Seeking Someone To Devour…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieAbuse victim

During a time of great distress and persecution, the apostle Peter wrote to the church: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). These words are well known to Christians but few understand the gravity of the threat. Most have not experienced the focused attack of the enemy, set on destruction and death.

But Peter is stern in his warning, knowing that a faithful walk with Christ and devoted service to the Kingdom, will most certainly arouse the devil’s appetite. Therefore believers are called to be “sober” in spirit; calm, temperate, and circumspect. Like soldiers in battle we must be “alert” and clear minded; always in a state of preparedness, knowing that the “adversary” is intent on our destruction.

Many Christians wrongly assume that obedience and service lead only to earthly blessings. But in truth, our reward is eternal and glorious, not bound by the constraints of this world (Rom 8:18). Jesus was clear that while in this world, His followers would be subject to the same persecution He endured:

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” (Jn 15:18-20a).

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The Danger Of Experiential Theology…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieHand on open Bible

Theology is the study of God and God’s relation to the world. Consequently, all believers are theologians in pursuit of truth pertaining to our Creator and His revelation of Himself to His creations. Our theology (knowledge and belief about God) must come from Scripture as there is no other reliable source by which believers can discern absolute truth. Paul stressed this point when addressing spiritual maturity:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…(Eph 4:14-15).

When we forsake the veracity of the Bible to search for truth, we are subject to chaos and vulnerable to the “waves” of opinion and experience that carry us astray. Believers often become deceived through the manipulation of truth by those advancing a personal agenda as a spiritual reality.

Case in point is the growing trend toward Experiential Theology, which defines God through personal experience, emotion, and the subjective discernment of reality. Experiential theologians are easy to spot because they rarely reference Scripture, and when they do, typically the presentation of the Word is misrepresented and contextually flawed.

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Asking The Right Questions…The Process of Biblical Counseling

Dr. Ab AbercrombieThe Right Question

Biblical Counseling, obviously involves the reading and study of Scripture. But often getting the Bible open, within the context of an emotional discussion, can be a challenge. However, the importance of using God’s Word cannot be overstated. After all, it is the Word that is powerful, superior, and sufficient in its scope and impact, not the counselor.

Biblical counselors must not rely upon the restating of scriptural themes and guidelines only. Rather the literal reading of Scripture is central to the process of salvation, repentance, sanctification, and discipleship. Statements like, “The Bible says…” or “God requires…” are valuable introductions; but they must be followed with specific, contextual digestion of Scripture, if transformation is to occur.

Asking Questions that Require a Biblical Response

Whether the counselor is involved in formal or informal counseling, the use of biblical questions is key to advancing a scriptural process. Questions that require a biblical response are effective in both matters of restoration and evangelism and provide a bridge to opening God’s Word.

Examples of this type of inquiry follow:

  • What does Scripture teach on the topic of divorce?
  • Where in the Bible are we encouraged to harbor anger and pursue revenge?
  • Do you remember any biblical characters who were fearful?
  • Have you ever examined the topic of suffering in Scripture?
  • How do your reconcile this decision with God’s Word?
  • According to the Bible, how does a person gain eternal life?
  • Do you remember the story of David and Bathsheba?
  • Are you familiar with God’s teaching on perseverance?

Clearly the potential questions are endless, but their selection must be Spirit led. Just as in the choice of Scripture, God must direct this method of inquiry. When He does, the question will always be pointed, penetrating, and revealing. These questions will invariably lead to one of three outcomes:

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“Say It Ain’t So…”

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSay it ain't so…photo

You may remember that oft-quoted plea that is a part of baseball lore, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” In 1919, famous baseball player “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was accused, with several teammates, of betraying the fans of the game by “fixing” the World Series, after the highly favored Chicago White Sox lost the championship to the Cincinnati Reds. After Jackson’s testimony before a grand jury in 1920, a young, faithful, and believing fan begged his hero to deny the charge of betrayal: “Say it ain’t so…”

I feel similarly as I write this article and plead… “Say it ain’t so…Al (Mohler)!” “Say it ain’t so…John (Piper)!” I am a fan of these leaders and highly value their teaching. But recently both have taken positions on the sin of pornography that are confusing and potentially dangerous for the Body of Christ. Both have offered endorsement of psychology and neuroscience, proclaiming this form of sexual immorality a biological addiction.

This may seem a minor thing; a frivolous matter of semantics; but it is far more insidious. This is especially true for teachers with  sizable platforms and influence. Bear with me as I discuss why this matters.

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Pornography: Addicted or Enslaved?

 Dr. Ab AbercrombieChain broken

The Question of Addiction

There is a great movement underway to define pornography use as an addiction or dependency. Within this effort, there is even a call to define this particular issue a disease. As a Biblicist I would expect nothing less from humanistic, secular psychology, which has long been an advocate for excusing unhealthy conduct under the guise of illness. But to my surprise, it is not the psychologists who are to blame this time.

In fact, in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (5th Edition), pornography addiction was rejected as a mental disorder. In other words, the mental health profession does not acknowledge pornography as an addiction or illness (Cassidy, 2013).

When one considers the mindset of secular psychology, this point is understandable. In psychology normal is what most of the people do most of the time. Therefore, if most people use pornography, and most experience no consequence or distress in doing so, then the practice is not dysfunctional. Psychology considers pornography a problem only if there is a secondary or related effect like depression, anxiety, etc.

Yet when one conducts an Internet search, the term pornography addiction is proclaimed a medical fact by significant and influential leaders who ignore even scholarly research to advance their agenda. Regrettably the most outspoken proponents of this addiction model belong to the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of our leaders have decided it is more compassionate to label Christians addicted and ill rather than sinful.

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“Do you wish to get well?”

Dr. Ab Abercrombie Sad man praying

As a biblical counselor, I sometimes encounter counselees who seem immobilized. They appear simply unable or unwilling to move forward, languishing in despair, relational struggle, and sin. Even when seeming to understand Scripture and claiming conviction, they remain unchanged.

In one such occasion I was helping Ron, a professing believer, evaluate his role as a husband and spiritual head of his home. Over three meetings we had examined his salvation and studied numerous scriptures pertaining to spiritual submission (Jas 4:5-8), authority (1 Cor 11:3), leadership (Eph 5:22-29), love (1 Cor 13:3-7), forgiveness (Matt 6:14-15), and accountability (Rom 14:11-12).

In each example the counselee expressed grief and claimed conviction to lead and love his wife as Scripture instructs. But near the end of the third meeting the discussion veered off course:

Ron: I know the Bible is true and God expects me to do these things. But how can I?

Counselor: What do you mean?

Ron: How can I lead when my wife will not cooperate? How can I love someone who is cold and distant?

Counselor: So you are unable to obey God’s teaching because of your wife’s condition?

Ron: I would be a better Christian if I were married to a godly woman. I just don’t see how I can do anything until she gets it together.

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Marital Abandonment

Dr. Ab AbercrombiePensive Woman

Don had been married thirty years to the wife of his youth. Together they raised three children, built two careers, and seemed headed for late-life contentment. Suddenly Don’s wife announced, “I don’t love you. This marriage has been a mistake from the beginning. I want a divorce.”

Janice had been married 19 years when her husband left her without explanation. Within weeks, he abandoned his job, relocated, and refuses to speak to his wife and children. As a stay-at-home mother, she is without financial support and terrified for her future. Her husband has “left the grid” and refuses to respond.

Both couples profess Christ and previously demonstrated evidence of salvation and fruit within their respective homes. Regrettably these stories are far too common within God’s Church, and the Body is facing an onslaught of spousal abandonment. There is increasing need for biblical counsel on this topic and we must examine God’s Word on the matter.

As a biblical counselor I have repeatedly heard that  “abandonment” is biblical grounds for divorce. I have heard it from pastors, leaders, and individuals who have been deserted. But does Scripture support this claim. Jesus said:

“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE ‘; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt 5:31-32).

Jesus never wavered on this point. No other reference to an acceptable divorce appears in Scripture. And even the matter of sexual immorality is to first be addressed under the biblical themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and obedience to the admonition that God hates divorce (Mal  2:16).

Often the victim of abandonment will have no choice. The spouse who leaves may initiate a divorce and refuse reconciliation. On this point, the rejected spouse has little recourse. Yet too frequently, the abandonment results in a prolonged separation, with the absent spouse taking no steps toward a permanent ending. What then should be our counsel?

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Me…An Evangelist?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieWoman dazed

Most Biblical Counselors do not define their work as evangelism. We are more familiar, and perhaps more comfortable, with the biblical roles of teaching, encouragement, discipleship, and restoration. We often assume that because a counselee has selected a counselor with a biblical orientation, he/she is already a believer. But beginning with that supposition can lead to ineffective treatment results that carry great eternal ramifications.

While it is certain that none of us can fully know the true spiritual condition of another person’s heart, we must be receptive to what the Holy Spirit reveals when we begin a counseling process. A thorough and ongoing spiritual assessment must be at the foundation of everything a counselor does.

Typically a counselor is consulted at a point of great distress and brokenness. God can, and will use this vulnerability to open the client’s heart to the gospel message. The fact that a non-believer has selected a biblical counselor may be evidence that God is working in that client’s life. Jesus said:

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (Jn 6:44a).

When broken and tender, the heart of the client is searching for truth and peace that can only come through a personal relationship with Jesus. The Lord uses that pain and suffering to draw us into a situation where the truth can be spoken and received. Since there are no errors or accidents in the timing of God, the counseling session can be His appointed moment. Paul wrote:

…for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION ” (2 Cor 6:2).

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Counseling Unbelievers…

Sad Man Half Face

Dr. Ab Abercrombie

The Bible is fully sufficient for the counseling task and superior to any method the world has to offer…for believers. But is the same claim applicable to unbelievers? Many in the biblical counseling field think not. For example, Jay Adams and many within the Nouthetic arena contend that unbelievers require “pre-counseling evangelism” before biblical counseling can ensue. (Newheiser, 2006).

But often counseling is initiated before the counselor can assess the spiritual status of the counselee. Other times an individual enters counseling convinced of his/her salvation, yet lacking the capacity to hear and respond to Scripture, due to an unregenerate heart. In situations like these, should the counselor place the counseling on pause to initiate evangelism?

Rather I suggest there are biblical mandates to both restore the fallen (Gal 6:1-2) and evangelize the lost (Matt 28:19-20) which dictate the counselor’s response and no distinction between the two activities exists. In fact, the course and nature of the counseling can only be determined within the counseling setting, where the Word and the Spirit direct the counselor’s assessment of spiritual need.

Without this assessment, the counselor is left to trust the counselee’s representation of spiritual status without biblical examination. This is dangerous because many within the Church bear a false security reinforced by human markers of salvation (i.e. church membership, baptism, confirmation, or experience). Others may be genuinely born-again yet now doubt or discount their salvation due to the presence of sin and its destructive impact in their lives.

Because of this, the first step of effective biblical counseling is the analysis of the assignment: Is the task evangelistic or restorative? Counseling must begin in order to discern this critical truth. Some steps for making this assessment follow:

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The Wall Is Broken Down: Homosexuality and the Church

Broken Wall

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is in crisis and the enemy is gaining force. The biblical foundation of our faith has been ruptured by a secular assault, the likes of which, we have not seen. And while victory is assured and even the “gates of Hades” will not overpower Christ’s Church (Matt 16:18); the wall is broken down and believers are being devoured (1 Pet 5:8). We need soldiers who will “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3).

The Book of Nehemiah provides a historical reference from which to draw. When Hanani and his fellow countrymen came into Susa, they gave Nehemiah the following report concerning the status of the Holy City of God:

“The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire” (Neh 1:3).

With the wall of Jerusalem “broken down” there was no longer protection from the enemy. God’s people were without refuge, stricken of hope. The rampart, which divided them from the world, had been breached. The Bible records Nehemiah’s response:

“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Neh 1:4).

The news we are receiving today is much the same. The Body of Christ has been overtaken with a brutal onslaught. The walls and foundation of our faith are falling under the powerful attack of the enemy and I submit it is time for mourning, repentance, fasting, and prayer “before the God of heaven!”

The weapons of the enemy include emotion, experience, intellectualism, and bias, each challenging the veracity of Scripture as the foundation for life and eternity. Christians are dropping and surrendering in alarming numbers, yielding to secular pressures and the demands of unbelievers.

Recently we see two prominent issues taking center stage in the church: mental illness/suicide and the homosexual agenda. The church is being bombarded with pressure calling for the abandonment of scriptural order and the acceptance of public opinion. Increasingly the church is chided as lacking compassion whenever it references scriptural teachings in these areas. And regrettably the assault has weakened our stance and is eroding the boundaries of truth.

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