The iMonk on Mental Illness in the Church

A man that is increasingly becoming more and more of a hero to me, Michael Spencer, also known as “The Internet Monk“, has just posted a great article on the “demonic-ness” of mental illness.  It’s a discussion on the spiritual dimensions involved in mental illness.  I think he accurately deconstructs the flaws in the traditional fundamentalistic naivete in the church concerning mental illness, though the article admittedly lacks any positive contribution to the discussion (“positive” of course being in the sense of contributing answers to questions, not in a moral sense).  He deconstructs well without constructing an alternative viewpoint on how we should navigate these tricky waters.  I think most Christians are beginning to see the dissonance between the answers we’ve been offered and reality.  We need answers on how to construct a perspective on these issues.

For a potential synthesis and perspective on these issues, one can consult an article I wrote a while ago on this issue, and the subsequent discussion.  Admittedly, I’ve shifted a bit on this issue, and I wouldn’t necessarily hold to all that I wrote in the article, but nonetheless, it is a contribution to the discussion.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Paul Tripp, Beauty, & Counseling

I had to read the first big section of Paul David Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands for my “Introduction to Helping Relationships” class with Ed Welch. I’ve heard how amazing this book is, but I had no idea. I’m so used to seeing and hearing the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF) “heat-thorns-cross-fruit” model, that it’s so refreshing to get more articulations of this CCEF brand of Biblical Counseling. Diversity in communication is one more sign of the truth in the perspective I’m learning here at Westminster. When systems of thought rely on their models more than their substance and reality, that is a sign of an inadequate perspective on things that won’t actually help anyone.

In September, I’m teaching at my church. It’s at an event called “First Friday Fundamentals”. FFF is a monthly event where we take a topic, look how the “world” and “secular” culture looks at it, then a person delivers the Biblical view on it. September’s topic is “Beauty”. To begin thinking throuhg the teaching, I’ve had to arrive at a definition of “Beauty”. Here’s what I’ve got so far: Beauty is Transcendent Complexity expressed simply (thoughts, anyone?).

This past weekend, we had a professor from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary come do a training session for the Counseling Ministry at my church. It was great. It was non-Integratoinsist and Biblically-based, but it still seemed a bit more “we just need to get people obeying better” than I like. For those familiar with Biblical Counseling, it seemed like a toned down version of Jay Adams’ “Nouthetic Counseling”. He seemed to be trying to integrate Adams’ theory with CCEF’s models, but I don’t know that it was entirely successfully done. Anyway, one thing he kept saying was, “complexity is a myth. Love God; love others – that’s it. Counseling just got a whole lot simpler, didn’t it? No one having issues is doing both of those things well. Help others do those things. That’s it.”

Eh, I don’t know.

I know what he’s trying to say, and I guess I agree with it mostly, but it’s just not “beautiful” enough to be the fullest truth, I guess. There’s not enough of the complexity of life and God and the heart represented in those statements. Tripp in Instruments gets it, I think. The heart is a complex, unsearchable thing, but its Maker has spoken and made it plain. That doesn’t make counseling or the heart any more clear cut and black and white, it only makes it do-able by trusting that One who has spoken – the Sovereign One who sweeps us up in that story of redemption, who transforms others by His Word. Tripp gives four ideas involved in Biblical Counseling: Love, Know, Speak, Do. These are not steps or phases, they are four facets of the same diamond that maybe done at the same time, in a progression, or slowly, one at a time. “Love, Know, Speak, Do” is a simple formulation, but it’s full of complexity and transcendence which makes it beautiful—representative of the One who works in that way.

Just some thoughts as I go through this program. Final thought: get the book, read it, glean from it, and help others.

Ed Welch on Recasting People in the Gospel

This is a piece from a recent lecture in my “Intro to Helping Relationships” class with Ed Welch.  The audio is really hard to make out, so I’m sorry for the low-quality, but it’s still worth checking out.

Ed Welch – Recast the Story (click here)

The basic idea is this: one of the ways we can use Scripture in counseling is by retelling people’s story within the context of the Gospel.  In this audio, he uses the example of a woman dealing with a rape in her past and the shape that comes with it.  He tells her story of shame, abuse, and rejection; then he retells it within the context of those themes within the story of Scripture and the Gospel.  He tries to sweep her up into a much larger story of redemption to show how her abuse and shame might fit into a larger context.  He goes on to tell the girl raped that God has come in the Gospel and hasn’t just forgiven her sins, but has clothed her in acceptance and purity.  It was amazing moment from one of the foremost Biblical Counselors today.  It’s less than 5 minutes long, so hopefully you have a few minutes to spare.  I hope this edifies you and your ministry.

Final Exam: Anne

For the full effect of this post, pleased download and read the case study this is based upon.  The case studies themselves that I have encountered at CCEF are incredible by themselves, but this case study is the foundation of the following post.  The final exam for the course was pretty much here is a person in trouble; walk her through all you’ve learned.  That was it.  I hope this is helpful.  Please let me know your thoughts.  You can download the case study here.

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Anne,

I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about you and your situation the first last few days.  All this feel so big and weighty just to pray about, I can only imagine what it’s like to live under all this fear and anxiety.  But you know what?  God is here.  He has not abandoned you.  I have absolute confidence in Him and His Word that through it he longs to speak to you.  As I’ve been seeking Him to try and find where He wants reveal Himself to you, I think it’s in Psalm 23.  I know; I know.  It seems cliché, almost.  But really, this little Psalm—if taken seriously—has the insight and to show you God in this moment.

I feel like everyone in the Church sort of its into a certain position in this “family” of “the body”.  If I had to peg you, I’d say you were currently in “fearful child mode”.  Because of that, I think God really desires to speak to you as a tender father.  I don’t think He’s punishing you in this.  That’s not the way He is with His children.  Do you believe that?  That you are one of His?  God acts for His children—sons and daughters—in such marvelous ways.  I look at you and I see someone that doesn’t feel like God has the track record to back up His promises.  I don’t think that you think that God can’t provide what you know He has promised; I just think you think he won’t for you.  Does that resonate at all with you?  You have this really interesting and painful situation where you almost feel like God can’t be trusted to provide for your deepest needs and satisfactions, but at the same time, you don’t trust yourself (and you definitely don’t trust others).  So, you’re left in this weird state of knowing the rest, peace, joy, meaning, fulfillment, and acceptance you need—but no knowledge of how to get it and keep it.  You feel this pressure to produce the security in these things you don’t have, but you don’t have the confidence that you can.

Can I let you in on a secret?  Most people that talk to me are in a different spot.  They don’t trust God to give what He promises, but they act like they can produce these things.  The first step for them is to show them that they can’t and the longer they try, the more things will hurt and fall apart.  That means you’re already a huge step towards that wholeness and rest!  Now the Bible is clear, that humans, apart from God are so sinful, that they could never get to this place that you’re at apart from His grace.  That grace that removes our confidence in ourselves, that shows us our finitude, that brings us to help—which is exactly where you’re at.  Not only that, it takes the very grace of God upon you to compel you even think about asking for grace in the first place.  I say all that so you can see Him—your God, your Father, your—if you’ll excuse the phrasing—your Daddy.  He’s already been at work.  He’s already been here.  He has not forsaken you.  He’s moving and working in your heart and in this situation.  Now let’s open up to Psalm 23 . . .

Okay, look at all that God says He is to you in this moment:

Shepherd. I think this is a great image for you.  He’s more than just a loving friend, but he’s not some overbearing taskmaster.  He loves you and intends to cultivate both you and the land in which you live.  He acts for your good.

Leader. Look at that.  He doesn’t just follow the sheep trying to make sure they’re going in the right direction.  He takes the initiative to carve out the way for them.  He takes the lead so they don’t have to.  He stands taller and can see further what lies ahead than the sheep can.  So with foresight and care he walks ahead of you not just showing you the way, but clearing the way of the things that would kill you and not be for your good were he not your shepherd.  He desires still waters for you.  Part of what he establishes on your behalf as this leader is the very righteousness that you are clothed in before him.  Did you catch that?  He so wants you to be perfectly acceptable to him, he provides that which he demands of you, and he does it through Christ by punishing him for with what you deserve.

Restorer. You have a lot of broken things in your life, don’t you?  Well the Bible is clear that the most broken thing apart form God is the human soul.  It is the most difficult thing to restore.  According to Ephesians, it takes the same power that created the world to restore the soul, but that is what this Psalm says he does.  If he can and does do that, think of what else he can restore and bring life to.  Your marriage, small group, spiritual life?

With you. You will walk through much darkness and pain.  Kids at work will die.  You and your husband will fight.  You will probably have a few more panic attacks and sleepless nights.  You will.  But our hope is not based on a lack of these things.  We are no more or less secure and loved and accepted based on our external circumstances.  Our hope is in God being with us through the darkness, not in spite of it.  That is where rest is found.

Preparer. I know what your girlfriends at church said about praying and the will of God.  That’s partly true.  God does have a rod and staff.  He does at times discipline us when we need to be, but he does it all as a Comforter—all for our good and to keep us close to the one that still is and does everything else in this Psalm.

Anointer. The Bible uses this image of oil often for the Holy Spirit.  He gives you Himself.  He does and will not leave you on your own.  Just you being here shows me that.

He has an eternal house. He wants rest and joy for you—He does.  He died to prove that.  He does all so that goodness and mercy might follow you for all your days, but that goodness and mercy may come through situations like this.  Let me ask you this?  If you come out of this time in your life closer to God, feeling more whole, secure, and confident, would all of these panic attacks have been worth it?  I think they would be.  Let that be an example of how God often does this.  He will often brings us to crises but it leads to our joy, ultimately.  And let me assure you of this: you will not have more suffering and pain than would not allow you to stand in heaven years from now and say that it was not all worth it.

Anne, if you believe these things, I have little doubt that the other promises in the Psalm can be yours: provision, rest, restoration, righteousness, fearlessness, comfort, anointing, goodness, mercy, and communion with God.  This would bring about security, confidence, freedom, obedience, service to others, trust of others, healthy vulnerability, and joy.  Think of it.  These are all things that God wants for you and has died to achieve on your behalf that you may have them in Him.

Ultimately, what could be the consequence of all of this?  Imagine this: a better enjoyment (and perhaps performance) at your job, because you trust that God has already prepared the path that you will walk in that.  A greater trust and invitation towards your husband for relationship because you see that God has secured you in Himself and no one else hurting you can change that.  More real relationships in your small group because of your confidence that God has brought you into the house of this body purposefully for your good and so you can serve others.  Oh, the freedom and joy in store for you, Anne!  I’m so excited for you, but it will be a journey.  It would help to bring your husband in with you next time so he can help you walk through this as well.  That would not let you feel so isolated.  Can you do that?  I really think it would help. From what you’ve told me I don’t think he would be so shocked or disgusted at what your going through.  I think he’ll want to help.  Like I said, this will be a long journey and you probably still have some trips along the way, but it’s okay.  God is determined to make you lie down in beautiful, green pastures, and he’ll do whatever it takes to bring you to your Daddy and good Shepherd to rest.

The Mind of David Powlison

This is a picture I shot during my class the other night.  This man is one of the most brilliant minds in Biblical Counseling, and this picture sort of captures the way his amazing mind works.  For all you CCEF or Redmption Hill folks, you can sort of make out a sun at the top center (Heat), a dead tree on the right (Thorns), the cross at the bottom, and then a living tree on the left (Fruit).  Yes, this is the mind that came up with that model we all learned so well.  Enjoy!

dpowlison

grumble grumble grumble

We had to do a project where we walked ourselves through a moment of grumbling using the model we had been taught.  We had to walk ourselves through these questions and unpack our hearts.  Sanctification hurts.  I hope this resonates with all of you in some way.

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  1. The Situation – I didn’t do as well on my Clyde paper (the previous post on this blog) as I had hoped, and then Professor Powlison proceeded to pick out one paper that wasn’t mine and praise it for ten minutes straight.
  2. My Reactions – Grumbling.  Thoughts of victimization.  Feelings of wounded pride.  I felt misunderstood, therefore isolated and embarrassed.  I was angry at the grader.  Venting in the form of false confession.  False repentance to heal my wounded pride by looking “self-aware” and righteous.
  3. Expectations, Demands, Cravings, and Beliefs? – I believe I’m already ahead of the game of most of the people to be a counselor.  I deserved to be picked out and praised as unique from everyone else.  I need to be affirmed.  I need my security to come from man and I expect it because I have been good at manipulating it from people.
  4. Consequences – The Spirit within me grieving over the control of the flesh.  Pulling others into my frustration.  Grumbling over my grumbling over this.  Feeling prideful and hating that feeling.
  5. Who is God in this? – “He is my crown.” (I’ll unpack this and more later)
  6. What should rule me? – Christ has purchased my security.  No matter how much I crave and desire autonomy and works –based righteousness, I cannot accomplish it.  I am weak.  I am needy.  Christ has securely chosen me and I cannot add to or take away from that salvation.
  7. What should I do? – Relent.  Pray.  Be needy.  Find myself in a receptive posture of finitude in need of Him.  Truly repent and truly confess to those I falsely repented and falsely confessed to last week.
  8. Consequences? – We’ll see.

Analysis
After going through this last week, I knew I had to do this paper on this situation.  I was really shocked at how hurt I really was that the Clyde paper I thought so brilliant wasn’t received as such.  It really hurt, and I proceeded to gossip about the grader and complain by “confessing” how frustrated I was.  And no one called me out on it.  I’m too good at sinning.  I’ve lived my life manipulating, deceiving, and lying to get people to do what I want, namely, provide me affirmation and security.  I’ve only seen this in the past year or so, and this explains so much of my behavior past and present.  How much time I seek and spend with girls; why I’ve always tended to spend time with “older people” and adults; why I’m so intent on no one not catching me sinning; why I’m good at seeing my sin, but not good at repenting from it.

In the end, I see that so much of this comes down to where my security and approval lie.  Through this project, I saw that even this one instance was that.  At first, as I thought through it in the moment, I figured “this grumbling is coming from pride.”  Period.  That’s it.  It was only later I realized that was too easy.  I had fallen into the typical “I’m prideful.  I need to not be.”  And I was done.  I was able to see something in this lack of depth, though.  I have been noticing that recently I have been less inclined to confess my sins to God out of embarrassment.  That made no sense to me for while until I realized it was sort of a good sign.  Previously, I felt free to confess to God, but not out of security and comfort and grace.  It was because he wasn’t here.  I couldn’t see Him.  He was distant; so in the same way it’s easier to write a letter and tell a friend something hurtful than tell them face to face, so it was with God.  This embarrassment was actually a sign that the recent stressors of school had brought me into so much dependence on Christ I was actually feeling shame for my sin.  I saw this play out this past week for this paper for the worse.

I kept putting this off, and it wasn’t just from lack of time.  No; it was my knowledge that it would hurt to go deep.  I would see stuff in my heart that I didn’t want to see.  And now that I’ve sat down to do this it has hurt, but it’s so good.  God has to do surgery on us to take all that’s bad out.  It was only today as I wrote this that I realized my false confession and false repentance to my friends last week.  It was only last night as I thought through this I realized this was a security issue.

God showed me once more that so much of my affirmation for what I desire to do with my life was wrapped up in that Clyde paper.  I’ve thought that “if only Powlison could see or hear of my work, then he would know the gifts I have, and then I can be distinguished and then all my striving could mean something.  I would be approved.”  But no.  God loves me too much to let that work.  It would be His wrath to have let that affirmation come in the way I was hoping.  It would be His judgment as He gave me over to the desires of my heart.  But no, he shatters my delusions of grandeur to make me cling to Him, and that is where this project was most helpful.

I’m really good at questions 1-4.  Even with only a little thought, I’ve wrestled through these ideas long enough to know what I most struggle with and can lay those out.  But it’s 5-8 that terrifies me.  I’m really good at putting myself in the pit of despair and condemnation, but it’s only so I can come up with terms to get myself out.  If I can get myself out, then I can get some of the credit for it.  If I can just change myself, then I can stand before God at the end of time and receive some glory for all I had done to bring me there.  “If I can be a good counselor, approved by Professor Powlison, then I could rest,” I think to myself, but I know it’s a lie.  As soon as that happen, the bar raises higher that I must strive to reach and attain.  I don’t understand repentance very well because I don’t know it apart from just more striving.  “Doing better next time” or “never doing it again.”  But that doesn’t work with grumbling.  It’s not an action as much as it is a state of the heart (as all sins ultimately are, but you know what I mean).  It’s a sin that you literally cannot will yourself not to do.  It forces you into the place it forced me.  To be needy.  To cry out to God and seek Him.

That’s why my answer to number Question 5 is so brief.  I can unpack all of the “right” theological answers to that question that I can come up with in my mind, but this time I was forced just to pray, and ask God for once, “What right now, subjectively, in this moment do I need You to be?  How do You desire to reveal yourself in this moment?”  And right then He answered my cry.  The thought came to my mind: “I am your crown.”  That was it.  And that was all I needed.  I then found a verse I’d never read before that said that.  It’s Isaiah 28:5 which says “In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people” (ESV).  The passage talks about how the evil man tries to create his own crown through his striving, but to the Lord’s people, the Lord Himself will be their crown.

This project let me see my need once more.  It showed me in a deeper way than I had previously ever known that at the end of the day He is my reward, and He gives Himself freely and Sovereignly.  He is truly what all my strivings seek to find falsely.  I seek a crown with all my might and try to get that through self-aggrandizing motives underlying Counseling papers, through false confession and bitter resentment, and through strivings of my own flesh.  But He is the crown I already securely have, and therefore seek all the more.  There is a freedom to obey that lies in the accomplishment of Christ’s work on my behalf.  Seeing that my crown is eternal, strong, and unfading, I don’t need to earn it.  And it’s in that rest that I have it, and it’s in my strivings that I lose it (experientially, not eternally).  True Christian liberty is that freedom to obey that comes from this notion that this project reminded me of.  Christ is my crown.  I can now strive to enter into the rest of that.  So my response for this situation must be one of receptiveness and need by praying, confessing, and crying out to my Father to change me in the ways I cannot change myself.

My conclusion:
I grumble when something challenges what my security is in; and nothing can challenge Him, the One I have as my Security, Righteousness, Approval, Glory, and Crown.  Selah.

Clyde

This was my first real assignment in my counseling class.  We were given a case study of a real guy code-named “Clyde” and then were simply asked “what’s his problem?” “what would you tell him to do?”  I’m just posting this real quick so I can’t remember if there’s anything more a reader would need to know before reading this, but I’ll check later.  We only had a page, so this is much shorter than I normally would have written.  Enjoy!

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My heart is broken right now.  Really, I’m in the middle of the library on the verge of tears.  His “problem”: He has set up the “could be”s (future possibilities) and the “I wish they were”s (past failures/unrealized hopes) as the idols/saviors/objects of his hope and ultimate acceptance by God.

This is how I would perhaps walk him through it: We are all made to find mediators between life as we know it and life as we want it.  There is perhaps no greater despair found than in one whose functional mediators have been removed from them.  Or perhaps, more precisely, one who is in the middle of that process, with no equally authoritative new possibility on the horizon.  This is where Clyde is.  If even one aspect of his life started to “right itself,” all his energies, affections, and devotions would surely be set upon this thing, to the destruction of the rest.  It is the mercy of God that this does not happen.  It is His love.  His Grace.  His personal drawing near to Clyde to show him that which his hope is in.  As Clyde’s “saviors” (as they are) become further and further from being realized, so does he feel isolated from his True Savior.  Humans instinctively know that without these mediators, life is purposeless, hope is gone, possibilities are never realized.  This is why for life to truly be lived in freedom, joy, and peace; there must be a Mediator between ourselves and all we really need.

My “counsel” would take time and would require a theological base (theory) with practical outworkings thereof (action).  Theory: I would need more time with Clyde to work through what each “mediator” (or thing being challenged in his life) is trying to achieve for him.  What destination he want them to take him.  Then I would start showing how each of those “destinations” are actually shadows of greater needs and desires in Him that are directly addressed by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In short, how the Gospel is his true, ultimate, and final need and mediator.  Action: My practical goal would be to implement healthy discipline in his heart.  Things like scheduled open time with his wife and kids, both together and individually.  Getting involved in some sort of ministry or small group to give him time around the people of God.  The first human relationships that need to be resolved are with his bride and His Bride.