Self-fulfillment often Empty

May 14, 2008

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.

So let us put aside the deeds of darkness

and put on the armor of light

Romans 13:12

Some bright young people in Dallas are putting together devotional guides on pertinent issues facing the American church. One interesting series is entitled “Help, No one Is Talking about Sex.” They asked me to contribute one piece (of about 30 total) on “Using Sex as an Escape” based on Romans 13:13-14.

Interestingly, the passage fit with new thinking for me, that is how our disciplines ought to focus more on our future goals than on rules or models from the past. For example, if the Church Age is an age of relative darkness spiritually and if the next coming of Christ brings a new day (and I think these are true) then we ought to be preparing ourselves for that future life. Instead, we tend to indulge in the immediate pleasures of the night. This is the gist of Romans 13:13-14. My devotional follows the verse.

Self Fulfillment That’s Empty

Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires. – Romans 13:13-14

What’s so wrong about wanting to feel good? Maybe nothing; maybe a lot. It depends on the context, that is, the setting that surrounds the action.

If your goal is to satisfy your pleasure at the cost of someone else’s demise, that’s exploitation. If the only thing you’re thinking about is your sexual gratification, you manipulate others, treating them as objects. That won’t keep your battery charged. It’s empty.

The context of this passage includes immoral living (sex outside of marriage) as an activity “of the night” (verse 12). If we look forward to the future, we ought to be aligning our behaviors with the daylight. So what’s your reaction when the lights are turned on and your actions are in plain view?

God gave us sexual feelings and desires to be fulfilled with a spouse in the privacy of an intimate lifelong committed relationship. Imagine using a gift of a violin used to paddle a canoe! Imagine using the gift of persuasion used to exploit others. So it is with the gift of sex used solely for self gratification. Wrong purpose; wrong context; wrong application. The misuse of the gift creates guilt. A seared conscience is not the answer to a guilty conscience. The answer is to behave in ways that could continue uninterrupted if the lights were turned on all at once. Paul exhorts you and me to live our lives relationally, transformed into His image by enjoying our gifts in the context for which God designed them. The result is fulfillment that lasts.

Defense Mechanisms and Armor

May 12, 2008

A winning Super Bowl football team always has a strong defensive component. A reigning political world power always has a strong military to defend it’s borders. A strong individual knows how to protect himself against adversarial forces. The common ground philosophically is apparent. Everything that exists must face other entities that, left unfettered, would contribute to its demise. However, the form that defensive protection takes depends on the nature of the enemy.

The field of psychology (Freud, in particular) has delineated and defined a long list of “defense mechanisms” that protect us from overwhelming emotional distress. In short, they help us cope. The “enemy” could emerge from our surrounding world or it could erupt from within our psyche. Either way, we fight against “flesh and blood” as the Bible states it. But if the enemy comes from a different realm, a spiritual realm, these defense mechanisms will not work.

Therefore, the Bible delineates and defines a brief list of “armor” that protects us from overwhelming spiritual demise. I think a lot of us don’t want to bother with this armor because (1) we don’t really believe the enemy exists (stupid) or (2) we’re afraid we might look funny (like the picture). Whatever our hesitation, I think its better to equip ourselves with truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, salvation and the Word of God than to risk becoming a casualty. Even if our appearance seems a little peculiar in the eyes of many, it’s better than death.

So, while all defenses form some wall of protection, each wall takes on a unique form, depending on the nature of the enemy. It’s a reminder to me not only to stay alert and attuned to my own weaknesses but also to know the various enemies that threaten my health. Then, make sure I maintain various kinds of adequate defenses.

By the way, I found this picture on another blog called “picturespeak.” It’s a delightful place to see vivid pictures of popular (and some less familiar) Bible passages. The visual impact of these well-chosen photos helps reinforce the significance of the biblical concept. I so enjoyed it that I included a link and hope to see many more regular additions.

Depression in the Clergy: How Could It Be?

May 9, 2008

How could it be? Any number of catchy headlines could capture the seeming incongruity of it.
• Bible Church Leader Sidelined
• Spiritual Giant Rendered Powerless
• Dallas Seminary Board Member Hit by Depression

Tommy Nelson, famed pastor of Denton Bible Church had to struggle with these contradictions between role and function. He has forgotten more Bible than most of us will ever know. He has helped more people in their authentic spiritual growth than any of us will ever realize. But two years ago, he found himself beset by such anxiety and depression that he had to shut down for several months and pull out from the ministry. One of the best known pastors in the North Texas area, he found himself very alone. He wrestled with many questions which defy easy answers:
• Is the Bible alone sufficient for every human condition?
• Can a person work too much within the will of God?
• Should a spiritual person seek help from psychiatry (for medication) and from a psychologist (for counseling)?

I just spent a couple of hours in Tommy Nelson’s office planning his presentation on September 26 at our Dallas/Fort Worth local CAPS meeting. He’ll team up with psychologist, David Nicholson, to address these questions. James Dobson will air his two half-hour segments with Pastor Nelson this summer on Focus on the Family. We’ll have 3½ hours to interact with him on September 26, 2008!

I think every pastor in the area could benefit from seeing how this could happen to the best of us. I think every clinician could benefit from seeing how to serve these servants of the Lord more effectively. In other words, we need a bridge to connect differing ideologies that tend to polarize in spite of the fact that there is much overlap holding common ground.

Now some personal reflections from being with a “celebrity” person for a time: (1) He’s the real deal. Genuine. Authentic. Congruent. (2) He’s an example of how we can be more effective in our weakness than in our strength and more effective in sharing our struggles than our virtues. I think Tommy has more to say to more people now than he ever has. (3) It can happen to me! Balance rest with work, even when the work is exhilarating.

The First Marriage: When?

May 5, 2008

Three posts have featured God’s Design and Purpose for Marriage, one by Abby Helman, one by Nicki Cochran, and one by Courtney Newberry. One individual reponded with a sincere and thought-provoking question that warranted more than a simple entry in the “comments” box. Here’s the question:

I have been trying for months to find the answer to a question concerning marriage; but, have been unsuccessful. Do you know or have any references to a date in time, when marriage began? By date, I refer to something like 6,000 BCE. Since the OT was written over the span of centuries, but is no older than 3,000 years is it safe to assume that marriage began at or slightly before that date? Any insight into the problem will be welcome and appreciated.

Hopefully, my response will meet up to the expectations of the questioner:

When it comes to creation events, we can know with confidence (1) Who did it, (2) what was done and (3) to some extent, how it was done. But we cannot know for certain the precise answer to when in happened. The best resource we have available for discovering our origins is the Bible. Even so, we need to sort out the kind of resource it is. For example, I think it is historically accurate about what it records about the life of Christ, including what he said. To the point, in Matthew 19:8, he responds to the Pharisees’ question about divorce with a comment about marriage: “In the beginning it was not so.” I believe he was referring to the beginning of creation referred to in Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Christ’s comments carry even more weight in light of John 1:1 which says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” So Jesus, the Word (John 1;14) was involved in the creation of the world and therefore involved in the creation of Adam and Eve as well. So I think it’s legitimate to say that Adam and Eve formed the first marriage. We don’t know WHEN God created them and brought tem together, though we can know THAT he did and, to a certain extent, HOW he did (through his spoken word). In this regard I like Psalm 33:6-9, “He spoke and the world came into being.

I asked one of our Old Testament professors at Dallas Seminary to weigh in on the discussion of “time” and he provided the following perspective. The genealogies in Gen 5 and 10 make it difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a precise date for Noah or Adam. He says

There are complicated genre questions here, not the least of which is the presence of large numbers in Gen 5 and its similarity to the extraordinary lengths of royal reigns in the Sumerian King List (makes the hundreds of years in Gen 5 meager by comparison).

Second, young earth dating has too many scientific problems to be credible. Bottom-line: I do not think Genesis gives us the kind of data that we in our 21st century, modernist, Read the rest of this entry »

Christian Counselor’s Attitude toward Gay Client

May 3, 2008

Arguing may shape the minds of lawyers and legislators, but it doesn’t prepare counselors for their role in the lives of individuals struggling with issues of same-sex attractions. After our debate in class was over, several points were clarified while other arguments were recognized as weak. I realized that no one had moved closer to a heart of compassion to those on the “other side.” So I gave the students a choice. Instead of the usual paper that would clarify the arguments and support one side, they could opt for a paper that clarified the mindset of a counselor who is interacting with a homosexual individual and who wants to help this individual sort out the conflicting issues of his/her life. Obviously, this is not a time to challenge the arguments involved in the legislative debate. Emily Trebolo articulates a mindset that is grounded in godly righteousness, but extends compassion to the person dealing with same-sex attractions. (My blog does not pick up footnoting that was included in her original paper). Weigh in on your own mindset and leave some comments about how you would handle such a face-to-face interaction.


Emily L. Trebolo
April 7, 2008

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). We are to take the entire Bible seriously. There are not portions we can omit because we don’t like them. We love to focus in on homosexuality being called a sin but leave out the scriptures that tell us we are to give up everything to follow Christ and where our wallet is out heart is also. There is a discrepancy in the way we tell other to live their lives and love out own. The goal of the Christian life is not to force people to do things our way; rather, to live our lives in a manner that others desire the same transformation they see in us. Therefore, this first requires transformation on our own part. The believer, and the Christian counselor, must base their view of homosexuality on both grace and truth, because of the dignity of all created life; and therefore desire transformation for all.

Grace and Truth

We have separated grace and truth. In actuality, one of these terms cannot be understood without the other. Without truth, we do not understand our need for grace. If we cannot grasp that we are sinners, we have no need for grace. I must understand I am fallen. As much as I would prefer not to, I still think and say mean things to people I love sometimes. Because of this, I then have to go to them and ask for their forgiveness- and they give me grace. They tell me that while they did not enjoy the words I told them, they love me and forgive me. However, they want more for me. They want me to continue to grow, and let my knowledge and love for Christ radically transform everything about me. They give me grace; yet spur me on towards becoming better. They have no desire for me to continue to say mean things to them.

Reciprocally, truth cannot be comprehended without grace. If I only understand that I say mean things, yet do not comprehend forgiveness or change, and then the truth is useless. Knowledge for the sake of itself is a Read the rest of this entry »

Same-Sex Marriage Dialogue — beyond “No”

May 3, 2008

Our positions are often clearer than the thinking that supports them. Therefore, I asked my students in our class, Counseling and Law, at Dallas Theological Seminary to clarify and defend their positions. While we found it easy stand in opposition to same-sex marriages in America, we discovered that it was a challenge to argue cogently for our position while giving thoughtful attention to the arguments from the opposing side. We actually divided into sides and had a debate in class, followed by a paper that clarified both sides. David Van Zandt wrote one of the better papers that I think is worthy of your time to read. As usual on my blog, none of the footnotes were picked up.

David B. Van Zandt
April 2008

The current debate in America is whether or not homosexual couples should have the right to marry in order to have the same societal rights as heterosexual couples. While some attempt to shape the debate solely along legislative lines, there is an element of ecclesiastical discourse that must be a part of the argument. Is marriage a right that is granted solely by the state or is it an ordinance of the church that is also sanctioned by the state? Would the granting of homosexual marriage as a right enhance or be a detriment to traditional marriages? What has been the effect to date in the nations that have granted the right of marriage to homosexual couples? In effect, is marriage a right granted by the state or a state of being ordained by God? The purpose of this paper is to argue that marriage is a state of being between one man and one woman ordained by God.

The Beginning of Marriage

In arguing for heterosexual marriage, the question is whether the institution of marriage is first a right that is granted by the state or is it an ordinance of the church, ordained by God and recognized by the state. In other words, who is the granting authority in marriage, God or man? As with many arguments of this type, the place to start is in the beginning.

Genesis chapter two is the story of the first marriage between the first man and the first woman. God saw that among all the animals, there was none that corresponded to Adam. God then caused Adam to fall into a Read the rest of this entry »

Family Members Get Sucked into the Black Hole of the Addict

May 2, 2008

I’ve been looking for a well-written article like this for a long time. Claudia Black crafts with her words what we clinicians see so often. While family members may be critical of the addict’s disruptions to the family, those co-dependent family members eventually begin to exhibit many of the same patterns they criticize. They get sucked in. They are not exempt. They need to take a look at their need for counseling as a family unit as well as the individual addict needs recovery treatment as an individual. Click on Claudia’s picture for her background and professional associations. Also, note that I’ve added a new link to Recovery Today Online for future quick reference. Take a moment to read Dr. Black’s article:

Recognizing Family Recovery
by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW

What do you mean I need recovery, too?

What does that look like?

Claudia BlackThe impact of addiction in the family is often thought of as the consequences of the addicted person’s behavior directed toward the family member, such as hurt feelings for being yelled at, embarrassment for a scene at an event, or the confusion generated from blatant lying. The greater impact is the resulting long-term shift in the family member’s behavior, thinking and emotions, which is a systematic response to living with the chaos, pain and unpredictability of addiction. Ironically, this change in the family member’s behavior parallels the behaviors, thoughts and emotions of the addicted person.

The following, excerpted from the recently published Family Strategies: Practical Tools for Professionals Treating Families Impacted by Addiction by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW, offers a way to aid family members in recognizing the addictive aspect of codependency. In doing so, it also assists them in identifying issues from which to recover.

Reviewing the symptoms of addiction and examples for both the addicted person and codependent, the reader is encouraged to utilize this article as a self-help tool by giving thought to his or her personal examples of codependent behaviors.


The addict has a repetitive focus on behaviors connected to his/her acting out behavior.
The codependent experiences the inability to focus on other things without intrusive thoughts about the addicted person and his or her behaviors.

“I wonder if there’s enough booze at home or if my dealer will be home or if I have enough money for my drugs.”
“I will need to cover my bases with my family by …”

Codependent Family Member:
“I wonder where my husband is, who he is with and what I will say to him when he gets home.”

Increased Tolerance:

Read the rest of this entry »