Paul Tripp has a great post over at the biblical counseling coalition’s blog about how the cross addresses marital issues. Tripp reminds us that 1) The cross tells us what’s wrong wit us, 2) The cross tells us how what’s wrong will get fixed, 3) The cross tells us our role in the work of personal change. Here’s one section that I found especially helpful:
As I sat in that restaurant that evening with my friends, I felt incredibly helpless, but not hopeless at all. The cross tells me that I have no power whatsoever to work the internal change of heart that is the key to lasting personal change. In other words, I have no ability at all to deliver people from their deepest problem; sin.
As I sat across from my friends, I knew that I didn’t bear the burden of being their redeemer. If I was to help them, it was profoundly important for me to know my place. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, the Apostle Paul uses the best possible word to define our place in God’s work of change. We are called to be nothing less than and surely nothing more than “ambassadors” of the One who suffered, died, and rose again so that change, real lasting personal change, would not just be a distant hope, but a realistic expectation of all who are bold enough to step into the arena of human difficulty and offer help. The cross reminds us that we are not the change agents, but representatives of the One who holds the power of real internal and interpersonal change in his hands.
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave is the second book that I’ve read by Ed Welch, the first being When People are Big and God is Small. Ed Welch is a counselor at CCEF and judging by these two books, he is obviously a very good one. Not many Christian Counselors would take on the issue of addictions in the powerful, biblical way that Welch does. The result is a must-read book for anyone who is dealing with addiction or trying to help those who are struggling with addictions.
Welch does the best job of describing the point of the book when he writes:
What is the basic point of this book? Theology makes a difference. It is the infrastructure of our lives. Build it poorly and the building will eventually collapse in ruins. Build it well and you will be prepared for anything. The basic theology for addictions is that the root problem goes deeper than our genetic makeup. Addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship. Will we worship ourselves and our own desires or will we worship the true God? Through this lens, all Scripture comes alive for the addict. No longer are there just a few proof texts about drunkenness. Instead, since all Scripture addresses our fundamental disorder of worship, all Scripture is rich with application for the addict. [emphasis mine]
One of the riches sections in Welch’s book is his discussion of idolatry. Welch writes
Idolatry includes anything we worship: the lust for pleasure, respect, love, power, control, or freedom from pain…The purpose of all idolatry is to manipulate the idol for our own benefit. This means that we don’t want to be ruled by idols. Instead, we want to use them…We don’t want to be ruled by alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, food, or anything. No, we want these substances or activities to give us what we want: good feelings, a better self-image, a sense of power, or whatever our heart is craving.
Idols, however, do not cooperate. Rather than mastering our idols, we become enslaved by them and begin to look like them. As idols are deaf, dumb, blind, utterly senseless, and irrational, so “those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Psalm 1115:8). Idolaters lose their spiritual moorings; they are lost at sea. Idolaters are controlled by the lure of the sirens: “This is the way to feeling good, pleasure, belonging, and a better self-image.” But they are doomed to crash on the rocks.
Not only is this book a theologically rich work, but it is also an intensely the practicalbook. After laying a solid foundation of a Christian understanding of Addictions Welch walks step by step through how to minister to someone struggling with addictions. Each chapter closes with practical questions and advice for those ministering to those struggling with addictions and for those struggling with addictions themselves. In short, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave is a great resource for anyone who is struggling with issues of addiction or for someone who wants to help someone struggling with addiction. I highly recommend it.
Here’s a powerful video of Ed Welch talking about addictions.
It looks like Paul Tripp is back to blogging again. I found this post on Envy to be especially helpful to me. Here’s an excerpt:
You must understand that envy is an interpretation. Envy is not an emotional response to what is. It is a particular interpretation of what is. Envy is a way of looking at and assessing what is that results in particular emotions and actions. But this needs to be said even more strongly; envy is not only an interpretation of what is, it is a distorted interpretation of what is. Envy is looking at life through a rippled window that will always distort whatever you see. In that way envy is madness. In its own way, envy separates you from reality. Envy expands certain facts, it neglects certain facts, and it reshapes certain facts; all the while presenting itself as a valid, accurate and reliable view of life. It makes you like the crazy guy on the street. What makes him crazy is that he doesn’t know he is crazy. He looks, speaks and acts weirdly because what he thinks is real simply isn’t real. Such is the world of envy. Envy is rooted in a distorted interpretation of life that will make you mad. Let me explain.
1. The distorted interpretation of envy makes it all about you. Envy always puts you at the center of your universe…
2. The distorted interpretation of envy is always idolatrous. Envy always puts the creation in the place of the Creator…
3. The distorted interpretation of envy is self-righteous. What is the fundamental perspective of envy? Here it is; "I deserve better!…
4. The distorted interpretation of envy is always short-sighted. Envy simply forgets that this is not all there is…
5. The distorted interpretation of envy is the soil of other sins. Envy never stops with envy…
One of the hard realities about Biblical Counseling is the realization that you cannot change someone. If a drunk is determined to drink, all of the talk in the world isn’t going to change the fact that he is going to go to the bar tonight and get drunk. The good news is that while I cannot change anyone, God can and he seems to use two primary means of doing so. 1) By using a faithful counselor to confront sin and encourage the process of change. 2) By using painful circumstances in life to bring a person to a sense of his need for personal change.
2 Chronicles 33:1-13 is an intriguing account of a king named Manasseh who sinned greatly against God and who God had to chasten in order to bring about repentance.
Verses 1-9 record the atrocities that Manasseh committed:
He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations…he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger…
Verse 10 records God’s first response to Manasseh’s rebellion, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.” Since Manasseh refused to listen to God’s counsel verse 11 says, “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.” Finally, verse 12 records Manasseh’s repentance, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers…and God was moved by his entreaty…and brought him again to Jerusalem…Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” It took the hooks and chains of Assyria to finally bring Manasseh to his senses and realize that the Lord is God.
The fact of the matter is that God is very jealous for His people and He will use any means necessary to bring his people to the place where they will listen to Him, even if that requires using hooks and chains to get our attention.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Matthew 11:28-30 where Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In this video, Dr. Powlison talks a little bit about what it means for Jesus to give rest to the weary.
If you’ve anything like me, you’ve probably experienced argument amnesia before. This is what happens when you get into an argument (often times with your spouse) and after a few minutes, you can’t even remember what you’re fighting about. It almost doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, you somehow continually find yourself back in the same place. In short, you’re stuck in a rut.
One of my favorites lines in Psalm 23 is in verse 3 where David writes, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” The Hebrew can also be translated, “He leads me in the ruts of righteousness.” As the Shepherd of Psalm 23 leads the flock from one pasture to the next, he would follow a path that many sheep had trodden before. The result of all this travel was that the path would become well worn and eventually turn into a rut in the ground that the sheep would follow as they were lead by the Good Shepherd. What makes the imagery of Psalm 23 so powerful is that these are the “ruts of righteousness.” As you follow the Good Shepherd, these are the natural paths that you take.
Just as there are “ruts of righteousness”, there are also “ruts of unrighteousness.” A “rut of unrighteousness” is a pattern of sin that is so intuitive that we periodically fall into it without even realizing where we are or how we got there. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I can’t believe that I did that again!” when you fought with your spouse, or yelled at your children, or said something hurtful to a co-worker, then it may very well be that you’re stuck in a rut of unrighteousness.
The thing about a rut is that you have to be intentional about stepping out of it, otherwise it will lead you to the same place every time. A large part of the process of redemption is stepping out of these “ruts of unrighteousness” and following the Good Shepherd in new paths that may at first seem unnatural, but which eventually lead you to green pastures and quiet waters (Psalm 23:2) where you can find rest.
I’ve been spending some time in Psalm 23 recently and in my study I ran across the following poem by David Powlison. It’s called the “Antipsalm” because it’s written to be the exact opposite of Psalm 23. Oftentimes in Bible study it helps to see what something is not, in order for you to see what it is.
I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle — I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert — I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility — shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I’m alone … facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me — except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death,
and then I die.