Grace

The Gospel in 5 Words and 5 Verses

Creation

“Then God said, Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” – Genesis 1:26

Sin

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 6:23

Love 

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”- Isaiah 53:5

Grace

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8

Life

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38

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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

Why Does a Good God Allow Human Suffering?

“Good and upright is the Lord.” – Psalm 25:8

Why does a loving God allow human suffering and evil? If God is all-powerful, doesn’t he have the ability to prevent it? If the Creator truly cares, wouldn’t he bring peace upon this earth? What is the purpose of suffering, if any at all? These are all common questions that people ask, especially when they are experiencing tragedy.

When my wife was a child, she had a younger sister named Natalia. At the age of 1, it was evident something physically was wrong. Her parents went from doctor to doctor to get a diagnosis. Finally, the worst news possible: Natalia had terminal cancer.

Her parents were determined to save Natalia’s life. They tried chemotherapy, surgery, traveled to clinics around the country, but there was no remedy for this cancer. It started in the tailbone and spread to her lungs.

When Natalia began to walk, she would complain about her leg pain. She just wanted relief. My wife vividly remembers a time when Natalia said to her Mom, “I just want an injection. Can you give me an injection to relieve this pain?” Most children loathe shots, but Natalia needed it because her pain was unbearable. That same year Natalia passed away and began the journey to her heavenly home.

Stories like these are hard to hear. My wife and her family were devastated. Heartbroken. Questioning the goodness of God was a natural conversation considering their circumstances. Despite the pain, this tragedy had started a positive direction for their family.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

After the funeral, my Father-in-Law, who was an agnostic, started attending church. He had nowhere else to go. In his brokenness, the only relief was to be part of a community of believers who would pray and comfort him and his family during this ravenous storm.

My wife started going to church with her grandpa. My Mother-in-Law also began attending church. Although Natalie had passed into eternity, her influence was prevalent. This tragedy brought the entire family into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, my wife loves the Lord. She has helped missionaries translate the gospel from English to Ukrainian. She has counseled several women in the church. Everyday,  she teaches my two boys the importance of God’s love. For instance, our eldest son Evan is already sharing Jesus with kids he meets at the park. She has been a tremendous helper for me and a vital asset to the strength of our family.

My Father-in-Law owns a successful business. He gives employees the option of staying after work to do in-depth Bible studies with him. And yes, they get paid for being present. He has contributed greatly to their city, revamping dilapidated buildings, creating programs for youth, and teaching Bible studies at his house. He knows the Bible better than any seminary trained professor I have ever met.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

All of us will experience tragedy at some point. It’s inevitable. When these tragedies do arise, what will your attitude be? If you become bitter and angry towards God, I can promise you, life will become a dark tunnel filled with disappointment. Bitterness always leads to the grave.

My wife’s sister Natalia was a heartbroken event. Both her laughter and tears will never be forgotten. And yes, grieving is the right attitude, but it’s not the final outcome. Natalia had a positive impact on my wife and her entire family. Her death brought brokenness, but that brokenness led the Livinyuk family to seek refuge in Christ. Praise be to God.

Dear Church, Love Always Triumphs Over Hate.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

Last week, I watched a video uploaded by a pastor on YouTube. He told his opposing viewers to get over the presidential election and stop crying like a “bunch of babies.” Do you think his attitude was constructive? Was it in the Christian Spirit to sharply condemn in this manner? What does his response reveal to outsiders about the leaders in the Christian religion?

I don’t think calling people a bunch of crybabies is what Jesus would do. Jesus not only taught to love those who disagreed politically (Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God), but also to radically love your persecutors. And Jesus isn’t just talking about cyber bullying. He is referring to enemies of God who killed followers of Christ.

For instance, when Stephen  publicly praised Jesus in front of the Pharisees, they stoned him to death. What was Stephen’s response? “Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done.” Isn’t this the exact response Jesus had when he was crucified? He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Compare the attitude of Jesus and Stephen to the pastor on YouTube. Isn’t there a stark difference? Why is it, then, that leaders in the church are not imitating what Jesus said? God told us to beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. I don’t know if this pastor is a false prophet, but I do know, based on his temperament, he shows no signs of the Fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).”

While I understand this political election has caused division, anger, and resentment, the Christian church needs to arise out of the ashes. The Church has a great opportunity to be the new role model. Can you imagine how many people would be attracted to a religion that tells them to “love those who persecute you?” A worldview that teaches all of us are “created in the image of God?” A belief system where God took on human flesh to die for the sins of rebels?

This worldview is the only hope for humanity. So what are you waiting for? Go, stand, and speak this great truth to a world in desperate need of acceptance, love, grace, and forgiveness found at the cross!

Slaying the Dragon: How to Counsel Porn Addicts with Grace

Case Study: Let’s say your friend, whose name we will call Erik, admits to you his need for help in the area of porn addiction. He discovered it on a trip out of town when some of his friends showed it to him on their phones. Since then, Erik has frequently looked at pornography.

The problem got worse when he went to college and had no internet restrictions on his laptop computer. A few days ago, Erik felt convicted by God that as a Christian he must begin to deal aggressively with this sin. He even told his dad about the problem. His dad doesn’t know what to do and they have decided to seek counseling from you. What would you do? 

Erik has admitted his need for counseling because of his struggle with pornography. My first goal would be to reassure Erik that he made the right decision to seek help. By confessing his sin to dad and a counselor, he has followed James 5:16. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Now Erik is able to put off his sin nature and put on the righteousness of Christ since others will keep him accountable. 

After gathering data about Erik, my first advice for him would be to memorize Scripture pertinent to his struggle. Because people often feel powerless to overcome porn addiction, Erik should know this is a lie from Satan. The Scripture teaches in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “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.” 

As Erik memorizes this reference, which is a sword that fights against sin, the Bible will prepare him to win this battle. For example, if Erik is on the computer and no one is around, he may be tempted to go to a bad website. However, it’s no longer his fear of being caught that drives him. The Word of God will convict him now since he knows there is “a way of escape.” The fear of being caught is not a strong enough motivating factor for repentance. It has to be your conscience condemning you and godly sorrow that leads to true change in a person’s heart.  

Another important tool Erik should use to overcome his battle against pornography is the concept of “putting off” and “putting on.” Jay Adams calls this dehabituation—habits to put off, and rehabituation—habits to put on. Breaking a habit is a two-sided problem that requires the process of replacing our bad habits with good habits.[1] That’s why the Apostle Paul said “not to conform to this pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:1).”

A porn addict has several habits. To hide his addiction, he may lie about where he is going so he can quickly sin while no one is watching. After he is done, he may cover up his sin by deleting browsing history. So not only does the “lust” need to be dealt with, but the sin of lying is an issue. A verse that may help Erik to put on a good habit is truth rather than falsehood. Psalm 52:3 states, “You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth.” Erik will now need to be honest with people or God will convict him. 

In the life of a porn addict, Erik may have went from curiosity to experimentation, and from experimentation to obsession. He may be preoccupied with thinking about porn all the time and looks forward to having temporarily relief when he performs this lustful action. Erik now has to “put off” the habit of idolatry. An idol is anything that gives you ultimate fulfillment or satisfaction apart from God. It becomes a false savior. What most porn addicts find out is this momentary satisfaction leads to guilt and shame. In order to put off idolatry, Erik needs to put on worshipping the one true God. Matthew 6:33 states, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Because Erik has been exposed to multiple pictures and videos of sexual immorality that degrade women, He will need to put off how he views and treats women. No longer should Erik be flirting with women or having dirty thoughts. Instead, he needs to rewire his brain through the grace of Jesus Christ to look at women as God’s holy creation, not objects of sexual worship. Erik should “put on” this verse in his mind: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Lastly, Erik needs to know that pornography is not just a sexual addiction. Pornography causes people to lie to cover up their sin. Porn treats women with disrespect. It’s degrading to them. Porn addicts worship and serve the god of pleasure and fornication rather than the God of the Bible. Porn is a big issue. It destroys marriages and friendships.

If you or someone you know is struggling with this sin, get them help. It’s not too late. The good news is that Jesus Christ can help you overcome this sin. He can also heal you from the scars of shame and guilt left behind from many years of this addiction. Pray and ask God to help you now. If you have anything else that you think would help Erik overcome this problem, please feel free to comment below. 

            

 


[1] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, p.188-189.

Martin Luther’s Conversion Experience

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There’s a story about Martin Luther, a German monk, priest, and important figure to the birth of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. When he was traveling through a terrible thunderstorm, a lightning strike nearly killed him. He cried out a vow to God that if he survived he would live as a monk. And so he did.

He entered the Augustinian order at Erfurt. He prayed eight times a day, slept little, and performed painful self-infliction for his sins. He was attempting to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. Yet he was miserably bound by the law.

Luther was known for confessing his sins so often that he would stay up all night and the priests would grow weary. Whenever Luther showed up, they would exclaim: “Oh no, Luther is here. We are going to stay up all night now.”

It wasn’t until Luther meditated on Romans 3:20 that he finally understood what God desired from him. “By the works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Finally, Luther came to the brink of his own self-righteousness. He gave up in his works-based religion and asked for justification by faith alone in Christ alone!

As Christians, we can be tempted to view our salvation along with our commitment to attending church, reading the Bible, praying, and evangelizing. Yes, we are called to produce fruit. Faith without works is dead, as the Apostle James said. However, when it comes to our salvation and justification, it’s all the work of Christ. Let’s never forget that!

Can Secular Psychology and Biblical Counseling Find Common Ground?

Common grace is the blessing God bestows upon every created being, both the saved and the unsaved. Examples of common grace include the beauty of nature, intellectual discovery, moral accountability, relationship building, and physical health.[1] In this paper, I will explain whether secular Psychologists use common grace to properly diagnose the human condition or oppose the biblical counseling worldview through their own humanistic methodology.

God gives common grace to the intellectual world, but not when it contradicts the true nature of reality. For instance, Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis Theory asserts man is not responsible for his sin, but the Bible makes it clear “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).” Furthermore, Carl Rogers, the founder of Person-Centered Therapy, makes a similar contradiction—man is essentially good and needs no outside help.[2] This viewpoint contradicts the Psalmist, who declares our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth (Ps. 121:1; 124:8). Hence, it’s impossible to reconcile these divergent views.

Does this therefore mean all non-Christian guidance is valueless? Not at all. The help of a secular medical doctor is crucial in Christian counseling. In Dr. Mack’s book, he states: “Viral infections, hepatitis, diabetes, and hypothyroidism are all associated with depression. It may be relieved or eliminated simply by the correct diagnosis and treatment of a medical problem from a Physician.”[3] In addition, there are some secular principles that may help illustrate or strengthen a biblical principle. For instance, the Cognitive Behavior Therapy has a diagram which depicts how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors all influence each other without mentioning God. This principle can still be taken from CBT and applied into a God-focused worldview.

Therefore, the methodology of biblical counseling should not be syncretized into a Rogerian, Freudian, or Skinnerian approach. This will only lead to a confusing, eclectic viewpoint.[4] Instead, a non-Christian principle should be scrutinized first by its philosophical, theological, and biblical foundation before determining whether it should be implemented into Christian counseling.

In conclusion, common grace helps find common ground in Psychology. The moral and intellectual realm are still recognizable by both believers and non-believers, since everyone is created in the image of God. Furthermore, all humans have a conscience that bears witness to what is right and wrong (Rom. 2:15). The question then becomes: “Who is honestly using their mental faculties to find this truth?” If one is not willing to accept self-evident truth—such as man’s proclivity towards sinful behavior, the responsibility of the individual to turn from what is wrong rather than blame shifting, true guilt as a result of sin, and treatment found in God rather than some inner potential, then it’s impossible to reconcile the two. It’s my hope both sides will take a critical view regarding their own position and attempt to find some common ground without compromising their position.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: MI: Intervarsity Press, 1994 (658-660).

[2] Jay Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling, p.8.

[3] Wayne Mack, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005).

[4][4] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, p.92.