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His Master's Voice
Copyright © 2012 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Friday, June 15, 2012

Inability to Know *My* Future

Numerous times I have taught and written that Ecclesiastes instructs us five times that God has purposely hidden the future and its outcome from humanity. Ecclesiastes informs us that God keeps the future secret to Himself alone. Some aspects of the future the Father even kept from the Son.

Why? So that man would continue to depend on God and not become arrogant, improperly and selfishly using that information to multiply his sin against God.

In my own life that teaching has come back to roost. All my own plans about ministry, finances, vocations, community life, and futures I now find have evaporated.

This is not really shocking or surprising from an academic point of view because it is a truth from Scriptures which I have long embraced. However, it is emotionally startling. Change itself is hard enough to cope with, as is loss in general. Demise of all of one’s expectations while living in the constraints of a material world is bone-jarring.

Recovering my composure and adjusting has taken my attention away from writing. Indeed, the need to begin a new vocational career is consuming much of my time and concentration. Starting one’s life over is distracting. Nonetheless, over the next few months I will try to divert some resources back to writing and posting on Xanga and TheFaithfulWord.org website.

Booth's followup response to multiple kind comments of encouragement from various readers:

Abraham Lincoln once wrote that he would not try to "beguile" a mother out of experiencing her grief when she was notified that her son had died in the Civil War, though he prayed for her eventual solace. What a wise man he was, for indeed he was repeating the sentiments of Scripture (i.e. we weep with those who weep for it is more profitable to be in the house of mourning than in the house of laughter).

My deep appreciation for all those who have expressed their kind wishes toward my family (including those who posted here and those who did so privately).

Dan, those are precious passages indeed. There is nothing cliche or shallow about this truth, "Lord, I know that a man doesn't control his own life. He doesn't direct his own steps."

In a very real sense this set of situations could become a real and present corporeal blessing. Rarely does one get a chance (as an old man) to return to a career he deeply loves, as I am about to do with photography. Certainly the business could go the way of most small businesses and crash and burn (in which case I will find myself not merely unemployed but homeless), but if the Lord blesses and it can pay the bills then how blessed I will truly be.

Nonetheless, we thank the Lord for my wife's and my salvation.

Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Biblical Counseling: It Is Not Therapy

What Biblical Counseling Is

Sometimes it is called Nouthetic Counseling, other times Biblical Counseling. In either case it is not mental health therapy or medical treatment.

When applied by the best of counselors Nouthetic (Biblical) Counseling is advice derived directly from the Scriptures on how to overcome problems of Christian living. Another way to think of it is as personalized discipleship training focused on specific trouble areas of growth.

At its core is a deep grasp of biblical doctrine by the counselor, particularly with respect to the human condition. Sins are called sins, not: syndromes, conditions, or diseases. Alcoholism is handled as the willful habit of drunkeness, not as an organic failure of the biological brain which the victim will never overcome. Hope of growing ever closer to Christ in behavior, thought, and attitude are behind every counseling session.

Often a distressed Christian simply needs to talk over his life issues so as to remind himself of his standing in Christ. At other times Christians are clueless as to what the Scriptures really say about their circumstances and therefore require someone to carefully instruct them more fully in the Word of God. Commitment to work and to change must drive every counselee who enters Nouthetic Counseling.

Finding a Counselor

Locating a good Biblical Counselor can be difficult. One organization, NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) has made this somewhat easier. That organization offers “certification” to qualified Biblical Counselors (at a hefty financial cost to the counselor) and provides a geographic locator function on its website to match counselees with counselors. Not all certified Biblical Counselors are equal in training, doctrinal understanding, or ethics. Counselees must choose wisely.

Most ethical Biblical Counselors do not bill or solicit money because they are clergy who are paid staff members of regular churches and treat counseling as a ministry. Other counselors are unpaid volunteer ministers working under the authority of a traditional church. A few Biblical Counselors have made a business out of counseling and charge a small hourly fee (which they will disclose before the first session).

Sadly, some unethical counselors have sprung up. Such individuals “solicit donations” instead of charging a stated fee or offering the counseling with no regard for finances at all. These unethical counselors can sometimes be identified (and thus avoided) by reading their advertising materials in which they constantly mention they “accept donations” for their “free services.” This can become a form of manipulation by guilt over time, a kind of pay-by-intimidation. It should serve as a large warning sign if any counselor takes “donations” directly from the hand of counselees during the counseling session (literally a non-standard practice).

Lastly, the best Biblical Counselors will have a degree from a seminary, such as a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) or a Master of Biblical Counseling. Counselees should ask to see the counselor’s seminary diploma because some (less ethical) counselors advertise their “Bible school attendance” but in fact only took a few classes at that school and did not actually complete a seminary degree. Further, a “certificate of ordination” is not a diploma and is not a substitute for a seminary education. An abundance of caution must be exercised by the vulnerable counselee as they are placing themselves into a relationship predicated on the need for total trust.

What to Expect

Counselees should expect to have to speak openly and honestly about their spiritual life. They must also be prepared to work hard to overcome their troubles and to grow closer to Christ. Good counselors will require the counselee to do significant and meaningful Bible reading homework assignments and then will work with the counselee to ensure they understand what was read and what the passages mean in their own situations.

Additional homework will be in the form of practical projects: practicing how to talk in a civil manner with one’s real life spouse, delivering a prepared apology for an offense, or replacing a regular drinking hour with a different activity. At other times academic homework will be assigned, perhaps in the form of a research paper. Be very wary of the counselor who relies on fill-in-the-blank homework handouts as this may indicate a counselor who is taking the lazy one-size-fits-all approach to counseling. Change, real change, involves more than mere talk and verbal assent, it involves learning how to think and behave differently.

Yet in all this hard work the anticipated outcome is still an improved walk before God and man. Perfection is not the goal, but improvement is. Until the counselee sees improvement as the worthwhile goal he is not yet prepared to enter into a Biblical Counseling relationship. On the other hand, a growing relationship with Christ is beyond words and is beyond material blessings.

Who Should Seek To Be Biblically Counseled?

At times every Christian finds themselves under the weight of grief, sin problems, or hard circumstances that merit seeking advice from older or more mature believers. Every Biblical Counselor will also experience these same issues. That places every Christian in the class of those who at one time or another ought to seek a Biblical Counselor. This is not necessarily to be considered a moral failure but rather yet one more opportunity for spiritual growth. Embrace the opportunity.

Booth's followup Post Script directed to a specific posted comment:

LOL - Good observation! Most certified biblical counselors I have known (and I have known many) appear to be genuine, sincere, and ethical. It is for that reason I frequently refer people to the NANC website with few reservations.

Sadly, I did know two “biblical” counselors who were not what I would call ethical, one certified by NANC, the other not. The one counselor started his own counseling business, but to avoid income taxes told the IRS it was a church and not a business. He told the IRS he had a robust and exclusive membership roll in his fake church and even gave it a fake physical location. Of course, he had not even one member in his paper “church,” for even he was a member of a different mainstream denomination church which requires its candidate members to pledge that they have removed themselves from membership in all other churches, including any “paper” churches the candidate may have created just to avoid income taxes.

That counselor freely solicited “donations” from all his counselees, pleading poverty with them even though he drove two luxury cars and lived in a luxurious home. He often solicited donations using the name of the mainstream church of which he was a pledged member but transferred those funds to his own paper “church” without telling the donors their funds (earmarked for the mainstream church) had been transferred to the other no-member paper “church.”

All the money the “counselor” funneled into his paper “church” went into his own pockets alone since his paper “church” had no members to care for and no overhead (no physical building). All those aberrant practices appear to violate the IRS rules regarding not-for-profit churches. Highly unethical, in my opinion.

This same counselor once boasted that he has many rich clients who have used him in lieu of “therapy” for many years because he is “cheaper than a licensed mental health therapist.” He encouraged this years-long practice because the rich clients donate more liberally “out of gratitude.” To be fair to all other counselors, most ethical Nouthetic Counselors do not encourage such long-term relationships because that would build up a dependence on the counselor instead of training the counselee to depend on God and His Word and to take responsibility for his own spiritual growth.

So, the message here is choose your Biblical Counselors wisely. Do not automatically trust counseling certifications or “ordination” certificates since certifications do not guarantee the counselor is ethical or even carries a seminary degree. Avoid any counselor who asks individual counselees for “donations” to his business or to his private one-member “church” instead of charging hourly fees. Counselee be ware.

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