Less Impressed, More Influenced: Honoring My Mentor

10458999_10153346889154433_509669917205402472_o

I’m not original. Neither are you. Whether we like it or not, who we are is largely shaped by who we admire. We reverberate the voices we value most, a collage of influences that have shaped us over time.

This isn’t new. The Bible recognizes the power of others: wear the wisdom of parents like a necklace, says Solomon (Proverbs 1:8-9), and the surest way to victory is to surround yourself with counselors (Proverbs 15:22).

These truths bloomed for me in college and coalesced with the arrival of a person who shapes the way I live in almost every facet of my life today.

The “new guy in Student Life” attended a welcome back dinner for my college. I was 19, a sophomore, and in a small leadership position.  I don’t remember much about that first interaction, or about his first year at my school for that matter, except for two things of unequal importance: (1) things began to change at my school, and (2) he had a very redundant name – “Who names their kid Gunner Gundersen?!”

My knowledge of the new guy matured as our lives overlapped at the school.  He preached more, led more, and attended more events. Each time I sat under his influence, even at a distance, it shaped me. This regular impact from a distance led me to amble into his office one day and ask, “Can we spend regular time together?” That was almost seven years ago.

I can’t tell you how he invested in me. There was no organized program. We engaged in a intentional and providential immersion into each others lives. Eating, counseling, working, camping, teaching, worshipping, traveling, writing, walking, correcting.

The only pattern I’ve identified in Gunner’s investment was that it matured as I matured, and grew as I grew. It changed with me. There were three movements in his investment:

The Leader and Teacher

Gunner spent most of his time leading and teaching me at the beginning. He was either cleaning up my messes, or correcting my work. Then he would teach me how he took out my trash, let me ask questions, give me another shot, and made more corrections.  

During an opportunity to preach to a group of fellow students, Gunner looked at my preaching notes before my sermon and sent me detailed (painfully detailed!) feedback on my sermon manuscript. Then after the sermon he sent me a long email with encouragements and areas of growth.  

There are probably 100 other stories I could tell you about my mistakes, his corrections, and my consequent growth. His investment during this season was marked by quantity time, energy, and conversations.

The Mentor and Counselor

Don’t get the wrong picture. Gunner was not a pontificating sage while I silently took notes. To know Gunner is to be listened to – which gave this second movement of investment so much power.  

I remember very little of the millions of words Gunner spoke into my life. But one thing I remember very clearly: he always asked me questions.  As our relationship matured, I found the dynamic changing. Most of his investment started with one solitary question: “How do you think that went?”  

That question was a portal into worlds of wisdom. I took that girl (who is now my wife) to coffee – ”how did that go?” I went home for a weekend to see family – ”how did that go?” I was studying a topic for class – ”how is that going?” It wasn’t overly formal, and the conversations were often ad hoc things, happening in small crevices in our daily lives. Yet Gunner himself was always intentional, always listening, postured toward pursuit.

The Brother and Friend

One night I found Gunner sitting alone on campus. I joined him, and soon Gunner began describing how he was tired and discouraged. It wasn’t a “teachable moment” of strategized vulnerability. It wasn’t a testimony. It was confession. He shared a burden with me – from one friend to another. This was the last, and current, state of Gunner’s investment in me.

Conversations weren’t marked by him instructing me. He simply partnered with me in whatever thing we were doing. We talked about our families, our marriages, theology, parenting, and goals for the future. We shared burdens and received help. We shared ideas and sharpened each other. We laughed a lot and enjoyed our time.

Less Impressed, More Influenced

Over a year ago my Dad died suddenly. Gunner was the first person I called. And that call initiated a wave of care that could only be given by a brother. He mowed my grass, called and listened, and even drove 130 miles to sit with me for 20 minutes. He preached at my church while I was gone. It was an incredible moment of care.

About a year later Gunner – my teacher, mentor, and friend – moved to Texas to pastor a church. A few months before he left, we had lunch and reflected on our friendship. Gunner said to me, “You know, I would say that after all these years you are probably far less impressed by me than you once were, but also far more influenced.”  

He’s right. Actually, I’m far more influenced because I am less impressed by him. Gunner is a real person with real weaknesses and sin, and he invited me in to watch him in his gifts and deficiencies; joys and sorrows; victories and defeats; maturities and quirks. 

I’m not writing this to give you a list of practical ways you can invest like Gunner. This isn’t that type of article. It’s a public monument to one of the most impactful relationships I have. This is a monument to a leader, teacher, and brother who loved through intentional pursuit.  

Gunner once told me: “Most people won’t remember what you invested, but that you invested” This article is a tribute to that principle. Very few have shaped me like Gunner. But the curriculum of his investment wasn’t books and lectures. It was a persistent pressing into my life over time that left an indelible imprint.

That imprint, though embossed through Gunner, doesn’t look like him. It looks like Christ. That’s because his investment was translucent, allowing me to be less impressed with him so I could see through him to that truer Teacher, Mentor, and Friend – Jesus Christ.

For the sake of Christ, let us be less impressive and more influential.  



Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of 
Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement(P&R, 2017).

Controversy Among Christians

controversy
by Sean Perron

I’m finally reading through the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This book is a response to “evangelical feminism” and it is now in its third edition. It is one of those books that I bought years ago. You know, one of those books that you mentally reference, look at on the shelf, admire, want to read… but alas.

I have been convinced for many years with the basic premise and thesis of the book, but now am greatly benefitting from reading through it. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the book is how the authors handle controversy among Christians.

There is no doubt that feminism, headship, submission, etc. are hot topics. Yet these scholars are winsome, kind, and convictional. Below is a section from the concluding chapter that I resonate with regarding how to think about unity vs. controversy. Perhaps you will also find it helpful when it comes to processing controversial issues among believers.

“Yet one of the groanings of this fallen age is controversy, and most painful of all, controversy with brothers and sisters in Christ. We resonate with the Apostle Paul – our joy would be full if we could all be ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’ (Philippians 2:2).

But for all his love of harmony and unity and peace, it is remarkable how many of Paul’s letters were written to correct fellow Christians.… The assumption of the entire New Testament is that we should strive for peace by striving to come to agreement in the truth. Peace and unity in the body of Christ are exceedingly precious… “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17). But it is first pure. Peace is not a first thing. It is derivative. It comes from hearty agreement in truth….

For the sake of unity and peace, therefore, Paul labors to set the churches straight on numerous issues – including quite a few that do not in themselves involve heresy. He does not exclude controversy from his pastoral writing. And he does not limit his engagement in controversy to first-order doctrines, where heresy threatens. He is like a parent to his churches. Parents do not correct and discipline their children only for felonies. They long for their children to grow up into all the kindness and courtesy of mature adulthood. And since the fabric of truth is seamless, Paul knows that letting minor strands go on unraveling can eventually rend the whole garment….

The point is this: We do not love controversy; we love peace. We love our brothers and sisters who belong to Christians for Biblical Equality. We long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But we are bound by our conscience and by the Word of God, for this very cause, to try to persuade the church that the vision of manhood and womanhood presented in this book is true and beautiful. It is a precious gift of God to the church and to the world.” (404-406, second edition)

 

Counseling Q&A

2017 ACBC Truth In Love Live from ACBC on Vimeo.

 

During the recent ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) Annual Conference, I interviewed Dr. Heath Lambert about biblical counseling. Questions were submitted from all over the world. You can watch the interview or listen to it through the Truth in Love Podcast.

Below is a list of the questions asked during the interview:

6:55 “If the Bible is sufficient, then why do we have a bookstore at our conference?”

8:50: “Are there any benefits in psychology that we can use to help the heart restoration of our broken counselees?”

13:26: “In light of recent events, how is you talking about the differences between biblical counseling and integration not speaking the truth in love?”

19:28: “Seven years ago I was having what seemed like focal seizures. I was tested by two neurologists and was told there was nothing wrong with me. I sought counseling from a NANC counselor who recommended more Bible study and that I should search to relieve these symptoms. My seizure activity continued and with the improvement of technology and an impatient week at Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital, it was found that I’ve had a brain tumor and a frontal lobe epilepsy deep in my brain. The scans confirmed and clearly showed the medical evidence. Here is my question or concern with your ministry: for seven years I was told that I did not need medication, but that this was a spiritual issue. How can you really know if something is medical or not? My experience has left me with bitterness for NANC counseling when it comes to what are perceived as “mental issues.” Please provide input as our church is considering being a part of your ministry and I have some deep concerns. I do appreciate your counseling ministry and have seen wise and fruitful results for many.”

26:24: “Where is the best place to start with a new church that is trying to start biblical counseling within their church?” And we had another question that’s similar: “How do you introduce biblical counseling to a church?”

29:36: “Do you feel that promoting certification creates an unnecessary bar for people who want to help other people by making them feel like they are not competent to counsel unless they have received extensive training?”

36:14: “What are some, if any, differences between ACBC and CCEF?”

38:39: “What is the role of women in biblical counseling?”

44:56: “Do you think there is a time for separation in marriage other than when there is imminent danger (i.e. emotional abuse, sexual addiction, etc.) and what would be your biblical defense for your position? If your answer is no, how would you suggest a woman can be best shepherded when extreme cases arise and there is much to sort out but there is not physical violence?”

51:02: Why would ACBC or the Bible not be supportive of trying to go and dig up suppressed memories? And if the person can’t remember abuse, they need to try to figure out how can they be healed.”

53:46: “How can we discern whether someone suffering from a transgender identity (gender dysphoria) is struggling with mental illness, a physical disorder between the brain and the body present since birth, or a spiritual identity issue? These seem like real possibilities to me.”

59:15: “What is the theme of next year’s conference?”

When someone asks you for relationship advice

If someone asks for dating advice, where do you begin?
There are only three categories of dating problems.
.
This is the fifth unspokenblog podcast. Other episodes include Intro to the Bible, Dating, and Courtship and Early Marriage: Are You Ready?

 

Where Do You Go For Wisdom?

Crafting a CovenantArtboard 4

Where do you go for wisdom when you have questions about romantic relationships?

God knows every facet of human nature and the complexities and intricacies of romance. God is love. He is the author of marriage and romance. Although the Bible never describes the modern concept of dating, the Bible perfectly understands the people who participate in it (Psalm 33:15). The Bible uses different categories to address the issues couples encounter in romance.

The biblical goal of dating and engagement is to pursue marriage in a way that loves God first and loves others second.

This can be deduced by the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). The Bible adequately tells all believers how to be equipped for every good work (Hebrews 13:21, 2 Timothy 3:17). The Bible speaks to everything related to “life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

The Bible tells us that we must bring glory to God in all things and this must include romantic relationships such as dating (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 1:18). The Bible tells us that we must be holy as God is holy and this includes holiness in dating (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Holy Spirit can produce the fruit of the Spirit in every believer during any season of life (Galatians 5:22-23). In light of these passages, the Bible explains how to walk before God and as a couple in the season of dating.

The burden of a Christian couple is to view every problem through a comprehensive biblical worldview and discern how in “whatever” they do it brings glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him. This is the secret to human flourishing. Both glorifying God and enjoying him can be fully accomplished in dating and engagement by obeying the Scriptures.

But how does this look in every day life? What does this mean for your relationship?

On Monday, October 2nd, Spencer and I will be discussing how to apply the Bible to the issues couples face in dating and engagement. We will be speaking at the Crafting a Covenant conference in Jacksonville, FL. The content will be intentionally different from our books which release tomorrow. We would love for you to join us either in person or via live stream. The main sessions will be streamed at no cost and the full schedule is here.

Until then,

Sean

 

The Nashville Statement: A Gift and Burden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA          Processed with VSCOcam with f3 preset

Full disclosure: I really don’t like writing about controversial topics.  

I’m sure part of it is my own sinful cowardice.  Part of it is knowing I’m never the most articulate or knowledgeable on any given “hot topic”.  Finally, I’m convinced that most “hot” topics, aren’t that “hot” and usually fizzle out after a few days.  

Yet, when I read The Nashville Statement I felt differently.  

Don’t get me wrong, I still felt a sense of cowardice creep up because I saw how hostile our culture has become to things I believe.  I still don’t think I’m even close to the most articulate or knowledgeable on the topic (this article is the best I’ve seen explaining the heart behind the statement).  What was different, however, was that I don’t believe this topic will fizzle out in a few days.  In my short time working in ministry, issues related to sexuality are the most consistent, most confusing, and most urgently needing clarity.  

So, as a rookie pastor reading this document, I was grateful.  And I don’t say that lightly.  I have friends who experience same-sex attraction.  I’m not under the impression that reading this document was easy for them – even if they agreed with it.  The Nashville Statement addresses topics that are tender, intimate, and for many, packed with pain.

When I read The Nashville Statement, my heart swirled with both gratitude and gravity.  I see it as a gift to hold and a burden to bear.  

The Gift: A Shaping Force, Not a Counseling Script

When I read The Nashville Statement I didn’t see myself reading a script for counseling situations.  I plan to reference it in the future for its precise language and helpful summaries of what I believe Scripture teaches, but I didn’t see it as something to be memorized and quoted to friends who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.  Yes, the truth is objective, static; but the people I minister to are dynamic and complicated. They need wise application of objective truth to their situation. I don’t envision myself sitting down with friends experiencing same sex attraction and reading them The Nashville Statement verbatim.  It’s not a script to read for every pastoral situation,  and I don’t think the writers of the document intended it to be one.  Instead, I envision it as a foundation I can stand on that provides the nuances that match the complexities of some of the most difficult problems people face.  I’m grateful for the clarity it provides on issues surrounded by confusion for many Christians.  

The Burden: Compelled by Constraints

The deeper effect the statement had on me was how it drove me toward my friends who experience the sins it describes.  Most critiques I have read say The Nashville Statement is a constraining document.  It will lead to even more isolation from Christians toward those in their communities who experience these sexual sins.  I would argue the opposite.  If the truths of The Nashville Statement do not compel me toward loving relationships with my LGBTQ neighbor, I obviously don’t believe what the statement says.  My signature on The Nashville Statement is worthless if it results in me merely signing off on a document.  If I believe that people flourish most when they embrace God’s good design for marriage and sexuality, wouldn’t that compel me into relationships with my LGBTQ neighbor?  I feel the burden of this because I’m often better at articulating the truths of God’s good design and transforming grace, but often struggle to embody them by pursuing relationships with those different from me.  

I believe that Jesus gives the most abundant life (John 10:10).  I believe that when people delight in and obey God’s Word they flourish like fruitful trees (Psalm 1).  I believe that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself and that it is perfect truth, and when that truth is grasped even by the weakest faith it gives joy, peace, hope, and freedom (Romans 15:13; John 8:32).  

I’m grateful and burdened by The Nashville Statement – that’s why I signed it.  I would encourage Christians to read it.  My prayer is that as the cultural conversation moves on to the next “hot topic”, my heart will not.  My prayer is that I’ll stay close to the truth of God’s life-giving word, and close to those who need it most – starting with myself.


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement(P&R, 2017).

The Laws of Attraction and the Law of God

attraction
by Sean Perron
Mystery surrounds dating and romance.
.
How do people fall in love? Why are certain people attracted to each other? How can someone become desirable?
A recent article from Psychology Today called “The Laws of Attraction” by Wendy Paris touches on these topics. The article’s subheading reads
Who we desire is driven by powerful evolutionary forces, but while most of us are drawn to looks first (whether or not we admit it), human attraction is far more complex than it appears at first sight.
I’m the first to admit that the Bible never uses the word dating. It talks about romance in different categories than our modern culture has created. However, the Bible is the most important source of information about how and why people fall in love.
.
After reading the article, I was struck with how superior the law of God is compared to the psychological insights Psychology Today provided. I say this not to insult the author of this article but rather to highlight the helpfulness and relevance of the Bible. The plan for romance described in the pages of Scripture is not only sufficient for a healthy life, it is able to produce a beautiful life. Which makes it superior to any other resource.
.
Consider the following summary of the main sections of the “Laws of Attraction” article:
.
1) According to the article, the driving force of attraction in dating comes from evolutionary compulsions. Behind attraction is Darwinian evolution based upon natural selection and survival of the fittest. The people who are the most physically appealing are the most sought after because of reproductive qualities, but there can be other factors that contribute.
…it’s more important to be well matched with your partner than to catch the most beautiful person in your circle. Couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, tend to fall within similar ranges of size, education, religious beliefs, values, and socioeconomic status.
2) The article attributes dating preferences to chemicals in the brain that compel people to be attracted to specific types of personalities. Chemistry is not a mere metaphor, but a driving factor in why people fall in love.
.
3) It concludes by giving tips and ways to improve your own attractiveness. It claims you can increase your level of attractiveness by improving how you handle your most compelling features. A person can make themselves more attractive by being confident and comfortable and by broadening social networks.
.
The problems of the article is not the observations from the psychologists. The psychologists have observed common occurrences and trends in romantic relationships. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the fact that attraction can develop by couples having intimate conversations or that there are a variety of chemicals in each person. The observations made by these psychologists are not wrong in and of themselves.
.
The areas mentioned in the article fall short primarily because they do not adequately understand how and why human beings function in romantic relationships. The psychologists have the wrong foundation (Darwinian evolution) instead of the biblical foundation which establishes humanity as created in the image of God. But it isn’t merely their foundation that is faulty. The conclusions and summaries from the psychologists fail to be beautiful. They miss the most central compelling realities of romance and blunt all the beauty behind it.
.
Consider now the following passages of Scripture in contrast to the three areas from the Psychology Today article I highlighted above:
.
1) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NIV)
.
There are many things that could be said about the driving forces behind attraction, but fundamentally the article has “boxed-in” love. It relegates attraction to be a result of reproductive inclinations and calculations. People are attracted to the person they (knowingly or unknowingly) believe will best suite them for reproduction and survival. (I also find this perplexing because the article includes same-sex couples in its analysis and does not address the reality that same-sex relationships cannot biologically produce offspring)
.
When this Darwinian box is forced upon attraction, love is forced out. Real love is lost when driven by biological calculations. If the “Laws of Attraction” article is true, there really is no such thing as love – only sexual desires. The beauty of romance is removed from the box.
On the other hand, the Bible provides a flourishing framework that accounts for both sexual appeal and an authentic moral category of love. The “Laws of Attraction” assessment allows for one law – the law of self-pleasure, self-preservation, and self-gratification. Only the law of God can demonstrate the greatest and most fulfilling pleasure available to man is through self-sacrifice. Attraction is not merely a result of physiological instincts and urges. It can be a result of genuine care and self-less love.
.
2) “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.” (1 Peter 1:3-5a, NIV)
The person who feels “ugly” reading the Psychology Today article should despair if they take it to heart. If they believe the article, they are truly hopeless because all the action is confined to physical or social sexual appeal. The person who feels “gorgeous” should also despair after reading the article. If they believe Psychology Today, they will be fooled into thinking that attractiveness is merely outward.
.
The Bible provides an accurate framework that does not dismiss outward beauty (Genesis 29:17), but places the emphasis on inner beauty. The Scriptures underscore the eternal value and attractiveness of holiness. In God’s economy, godliness is the goal.
.
Consider the example of Fisher and his date in the article, only the body exists in this Darwinian system. Physical chemistry has replaced the conscience, the soul, and morality. This runs contrary to the better and more beautiful picture presented in 1 Peter which discusses the adornment of the heart. The Bible isn’t as simplistic as this article in Psychology Today.
.
3) Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30, NIV)
.
The practical advice on how to become more attractive misses the target because it is aiming the wrong way. The goal is backwards compared to the biblical framework of attraction. The article assumes the goal is to become more physically/socially appealing and then proceeds to give tips on how to cultivate appeal with whatever body type or skills a person possesses.
.
Instead, the biblical goal is to glorify God by enjoying him and serving others. When a person seeks to serve others and bring honor to Jesus, they will naturally grow in faith and confidence of their standing before God. They will become bold and brave for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As they grow in Christian love and hospitality, this might increase their social standing and reputation. This confidence and growth in warmth might then increase their appeal to others who might be romantically interested in them. But this would be a by-product of faith and obedience. This would be a result of living in Christian community and could never have been the focus.
.
It could also be that confidence is boosted, social skills are enhanced, networks are broadened, and attractiveness is at it’s highest possible peak, but no one ever bites. No dates take place because no one becomes romantically interested. What then?
.
Only the Christian who sought the Lord with their whole heart can be radiant. The Christian is secure because their goal was never to maximize their attractiveness for the sole purpose of finding a mate. The Christian knows that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a person who fears the Lord is to be praised. It is only the Christian, because of the Bible, who can obtain true and lasting beauty. The blessed (happy) person is the one who walks in the Law of the Lord and meditates on his Law day and night (Psalm 1:1-6). He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that produces fruit in due season.
.
In summary, if you are looking for a proper understanding into the mysteries of romance, you don’t need to read the latest in Psychology Today. Instead, you can mine the depths of the Scriptures to behold beautiful treasures. Romance is not merely about sexual attraction that is so easy to observe. Romance is about something much greater that only can be understood in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”(Ephesians 5:32, ESV)

For more information on relationships and romance, check out Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon’s new books Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement, (P&R, 2017).