Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

January 25, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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5 Reasons to Practice Church Discipline

Although in recent decades the biblical expectation of church discipline has fallen on hard times, there is a renewed understanding of its importance and practice among those whose desire for a faithful church is greater than their desire for a popular church. This is one of many reasons I’m so thankful for the ministry of 9Marks which, of course, derives its name from Mark Dever’s book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. While re-reading the book the past few weeks, as part of our inaugural pastoral internship at the church where I serve, I sensed it would be helpful to pass on to you the five reasons Mark gives for this oft-neglected, but necessary practice. I will cite only the reason and its supporting Scripture. There is more explanation, of course, in the book.

  1. For the Good of the Person Discipline (1 Cor. 5:1-5; Gal. 6:1; 1 Tim. 1:20).
  2. For the Good of the Other Christians, as They See the Danger of Sin (1 Tim. 5:20).
  3. For the Health of the Church as a Whole (1 Cor. 5:6-8).
  4. For the Corporate Witness of the Church (Matt. 5:16; John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 5:1; 1 Pet. 2:12).
  5. For the Glory of God, as We Reflect His Holiness (Eph. 5:25-27; Heb. 12:10-14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16; 2:9-12; 1 Jn 3:2-3).

It is also crucial to remember that corrective discipline must take place within the context of a church that also practices positive, formative discipline, which is “the stake that helps the tree grow in the right direction, the braces on the teeth, the extra set of wheels on the bicycle.” Therefore, as Mark wraps up his chapter on this topic, he gives the following admonition which is rooted in love.

We need to live lives that back up our professions of faith. We need to love each other. We need to hold each other accountable because all of us will have times when our flesh wants to go in a way different than what God has revealed in Scripture. And part of the way we love each other is by being honest and establishing relationships with each other and speaking in love to each other. We need to love each other and we need to love those outside our church whom our witness affects; and we need to love God, who is holy, and who calls us not to bear His name in vain, but to be holy as He is holy. That’s a tremendous privilege and a great responsibility.

Another recommended resource is the article A Biblical Theology of Church Discipline by Bobby Jamieson.

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January 23, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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4th Reason to Study Lamentations

Previously, we noted three reasons God gave us the book of Lamentations. First, to show us the awful reality of sin so that our hearts will long for reconciliation with God. Second, to remind us how much we need God’s faithfulness, mercy, and love. Third, to reveal his sovereign faithfulness in both judgment and mercy. And finally, let us consider a fourth reason to study this Old Testament book.

Reason #4 – To foster prayer and worship in the face of tragedy, pain, sorrow, and devastation—and increase our anticipation of the glory to come (cf. point 2 above; see also all of chapter 5).

The final song, found in chapter 5, is a prayer. Lamentations should help us understand how we can pray and worship in the face of devastation—even the devastation of sin and its consequences. And worship is man’s deepest need, highest joy, and everlasting privilege. Such worship will thus help the sufferer process the grief, horror, and pain of sin’s consequences—until the God of all comfort wipes away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:1ff).

Check out The Discipline of Mercy: Seeking God in the Wake of Sin’s Misery  (includes study guide & personal application projects)

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January 22, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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3rd Reason to Study Lamentations

Last week, we noted two reasons God gave us the very sad book of Lamentations. First, to show us the awful reality of sin and its devastating consequences so that our hearts will long for reconciliation with our holy Creator. Second, to remind us how much we need God’s faithfulness, mercy, and love and how ready He is to forgive us when we repent and turn to him by faith. Today let’s consider a third reason to study this oft-neglected book.

Reason #3. To reveal the sovereign faithfulness of God in both judgment and mercy—His hatred of sin, His holy wrath, and His loyal love (1:12b–15, 18; 2:1–8, 17; 3:21–26, 37–38, 54–66; 4:11, 16, 22; 5:19; cf. Leviticus 26:14–33; Deuteronomy 28:15–57; 32:15–43).

It is interesting to note that Babylon and the Babylonians are never mentioned in Lamentations. Only Edom is cited as an adversary (4:21–22). The perspective of this book clearly leads to the conclusion that God was ultimately sovereign over the horrendous events that happened. Certainly the Bible teaches that God is not the source of evil, but Lamentations stresses that He is sovereign over it—and will use the evil of men to accomplish His purposes. It is precisely because God is sovereign that His disciplined and grieving people can have hope in the midst of pain and tragic circumstances.

Check out The Discipline of Mercy: Seeking God in the Wake of Sin’s Misery  (includes study guide & personal application projects)

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January 19, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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2nd Reason to Study Lamentations

In yesterday’s post, I encouraged you to study the Old Testament book of Lamentations because of it’s description of the sobering realities of sin. Sin never ultimately delivers its promises. Rather, it brings only pain and misery into our lives. For sure, sin does bring some of its promised pleasure, but that is only for a moment before its grief and enslavement take hold. When this happens, we are left in desperate need of God’s mercy in the midst of our misery.

One of the reasons God gave us the book of Lamentations is to graphically picture the deadly consequences of sin so that we are driven to Jesus for forgiveness, reconciliation, and true healing. Today, we consider a second reason God gave us this little, oft-neglected Old Testament book.

Reason #2 – To reveal the hope that is found in God—His faithfulness, His love, and His mercy in the midst of such consequences (3:19–38, 54–66; and by implication 1:9b, 11b, 20; 2:20; 3:39–66; 4:22; 5:1, 19–22).

There is only one real help in suffering. There is only one genuine hope for those who know their utter hopelessness–God Himself. Looking in faith to God is the only lasting comfort in sorrow. Even if worship is washed in tears of grief, worship is the only proper response to pain. The book of Lamentations leads us to that conclusion.

Check out The Discipline of Mercy: Seeking God in the Wake of Sin’s Misery  (includes study guide & personal application projects)

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January 17, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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4 Reasons to Study Lamentations

[This is the first of four posts encouraging you to study the Old Testament book of Lamentations.]

In truth, all suffering can be traced back to the entrance of sin into our world; that is, before sin entered the world there was no suffering. However, this does not mean that all personal suffering is the result of personal sin (John 9:3). But let’s face it. If we are going to be faithful ministers of grace and truth to one another, we have to deal with the reality of sin head-on. At times, we will be faced with the task of comforting the sufferer. At other times, we will be the sufferer. In fact, the believer’s greatest pain comes in dealing with the consequences of unfaithfulness and sin—whether one’s own or someone else’s. When we find ourselves here––and we will––Lamentations is our handbook. In this biblical record, we are exhorted to place our hope fully in the faithful mercy and loyal love of a gracious God, to praise and take refuge in God, no matter the suffering. He alone is sovereign and rules forever. His mercies are new every morning, and His faithfulness is unfathomably great. No other book of the Bible, except Job, so unabashedly addresses the issue of suffering.

We might humbly summarize God’s great design in including this magnificent book in His Scriptures with the following four statements of purpose (only the first purpose will be the subject of this post, three more will follow):

Reason #1 – Lamentations was given to reveal the horror, tragedy, pain, sorrow, and devastation that results from sin. (see entire book, but especially 1:5, 14, 18–19, 22; 2:14; 3:42; 4:13–16, 22a; 5:16–18)

Sin does not deliver on its promises. Rather, it brings only pain and misery with its rebellion. Sin’s pleasure is only for a moment. Moses knew this and therefore did not consider “the passing pleasures of sin” or the “treasures of Egypt” to be ultimately worthwhile (Hebrews 11:25–26). Sin delivers hardship, misery, and pain. James 1:14–15 records the gestation cycle of sin and its horrifying consequences: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” The book of Lamentations graphically pictures the deadly consequences of sin. As Charles Swindoll writes: “It [Lamentations] is a mute reminder that sin, in spite of all its allurement and excitement, carries with it heavy weights of sorrow, grief, misery, barrenness, and pain. It is the other side of the “eat, drink, and be merry coin.”

As heinous as some of the scenes poetically captured in Lamentations are, the eternal consequences of sin are indescribably worse. The wages of sin is eternal destruction, “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). It will be a place where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched—indeed, a place of eternal destruction (Mark 9:48; Revelation 20:10, 15). Lamentations is but an earthly picture of the consequences of sin; the reality of the eternal consequences is much worse. But the graphic and grotesque consequences of sin disclosed in the book of Lamentations only serve to highlight the wondrous truth revealed in Matthew 1:21, as the angel announced the arrival of Messiah to Joseph: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (see also 1 John 3:5). This is the hope of the gospel—the hope Jesus was sent to bring to sinners like us.

Have you or your small group ever studied the book of Lamentations? That’s one of the reasons Eric Kress and I co-authored The Discipline of Mercy: Seeking God in the Wake of Sin’s Misery, which includes a study guide and practical counseling homework.

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January 16, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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10 Aspects of Gospel-Centered Forgiveness

Matthew 6 records some of the most alarming words ever spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ. In the portion of His teaching which has become known as the Lord’s Prayer, He instructed the disciples to regularly pray for forgiveness. He then concluded His teaching with the warning: For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).

What was Jesus saying? He was saying this: So serious is the refusal to forgive, by one who claims to be a Christian, that Jesus warns that such a character pattern may be evidence of false faith; that is, that the professing Christian is merely that—only one who professes Christ, but does not actually possess Him. But the true believer, the sinner who has been made new in Christ, will be one who desires to make peace.

The fruit of the gospel’s work in a person’s heart includes the formation of a posture of forgiveness which flows from grace. That is, the ongoing recognition of one’s own desperate need for salvation will produce a humility and tenderness of heart that stands ready to forgive those who sin against us—whether knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally.

The importance of this need to forgive and be restored to one another is so great that there may even be times in which the help of a third party is necessary. This peacemaking ministry is also a fruit of the gospel’s work in the human heart. As Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). In the writing of the personal letter called the book of Philemon, it is that peacemaking role that the apostle Paul now assumes.

Paul’s appeal to Philemon to receive his runaway slave, who is now a brother in Christ, reveals ten admonitions connected to biblical forgiveness. To be a believer who models genuine grace, you must…

Forgive as an obligation of the gospel (vv. 8-9). – Paul possessed apostolic authority over believers and the churches. Therefore, he could have commanded Philemon to receive Onesimus, but instead appealed to him. He wanted Philemon to do so for love’s sake; that is, he desired forgiveness to flow from his brother’s heart as a proper response to the gospel. Forgiveness, Paul said, is what is required; it is a basic duty of every genuine believer.

Forgive in order to facilitate restoration (vv. 10-13). – Again, rather than giving a command, Paul makes a request for his child, whose father I became. Paul was the runaway slave’s spiritual father and, as such, chose to be an agent of peace on his behalf. We are all called to be peacemakers, but we can learn much from the apostle. Restoration cannot be forced or coerced, but we should be agents of peace who aim to bring about restoration, with care and wisdom. Through the gospel, God is restoring sinners to Himself. As believers, therefore, we are then called to have a ministry of reconciliation by bringing the gospel to others, and by modeling what genuine forgiveness and restoration look like (Matthew 5:23-24; Romans 12:17-19). So, think about a simple contrast:

  • Forgiveness paves the road to restoration, which receives God’s blessing.
  • But bitterness paves the road to vengeance, which incurs God’s wrath.

You cannot have true restoration apart from forgiveness. And Paul treated the restoration of Onesimus to Philemon as a higher priority than keeping Onesimus to himself (v. 13).

Forgive freely, not under compulsion (v. 14). Paul knew that true forgiveness comes from the heart and, therefore, could not be brought about by human coercion. He had to trust the Holy Spirit to work in Philemon’s heart to motivate him to willingly obey the Lord. A genuine peacemaker recognizes the work of God which is necessary for true forgiveness to be granted. He will not demand that one party forgive the other against their will. He will patiently, yet persistently, exhort toward reconciliation while he also prays for the Lord to do a work of grace in the heart.

Forgive because of God’s gracious providence (vv. 15-16). Although he did not fully understand God’s sovereign ways, Paul was confident that everything that had taken place was under His control. This is the same confidence that Joseph had at the end of the book of Genesis (Genesis 50:20. The forgiving person grows in grace through difficult and confusing times. And even though he cannot see or understand the intricate workings of the sovereign God, he learns to trusts Him (Romans 8:28). Like the old gospel song says so beautifully,

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His Heart

There are twists and turns in our road, but God is sovereign over them all. Don’t allow resentment and bitterness to keep you from the blessing of seeing God work out His mysterious, but beautiful plan.

Forgive because of mutual acceptance in Christ (v. 17). – Believers are to accept one another—flaws, failures, warts, and all. This is another implication of truly believing the gospel. In other words, the work of the gospel in a person’s heart will lead to accepting other believers. Paul makes this connection in Romans 15:7, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. Ephesians 1:6 teaches us that we have been accepted by God in Christ. Therefore, we must accept one another. This acceptance—a recognition that we are on equal standing before God—naturally leads to the practice of forgiveness.

Forgive and make restitution where necessary (vv. 18-19). – Perhaps Paul knew the runaway slave had stolen from his master before leaving and, therefore, was willing to repay it: if he owes you anything, charge that to my account. This is restitution, which is the act of making good or compensating for loss, or damage, or injury. This is rooted in Old Testament law (Numbers 5:5). “But,” you say, “that is Old Testament law. When we get saved, our slate is wiped clean and, therefore, there is no need to make restitution.” But forgiveness does not always eliminate the need for restitution when a person has been defrauded. A New Testament example of restitution is Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Paul’s legitimate offer to make things right with Philemon is a beautiful illustration of substitution. Paul was willing to pay the slave’s debt because that is what Jesus had done for him.

Forgive in order to bring spiritual refreshment (v. 20). – The word refreshed means to be refreshed from the innermost being, to give rest from labor. Believers who demonstrate the grace of forgiveness are like a refreshing spring in the lifeless desert of bitterness. As Philemon has been a spiritual refreshment to the hearts of other believers (v. 6), so Paul now calls upon him to do the same for him—by following his instruction and practicing biblical forgiveness.

Forgive as an act of obedience to God (v. 21). – Paul was confident that Philemon would honor the Lord and display gospel grace by being obedient. Forgiveness is a command for the believer in Christ. Jesus made this clear in his response to Peter: Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Forgive in order to maintain fellowship (vv. 22-24). Being confident of his release, Paul requested they be ready for him to visit. The men mentioned were various co-laborers and servants of Christ. Philemon enjoyed the fellowship of these believers, and now so did Onesimus. The body of Christ consists of redeemed sinners who daily battle against their sinful flesh. We will offend each other. We will sin against each other. But the ongoing practice of forgiveness—as an act of obedience to God and the outworking of genuine faith in the gospel—will maintain the fellowship we have in Christ.

Forgive from the wellspring of grace (v. 25). – God’s forgiveness flows from His grace (Romans 5:1-2). We are saved by grace, and must continue to live by grace. A fruit of this salvation will be a heart that is governed by the posture of forgiveness, which then leads to the practice of forgiveness. When we forgive others who have wronged us we proclaim the redemptive grace of God in a powerful way.

SOME FINAL, PERSONAL QUESTIONS

  • Have you been forgiven by God? Have you repented and believed in Jesus Christ and, therefore, been cleansed and made new?
  • Is there someone who has offended you, hurt you, sinned against you…whom you refuse to forgive? If so, what does this reveal about the reality of your faith in the gospel?
  • Is there someone you have sinned against, but you have not made the effort to be reconciled?

What will you do today? This week? Who do you need to call, or write? Who will you visit? How will you walk in obedience to the gospel?

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon, The Practice of Forgiveness.]

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED MINI-BOOK: HELP! I Can’t Forgive (Jim Newcomer)

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January 12, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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Counseling Training in Sioux Falls, SD

ACBC is heading back to the Midwest and will be offering the Advanced Methodology Track and Fundamentals Track in Sioux Falls. Join us to become equipped to counsel and disciple others. Faith Baptist Fellowship will host three weekends of training: March 23-24, April 27-28, and May 18-19. The weekends include:

  • 30 hours of training from 6 speakers.
  • Each attendee will receive a conference booklet and lunch on the Saturday of each weekend.
  • The cost of the conference is designed to be as inexpensive as possible. It is less than $100 per weekend.
  • For those pursuing certification, this completes the required hours of teaching for phase one.
  • For those interested in CEU’s, more information is available.
  • Registration is online and will close March 16, 2018. After that, attendees will be required to register at the door.
  • Groups of 5 or more people can register together and receive 10% off

Check out this upcoming training, as well as other locations, click here.

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January 11, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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6 Qualities of the Posture of Forgiveness

The Holy Spirit was kind to include the very personal letter of Philemon in our Bible, as a case study in forgiveness practiced the way Jesus commanded.

Three Main Characters

There are three main characters in this true story of redemption and forgiveness: Paul, the apostle, who was in prison; Philemon, a brother in the Lord and slave owner; and Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who had run away to Rome and, while there, experienced salvation in Christ. At the time the letter was written, Paul was returning Onesimus to his master for the purpose of receiving earthly forgiveness. Having already received vertical forgiveness from God, through believing the gospel, Onesimus now needed horizontal forgiveness from his master.

What Is Forgiveness?

In a nutshell, to forgive means to let go, or even better, to send away. It refers to the remission of the punishment due to sinful conduct. Each time we are wronged, we have a choice. We can either hold on to the wrong committed against us, or let it go; i.e., send it away. Sending it away is the complete opposite of holding on to the offense. To hold on to an offense is to keep a record of sins committed against you, and stand in God’s place. What has God done by forgiving us?  He sent our sin away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Biblical love forgives, rather than keeping a list of the ways people have sinned against us (1 Corinthians 13:5).

The Purpose of the Letter

Paul sent this letter to Philemon to explain what had happened in the heart of Onesimus. He wanted him to know that his runaway slave had received the gospel, and was now a new creature in Christ. He also wrote to appeal to Philemon to receive his slave back, not as a runaway who should be condemned, but as a brother in the Lord who needed to be received in fellowship, restoration, and forgiveness. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ was a common way for Paul to begin his letters, since he continually reminded his readers of God’s grace. The order is very important here. Grace comes before peace, and it is genuine grace that Philemon will be called upon to give.

Six Qualities of the Heart that Maintain a Posture of Forgiveness

In the first seven verses, we catch a glimpse of Philemon’s heart, which maintained a posture of forgiveness. Here we see six qualities of the heart that is ready to forgive, characteristics that enabled Philemon to readily receive his runaway slave. Because Philemon was a new creature in Christ, his heart was being transformed by the grace of God. It was expected that this grace would overflow into his relationships. In order to maintain a posture of forgiveness, which is consistent with the gospel, you must cultivate the following disciplines of the heart.

  1. You must discipline yourself to love fellow believers (v. 5a). First, the heart that is ready to forgive is a heart that loves believers. Paul thanked God for Philemon always and he let him know it. Paul thanked God for him because he heard of his love…for all the saints. Believers are set apart by God, for God, to God. Believers are saints, and saints are holy ones. Now, the problem is that though believers are holy in their standing before God, we are not always holy in our thoughts, speech, and behavior. Therefore, there will be countless times we will need to be ready to forgive one another. Brotherly love will prepare us for those times.
  2. You must discipline yourself to be obedient in faith toward the Lord Jesus (v. 5a). The second quality of the posture of forgiveness is the exercise of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus. Paul is referring here to the daily exercise of trusting God. It is in the present tense, meaning Philemon continually possessed true faith. True faith in God leads to the ability to trust God with your hurts and the proper judgment of those who sin against you (See 1 Peter 2:20-23, and Genesis 50).
  3. You must discipline yourself to preserve the unity of fellowship (v. 6a). Third, the posture of forgiveness includes a heart that makes every effort to preserve unity. Verse six speaks of the sharing of faith. This is fellowship. Fellowship speaks of the relationship that believers enjoy with one another because of our unity in Christ. Paul is calling Philemon to demonstrate Christian fellowship through forgiving and receiving his runaway slave. By doing so the fellowship of his faith would become effective, or powerful (see the admonition in Ephesians 4:3).
  4. You must discipline yourself to seek knowledge and understanding (v. 6b). Fourth, the heart that has the posture of forgiveness will seek understanding. Paul prayed that Philemon’s faith would become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing. The knowledge that Paul was referring to was “knowledge upon knowledge.” The word describes full knowledge and understanding. Having been in gospel ministry for over 25 years, I regularly see one simple biblical principle ignored on a regular basis. People are quick to take offense and then form a judgment against another person without acting in love by getting the other side of the story. Proverbs repeatedly says it is the wise person who seeks out knowledge and understanding before forming judgments against someone (Proverbs 18:15, 17). The person who seeks this kind of understanding demonstrates humility.
  5. You must discipline yourself to do all for the sake of Christ (v. 6c). Fifthly, the posture of forgiveness is maintained in the heart that is properly motivated. Paul says he prays for Philemon for the sake of Christ (v. 6), which refers to the glory of God. When the glory of God is the motivating factor in your life then how God acted toward your sin will become the standard by which you act toward the sin of others. This naturally leads to forgiveness.
  6. You must discipline yourself to refresh other believers (v. 7). Lastly, the sixth quality of heart in the person who maintains the posture of forgiveness is a concern for the encouragement of others. The word refreshed is a wonderful word. It means to be refreshed from the innermost being, to give rest from labor. It’s the same word Jesus used in Matthew 11:28 when he said, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you. Believers who demonstrate the grace of forgiveness are like a refreshing spring in the dry and weary desert of constant criticism.

What Does Your Heart Look Like?

The polar opposite of forgiveness is bitterness. Bitterness accomplishes no good thing. Instead, it is a suicidal poison that destroys friendships, families, and churches. Nothing good ever comes from a bitter heart. Nothing of value. Nothing of eternal benefit. Nothing that will profit your spiritual life. But the posture of forgiveness will transform lives. God’s forgiveness flows from His grace; no one deserves to be forgiven. When we quickly forgive others, we are demonstrating that our own hearts have been taken captive by God’s grace and, therefore, will not withhold it from anyone else.

As you think about the posture of forgiveness, what does your heart look like?

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

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED MINI-BOOK: HELP! I Can’t Forgive

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January 8, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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Nuggets of Wisdom [1/8/18]

A few leadership articles to read…

How to Discourage Your Minister in the New Year – “I recently had someone come to see me who was struggling in their church. In all honesty it would have been hard to be more depressed by what they had to say.”

Receiving Criticism – “Through the years of criticism, these are some principles that the Lord has helped me develop to cope in God-honoring ways.”

What Pastors Want From Their Elder Board – “Elders, your pastor doesn’t need your unwavering loyalty, nor does he need a “loyal opposition” to keep him in check. He needs those who will serve alongside him, be willing to stick out their necks along with him, and remember that he is just as human and fallible as you are.” Read the follow-up, too: What Board Members Want From Their Pastor.

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January 5, 2018
by Paul Tautges
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What Is Addiction?

The word addiction is now a regular part of our vocabulary. But what does it mean? How might we define it biblically? Most simply, addiction may be defined as voluntary enslavement (Romans 6:12-13). Our voluntary surrender to fleshly desires becomes more important than glorifying God and, when repeated enough, results in enslavement. When enslavement becomes so habitual that the particular behavior begins to dominate a person’s life, it may appear to be a disease which cannot be controlled. This is not to say that the body does not become “addicted” to substances (E.g. reliant upon pain killers). It certainly does! But that is not where it begins. Every addiction begins with a choice to surrender to a desire of the heart.

For example, consider how our society has replaced the original word drunkenness with the disease-sounding word alcoholism. By doing so, the secular models of counseling have stolen hope from those who need it. By changing a sin into a disease, the hope of deliverance in Jesus Christ is removed from the equation and people are left in their self-made prison.

Drunkenness, Not Alcoholism

The Bible always puts drunkenness in the category of sin and provides multiple illustrations of the consequences of its selfishness. For example, Noah’s drunkenness after the Flood brought shame to his family, as did Lot’s, when his daughters used wine to induce him to sleep with them to carry on the family name (Gen. 9:21; 19:32–35). Alcohol dulls one’s spiritual senses as well. Jesus warns, “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap” (Luke 21:34). Strong drink also destroys relationships: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). Finally, drunkenness depletes one’s resources: “For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty” (Prov. 23:21). Biblical counselors must hold steadfastly to the conclusion that “alcoholism” (an unhelpful label) is a sinful lifestyle rather than a disease. Ed Welch writes, “Instead of explaining the overpowering urge for alcohol as a disease, the Bible talks about our motivations and desires, forces so powerful that they can take over our lives. The Bible says that we first choose our addictions, and only then do our addictions choose us” (Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave).

Unfortunately, this view is not the reigning mindset among those in the self-help industry. Instead, an ever-growing list of “isms” is used to explain every imaginable sin-struggle in man. The “disease model” is everywhere, but is nowhere more present than in the area of alcohol abuse. This is due in great part to the influence of Alcoholics Anonymous and its founder, Bill Wilson. Welch summarizes,

The disease model was first popularized by Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), in the 1930’s. A devoted pragmatist, Wilson did not use the disease approach because it was well supported by research; he used it because he thought it helped men and women to be more open about their drinking problem. In other words, he was using a metaphor: drinking is like a disease. Over the past fifty years, however, the disease model has lost its metaphorical quality and it has been shortened to “drinking is a disease.” The disappearance of this little word ‘like’ has made all the difference.

Thinking biblically requires us to reject the disease model as inferior to the sin model, and most unhelpful, because it implies that the root problem in the drunkard is biological rather than spiritual, which severs all connection to the hope of deliverance by God through the gospel. Instead of settling for the lesser hope of being a lifelong “recovering alcoholic,” the Bible enthusiastically offers the addict full deliverance from his or her sinful habit and a completely new life in Christ.

[Excerpted from Counseling One Another: A theology of inter-personal discipleship.]

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