirmation” with a fellow believer. Her argument was that she was not receiving an adequate amount of positive affirmation from people in her life. She stated that her “love language” was “Words of Affirmation.” There are “officially” 5 ways to express or receive love (it is explained): the 5 “love languages.” The term was first coined by Gary Chapman in his 1995 book. The “languages” are Receiving Gifts, Spending Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation.

While I will not take time to argue for or against this, I do have a problem with how some people may interpret the concepts. The young woman I mentioned above was sincere in her concern. She felt isolated because others in her life did not make the effort to make her feel included and wanted. She believed that people should reach out to others and support them emotionally, while also using language which helps them feel “safe” and “loved.” She was in my counseling office because she had, also recently, been involved in a relationship with a man who was not her husband. Though she had not actually (according to her) had an illicit sexual affair with the man, she had compromised herself by hiding the relationship from her husband and actively participating with the man in questionable behavior.  Her only “defense” for her actions and decision was that she had been feeling unwanted and ignored for quite some time, and the man made her feel better about herself with how he used his words.

Noemi (not her real name) complained that she had had a strong relationship with the Lord up until not long ago. She said that a Bible study she had been attending had been ended and she missed the constant positive affirmation of the members for each other. I asked her to explain to me how the group affirmed each other positively. She explained that they would always use positive words regarding others, and “never” used language which could be interpreted as judgmental. With tears in her eyes, she told me how good the group’s use of this “love language” made her feel about herself. After the group was closed, she said she began to feel empty inside.

I had not read the book before, so I took the time to read it and found it does not include this kind of hogwash. First of all, the writer would have been astonished that this young lady interpreted his intention behind the “love language” in the manner she did. His point seemed to be clear to me that this was primarily a set of techniques used in relationships which were understood to be long term (my words not his). He mentioned children, wives and husbands, and persons dating, in the greater context when explaining how these “love languages” could best be used. Other relationships played a lessor role, to say the least.

One point for sure, at least in my estimation, is that Gary Chapman did not intend for someone to identify their “love language,” and then begin to expect every other person on the planet to respond to this one single person in that way. Noémi’s understanding of the Mr. Chapman’s explanations was exactly that. Even though she was not in long-term, personal, relationships with the greater number of people in her life, she was holding them responsible for her emotional health. And, to make matters worse, she put her dependence on them, as compared to putting it on her husband. As it turned out, the husband was mostly clueless about what was going on. From her descriptions, he seemed to be an okay guy. Goes to work, comes home afterward, turns in his wages to the family bank account, and mostly likes spending time at home with his family. What was her problem with him? (You might ask.) Well, he was not a Christian. She knew he wasn’t a believer when she married him, and then later began to get upset because he was not motivated to go to church with her.

It was around that time she began attending the Bible study. At first she was surprised. Everyone was friendly, but more than that, they always spoke “affirming” words to each other. I asked her about this, “Did they ever speak of sin? Did they ever point out wrongdoing and how there are consequences for those actions? Did they ever exhort (push and motivate) you to a greater service of our Lord?” She stared at me for a moment and lowered her eyes.

“No,” she said softly, “The told me I was just fine the way I was. We affirmed each other,” she argued, “We affirmed each other in our love languages.”

I challenged her response, “Let’s see, these ‘languages’ are ‘Receiving Gifts, Spending Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation, right?’”

She answered, “Yes.”

“So you gave gifts to each other?” I queried.

She answered, “Yes.”

“And,” I then asked, “How did you handle the ‘Physical Touch’ language?”

Her face turned red, “That is where I met the other man. He was a friend of the couple who held the Bible study. I was told he recently became a believer, but had not yet accepted Christ in his life. He seemed to know a lot about the Bible, and he was very affirming in his use of his words. We sat in a circle around the room during the teachings, and he would always sit to one side of me or the other. One day he slipped his hand over mine, and I felt a sort of electricity go through me. When he did that, I felt like he was using his love language with me.”

“Physical Touch?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” she brightened up, “You see, his love language and mine fit together.”

What I wanted to do, at the time, was reach across the room and knock some sense into her. What I did, though, was explain something to her.

“Noémi,” I began, “That is not the use, Gary Chapman, intended for those ‘love languages.’ His intention, at least in regard to your situation, was that you would learn your husband’s ‘love language’ and then for you to act toward him in that manner. Then opposite would also be true, your husband could learn your ‘love language’ and then start treating you in that manner as well. Mr. Chapman never intended for you to come to the conclusion that someone else was supposed to use their own ’love language’ on you for their own benefit.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“What,” I asked pointedly, “benefit did this other man get from a relationship with you?”

She blushed, and said, “Me spending time with him.”

“And,” I emphasized, “If this wrong relationship had continued what else was he going to benefit?”

She blushed again, “You mean sex, right?”

“And,” I emphasized again, “What was your benefit from all this ‘love language’ stuff in the end?”

She lowered her head and said, “My husband found out. He no longer trusts me. I think he hates me, and he is thinking of divorce.”

I wish I could say that Noémi was an anomaly (something out of the ordinary), but instead she is in the norm. Like too many other persons, she goes to church, Bible study, and other such, and is taught good material in a bad way. In her case, the couple holding the Bible study should have paid attention to the fact that this other man always seemed to end up sitting next to Noémi. Secondly, if they are going to use someone else’s material, they must be faithful to the intend and teaching of the writer and author. Thirdly, they should have gotten to know Noémi better. They may have found out she was having marital problems and maybe referred her to a counselor.

In church settings it is a bit more difficult, but then that means the church is even more responsible with making sure they are teaching well, and clarifying their teachings well enough for people to hopefully get the correct idea and understanding. There are many people, believers, Christians who love the Lord, like Noémi out there. They listen to a teaching or sermon, decide that understand what they heard, and then begin living in accordance with the erroneous understanding. Consequently, these well-intentioned people will too many times make terribly bad decisions.

Finally, as I explained it to Noémi, the truth is that we do not “need” the affirmation of any human being. What we “need” is to drink water, eat food, and breathe air. Without one or more of these three things, we will die. Short of death, and certainly to accomplish some goals, we will “need” (but not in the same manner by any stretch) some things to accomplish those objectives. For example, if I want safety in my life, I may “need” to find shelter and some friends for support. The “need” for safety, and the “need” for food, should not be confused or even compared. The problem becomes even trickier when we use the word “need” for emotional objectives. “I need someone to love me,” or “I need someone to think I am important,” or “I need someone to want me,” are all lies. We do not “need” those things, we need to breathe, eat, and drink, and also we need God.

As Christians, we are always using and throwing around all kinds of phrases. “Jesus is the Way,” “Keep your eyes on Jesus,” “Trust in God,” “Have faith,” and multiples other such quotations. Too many times, the users of these phrases do not really understand them, because if they did, it would change their lives. My counseling office has seen too many “believers” who frequently use these and other such phrases, yet they still end up in my office with serious problems and/or questions. Why? You might ask. Because, either they did not listen well when being taught, or did not the necessary questions to get the correct answers, or they were not taught correctly. The teachers will blame the students, and the students will blame the teachers.

The ONLY person you and I “need” affirmation from is the Lord. His affirmation is the only one without a negatively selfish ulterior motive. When He affirms you, it will be because you obeyed Him and did what was right in His eyes. It will not be to just make you feel better or good. People who want affirmation with the objective that they can feel better about themselves are like those in the following verses, 2 Timothy 3:6-7 (NASB) “For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The dictionary defines the word “Affirmation” in this manner: “a solemn declaration made under the penalties of perjury by a person who conscientiously declines taking an oath.” That means the person who is affirming is saying something they believe to be truthful. Nowhere in the definition does it imply that you affirm someone to make the feel better about themselves. Even Gary Chapman, in his “The 5 Love Languages” does not distort the idea behind the word’s intention and definition. He clearly emphasized, if not said so directly, that if a person’s “love language” is “Words of Affirmation,” that this means their spouse is stating true things about them, not just trying to make them feel better. If the wife, for example” cooks well, cares for the household well, and so on, and her “love language” is “Words of Affirmation,” then her husband’s remarks and statements about her service in their marriage is warranted, desired, and beneficial.

Satan loves a person who plays the victim. Those people are so easy to fool and manipulate, like the women in the verses above. In too many cases, these people are not actually looking for ‘affirmation,” they are really wanting other to feel sorry for them and to take responsibility for making these victims feel better. That is called co-dependency, and it is a sick idea.

No! Dear Saints. You do not “need” to be affirmed by anyone but the Lord. If your ‘love language’ truly is “Words of Affirmation,” then let that be because you truly are doing all those things for which you want affirmation.

Life Sucks and then You Die!

I wrote this article on 31 August 2015

Great title, right? It got your attention. But more important than that, to many people that is the truth. Life has not been good for many thousands, if not millions or people worldwide. All that anyone has to do is turn on the news channel and you will hear of atrocities, death, violence, war, terrorism, and so on. Bullying is rampant in American schools. The suicide rate among teenagers is high. Husbands batter and abuse their wives. The war of drugs is losing. The President of the United States (Barack Obama), in my opinion, is a racist. Neither the Republican Party, nor the left-wing liars of the Democratic Party have real answers. Criminals use guns to kill people, and the gun-haters want to take weapons away from those who obey the law. A single court (the Supreme Court) overthrows the votes of many millions of voters and stuffs an undesired lifestyle down their throats. The police are seen as the enemy and criminals are defended by the public. And that is just some of what is happening today. Other than all of that, life is great!

Nothing that you read in this article should be understood as my excusing, justifying, or condoning anyone’s illegal behavior or actions. My goal is to present an argument for finding a workable solution to frustration. 

No wonder anxiety and stress is becoming a growing problem. A person who walks into a building full of children and kills many of them is the symptom of a real and mostly ignored problem in these United States. We quickly excuse the situation as that of mental illness, evil, terrorism, and other such terms. The problem is that we ignore the most likely reason: frustration.

It is one thing to demand something you have never had, it is another to lose something you have always had. The political climate in the United States, at present, lends itself to the manifestations of violence and further acts of aggression. As long as we continue to ignore the truth, we will be condemned to suffer the consequences. People who find no recourse for their frustrations will too many times take aggressive steps, which could include violence, to vent their sentiments.

The recent shooting of the reporter, cameraman, and guest on live television is just one more example. The talking heads on the news channels spouted words like, “crazy,” “evil,” and “deranged,” when speaking of the murderer, but seemed completely clueless of the real and underlining possibility for the motivation of the killer. Regardless of the fact that his actions were wrong and disastrous, the bits of information which started coming out about him pointed in the same direction: frustration.

Humans are selfish. We were born that way. It is in our nature to look out for ourselves. It is only by maturity that people learn little-by-little to become more selfless. Selfishness has its positive side. Due to that we care for ourselves. We eat what we enjoy, we make time for ourselves, we strive for happiness, we care for those we love, and so forth. This level of selfishness is good and produces positive and healthy results. It is when selfishness is carried to the extreme that it becomes something ugly. When we are willing to benefit from something to the point that others lose or get hurt is when selfishness becomes dangerous and hurtful.

The dictionary gives one definition of selfish as: (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure. In the context of the first part of the definition, selfish means that someone who is being selfish does not care that others may be harmed as a result of his or her actions. But, if we take the second context and carefully look at it, we can see that someone may be act in their own favor without necessarily harming others in any way. For example, if I decide to eat two hamburgers today, instead of maybe sharing one of them with someone else, I am harming no one, nor am I necessarily being inconsiderate. As well, what if I am a rich man, and want to share my money with others, but I want to benefit from sharing with them? I am being selfish, and still benefitting others.

In this last context, God is selfish. He wants things His way. He will not allow exceptions, things must be done His way, and if we choose not to do things His way, He will exert His power to ensure that His will is done regardless. He has His plans, and He will not permit them to be changed, modified, or stopped. God wants what God wants, and He will do everything according to what He thinks is best, without considering anyone else’s opinion. Notice Ephesians 1: 4 and 11.

We are like God in this aspect. We want things to be the way we want things to be. This is just human nature. It does not either make us bad or good. We work things to our own “good” throughout our lives. Our goal (selfish or selfless) is to “live long and prosper” as a character in the popular television series “Star Trek,” once said. We want to be happy, we want those we love to be happy, and we don’t want anything to change that, especially not something which would harm us in any way. But, what happens when something does harm us, when we unfairly lose something we have always had, or when we are deprived of something that is supposed to be our right? Well, we become angry.

Frustration leads to anger. It is the direct result of this sense of unfairness which is the result when we have no recourse to release frustrations. The murder of those people on live television is but a tiny example of what is happening in the world today. The earth is pregnant with the frustration of unfairness. Take for example, the Middle East. The little country of Israel is surrounded by large Islamic countries. Their hatred of Israel is based on their perspective that the Israelites are occupiers of stolen land. The Palestinians are the best example in this mess, from their point of view, something that they have always had was taken from them to be given to those who did not already have it. The wants of the few outweighed the needs of the many. To make matters worse for them, the United Nations, with the United States and England primarily endorsing the effort, their country gets chopped up into pieces and the “invaders” are supported by the world powers. Instead of defending the Palestinians from invasion and occupation, the very resource which should have been there to help countries from such an invasion, aligned instead with the invaders. Then, when Iraq invades Kuwait, those same powers come out in force to defend the small country and repels the invaders. From the point of view of the Palestinians, where is the justice and fairness? What are they told to do? Accept it.

Frustration has been evident in many of the shootings and criminal actions of late. Blacks rioted in Ferguson and destroyed their own community; the result of lingering frustration. The shooters at Columbine had reportedly been the victims of bullying, and in their frustration chose to use violence as the only recourse for them. Any search of the internet will produce many cases of people returning to their last place of employment and killing fellow employees. Why? Frustration. In their minds, there was no other recourse, to them, they had tried what they could to get their point across and show why they were right and others were wrong. The question here is not whether they were in actuality right or wrong, the question is what can we do about their frustrations?

I mentioned the decision by the Supreme Court above, and I want to touch on that subject again as another example. Millions of people in several states voted against same-sex marriage. This has been a hot issue for many years, it is something extremely important and personal to many citizens of these United States. It is possible that with time, these very same citizens would have voted for same-sex marriage, but not today. Along with this, there is an underlining belief that the vote of the American citizen is sacred and valuable, and a right which cannot be taken away. The decision by the Supreme Court violated that right. It did away with the legitimate votes of millions with just one simple declaration. What all Americans have always had (the right to have the vote of the majority win), has been displaced and removed. We all know now, from that fateful day and on, that the legal vote of the majority of the citizenry can be ignored if someone with enough power dos not like it. What we have always had (the sanctity of marriage) has been taken away from us, and what others never had (the legal right to marry) has been given to them in disregard of the majority’s opinion. And, to make matter worse, we can do nothing legal about it. How frustrating!

As a counselor, I encounter this anger all the time. People are frustrated because of circumstances in their lives. Wives complain of husbands who do not keep their word. Husbands complain of wives who “want to change” them. Church members complain of pastors who “lord it over” them. Children complain of parents who exasperate them. Adult children complain that their parents love the other adult child more. People complain that God should have done this or not done that. Many clients have high expectations of what life should have been like, only to realize that life “sucks” for everyone. The Victim Mentality is prevalent in our society, and it shows no possibility of lessening. The politically-correct mentality infringes on the healthier way of managing our lives and relationships, producing less healthy, co-dependent, weaklings who want life to conform to their standards. “Life,” as such, conforms to no one. We either will take responsibility for ourselves, or we will suffer the consequences: frustration.

As a counselor, my job is to help someone find answers which will work in their life, to resolve, and hopefully eliminate, their immediate and long-term problems. To accomplish this, I need to understand the problem. I have always believed that the answer to any problem will be found in the problem itself. The better I understand what the problem is, the closer I am to a solution. When it comes to frustration, though, there seems to be an added challenge; the answer may not be available.

The “answer” for the Middle East “problem” is the removal of Israel, and elimination of all interference by foreign powers regarding the progress of Islamic countries. That is a solution which will not be forthcoming. The West, especially the United States, will not turn its back on Israel. It is has great strategic value to the US, besides the treaty we have with them (I support Israel, by the way). So the result for the Moslems is frustration, and the result of that frustration is anger.

Oftentimes, clients will hide their frustration. The result will be pent up anger, which they will disguise as victimization. They are so frustrated with circumstances (a misbehaving husband or wife, for instance) that they view the problem as one of injustice (I am being treated unfairly), so they respond as victims (something must be done about this), and when they have tried “everything” they will have only two options: accept defeat or fight back.

For those of you, dear readers, who argue that someone just has to accept what they cannot change and go on with their lives, consider this scenario.

One day foreign forces invade and occupy a US territory, let’s say Hawaii. The invading army takes control of the state government and imposes martial law, effectively stripping every Hawaiian of their legal rights. The Hawaiians have two choices: 1) Accept that they are now governed by a foreign power, and go about their business as an occupied people, or 2) Fight for their freedom. Which would you want these people, the Hawaiians, our fellow citizens, to do?

After a truncated effort by the United States government to demand that the invading force remove its army, we would launch such an attack which would likely leave the world spinning its head with the rapidity of our response. Violence would be the answer to the frustration produced by the actions of a foreign power.

One of my research studies, that of the behavior of men who physically abuse their wives, produced several interesting points of consideration. My main focus was on why these men chose to be violent with these women they allegedly loved. You would imagine that they would instead choose to keep their arguments limited to words rather than opting to attack their spouse. My research included myself. For the first six years of my marriage to my wife, I physically (as well as emotionally) abused her.

Without justifying anything, I asked the right question, “What was at the core of this behavior?” Why was it that these men resorted to violence? As I studied and researched, and better understood the problem, I came to some conclusions.

First, let me share what is not the answer: labeling. Resorting to labeling the men as abusers, crazies, evil, batterers, sick, and so on, helped in no manner, and only served to cloud the issue. Labelling people puts them into a category, and doing so helps others to just cast them away as useless. Indeed, some men who are violent are crazy, some are mentally unstable, and some are just plain confused about how to deal with any relationship, so they choose violence. But, the greater number are not such, these men are those who reached a point of frustration which tells them they have no other option but violence. In their minds they have “tried everything,” and it didn’t work, so they resorted to violence. The sad thing is that the violence actually works, to a point.

Take Julio for example, Julio and Rosa got married on their 20th birthdate. Yes, they have the same birthdate, year and everything, but he is four hours older. Rosa was the youngest of four kids, and Julio was the oldest of three. Rosa’s parents fought often and separated at least three times according to her memory, and Julio’s dad died when he was 11, from a car accident.

When Rosa was 10 years old, her uncle started molesting her and this lasted for almost three years. When she told her mother that her uncle (the mom’s brother) was molesting her, the mom punished her for “lying,” and told her never to mention that again. Julio grew up with the knowledge that you could easily lose the people close to you, so he developed the need to try to control those around him. When he could do that, he felt safer.

By the time that they got married, Rosa had develop a need to have males approve her, which made her a target for men who took advantage of her at times. Julio, on the other hand, grew to learn that even the threat of violence was enough to get people to comply.

Julio and Rosa fell “in love,” and decided to get married. Julio could find no fault in Rosa, and she saw only strength in him. The very things that drew them together were the things that started to divide them.

Rosa’s neediness made her clingy and codependent on Julio, and his defensiveness pushed her away. The more she wanted from him, the more fearful he became because he did not know how to handle her neediness. She would make demands on him, and he would scream at her to back off. The more he insisted that she back off, the needier she felt and the greater the demands.

Julio’s mind told him that she was not listening to him, because if she was she would understand and agree with him. At first he would just argue with her, later he started yelling at her, and after a time, he started threatening her. Her lack of expected response created in Julio a frustration as he had not experienced before. His mind told him that what he was doing was not only not working, but that it would never succeed. During one of their more spirited arguments, he snapped and hit Rosa. The lie he believed was that he had no other option, because he “had tried everything.”

Most men who physically abuse their wives fall into this category (if you like) of why they use violence against their spouses. In their minds, they believe that they have run out of options.

Again, this does not excuse them, but it can help us to understand the dynamics of frustration.

In his book, “Understanding Conflict And War: Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective, Chapter 3 – Frustration, Deprivation, Aggression, And The Conflict Helix,” R. J. Rummel says, “Moreover, we are often unable to satisfy our desires or accomplish our goals. Sometimes our ambitions exceed our abilities, or we misperceive the possibilities. But sometimes we are blocked by an external barrier that precludes gratification. This may be a traffic jam preventing us from reaching an appointment, a college rule prohibiting us from taking a particular course, an amorous neighborhood tom cat interrupting our sleep, or our race restricting professional advancement. Whatever the barrier, we are frustrated. All of us are so frustrated from time to time.”

“In addition, we all have experienced irritation and anger at some frustrations. A long line preventing us from seeing an eagerly awaited movie, a crush of shoppers hindering the purchase of some simple necessities, a slow driver obstructing a narrow road, probably have aroused in all of us that familiar flush of annoyance, even anger. That frustration of our desires and goals occasionally leads to anger is a commonplace. It is subjectively unquestionable — a fact of our existence.”

We get frustrated because we get stuck. We cannot move forward, and we cannot change things. We feel deprived, and that only emphasizes the unfairness of the situation.

Of course, the better answer is for people to learn to “accept those things we cannot change,” as the Serenity Prayer states, but that does not help with the problem in any manner. Why? Because some things should not be accepted. Racism, violence, injustice, and other similar things should never be acceptable under any guise. Those things are wrong and must be eliminated, or at least suppressed. In those cases aggression is understood, if not actually condoned. But, what usually results is that those who witness such aggression, as in the case of the shooter of the television crew, refuse to consider the possibility that it was simple frustration which may have prompted the killer. To consider that his motive, distorted as it may have been, was that he became frustrated because he believed that the system failed him. In his own mind, he may have reached the point where he had no other option available to him that seemed as though it would help him achieve his goal.

Many of my clients, in these 28 years of counseling, have been at that same point. They may not have decided that killing someone else was the answer, but many of them were at their wits end when they came to see me. In many cases, I strongly believe, many of them were able to come to an acceptable acceptance of their circumstances. I was able to help them find another answer, not the one they believed to be the fairest, just, or correct one, but one they decided to live with. I am painfully aware of one client, many years ago, who even after counseling with me, and another qualified counselor, still succumbed to his frustrations and he killed his wife in front of their children.

Pay attention to the news, the people in your life, and those nearest to you, and you will find examples of people struggling with frustrations.

Further in his writing, R. J. Rummel, said this, “It is remarkable that those who are most deprived, most oppressed, most in need, are not those who usually violently rebel. Of course there have been food riots and peasant uprisings, but most often revolutions and violence have occurred when conditions are better or have been improving, and among those who are not the most deprived.”

“Explanations vary but generally focus on two propositions. First, deprivation is subjective, a function of a person’s perception, needs, and knowledge. To nail deprivation to an objective or absolute lack of something such as freedom, equality, or sustenance, is to ignore that definitions of these shift according to historical period, culture, society, position, and person.”

“However, some internal norms or standards, some benchmarks, against which to assess deprivation are still required. The second proposition, therefore, deals with these norms. It asserts that we take our presently perceived or expected position, achievements, gratifications, or capabilities as a base of comparison against our wants or needs, or what we feel we ought to have. The gap between wants or oughts and gratifications or capabilities is then our deprivation, or relative deprivation in the sense that it depends on our base of comparison.”

In other words, just because someone else is able to brush off an injustice or mistreatment, and “bury the hatchet,” is no indication that it is the norm. We, each of us, decides in our own minds what is acceptable and unacceptable in our lives.

One person may accept slavery, and the next one will fight it with all their might. One person may accept racism, and the other will openly demonstrate aggression against it. One person may accept that they have been rejected, and the other will go into a building full of children and kill as many as he can.

LITTLETON, CO – APRIL 20: (VIDEO CAPTURE) Columbine high school shooters Eric Harris (L) and Dylan Klebold appear on a surveillance tape in the cafeteria at Columbine High School April 20, 1999 in Littleton, CO during their shooting spree which killed 13 people.

Your House Is On Fire!

 Ten Lessons We Learned From a House Fire

On 12 April 2013, I was driving to a restaurant with my brother and his wife for breakfast. As we drove, I received a call from my youngest son, who was waiting to go to the Navy to begin his enlistment. His words chilled me, “The house is on fire.” I asked him if he was kidding, as he was not averse to joking at times. “No, the house is on fire, and I have called the fire department.” I told my brother, who was driving, and we turned back toward my home. I called my wife and told her what my son had told me as we drove. We had reached Hampton Blvd and Westmoreland Rd., and we u-turned. As we headed north on Westmoreland (it is a higher point than other parts of Oak Cliff, the southwest section of Dallas, Texas), I could see a trail of thick smoke in the distance. My heart sank as I realized that the column of smoke as in the area in which we live. The closer we got, the thinner the smoke also got, probably due to the fact the fire department had arrived and were extinguishing the flames.

As we approached my street, I could see fire trucks blocking the direction we were heading. We went around the block and headed for my home. When my house came into view, I saw firefighters entering and exiting my home. The smoke had mostly ended, and the first responders continued their work. I approached the house and was ushered away by a fireman, who asked me to stand across the street. I went across and stood near the curb staring at the home. I am sure those around me, and there were quite a bunch of people already standing around watching the activity, were able to see that I was in shock. I just stood there staring at the firefighters entering and exiting, until one of them walked over to me, I think it was the same one who ran me off, and said, “It’s all yours.” They picked up all their gear and drove off.

My wife arrived about that time, and I waked over to her. She looked toward the house and then to me, and then back at the home. Tears started welling up in her eyes. We walked to the house and stood just inside the front door and took in the sight of a blackened home. The smoke smell was strong, and everything we saw had been touched by the smoke. We saw destruction. We both started crying, and hugged each other as we stood there.

LESSONS WE LEARNED

Lesson One

There is life after a fire. Yes, as you have probably heard before, you will lose some things which will never be replaced or regained. But, new things follow a fire. What those new things are will depend on your stinginess.

Lesson Two

If your home insurance policy is the lowest you are willing to pay, you will suffer an additional trauma when they explain to you what is covered and how much they will pay. A couple of years before our fire, my wife and an agent from our insurance (Farmer’s), met and negotiated our insurance policy coverage level. The agent suggested we upgrade to a higher level which would cover more in case of an emergency. My wife, whom I believe one of the wisest persons in my life, agreed and we begin to pay the higher rates. Why is this important? Well, in the end, we found out that the cost to repair our home ran up to and almost $90,000 and the cost to replace many of our lost contents was around $64,000. Had we stayed at the lower level we had before, we would have had to come up with many thousands out of pocket to repair and replace. If we had not moved up to the next level, we would have suffered not one, but two, traumas, the emotional consequence of a fire and the pain of paying all that money we did not have. All the money in the world cannot help get back what we lost due to the fire, but being able to buy new furniture, appliances, clothes, and so forth, eases the pain of the loos somewhat. A good decision regarding home insurance will make a difference when you have some emergency.

Lesson Three

You will have an emergency. I promise you, no matter who you are and how well you prepare, you will have an emergency. But, how well you prepare can make going through a serious emergency, such as a fire, much less painful and traumatic. The biggest lie you will ever tell yourself about a traumatic emergency is that though it might happen, this does not mean it will happen soon. We had no idea we were going to have a house fire. There were no clues or hints or warnings about an imminent fire. We were caught completely off guard. We had no reason to expect a fire. But, due to my wife’s insight and wisdom we were prepared financially, if not emotionally, prepared to deal with the event. We have learned from this event to look at other areas in our life. We pay attention to things and circumstances a bit closer than before. We may not catch every single situation which could happen, but it will not be because we stuck our heads in the sand, as it were, and pretend that nothing is going to happen.

Lesson Four

Pick the company who will work at repairing your home carefully, and do not sign anything while you are still feeling numb from the fire. Shock is an interesting thing. You can be suffering shock and think you are okay. The main problem with shock is it causes you to have tunnel vision. This means you focus on the event, situation, circumstance, or so forth, after a traumatic event. You will not be in full control of all of your senses, no matter what you tell yourself. After a fire in one’s home, your shock may last for days or weeks. Find someone you trust to be at your side while you ask questions, so they can help you think of questions you may not think about on your own. When the repair company you approach, or who approaches you (they will come out of the woodwork all of a sudden, really!), hands you their contract, ask to take the contract home and review it before signing. If they tell you that they need to get it signed quickly so they can get started, then walk away. Any company which is fair and honest will have no problem waiting a day or two for you to be comfortable with what you will be signing.

Lesson Five

Understand the home repair contract.  Most of the contract from home repair companies include clauses which state they will be receiving to complete pay out of the insurance policy, and not you. This is good and bad. The good part is if you have enough or more coverage to cover whatever the repair company estimates will be the costs for the repairs to your home, then there should be no additional expenses out of pocket for you, in regard to the repair of the house. For example, if the repairs will cost $90,000, and your insurance covers up to $100,000, the company will keep the extra $10,000, but your home will be completely repaired. The bad is that you will not get the extra $10,000. MOST IMPORTANT – make sure to have the company representative write onto the contract that they will repair the home solely for the amount which your insurance will pay out to you. This means they will expect to receive from you all payments from the insurance company for home repairs. In our case, for example, the company representative who came to see me for the last payment mentioned that there were still $2000 due beyond what the insurance company paid out. I showed the representative the initial contract with the hand written statement that they would do the repairs solely for the amount to be paid out by the insurance, and he went away. I could tell the last representative was unhappy, but that was something they would have to work out among themselves. I complied with the contract.

Lesson Six

Just because you singed a contract to allow a company to repair your home, this does not take away your ability to insist on specific repairs or modifications. Keep this in mind, the insurance company will be paying the repair money to you, not the repair company. It will then be necessary for you to pay them. Open a bank account specifically for this circumstance, deposit all monies received from the insurance company into that account, and use the account as a means of adequately handling your expenses. Even though you signed a contract, you are the one who has to pay the company for the repairs. Whether they like it or not, break the payments into three separate parts. They will need a specific amount to get started hiring the people who will actually do the repair work, like clean up people, carpenters, roofers, etc. Certain city ordinances or laws may require the repairs be done in some specific manner. Be sure to ask the company to explain these to you, and ask them to give you the information so you can double-check what they have told you. You know, because people never lie, right? With all of this in mind, look for any workable and not large changes you may want to make. A good company will have no problem with minor changes or modifications, as long as they do not require approval by city inspectors. I butted heads with the repair company representatives on one change I insisted upon, they were happy to make the change once I reminded them that while I had to pay them for the repairs, nothing required me to pay them when they believed they were ready to be paid. I could stall the payment. They did not want that, so they “smiled” and agreed with the change.

Lesson Seven

Right after the fire, but before the repair company swoops in to begin their work, you will have a few days to begin the work of searching thorough your belongings. There may be some property which can be salvaged. If you can do so, great! But keep this in mind, the smoke smell will NOT go away. You will be encouraged by people to either try certain products, or businesses which supposedly clean items for you. Please believe me when I say that the smoke smell does NOT go away. When it comes to clothes or furniture which got smoke damage, but did not get burned, make up your mind to let go of those things emotionally. If you have an appropriate level of insurance, your company will likely pay out to you an amount which will more than cover for the purchase of new items. By the way, do NOT pay for some company to come and clean out your home before the repairs begin, the repair company you contracted with is also responsible for cleaning up before beginning their work. Don’t waste money. Give each possible instance of expenditure a double-take before handing out cash. Lots of people will want your money, because they know, or at least believe, that you will be getting money from an insurance company.

Lesson Eight

Depending on your insurance policy level, you will likely be paid out some money for your home contents which were destroyed or damaged in the fire. This amount can be quite high, if you were not stingy in which level policy you got. Keep in mind that the repair company knows this. They will encourage you to do some add-on work, such as additional insulation work, and so on.  They will not know what amount you got, and this is my recommendation: DO NOT TELL ANYONE HOW MUCH YOU RECEIVED! When I say “anyone,” I mean anyone. Friends, relatives, in-laws, and outlaws will all want some of that cool cash. We did not tell anyone what the amount was until it was spent. I have some suggestions:

  1. When your home is completely repaired, your house will be empty. The repair company will have to replace some appliances, but not most of them. Find out what they will be replacing, and then start a list of needed purchases. An example may be refrigerator, sofas, beds, TV’s, clothes, shoes, personal products, and so on. Make the list carefully, because, believe it or not, you will spend the money quicker than you might initially think. We spent the almost $64,000 in just a few months. Sure, we spent it solely on the contents and clothing for ourselves, but it went quick. I was so amazed and learned that one has to be careful with such large amounts.
  2. Be nice to yourself. Yes, be careful in how you spend the money, but you will probably not have another opportunity like this (and hopefully never another fire). I bought new kitchen equipment and utensils, but not just some new ones, I took advantage of the situation and bought high quality ones. The decision turned out to have been a good one, due to the fact that the things I bought are still working great. A couple of our older TV’s were damaged by smoke, and we were “forced” to buy newer and better televisions which were also larger. Oh yea, babe! My wife and I have always bough clothes from second hand stores, we have, since getting married, found this acceptable. This time around, we bought new clothes and shoes. None of this takes away the pain from the fire, but it sure makes it easier to deal with, and it helped with the emotional healing.
  3. Don’t forget other needs around the property. My wife and I had been contemplating some upgrades to our property. We needed to upgrade the electrical wiring, replace the roofing, paint the house, and more. When we sat down and added these upgrades we found we would need in the range of about $30,000 to $50,000 to cover everything we wanted to improve. Though we hated that we had a fire, the repairs made included some of those items on our list. We then had the opportunity to use some content money for other projects. One of the projects, which was included in the amount, was the garage. We needed to remove the garage door and replace it with a wall and regular entry door. This would allow us to use that space for a different function. In our case we turned it into a work shop for me to do home repairs and projects. We were also able to use some of the content money to add porches to the front of the garage, as well as the counseling office (which we have on property). One last item we spent some of our content money to do is add an additional (small) room to our home. We now have two restrooms, instead of just one.
  4. Save any remaining money. You may not end up with any extra money when you are done making new purchases, but if you do, put it in your savings. Get ready for the next emergency you will My wife and I save money every chance we get. We have good insurance, savings, and are careful with our spending, but expenditures will happen, and sometimes they will be unexpected. At the time of this writing, I am about to go through a procedure to replace one or both of my knees. Even with insurance coverage, we will have copays and possible equipment purchases to make. Those costs will come out of our pockets. Thank God we save money.

Lesson Nine

It okay to cry and let out your emotions. In fact, it is possibly the best thing you can do. You may even consider counseling. If you do consider counseling, come and see me. I charge $20 per session and I have experienced trauma in my life as well. I may not know how you feel, but I can sure guess at it. In any case, make time for each other. The loss of property and personal items will have different impacts on different persons in your family. You may convince yourself that you are fine, but your kids may be hiding fear and anger at the loss of their stuff. A fire is similar to being burglarized. Something came along and stole your stuff, in this case through a fire. Your home has been invaded. This can cause strong feelings of fear and doubt in some family members. Make an extra effort to pay attention to each other, cry together, support each other, and encourage each other. If anyone is showing signs as though they don’t care, or that it was nothing big, this is an indication that they may be suffering with shock more than others. Pay careful attention to these individuals, and make them get involved in whatever steps you take to heal as a family.

Lesson Ten

Keep trusting in God. One night my wife and I were watching an episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” I watched as they built a new home for a fireman and his family. I will admit a small bit of jealousy. I thought about the almost 30 years of ministering to people through counseling. With the grace of God, I have helped many persons and couples deal with difficult times in their lives. I have seen the Lord bring change to many persons, and I told myself that I also deserved a home “makeover.” I mentioned this to my wife that night, and she agreed with me. We had just spent time adding up all the work the house and property needed, and we were wondering how we could get ahold of that kind of money, without going out and robbing a Seven-Eleven store. Months later, our home was damaged by a fire, and with the insurance monies, we got our “extreme home makeover.” God did not start the fire (I think), but since He knew it was going to happen, He moved on my wife to get more insurance coverage.By this means, He blessed us more than we could have expected. Now days, when I pray, I mention other “needs and wants” to the Lord with the intent of motivating Him to bless us with these desires of ours. He loves us, so I am looking forward to whatever of these He works out to our “good.” Amen.

COUNSELORS LIKE KING SOLOMON

First Kings 3:16-28, tells a story of two women who came before King Solomon. Each was claiming that a certain baby was theirs. What had happened, was that one of the women accidently killed her baby by rolling over on it during the night. When she awoke and saw what she has done, she went and exchanged her dead baby with a living one of another woman. When the other mother realized what happened, she search for and found her baby in the custody of the other. The situation grew to the point it was brought before King Solomon. He listened to both sides, then he gave his counsel. He ordered the baby be cut in half and for each woman to get half. The real mother cried out begging the king not to kill the baby, but instead to give it to the other woman.

Earlier, King Solomon was approached by God, in a dream, and offered the opportunity to choose any blessing he might want. Instead of riches, a long life, or other similar possibilities, instead Solomon said in 1st Kings 3:9 (NASB) “Give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” Even at his age, he was young at the time, he understood that he needed God’s wisdom to lead the people as a king. Christian counselor are in the same boat, as it were, they are also in need of God’s wisdom for counseling the people He sends the counselors.  And, while it is true God promised Solomon that no other person would ever compare to him in his wisdom, God does promise to give wisdom to those who ask for it.

Though James (1:5-7) does promise wisdom for those who ask for it, He also places a condition on getting it, (v.6, NASB) “But he must ask in faith without any doubting…” Doubt is the opposite of Faith. Faith places certain conditions on the believers as well. Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Notice the key words here, “substance” and “evidence.” These two words imply something that can be checked and corroborated. I can hope I will win the lottery, but that in no way proves I actually might win. On the other hand, I can hope to get rich, save money, invest it wisely, and have actual “evidence” of a chance of achieving my goal. In other words, “evidence of things not seen.”

Solomon understood that because he was young, his immaturity could cause him problems. He had lived under his father king David (a man after God’s own heart), and had seen him fail miserably. He understood that just believing in God was not enough to help someone make wise decisions. There was something else needed, and it was something not already available to people without God’s help. As counselors, we must also come to the same understanding. There will be many occasions where we will have a situation brought to us to “judge.” Yes, I said judge. Before you can offer your wise counsel to a person, regarding the circumstances they present to you as their problem, you must make a judgment as to the truth.

As you may know, much of what people present to a counselor is better known as symptoms. These symptoms are the result of the perceived problem by the client. Remember, people do what they do, because they believe what they believe. Therefore, they make decisions based on what they believe to be the problem. In reality, most of these perceived problems of clients are actually their reactions to false and incorrect beliefs. The number one reason most people have “problems” in relationships, especially, is that they are believing some lies. These lies have either been a part of their lives for so long, or the lies are mixed in with truths to the point, that the persons believe they are all the truth. Some people, like the woman who accidently killed her baby, will stick to their lies to the point that they would rather lose everything than to admit they are lying. Those people would hurt others, rather than to admit the truth and find a solution.

To be able to discern this, a Christian counselor must learn to judge carefully. Do not be afraid of judging, and stop believing the lie that the Scriptures call on us to not judge others. Notice the following from Matthew 7:1 (KJV). “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Most people read this verse and stop here. So, they will argue that the Bible instructs believers not to judge others. But, Matthew 12:33 (NASB) says, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” See, a tree is known by its fruit. This means you have to look at the fruit to make a judgment as to the kind of tree. For example, if we look up into a tree and see oranges hanging there, do we then say, “Hey, look, it’s a lemon tree?” Of course not, we see the fruit, judge that they are oranges, and know the type of tree immediately. And, please do not say that you don’t understand that the Lord (who is the One quoted) is actually speaking of people and their ways. Yes, we are expected to judge, but we are expected to leave the judgments which belong to God in His hands. Our need to judge is so that we can make good and correct decisions. We are not allowed to judge the sins of others, this is God’s prerogative alone. Notice also in Matthew 7:2 (KJV), “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” If we are willing to be judged in the same manner we judge others, then we can go ahead and make the judgment.

As counselors, we are to make judgments regarding the actions, behavior and decisions of our clients. These judgments are important so that we may better discern the real problem, and therefore be better able to help people. When we are, inevitably, presented with a situation which will be as difficult as the one King Solomon was, we must be prepared to make the right judgment. The “right” judgment will, also inevitably, need to be the one that God wants. For you, as a Christian counselor, this means working your way through the lies which have trapped the client in a life of problem, and identifying the truth which will “make them free.” To be successful at this, the Christian counselor must learn to make careful judgments.

You may not like the analogy I am about to use, but Christian counselors are much like judges. May times couples come before a counselor, not with the intention of finding a solution, but instead with the desire that the counselor will “judge” that they are right and that their partner is wrong.  Counselors tend to reject this expectation, but they still have to judge the truth, which sometimes does mean judging one right and one wrong. Without this judgment, the Christian counselor will fail to arrive at the truth. And, it is the truth, not the honest intentions of the counselor, which will help find the correct resolution to the problems presented. It may feel uncomfortable to make these judgments, but the Christian counselor is expected to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, which leads us into all truth (John 16:13).

Just as with King Solomon you are going to encounter those situations where one person is clearly wrong, but you also do not want to be seen as choosing sides. So you will have to use the “cut the baby in half” test. For example, let’s say you have in your counseling office a couple. The husband committed adultery and the wife is there, with him, trying to see if you can help her decide her options. She could choose to try to work things out, or she could just go for the divorce. This means you will have to help her by causing something to happen which will be obvious to her. In this example, you ask the wife to consider separating from her husband for three to six months, while he makes some character changes. You are actually suggesting something that will challenges both persons. In his case, the question is will he show that he wants to save his marriage by doing whatever it takes, or will he argue that the consequences should not be so hard on him. If he argues, he is like the woman who stole the child. He won’t care that he is still hurting his wife and marriage, he just wants things to be the way he thinks they should.

In the wife’s case, the test is to see if she actually wants change in him, or just to punish him for being bad. In the former, the goal will be that she imposes these consequences on her husband, because where there are no consequences, there is permission. On the latter, just punishing her husband will serve little value other than making feel slightly better at the moment. In either case, husband or wife, they will either see the benefit of making those personal changes and ending up with a healthier and happier marriage, or they will be so angry and self-centered that they don’t care of the long term damage to their relationship.

As a counselor, you will be confronted with the “cut the baby in half” situations, much more than you might anticipate. Sometimes the situation will seem much less drastic, as compared to an affair. For example, you have a client who seems to struggle with doing what you are counseling him to do. You can “test” him by giving him some homework which should not be hard to do, and can be done easily in one week’s time. If the person does the homework, you can be more confident that he will also take future steps you may counsel. If he makes excuses why he did not get the homework done, then you know you’re wasting your time with someone who is playing at wanting to change. King Solomon could have listened to the women’s arguments and pleadings all day long, and might never be able to figure out who was telling the truth, and who was lying. By threatening to cut the baby in half (the test) he knew that the real mother would not want that to happen. He knew that somehow she would show that she was the real mother. In this case, the real mother would rather give her child away, than allow the baby to be killed. King Solomon’s wisdom was such that he knew that testing people was quicker than just listing to tons of words. Christian counselors should learn this aspect of counseling. We are judges. We have to make judgments on a regular basis. The goal must be to make the best, fair, and most impartial judgments possible. To do this, we need that wisdom from God. And, besides just asking God to give us wisdom (which is fine, but, in my own opinion, the lazy way to get it), we are to study the Word of God, take it to heart and memory, and use it when we make those judgments.

Finally, 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB) says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” This is, without question, one way to get this wisdom of the Lord for making right judgments in counseling. Keep studying.

 

A Happy Marriage

The Elusive Dream For Many

As a counselor of 30 years, I have had the opportunity to speak at many marriage seminars, retreats, and other similar gatherings. On top of that, I have counseled with hundreds of persons, as well as many couples, regarding their marriages. I have come to the conclusion that those of us who do choose to get married, do so with a dream in mind that often turns out to be elusive. We don’t exactly think carefully about how we were expecting things to turn out realistically, we just sort of had in mind that things would just work out okay. Some people, fewer than most, I will also admit, begin their marriages with fantasies of grand and wonderful relations which will get better and better, and more enjoyable as time progresses. You know the type, “He or she will love me for the rest of my life, they will always be on my side, they will always be romantically attracted to me, and only me alone, they will be happy just being married to me.” Then reality hits, and many times the persons are left devastated and angry.

 “Marriage is hard work. Not impossible, 

but nevertheless hard.

Am I saying that there is no chance of a “happy” marriage? No, but it will depend on your idea of what “happy” means. Happiness is something we decide on our own. The dictionary defines it this way, “the state of being happy.” The word “happy” has two definitions: 1) “Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment,” and 2) “Fortunate and convenient.” The second definition is more about mannerisms, like, “He is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy.” So, I will concentrate on the first definition.

If you are married, especially those who now may have been married for many years, do you and your spouse “feel or show pleasure or contentment” regarding your marriage? Well, we hope so, right? Let’s look at the words carefully and evaluate their reality in real people’s lives and marriages. You can have a good idea of how you personally feel about things, even your marriage, but you cannot be completely sure of someone else’s feeling, no matter how enthusiastically they emphasize them. People have been known to lie, right? And, there is no human on the face of the Earth that does not tell even a tiny, small, white, lie at some time or other. So the question is, how can you be sure that your spouse really is “happy” with your marriage just because they say they are?

30 years of counseling has taught me that, too often, people will say one thing and mean another. I have had men and women in counseling sessions argue how much they “love” their spouse, and then in the same session, threaten to divorce them because they are so angry. I have had women who come to see me complaining that their husbands have been abusive and hateful toward them, while at the same time claiming they don’t want to divorce. I had one situation, which has unfortunately become an expectation of mine regarding many marriages, where a man came to counsel arguing that he wanted his marriage to get better and improve, but, after additional counseling, I came to find out he was hiding the fact that he had been “talking to” another woman. A person can argue that they want to save, or improve, their marriage, and at the same time continue behavior which is clearly damaging the relationship.

Marriage is hard work. Not impossible, but nevertheless hard. A marriage will not just work out okay, it will require both individuals to choose to make sacrifices and compromise on many issues. It seems, often, that many persons who get married think that they can be married, and get all the benefits which come along with it, and still be free to live in any manner they want. I often hear the argument, “But what about me?” Their question alludes to their belief that they should be able to live and do as they want, and that their spouse should just accept it, and not confront them regarding their beliefs. This is solely a selfish egotistic self-serving concept. The correct question should be, “What about us?” One person once argued, “Are we supposed to stop being individuals when we get married?” The person was expecting me to say, “No.” Instead, I said, Yes!” At least from a Biblical perspective, we are called to become “one.” The idea is that two persons decide to leave their individual separate lives aside, and begin new lives working together for mutually benefiting purposes.

Is it possible for couples to have a “happy” marriage? Of course, but certain things will have to happen. I have, for the purposes of this writing, identified four issues of marriage which any couple must resolve to have a “happy” marriage.

First of all, the couple will have to have a sit down session and carefully outline plans for their future. According to my own statistics, after 30 years of counseling, of the people who come to see me, only 2 percent have any semblance of plans for their future. This means that upwards of 98 percent of most couples who encounter problems in their marriage have little to no future plans. Why is this important? Because, couples who do not work out plans, will then not work together to achieve those plans. The result will be that each person will attempt to accomplish their own goals and plans within the relationship, while expecting their spouse to go along with them. It should therefore be no surprise that so many marriages end up with two people at odds with each other as to the direction of the relationship. Often, it seems, people marry with the idea that the other person will just go along with everything they think is right or okay.

And, even when they do start to discuss their “plans,” the argument usually turns to one or both complaining that the other is not listening. To a lot of people, if you do not agree with them that means you are not listening to them. The argument is that if you are really listening to them, then you would agree with everything they say. Uh, I don’t think so! They seem to forget that part of what drew them together was their differences in some aspects of their personalities. The Bible, in the book of Amos, chapter 3, verse 3, asks the question, (KJV), “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” The answer to the question is supposed to be a clear, “No!” If two people don’t agree on the direction or means of travel they will not head in the same direction, or by the same means. Once while counseling a betrothed couple, I encountered one the funniest, and saddest, moments in my counseling career. The groom-to-be, a Mexican man, and his bride-to-be, a Chicana, sat in front of me as we went through our second session of Pre-Marital Counseling. I had asked the couple how many children they were planning to have. The man, in usual machismo attitude blurted out in Spanish that the couple would be having five children. The lady, in full Chicano form, stared at him as though he had three heads. “Five!” she uttered in English, “Are you crazy? We are not having five kids!” The man started at her for a moment, turned to look at me, and then returned his stare at her, “We ARE having five kids!” His face starting to turn a shade of red. “No were are NOT!” returned the woman. “Yes we ARE!” He emphasized the last word rather clearly. “Okay,” she said. She shot me a glance and then faced him with a smirk on her face, “I’ll have the first two and you can have the last three.” I steered them off that subject, with a caution to discuss the issue further among themselves and find a compromise of some sort. I then changed directions and asked the man what they had decided about working, whether one or both would get a job. His answer, once again, was quick and specific. “I am going to work and she will be staying at home. “You ARE crazy,” she said in a voice about two octaves higher than her regular voice level, “I am going to work. I ain’t staying at home!” “Yes you are!” he shouted back. “Who’s going to make me?” she responded. He didn’t say anything at that moment, but his eyes were on fire as he stared hard at her.

Most of the couples which I have encountered who do have plans for the future have been couples who had been married for some time. They did not start off with those plans though. They were just as blind and plan-less as most other couples. What changed was that they went through a difficult time. A near break up, a trauma of some sort, a difficult emergency, or some other similar thing, forced them to rethink their circumstances. One couple struggled through the infidelity of the wife. Right on the brink of divorce, the couple worked out some painful issues and began healing. Years later, the couple is one of the happiest I personally know. They have plans for the future, they know where they are headed together, and both are working to make those plans a reality.

Secondly, they need to work out certain rules and agreements between themselves, to which they will adhere with the intention of maintaining peace and order in their relationship and home. God has rules which must be followed (the Bible), countries have rules which must be followed (the law), businesses which want to succeed have rules which must be followed (their policies and procedures), even gangs have rules which must be follow. But, sadly, most families and homes have little to no rules at all. When I ask couples if they have any rules for their home or marriages, they will say, “Yes.” But when I ask them to show me a copy of their rules, they will tell me that they have these rules only in their heads. This means that two different persons, have a set of rules in their heads which likely do not agree with the other person’s definition or interpretation. One lady told me that one of their rules was that there had to be peace in the home. In the same session, the husband later said, “Peace? Peace is when she shuts up and quits nagging me!” Clearly they did not have the same idea of peace in the home or marriage.

90 percent of the folks who come to see me not only do not have rules for the homes or marriages, but they wouldn’t recognize a home or marriage rule if it came up to them and kicked them in the knee.  Many of you, who are reading this are in the same boat. You don’t have a set of written (yes, I said written) rules or agreement for your home, much less your marriage. If you will go to my website – practicalcounseling.com, you can find a copy of suggested home and marriage rules. I have yet, in all these years of counseling, had a couple come to see me who was in desperate trouble, and who also had and followed their personal rules. I once had a couple who came to see me because they were living unhappily at home with the adult children. They came to me complaining that there was no peace in their home. After telling me the whole sordid story of the problems these adult children were causing, I told the couple that I was going to suggest something that would immediately, as of that same date, resolve their problem. I helped them write some rules for the home, which I told them to share with their children that very afternoon. Later that evening, as I watched a favorite TV show of mine, I received a call from the husband urging me to come over to their home. He sounded distressed and excited. I could tell that something big had happened. He sounded worried and troubled. As I drove close to their home I saw a car which looked as though someone had run it into the couple’s car on purpose. I noticed the screen door with a big rip in it, and the back door’s glass pane as broken. As I exited my car, the husband came out running toward me exclaiming that his wife was upset and needed to speak with me. As we spoke, his wife came out also. “Pastor!” she shouted, “look at what they did.” She explained that when she got home, and got her adult children to sit with her at the kitchen table, she started telling them the new rules when her son jumped up angrily and started screaming at them about how bad of parents they were. Her then got his things and left the home. As he was leaving, the screen door did not immediately give, so he punched his fist through it ripping it. Then the daughter also got mad and called her boyfriend to come and get her. Then she got into her car and rammed it into her parent’s car. The only other person there was the husband’s sister. When they told her the rules would apply to her as well, she became irate and took her son and her belongings and left screaming at them that they were terrible Christians. When the wife finished telling me the story, she waited to see what I would say. I looked over to the house, turned and glanced at the cars, and turned again to the wife. “Sister,” I asked, “is there anyone left in your home that will cause you troubles?” She frowned and said, quietly, “No.” I smiled and said, “There you go. Mission accomplished” I turned and went back to my car. To this date, this couple enjoys peace in their home.

Thirdly, they need to clarify their relationship with relatives, friends, co-workers, and others. I don’t have good statistics on this one. I can only tell you that relatives, friends, co-workers, and others, if allowed by either or both of the couple, can cause more problems than they should be able to cause. And, that was not a typo, I did mean, “If allowed.” As with my second point above, the “happy” couple is one who has worked out considerations and limits when it comes to other people. In-laws tend to stick their noses into a couple’s life because they think that just because they are related by blood there is some law somewhere that gives them the right to so do. Relatives, with their “good intentions” have, over the years, caused much distress with married persons. In many cases, by interfering, well intended relatives end up making matters much worse than they would have otherwise. I know of one couple which ended up in divorce due to that fact that the brothers of the wife kept threatening the husband. He decided that getting out of the relationship was best for his physical health. Another question regards “friends.” What is a friend, and do you know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance? A friend is given privileges that you would never give an acquaintance, at least I hope you wouldn’t. On top of that, when is it okay for a husband or wife to have a “friend” of the opposite sex, which is also not the friend of the spouse? How many affairs begin between friends who like each other? Hmm?

Couples who have “happy” marriages don’t deceive themselves. Any marriage can be destroyed by an affair. The way to avoid the possibility is to purposefully establish certain guidelines by which the couple will live and abide. Make it a clear point as to what is and is not acceptable in any relationship with relatives, friends, co-workers, and others. Have this discussion now, before something terrible occurs, rather than in my counseling office when you are both in trouble of divorce. One of the dumbest things I have heard from people who come to see me is, “This will never happen to me!” Every marriage on Earth is one decision away from a divorce. What will your decision be?

Finally, they need to agree on specific definitions for much of the language they will use with each other. A couple came to see me, with the wife complaining that her husband, “never communicates with me.” I asked her how many children they had, and she said four. I told her that there had to have been some communicating to get the done. Communication. It can be such a daunting word.  To a counselor, the art of communication is more than just spending time talking with each other. There are some nuances which most people overlook. Let me prove the point.

Let’s use the sentence, “The time is right.” Depending on where you put the emphasis, you could be saying something different. For example, “THE time is right.” The emphasis is on the word “the.” This emphasizes the idea that there is a specific time for something or other. Such as id someone said, “NOW is the time.” But, if we say it this way, “The TIME is right,” we could now mean either that the hour on the clock shows the time to do something, or this season of the year is best for some action, or that some political opportunity is at hand, for instance. And, if we say it this way, “The time IS right,” we may be asserting that action should be taken immediately, and that there should be no hesitation. Finally, we could say it this way, “The time is RIGHT.” This would lend the understanding that there has been no error in the understanding of when something should happen.

This is the problem which plagues many couples. They have a vague idea of what communication means, but they become so angry that their spouse is not doing it. It is more than just speaking or taking time with each other. It requires at least two persons to consider and agree upon certain “rules of communicating,” such as no yelling, walking away, quitting, and so forth. It also requires those people to agree on specific definitions to generally used words. For example, you and your spouse each take a piece of paper and write these words down: love, faithful, adultery, abuse, and sex. Now without speaking or sharing your papers with each other, write down simple definitions to each word. What is it, what does it mean, what does it include, and are there any exceptions? You will find that you both will end up with different definitions. So you may both use the same words in what seem to be the same statements, but you will each have a different context for the use of the words. Good communication will require both persons to make some adjustments in conversation style, language, and intent. Even then, there will still be some confusion, but it should be considerably less.

So, what was my point after all of this? Marriage takes work to make it work. A “happy” marriage takes even more work, but the result is worth the effort.