What Is Your Problem?

 By: Dr. W.P. “Ab” AbercrombieQuestion mark gold

What is your problem?

This is a fair and important question to ask, because unless you understand the problem, you will never know the remedy. What is present in your life that impedes your joy and contentment?

You may see the issue as emotional. Often we describe our pain as depression, fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, or grief. Certainly any of these emotions can be a real and present part of human suffering; but do the feelings you have truly explain what is wrong?

You may define your concern as relational. You might have marital discord, conflict with children or other family members. You could be facing a divorce, the loss of a friendship, or a difficult work environment. For some, relationships have been altered or ended by illness or death. Relationships can be problematic; people can be disappointing; and loss can be devastating. But is your life and well being dependent only on the circumstances around you?

You may believe your problem is medical. Today, there is great emphasis placed upon the genetic and medical influences of life. Many conditions are seen as inevitable due to genetic vulnerabilities and family history. Other problems are explained as illness or disease for which there is no explanation.

Many “experts” agree that bio-chemical imbalances are to blame for the emotions and behaviors that undermine one’s stability and affect the quality of one’s relationships. But even if there is truth to this claim, does a genetic vulnerability or chemical imbalance explain everything that is present and problematic in your life?

You could see your pain as historical. In other words, you feel and act the way you do because of your history and experiences in life. Perhaps you have endured a dysfunctional or abusive childhood. You could be the victim of crime, trauma, or other event that was extremely invasive and life altering. And while these injuries are in the past, they remain alive and active in your current life due to memories and feelings that remain unresolved. But is our present circumstance dictated by the experiences that came before?

Finally, you may perceive your difficulty as circumstantial. For example, you may believe that if your circumstance could be changed, you would improve. If you had a better job, a godlier spouse, obedient children, greater income, or lived in a different city, your problems could be answered. Given the challenge of your situation, you may believe you are justified in the way you feel and the actions you take. But is your internal contentment truly dependent upon your external environment?

If a counselor, pastor, or friend asked you to describe your problem, what would you say? Write your response below:

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Spiritual or Secular

By: W.P. “Ab” Abercrombie, Ph.D.Crown of thorns

Over the past three decades, the Church has largely forsaken its mandate to counsel and restore its people. Rather than a function of ministry, counseling is more commonly viewed as a professional endeavor, requiring psychological training, offered outside the Church, through a community provider. With the development of this orientation, the Body of Christ has come to adopt a secular worldview regarding behavior, emotion, and relationships. Further, we have come to apply the world’s solutions to issues that require kingdom empowerment.

In Scripture, the world is never defined as a reliable source of wisdom, nor does it offer patterns worthy of emulation. Paul wrote:

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  (1 Cor 1:20 )

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False gods and the Sacrifice of Children

Dr. Ab Abercrombie

Blonde girl smiling

 After receiving God’s magnificent grace and abundant supply throughout the generations, the Jewish nation was quick to forget and ultimately reject the God of their salvation. Frequently following God’s rescue and provision, His people would attach themselves to foreign nations for support and protection. In doing so Israel would adopt the traditions, culture, and gods common to the nation upon which they depended.

An excellent account of this occurs in Ezekiel 16 where God, through the prophet, describes how He rescued a lost, despised, and hopeless people (Israel), giving them life and identity as His own children. Using the parable of an abandoned newborn, God illustrates how He rescued and raised the rejected infant to maturity, only to have the child devote its heart to a foreign god (Ezk 16:1-19). In their idolatry, God’s people turned even to the literal sacrifice of their children.

“Moreover, you took your sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter? You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire” (Ezk 16:20-21).

 When New Testament Christians read of such abominations in Scripture, we often have difficulty relating and fail to see its application. After all we no longer witness children placed in the sacrificial fire to honor Molech or Ashtoreth. But as a biblical counselor I would suggest that idolatry is alive and well and children are indeed offered on the altar of countless “high places.”

The worship of self is primary and has fragmented the biblical home into pockets of individual gratification, personal goals, rights and entitlements. Biblical order is often abandoned because God’s structure interrupts one’s selfish ambition (Phil 2:3-4), calling instead for the glory and magnification of God above all else (Mark 12:30).

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A Bitter Heart: The Newest Psychiatric Disorder

Depressed Man

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has once again provided explanation and relief for the ailing psyche. In the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Volume V) the APA has introduced a new psychiatric diagnosis sure to bring justification and absolution to everyone who feels he/she has been unfairly wronged: Post-traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED).

German Psychiatrist Michael Linden, describes PTED as “an emotion encompassing persistent feelings of being let down, insulted, or being a loser, and of being revengeful but helpless” (Quoted in Sensky, 2010). This embitterment is said to arise from “a single exceptional negative life event” (Sensky, 2010).

Please understand Linden is not speaking of veterans of war, abuse victims, or individuals who were severely injured in industrial or auto accidents. No one could debate such matters as traumatic and having impact in a person’s life.

But instead Linden is writing about the unexpected disappointments of life; situations perceived as unfair, unjust, and personally offensive. In other words, the “negative life event” would not universally be considered traumatic…but if the event is perceived as traumatic, the impact is considered the same.

Therefore reality is determined by the emotion and experience of the embittered person. In this determination comes reason and justification to continue in unresolved emotion that corrupts the heart and eventually one’s perspective of life and relationships.

The Bible warns that bitterness, wrath, malice, and unforgiveness are problematic conditions. These matters are much more than emotional states. Given enough time and meditation, they come to defile and distort one’s discernment, conduct, relationships, and conscience. More importantly, they create division from Christ and leave the sufferer with no resource for resolution.

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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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“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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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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A Broken and Contrite Heart…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSad man praying

Have you noticed that many of the most repentant prayers in the Bible come from God’s most faithful servants? Human logic would suggest otherwise. Most would assume that as one grows in his/her faith, sin would decrease, along with the need for confession and repentance.

But in truth it seems the closer one draws to God with a desire to obey and serve; the more grieved he/she becomes with sin. In the life of a growing Christian, the presence of sin becomes increasingly poignant and unacceptable and takes the individual more frequently to his/her knees, seeking out the purifying work of grace and the restorative impact of the Father’s discipline.

Repentance is the centerpiece of Christian growth and sanctification. Whenever one is dull to the stirring conviction of the Spirit, he/she is in true danger. Repentance is God’s gift that provokes the unbeliever unto salvation, and draws the Christian toward sanctification. A repentant lifestyle is brings life, vindication, joy, and development. It is a gift of God that simultaneously convicts the conscience, provokes confession, and heals the willful patterns of our lives.

Because of this we see the great characters of Scripture humbled, submitted, and burdened by the undoing of sin, seeking instead the freedom and provision of grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Paul described well the single remedy for his base depravity:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25).

The awareness of our plight as sinners deepens our dependency upon Christ while provoking praise, celebration, and thankfulness for God’s unmerited favor. A life that is sensitive and yielded grows to have no tolerance for sin and thereby develops an urgent pursuit of righteousness.

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When God’s Counsel Is Rejected…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieTeen depressed fence

God’s Word is fully sufficient for the counseling task and it is superior to anything the world can offer a hurting individual. Scripture, along with the working of the Holy Spirit, is complete in its provision for all matters eternal and functional. Paul wrote:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

It is the counselor’s responsibility and calling to render the Word rightly (2 Tim 2:15); to yield to the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13); and to be spiritually prepared for the counseling encounter, connected and abiding in Christ, so that the care offered is given in “truth and love” (Eph 4:15). But while our resource (Scripture) is perfect and our spiritual response sound, some will not heed God’s truth nor yield to His counsel (1 Thess 4:8). What then should be our approach?

I have a student who recently said: “Biblical counseling is ugly…” In fact counseling is rarely a smooth process whereby the counselee is convicted of wrong, seeking assistance, and thereby sensitive and responsive to scriptural care. Rather biblical counselors are called servants entrusted with the difficult task of turning sinners away from their wayward path: often a path to which they have invested much affection and commitment. And yet sin is progressive and deadly. Without the provocation of God’s Word there is no hope of repentance, salvation, restoration, or sanctification. James pointed to the root and eventual outcome of sin:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 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 (Jas 1:13-15).

Biblical counselors are called to intervene somewhere and sometime before the rebellious heart confronts its own demise. However counselors must be reminded that biblical care is a process of repeated application that demands the counselor’s obedience to the task and perseverance with grief and anguish for the lost and fallen souls with whom we contend. Paul wrote:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction (2 Tim 4:1-2).

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Fruit Sins and Root Sins

Dr. Ab AbercrombieRoots

In his Bible study entitled, “Behold Your God”, Dr. John Snyder provides an excellent teaching on “fruit sins” and “root sins” which has special relevance to the practice of biblical counseling. Within the study, Snyder emphasizes the importance of true repentance that reaches to the heart of one’s deepest spiritual condition so that character and identity are literally changed.

Fruit sins are defined as the behavioral expressions of an inner heart condition. As Scripture relates, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident…” (Gal 5:19a): they are obvious. Like apples hanging from a tree, these expressions of sin are dependent upon the root. In other words, an apple tree cannot produce pears nor an orange tree avocados. Consequently, removing the obvious fruit will not change the identity of the tree.

In human terms, the modification of behavior does not change the character of a man or woman. Only by impacting the root can the fruit be altered. Jesus taught this truth plainly, saying:

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matt 7:16-18).

Since fruit sins are visible, repentance often centers only upon what has been revealed or discovered. When a husband is caught in pornography he repents for what has been found out. When a wife’s excessive spending becomes apparent because hidden bank statements are exposed, she is sorry for the consequences of her actions. Both the husband and wife may then strive to stop their individual expressions of sin, and for a season, may be successful. But unless the heart issues are addressed (root sins), the behavior will likely return in its original or modified form.

This type of repentance is superficial and fails to address the true depth and scope of the spiritual problem. At the root of these issues there lies a much more insidious problem that is grounded in one’s identity, integrity, and character. Many of the most common and compromising root sins include idolatry, unbelief, selfishness, pride, unforgiveness, anger, wrath, and bitterness. Until the fullness of the heart is addressed, these core vulnerabilities will continue to yield behavioral sin.

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