Archives For Counseling

Gentle High Priests

Mark Beuving —  April 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

This morning I read about Jesus as our high priest:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Hebrews always surprises me, because I tend to go out of my way to emphasize Jesus’ deity. The author of Hebrews, on the other hand, often emphasizes Jesus’ humanity (the most startling statements to this effect are in chapter 2, where it even says that Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect”). In Hebrews 4 and 5, Jesus is compared to Israel’s high priests. We are told that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he was human—he was tempted “in every respect” (the same phrase as in chapter 2) as we are. He didn’t sin, but his real humanity makes him sympathetic, merciful, gracious.

This is how a high priest ought to be: sympathetic. Hebrews follows this statement about Jesus’ compassion as a high priest with a description of Israel’s high priests:

“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.” (Hebrews 5:1-3)

The passage is making a point about Jesus by comparing him to earthly priests. The same logic is in place in 5:1-3 as in 4:14-16. The high priest experiences all of the weaknesses that come from being human, so he can “deal gently” with “the ignorant and wayward.”

Here is the question that came to my mind: If Jesus is sympathetic with sinners because he was tempted, how much more so should sinful high priests be sympathetic and gentle with the sinful and weak?

As Christians, we are all priests before God on behalf of the people around us (1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6). In this role as priests, we should be more gentle, more sympathetic than even Jesus is—he was tempted, but we have sins of our own that need to be covered.

I don’t see us being more gentle and sympathetic, however. I usually see the opposite. We get frustrated with people because they are sinful. We are harsh with them when they can’t get it right. They claim to repent, then they run back to their sin—and we get frustrated and angry!

But if Jesus is sympathetic as a high priest, shouldn’t we “deal gently” in our intercessory role as priests?

Dostoevsky captures this attitude beautifully in The Brothers Karamazov. He has his beloved monk, Zosima, explain:

“There can be no judge of a criminal on earth until the judge knows that he, too, is a criminal, exactly the same as the one who stands before him, and that he is perhaps most guilty of all for the crime of the one standing before him. When he understands this, then he will be able to be a judge. However mad that may seem, it is true. For if I myself were righteous, perhaps there would be no criminal standing before me know. If you are able to take upon yourself the crime of the criminal who stands before you and whom you are judging in your heart, do so at once, and suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach.”

Isn’t this the approach of Jesus, who though he is the judge of all things, looked upon the worst criminals on earth, took our crimes upon himself, suffered for us himself, and let us go without reproach? The reality is that God has appointed us to be priests on this earth, so we would do well to “deal gently,” acting with all compassion for the broken people on whose behalf we are called to intercede before God.

Why Breakups Hurt

Mark Beuving —  March 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

Breakups are the worst. I doubt anyone is going to argue with me there. In some cases, the pain from breaking up is so intense that a person will vow to never date again. It leads some people to resolve never again to open up their heart to a member of the opposite sex. The pain of breakups is largely responsible for the Christian campaign to “guard your heart.”

Have you ever stopped to consider why breakups hurt?

In an evolutionary framework, breakups really shouldn’t be painful. Our goal is to “survive” by passing on our genes, so the ideal mate is someone that we can successfully procreate with. Romance is simply an evolutionarily derived mechanism for getting ourselves connected someone who can help us have kids. In this context, a breakup shouldn’t be that big of a deal. If we break up, I can rule out the possibility of progeny with you and move on to the next prospect. This is a pretty crass way to put it, but it is consistent within an evolutionary worldview. A strict Darwinist who believes that romance or commitment have value in themselves apart from the prospect of children is being inconsistent.

But the Christian worldview gives us a reason for believing that relationships are significant. People are important, and we are designed to live in close relationship with the people around us. We long for commitment and intimacy. So breakups aren’t merely a bump on the road to procreating. Breakups introduce division where there was once unity. This is bound to be painful.

As painful as breakups are, they carry an inherent testimony to the meaningfulness of life. They remind us that we are more than Darwin says we are. I’m not suggesting that we go around pursuing breakups for this reason, but as with anything in life, it is important to see this social phenomenon in a theological light. Our quest for relationship points to the reality that the universe is ultimately relational, a reality that is grounded in the eternal existence of the Trinity.

And let’s not forget the Christian hope that one day, when Christ returns, there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more division, and therefore no more breakups.

A Tale of Three Kingdoms

Mark Beuving —  March 21, 2012 — 1 Comment

Every person works to build his or her own kingdom. This affects all of our relationships, but the effect is compounded in a marriage relationship. In marriage you have two people who are each bent on meeting their own needs and getting what they want, living together in the most intimate of arrangements. Each person took a vow to love and serve the other, but they’re still human, and their default approach to life is to ensure that they get what they want.

This is why much of what is typically done in marriage counseling falls short. A couple that fights frequently and has difficulty resolving their conflicts could certainly benefit from marriage counseling. And very often, this counseling will focus on their communication. They will be taught to “argue better,” to make sure that what they are trying to say is being effectively communicated, to better control their tone, etc. Christians counselors will also teach couples biblical principles of communication.

But what happens when this couple heads home with their newly improved communication skills? They will continue to build their own kingdoms. Only now, they have more impressive communication tools for getting what they want. They are better manipulators. Better kingdom-builders.

Our only hope of enjoying the kinds of marriages that God intended us to have is to let go of our kingdoms. If my life is based on expanding my own kingdom, then my wedding vows were a sham. If I am bent on gaining control over every aspect of my daily existence, then every compliment, every “I love you,” every time I take out the trash or empty the dishwasher is simply a manipulative attempt to reign over a kingdom that glorifies myself. So we have to let go.

As I said yesterday, this is extremely difficult—it requires us to lay every thought, desire, skill, and interest at the Lord’s feet, allowing him to use every aspect of our existence however he wants to. Yet this is how we were created to function. Life is about God and his kingdom. Living life for any other purpose amounts to forcing a square peg into a round hole. It’s incredibly frustrating, and ultimately it doesn’t work.

This is true of life in general, and it is true of marriage. Two opposing kingdoms can’t co-exist under the same roof. And you can’t get around this by simply joining your two kingdoms into one. I think that this is the gameplan of most people as they head into marriage. They assume that sharing everything means that they can co-govern their domain. But it will never work. And even if it could work, it’s wrongheaded from the start. God already has a kingdom, and our task is to submit our kingdoms to the service of his.

So let’s take everything that God has given us personally and everything that he has given us in the context of marriage, and offer it to him to use in the way he knows is best.

At the request of one of our graduates, we are going to begin featuring a (not necessarily monthly) Book of the Month. Kelsey (the graduate) mentioned that she gained so much through her studies at Eternity, but now that she has graduated—and therefore is not being forced to read books—she is not in the loop on which books might be worth reading. I’m sure that many of you are in a similar boat. There are so many books out there, how do you choose which books you will read?

Hopefully you don’t trust us enough to be the lone voice in telling you what you should read, but our hope is that this feature will turn your attention to some books that we have found worthwhile, and maybe you will to. I don’t think I have ever read a book that I agreed with 100% (I feel compelled to add, “except for the Bible,” because I know some Bible college students are reading), so please don’t take these recommendations as affirmations of every detail of every book. We simply find these books helpful and think you might as well.

So our first ever Book of the Month is You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions
by Tim Chester. This book recently became required reading for our Discipleship and Counseling class. Chester is a trusted voice for us, and his book Total Church, co-authored by Steve Timmis, is also a must-read.

The title of the book sounds a touch self-helpish, and in a sense, that’s exactly what it is. But the key difference between your average Joel Osteen become a better you type of book and You Can Change is that Chester is incessantly gospel-focused. Addressing the sin issues in our lives is not about techniques, self-imposed disciplined, or therapy that only a highly trained professional can administer. It’s about the gospel:

“We become Christians by faith in Jesus, we stay Christians by faith in Jesus, and we grow as Christians by faith in Jesus…It’s not just that trying to live by laws and disciplines is useless—it’s a backwards step. It’s a step back into slavery, which ends up undermining grace and hope (Galatians 4:8-11; 5:1-5).”

Chester stays focused on the gospel as God’s power to free us from the sin that enslaves us. You Can Change is intensely practical, teaching us to identify the sin in our lives; assess it’s affects on our thoughts, lifestyle, and relationships; and pursue God’s power through the gospel and the Spirit of God to free us up to glorify God in these areas. Chester places our issues within a theological framework so that we can see how our sin relates to God, but he does so in terms that are very simple, easy to understand, and easy to follow.

So who would I recommend this book to? Well, if you struggle with sin, this book is meant for you. A book on its own won’t be a magic bullet to solve your problems, but if you approach this book thoughtfully and use it a means to draw closer to God in these areas of your life, I don’t doubt that it could have a huge impact on you. But this book is also very helpful for those who want to help other people think through their problems. Whether you are a professional counselor or just someone who cares about other people, You Can Change will help to prepare you to minister to the people around you.

I recently did a series of posts on sanctification, and I used some of Chester’s thoughts throughout. If you don’t want to read a whole book, you can pick up some of his insights in these posts:

If you’re interested in buying the book, here’s a quick link:

How do you identify yourself? In my previous post, I made a brief observation about the way we identify ourselves: “You’re not defined by your sin. You shouldn’t identify yourself based on the sins you struggle with.” I want to take this post to explore that concept in greater depth.

One of the hallmarks of twelve step programs is the statement members make before they address the group: “Hi. My name is _________, and I’m an alcoholic.” Or an addict. Or whatever the program is focused on. In many ways, this is healthy. As I understand it, the heart behind this greeting is the realization that alcohol (or whatever) is something I struggle with, and I may always have this struggle. Rather than trying to convince myself or anyone else that I am beyond this struggle, I’m going to own up to it. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve got it all together. I’m always a work in progress.

So far so good.

But I also see a danger in this. Should people who have had trouble with alcohol in their past really spend the rest of their lives identifying themselves in terms of this struggle? Wouldn’t it sound strange if I always identified myself in terms of my pride? Or my critical spirit? Or my lack of love for the people around me? Those are all things that I struggle with, and I do see value in acknowledging that I will never be so spiritual that I can’t be tempted to fall into these sins. Paul warns us: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

But this brings us back to the point I made yesterday. Who I was is not who I am. I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Though in my flesh I am prone to sin and death, I have been given the omnipotent Spirit of God:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9-11)

So how should you identify yourself? How about this: “Hi. My name is ________, and I’m a child of God.”

In no way is this meant to belittle our struggle with sin or suggest that we are too good to be tempted. But if you have to identify yourself in only a few words, are you really going to choose the word “addict”? Even “former addict”? “Prideful person”?

In a word, tell me who you are. Until the only answer you can give to this question is “Christian,” you don’t understand what it means to belong to Jesus Christ. As we talk to people more, it will be healthy to identify our struggles, tell them about the ways in which the Spirit is helping us overcome these things, and ask for prayer and support. But read Ephesians 1. Notice how many times Paul declares that we are “in Christ.” If that reality doesn’t shape our identity, then we’re missing something huge.