Be Anxious For Nothing…

Dr. Ab Abercrombie

Anxiety can be a confounding and debilitating force in one’s life…and believers are not immune to its affect. Consequently, anxiety is often referenced as the reason for entering counseling. Most who become overwhelmed by this issue have tried numerous approaches before contacting a counselor including prayer, Bible study, and other Christian disciplines. Yet they enter biblical counseling discouraged, fearful, and filled with self-condemnation centered upon what many refer to as a lack of faith.

Other believers have taken a secular approach to anxiety, seeking relief through psychotherapy, medication, hypnosis, and other stress management approaches. Worldly approaches often focus upon external factors and circumstances rather than the fearful heart of an individual. And, there is a growing attitude that excessive anxiety is biochemical, and can only be the managed medically. And while these approaches can yield temporal relief, they offer nothing that is spiritually curative.

The biblical counselor must not be overtaken by the horizontal clutter surrounding this matter. Rather, we must receive the counselee in whatever state they arrive for this divine assignment. It is not our role to rebuke the counselee for a worldly orientation or for the use of secular remedies. At the same time, we must be very careful not to endorse or promote anything but a spiritual/biblical plan of care and counsel.

The frustration sufferers feel concerning anxiety is real, and very likely, lengthy in its history. To intervene biblically will require much perseverance, holding always to the sufficiency of Scripture as our foundation and guide. Transformation and not relief, is our objective…looking for the natural byproduct of God’s Word changing the nature of an individual, rather than providing a temporal respite that does not endure. As Jesus taught the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:13b-14).

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The Language of Scripture…

Dr. Ab Abercrombie

Thanks to the proliferation of television, self-help books, and the Internet, many counselees have researched their individual conditions and concerns before making an appointment for biblical counseling. As a result, many will enter counseling using secular, psychological, and even medical terms to describe their complaints. Often this terminology is applied to others instead of self, as the individual counselee seeks to describe his/her circumstance.

Some examples I have heard within my counseling room include:

  • “I have been reading on the Internet about adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and I think it describes me perfectly.”
  • “I saw a TV special on depression and now I understand that I have a chemical imbalance that causes me to be depressed. Do you think I should start medication?”
  • “My wife has a borderline personality disorder…”
  • “My husband has a narcissistic personality disorder…”
  • “My son has an oppositional defiant disorder…”

In each situation, the counselee had spiritual, behavioral, and emotional issues that were indeed painful and chronic. Each were seeking an explanation for their struggle. However, their use of secular language and humanistic diagnostic terms led them to pursue secular and humanistic relief. Each one had discovered a term or condition they believed absolved them of responsibility; both for the problem and the solution.

Scripture relates the following truth: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is…” (Prov 23:7a). Our meditations matter greatly and so do our sources of study and research. Whenever a believer consults and relies upon worldly versions of “truth,” he/she becomes vulnerable to the intoxicating influence of humanism.

As a Biblicist, I view the Bible as fully sufficient for the counseling task and superior to any explanations offered by the world. Most Christians however value and respect the Bible and might even see it as inerrant; but few have studied Scripture from the perspective of sufficiency. As a result, most of our counselees offer distorted renditions of life that strangely employ biblical language mixed with secular opinions and terminology. But when the counselee settles upon, and believes the secular explanation (as in the examples above), we know they are seeking the world’s remedy that may, or may not, find agreement with God’s Word.

This merger of Christian thought with secular reasoning, in time, defiles the purity of one’s relationship with Scripture. Humanism is diametrically opposed to biblical truth in most, if not all, circumstances. When attempting to find agreement between God and the world, one has already conceded that the Bible is insufficient for the problem at hand. In using secular and psychological terminology, the counselee demonstrates his/her urgency for relief, without regard to God’s intent and purpose. Paul wrote concerning the overtaking of the mind and conscience:

To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled (Titus 1:15).

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A Biblical Response to Dependency and Addiction

Dr. Ab AbercrombieWorried man

Dependency and Addiction

According to experts, alcohol and drug addiction are diseases; obesity and overeating are due to genetic predisposition; obsessive relationship attachments are labeled “codependent;” and excessive spending may be a symptom of bi-polar disorder. To refer to these matters as sin is considered taboo. After all, it isn’t our fault if we have a physical malady, genetic flaw, poor childhood, or biochemical imbalance.

Focusing on sin, some argue, is harsh and promotes guilty, shameful emotions. I argue that telling someone there is no remedy or cure for their behavioral prison is harsh. Without transformation, we can only teach someone to manage their illness rather than resolve their sin.

Addiction is indulgence of the flesh and the temporal pleasures that come with the element of attraction. For some substances, medical addiction can, and does, become a complicating factor making deception and entrapment still greater. Yet in its origin, it is the placement of something or someone above God.

Edward Welch (2001) calls addiction a worship disorder, pointing to idolatry as a central theme in our excessive consumptions. He writes:

Furthermore, the problem is not outside of us located in a liquor store or on the Internet; the problem is within us. Alcohol and drugs are essentially satisfiers of deeper idols. The problem is not the idolatrous substance; it is the false worship of the heart (p. 49).

Scripture states: “Now the works of the flesh are evident…” (Gal. 5:19). If the cravings and actions of our flesh are evident (obvious), then through them our heart is revealed. The heart conveys our affection; our devotion of time and energy; our longing; and our commitment.The heart invested fully in a person or substance will have little evidence of godly worship, service, or holy conduct, as these assets cannot be attained apart from godly adoration.

Many suggest that the Bible has little to say about addiction in general. For example, the Bible does not speak of pornography, drug addiction, or relationship dependence at all. The Bible also does not mention automobiles and rocket ships because they did not exist at the time God gave His revelation. But theologically and structurally, Scripture has volumes to say about idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14), worship (John 4:23), respect and maintenance of the body (1 Cor. 3:16-17), lust (1 John 2:16, sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7), temperance (1 Cor. 6:12), and pure meditations (Ps. 19:14). Perhaps Paul summed it up best:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any (1 Cor. 6:12).

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When Ministry Leaders Fail…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSad man praying

The apostle James gave the following caution to leaders in the church:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1).

The calling to church leadership, in whatever role, is a call requiring much study, prayer, and meditation. James is clear that an instructor and overseer must be certain of his calling and diligent in his manner of life. The standards are higher than for others within the church and the leader becomes accountable for not only his walk with Christ and the management of his own household; he now is accountable for the household of God!

Because of this, pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, and others in authority, must avail themselves to years of preparation followed by a rigorous vetting process to determine their spiritual readiness for leadership. This examination however, will rely upon the maturity and knowledge base of existing church leaders, if proper discernment and placement within the Body is to occur.

The specific standards for pastors and elders are well-established in the Bible and demanding in their scope. Paul wrote:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Tim 3:2-7).

This is a daunting list and should be taken with much reverence when considering a call to leadership. To be above reproach is to be beyond accusation. Often used as a legal term, it means that one is not convictable in a court of law. This requirement is to protect the church and to guard the great name of Jesus Christ. A leader, more than anyone else in the church, must recognize that he is a representative of Christ both within the church and throughout the community. As a designated overseer, he will be extremely visible and must show evidence of Christ’s transformative touch. These features of leadership are repeated almost verbatim in the Book of Titus (Titus 1:5-9).

Beyond this overarching call to purity and innocence, Scripture goes on to speak of the specific character one should see in an overseer along with specific abilities. The requirements of deacons are similar and call for great attention to one’s spiritual, family, church, and community life (1 Tim 3:8-13). And while the Bible does not specifically address ministries outside the traditional church, these standards of oversight could well be applied to para-church ministry leaders also. Any ministry that operates under the banner of Jesus Christ must ordain leaders who are devoted to kingdom truth and biblical principles of oversight.

Central to all of these standards is the call for maturity, testing, proven character, stability, knowledge, and godly conduct; demonstrating leadership at home before assuming leadership at church. The Lord has been gracious in defining these requirements and challenging the church to thoroughly examine each candidate. And yet with so many guidelines and instructions in place, spiritual failure within leadership is more common than ever before and its effect is devastating to the church and other ministries.

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A Biblicist in an Unbiblical World…

Dr. Ab Abercrombie
Ps 119 photo

Being a Biblicist in an unbiblical world is challenging. Long past are the days when children were taught to read using the Bible. It is no longer culturally correct to evoke the Word of God in public. Even those within the church often bristle when Scripture is revered as absolute, literal, and authoritative. Compromise is the demand and concession is the norm. God’s Word, if spoken at all, must be unifying, peaceful, and affirming of human needs, to gain worldly acceptance. But Christ gave the following warning concerning God’s message to the world:

“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Lk 12:51-53).

The gospel is divisive and exposes the inner heart of man. It reveals belief or unbelief, obedience or disobedience, worship or idolatry, humility or pride. The illumination of Scripture asserts the glory of God and the depravity of man. The exposure of sin would be unbearable except for its remedy, the Lord Jesus Christ. But even the remedy will be refused by most and accepted by few. And as Jesus teaches, even those we love will turn away from the truth and often reject the believer who reads, proclaims, exalts, and seeks to live out God’s Word. The writer of Hebrews details this divisive impact:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:12-13).

Thus, when Biblicists speak, live, and teach in accordance with Scripture, the result will be like a two-edged sword. God’s Word is deliberate in its intent, piercing the soul, and judging (exposing) the heart of everyone who is in proximity to its effect. The Bible is clear that no individual is immune to the working of Scripture and that our hearts are laid bare before Christ, to whom we are accountable. This is a glaring and unsettling fact; all will give answer to “Him with whom we have to do.” Believers and atheists, faithful followers and apostates, meek and bold, submitted and wayward, will each respond to the same truth. There is no other scale; no alternate template of measurement.

A purveyor (teller) of truth must know that the success of his/her ministry is not found in its outcome. Rather, the success of biblical ministry is determined by the accurate handing of God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15) and the minister’s obedience to speak “truth in love” (Eph 4:15). The end result of truth is dependent upon the sovereign activity of God, as He interacts with His creation. Jesus told this parable:

“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself…” (Mk 4:26-28b).

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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 when 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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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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An Empowered Life

Dr. Ab AbercrombieMountain climber

 The biblical counselor often meets with individuals and families who feel “powerless.” In their horizontal orientation, they look about frantically for stability through people and life circumstances that fail answer their most basic need. Too frequently the counseling approach taken unwittingly perpetuates this process by addressing these external influences first, instead of seeking to alter the spiritual orientation of the counselee. Put another way, the solutions needed are not found in this world, but in the constant, abiding security of Christ.

In speaking of God’s Servant (Jesus), the prophet Isaiah invited Israel to “come” to the only sufficient source of provision, comfort, function, and life:

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