Counseling

Should Christians Gamble?

In college, I went to the Kentucky Derby with my friends. The main reason we went was to socialize, not bet on horses. After watching a few races, we decided to put down a measly sum of money. $10 to be exact. Was that wrong for us to do? Would the Bible condemn that action?

While there are no specific references in Scripture that condemn gambling, betting, or lottery, the Bible does warn us not to be tempted by the love of money (1 Tim. 6:10; Heb. 13:5). Scripture also condemns receiving money without labor (Prov. 13:11; 23:5; Eccl. 5:10). All of us know the gambling industry personifies both. Therefore, I think gambling should be avoided by Christians. Let me explain why.

Anyone who gambles can develop addictions if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. Signs that indicate someone has a problem is when behavior hinders relationships, finances, and the workplace. Gambling addiction has been known to be a “hidden problem” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like drug or alcohol addiction. Here are 4 things to ask yourself to determine whether you may have a gambling problem:

  1. Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or find ways to lie about how much you really spend on betting. For instance, you may go to the convenience store everyday to get a lottery ticket but tell people that’s not “really gambling.”
  2. You may have trouble controlling your gambling. When you begin gambling, is it hard for you to walk away from it? Are you compelled to keep spending your money until you bet the last dollar? Do you borrow money from others so you can win your loss back?
  3. If you gamble even when you don’t have money, this is a concern, especially if you have children and a spouse to take care of. When you feel pushed to borrow or even steal things for gambling money, you have a problem.
  4. People closest to you in life will share their concerns, eventually when you can’t hide it anymore. Denial keeps problem gambling going, but after a while it becomes obvious. When friends and family show concern, it’s best to get professional help.

If gambling is a struggle, I would encourage you to seek help. Get counseling from a Christian counselor who can remind you of the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. Remember, all of us struggle with sin. It’s when we admit it and are willing to repent from it that God will help us in our time of greatest need. I will end with this verse to remind you of God’s great love. God bless.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

God Counsels with a Loving Eye

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” -Psalm 32:8

There are 4 key words in this passage: instruct, teach, counsel, and love. It is God’s love, however, that makes all the difference. Just as faith without works is dead (Jam. 2:14), instruction, teaching, and counseling without love is lifeless.

As a former pastor, I counseled a variety of people. I distinctly remember an older gentlemen who had complained about marital issues. His wife badgered him for not having a job, cleaning the dishes, and failing to pay the bills. His self-esteem suffered in the process.

He would come into my office with a barrel full of tears, crying: “I really wish I could help my wife out, but I am physically unfit. My multiple surgeries and heart issues deter me from accomplishing simple tasks.”

As a young man, I was intimidated to offer instruction and advice to an individual twice my age. But I reminded myself that God is the one who counsels. This thought alleviated my fear and I began to teach him from the Bible how to solve his circumstance.

I believe the most important verse I asked him to memorize in our counseling sessions was 1 Peter 5:7. “Cast all your anxiety on Jesus because he cares for you.” When he knew God cared for his marriage and anxiety, it made all the difference in the world.

No longer was counseling an impersonal psychological assessment. Instead, counseling became personal. God really does watch over our pain with a “loving eye.”

By simply reminding this man that God desires to build a relationship with Him, it brought to life why instruction, teaching, and counseling are meaningful. It’s because there is a God who wants “all things to work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).” Do you believe this truth? Then share it with others!

Finding Joy in Pain is Difficult

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the Earth.” -Psalm 100:1.

The year 2016 was the most difficult year of my life. I was involved in a sledding accident that resulted in a mild concussion. A couple months later, my friend from high school passed away. For several weeks, my son Evan was having recurrent fevers and the doctors were unsure of the cause. Shortly thereafter, I resigned from a pastor position at a gracious and loving church for theological reasons.

My family then moved 1,200 miles to start a new life. We left close friends, family, and the town I grew up in. Through all of this, God enabled me to find joy in pain.

These trials, however, pale in comparison to a young man I met today. At the age of 21, he took a year off school to take care of his Dad. I asked him, “How is your Dad doing today?” He replied. “My Dad committed suicide a few months ago.” The only words that could come out of my mouth were: “I am sorry man.”

A few moments later, he shared his pain with me, a complete stranger. I reassured him God has a plan for all our circumstances, no matter how bad they get. He agreed. I also told him it’s okay to grieve. Grieving is a process. It takes time to heal.

After our conversation, I realized there are many people in this world who are hurting. They need to be reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” God desires to give you rest.

In the end, joy never promises 24/7 happiness, but it does promise hope and peace in the midst of difficulty. Imagine this: Joy is the dove on a tree in the midst of a storm. It offers inner peace, but the storms of life never go away.

Are you looking for joy? If so, cry out to your Creator. As the Psalmist says, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” That includes you. I promise, you will receive an answer.

Misfits are fit for the Kingdom of God

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term misfit as “a person who is different from other people and who does not seem to belong in a particular group or situation.” Does this describe you? If so, you are not alone.

Growing up, I tried to fit in many tribes. In middle school, I hung out with the jocks. Somehow playing sports automatically signed me up to be part of this crew. However, I quickly realized their interests, personality, and behavior were in complete contrast to my inner being.

When I entered college, I joined a fraternity. Yes, it’s true–we had secret handshakes that gave access to special rooms and ceremonies involving candles/black hoodies. Moreover, the upperclassmen enjoyed waking us up in the middle of the night, lining us against the cafeteria wall, and yelling for hours because we didn’t memorize in alphabetical order the first, middle, and last name of all 30 students in our group. I definitely felt like a misfit my Freshmen year of college.

Before my 21st birthday, I lived my life yearning to belong. My identity inside never matched the people I hung around. I kept asking myself: “Who am I?” “What do I want to be?” “What are my ambitions, goals, desires?” “What is the purpose for existence?”

Then I met Jesus. I didn’t run to him; He ran to me. A misfit, a drunk, and a mouth like a sailor. Jesus wanted to hang out with me? I was unclean. Unfit for a relationship with the sovereign King of the universe.

But then I realized Jesus was known for hanging out with misfits. So much so that he was labeled a “drunkard and glutton” (Matt. 11:19) by the religious establishment. However, Jesus never comforted me in my sin. He made it very clear, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

When I gave my life to the Lord, I no longer had a fractured identity. Instead of finding my self-worth in school, relationships, or a career, I found it in a person. A person who loved me so much that he died on the cross for my sins (Jn. 3:16).

My wife and I just joined Refuge Church, a wonderful community of believers in Fort Myers, Florida. Our Pastor Brian Culbertson likes to use the term “misfit.” In fact, he was the one that gave me the inspiration to write this article.

Just this week, Pastor Brian called us to become “partners in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5) by committing to Refuge Church. After the service, we had cupcakes that read Welcome Home Misfits (Ps. 34:8). 

Don’t you know that misfits are fit for the kingdom of God? We are called strangers in a foreign land (Ex. 22:21), a peculiar people (1 Pet. 2:9), called to be set apart (Heb. 10:10), no longer conforming to this world, but to Christ, the king of glory. If you feel like one who struggles belonging to a particular people, there is always room at the Christian table. So pull up a seat, sit down, and join in the conversation because you are no longer a misfit, but a child of God.

Christian Counselors and Medical Professionals: A Symbiotic Relationship

I think its vital to work alongside a physician to help someone cope with their depression. An important distinction to make from the beginning with the doctor, however, is what constitutes as an organic problem versus a non-organic problem. For instance, let’s say Billy (fictional name) is suffering from thyroid deficiency and that’s why he feels depressed. Because this deficiency can be empirically verified through lab results, it is imperative he receives the proper drug to get his thyroid working properly. This is clearly an organic issue that can be solved with proper medication.

Furthermore, there has been research done, which is not yet definitive, by Osmond and Hoffer, on schizophrenic patients that suggest an organic cause. Their theory argues the root of the problem does not lie in a person’s mind, but from a faulty perception because of a lack of adrenachrome. Adrenachrome is a natural chemical agent that helps us with perception. However, when the chemical is deprived, it causes real distortions: colors may be too bright, words on a page can bounce, depth perception is lost, and hearing becomes intensified to the point where voices are actually being heard from a distance.[1] Similar to someone induced by a drug like LSD. Thus, the counselee’s mind is not sick; rather, their bizarre gestures make sense because of the illusions they experience from biological deficiency.

These two case scenarios are different than a medical professional who says Billy has a “chemical imbalance.” First, there is no scientific proof that chemical imbalances, such as low Serotonin levels in the brain, directly cause depression. A proponent for the chemical imbalance theory might show a picture of the hippocampus section of the brain in a normal patient versus a depressed patient. They might conclude that since the hippocampus is smaller in size with patients who have depression, there is a biological reason for it. However, a picture of the brain structure doesn’t prove the cause for it. It could have been a result of environmental stimuli rather than a genetic predisposition.

Here is a case in point. There was a recent study on ex-NFL players that showed a correlation between concussions and depression later in life. As this example makes clear, if the NFL players avoid the football field—the environmental factor that caused their onset for depression, they may not have any problems. The same is true with depressed patients. It’s still conceivable that people might experience depression because of their biology, but in the majority of cases, their environment, thinking, and/or personal decisions is an important component to their depression.[2]

In conclusion, I think it’s important to have a symbiotic relationship with a physician. I also believe Scripture is sufficient to handle any emotional issues a person is struggling with. A counselor’s goal, therefore, is to put confidence in the Word of God and give a defense to the hope Christians have with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15). The defense is the power of Scripture to transform a person from putting off the old self—anxiety, depression, and anger to the new man—full of joy, peace, and love. May God give us wisdom as we treat each person with the utmost care and professionalism in our counseling sessions.

[1] Abraham Hoffer and Humphry Osmond, How to Live With Schizophrenia (New York: University Books, 1966), p.38.

[2] Jonathan Leo and Jeffrey Lacasse, The Media and The Chemical Imbalance Theory of Depression (Springer Science Journal, 2007), p.2.

Are Anti-Depressants the Answer for Depression?

Case Study: Let’s say there is a 45 year old female named Sarah (Fictitious name). She told you she was terribly sad and has a lot of trouble keeping up with life. She came to you seeking biblical counseling. Sarah has several friends who received anti-depressants from their family doctor. The medicine seemed to help, but some of them experienced unpleasant side effects that she is concerned about. She asks you, “Do you think I should see my doctor about taking an anti-depressant?” What would you do?  

If Sarah asked me, “Do you think I should see my doctor about taking an anti-depressant?” my first response would be. “I am not a medical professional. I don’t have the authority to give you a yes or no answer.” Afterwards, I would recommend for her to see a medical doctor who has a Christian perspective, similar to Dr. Robert D. Smith, an MD and ACBC Counselor. Whether she decides to get on anti-depressants or not, I would still continue to counsel her from a biblical perspective, hoping she sees it as sufficient enough to overcome her depression.

Before Sarah conclusively decides to take a psychotropic drug, I would ask her to answer these questions that Dr. Smith suggests in his book.[1]1. What tests were run to prove a physical problem is present? Is the condition a fact or a theory? 2. How do you know the physical condition is the reason for your depression? Can this be empirically verified? 3. Do you have any proof that the medicine you received heals the physical problem? If Sarah’s physician can’t definitely answer these questions, then maybe she will come to the realization herself that the drugs have not been proven to help out her depression.

The next step would be to help Sarah live by biblical principles rather than her feelings. It could be the case that Sarah feels “terribly sad” and has a lot of trouble “keeping up with life.” A biblical counselor ought to take those feelings seriously. But the solution is not to give her a drug that will satiate bad desires. It’s like giving someone Tylenol who has a headache. It alleviates the symptoms, but it doesn’t cure the problem. The problem exists in the heart. It exists in her relationship with God and others. The goal, therefore, is to gather data and find out what is bothering Sarah.

Maybe she is lacking sleep. Then the solution is not to give her drugs. The solution could be as simple as saying, “Get more rest.” Tiredness can cause feelings of depression so it’s vital that a person acquire the recommended sleep. If I as her counselor found out the depression was a result of her lack of sleep, I would work with Sarah’s physician to help her through this ordeal.

Let’s say Sarah is having relational issues with her husband. This is the reason she feels terribly sad. The solution, once again, is not to numb her body with drugs. These feelings could be a sign that she needs to do something about her problem. The solution would be to develop a more intimate relationship with her husband. Some advice I would give would be to spend more time together. To communicate feelings towards one another. Also, to encourage Sarah to read the Bible with her husband on a daily basis and pray together. This spiritual connection will naturally strengthen their relationship.

Lastly, if Sarah is overwhelmed at home with the kids and wants to have a night free to herself, then have the husband stay at home and watch the kids or hire a babysitter for the night and give Sarah quality time with her spouse or God. The Bible states in Psalm 42:5 that depression can happen when our relationship with God is suffering. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

These are just a few ways I would handle Sarah’s depression with a medical professional. I know counselee’s become bewildered when they realize that depression can be overcome through the power of Christ’s love. It seems too simple. It doesn’t sound complicated enough or medical enough because a “pill” is not being used. But the truth is we were created to be fulfilled in God, and when we stray away from Him, depression is what takes God’s place. The solution then, is to worship God and He will give you the desires of your heart.

[1] Robert D. Smith, The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference (Stanley, NC: Timeless Texts, 2000) p.67-68

Counseling the Heart Through Proper Thinking

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Ever since Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, human thinking has been marred by sin. People distort truth, embellish stories, and abuse others with their words. The absolute truth-telling that exists in the mind of God is unfortunately uncommon in His Creation. In this paper, I will focus specifically on how sin has affected the world’s approach in counseling, and whether that approach can be redeemed through biblical counseling.

“We can show you the way to a happy, fulfilled, self-actualized living.”

This is the world’s approach to counseling. It is focused on the self, control, power, and the potential within rather than a way that honors God.[1] For example, Sigmund Freud believed the problem of the individual was societal because it built a wrong set of values into the individual—causing guilt. Thus, instead of owning up to one’s own mistakes, Freud advised the individual to blame shift his wrongful behavior.

This is counter-intuitive to the Bible. When God confronted Adam about eating from the tree, he said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it (Gen. 3:12).” Adam not only blamed the woman, who is part of his environment, but he also blamed God for creating her. Then, when God confronted Eve, she also blamed her environment. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate (Gen. 3:13).” God was looking for both of them to confess their sins and take responsibility. By doing so, God forgives and purifies us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).

Another secular-focused counselor, B.F. Skinner, believed all humans were conditional animals. His treatment plan consisted of rearranging the environmental expectations by reprogramming the person through the use of reward and punishment. By training the person to behave in a manner acceptable to society, he or she would adapt and become fulfilled.

However, this mode of thinking doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. God’s word not only tells us to change our sinful behavior—anger, deceit, sexual deviance, bitterness, etc. He also tells us to replace those ill-behaved mannerisms because God’s word teaches us to conform to the image of Christ, not the image of society.

Carl Rogers, the founder of the humanistic approach to counseling, believed humans are essentially good and have the innate ability to handle their own problems. His treatment plan was to listen to individuals and urge them to look within themselves to discover their own solutions. He encouraged his clients to find their own solutions through self-discovery.

It is true that we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) and can find solutions through self-reflection and introspection. However, the word of God teaches that we have a wicked and deceitful heart. We are not to lean on our own understanding, but rather let the Lord direct our paths (Prov. 3:5-6).

In conclusion, it is evident there are differences between secular-based thinking and biblical thinking. The world’s approach says man is essentially good, the environment is the main problem, and truth can be found through deep introspection. The Bible says man is essentially sinful, the environment and individual responsibility are the main problems, and truth is found in God (Jn. 14:6), not within our human psyche.

Logically, since both of these worldviews are diametrically opposed, only one of them can be right. In my opinion, I think the biblical perspective is truer because it corresponds more closely to reality. What are your thoughts? Please feel free to comment below.

[1] Jay Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling, p. 166.