Forgiving Those Who Don’t Seek It?

Product Details Andrew and I recently discussed the tough issue of how to forgive someone who hasn’t sought forgiveness.  In other words, how can a Christian forgive someone who has never asked to be forgiven?  What do you do if someone has very obviously sinned against you in a big way but hasn’t tried to make things right?  This issue will be handled a bit differently depending upon whether the person is a Christian or an unbeliever, whether the person is under church discipline or not, etc.  I appreciate how Ken Sande talks about this topic in chapter ten of The Peacemaker.

“When an offense is too serious to overlook and the offender has not yet repented, you may need to approach forgiveness as a two-stage process.  The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness.”

“Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God (see Mark 11:25; Luke 6:28; Acts 7:60).  By his grace, you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you.  This requires making and living out the first promise of forgiveness, which means you will not dwell on the hurtful incident or seek vengeance or retribution in thought, word, or action.  Instead, you pray for the person and stand ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents.  This attitude will protect you from bitterness and resentment, even if the other person takes a long time to repent.”

“Granting forgiveness is conditional upon the repentance of the offender and takes place between you and that person (Luke 17:3-4).  It is a commitment to make the other three promises of forgiveness to the offender (i.e. not rub the incident in the person’s face, not talk to others about it, and not let it stand between people).  When there has been a serious offense, it would not be appropriate to make these promises until the offender has repented (see chapter 6).  Until then, you may need to talk with the offender about his sin or seek the involvement of others to resolve the matter (Matt. 18:16-20).  You could not do this if you had already made the last three promises.  But once the other person repents, you can make these promises, closing the matter forever, the same way God forgives you.

Sande then goes on to show how this model is biblical and has to do with the gospel: Jesus prayed “Father forgive them…” as he died on the cross.  At Pentecost, after Peter’s convicting sermon about the cross, people repented and received forgiveness from God.

Forgiving someone who has seriously sinned against you (and God) is very often a tough thing, especially if that person doesn’t own up to it and keeps on living in sin.  It would be foolish and unbiblical to act as if nothing happened, and it would be sinful to wallow in anger towards that person.  Instead, we should reflect upon the gospel, pray for an attitude of forgiveness, and be ready to forgive fully when the person truly seeks reconciliation.

Furthermore, reconciliation and forgiveness doesn’t mean that the restored relationship will be perfect.  It will take time to heal wounds and there are consequences for sin.  If you forgive someone who has abused you but truly repented of it, for example, you don’t have to let that person be intimately involved in your life or your family’s life.  You can forgive someone, work on mending the relationship, but still place limits on involvement for the interest of your family and their safety/health.

Obviously there’s more to the issue; it is quite complex.  Andrew and I both recommend Sande’s book, The Peacemaker for these types of issues.  As pastors, we’ve read it, re-read it, and discussed it with each other when counseling situations come up in our own lives.  If you haven’t read it, you should do so sooner than later!

shane lems
hammond, wi

Mental Illness, Nutrition, and Medicine

A friend of mine and I were recently talking about mental illnesses like ADHD, bi-polar disorder, depression, and mood swings.  Somewhere in the conversation he told me about this book: Blue Genes by Meier, Clements, Bertrand, and Mandt.  Since he’s a solid Christian and a good psychologist, I ordered it and read it right away.  I did find helpful – enough so to mention it here.

This book is sort of a short guide on certain mental illnesses – what they are, the brain chemicals involved, the nutritional side of things, and medicinal remedies.  There are real life stories scattered throughout the book that give hope for readers who are suffering mental illness (or know someone who is).  The chapters are devoted to certain illnesses such as paranoia, anxiety, post-partum depression, ADD/ADHD, depression, bi-polar disorders, and hormonal imbalances (among others).  The authors give helpful insights on sleep, vitamins, foods, and healthy habits.  I really appreciated how the authors talked about which medicines are typically best for different mental illnesses.  The book is written from a Christian perspective, but it isn’t really a theological guide on these things.

There are some weaknesses in Blue Genes.  I’m a little hesitant to agree with the authors’ view of dreams.  They believe that God sometimes communicates to people through dreams, so we should really interpret dreams.  I also was hoping for a more robustly biblical insight – such as a longer discussion about sin, sanctification, and trials in life (for just a few examples).  While it is a helpful book, it isn’t “the best ever.”  (As a side, I hope it is updated sooner than later, since there have been medical advances since the book’s publication in 2005).

As a pastor, friend, and father, I’ve had to deal with some of these mental illnesses first hand.  The are not imaginary, nor are they to be taken lightly.  There are such things as chemical imbalances and hormone deficiencies that need medical attention, prescription drugs, and counseling.  Of course, we shouldn’t throw a pill at every problem, but sometimes the problems are biological and pills definitely work.  This book helped me understand mental illnesses better.  I do recommend it.  It shouldn’t be the only book you read about mental illnesses, but it should for sure be one of them.

Meier, Clements, Bertrand, Mandt, Blue Genes (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2005).

rev shane lems

Marriage, Mental Illness, and Love

Product Details  One helpful section of this helpful book, Broken Minds, is the authors’ emphasis on the importance of the Christian marriage covenant.  In other words, what does a husband do when his wife suffers a mental illness?  What does a wife do when her husband is debilitated by mental illness?  What do you as a husband or wife do when you’re the one who is mentally ill?  A brief biblical answer is love one another.  Keep your family in mind during a crisis.  The Bloem’s expand on this main principle.  I’ve listed their anchoring precepts for a family crisis below (they are edited for the sake of space).

1) Remember God holds the marriage covenant in high esteem.  If your loved one is sick, it can take what seems a superhuman feat to persevere.  Pray for grace and submit to God’s Word by sticking with your spouse and family.

2) Never make a decision of importance while either depressed or manic – especially manic.  In a state of mania, you must be aware that you cannot trust what you may be certain is true.  The side effects of some mental illnesses include inflated self-esteem, hyper-sexual fantasies, and other extremes.  Those with a tendency toward a manic phase are well advised to adopt a conscious habit to always doubt the truth of impressions, perceptions, feelings, and judgment.  Don’t trust yourself.  Rely upon someone who is trustworthy to help you sort out your thoughts, emotions, and desires.  Don’t trust perceived revelations from God, but stick to simple, direct precepts in Scripture, praying that he guides you through the valley.  And deny any urge to find previously hidden meanings in a biblical text.

3) Make a conscious decision not to sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate.  The Devil wants to destroy God’s ordained institutions, and the breakup of the family is one of his chief aims.  Too many counselors are quick to advise the spouse that it is far more advantageous to separate or divorce than to stick it out when the symptoms become severe.  Some counselors will even say that to the one who has the mental illness.  You may have to utilize treatment centers or hospitals, but don’t take the “easy” way out of divorce.  When you and your spouse are in a right frame of mind, make this firm decision to press on together.

4) Do not go off your medications for any reason, except as directed by a knowledgeable medical doctor.  When you are feeling well, it is hard to remember how bad it can get.  Do not let your ‘recovered’ brain chemistry deceive you into thinking that the medicine’s benefits were ‘all in your mind’ or a ‘placebo effect.’  You are feeling better because the medicine is doing its work!

5) Do not abandon God’s economy for order in the family because of illness.  Whatever society may tell you, gender roles do matter, and they are biblical.  Husbands are the heads of the home. It may be difficult, but they must do their prayer-filled best to maintain their role even through illness.  And when a wife is ill, the husband has a holy responsibility to protect his wife and that means not shrugging off the times when she ‘has the blues.’  Pray for your wife, and support her as much as you can during the desperate times.  Sometimes you have to go through regular schedules and routines while ill; don’t throw in the towel.  Spouses should support one another in their biblical roles.  It is also advisable to seek help from your church family (p. 92-96).

Again, this is just a summary of a helpful – and much-needed! – discussion.   I recommend this book for pastors and elders who have parishioners suffering mental illnesses.  I also recommend it for those who struggle with mental illness as well as those involved in lives of others who face this difficult trial in life.  As Steve and Robyn Bloem know so well, there is hope in Christ and his Word for those who are mentally ill.  It is a hellish trial, but mental illness, like any trial, is temporary for the people of God.  It will not last forever.  On that last day when Jesus makes all things new, not a single one of God’s people will suffer any sort of illness.  Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Steve and Robyn Bloem, Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re ‘Losing It.

rev shane lems

Perfecting Ourselves To Death

Product DetailsAwhile back someone recommended Richard Winter’s book on depression called The Roots of Sorrow.  I thought it was such an excellent book that I ended up getting a few more by Winter, including Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment and Perfecting Ourselves to Death.  Though these are all good reads, right now I want to highlight the latter: Perfecting Ourselves to Death.

This book could be classified as a sort of pastoral counseling guide in the areas of achievement, success, failure, and frustration.  Winter examines an unhealthy desire for perfection, which is often accompanied by depression, idolatry, coveting, anxiety, shame, guilt, and other sinful or debilitating traits or outcomes of perfectionism.  While Winter doesn’t only talk about the religious aspect of perfectionism, he does well note that the pursuit of perfection in all areas of life has much to do with the main truths of Christianity (sin, salvation, and service).

In the first part of the book, he discusses the different pieces and parts of perfectionism.  For example, he mentions OCD, the fear of man, anger, eating disorders, indecisiveness, abuse, the craving for acceptance, and the influence of social media.  Basically, he looks at the pursuit of perfection from all these different angles.

In the second part of the book, Winter examines the philosophical and theological side of perfectionism.  Here is where he talks about the image of God, biblical anthropology, sin, a fallen world, and what the gospel of grace means to perfectionists.  He also gives biblical guidance on dealing with perfectionism.  I appreciated his emphasis on grace, the need for a Christian church community, and the hope of the New Creation, where God’s people will no longer live in an imperfect world with imperfect minds/bodies.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“These seductive sirens of the advertising and Hollywood cultures that surround us stimulate our partially conscious fantasies and dreams of perfecting ourselves.  They increase our dissatisfaction and discontent with who we are and what we possess” (p. 21).

“Most perfectionists do not live in reality because they assume that setting the highest possible standards always leads to optimum performance.  Somehow they need help to move from this idealism to realism” (p. 140).

“The average model is thinner than 95 percent of Americans.  No wonder we have seen a huge increase in the incidence of eating disorders in recent years.  No wonder the enormous amounts spent on plastic surgery grow each year” (p. 113).

“We can rest in that deep security and know that we have significance in being made in his (God’s) image and in being a child of God, saved by his grace, not by anything we have done or earned.  At the deepest level, understanding and experiencing God’s grace is the key to unlocking the prison of perfectionism” (p. 160).

If you’re a perfectionist of any stripe, or if you are a Christian who counsels and helps other Christians through life’s struggles like these, I recommend this book.  Also, if you’re a pastor I’d suggest getting it – it will certainly help you think about this issue from an informed and Christian perspective.

shane lems

Redemption

 I’m enjoying this book on counseling: Redemption by Mike Wilkerson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011). In it, Wilkerson explains how the gospel kills our idols and heals our wounds.  I appreciate this book because it shows first of all that people really deal with some terrible suffering and secondly it shows that the redemption Jesus accomplished has everything to do with our wounds, sins, and tears.  This is where theory and practice meet: the truths of the gospel have everything to do with the Christian in the valley in the shadow of death.

“..What if your anguish stems from the slavery of addiction?  Here too it may get worse before it gets better.  But that doesn’t mean God is absent; it means he is at war against the gods that have enslaved you.  It means the bonds of slavery have been tied so tightly that they’ve cut into your skin and can’t be removed without some bleeding.  Your slave masters are not only outside you, in the temptations of the world; they are also within you, wherever you have allowed those temptations to bond with your sinful desires.”

“You must still cry out to God in faith for deliverance.  Yet, as you are brutally honest about your anguish, you must equally be honest about your sin.  You must know that you are in the midst of a war.  Expect death and pain in the process because you have to put sin to death by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13).  But also expect new life, for those who die with Christ also rise with him (Rom. 6:8).  What this means is that your redemption is as certain as his resurrection.”

I recommend this book for any serious Christian who deals with deep scars or who knows other scarred Christians who need gospel centered encouragement.  Pastors, elders, and other Christian leaders who counsel people will want to read this for sure.  There are reflection questions, Scripture references, and “for further study” resources at the end of each chapter.  Redemption is just under 200 pages, and most Christians should be able to work through the book one chapter at a time.  This may be a good book for a small group discussion setting.  I doubt anyone will regret reading this; in fact, I’m certain many will read it again and again.

shane lems

Women Counseling Women

 As I mentioned last fall, the church I pastor is using Women Helping Women: A Biblical Guide to the Major Issues Women Face ed. Elyse Fitzpatrick and Carol Cornish (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1997) for our women’s counseling classes. In chapter one, Elyse Fitzpatrick discusses the philosophy of biblical counseling.  It is a nice orientation to get the reader focused on what it means for Christian women to counsel other women.  Here are some quotes.

“The presuppositions or underlying beliefs that support the methods of biblical counseling start with God at the center.  He is supreme.  His will and glory take preeminence.  He is sovereign.  He will work all things according to his plan.”

“…The biblical counselor should have one overriding goal: to encourage and assist believers to grow in the likeness of Christ.”

“…[The biblical counselor] believes that the Bible speaks in a general way to every area of life.”

“Do biblical counselors believe that scientific information from outside of the Bible is insignificant?  Of course not.  Biblical counselors believe that the blessings of true science are part of God’s common grace.  For instance, biblical counselors will draw upon the knowledge gained in the medical sciences when they are searching for answers to perplexing behaviors.”

In the rest of the chapter Fitzpatrick discusses the differences between psychology and Christianity.  Basically, she briefly shows how the foundation of “secular” psychology is quite different from that of Christian counseling.  For women who have never considered these things, it might be a real eye-opener!  I’m glad she emphasized how women who counsel other women should be deeply rooted in Scripture and theology.  In fact, she calls counselors to be “theologians,” those who know God and seek to know him more deeply.  She says, “The biblical counselor is first a theologian.”  That’s a great way to begin a counseling “course” – with a call to be theological! 

shane lems

sunnyside, wa