Counseling One Another

Helping you grow in God's all-sufficient truth and grace

Counseling One Another

October 22, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Biblical Counsel for Women Facing Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer - small email sizeOne of the beauties of God’s wisdom is the way he uses our trials to equip us to counsel one another—just as it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. As a result, many times the best counselors are those who’ve “been there.” When we encounter various trials it is a comfort to know there are others who not only care, but also understand and, therefore, can truly empathize with our struggle. That’s why, as a male counselor, I’m excited to make you aware of a new discipleship counseling booklet for women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. By admitting her own fears and struggles, empathetic author Brenda Frields comes alongside frightened women to bring them comfort and hope:

“How did you react when you got the news? Even though I had entertained the thought that my biopsy would be positive, I still wasn’t ready when it turned out to be a fact. The words just seemed to hang suspended in space when my husband told me. Everything he said seemed muddled and fuzzy, almost as if spoken somewhere off in the distance. To be honest, I can’t tell you what he said after he said the word ‘positive.’ I knew that meant I had cancer. What about you?

  • Are you full of fear?
  • Are you in denial, trying desperately not to believe what you’ve been told?
  • Are you depressed?
  • Are you angry?

Angry, that was me! I wondered if God realized I had four very young grandchildren, all between the ages of four years and three months? Their moms needed my help, and, to be honest, I wanted to live to see them grow up. Didn’t God know that my sweet mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s and needed me to help care for her? What about my husband? His job was very demanding. I didn’t want to be the one to add stress to his life. Besides, I had always planned that we would grow old together. I was ashamed of my initial thoughts because I really did know that none of this came as a surprise to God, and I knew I should be trusting him.”

If you know a woman battling breast cancer be sure to give her the gift of another woman who truly understands. Give her the biblical counsel found in HELP! I Have Breast Cancer.

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October 17, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling Men

Miller bookSince I am a biblical counselor and reviewer of books, I often receive copies of new resources from publishers. Last week, Baker Books sent to me a copy of Keith Miller’s new resource Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling Men. This title rounds out a trilogy of resources from Keith and his wife, Patricia, both of whom teach at Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, Missouri.

Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling Men is for counselors, pastors, men’s ministry leaders, and any Christian man who wants a user-friendly quick reference guide to Scripture. Scripture passages are conveniently gathered under 120 topics that concern men, including anxiety, burnout, career, commitment, depression, divorce, envy, faithfulness, gambling, homosexuality, integrity, leadership, marriage, money, reputation, suffering, temptation, wisdom, and more. Perfect for counseling or for personal study and memorization.

Other titles in this reference series include:

This helpful series can be purchased from our friends at Cumberland Valley Bible and Book Service.

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October 14, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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“Counseling In a Post-Modern World” Conference in Kansas City

AABC_Conference_11_14_7a_inchThe American Academy of Biblical Counselors invites you to attend their annual conference November 6-8 at Calvary Theological Seminary in Kansas City. “Counseling in a Post-Modern World” is the theme of the conference. Speakers include James Clark, David Tyler, Howard Eyrich, and others. The six plenary sessions and over 20 workshops will equip you for more effective biblical ministry.

The AABC affirms the following: “Being fully aware of the changing realities of human culture, we ardently affirm that God has established specific requisites by which both the individual in particular and society as a whole, may attain to the fullness of life, both now and in eternity. We equally affirm that the certainty of such timeless truths transcend cultural varieties. Thus we believe that ‘The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting’ (Psalm 119:160 NASB).”

For more information and registration, click here.

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October 13, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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12 Pillars of Faith for Parents of Special Needs’ Kids

The society we live in expects life to be trouble-free; there is an assumption that we somehow have a right to an easy life. This mindset is reflected in the answer to a typical question. “What is the number-one question an expectant parent is asked? ‘Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?’ And what is the typical response? ‘It doesn’t matter as long as my baby is healthy.’ That seemingly innocent exchange may reveal a foundational belief that resides in the hearts of many of us—that there are few things worse for a parent than having a child who is not healthy.” [Steve Viars, Your Special Needs Child: Help for Weary Parents].

Sadly, this mindset is not only prevalent in the unregenerate of the world, but also among those who claim to know Christ. Therefore, believers need a theology of disability that both glorifies the Creator and honors the incredible value of every human life. As parents who live in the world of special needs, there are 12 biblical truths that we need to continually meditate upon. These form theological pillars that uphold our faith.

God is sovereign over all (Read Psalm 103:19 and Ephesians 1:11). There is nothing in our lives that falls outside the umbrella of God’s sovereignty. Everything that occurs falls within the counsel of His will. Personal Takeaway: We must release our desire for control.

God is the wise Creator of all—even the disabled (Read Exodus 4:11). Regardless of secondary causes (genetics, injury, Satan’s attacks, etc.), God—the sovereign God—is always the primary cause. As God made clear to Moses in Exodus 4:11, He is never ashamed to take credit for all those who have disabilities. Personal Takeaway: We need to trust His wisdom.

God fashions each child with His purposes in mind (Read Psalm 139:13-17). A common question that parents of disabled children ask is, “Where were you, God, when my child was developing that you did not correct it?” God’s answer is, “I was right there, in the womb, forming that precious boy or girl exactly as I had planned.” The womb is the Divine Artist’s studio. Personal Takeaway: We need to trust God’s good purposes.

God’s ways are good, wise, and kind (Read Psalm 145:17). No matter what man’s definition of “good” is, the ways of the Lord are always good. He always acts in kindness toward His children. Personal Takeaway: We need to believe His Word, not our feelings.

God is not using my special-needs child to punish me for my personal sin (Read John 9:1-3). As was the case with the disciples, built within the fallen human mind is the immediate tendency to form a connection, a cause-and-effect relationship, between suffering and sin (some human being must be blamed!). Granted, all suffering results from sin in the generic sense—from the original sin in the Garden of Eden. However, not all personal suffering is the result of personal sin. There is a massive difference. Personal Takeaway: We need to remember that we live in a fallen world in which we will experience all kinds of suffering until the curse is finally removed when redemption is complete (See Romans 8).

God uses physical and mental disabilities to remind us of our greatest disability: We are all spiritually disabled. Apart from our union with Jesus Christ and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit:

  • We are each blinded (Romans 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 5:11-12).
  • We are each hearing-impaired (Zechariah 7:11-12; Romans 11:8; Isaiah 6:9-10; Hebrews 5:11).
  • We are each mentally-disabled (1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:3; 4:17-18).
  • We are each helpless (Jeremiah 13:23; Romans 5:6-8).

God’s gift of disability is a gracious means of reminding us of our own. If any of us thinks ourselves to be healthy, fully well, and wise then we are deceiving no one except ourselves. We all live in a constant state of desperate need. Personal Takeaway: We need to constantly run to Christ and find our soul’s rest in Him.

God’s grace is sufficient for any trial (Read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). No matter the trial; no matter the need, the grace of God in Jesus Christ is sufficient to strengthen and sustain those who truly belong to Him. When your 24/7 attentive care leaves you in deep weakness, realize that it is then that God’s strength is perfected. Personal Takeaway: We need to be dependent.

God’s goal is to reshape us into the image of His Son (Read Romans 8:28-30). All things do not work together for good. No, read the verses above, again. It is not that all things somehow work out in the end; it is God who actively works all things together for good. No difficulties–and God means none–escape God’s control. God’s wisdom enables Him to work out any and all suffering and evil toward the end of His glory and the goal of making us like His Son. Our sanctification—becoming like Jesus—is of immense, personal interest to the Lord. Personal Takeaway: We need to be Christ-centered.

God disciplines those whom He loves (Read Hebrews 12:3-13). God only disciplines those who truly belong to Him, but spiritual bastards remain peaceful on their road to destruction. God’s desire for us to become like Christ leads Him to develop a personal training program for each of us. He corrects, guides, and trains us as we need. Suffering is part of His training program. Personal Takeaway: We need to be submissive to God’s training strategy.

 God created us with dignity (Read Genesis 1:26). When the triune Godhead held a conference before the world was created, they decided to set man apart from every other created being. We alone possess immense value as God’s image-bearers. Every child, whether “healthy” or “disabled,” is of immeasurable worth in God’s eyes. Personal Takeaway: We need to be thankful for every image-bearer.

God redeemed us to live in community (Read 1 Corinthians 12:14-25; Romans 12:10-11). The church is not like a body; it is a body. It is a living organism with many parts, each of which is of equal importance and value, though prominence of function differs. The church needs the disabled, weaker members, in order to function as God designed. Without the disabled included in church life, to the fullest degree possible for each, the church itself becomes dysfunctional. Personal Takeaway: We who have special needs’ kids need to humble ourselves and let others serve us and our family.

 God-ordained suffering for our life in this fallen world is “light” compared to the weight of glory that one-day He will reveal to us (Read Romans 8:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18). When compared to eternity in the presence of the Creator who became the Savior, all suffering and disability in this life will barely be visible. The brightness of the glory of God will dispel all shadows of doubt. Personal Takeaway: We need to keep our eyes on Jesus and look for the Lord’s return.

May these pillars in a theology of disability be, for us, a comforting and stabilizing foundation for vibrant faith!

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October 1, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Another 4 Mini-Books Released This Week

This week, Shepherd Press released another 4 LifeLine mini-books, bringing the total to 21 eBooks in the series. Here are the new additions:

Can't Handle All these Trials - small emailHELP! I Can’t Handle All These Trials: Who is in control? Why did this happen? What is God doing? Everyone asks questions like that when they face intense or prolonged trials. The place to find answers is the Bible. In this booklet, you’ll find the answers God gave Job in the book of Job. They will be just what you need to handle your trials with faith, peace, and hope, rather than doubt, confusion, and despair.Ashamed - small email

HELP! I Feel Ashamed: Do feelings of shame baffle you or hold you hostage? Shame can overwhelm us, leading to confusion, fear, and desperate behavior. This booklet uses case studies and practical examples to examine the true causes of shame and present hope through Jesus Christ, the Savior who loves you and can restore you, regardless of your past. Learn to answer shame his way and find victory.

Anger Out of Control - small emailHELP! My Anger Is Out of Control: Anger is widespread; it is even a major problem among professing Christians. While people express anger in different ways, controlling it is a challenge for each of us. Some feel powerless as anger rises. Others try to justify themselves. The question that must be addressed is how a sinfully angry person can become a person of grace. This mini-book provides the answer and gives us hope by directing our attention to the power of Christ to transform angry people into gracious people.Terminal Illness - small email

HELP! I’m Living with Terminal Illness: We don’t find it easy to face death, and the diagnosis of a terminal illness can be devastating. Yet every life has an expiration date. Written with a pastor’s heart for those suffering with a terminal diagnosis and for their family and friends, this booklet conveys practical advice, spiritual consolation, and, most importantly, an eternal hope which the dying process cannot diminish and death cannot extinguish.

In addition to the release of these eBooks, the first 8 in-print books arrived from the printer this week. Check out the entire series.

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September 29, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Happy Are Those…

One of the most famous portions of the Bible is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which begins with what have become known as The Beatitudes. Each of these snippets of divine wisdom begins with the word, “Blessed,” which actually means happy. So, “Blessed are you when…” can also be read, “Happy are you when…” Therefore, these verses contain a description of true happiness. In Matthew 5:1-12 we learn of ten marks of those who experience true happiness.

Happiness comes to those who recognize their spiritual poverty can only be cured by God’s riches in Jesus Christ (v. 3) – To be “poor in spirit,” as Jesus described, is to sense in oneself the utterly destitute condition that we as sinners are born into, and remain in, without Jesus Christ. When this realization sinks in and we turn away from our sin to God for salvation and forgiveness, we inherit the kingdom of heaven, that is, we become children of God by personal faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (see John 1:12). When this occurs, we are adopted into God’s family and made to be co-heirs with Christ (Ephesians 3:6). This is made possible only by the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7; 2:7), which result in being made partakers of the riches of Christ’s inheritance (Ephesians 1:18). The personal embrace of these truths produces true happiness.

Happiness comes to those who seek comfort from God in times of grief (v. 4) – Jesus said, “Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The Apostle Paul reminded us that God is the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). In other words, pain and suffering in our lives should drive us to God and the comfort we receive from Him will then equip us to become better comforters of others in their times of trouble. This kind of selfless ministry, along with the newfound joy gained from our own experience of comfort, will produce true happiness.

Happiness comes to those who serve others and endure cruel treatment with gentleness (v. 5) – “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” What did Jesus mean by that? The word “gentleness” is also translated meekness. Meekness has sometimes been referred to as power under control. In other words, a meek person is not a weak person, but a meek person is one who is able to maintain self-control while serving others, even those who unjustly criticize or harshly attack him. Jesus described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29) and the ultimate display of self-control was His endurance of the cruelty of the Cross where He sacrificed His life in place of ours for the purpose of rescuing us from the just penalty of our sin and bringing us back to God (1 Peter 3:18). This focus—returning lost sheep to the Father—was the joy that was set before Him, which fueled His endurance (Hebrews 12:2). So, Jesus found His joy and happiness in fulfilling the will of God by serving others with gentleness.

Happiness comes to those who pursue satisfaction in God (v. 6) – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” True happiness can only be found in God Himself. The words hunger and thirst describe the realization of need. When someone says, “I’m hungry,” he means he senses some pain in his stomach, i.e. he recognizes he needs food. When someone says, “I am thirsty,” he means that his throat and mouth need refreshment, i.e. he recognizes his need for a drink of water. When a sinner hungers and thirsts for God it reflects a work of the Holy Spirit awakening him to the realization of his own sinfulness and need for a Savior, without which he will perish eternally. This creates the awareness of God’s demand for righteousness, which can only be satisfied in Christ. “He [God, the Father] made Him [God, the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ now offers His perfect righteousness to those who acknowledge their need of it, hunger and thirst for it, and receive it by faith. In God, the saved sinner is satisfied.

Happiness comes to those who have mercy because they recognize their own need for mercy (v. 7) – “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Mercy is the attribute of God whereby He withholds from us the horrendous punishment our sin deserves. Therefore, the Apostle Paul described God as being “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). In other words, the most magnificent display of mercy in all of history is the Cross of Jesus. It was there God took the sins of His rebellious creatures and imputed them to His Son (credited them to Him) and then judged Him for our sins, i.e. God treated Jesus as if our sins were His own though they were not (Hebrews 4:15). Another way of applying the truth of this verse is to remember that all actions have consequences. Therefore, those who make it a habit of life to spread the mercy of God to others because they themselves have received mercy from God will reap the benefit of having others show mercy to them in return. Proverbs 14:21 says, “He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor.

Happiness comes to those who have integrity of heart (v.8) – Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” However, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah described the human heart as anything but pure when he wrote, “the heart is more deceitful than all else” (Jeremiah 17:9). Which man told the truth? The answer is both of them did. Jeremiah was describing the human heart as it is naturally, without God, bound in sin. Jesus was describing the heart that has been reborn by the Holy Spirit and has experienced forgiveness and cleansing because of faith in Him as divine Sin-bearer. Hebrews 10:22 compels believers in Jesus to draw near to God in worship “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience.” Those who have been cleansed by God through the sacrifice of Christ will “see God” in the sense that they will spend eternity in His presence. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Happiness comes to those who seek peace in their conflicts (v. 9) – Why does Jesus call true believers “peacemakers”? I think the Apostle Paul answers part of that question in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” In other words, peace with God is a prerequisite to other evidences of peace, i.e. peace with others. Now, this is not always true in our everyday experience with people. Sometimes, Christians will experience conflict as the direct result of their faith even if they themselves seek peace. Therefore, Jesus encourages us, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The true Christian understands that real peace is found only in Jesus, not the ever-changing circumstances of life. However, this inner peace will also produce an outward peace that impacts our relationships with others, especially other Christians.  In Colossians 3:14-15, the Apostle Paul calls love “the perfect bond of unity” and then tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” No one can let the peace of Christ rule in his heart if he does not know God by means of a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Happiness comes to those who love Christ more than crave being loved by others (v. 10) – To be persecuted means to be constantly harassed, or treated poorly. In relation to being a Christian, it means to endure this kind of treatment from the world because of the Christian faith. In other words, Jesus forewarned His followers that because the world did not accept or love Him, but turned away from Him instead, His followers should not expect better treatment than their Master received (John 15:18-19). The Apostle Paul warned the young pastor, Timothy, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). For this reason, Christians who are serious about living out their faith should not expect tender pampering from our ungodly world. If followers of Christ suffer because of their own sin that is nothing to boast of, but if they are afflicted for the sake of His name then “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Happiness comes to those who are ridiculed because of their faith in Christ (v. 11) – This is a most bizarre statement: “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.” How in the world could Jesus expect anyone to be happy while being insulted by those who hate them? The reason is that Jesus draws extra close to those who are verbally assaulted for being a Christian. This is what the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). God the Holy Spirit rests upon believers in Christ to empower, encourage, and embolden them when they are ridiculed because of following Jesus. This is a supernatural ingredient to happiness.

Happiness comes to those who look to heaven, not earth, for their reward (v. 12) – It can be very hard for Christians to wait for their eternal rewards. Instead, we are tempted to seek acceptance, approval, and praise from men rather than God. Unfortunately, the end result is that if we seek an earthly reward we lose the heavenly one (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). When believers in Christ are treated poorly, we need to remember that our Lord not only endured infinitely more than we have or ever will suffer, but also that He promises to reward those who are faithful to Him. Therefore, “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

It should be pretty obvious by now the Bible teaches that happiness is not determined by our circumstances (which are often filled with incredible disappointments), nor by how we are treated by others (which can be incredibly painful), but on our view of God and the reality of our relationship with Him. Though we have considered ten stops on the road to happiness, in reality, these principles are all aspects of one exclusive road. That is, true happiness cannot be found in this life apart from knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Do you know Him? Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). Respond to God’s call:

…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.  For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” (Romans 10:9-11).

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September 17, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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“When Sinners Say ‘I Do'” Conference

The Biblical Counseling Training Center of Arizona is pleased to announce that Dave Harvey is scheduled to be the main speaker for their 2014 Fall Conference, October 24-25, which will be hosted by Sovereign Grace Church in Gilbert, Arizona.

Dave Harvey is the author of When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage. Dave’s conference messages will include the following:

  1. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Sin
  2. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Mercy
  3. When Sinners Say “I Do” The Quest for Contentment

Additional workshops include:
“Marriage and Family: Faith for Barren Times” – Pastor Dave Harvey
“The Sufficiency of God’s Word & Counsel from Psalm 119” – Pastor Tom Angstead
“Yours, Mine, Ours, or God’s – The Blended Family” – Wayne & Sandi Nieman
“Prioritizing your First Love” – Pastor Trey Richardson
“High Signs” A Familiarization with Common Drugs and Their Effects – Pete Smith
“Our Role as Helper” – Charlotte Richardson
“Sufferology: Learning to Suffer with the Counselee” – Pastor Nick DeBenedetto
“What is Biblical Counseling?” – Pastor Darrell Gustafson
“Applying Mathew 18 in Dealing with a Troublesome Spouse” – Joseph Godal
“When it Hurts to Live!” – Understanding the World of the Self-Injurer – Janet Gustafson
“Physicians of the Soul, the Puritans and Counseling” – Pastor John Giarrizzo
“My Marriage and the Gospel” – Pastor Rich Richardson

Watch this video introduction from Dave Harvey.

Register for the conference here.

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September 2, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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When Christians Despair

God comforts us in all our afflictions (2 Cor 1:3-8). This is a truth for all believers for all time. However, the life context from which the apostle originally wrote these timeless words is the suffering of a faithful—though very flawed—minister of the gospel. In other words, it was from the crucible of ministry trials that Paul wrote such a comforting promise of God’s never-ending love and care. Understanding that he lived in the center of an intense spiritual war (Satan hates with a passion all who preach the gospel), may help us better understand how desperately he and his companions needed biblical hope—a need that every gospel-loving believer has at certain times in his life.

While meditating on 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, I found myself asking two questions: What does the apostle mean when he says of his companions and himself, “we despaired even of life?” (v. 8) And what does Paul mean by saying “we had the sentence of death within ourselves?” Before we attempt to answer those questions, read the full passage.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Cor 1:8-11)

What Does It Mean to Despair Even of Life?

In verse 8, the apostle speaks of their afflictions, which led to being “burdened excessively, beyond [their] strength.” These unbearable burdens led these men to a state of deep despair and, consequently, the need for divine deliverance. Of these afflictions, Kistemaker writes,

It is not unthinkable that Paul had been dragged into various local synagogues to stand trial before Jewish courts. The punishments he received were the prescribed thirty-nine lashes. He reveals, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one” (11:24). These floggings could be perilous when administered harshly, especially if they were repeated in close succession. In addition, Roman authorities three times beat Paul with rods (11:25)….The fierce opposition that Paul had to endure from Jewish adversaries continued to be a persistent threat to his life….The danger Paul incurred was so great that he describes it as an extremely heavy load that he was unable to bear physically. More than that, spiritually he lacked the necessary strength and entered into a state of despair (contrast 4:8). He expected the end of his earthly life unless God himself intervened and, as it were, brought him back from the dead.

To “despair even of life” means, therefore, to be so utterly burdened and without strength so as to succumb to affliction (the source of which does not matter, ultimately) to the place of accepting death as the only possible outcome. To be in despair means to be without a way out; that is, to be so mentally and emotionally without any hope of help in sight that death seems inevitable.

Though it seems the afflictions the apostle refers to here come from without, there are other times of suffering to the point of despair in which a finger cannot be so accurately placed upon the “source.” Despair, a crippling level of discouragement, is less rare than we may realize for those who dedicate their lives to gospel ministry. Biblical characters that battled deep discouragement and despair include David, Hannah, Elijah, and Paul. And before one concludes that all sorrow to the point of death is itself a sin; or is only, ever, always caused by sin should remember that Jesus experienced sorrow to the point of death (Matt. 26:38). His experience alone should slow down the zealous wheels of our mental judgment. Some well-known, post-biblical ministers of the gospel also experienced deep despair; Charles Spurgeon, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and David Brainerd are just a few. We must accept that there are some parts of our fallenness we will never understand. Only the God of providence knows fully what he seeks to accomplish for his glory through our suffering.

What Is the Purpose of the Sentence of Death?

The burden of the apostle’s suffering was so heavy that he actually felt as though a death sentence had been pronounced against him. But this heavy weight was not without purpose. The overwhelming sense of impending death was “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God” (v. 9). There it is! God, in his grace, orchestrates suffering for his servants for the purpose of stripping them of self-reliance—the pride that feeds so many other sins and hinders our usefulness. In the case of the apostle, and his friends, physical deliverance from actual death threats was provided by God. But even if they had not been delivered, their hope would have remained. Why? Their testimony remains “On him we have set our hope” (v. 10).

The Only Ground of Hope

Hope delivers us from the afflictions that threaten to take the very life out of us because its roots grip to the only sure foundation: God is for us in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31). It was the promise of ultimate deliverance in Jesus that breathed life into the suffering apostles so that they could continue to press on without human explanation.

Believing—truly believing—that God is for us, not against us, counsels our troubled and fearful souls. It renews our strength, purpose, and desire to live even when the despair that takes hold is so deep that it feels like a sentence of death has been pronounced upon us. Setting one’s hope on God alone; not the lessening of pain or the improvement of circumstances is the only ultimate remedy for despair. When we have learned to counsel ourselves with these truths, then we will become equipped to counsel others who despair even of life.

[This post was originally published at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website. I encourage you to subscribe to their daily blog.]

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August 2, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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4 More LifeLine Mini-Books

This week, Shepherd Press released another four eBooks in the LifeLine mini-book series. At only $1.99 each, these gems are very accessible resources for your personal growth and one-another ministry. Here they are:

HELP! My Teen Struggles with Same-Sex Attractions by Ben MarshallSame-Sex Attractions-small email. Ben is the Pastor of Counseling at Canyon Hills Community Church in Bothell, Washington. He received his Master’s Degree in Biblical Counseling from the Master’s College in California. Ben and his wife, Cory, were married in 1998 and have five children.

Drowning in Debt-small emailHELP! I’m Drowning in Debt by John Temple. John was raised in South Africa and had a business career, ultimately as Chief Executive of an international group. John loves to apply the Bible to everyday life. He and his wife, Yvonne, now live in England.

HELP! I’m a Slave to Food by Shannon Kay McCoySlave to Food-small email. Shannon lives in Southern California. She has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from the Master’s College and is a ACBC-certified counselor. She loves counseling women and has a passionate concern for women’s spiritual growth.

Confused about Dating-small emailHELP! I’m Confused about Dating by Joel James. Joel has an M.Div. and a D.Min. from the Master’s Seminary and is the pastor-teacher of Grace Fellowship in Pretoria, South Africa. He and his wife, Ruth, have been married since 1993 and have two children.

LifeLine mini-books demonstrate that biblical counsel can be made simple without becoming shallow. There is real meat here: robust analysis, honest assessment, rich gospel application and practical steps, all delivered in tidy mini-books that will not be overwhelming to God’s people.

To learn more about the entire series of mini-books, please visit lifelineminibooks.com.

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July 8, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Cancer, Denial, and the Sovereignty of God

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I caught that. I have what?” “I said the tests are conclusive. You have cancer. I’m very sorry.” It doesn’t matter what has transpired before we or our loved ones hear these words, or what happens after. In that first frozen moment, we tend to go completely numb. The impact is so great it paralyzes us emotionally— perhaps for months! Our first response to disaster is disbelief: No, that just can’t be. Surely the tests are wrong. Maybe we need to see another doctor! This can’t be happening to us. Maybe we’re the ones receiving this diagnosis ourselves, or maybe those hateful words are directed instead to someone we love. Maybe that’s worse.

So begins Deborah Howard’s newly released eBook HELP! Someone I Love has Cancer. After the opening paragraph, above, this caring sister in Christ shares a page from her own story—a story of facing cancer alongside her brother and then her husband. Since denial of the truth is very often the first response to the news of cancer, Deborah Howard spends the first chapter of her mini-book giving us counsel to move beyond denial toward embracing suffering as part of God’s providence in our lives.

The first step in this journey is to progress beyond denial. Denial is a monstrous foe that prevents constructive movement. It puts a barrier between you and God when that’s the last thing you want! There should be nothing in your life or attitude to hinder your prayers to him. When we’re in denial, we deny the providence of God. We must remember that God is the divine Master-Planner of our lives. Nothing happens to us that is not brought about by his sovereignty and intended for his purposes. Death, sickness, heartbreak— all products of man’s original fall in the Garden of Eden— are parts of his plan for us. These elements of life are not given to us capriciously. They have nothing to do with chance or fate, but everything to do with the careful plan of a righteous and holy Father, who brings these things into our lives for a divine purpose. It’s natural for us to try to run from disaster. This is not new to our generation. King David eloquently described this particular kind of anguish in Psalm 55:4–7 when he wrote, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”

Most of us tend to try to escape pressure. We have other unattractive tendencies as well. We may want to whine, complain, lash out, or give up. However, the Scriptures tell us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2– 4, emphasis added). Meditate upon these truths. It’s important for us to understand them, and to take them into our hearts and minds so we can apply them to the pressures we experience. Another verse worthy of meditation in tough times is Isaiah 26:3, which says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (emphasis added). Does “perfect peace” mean we’re never tried or tested? No; but it means that we can be at peace in the midst of the trial. Our earthly struggles should not come as a surprise to us. Remember 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Scripture shows that the Christian’s life is typically peppered with suffering. In fact, we’re promised hardship! Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33).

Thus, the Bible doesn’t tell us that believers will not suffer; instead, it assures us that we will! But it urges us to remain steadfast under the pressures of this earthly realm. What does it mean to be steadfast? We’re told that when we remain steadfast, we will be made perfect and complete, spiritually mature and lacking nothing! Trials produce staying power and life transformation! Through trial, God molds us into the people he wants us to be: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3– 5).

Suffering takes its toll on us, sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually— and sometimes physically. Sickness and death are a part of life. It is important that we look at our suffering through the lens of Scripture. Thus, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. Cancer is not out of God’s hands or bigger than he is; it is but another tool in his divine toolbox. Therefore, when we go through this kind of painful trial, it is important to constantly remind ourselves that our pain and suffering have a purpose! We may not be able to see these results with our earthly eyes or conceive of them with our finite minds, but there is an overarching purpose to our lives—God’s will, which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12: 2). Our suffering will always produce two results— good for us and glory for God. Always!

Someone Has Cancer - small emailWritten by a hospice nurse, HELP! Someone I Love has Cancer is a tender book filled with biblical help and hope. Get this eBook for $1.99 from Shepherd Press, publisher of the LifeLine mini-book series. You can also listen to a radio interview with the author here.

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