Counseling One Another

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

Counseling One Another

January 31, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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Falling In and Out of Love

I’m thinking about love for Christ, tonight. How easy it is for us as believers to fall out of love with Jesus in the same sense as the Ephesian believers did. “You have left your first love,” Jesus said to them (Revelation 2:4). Their deeds and toil and perseverance for Jesus and the gospel were noteworthy, commendable. But Jesus had one thing against them. Their primary passion had shifted from Jesus—alone—to all the things they were doing for Him and, no doubt, also things from Him. I got to thinking about this while reading One Cry by Byron Paulus and Bill Elliff. Here are the words that challenged me:

Imagine a Christian, saved by God’s grace, saying to the Groom, Jesus Christ, “I want You to know that I’ll come to church most Sundays. I’ll occasionally read my Bible because I know I should. I’ll give a little bit, support missions, and maybe even teach children in Bible study. I’m committed to doing most of the Christian stuff. But, I just want You to know—I don’t really love You anymore.”

Our Groom’s greatest desire is not His bride’s activity, but her undivided attention. Christ doesn’t want mere form, but passion. He longs for YOU. He wants an intimate relationship. In fact, He died for that intimacy to occur. He knows that all the right works flow from a passionate heart. But without love, a marriage—earthly or heavenly—is doomed. Love provides things that are found nowhere else.

Love for Christ is empowering. You can operate only so long out of duty, and not very well. Love fuels you with the passion for sustaining relationship.

And love is intriguing. When you love someone, you want to know more about them, and you discover that a lifetime cannot reveal all the inner reaches of their heart. When we are in love with Jesus we are drawn in, captured by the height and depth and breadth of His love. Our great desire is to know Him and experience Him in ever-increasing intimacy.

True love is more fulfilling than anything else as Christ becomes our greatest longing and greatest satisfaction. When we are experiencing the love of Christ, there is no need to look for joy anywhere else.

And love for Christ is contagious. Mere religious duty is not only insanely boring to us, but incredibly unappetizing to all who observe our dutiful rituals.

This evening, as prepare for Lord’s Day with God’s people, let us remember our first love, repent of our false loves, and return to the one supreme love.

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January 30, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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8 Days w/o My iPhone

Yesterday, my considerate wife made a special trip into town to deliver to my workplace the replacement phone for which I had (impatiently!) waited 8 days. At first, those days seemed like forever, but the more time passed by the more I realized just how much I have become functionally dependent upon instant communication. So I’ve been thinking about some conclusions that are actually just reminders of things I already had known, but not necessarily put into practice. Here are three:

  1. The Tool of Email Easily Becomes a Slave Driver. I knew that I checked my email often throughout the day, but being without my phone made me realize just how frequent it was. I have never used push notifications for email (that would drive me absolutely crazy); however, checking my email a dozen or more times a day is not much different. Disciplining myself to check email 2-3 times a day is something I need to do. Not only would it loosen the email shackles from my wrists, but it would lessen the tendency to reply too quickly, without thinking through a proper response. Yes, much email communication is simply information transfer, downloading cranial data; but some requires a much more thoughtful—even prayerful—response. Colossians 4:6 applies to all forms of communication: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” If you’re looking for more help in the area of email management, Tim Challies’ article 8 Email Mistakes You Make has helped me.
  2. Land Lines Still Have Value (at least in my mind). Sometime last year, we discontinued our home phone for the sole reason of reducing monthly expenses. I realize many people made the decision years before we did, but I resisted. Something in me did not want to be disconnected from a physical location on this earth. Think about it. When your friend answers your call to their land line, you never have to ask, “Are you home?” Yes, I know we as Christians are pilgrims in this land. But we do still live here. This is where we live and love and know God. But one of the casualties of our always-on-the-go and take-it-wherever-you-go cell phone age is the very real sense that we belong somewhere, that we have a home, even if it is temporal. We are not to be of the world, but we do still live in the world—a world that contains relationships with others. We live in houses next to other houses filled with real people—all of whom need us to relate with them on an earthly level and some who need to hear the gospel.
  3. Face-to-Face Communication Is Still Supreme. Phones used to be exclusively for talking. When we all had land lines, we knew that. But now our phones are for texting, emailing, and maybe—sometimes—even for calling to actually communicate using vibrations from our vocal cords. We need to return to verbal conversation; we need to speak the truth in love to one another. Yes, we may encourage one another through texts and emails; I do this and have many friends who encourage me in this way. But nothing beats seeing a face and hearing a voice. Several years ago, a wise brother in Christ encouraged me with these words: “Always try to talk to the person, in person, first. If you can’t, then try calling them on the phone. Your third, and last, resort should be email. Email is by far the most easily misinterpreted, misunderstood form of communication.” If we are called to glorify God in all we do then this includes our use of email. David Murray encourages us to check out this helpful article, Glorifying God and Email.

These are just a few thoughts running through my mind this morning. How about you? How might breaking your smart phone (like I did), losing it, or simply taking a break from it change the way you think, or live?

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January 26, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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“Not In Me” – A Song for the Pharisee In Each of Us

We learned this new song, based on Luke 18:9-14, in corporate worship yesterday. It reminds us of where we stand without Christ and exalts Him as the only true source of righteousness.

No list of sins I have not done, No list of virtues I pursue
No list of those I am not like can earn myself a place with You.
O God! Be merciful to me. I am a sinner through and through.
My only hope of righteousness is not in me, but only You.

No humble dress, no fervent prayer, no lifted hands, no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus’ death.
My weary load was borne by Him and He alone can give me rest.

No separation from the world, no work I do, no gift I give
Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands,
I cannot cause my soul to live.
But Jesus died and rose again. The pow’r of death is overthrown!
My God is merciful to me, and merciful in Christ alone.

My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus’ death.
My weary load was borne by Him, and He alone can give me rest,
And He alone can give me rest.

[This song is part of the project Songs for the Book of Luke. You may learn more about it at The Gospel Coalition.]

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January 20, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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Comfort the Grieving

On a regular basis, I receive inquiries as to how to obtain copies of my book Comfort Those Who Grieve: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Loss (It’s been hard to find since stock was intentionally allowed to run out because it moved to a different publisher). Thankfully, I am now able to direct you to the revised and updated version that was just released this month by Zondervan. Comfort the Grieving is one of the recent additions to the Practical Shepherding series edited by Brian Croft. Here are some of the kind words Brian wrote in the Foreword to this edition.

Some of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned as a pastor, lessons that are affirmed year after year, happen in hospital rooms and funeral homes. I have watched sweet elderly saints take their last breath while holding their hand praying for them. I have won enemies over after a visit while they are recovering in a hospital room. I have seen despair turn to hope while talking about Christ as I’ve sat with a grieving widow at a funeral visitation. These pivotal moments for fruitful ministry exist because the hospital room and the funeral home accomplish something few life moments can. They remind us of our frailty and brokenness. They jolt our hearts into reality when we are tempted to believe we are invincible. They press us to focus on eternal things when we want to live in the temporal.

And yet, ironically, these are places many pastors try to avoid today. Why? Well, for one, this kind of ministry is hard work. It is not glamorous. It requires you to engage your heart in a way that makes many people uncomfortable. It involves assuming burdens that are painful to bear. Sometimes no one knows you are doing this ministry, other than God and the people you visit. But these types of visits are core to our calling as pastors who shepherd God’s flock until the Chief Shepherd returns (1 Peter 5:4). And I’m convincd that one of the best ways to recover these essential aspects of pastoral ministry is to equip pastors so they can better care for those who are grieving.

That is why I am excited about the book you hold in your hand. My excitement is due to two things. First, the content and structure is particularly suited to equip pastors and others in this task of comforting those who grieve. Beginning with the biblical foundations that show us where our hope comes from in times of grief, it moves into ways in which a pastor can minister this hope to others, both publically and privately. The last section gives specific practical helps: hand-written notes, advice on using songs, and even charts to help in scheduling visits and contacts in the first year of bereavement. This book is concise, clear, and gives any pastor the necessary tools they need to shepherd their grieving people well.

The second reason I am excited about this book is that it is a key resource in the Practical Shepherding series. Another title in the series, Visit the Sick, addresses how to extend care to people through the struggles of sickness, pain, and affliction. Conduct Gospel-centered Funerals is a title in the series that addresses the immediate circumstances surrounding a death, including the preparation of a funeral sermon and logistics of working with funeral homes. Although hospitals and funeral homes are key places to do ministry, they are not the only places where grief is experienced. Much of the grieving process requires extended care that takes place long after the immediate circumstances of the hospital and funeral home.

This newest book in the Practical Shepherding series, Comfort the Grieving, is a wonderful complement to these other two books. It fills in the gaps while affirming the wisdom and practical helps they offered.

And Walter Kaiser writes: “Few have attempted to offer comfort to those who grieve, and fewer have been as successful. I commend this wonderful little volume. It is a veritable anthology of practical helps for those who are grieving and for those who attempt to minister to their needs. Therefore I recommend it as a book for all deacons, elders, pastors and lay persons. It is an important tool which should be thoughtfully read if we are to minister wisely and effectively to those in our fellowship who will eventually face such times.”

I’m very grateful to the Lord and to our friends at Zondervan Publishing Group for this new edition of Comfort the Grieving. It is our prayer that the Holy Spirit will use it to equip God’s people to comfort one another with the comfort that is ours in Christ.

[Be sure to take a look at the other titles in the Practical Shepherding series here.]

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January 19, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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Creation-Category Idols and Resting In Our True Identity

In the past couple weeks, I have picked up one of Paul Tripp’s devotional books, A Shelter in the Time of Storm, and again my heart has been ministered to in simple, yet deep ways. God has gifted Paul Tripp with the ability to write heart-diagnosing words that are gentle, yet surgically helpful to the soul. Here’s an excerpt that the Spirit used to convict and edify, this morning:

Scriptures like Psalm 27 and Matthew 6:19-33 remind us that all the things for which a human being could live fall into two categories. The first category is the Creator category. When I am living for something in the Creator category, I’m living for what can be found only in God. It means my life is shaped and directed by my resting in the pursuit of his grace, glory, goodness, and plan on earth. Another name for this category is the kingdom of God.

The second category is the creation category. When I am living in the creation category, I’m seeking to find my identity, meaning, and purpose in something that has been created. So, I look to my job, friends, possessions, or a position to satisfy my heart. Another name for this is the kingdom of self.

What does all of this have to do with singles or fickleness of focus? It is only when I’m hooking my life to the glory and grace of God and getting my identity from him that I can truly live with singleness of focus for the long run. This is because it is only God who has the power to satisfy my heart. I was made for him. I was made to have my life shaped by an acknowledgement of his presence, a rest in his love, and an active allegiance to his purposes. When I live this way, my soul is satisfied and my heart is at rest.

[A Shelter in the Time of Storm may be purchased at Westminster Books in eBook and print copy.]

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January 15, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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Spurgeon Gives Hope to Those Who Fight Through Depression

It has been long understood that Charles Spurgeon, the famed preacher at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in the 1800’s, wrestled against this darkness through much of his pastoral ministry. As a result, many of us who fight this same aspect of our humanness have received immense help and comfort from his pastoral approach and the biblical counsel he faithfully fed to his congregation….In his new book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows, Zack Eswine has mined the sermons and writings of the famous preacher, culled that which is most valuable, and organized it in a manner that is helpful to those who suffer with depression and the spiritual friends who are faithful to not let go of them in the midst of the fog.spurgeon sorrow

Spurgeon’s Sorrows, takes a balanced approach to the role of diet and medicine to relieve some of the symptoms of depression, in some people, some of the time. However, the author also wisely concludes, as did Charles, that dietary or medicinal relief is not a solution in and of itself and should not be pursued alone, apart from the deeper, more important work of the Spirit in the soul. True hope is renewed by means of focusing on the promises of God and consistently tapping into our never-ending resources in Christ. The book also touches on what Charles referred to as the disease of melancholy, that is, that some people seem to be constitutionally more prone to wrestle with depression than others. For some, fear and worry seem to naturally dominate. Therefore, understanding oneself is important, as is the constant discipline of turning eyes of faith to Christ and learning to find rest in the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. In other words, the fleshly struggle with despondency becomes a blessing when it is recognized as the weakness that keeps one dependent upon God. Read my full review of this book at Books at a Glance.

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January 14, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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Can You Help Me Find Assurance of Salvation?

Shortly after Christmas, I received the following email from a reader of this blog.

I’m wondering if you can help me. I have prayed to be saved multiple times, knowing it is not by human effort. I was raised in a Christian home and have a Christian heritage, including godly preachers, etc. But I never truly have assurance and can’t really seem to have victory over sin. I don’t have the love I wish I did for others. The only thing I can conclude is that I wasn’t chosen. I know if election is true then you can’t change that. But I’m desperate for some hope. Can you help me? Have you encountered this before? Can you imagine what I’m going through? Please help. I know all the assurance verses.

To which I replied:

Dear Sue (not her real name),

Thanks for your note. Your question and your trial are not uncommon; many struggle with assurance of salvation. Let me first encourage you; the heart’s longing that I read between the lines sounds like that of a believer (Non-believers have no such desire). However, the assurance you need is that which only God can give to you through his Word. So, rely not upon my words, but upon God’s. As I said, your struggle is not new. First century Christians battled the same doubts. That’s what motivated the apostle to write the book of First John, as verse 13 of the last chapter informs us. My counsel to you is this: Read the book of First John once a day for a month while praying the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart and mind concerning your relationship to God. I believe He will answer your prayer to know Him.

By the way, the doctrine of election was not given to us by God to cause doubt, but to evoke praise from unworthy sinners like you and me. One of Satan’s tactics is to get people stuck on the merry-go-round of election, forever trying to figure out if they are one of the chosen. But Scripture never instructs us to figure this out. It tells us to repent and believe in Jesus and follow Him. By doing so, our election is proven genuine (2 Peter 1). Election is God’s business; the obedience of faith is ours.

I’ve attached a simple worksheet that I created many years ago. It will serve as a guide to you as you study the book of 1 John. I will be praying for you.

Paul

[If you would like a copy of the 1 John worksheet, please email me: paul@counselingoneanother.com.]

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January 9, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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What Depression Teaches Us

As the counseling book review editor for Books At a Glance, I’m regularly asked to review new books related to one-another ministry. Thus far, the books have been chosen by others for me to review, as it is with the latest. It is so encouraging how the Lord continues to direct books to me, not merely to review for review sake, but for my own personal growth and edification. That is again the case with a new book by Zack Eswine, Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. I was blessed to read this wonderful book and my full review/summary will be published at the Books At a Glance site in a few days. Since the scope of book reviews is limited, I’d like to do as I have in the past; that is, pass on some helpful counsel in a few blog posts.

The following counsel comes from Chapter 2: Depression and Our Circumstances. Pastor Eswine writes,

[C]ontrary to what some people tell us, sadness is neither a sign of laziness nor a sin; neither negative thinking nor weakness. On the contrary, when we find ourselves impatient with sadness, we reveal our preference for folly, our resistance to wisdom, and our disregard for depth and proportion. So, when we see others in pain, and we want to stop them from it, we must not underestimate what they have had to overcome in their lives. Depression calls for even more compassion and acceptance. They sin, yes. But we’ve all been sinned against too. If we had known the trials that have assaulted them we too might discover a life more attended by frightful glooms and miserable stares within our memories than we want.

Memory after all is a powerful thing. It can both bless us and haunt us. Some of us are memory haunted. Circumstance left its stain. Such persons need mercy not scolding. After all, on this side of heaven, “There is no cure for sadness” or depression. No saint or hero is immune. Room to cry loudly or long remains necessary, warranted, and nobly human….In this fallen world, sadness is an act of sanity, our tears the testimony of the sane.

He then goes on to give us three lessons that depression arising from our circumstances teaches us.

  1. Christian faith on earth is neither an escape nor heaven. Charles speaks of certain Christians who, from their position of health and wealth, suggest that perfection, ease and immunity from human troubles describe what faithfulness to Jesus produces. Charles counters this notion and describes instead “the tried people of God” who “do not often ride upon these high horses.” The sheer number of their anxieties and cares forces them into a life which must frequently cry out to God and which exposes their being only mortal.
  2. We do not equate spiritual blessing with circumstantial ease. “Certain of my brethren are frequently in trouble. Their whole life is a floundering out of one slough of despond into another. You have had many losses in business—nothing but losses perhaps; you have had many crosses, disappointments, bereavements; nothing prospers with you … it is no sign, beloved, that you are not a child of God … remember that none of your trials can prove you to be a lost man.”
  3. We who’ve not suffered depression from circumstances must learn the pastoral care of those who have. When a person “has been through a similar experience” of depression, “he uses another tone of voice altogether. He knows that, even if it is nonsense to the strong, it is not so to the weak, and he so adapts his remarks so that he cheers” the sufferer “where the other only inflicts additional pain. Broken hearted one, Jesus Christ knows all your troubles, for similar troubles were his portion” too.

My complete review of Spurgeon’s Sorrows is published at Books At a Glance.

More Resources on Depression

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January 3, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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Fanning the Flames of One Holy Passion

This morning, I found myself stirred to take off my shelf a copy of my favorite R.C. Sproul book, One Holy Passion: The Consuming Thirst to Know God. I remember buying this book in the fall of 1988 at our Bible college bookstore. It immediately impacted me and, since then, has become one of my all-time favorite books on the attributes of God. Here are some thoughts from Sproul about the matter of living with one consuming passion to know God, which results in following Christ.

A passion is a strong feeling, an emotion that is packed with intensity. At times it carries a sense of urgency.

Not all passions are holy. As fallen human beings we are often trapped in unholy passions. Our feelings are mixed. Then the Holy Spirit quickens us to a new life with new passions. But many of the old passions remain. We struggle with our feelings. Our affection for the things of God is locked in mortal combat with earthly concerns.

If we are to progress in godliness we need to fan the flames of a holy passion. We need a single-minded desire to know God. We follow Jesus who went before us. He was moved by a single passion—to do the will of His Father. His meat and drink were to do His Father’s will. Zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him. He was a man of holy destiny with a face set as a flint.

Jesus knew the Father. His knowledge of God was so deep, so profound that His entire earthly life reflected a single holy passion. Jesus revealed the Father to us and called us to imitate His own pursuit. His priority is set before us—to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

We are to press into the Kingdom of God, to storm it if we must, to seize the opportunity to know God. This quest is not casual. The pursuit is not cavalier. We are to be driven by a holy passion.

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January 2, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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Last Year’s Busiest Day – Depression & the Pastor’s Wife

My WordPress annual report notice has been flashing on my dashboard for a few days, so I finally took a look at it last night. I was immediately surprised by one statistic and yet should not have been. February 3rd was the busiest day of this blog last year and the most read post on that day was Depression & the Pastor’s Wife: Suffering in Silence by Cara Croft, the wife of Brian, the founder of Practical Shepherding.

I was surprised this post received as much attention as it did, but I should not have been. Why? Transparency is growing among pastors and their wives concerning battles that, though not unique to vocational ministry, seem to be especially challenging and more common than the average church member realizes. Still the number of pastors and their wives who choose to suffer in silence is epidemic. Why? Well, frankly, it’s safer. The sad reality is that often times the very place where Christlike gentleness and grace should abound is the place where harshness and Pharisaism rule instead. Therefore, I’m thankful for Brian and Cara and their risk-taking openness. Churches will gradually become better places because of it. If you’ve not read Cara’ testimony already, please do. Here it is.

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