Category Archives: counseling

prayerless words – weak fool

I have spoken many prayerless words in the past 24 hours.  Words matter.  Hard reminder when I see the effect of my mouth on my family.  God have mercy.

When I consider that my words can wound as they do… I am suddenly struck by the words of the Ecclesiastes passage I am working through – “What is crooked cannot be made straight.”  Sometimes that’s how I feel about the parts of myself that don’t add up.   When I am angry, why do I speak.  I know not to.  I do anyways.  What a crooked part of this fallen world.  The things I don’t want to do I do…

Crooked words point to a crooked heart in a crooked world that I can’t make straight.  Once again, weakness as the catalyst for a gospel prayer, hope, dependence and love. 

Today I feel like a crooked pastor because I can’t make things straight in my home… and yet, somehow by grace (in spite of all I said last night) there was a familial experience of peace this morning.  Could it be the peace that God, in his time, will straighten what is crooked.  Will bend my words into obedience and blessing for his glory?  Please do O God.

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weakness for the glory of God

I have been weak lately. 

In honesty, it has been with a measure of intentionality as I have been asking God to show me who I am…  who I really am… which is different than who I think I am or who I want to be. 

Before we launch out with the West Valley church plant, this is a timely season to secure my personal life on the foundation of God’s gracious gospel… which leads me to ask (without a preformed answer): Who am I?  What are my blind spots?  What image do I work to keep up at the expense of authenticity?  (As most of you know, I don’t hide much.  I can be authentically me – transparent and the whole bit – but who is the “me” I am being transparent about?  If it is not the real me, it is hardly authentic.)  All this has  come as a result of church planter assessment and Kori and my desire to explore each other and ourselves in new and honest ways.  I am reading a book by David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself – a timely tool to plow the depths of my being.  In sum, Benner makes the point that true experiential gospel transformation cannot occur merely by applying new gospel ideas and truths to the old self.  We must first discover and know the image-bearing gift of our real selves – the self that God has created with unique gifts and characteristics… the self that does not find its identity in social/cultural ‘attachments’ or image-conditioning and maintaining. 

Before setting aside this time to dig deep, I was afraid.  Honestly afraid at the layers of self that I don’t necessarily know are even there.  The layers of the me I don’t know because I am consumed with the me I wish I was.  But there is nothing to fear.  Why would I not want to know more about the true sinful broken self that I am – because all I will find there is more of the nature of God’s gracious love in Christ which has always been for the real me, not simply the me I wish I was? 

Perfect love drives out all fear.

It is not a frightening process, though it is quite afflicting.  I am going through a season where I question everything about myself.  This too, shall pass, but hopefully not right away.  This morning, Isaiah 48 helped me make sense of it all and why this is a very good time. 

Speaking to his people Israel, in Isaiah 48:10-11, God says: I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.  For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another.

What I hear in my whole self is this: my “not-sure-who-I-am-for-this-season-because-I-don’t-know-why-I-do-what-I-do-or-why-I-care-about-what-I-do-or-why-I-say-what-I-say” season of life is the furnace of affliction simply because, at present, I do not bear the name of my Creator and Redeemer as I should.  I know this.  I do not bear his glorious name as a husband or father or pastor or man as I should.  His glorious name deserves more than the “me” I have been putting forward. 

I need no other reason for this season of question – soli deo gloria.  Weakness in the furnace of affliction for the glory of God.  Thanks be to God for sending his own Son into the costly furnace of affliction – the real furnace that the real me in my sin deserves.  My whole self has been spared… so now I pray with Augustine: “Grant , Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”

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The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes

I recently picked up a copy of the Puritan classic by Richard Sibbes – The Bruised Reed (1630).  

In fact, when I was in line to purchase the book (at a CCEF conference bookstore), the guy next to me leaned over and said – THAT is a comforting, incredible, gospel book.  I had grabbed it in the first place because in my devotional/reading life I am aiming to alternate between modern and historic works – and I was set for turning the clock back for my next read.  The Bruised Reed jumped out at me because it is ALL about the gospel and our self-awareness of our being weak “bruised reeds” whom Christ will not break (Isaiah 42:3).  So maybe it is research for this weakness project —- or, as I have come to find the past few mornings – it is a devotional well with fresh biblical water!

D Martin Lloyd-Jones said this of the book: I shall never cease to be greatful to Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner tothe onslaughts of the devil… I found at that time that Richard Sibbes was an unfailing remedy.

Sibbes was apparently known among his contemporaries as “the sweet dropper.”  Give yourself 2-3 pages of his work, and you’ll feel the puritanical effect!  SO, I pass on to you a sweet drop or two… or five.

We see that the condition of those with whom [Christ] was to deal was that they were bruised reeds… not trees; but reeds; and not whole, but bruised reeds.  The church is compared to weak things: to a dove amidst the fowls; to a vine amongst the plants; to sheep amongst the beasts; to a woman, which is the weaker vessel.

WHAT IT IS TO BE A BRUISED REED:  The bruised reed is the man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken.  He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy.  This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax [a faintly burning wick – ESV]; so that both these together, a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man.  This is such an one as our Saviour Christ terms ‘poor in spirit’ (Mt. 5:3).

God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and oftentimes after…  After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.  Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy…  The heroic deeds of the great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do.

Hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising.  There must be conformity to our head, Christ, who was ‘bruised for us’ (Isaiah 53:5)…  Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted [weak] Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious work with them.

As a mother is  tenderest to the most diseased and weakest child, so does Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest.  Likewise he puts an instinct into the weakest things to rely upon something stronger than themselves for support.  The vine stays itself upon the elm, and the weakest creatures often have the strongest shelters.  The consciousness of the church’s weakness makes her willing to lean on her beloved, and to hide herself in his wing.

More sweet drops to come.  Grace today.

pain before comfort – gospel counseling!

I have been reading and re-reading James.  I have also been trying to do some gospel-counseling.  Imagine with me if James were your counselor to whom you brought a weakness-sin-struggle.  My gut tells me that his response would eventually lead to comfort, but it would start with acute pain!  Check out this call to go straight into the bottom of the well and so find him who “gives more grace.” 

“Be wretched and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”  – James 4:9-10

Love it.  Sometimes my problem is that when I have sinned against my kids or Kori, or when I have pridefully not listened but talked incessantly, or when I have fallen prey to unproductive self-pleasing idleness – whenever I struggle with my inumerable weaknesses, I push them aside and just go on laughing and existing undeterred.  What counsel James gives!  I should rather run with naked abandon into the place where I am humbled by the honest disgust of my sin; or just the honest reality of the Fall in and around me! 

SO, next time I come to you (my friends) with this pithy look on my face evidencing I am coasting and coexisting with issues of struggle – look me square in the eye and say – Jim, be wretched.  Mourn.  Weep.  Don’t laugh.  Don’t be happy.  Try on some gloom.  It’ll be the beautiful word of the hour because I might actually still my proud and casual heart into a place of humility – and there experience the glorious, gracious exaltation of a repentant sinner who experienced more grace once again. “But he gives more grace”(James 4:6).