Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

November 22, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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The Attitude of Gratitude – A Popular Rerun

**This is a rerun of a popular post. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! As always, thanks for being a faithful reader of this blog.

In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one returns to give glory to God by thanking Christ. The root reason the one man returned to thank God, whereas the other nine did not, is that his heart had been changed by Christ. He had not merely been healed of physical leprosy, but the Savior more importantly healed the leprosy that covered his heart—sin. Verse 19 says that this one’s faith made him well. “Well” is from sozo, meaning “saved.” What distinguished this one man from the other nine is not that his mother had been more successful in teaching him to say “Thank you,” but rather that he had been made a new creature in Christ. This truth of conversion then led us to the third chapter of Colossians where we see very clearly that the apostle’s exhortations concerning thankfulness grow out of his new-creature-in-Christ theology.

Here’s a project for you. Take some time this week in your personal, family, or small-group study to mine some treasure from Colossians 3:1-3; 15-17. Here are four practical application points to get you started.

  1. Recognize gratitude as an attitude of the new self. The third chapter of Colossians is all about putting off the old man and putting on the new self, who is being renewed day by day according to the image of Christ (v. 10). Therefore, we conclude that ingratitude is a characteristic of the flesh, the old self. We really must get beyond the simplistic belief that being thankful is simply what polite people do. The issue is much deeper than having good or bad manners. The absence of a grateful spirit is contrary to our new calling in Christ, which is why the apostle teaches elsewhere that complaining produces an ugly, dim witness for Christ (Phil 2:14-15).
  2. Let the peace of God rule your heart through prayer (Col 3:15; Phil 4:6-7). An attitude of gratitude is directly connected to whether or not the peace of God is a ruling motive of our heart. Peace of God is different from peace with God. Peace with God is positional—we are no longer enemies of God, but submissive kingdom-citizens, children, and friends (Col 1:21-22; 1 Jn 3:2; Jn 15:15). The peace of God is experiential—a calm assurance that guards our inner person through the Spirit, Word-based trust, and prayer (Rom 14:17; Isa 26:3; Phil 4:6-7).
  3. Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you, which leads to singing Christ-exalting songs (Col. 3:16). As we take time to meditate on the Word of God it sinks deeply into our very being—challenging and changing our mind’s thoughts and heart’s motives—producing joy. This joy then produces a desire to sing Christ-exalting praises throughout the week. A few questions: When do you sing praise to God? Is the corporate gathering of God’s people for worship the only time you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? If so why? What changes do you need to make concerning your intake of the Word of God or the response of your will to biblical truth? It seems clear from this text, and its parallel in Ephesians 5:18-20, that a thankful spirit flows from a heart touched by grace, controlled by the Spirit, and fed by the Word. What’s going on in your heart?
  4. Carry out all of your work diligently, for the glory of Christ, with thanksgiving (Col. 3:17). Every task that is assigned to us as believers is sacred. It is an opportunity to show forth the glory of the One who has saved us from the penalty and power of our sin. Doing all things “in the name of Christ” means to do all our work with diligence while “giving thanks” through Christ to the Father.

As you delve into this life-transforming text of Scripture may the Lord richly bless your life with an ever-growing attitude of gratitude.

[To learn more about renewing your mind with Scripture, read the book Counseling One Another.]

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November 16, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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4 Benefits of Psychiatric Diagnoses to Ministry

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, 4 Problems and Pitfalls of Psychiatric Diagnoses, we’ll let Mike Emlet encourage us to think more about the psychiatric diagnoses that are now part of our world. In Chapter 9, Emlet writes, “I want to focus on the potential usefulness of psychiatric classifications at the micro-level, in the context of one-another ministry.” He then goes on to describe four ways psychiatric diagnoses may be of value to Christian ministry.

  1. Psychiatric diagnoses organize suffering into categories that prompt focused attention. “Put another way, the DSM helps you identify patterns of experience. It makes you aware of human struggles you perhaps didn’t know existed and therefore encourages a caring and careful exploration of such struggles.” A diagnosis may identify a clustering of experiences which then “can send us back to Scripture to further understand and develop a biblical perspective of what they saw in incomplete ways.”
  2. Diagnoses remind us that this person’s experience is indeed different from mine. “This keeps us from oversimplifying and suggesting well-meaning but potentially superficial approaches to a person’s struggle….It’s easier to minister to someone very similar to us. It’s more difficult with someone different from us. A diagnosis waves a yellow caution flag that says, ‘Slow down! Be quick to listen and slow to speak! Take the time to discern the complexity of this person’s struggle as a sufferer and sinner before God.”
  3. Certain diagnoses suggest particular patterns of severity and danger. “If you don’t see a symptom within a larger context in which certain thought processes, emotional fluctuations, and actions hang together, you run the risk of minimizing potential danger.”
  4. Some diagnoses remind us of a more central role of the body in a person’s struggle. “Psychiatric diagnoses remind us that we are embodied souls. We know this clearly from Scripture! But functionally speaking, we sometimes over-spiritualize troubles with emotions and thoughts.”

Emlet concludes this chapter with the following admonition: “At the end of the day, the goal is not simply to confirm or condemn a given diagnosis but to carefully, persistently, lovingly, and biblically bring God’s redemption to bear upon people who struggle with the problems encapsulated in a diagnostic description.” The DSM is not our guide book for life. The Bible is our governing authority. But understanding where people are at, and where they are coming from in their own assessment of their struggles, is the work of biblical love and helps us to bring the hope of Jesus Christ to their deepest needs.

When a person’s diagnosis becomes their identity, we can better understand what they are experiencing and believing about themselves. We can then bring correction and renewing of mind to where it is needed. The title of Mike’s book is instructive: Prescriptions and Descriptions. The DSM may be helpful to describe human behavior, but Christ, the gospel, and the whole counsel of God in Scripture prescribe the remedies. If you are a “people helper,” and are interested in learning more, you will benefit from this book. I am currently in my second read-through.

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November 15, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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4 Problems and Pitfalls of Psychiatric Diagnoses

When it comes to psychiatric diagnoses and Christians, we are typically too warm or too cold. Michael Emlet, from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), calls this The Goldilocks Principle. Either we are too warm (too accepting) of diagnoses, or too cold (too highly suspicious). As a biblical counselor and former practicing physician, Mike encourages us to come to a more balanced understanding so that we may minister wisely in today’s over-diagnosed culture. His goal is “neither to vilify nor vindicate the psychiatric diagnostic system but to help those who struggle with disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.”

Last month, at the ACBC conference in Jacksonville, I picked up a copy of Mike’s new book, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses & Medications. After spending the first few chapters explaining how we got to where we are today, Chapters 4-7 describe four weaknesses and limitations of psychiatric diagnoses.

  1. Psychiatric diagnoses are descriptions, not explanations. In other words, a psychiatric diagnosis may describe for us a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior, but it cannot give us the reason behind them. In this way, it is deficient. The diagnosis cannot tell us the why behind the what. We need a Christ-centered worldview derived from Scripture to help us understand the causes of human behavior. We then counsel the heart behind the behavior. Emlet writes, “In our medicalized and pharmacologically-driven culture, the average person often assumes that each diagnostic entity is primarily caused by a clear and specific brain dysfunction. But there is very little evidence to support that assumption.”
  2. Psychiatric diagnoses have the potential to abnormalize the normal through over-diagnosis. “The proliferation of diagnostic categories mean that more people may be caught in a particular diagnostic net over time.” Emlet balances this with a warning to those of us who minister to others. “Putting someone in a diagnostic category who technically doesn’t meet the criteria doesn’t mean that the person isn’t struggling! Diagnosis or not, we need to listen well to people’s stories.” Amen! We need to learn to listen well.
  3. Some psychiatric diagnoses redefine behavior that Scripture would characterize primarily as sin. “Some psychiatric diagnoses ‘medicalize’ sinful behavior….We should take care that behaviors that are first and foremost violations of the first and second great commandments to love God and others (Matthew 22:34-40) are not neutralized, sanitized, or fully excused by a particular diagnosis.”
  4. Social-cultural values influence the inclusion or exclusion of specific diagnoses from the DSM and impact the prevalence of diagnosis. Emlet explains this pitfall with two illustrations: homosexuality and ADHD.

Emlet wraps up his discussion of these four pitfalls with the following summary: “The concerns with the diagnostic system when considered together suggest that psychiatric diagnoses have less functional authority than we might initially believe. The DSM may be the best secular classification system available, but it remains fraught with difficulties identified from within psychiatry itself.”

If you are a “people helper,” and are interested in learning more, I recommend this book to you. I am currently in my second read-through.

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November 14, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Comfort from Psalm 18

As the King of Israel, David had many enemies (as all world leaders do). But chief among them was Saul, the first king of Israel who resented David because he was the divinely chosen one and it was clear God was with him. Every time David gained a victory, Saul’s insecurity deepened and the bitter cycle of jealousy ensued. Twice Saul tried to stick David to the wall with a spear. Innumerable other times he plotted to kill him, forcing David to flee from city-to-city and cave-to-cave. For ten years, David ran for his life. But out of those deep, dark years grew a living faith that learned to trust in God. In the furnace of suffering, many songs were born. One is called Psalm 18.

David first spoke the words of this song to the Lord in 2 Samuel 22, after giving King Saul a proper burial, along with his son, David’s best friend Jonathan. From David’s song of deliverance we learn much about the powerful protection and faithfulness of God and find four reasons to give Him praise.

Praise God for His Protective Care (vv. 1-3).

David declared his love for the Lord, which was his strong favor and tender intimacy of his heart for God (Steven Lawson, Psalms 1-75). David used 8 military metaphors to picture the protecting love of God toward him.

  • My strength – God was David’s source of strength in weakness.
  • My rock – God was like a cleft rock, a place to hide for concealment.
  • My fortress – God was David’s high place of refuge to run to when in danger.
  • My deliverer – God was his savior in the day of evil.
  • My rock – The Lord was his strong defense.
  • My shield – God was like a piece of heavy armor to deflect the arrows of the enemy.
  • The horn of my salvation – The horn of an animal is its’s strength. David’s strength in battle did not come from himself or his military, but from God.
  • My stronghold – God was the safe place of care for His servant.

Because God was all this for David, the Lord was “worthy to be praised;” i.e. God was worthy to be praised for all the ways He rescued David in battle

You may be wondering, “Was David passive in the face of attack? Was he always running away or did he ever stand up to defend himself and those under his care?” Verse 34 indicates that David believed God had also prepared him for battle, “He trains my hands for war.” When it comes to war and matters of security, there is an important balance for Christians to maintain. Trusting God does not equal leaving ourselves open to an attack. Trusting God does not mean we do not stand ready to defend ourselves and protect those we love. We trust God, but we do not trust man. Therefore, our faith remains fixed upon God as our ultimate protector while our hands remain ready to act when evil men make it necessary.

Praise God for His Personal Help (vv. 4-6).

In verses 1-3, notice the repetition of the possessive adjective “my.” David’s God did not merely provide protection and help in a generic way, but in a very specific, personal manner. This is further described in verses 4-6. For the believer, God hears our cry in His temple (presence). Therefore, we can call upon Him when we are afraid. He will hear us. He will help us.

Praise God for His Powerful Defense (vv. 7-15).

In the moment of David’s greatest need, the Lord came to his rescue. So dramatic was the Lord’s rescue that David describes it in the poetic language of a storm.

  • Verse 7 Earthquake illustrates the Lord’s anger against David’s enemies
  • Verse 8 smoke, fire, glowing coals
  • Verses 9-10, God flew to the rescue
  • Verses 11-14, like a thunderstorm

What’s the point? At your time of deepest need, God will come to your rescue. However, the mode of His rescue is not always what we envision and, therefore, we must continue to trust Him. Though sometimes very painful, His way is always best.

Praise God for His Perfect Rescue (vv. 16-19).

Verse 18 acknowledges a painful reality; that is, in the day of your calamity, opportunistic people become your enemies. There will always be Judases who see your personal trouble as an opportunity to gain personal advantage. But God knows all of this. This was true of David. After the conflict was over, God led him to a “broad place,” a wide place of safety, rest, and healing.

3 PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN

Now, obviously, the words of this Psalm meant a great deal to David and also to the nation of Israel, as they celebrated God’s deliverance and victories in the past. But what does all of this mean for us today?

One of the most significant post-resurrection appearances of Jesus was when He revealed His identity to the two disciples who were walking along the road to Emmaus. During that conversation, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus interpreted for them all things in the Old Testament concerning Himself. Since Jesus Christ is the central figure and theme of the Scriptures, it is proper for us to look for Him in the Old Testament. This includes the Psalms.

So, how is Christ magnified in Psalm 18? And, through Him, how are we helped?

  • In Christ, I am set free from my enemies. The world, my sinful flesh, and the devil no longer need to hold me captive (Ephesians 2:1-3).
  • God has provided spiritual armor to defend me, but I must stand firm and put it on by faith (Ephesians 6:10-20).
  • Since Jesus conquered the devil, His victorious death and resurrection are the grounds for my own personal victory over sin (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Sometime this week, read and meditate on Psalm 18. Then do the same with the New Testament passages mentioned above. Give God praise for His protection and deliverance in Christ.

You may also want to listen to the sermon, Give Thanks to God for His Deliverance.

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November 10, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Give All Glory to the Triune God

God is dependent upon no one, and controlled by no one. He is self-existent and self-sustaining. He needs no one. His sovereignty (absolute power and authority) is forever married to His divine decrees issued forth from eternity. God has an eternal plan. The masterpiece of that plan is His redemption of sinners. The Apostle Peter wrote about this glorious gospel, and said the wonder of it all is something the angels long to understand (1 Peter 1:12).

The redemption of sinners baffles the angels. They long to understand how a God of righteousness and holiness could also be a God of grace—how He could save sinners who are worthy of damnation. That should baffle us all. Therefore, God alone should receive all the glory for saving us from the just penalty of our sins and the dominion of Satan. So glorious is the salvation provided to us that all three persons of the Trinity were involved in providing it, and are still involved in applying and securing it.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is the longest, single sentence in the Greek New Testament. In this sentence, the apostle presents the salvation of sinners as the unified work of all three members of the Trinity, and is to the praise of God’s glory. Therefore, as a believer in Christ, you are called to continually…

Give glory to God the Father for initiating your adoption (1:3-6).

God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. We bless God because He has first blessed us. He has given us spiritual blessings. The meaning of this is very important. It does not mean spiritual in contrast to material or physical, but refers to blessings which flow from the Holy Spirit. These are spiritual blessings because they originate in the Holy Spirit of God, and are found only in Christ.

Verse four says, He chose us. The word chosen means, “to pick out, choose, or to select.”  It is in the middle voice of the Greek language, which means God has done this for Himself. Paul is saying that God has chosen us for Himself and we are the beneficiaries of that choice. What did God choose us for? Adoption (see v. 5). He chose to adopt us into His family through Christ. When did God choose believers in Christ? “Before the foundation of the world” (see also 2 Thess 2:13).

Election is a mystery that cannot be fully reconciled in our finite minds. Like children, let us accept the fact that there are some teachings in Scripture that we cannot reconcile. Instead, we must say, “God is God, and I will let Him be God.” Spurgeon illustrated it this way,

Have you ever noticed that some people who are ill and are ordered to take pills are foolish enough to chew them? That is a very nauseous thing to do, though I have done it myself.  The right way to take medicine of such a kind is to swallow it at once. In the same way there are some things in the Word of God, which are undoubtedly true, which must be swallowed at once by an effort of faith, and must not be chewed by perpetual questioning.

The proper response to this sovereign work of God is not to demand an explanation, but to erupt in adoration. Election is designed to drive us to our knees to worship God for His amazing grace. To choose any rebel out of the world to adopt as a son or daughter is amazing in itself, much more that he would choose me, or you! Give glory to the Father for initiating your adoption.

Give glory to God the Son for purchasing your redemption (1:7-12).

Redemption is the freedom from slavery by the payment of a ransom; it is the purchase of liberation which results in new ownership. Redemption includes three basic concepts:

  • We are redeemed from something—the life of sin.

By nature, we were born sinners, and quickly became sinners by choice. Until we are born again from above by the Holy Spirit, we live in perpetual slavery to sin. But when we are born again that changes. We change from being slaves to sin to being sons of God and slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18).

  • We are redeemed by someone, for a price—the blood of Christ.

Just as there was a price tag on a human slave, there was a price tag on us. The price tag that had to be paid for sinners was the blood of an acceptable sacrifice (1 Pet 1:18-19). The payment that God’s justice and righteousness required of our sin was the blood of Christ. The term “the blood of Christ” entails all that Christ suffered on our behalf. His life was the ransom price that God required (Mark 10:45).

  • We are redeemed to something—the state of freedom. We are then called to release this state of freedom to the Lord who bought us.

When a slave was redeemed by the new owner, he was then removed from the slave market and taken to his or her new home. When we are born again, we are taken out of slavery and brought home to God (Rom. 6:22). Give glory to the Son for purchasing your redemption.

Give glory to God the Spirit for sealing your inheritance (1:13-14).

The application of God’s plan to redeem sinners requires the work of the Holy Spirit. When is a believer sealed by the Spirit? At the moment of conversion. Verse 13 makes it clear that when a person hears the gospel, and believes in Christ, the Spirit seals him forever. What happens when we are sealed by the Spirit?

  • We are forever united with Christ.

We are sealed in Christ. Kings and rulers used a seal to close up official decrees. A lump of hot wax was pressed onto the document and while still warm, impressed with the king’s signet ring.  A seal signified three realities: Security, ownership, and authenticity. The seal of the Spirit renders the believer’s salvation certain.

  • We receive a pledge of our inheritance.

He is “the Holy Spirit of promise.” He is called holy because that is His nature and that is the goal to which He is conforming us. And He is the Spirit of promise because His coming was the fulfillment of a promise made by Jesus (John 16:7). The Spirit is a “pledge;” i.e., a down payment, which is a deposit which is in itself a guarantee that the full amount will be paid (Rom. 8:23).

God is to receive all the glory for our redemption because

  • The Father initiated our adoption.
  • The Son purchased our redemption.
  • The Spirit sealed our inheritance.

This is the work of God—a work of grace—for which we can take no credit.

[This post is adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]

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November 7, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Loneliness During the Holidays

Holidays can be the loneliest time of the year for some people. Small or large gatherings often serve as fresh reminders of who’s not there. Whether caused by death, divorce, or something else, the pain of the empty chair is very real. Of this, Deborah Howard writes, “Some might say they can never get over losing their loved one. And I’d tell them, ‘You’re right.  You won’t get over that loss, but you can get through it.’ We can move past pain and loneliness to a place of contentment and joy. No, it won’t be the same life, but it can still be rich, fulfilling, and full of God’s love and grace.”

That’s the topic of an Iron Sharpens Iron radio interview that I was privileged to be part of last week, as Chris Arnzen (a widower himself) and I discuss the pain of loneliness and the ministry of God’s grace through His words and His people. Listen to the podcast here.

RESOURCES mentioned on the podcast:

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November 3, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Elijah’s Tree Ministry for Discouraged Ministers

Sometimes discouraged, hurting people in ministry feel like they have no one to talk to and are unsure of whom they can trust. As a veteran ministry couple, Carey and Rynette are called to bless pastors and their wives, missionaries, and chaplains with a safe, caring, relational environment in which to offload their burdens and share their discouragement and pain. The Olsons founded Elijah’s Tree in August, 2017, after serving in pastoral ministry over 35 years. The combination of their gifts, experience, and understanding of the rigors and challenges of ministry suit them well for this ministry.

Where did the name Elijah’s Tree come from?

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets” (of Baal) “with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree.” 1 Kings 19:1-4a

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life! He had never run away before. Empowered by the Lord God he had confronted King Ahab, raised a widow’s son from the dead, faced down the prophets of Baal and Asherah against 850 to 1 odds, and prayed down rain after a long drought! What a terrific ministry! But now he was fearful, discouraged, exhausted and feeling all alone. So he ran and sought refuge under a broom tree and poured out his heart to God, asking that he might die and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4) And then he lay down and went to sleep. This prophet and faithful servant of God was burned out, depressed, and at the end of his rope. And there under that broom tree, Elijah found much-needed rest. Elijah’s experience and God’s provision of help recorded in 1 Kings inspired the name for this ministry. We want our ministry to be a place of rest, restoration, and renewal for the Lord’s servants.

Elijah’s Tree Ministries include:

  • In person meetings for those within reasonable driving distance
  • Meetings via a video call
  • In some situations, Carey and Rynette may travel to bring Elijah’s Tree to those desiring their ministry.
  • When pastors, missionaries or chaplains are aware of peers in their area who would like to receive Elijah’s Tree’s ministry, Carey and Rynette may travel to them and minister to several individuals or couples, perhaps over the span of a week or two.
  • Retreats with Carey and Rynette for “intensive care” near their home in Freeport, FL. Those coming for these retreats will bear expenses for their travel, housing, and most meals.
  • Carey is available to provide pulpit supply in local churches, confer with church leaders, and speak at conferences, seminars, retreats, pastors’ fellowships, and denominational gatherings.

Purpose of Elijah’s Tree

Elijah’s Tree exists to provide God-centered, Christ-magnifying, Scripture-saturated, confidential, and accessible shepherding and spiritual refreshment for discouraged, burned out, wounded and hurting pastors, pastoral couples, chaplains, and missionaries.

Vision of Elijah’s Tree

Elijah’s Tree’s vision is to provide confidential, personal shepherding through listening, saturation in God’s Word, extended times of prayer, and fellowship, trusting the Lord to bring refreshment, encouragement, healing and renewed joy in Him. Our emphases will be on themes such as these:

  • God’s glory and His character, attributes and promises (Psalm 29:1; Psalm 96; Isaiah 48:11; 1 Corinthians 10:31)
  • Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd  (John 10:11; Isaiah 61:1)
  • Prayer and intercession (Ephesians 6:18; James 5:13-18)
  • Equipment and reinforcement for spiritual battling (Ephesians 6:10-20)
  • Delight in God (Psalm 37:4)

What does this cost?

There are no fees associated with Elijah’s Tree’s ministry services. However, donations are welcome and greatly appreciated.

Do you, or others you know, need this care?

If you are in the ministry and need this kind of care, or you know a pastor, chaplain, or missionary who is on the brink of leaving the ministry for good, please visit Elijah’s Tree for more information. Elijah’s Tree is located in Freeport, FL, near the beautiful beach communities of Destin and Santa Rosa Beach in northwest Florida.

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November 2, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on 10 Practical Suggestions for People who are Lonely

10 Practical Suggestions for People who are Lonely

Yesterday, during a radio interview about dealing with grief and loneliness during the holidays, I mentioned a wonderful resource from Deborah Howard, RN. She writes, “Loneliness takes many forms and its causes are almost endless. There’s loneliness from:

  • Losing a spouse or other loved one.
  • Being alone in a new environment.
  • Being single in what seems like a world full of couples.
  • Being in a loveless or troubled marriage.
  • Being married to someone who, through debilitating illness, is a shadow of his/her former self.
  • Being elderly, often starved for companionship or a friendly touch.
  • Being exceptional—whether exceptionally beautiful or plain, exceptionally intelligent or cognitively challenged, exceptionally fat/skinny, exceptionally tall/short, exceptionally famous or seemingly invisible.
  • Anything that sets us apart from others can cause us to feel disconnected and isolated.

Not only are there different causes, but loneliness varies in other ways. Some loneliness is temporary; some is long-term. Some is deep and aching; some is merely unsettling. Some causes minor discomfort; some causes major dysfunction.”

The above words, and more perspectives on loneliness, are found in the first chapter of HELP! I’m So Lonely. In the second chapter, Deborah explains why loneliness is an age-old problem, followed by a chapter on how God ministers to us in our loneliness.

But what practical suggestions could help us in our loneliness and that we can give to those who are recovering from loneliness? Deborah Howard gives the following eight bits of counsel in the final chapter. The following is a very brief summary of her counsel.

  1. Spend time with people. Whether you realize it or not, you need people. Loneliness and grief shouldn’t be kept to yourself. Perhaps you don’t want to be in big crowds. Fine. Then spend one-on-one time with someone you care about. Schedule lunch with a friend and notice the taste of the food, the décor, the waiter/waitress—try to live “in the moment.” Listen closely to your lunch companion’s conversation. The first few times you do it may seem empty and unfulfilling. But keep doing it.
  2. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to cry. Crying can be therapeutic. It may make other people uncomfortable, but that’s their issue, not yours. Tears are a healthy response to loss. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust the Lord or that your faith is weak. It simply means your heart is breaking and your body is responding appropriately for you!
  3. Enjoy some peace and quiet in nature. If you prefer spending time alone, don’t do it locked up in your house.  Get outside. Surround yourself with nature. It’s amazing how the Lord ministers to us through His creation. Even something as simple as sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine or a gentle breeze can be amazingly restorative and uplifting.
  4. Take care of yourself. Basically, this means doing the things that ensure your overall physical well-being. Grieving people sometimes forget or skip the simplest tasks. Eat regular, healthy meals. True, cooking nutritious meals for one isn’t easy. But don’t just eat “easy” stuff—take-out, fast food, or microwave meals—and miss out on important nutrition (in fact, watching a person’s weight is a good way to determine how well they are coping with loss). So try to eat regularly, even if food seems to have lost its taste and appeal. You need it to get better.
  5. Cultivate new interests. Get involved in meaningful activities. This may mean taking a cooking or art class. Helping others can be fulfilling, so you might consider volunteering at a soup kitchen, church, hospital or hospice. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn another language, or how to garden, play tennis or the violin. Do it now.
  6. Keep a daily journal of your thoughts. Set daily goals and meet them. No one else has to ever see your work. But writing is a way to express the inner workings of your heart/mind. It can be therapeutic to put your thoughts on paper, to review them periodically and see the progression of the healing process.
  7. Consider getting a pet. It’s amazing how much company a pet provides. Pet ownership provides unconditional love, a reason to get out of bed, something to be responsible for, and a continual source of amusement.
  8. You must choose to live again. Realize that getting better isn’t a betrayal. Several respondents mentioned feeling disloyal when a renewed sense of living emerged. They said they felt they should suffer for their loved one and moving on with their life left them feeling guilty. Please don’t shipwreck your recovery with this errant view of love.
  9. Don’t abandon the people of God. The church can be of significant value to those who are hurting and lonely. In a way, the body of Christ (His church) is like arms that can embrace you, hands that can serve you, expressions of empathy that can comfort you. Don’t turn your back on that kind of support. Sometimes a person becomes angry at his circumstances and angry at God.  “As a result, he becomes lonelier.
  10. Stay in the Word. I’ll end this list of suggestions with this one. Even if you know the Bible well, you’ll need to stay in the word. It reminds us of truths we need to meditate upon. The scriptures help us keep the big picture in perspective. We must constantly remember who we are and Who He is! We must constantly be reminded of His love, His justice, His sovereignty, His patience with us. By keeping our minds focused on His word, we can do this. Stay in the word. Devour it.  Trust it. Lean upon it. It will provide all we need to live our lives responsibly, lovingly, and obediently.

Some might say they can never get over losing their loved one. And I’d tell them, “You’re right.  You won’t get over that loss, but you can get through it.” We can move past pain and loneliness to a place of contentment and joy. No, it won’t be the same life, but it can still be rich, fulfilling, and full of God’s love and grace. When we’re hurting the most, it helps to remember that life does go on.

If you are struggling with loneliness or are concerned about a friend or loved one who seems trapped in grief, seek out more counsel in Deborah’s mini-book, HELP! I’m So Lonely.

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October 30, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Why Special Revelation Trumps General Revelation

Why Special Revelation Trumps General Revelation

Scripture trumps nature. Both the general revelation of God (creation) and the special revelation of God (Scripture) are gifts for which we should be very thankful. However, because of the effects of sin on the mind of man (theologians call this the noetic effect of sin), meaning our reasoning abilities are not fully pure, and the impact of the fall on the rest of creation, we need special revelation to govern our interpretation of general revelation. Let me explain.

What is General Revelation?

General revelation is that which is observable from creation. Wayne Grudem writes, “The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity, is often called ‘general revelation’ (because it comes to all people generally).” This revelation of God becomes sufficient for a sinner to know that God exists, and is the grounds to condemn him as a rebel against God’s supreme authority (Romans 1:18-20). But general revelation remains insufficient to save a sinner’s soul by bringing him into a right relationship with God. General revelation in creation contributes to our understanding of man’s condition, as the conscience convicts. However, it says nothing to us about man’s soul, his real problems or their solutions, and is unable to bring man to the knowledge of God or perform the ongoing soul-work the Spirit accomplishes through the Word (Psalm 19:7-8).

What Is Special Revelation?

Special revelation refers to God’s words addressed to certain people, most of which are recorded in the Bible (John 21:25), specifically the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:13-17; Matthew 4:4; 1 Corinthians 2:11-16). In order to know God, and sustain spiritual life, a person must receive regeneration and illumination from the Holy Spirit and the subsequent comprehension of the special revelation of Scripture. When God transforms a sinner into a saint, via the gospel, a new work of grace begins resulting in the progressive renewal of the image of God in man, which was distorted by the fall. This work of sanctification includes renewal in knowledge after the image of the Creator (Colossians 3:10) and is dependent upon the inscripturated Word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Special Revelation has Authority over General Revelation

Special revelation has authority over general revelation not because it is more fully “from God” than general revelation. Both are equally from God. Both bring Him great glory. “Then,” you ask, “why do you say special revelation must be used to accurately interpret what man discovers by means of general revelation?” Let me explain.

The problem is not with general revelation, in its original state, or the giver of the revelation—the Creator God. The problem is with the receiver, man. Before sin entered the world, Adam’s and Eve’s mind viewed all of creation through a pure lens, and the creation itself was fully pure, too. But after sin enveloped the human race, man became darkened in his understanding (Ephesians 4:18) and futile in his thinking (Romans 1:21), which distorts our ability to interpret natural revelation in a God-centered way. Add to this the realities that the world we study is also under the curse, has been subjected to futility, and is longing for the day it will be set free (Romans 8:20-21). As a result, without the Holy Spirit’s revelation of God’s mind to us in the words of Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:11-16), we are unable to accurately interpret and apply what we glean from general revelation. The good news is that the more we grow in biblical wisdom and understanding the more we look at the world through new eyes. The information we gain becomes profitable to us when it passes through the filter of a Christ-centered worldview which is developed from the written Word of God.

As has already been said, God has revealed much in His creation that is beautiful, mysterious, and beneficial, and we continue to learn more all the time. But our understanding, interpretation, and application of this knowledge remains tainted by our depravity even as believers. However, special revelation (the Bible), is not under the curse. It is breathed out by God, inerrant, and is the living truth that penetrates our minds and judges the thoughts and motives of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). In the hands of the Holy Spirit, it alone can reach the soul, discerning behavior and the heart that drives it. General revelation in creation cannot do this. Therefore, when it comes to drawing conclusions about human behavior and the needs of the soul, God’s Word is the lens through which we must interpret and apply general revelation. All teachings, and the worldviews producing them, are to be tested by Scripture, which is what ultimately sanctifies us and which Jesus defined as truth (John 17:17).

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October 27, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Scripture Is the Definitive Authority

Scripture Is the Definitive Authority

In this fifth of our 5-part series on the sufficiency of Scripture, we come full circle to where we began —to the divine source of the “precious and very great promises” of God from whom we have received “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3–4). The Holy Spirit is the divine Author by whom the Scriptures were inspired, or breathed out, by God. This revelation of God, which explains the gracious provision of new life in Christ, is sufficient to be the authoritative filter for faith and life. In 2 Peter 1:16–21, the apostle Peter put forth the sufficiency of the Scriptures by exalting Jesus Christ and His words above human fables and experiences.

Peter asserted, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:16). The apostles were eyewitnesses of the earthly ministry of Christ and, therefore, knew the Savior’s power firsthand (see also 1 John 2:1–3). Yet their faith was not in their experience, but in the written words of God. By virtue of its inspiration, Scripture, “the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Pet. 1:19), is made more sure, more reliable than even the most enthralling spiritual experience — even the one they had on the Mount of Transfiguration. Although Peter, James, and John heard the very voice of the Father “borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18), their confidence was in the Scriptures, not in their emotional experience.

The basis of the apostles’ confidence was the Holy Spirit’s revelation of God, which was preserved as He “carried along” the minds of the authors of Scripture so that the content of what they wrote was truly from God. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, those who “pay attention” to Scripture, rather than becoming self-appointed critics of it, “do well” (2 Peter 1:19). Charles Spurgeon had this to say:

If we doubt God’s Word about one thing, we shall have small confidence in it upon another thing. Sincere faith in God must treat all God’s Word alike; for the faith which accepts one word of God and rejects another is evidently not faith in God, but faith in our own judgment, faith in our own taste. . . .Let us hold fast, tenaciously, doggedly, with a death grip, to the truth of the inspiration of God’s Word. . . . Everything in the railway service depends on the accuracy of the signals: when these are wrong, life will be sacrificed. On the road to heaven we need unerring signals, or the catastrophe will be far more terrible.

What God wants us to know about living for Him, He has revealed in words, which are recorded for us as Scripture. The authoritative revelation of God in the Scriptures is sufficient to lead us to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, and train us in all things pertaining to life and godliness.

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This is the third of five posts which are brief excerpts/adaptations derived from the chapter that Steve Viars and I contributed to the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s book, Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, from Zondervan. Pastors, elders, counselors, small group leaders…anyone interested in growing in the personal ministry of the Word to one another would benefit greatly by reading this volume.

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