Friday, July 29, 2005

Do you wish to get well?

John 5: 1-9 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, "Do you wish to get well?" The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.

There are so many important messages in this little story, I hardly know where to begin.

When I first read this miracle of Jesus', I was moved by His yet-again compassion for the poor guy who's been ill for so long. But then I heard a sermon that caused me to look at this story again. It changed my perspective and my counseling approach. Watch this...

First of all, the guy had been there for 38 years, hanging out with the sick people, waiting for a miracle cure. He'd become "The lame guy in the corner" so to speak. He identified with his illness. It was no longer what he suffered from, but who he'd become.

Jesus said to him, "Do you wish to get well?" At first, it looks like compassion. But why would Jesus ask him that? Of course he wants to get well. It's a silly question. Or is it?

Why would anybody want to be sick? When we are sick, what happens?

Believe it or not, there are a lot of very good motivators for us to stay sick. People take care of us, have compassion for us. Sometimes we feel loved when we're sick in a way we never feel loved otherwise. People generally have low expectations of us and our lack of functioning isn't interpreted as irresponsible behavior - after all, we're "sick." We don't have to stretch ourselves and take risks. Good and loving and well-meaning people will actually encourage us NOT to take risks. "You don't want to get worse..." they will advise us. Although the misery is very real, our motivation to get out of it is challenged by the motivators not to.

Jesus knew that. He wasn't asking "Do you wish to get well?" He was asking "Do you WISH to get well???" And the man's answer betrays his heart.

Excuses... "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up..."

Blame... "but while I am coming, another steps down before me."

Deflection, excuses, blame, irresponsibility condoned. Why on earth would the man want to get well, in reality? Clearly he's being taken care of or he'd be dead. He doesn't have to work and people have no expectations of him. If he got well, then suddenly he'd be thrust into a world he doesn't understand, having to fend for himself, and that frightens him. Notice that the man doesn't ask Jesus to heal him.

But Jesus doesn't take no for an answer. "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk."

(I need a disclaimer here: Note that the man had been ill for decades. This concept does not apply to persons who's illness is recent, recent losses, traumas, etc. There is a process of healing that one will typically go through in those cases, and should not be rushed. Later posts will address the 'process' of healing.)

Remember when Peter healed the man at the temple steps? What did he do? He danced around like a crazy man for the joy of being able to walk. What did this man do... he "began to walk." I wonder if he felt any joy, really. Scripture doesn't tell us one way or the other for sure, but I wonder. Did he really wish to be well?

Genesis 4:3-7 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, " Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? " If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

The very first Mental Health counseling session. Short and sweet. "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?" And then the warning that if he doesn't get a handle on what he does (not on what he feels), then his life will deteriorate more and more. God warned him to master it. What was the "It" he was supposed to master?" Sin. How was he supposed to do that? By "doing well."

Our society (and especially the Mental Health community) is all about lifting up our countenance first, and then we believe we will do well naturally. God says not so. We have it backwards. Do well first, and then your countenance will be lifted up naturally.

Try it, gang. Believe me, I'm not minimizing your pain one bit. I know it's hard. I know you're hurting, and I know it takes a lot to rise above the pain and to function. But you can do all things through Him who strengthens you. He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world trying to tell you that you have a very good reason for being sick. Resist him, firm in your faith. Pray for the power - not to feel better - but to do good. And then be obedient to the promptings. The feelings will follow. God promises that.

The real question is, "Do you wish to get well?"

All my love and God's blessings on you and on your hard work,


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Memorizing Scripture and Self-esteem

Proverbs 2:1-5 My son, if you receive my words, And hide my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, And find the knowledge of God.

I don't know about you, but ever since I've been a Christian, I'm constantly hearing the recommendation (commandment?) to memorize Scripture. Yada yada yada... I did enough of that in High School.

Um, well... Way back in the 70's and 80's, there was this Self-help movement to "find your inner child." We did a lot of "inner child work," and memorized what we called "positive affirmations" and repeated them to ourselves over and over and over again until we believed them. We recovered our lost "self esteem" that way. It was wonderful, it worked, and it created a generation of people who were (and are) totally self-absorbed, all about themselves and their own happiness, and as far away from Jesus as they could possibly be.

However, so as not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, let's examine what happened. When people grow up in dysfunctional homes, they typically grow up believing (whether they're told this or not) that they're worthless, and that nothing is "about me." That's where the low self-esteem comes from. They get this "chorus" of people in their heads that constantly scream at them (not literally, but in their self-talk) that they're less than everybody else in some way, and people start to believe the chorus they have in their heads. The self-help movement was all about quieting that chorus and learning how to scream louder than them that we are worth it and worthwhile.

We memorized, repeated what we'd memorized over-and-over, and we were able to finally come to a place where we could believe the new chorus that said we were "wonderful people." Great healing took place, and people felt better (self-absorbed, but better).

Jesus doesn't want us to be self-absorbed. He wants us to be totally other-absorbed. But in the end, those of us who suffered from low self-esteem understand that in the Christian world, low self-esteem translates to "Jesus can't really use me," or "I don't deserve His love," or "The Spiritual Gifts are for everybody else but not me."

What words stand out in those sentences? "I" and "me." Low self esteem is still all about "self." I'm still self-absorbed. It's still all about me. I've turned it upside down - but it's still all about me. And if it's still "all about me," then God will never let us find that joy we seek. God wants us to be all about Him and His children.

Romans 8:12-16 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God...

But what can we learn from this "inner child" work? We learn that we start to believe what we hear about ourselves constantly. If you want to increase your "self-esteem," memorize Scripture that says you're a child of the God who created the universe, that Jesus loves you as much as God does Jesus and He delights in being in fellowship with you. Even if you don't believe it at first, memorize it and keep repeating it to yourself over and over. Repeat it and meditate on it until you know that you know that you know it's true.

Let's put it this way. If you believe that the Bible is the inerrant all-true Word of God, then when David and Solomon and Jesus and Paul and Peter and the rest penned those words, they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Since He can't lie, then neither could they. Jesus said "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love (John 15:9)" The Greek word for "Just as" means "In the same way." He loves us in the same way as God loves Him! Close your eyes and let that sink in. He meant it in the deepest sense of the word.

Jesus' esteem for you is all the esteem you need. Throw out the whole notion of "self-esteem." The very concept has been perpetrated on us by the devil to put the focus on me. Satan loves your "self-esteem." Rebuke him and reject him. Rebuke the bondage and slavery of "self." Find the freedom God has promised you. Make it all about Jesus, receive and abide in His love, swim in His Word, and the joy you'll feel in your heart will surpass any sorry attempt at self-esteem you could muster.

If you have a "self-esteem problem," memorize Scripture that says you're one of His beloved children. Search for it as for silver and hidden treasures until you find the one that speaks to you. Copy it onto a 3X5 card and carry it around. Repeat it to yourself, bury it in your heart over and over until you believe it to the depths of your soul. He died for you, and He would have even if you had been the only person on the face of the planet. How much more esteem do you need?

Grace and Peace and the everlasting love of Jesus to you all.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22-24 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

When I was first saved and studying the bible, I ran across this verse. I was thrilled because I now had a wonderful "recipe" for being a good Christian. All I had to do was to practice the above list of personality traits, and eventually, I'd "arrive." Well, as any of you who have been Christians for longer than a month know, I had embarked on Mission Impossible. Dejected, I sat down and studied this list. Finally, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me with "It's not your fruit, child. It's mine."

Excuse me?

Listen to this... "The fruit of the Spirit is..." It's His fruit. He's the one with the patience, the kindness, the goodness and all the rest. I'm indwelt by Him, and if my "old man" can just get out of His way, His fruit will manifest itself in my life. He'll be patient through me!

What a relief! I wasn't a horrifying failure after all (or any more than I am naturally, anyway). I simply had my hope and efforts set in the wrong place - on myself and my ability to "learn" to be good. (Please remember I was a very new Christian...)

So what do I have to do to allow His fruit to flourish in me? The devil's primary plan for keeping you and your Old Man in the forefront of your life is described in 1 John 2:16. It says:

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

Lust and Pride. Satan's greatest weapons - and the biggest blocks to the Fruit of His Spirit that there are. But thanks to God, they're easy to recognize in yourself if you're open to His promptings. Whenever you feel you've been cheated, offended, cut off, left out, taken advantage of, fill-in-the-blank-yourself, then you've been the victim of your own pride. Let those feelings be a red flag that you are in the process of grieving the Holy Spirit of God (Eph 4:30). Catch yourself, apologize to God, and check to see which element of the Fruit of the Spirit you've just squashed. You'll know.

And watch when you feel yourself "Wanting" something, too. You know what I mean - the "Capital W" Want. It doesn't matter what it is. It means you're Lusting, and that tells God that you're not happy with what He's provided. It (and therefore He) is just not good enough for you, and he's not living up to your expectations. Jesus said "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." (Matthew 11:6) Check the Fruit again. What's just gotten trashed? You'll see it. (Note: I believe there's room to Want what God wants, but that's a different post… ;)

Try this. Carry a list of the Fruit of the Spirit around with you on a 3X5 card - not so you can practice them - but so you can see what you've just squashed when Pride and Lust rear their ugly heads. Print the words "Pride" and "Lust" at the top of the card. Review it whenever you feel yourself getting angry, anxious, impatient, etc. It'll become your best friend (and your worst critic!), but you'll see the Holy Spirit at work in you like you never have before.

Okay, but what does God mean when He says "..against such things there is no law?" It almost seems a little silly. Of course there's no law against patience, faith, etc. Why would He say that?

Here's the key to this phrase. The word "against" in this context means "as compared to," or "as examined against one another side-by-side." He's telling us that there is no law that will make the world a nice place in which to live. Only the Fruit of the Spirit can do that. Compared to the impact that the Fruit of the Spirit can have on peace and joy, there is no law that compares. You cannot legislate peace, love, and happiness. Laws, whether God's Old Testament law (which Paul was addressing in Galatians), man's laws, or the laws you make up to run your own household, will fail every time. You must have the Fruit of the Spirit.

By understanding the Fruit of the Spirit this way, we are relieved to find out that we don't have nine things to learn to find the true, deep happiness and joy the Spirit provides... we only have two:

Lose the Pride and lose the Lust.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, pray without ceasing for His help, be open to your own internal emotional flags that tell you you've slipped, be honest with yourself, take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5b)... and watch the Holy Spirit do His work in you!

Grace, mercy, peace, and blessings from God to all of you.

Introduction to the Biblical Therapy Blog

I am a licensed mental health therapist, as well as a dedicated Christian. As a Christian Therapist, I am hoping to post some of my thoughts and results of study here to both edify anyone interested, as well as invite thoughts and criticisms by the readers. My ultimate goal is, as always, to glorify and serve God and Jesus Christ, and I pray that nothing I say here will dishonor or do any disservice to my Lord. A secondary goal is to get feedback of some of my thoughts in a forum that is totally open and honest, where I know that hurting my feelings will not be a limiting factor in the dialogue, in the hope that it will enhance and strengthen my ability to serve my clients in a more biblical and helpful way.

I will not spend much time here with specifics, but I want to state that the foundation of my therapy is the Holy Bible as studied by the Evangelical Christian community. My Bible-of-choice is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Where my quotes come from some other source, I will specify.

I believe that the Holy Bible is, in addition to many other things, the literal inspired word of God and as such, is the best Mental Health textbook on the face of the planet. No other book offers the ultimate joy, peace, relief from and answers to life's difficulties as does this holy book. As a result, my posts here will tend to be topical, pointing the reader to those passages of the bible where they can see where God has addressed the issue. Although my high-level emphasis will be topical, my lower-level emphasis is highly contextual and exegetical. I will be publishing my thoughts with all of the depth into the Greek and Hebrew language and culture I believe is necessary to fully explain what I believe is God's intention for our lives.

Please understand that this is a blog. Do not take anything I say as "Gospel." Be a good Berean and look it all up and decide for yourself if I'm right and if it's helpful to you in your situation. Whether it is or not, please post the results of your own studying and any additional thoughts you might have. I invite you the keep me honest and informed.

I also wanted to add that my postings are offered with the assumption that the reader is a born-again Christian who believes that God has the answers if you just know where to look. My prayer is to help you find those answers.

God bless, and happy studying!

BTW - If you believe you might need therapy, please do so. Never, ever, use what I say here as a substitute of any kind for true face-to-face therapy, or as a replacement for what your therapist tells you. There is no substitute for a personal, therapeutic relationship.

Also BTW - It is not my intention on this site to enter into dialogue relating to the existence of God, the inspired nature of the Bible, nor the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many sites relating to apologetics, and I invite anyone interested in that topic to visit them.

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