Words from the Cross – Part 1

Given the violent, bloody and cruel death of Christ through Roman crucifixion, we might not expect Jesus to say anything from the cross. Most people don’t talk when they suffer. Remember Job? He is afflicted with great suffering and his friends come to visit and they sit in silence for 7 days before they speak (Job 2:11-13). I am sure after the pitiful advice they gave that Job probably wished they had kept their mouth closed! People who are suffering don’t usually spend much time talking. But, in the hour of his greatest suffering – Jesus spoke. He spoke seven distinct phrases. We’ll look at the first three in this post. The first saying of Christ from the cross was a word of forgiveness. You can read about it in Luke 23:33-34

Word of Forgiveness: As Christ is being nailed to the tree, he says, “forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” These men did not know who Jesus was. They did not see that he was the Messiah. They did not realize he was God incarnate. They had not believed in what he had said. In their blind ignorance they crucified Christ to please the governor. Paul says if they had known, they would not have done it (1 Cor.2:8). Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that their lack of knowledge of who Jesus was, meant they should have been excused for what they did. In fact, the very truth that they did not know who Christ was is evidence of their guilt before God. They were not deserving of forgiveness, but were used as examples of the boundless grace of God in Christ. The cross of Christ is a story of forgiveness. It is God reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them (2 Cor.5:19). Forgiveness is refusing to hold another’s sin against them. After all, if I do not forgive, I can always use what you have done against me in the future. I can bring it up, throw it in your face to try to make you feel badly about it. But if I forgive, I promise not to use this against you. Not ever. And Jesus cross provides the opportunity of forgiveness for all (Ps.86:5; 103:12).

Word of Salvation: Jesus also speaks a word of salvation from the cross. One of the two criminals, with whom he was crucified, asked to be given entrance into Jesus kingdom. He knows Jesus rules. He knows Jesus can give him mercy, and he asks for it in the only way he knows how. And Jesus – he speaks salvation to the man. Consider carefully the lot of this man. His faith was only moments old. He had watched and mocked himself according to Matt.27:44 and Mark 15:32. But now, his conscience convicted he sees that Jesus is to be believed. Here we see the true nature of salvation – not of works, for this man had no time to atone for his works, he could only believe in the one who died in his place. Do you believe?

Word of Relationship: Third, tradition tells us, are Jesus words to his mother Mary. While on the cross, some who stood and watched. Many probably hurried by, a little embarrassed or disgusted at the sight, but some stayed. The one who stayed were probably those who loved the one crucified. They stayed to claim the body or to help in some way if they could. Among these was Jesus mother. In his final hours, Jesus ensures that his mother is cared for. As the firstborn son, this would have been his responsibility, since Joseph does not seem to have been around at this time. Does it not seem significant that in the hour of his greatest suffering, in the moment of time when he was doing this great cosmic work of reconciliation and redemption. When eternity was on the line, Jesus took time to care for his mother. His compassion was consistent. Throughout his ministry Jesus prized relationships and invested his effort and energy in them. And his concern and care is seen even as he died on Calvary.

Here’s what I notice about these first three phrases. In the minute details of those moments, we can see the purposes of the cross on a grander scale…right? Jesus forgives his executioners. And he forgives all those whose sin nailed Jesus to the cross. Jesus grants salvation to the thief who believes and is truly repentant…he does the same for any who will believe in faith. And Jesus shows his care in speaking a word of relationship to his mother. He does the same for us in dying for us on the cross, and promising to return to take us where he is!

A Reflection on Sacrifice (from our communion service)

Few themes occupy as central a place in the scriptures as the theme of sacrifice.

In Genesis 8 Noah leaves the ark and what does he do? He offers a sacrifice.In Genesis 22 Abraham ascends Mount Moriah. Why? To offer his son as a sacrifice. In Genesis 33 Jacob builds an altar and calls on the name of the Lord. In Exodus 17 Moses builds an altar.

In fact, the entire exodus event is predicated upon Moses request to leave Egypt and go to the wilderness to make sacrifice (Exodus 8:27-28). Not only that, but the exodus itself finally happens when the Israelites sacrifice a lamb and put the blood on the doorposts so the death angel will pass by (Exodus 12:22). That sacrifice is memorialized in the life of the nation of Israel in perpetuity (Exodus 12:14-17). Furthermore, the Passover sacrifice is also used to describe Chris’s sacrifice for us (1 Cor.5:7).

For hundreds of years, throughout the wilderness wanderings and after the Israelites conquered the land and settled the tabernacle in Gibeah, these sacrifices continue. Until we get to King David. David reasons that God needs a permanent dwelling. After all, why should this grand and glorious God of the universe be dwelling in a temporary tent (2 Samuel 7:2)? So David imagines a permanent structure in the capital city of Jerusalem and begins to collect the materials for such a building to be built. His son Solomon actually builds the building, and what happens at the dedication of this temple? You guessed it, an enormous sacrifice! We read about all the animals offered in 1 Kings 8:62.

Throughout the centuries of the rule of the kings of Israel, even after the kingdom divided, sacrifice remained central. Sometimes the sacrifices were abandoned, and sometimes, in time of national revival the sacrifices were restarted (like Josiah in 2 Chronicles 35).

Then the prophets arrive on the scene. Their message was often directed at Israel and the sacrifices she brought to the Lord. Malachi condemns Israel for bringing sickly animals for sacrifice (1:8). Hosea prophecies against Israel bringing obligatory sacrifices (6:6). Ezekiel promises a future kingdom when the sacrifice would return, as does Zechariah (14:9-21).

When the New Testament opens, sacrifice is still happening. Even in Luke 2:24, Mary and Joseph bring the offering designated in Leviticus 5:7 as the offering for the poor. Think of it. Mary and Joseph go to the temple to sacrifice; too poor to bring a lamb yet with them is the very Lamb of God whose blood will be shed to pay the price for all sin for all time.

The Biblical story of sacrifice points forward to the perfect sacrifice. The author of Hebrews summarizes the millennia of sacrifices as an imperfect picture of a coming, perfect reality (Hebrews 9:6-15). Hear what the scripture says. All the sacrifices which were offered throughout the Old Testament proved to be insufficient. Animals are fine if you are looking for temporary relief (Hebrews 9:13). But for permanent cleansing, for a sacrifice that would wash you clean for all time, you need the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:14). And so Christ sacrificed himself (Hebrews 9:26). His sacrifice, his broken body, his shed blood was the final sacrifice. No more sacrifices for sin need to be offered. No more offering for sin needs to be made because the sacrifice has been made once for all, forever (Hebrews 9:28).

Why does this matter to me? Well, I must believe in the sacrifice of Christ, true. But that is not my principal point. I am seeing the sacrifice of Christ, as a motivation for another sacrifice. It is that I sacrifice myself for others. Not in a way that saves them – I do not have that power. It is the sacrifice of Christ that secures redemption and justification. But, I am called upon, based on this sacrifice, to present my body as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2). I love others, I serve others, I care for others, I have compassion on others, I seek to meet the need of others, and I must sacrifice myself to do it. Think of God’s love for you in the sacrifice of his son as an offering for sin, as the motivation to give yourself in sacrifice to others!

Ephesians 5:2 – Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

How about it? Will you sacrifice yourself for the good of others? Remember how Christ was sacrificed for you.


Finally Home

After some delays in Indianapolis and missing a flight in Toronto as a result, I am finally home. Just in time too. We had another major snowstorm on Sunday and had to cancel our services as a result.

Although I was tired from travel and from the intensity of the BCTC, I would have loved to be with God’s people in church on Sunday. Having spent all week learning, soaking in the rich teaching I received at the conference, it would have been nice to wring out the sponge in the pulpit on Sunday. God knows best, however. In his sovereign plan, the storm was all part of His ongoing effort to produce Christ-likeness in me, and in our church family. So, no sense complaining. Just needed to pick up my shovel and be thankful.

I am back in the office now, and reflecting on the past week of learning I must acknowledge that the BCTC, hosted by Faith Church is one of the best run, most helpful conferences I have ever attended. The material, the speakers and the facility are conducive to maximum learning. I love that they pack as much as they can into the 5 days we are there. I always feel like I am getting my money’s worth (or in this case the church’s money worth).

I have a couple of counseling appointments this week, and so I would ask you to pray for me, that I would continue to dispense the wisdom of God’s word to help people in their struggle to grow and change. I look forward to how God will use my counselees to help me in the same process, as we journey together towards glory, when we will be in the fullest sense, finally home!

Full and Overflowing

Our last full day of the Biblical counselling training conference is over and I have just arrived back at the Griener’s home. They have been gracious hosts! I have a gift of maple syrup for them which I’ll give them in the morning. For now, let me wall you through my learning today. I am full and overflowing with thanksgiving to God for such a wonderful season of training!

Our day started with Elyse Fitzpatrick and her session on Because He Loves Me Elyse has written a book by the same title and she does this presentation, I assume, all over the country. Elyse believes that when we know we are loved, we respond to that love in obedience. And she makes a powerful, biblical case for her thinking. My take home sentence from her session – and a cause for much rejoicing is this: “If God poured out all his wrath on Christ, then he has none left for you!” My heart was stirred by her challenging presentation.

Next, Dr. Garret Higbee taught us on Counselling the Hard Cases with Truth and Grace. Dr. Higbee walked us through ten counselling mistakes which the counsellor often makes in counselling. As I looked down the list, I could see where I had made them all at one point or another. Guess God is working on me too, not just helping me to work on others. My take home sentence from his presentation: “As it relates to Matthew 7, remember to be a lumberjack before you are an eye surgeon.”

Our third session in Track 3A was a video presentation with Dr. Steve Viars, the pastor of Faith church. Steve is at the Mayo Clinic with his wife presently, so was not in town for the conference, but he pre-recorded the sessions for us. He taught us through the basic principles of the book, Putting Your Past in its Place, since I am currently using the book in counselling, and since I have read the book, I found the material a helpful reminder to me about how to help people with their past. Even though Steve was on video, I still love his style. Bold, direct, funny and yet compassionate. My take home sentence from his presentation: “God is the friend of the honest doubter.”

Our fourth session was a video presentation as well, only this time we watched a Biblical counselling session recorded from Faith Counselling Ministries. We were looking for things about the process of counselling which would help us in our own practice. So, we watched the video then interacted with one of the pastors at Faith on the things we noticed that the counsellor did in the process of counselling. It was helpful, as most all of this week has been! I don’t have a take home sentence from this, because it was a counselling session, but I did notice that the counsellor in the video was not afraid to push back and leave some space for the uncomfortable silence before the counselee gave an answer.

We then had a question and answer session with Dr, Stuart Scott, followed by a seminar on parenting by Dr. Scott. His parenting session was excellent. He and Martha Peace have co-authored a book which I picked up and will put in the church bookstore. It promises to be a great resource. My take home sentence from his parenting session was this: “If you’re a faithful parent, you won’t always please your child.” This is true! Too often we are trying to please our child, and not our God! We say yes when we can, but no when we must.

Finally, after a supper break at a Mexican restaurant with Dave Coats and some Northland alumni, we returned to Faith for the final session of the evening. This time, Dave Powlison, who is one of the preeminent and founding fathers f the Biblical counselling movements spoke to us. After reviewing the history of the movement and giving his assessment of why there is great reason to hope, he dove into eight questions the counselee has of the counsellor when they begin their time together. They were excellent, insightful questions, and frankly, I would expect nothing less form Dr. Powlison. He is an excellent and insightful man, not to mention one clothed with humility! My take home sentence from his session: “People grow because a Word is both proclaimed and lived.” Counselling, it seems, is both what you say, when you say it and how you say it.

Been a great day, but it is late and need to pack for my departure tomorrow. I leave around 3:00pm and hope to be home by 11:00pm.

Thanks for keeping an eye out for my family.

C-you all Sunday

Pastor Herb

Growing in Grace and Knowledge

Today began with some delicious homemade waffles cooked by my host, Jon Greiner. They were excellent. The Greiners have sure been looking after me where while I am away. After the 25 minute drive to Faith Church, I settled into my seat in the front row for a day of learning. I was not disappointed!

Our first session was with Brent Aucoin entitled, “The Counsellor’s Study of God’s Word.” This was a very helpful look at hermeneutics. I have had plenty of courses on hermeneutics over the years, but a refresher never goes astray! Hermeneutics is the study of Bible interpretation. And it is an important study, because as brother Aucoin pointed out, the Bible only means one thing! It is our task to make sure we arrive at the accurate meaning of the text! The way brother Aucoin wove together the words of Jeremiah in 29:11 with Daniels prayer of repentance in chapter 9 of the book that bears his name was very helpful. Literal hermeneutics yields fruitful results! It also helps us guard against a “what does this passage mean to you” type of approach! His insight into the purpose for communication was very helpful. My take away sentence from this session was simply this: “Communication helps us to know the communicator better.” This has great application to John 1:1 too!

If the first session was intellectually challenging, the second was spiritual and emotionally challenging. The second session was present by Dr. Garret Higbee. Dr. Higbee taught us about helping the sexually abused. Because sexual abuse is so heinous, even talking about it can be a struggle. He gave us many practical tips for counselling survivors and those who struggle with the after affects of abuse. as part of his session he introduced us to Kimberly Clark who shared her story of being abused by her uncle. Her insights into the kind of things people say to a victim of abuse – which they should not say – will hopefully help me be more sensitive when I speak to people in the midst of this suffering. My take away sentence from this session – which came from Kim was this: “Jesus absorbed my shame on the cross.” These are hope-giving words to a wounded soul!

From the session on sexual abuse we moved to a session on PTSD. Dr. Charles Hodge, an M.D. from the area and a counsellor at Faith Church walked us through how to help those who suffer from PTSD. His session highlighted the sovereignty of God in the midst of our suffering. If God is sovereign, and the Bible says he is, then we need to see our circumstances, bad or good, as being under God’s divine control. My take home sentence from this session – which might be difficult for suffering people to hear is this: “You can make a bad situation worse by a poor response.” You can do little to control your circumstances, but you do control your response to it!

Next, Randy Patten from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, spoke to us about the need to be good listener. Talk about a convicting presentation! His practical session emphasized many of the Proverbs which deal with the use of the tongue and the need to listen well. Man, I needed to hear that! The take-home sentence form that session was this: “We need to listen with the ears of God that we might better speak the Word of God! This was a much needed rebuke to me and my own counseling and pastoral ministry!

The next session was with Stuart Scott on the reality of Spiritual warfare in the family. Tins wasn’t anything weird, with instructions on how to cast demons out of your children or anything like that, it was simply a very biblically based look at the reality of spiritual warfare. Satan is real. His influence is real and we need to be aware of his strategies and intentions to harm those doing God’s work. Although I was a little tired by this point in the day, I did enjoy his session. My take home sentence was this: “If we are not heavenly minded, we will not be any earthly good.” Although that was a quote from Richard Baxter, a pastor in the UK in the 1800’s, Dr. Scott quoted it, and I like it, so I shared it!

Brad Bigney joined us next for a session on making much of God in your counselling. He is a dynamic and hilarious speaker, and was very engaging. His simple promise was that we need to, as counselors make sure that we do not become so focused on the imperatives of the scripture – Do this, do that – that we forget the indicatives of scripture – the passages which teach about God and who He is. Excellent session, helpful reminder! My take home sentence: “You can’t take people where you haven’t been.” That helped me to remember that I can’t expect people to follow Jesus and know God – if I am not following and knowing him myself!

Finally, I finished the day with a session on “Counselling from the Cross” with Elyse Fitzpatrick. What an encouraging hour as she explained the role that the love of God should play in our counselling. We must remind people about Jesus. It is the love that God has for us in Christ that leads us to change. Thoroughly scriptural, Elyse’s presentation is also heartfelt and engaging. One of my favorites to be sure. I’m still chewing on this sentence: “When I know God’s love, I don’t have to scratch around to find love from others, but I can freely love them.”

Speaking of chewing, I made it back the Greiner’s in time for a steak dinner! It was late – around 8:00pm, but I have been well fed (in body and in spirit)

Be well – I’ll see you Sunday, Lord and weather willing.

Pastor Herb

Learning More – The Biblical Counseling Training Conference, Day 2

I’ve moved places for tonight’s blog, instead of my second story loft, I am now seated at the Griener’s kitchen table typing, while I listen to the whir of the dishwasher in the background. Jon and Jen Griener have been gracious hosts. Tonight we had a pot roast for supper. Definitely a gastric highlight of my trip thus far!

Today we started the learning off with a session with Brent Aucoin. Brent is the Seminary pastor and the director of Soul care for Faith Church. He has an engineering background, so he loves flow charts! He gave us a chart so we could fill it in as we discussed the role that deception plays in stimulating idolatry. Our hearts are idol factories, churning out false gods to worship at an alarming rate. Brent helped us to see that deception lies at the heart of all idolatry. Satan deceives us into doubting the truth of what God has said. Brent spent much of his time looking at the intricacies in Genesis 1-3. My take home statement from his session: “The essence of deception is that there is another way better than God’s way.”

Next we were joined by Amy Baker. Amy is the ministry resource Director at Faith Church. She has been counselling in their counselling ministry for years. Her session dealt with self pity. It was an excellent, if somewhat difficult session because it deals with an area of personal struggle for me! However, she started the session by saying that self-pity is a universal problem, so I knew I was among fellow-strugglers, at least! She walked us through Job’s struggle with self-pity. This was an excellent, very helpful session. My take home sentence from this session – and there could have been many –  was this: “Self Pity makes the mistake of viewing myself as being wise enough to determine what makes life purposeful” (see Job 38:2)

After break, we had a session with Dr. Rob Green, the pastor of Counselling at Faith church. Rob session was on counselling people with financial problems. Rob’s concern was that we see financial counselling as more than just trying to help people work through a budget. He wanted us to make connections to the gospel. He talked about stewardship and about the seduction of greed. My take home sentence from this session was: “Every spending decision is a spiritual decision.”

After lunch we had two session from Jeremy Pierre. He was teaching us about what the bible means when it refers to the “heart.” This was two back to back sessions, and they were extraordinarily helpful. We talk a lot about the heart (and so does the Bible), but unpacking what that means by that gave me some new insight. Your heart is made up of three components biblically speaking: your cognition, your affections, and your volitional capacity. In other words, you mind, will and emotions. We spent lots of time looking at what that means and then we studied the scriptures where these emphases are present. My take home sentence from these sessions: “The Bible makes a distinction between circumstances and responses. They are not the same thing.” OK, that’s two sentences, but it was two sessions!

Next, Pastor Brad Bigney joined us with a session about “Staying Alive Spiritually.” This was a refreshing session, since it is often true that in the task of helping other people, you can lose perspective and a fire for the Lord. I have personally experienced this dryness of the soul. So, this was a great challenge and blessing. I’d love to give you a take home sentence from this session too, but at present, I can’t seem to locate my notes form the session.

Then, to end the day we went to the church auditorium to hear Dr. Charles Ware. Dr. Ware is the president of Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis. His sermon on “What God is Doing to you to Make you a Biblical Counsellor” was a great reminder not to lose heart in the midst of trials! I left encouraged.

Sure is great being here to be exposed to all this rich biblical teaching. I do so wish you could all come!

Talk to you tomorrow,

Pastor Herb

The Grace of Learning_BCTC Day 1

I have just returned home after day one of the Biblical Counselling Training Conference. I am camped out in my second story bedroom at the home of my gracious hosts, Jon and Jen Greiner. Today, the conference covered a variety of topics, all with a variety of teachers. We started the day with a session on true repentance, from Dr. Stuart Scott, from Southern Seminary. He is a counselling professor there. I have read his books, but this is the first time I have heard him speak. He developed the contents of Paul’s words in 2 Cor.7, reminding us that repentance is always the beginning of change. And he gave us biblical examples of people who sounded sorry but did not genuinely repent (like Esau and Pharaoh) and then set them alongside examples of people who did genuinely repent (like David and Peter). My favorite take away sentence from his session: “God will not obey for you.” In other words, you have a work to do in sanctification. Spirit-led, grace enabled, true. But you must work out your own salvation!

My second session was with Mrs. Jamison. She has taught for years in both public and Christian schools, often in special education classroom settings. She walked us through the 18 diagnostic standards for diagnosing ADHD from the DSM 5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition). Then, she looked at each one specifically through the lens of scripture. It was a very helpful session! She suggested dealing with heart issues one at a time, instead of trying to “cure” the person all at once. My favorite take away sentence: “Refusing to listen is a refusal to honor – Prov.19:27”

My third session was with Kevin Carson, pastor of Sonrise Baptist Church and counselling professor at Baptist Bible Graduate School in Springfield, MO. His talk was on Helping Parents Whose Child is Being Bullied. He gave some practical strategies for seeing into the heart of a child who is being bullied, and helping parents respond to that suffering biblically. This was great, insightful session, which brought a uniquely biblical perspective to a problem that the church does not often talk about. My take home sentence form this session was this: “We need to be answering the question, ‘How was your day’ from the perspective of faithfulness, not circumstances,”

The fourth session was with Amy Baker on counselling children of divorce. While I have not counselled kids in this situation before, I found her insights helpful. Her practical homework suggestions for kids in such a situation were especially helpful to me. Something about a mother helps a man to see things differently! There were a number of excellent things she said, but the best was probably this: “Hard is hard, but hard is not bad.” How contrary to our thinking that statement is. God can use hard things in our lives for his glory and our good!

The fifth session was by Jocelyn Wallace (yes, they have one too) was about a helpful tool to give you insight into how someone is doing in the counselling process. Jocelyn recommends a journaling strategy called, the 5 point journal. She encourages people to write down how they are doing in five specific areas. How are they doing emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally and relationally? This helps give a fuller picture of the counselee and might even give you an indication of where your counselling needs to go. This was a helpful and insightful session too, and my take home sentence was this: “The body is not inherently evil, but it is weak and easily habituated.” That sentence has so much application in the lives of people who struggle with food, drugs and porn, that is it worth considering!

The sixth session was on counselling teens who are in sexual sin. This too was a blessing. However, it was something the presenter said about his own life that stuck with me. Pastor Kjaer (pronounced Kajeer) is a big man. But, he used to be much bigger. Part of his journey to getting healthy and losing weight (he weighed 510 pounds at his heaviest) was having a pastor who lovingly confronted him and helped him in counselling. He said this, after refusing someone’s offer to pay for his bariatric surgery… “I put this weight on as an act of worship to myself, and I am going to take it off as an act of worship to my God.” By God’s grace he is getting that done!

Finally (yes, there were seven session today), we learned about effective marital counselling of married couples. The emphasis of this session was to start by laying a foundation that helps people see themselves in relationship to the gospel, rather than jumping right in to the practice. A helpful and much needed reminder. My favorite sentence: “You cleave to each other by helping your spouse cling to Christ.”

A great way to end the day! I had supper at Chik-fil-A with Pastor David coats, who many of you may remember. He says hello!

Good night all,

Pastor Herb.