Category Archives: Counseling Issues

Waking up to Worry…

Do you ever wake up worried? I know I do! In my case, it’s usually because of people. Either something they did or didn’t do leaves me wondering how I can change the situation. To be more honest, I’m really wondering how I can control it! I know I should simply submit the problem to God, and roll back over, but my mind won’t let go. Don’t these people care? Don’t they realize their action or inaction is affecting me? Honestly, they probably don’t. They are usually wrapped up in their own worries, and have no idea that I’m lying awake fretting—which makes the whole exercise even more pointless! Not to mention the fact that God has instructed me to cast my cares on Him. It amazes me that I even allow my mind to go there after all He has done for me. Daily I see evidences of his grace and provision, yet I freak out when things aren’t going according to my plan. It’s a little “Martha” of me. Basically, I’m thinking “Lord, don’t you care that these people aren’t helping me?” Then I remember Jesus’ words that cut right to the heart of Martha’s worry. “Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary” (Lk. 10:41-42). That one thing is to spend time in the presence of the One who is in control of everything. Although He will never force anyone to change, His plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2), and that means I can trust Him, even when people fail. It means that I need to be directing my thoughts towards Him rather than worrying about imperfect people. I have no power to change them, so it’s a complete waste of time. When you think about it, worry is almost like a negative for of worship. It is allowing your mind to mediate and dwell on bad rather than good things (Ph. 4:8).

Worst of all, I am sure it’s just plain sinful to worry. At the heart of the problem, I really am saying, “Lord, don’t You care?” I’m not only filled with doubt in people, but the bottom line is that my doubt is aimed at God too! I am failing to trust His ability to accomplish His good purposes in my life in spite of people, or even through them. Perhaps He wants to use their faults to teach me more about His amazing patience and grace towards me. Maybe they are actually instruments in His hands to help grow my faith. It certainly wouldn’t be unlike Him to use negative circumstances for good. In fact, I would say that’s His specialty! On numerous occasions throughout my life, He has given me beauty for ashes, and yet I still wake up worrying as if He doesn’t care about the latest difficulty. I don’t know if I should cry or laugh at myself. I know I should ask for forgiveness for questioning His goodness. I also need to replace worry with truth! “If God is for me, who can be against me?” I know He will work all things together for my good! (Rom. 8:31, 28). I will not let my heart be troubled or afraid (Jn. 14:1), because in the end, worry really is a choice. It’s a choice to be anxious and distracted about many things when the Lover of our souls is inviting us to come and sit at His feet. It’s a choice to tune out the still small voice of hope, and to make temporary things a priority over the eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18). We live in a world that is filled with trouble, but we have a God who has overcome it. He took on suffering and death to secure our place in His family, and our Daddy loves us with an everlasting love. His perfect love should dispel all fear (1 Jn. 4:18), and worry is nothing but fear. I refuse to let it remain in my heart this morning. Right now I am casting all my cares at the feet of the One who cares for me, and am choosing to replace unholy fear with true worship. He is worthy and able to guard everything I entrust to Him forever (2 Tim. 1:12).

Answering the Call

Ministry Update

The Vision

I think it is true that when you know God no experience is ever wasted. When I look back on my life, I can see where I knowingly rebelled against his best for my life, and in my mind now it seems a complete waste. Yet, God has managed to use the suffering born out my sinful choices to bring me into a deeper relationship with him. Even my stubborn heart attitudes have become valuable teaching experiences, and I have been able to use those lessons when counseling others. I have lived through a lot: abuse, infidelity, divorce, wayward children, sudden financial ruin, deaths of loved ones, and a host of other painful experiences. In the end, it seems as though each miserable event has resulted in a spiritual triumph as I have learned to cast my cares on Him. That is the key. For years, I tried to force God into yielding to my plan, rather than yielding to Him. True victory comes in complete surrender. How contrary to human thinking! The truth is we are all surrendered to something—whether it be it power, wealth, relationships, addictions, or whatever we seek for satisfaction. The problem is that these other things bring heartache while surrender to God results in freedom, along with satisfaction, peace and joy.

Since it took me so long to surrender all to God, I prolonged the misery in my life. (Still not wasted—I’m just a slow learner.) The result is that I now have a passion to help people move past destructive choices and decisions that leave them in misery. I feel like Harriet Tubman. Now that I am free, I want to start another underground railroad to freedom! There are so many issues that stay underground and unaddressed in our churches. God continues to prick my heart about starting a ministry to help those struggling as the result of destructive lifestyle choices. Sometimes people struggle because of the sinful choices of others, yet I find that even in those situations, victims often make things worse by the way they respond. However, nobody is hopeless when they have God and the freedom He offers through Jesus. Redemption is not a one-time event; it should permeate our lives and our relationships. He offers hope and deliverance!

 Providing Support to Local Churches

Yes, churches do proclaim deliverance through Jesus, but sometimes in order for people to find true freedom they need intensive help that many churches may not be able to provide. When I left my abusive husband 18 years ago, I had no money, no place to stay, and it seemed as though nobody I talked to understood how to help. I didn’t want to go to a secular shelter, because I didn’t think they would support my biblical conviction to try and save my marriage. How I wish there had been a Christian place I could have gone with my two children. I have seen many other women struggle with this over the years, and I have also seen women return to abusive situations, because there were no resources for them. Even the secular shelters only allow them to stay for 3 months. What if there was a place that would provide free or low cost housing, temporary childcare, career training, and other practical needs to help women get on their feet for up to 2 years? What if there was a place that would provide free biblical counseling for families caught in the midst of crisis as the result of sinful choices? What if?

As I write this, I am thinking that this dream is just too big, but for some reason I can’t seem to let it go, and I know that nothing is impossible with God. I know that there are many others out there who have struggled through life crises and have seen the need for such a place. While I envision it being a haven for those coming out of abuse, I also know there are many other situations that could benefit from such a ministry. In addition, I see education as a huge component to this ministry, particularly helping churches learn how to deal with domestic violence more effectively. So here it is. Would you pray that God would make a way, and if you are interested in joining in this ministry, would you please let me know? I am especially looking for folks in the Raleigh, NC area to help establish a local ministry, but would welcome input from anyone. I cannot stress how much I need your prayers, because it is never easy to step out and respond to a call that seems impossible by human standards. Still, I know that all things are possible with God so I am moving forward.

 

At the Heart of Every Conflict

It never ceases to amaze me how blind people can be when it comes to conflict– always ready to blame and never willing to look at themselves. I shouldn’t be surprised, because I did it for most of my life, but oh my goodness, things go so much better when we are willing to be honest with ourselves, and when we get down off our “thrones” and leave judgment to God.

JoyfulSurrender.com

Lord, I am simply in awe of how gracious You are. My efforts are small and pathetic, yet You respond in abundant and powerful ways. It blows my mind, and I am forever grateful. My flesh and the world tell me how inadequate I am on a daily basis, but when I get into your presence that condemnation melts away as I bask in your sweet love. It is amazing that my perfect God can embrace such imperfection, and yet in our human condition we rarely extend such grace to others. Instead, we tend to see others’ faults while ignoring our own. We act as though we actually deserve your abundant grace. There is so little humility in this world—even among your people. You called the religious leaders “blind guides” and I would venture to say nothing has changed in 2000 years. I catch myself focusing on the “specks” in…

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A True Story of Redemption from the Pit of Abuse

A True Story of Escaping Abuse & Dealing with Rejection by the Church

I am posting this link to another blog I follow, because this story sounds all too familiar to me. I’ve lived it, and I’ve heard it from scores of women over the last 20 years. It’s horrible and painful to be trapped in an abusive marriage, but for many women it’s like a double whammy when their churches esteem their marriages more than their lives and put undue pressure on them to stay in an abusive relationship. Some of these marriages can be redeemed, but it requires knowing how to hold the abuser accountable, and it is NOT wise to counsel the couple together until after a prolonged period of separation and individual counseling. See my earlier article on properly dealing with domestic violence (https://joyforrest.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/the-church-and-domestic-violence-a-call-to-action/). Here’s the story of one woman who found freedom.

A Cry For Justice

This is the story of one of our newer readers at ACFJ. She graciously gave us permission to publish it as a means of encouraging and helping others dealing with abuse, including the abuse at the hands of their church. Many blessings in Christ upon her and her family! This is her story.

As you read, just imagine her being given the recent “Catechism for Christian Wives” we so roundly reject. What would it have done to her? You know the answer.

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Hello!  I recently found this blog, and I am so thankful for the work that has been done and is being done. The Lord has used you all so much in my life over the past two weeks! I feel like I have been led to a group that understands where I have been and what I have been through. I feel like there…

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At the Heart of Every Conflict

Lord, I am simply in awe of how gracious You are. My efforts are small and pathetic, yet You respond in abundant and powerful ways. It blows my mind, and I am forever grateful. My flesh and the world tell me how inadequate I am on a daily basis, but when I get into your presence that condemnation melts away as I bask in your sweet love. It is amazing that my perfect God can embrace such imperfection, and yet in our human condition we rarely extend such grace to others. Instead, we tend to see others’ faults while ignoring our own. We act as though we actually deserve your abundant grace. There is so little humility in this world—even among your people. You called the religious leaders “blind guides” and I would venture to say nothing has changed in 2000 years. I catch myself focusing on the “specks” in the eyes of others while ignoring the blinding “log” in my own (Mt. 7:3-5). I see it in counseling all the time. People come in able to list every single fault of the person who has offended them, but very few are ever willing to look at their own. Lord, forgive the hypocrisy of your people! Help us to see ourselves clearly, and teach us to search our own hearts rather than judging our brothers and sisters. At the heart of every relational conflict we find people standing in judgment over each other. In our imperfection, we determine that someone else is far more imperfect. We set ourselves up in the position of judge—a position that only You deserve. Help me to lead by example, and never take your amazing grace for granted. Help me to remember how flawed and weak I am in my dealings with others, so that I can extend to them the same overwhelming grace You show me daily. If your people would embrace humility and grace, it could completely transform this world. As it is, we simply look like the world. We act as though the Gospel is only meant to save our souls, and forget the impact if should have on our relationships. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us to be tenderhearted and to forgive others as You have forgiven us. Help us to be honest with ourselves, and willing to look our own sin before judging others. Forgive us for looking like the world, and rendering the Gospel ineffective for daily life. Amen

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Mt. 7:1-5 NLT

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 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.                                                                                                

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?  James 4:1-12 ESV

 

 

When Holiness Seems Mean

I just returned from my first visit to the Holy Land. It was a trip that will change my perspective forever. What a privilege and joy to walk in places that Jesus walked, and to take in the amazing sites. I had no idea of just how beautiful it is there. Even in the barren wilderness, the sites are awe-inspiring and I couldn’t help but think about our amazing Creator. For the most part, the people were kind and receptive to us. In our conversations with them, we found open hearts and minds, but the one exception to that was among the religious. I had several experiences that gave me a greater understanding of what Jesus must have dealt with during his time on earth.

The first of these experiences was actually with a dear family friend. A few years ago he decided to go to Israel on the birthright program in order to get in touch with his Jewish roots. Although his mother is Jewish, she decided to embrace Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) as Messiah many years ago, and raised him in the church. When he arrived in Israel, he was given a place to stay in a religious school (yeshiva) near the Western Wall. Over time, he came to embrace the teachings of that school and rejected Yeshua as Messiah. I wasn’t sure he would even meet with me, but finally late one night he sent me a message and came to our hostel to see me. He quickly informed me that he was not allowed to enter a Gentile building to talk to me, and asked if I could come out. When I came out, he told me he was not allowed to hug me. Since it was a little cold, I asked if we could go to walk, and he said we could, but I would have to go change into a skirt. I ran up to my 3rd floor room and put on a long skirt so that we could walk together. We walked through Jerusalem for the next 2 ½ hours, and I asked him to tell my why he decided to convert. His whole rationale was about the Law. Since God doesn’t change, and since Gentiles say that it’s okay to eat non-kosher we must be wrong. He informed me that he has found his truth, and that he is happy. The problem is I am sure he’s not. It is as though somebody has sucked the life right out of him. He only smiled once– he used to smile all the time. He was careful to follow the letter of the law, and every bit of the spontaneity I loved so much about him is gone. Second Corinthians 3:6 tells us that the letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. My friend is case in point, and how it grieves my heart.

The second experience that helped me understand the religious animosity Jesus faced came in the form of a testimony I heard near the end of our trip. In the hostel where we were staying, I met a young volunteer who had run away from her religious family in Jerusalem after they arranged a marriage for her that ended up being extremely abusive. The rabbis in her sect would not allow for divorce, and she managed to get to America to stay with relatives for a while, but her move was clearly unacceptable, and she was basically stalked by the leaders. She had been told that if she ever set foot in a church, she would die, and she became so miserable that she walked into a church one day hoping to do just that. To hear her tell it, she did die, but in a good way. She died to the old way of life and became a believer in Yeshua. He set her free from the bondage of legalism, and now she glows with the love of God. What a contrast between these two young people. One has embraced bondage and the other freedom.

Finally, there was a third experience that seemed to tie everything together for me. We spent a day with our friend who is an American born Israeli citizen. He is an expert in Torah law, but also happens to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah. While at his house, he did a bible study with us from Leviticus 19, which deals with God’s command to Israel regarding holiness. Our friend said that when he thinks of holy, he thinks about meanness. To him the first images that come to mind when considering holiness are hateful religious attitudes. As a Believer in Yeshua, he has faced much persecution for his faith by religious people. The average Israeli would never bother him, but the ones who claim to be holy are the ones who give him the most trouble—much the same as when Jesus walked the earth. The common people embraced him, but the religious did not. Our friend says that the passage in Leviticus on holiness is obviously relating holiness to loving God and others. He said that true holiness flows out of a relationship with God that is only possible by receiving the redemption He offers. Only those who know they are sinful and have accepted the Messiah, who sacrificed himself and took the punishment for theirs sins, can be truly holy. Isaiah 53 says that like sheep we have all gone astray, but that the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all on Him. True holiness is based on receiving this wonderful gift, and not on rigidly holding to a set of rules. The Spirit gives life, but the letter of the law kills.

After returning to the States, I decided to read the Gospels with a new perspective based on my travels. Yesterday I landed in Matthew 7, which starts with “Do not judge.” Certainly mean religious people spend a lot of time judging others. The problem for them is that their own standards come back to haunt them, and they end up in miserable bondage like my friend. It is not just the religious in Israel who have this problem— it is universal. As a Christian, I have both judged and been judged. This happens when we set our standards above our relationships—when we love our ideals more than we love God and people. Judging is basically an act of pride in which the judge sets himself in the place of God. Jesus implied that a judgmental spirit is usually the result of spiritual blindness. When we think we are holier or better than anyone else, we are operating in blindness. Jesus compared it to someone trying to remove a speck in his brother’s eye when there is a log in his own eye. Judgmental attitudes almost always flow from a failure to honestly look at our own hearts. They spring from a focus on rules and regulations rather than heart issues. My trip to Israel really brought this to light, but I know that the American church is just as guilty.

When you find fault in another person, what is your first thought? Is it one of condemnation or love? Do you run to tell others about it (gossip) or share it with others as a “prayer request” (gossip) without loving the person enough to speak first directly to him or her? Do you focus on that person’s issues without evaluating your own heart? Are your motives pure, or are they based on pride? Do you enjoy pointing out others’ mistakes? If so, you probably have a problem with pride. Do you find yourself angry with someone? Do you stew in anger as you imagine the motives behind that person’s actions? If so, you have set yourself up as judge—a place that is reserved for God alone. Jesus’ most harsh words were aimed at religious people. He showed grace and mercy to those who were automatically considered sinful by the scribes and Pharisees. To sum it up in the words of my counseling professor Robert D. Jones, “The only thing worse than being an adulterer or thief (or whatever the sin) is being proud that you aren’t one.” True holiness is not mean like that. It cares for God and others. It is kind and never mean (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

Luke 18:9-14 

 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me —a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

     

 

At The Heart of Every Fear

I believe that at the heart of every unhealthy fear there is a question about God’s goodness. 1 John 4:18 tells us that perfect love expels fear. That is, when we know we are loved, we know we can trust that God has ultimate control, and that He will work all things out for our good (Rom. 8:28). For years, I was crippled by fear, because I did not understand the concept of his sovereignty. I acted as if He wasn’t paying attention, or like the disciples in the storm tossed boat mentioned in Mark 4:38, I thought he might not care that I was sinking.

The older I get the more I realize that God has a good agenda– even in our suffering. He has used awful circumstances in my life to bring about good that never would have happened without the bad happening first. When Jesus got up and calmed the storm for the disciples, he asked them why they were so afraid, and asked why (after all the miracles they had seen) they still had no faith. If you are a child of God, fear should not be status quo for you. It is the opposite of faith, and those are belong to Him are called to live by faith. Yes, the world is a hard place, and fearful things happen almost daily, but those who belong to Him should never give in to fear.

It is a choice that says “even though the storms of life are raging, I know He is in control and I can trust Him with my life. If He does not choose to immediately rescue when bad things to happen, He still has my best interest at heart and will use it for good.” This does not mean we don’t remove ourselves from danger or try to improve circumstances when we have the power to do so. However, it means we do not desperately grasp to control things we cannot control. We will all experience fear in life. The key is to learn to surrender it to God, so that He can replace it with faith. Paul admitted to the Corinthians that his visit to them had been characterized by “weakness and fear.” Yet, he went on to explain that this was so that their faith would be based on the power of God rather than the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 2:3-5). It is in our weakness that God’s power is best displayed (2 Cor. 12:9). This means that fear gives us an opportunity to proclaim His power. When we can say we were afraid, but still moved forward in faith, it shows the world it is His power rather than our own.

Are you struggling with fear? Perhaps you have received bad news from the doctor. Perhaps someone you love has rejected you. Perhaps you fear for a loved-one who is making bad decisions. Perhaps your fear is related to finances. Whatever it is, I urge you to surrender it to the One who loves you most. He knows the situation. It has not caught Him off guard. Even though your circumstances may be the result of sin, and not part of His perfect will for your life, He promises to use all things for your good.

Think about the story of Joseph in Genesis. He was captured by his brothers and sold into slavery, then falsely accused and unfairly imprisoned. He suffered undeserved consequences for decades, but he held on tightly to God. In the end, Joseph told his brothers that even though they intended their actions for harm, God intended them for good (Gen. 50:20). His circumstances were the result of sin, but God ultimately used them for good. In every fearful event of life we are faced with a choice. We will either focus on the goodness of God or we will focus on our negative circumstances . We always have the power to choose. Will you choose to trust in his goodness and love for you, or will you question his goodness and let fear rule you? Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled or afraid (Jn. 14:27), but to believe (Jn. 14:1). Obviously, we can’t just turn off our emotions, but we can choose our response. When fear rolls in, choose to look to God in faith and confidence that his promises are true. Believe that He will use your circumstances for good, and you trust that He always has loving intentions towards you.

Psalm 56 has long been one of my favorites. Notice how the psalmist chooses to deal with his fear. I have recited these word many times as I have made the choice to believe rather than fear. If you are struggling with fear, I hope you will pray this psalm now.

Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; Fighting all day he oppresses me. My enemies would hound me all day, For there are many who fight against me, O Most High. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me? All day they twist my words; All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, They hide, they mark my steps, When they lie in wait for my life. Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger cast down the peoples, O God! You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? When I cry out to You, Then my enemies will turn back; This I know, because God is for me. In God (I will praise His word), In the Lord (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You, For You have delivered my soul from death. Have You not kept my feet from falling, That I may walk before God In the light of the living?    For further study see: Psalms 23, 27, 34 & 46, Isaiah 41:10, 51:12-14, Romans 8:15, Hebrews 13:6