Author: Leland Acker

Yes, Virginia, You Can Go to Therapy

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Progressive pastors never miss an opportunity to enrage the fundamentalists, and the fundamentalists never miss the opportunity to be enraged. Such was the case recently on Twitter when a progressive pastor of whom I have never heard posted a tweet encouraging people to attend churches where the pastor goes to therapy, and encourages the congregation to go to therapy. The result? An onslaught of fundamentalists decrying this pastor’s statement, saying in essence, “all you need for mental health is the Bible.”

I’m going to be real about this. If I were to ever find myself in a position where I needed therapy, I would probably remove myself from the pulpit. I would feel that I would not be fit for Spiritual leadership, and that the church deserved better. But that’s an expectation I place on myself.

As for therapy and the Bible, let’s begin by setting the stage by defining what the Bible is and what the Bible teaches.

First, the Bible is the inspired word of God, penned by prophets and apostles who had God’s word given to them either through vision, angelic message or by direct dictation by God Himself. You can see the inspirational process in action when you read Revelation. The Apostle John, banished to the Isle of Patmos, saw the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Jesus then told John what to write. Throughout the book of Revelation, John sees things and tries to describe them. Angels tell him what to write, and at times, the Lord dictates to Him as well. However, the entire thing came from God, and thus is God’s word.

The Bible, being God’s word, is all we need for faith and practice. It’s all we need to learn more about God, to build our faith, and to live our lives in accordance with that faith. However, to say that all we do is drawn from scripture is an error. Not all church traditions come from scripture, neither are all of our personal choices.

Scripture did not teach the church to open the worship service with Doxology, recite a creed, do a responsive reading, sing three hymns, collect an offering and receive a sermon from the professionally paid pastor. There are a lot of beautiful traditions in the church that I believe praise and honor God, but many of these traditions are not explicitly laid out in scripture. Some point to certain passages and say that it can be inferred that these traditions were in place among the apostles, but that is a mighty big assumption to make.

Since we find that, in the church, we can make decisions and do things that scripture did not specifically teach, but still honor God in so doing, it follows we can do the same thing with our personal lives. Scripture says very little about how to pick a career, how to choose a college, or whether to send your kids to public school or private school. Scripture does teach us how to work (do all for the glory of God), but it does not tell us how to go about choosing what kind of work to do. The lesson is that you can still honor God by making these choices.

Does that mean that scripture lacks direction for believers? As Paul would say, “No, in no wise!”

Scripture was not given to teach us how to do church, how to live life, how to make money, etc. Scripture was given to teach us how to have a right relationship with God. And that right relationship comes through two steps, (1) learning, understanding and accepting the Gospel as truth, and (2) repentance and faith.

The central message of the Bible is the Gospel. All scripture either sets up the Gospel, illustrates the Gospel, explains the Gospel, or declares the Gospel. The Gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Jesus Christ died for our sins, meaning that His death on the cross satisfied the judgment and wrath of God for man’s sin, thus we can walk away scot-free from His judgment, if we believe. Christ took that wrath upon Himself and shielded us from it. The fact that He rose again proves his power and victory over death. By defeating death, He brought in eternal life, so we can have the confident expectation (hope) that we will be received into His Kingdom (Heaven) when we die.

The Gospel teaches that I am broken, that I am a sinner, that my rebellious and selfish choices have inflicted harm upon myself, and those around me. However, through the Gospel, Jesus can heal my broken spirit, wash away my sin, and restore me and those around me from the harm I’ve caused.

Since many mental health issues stem from the issues of sin and brokenness, it is entirely possible, and very common to find healing in the Gospel and the Gospel alone. As a pastor, I counsel individuals through this process. I can, using only the Bible, show the source of the pain an individual is in, show how comfort and healing can be found in the Gospel, and give my congregant hope. I can, from the scriptures, demonstrate God’s divine purpose in suffering, and in so doing provide comfort for the one seeking my help.

And while I have seen people healed through this ministry multiple times, I can also say that there is a time when one needs to seek a qualified therapist who believes the Bible. I say this because I can demonstrate everything I have listed, but I cannot teach someone how to identify and control triggers.

In the Bible, I can show hope, but I cannot manage a chemical imbalance, or the brain patterns of someone whose mind has been altered by repeated mental, emotional and physical trauma.

In the Bible, I can listen and be non-judgmental, but sometimes people want to talk to a stranger for another view, another set of eyes and expertise.

And that is okay. I have on a couple of occasions referred people to qualified counselors who hold a Biblical worldview. And those folks got the help they need.

So, if you’re having issues, let’s talk. If I cannot help you, or you need more intense therapy, let’s get you to a counselor.

So, yes, Virginia, you can go to therapy.

The World Needs More Christine McVies

Christine McVie, 1943-2022

It was the spring of 1998. Stevie Nicks had rejoined the powerhouse rock group Fleetwood Mac, and together the band recorded a live album (The Dance), performed a concert for PBS, and went on tour. Arenas sold out across the nation, and a band who had broken up, reunited, performed with only a partial cast, and was nearly 20 years past their prime suddenly were relevant again.

Make no mistake about it, had it not been for Stevie Nicks rejoining the band, those arenas would have never sold out, The Dance would have never happened, and Fleetwood Mac would never have re-emerged.

However, without Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac would have never happened in the first place. They would have remained some obscure blues band lost on the streets of London in the 1970s.

During The Dance tour, the spotlight was on Nicks. However, on the left side of the stage, behind the keyboard, was the driving force behind the band’s success. McVie not only wrote many of their hits (Say You Love Me, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun, Hold Me, Little Lies, and Save Me, among others), her vocals and keyboards were part of the sound that distinguished Fleetwood Mac from other groups.

Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were both in the spotlight, but either one of them could leave (and they did), and the band could go on (and it did). You could place anybody at base guitar, and no one would miss John McVie. And while Mick Fleetwood’s personality behind the drum kit was very noticeable, truth is you could place any professional drummer there and keep the sound of Fleetwood Mac.

However, remove Christine’s lyrical prose, harmonious voice holding the sound together, and soothing keyboard notes, and you’ve lost Fleetwood Mac altogether.

What makes Christine McVie so great, and unique, in the music industry was her ability to blend into a background role, and to cherish that role. In an interview with Sirius XM, she once stated “I never saw myself as a solo artist.” She understood her role in Fleetwood Mac, how it was key to their success, and she relished it.

One of the hallmarks of the music industry of the late 70s and early 80s were the artists who would leave successful supergroups in order to strike out on their own, and put their own name and image out there. Nicks did it. Buckingham did it. Belinda Carlile (The Go-Gos) did it, as did Ozzy Osbourne. But for McVie, she was content to keep the supergroup together and going. In fact, her forays into a solo career only came with the absence of Fleetwood Mac.

And that’s why I think the world needs more Christine McVie’s. We need more people who are happy to work together to build wonderful things while doing great things, for the good of others as opposed to pursuing the endless goal of self-glorification. We need more people who see the importance of their role and fill it, as opposed to begrudging the fact they don’t have the spotlight. That’s what we call “humility.”

And we need more people stepping up to make real contributions to society. Yes, the world needs more Christine McVies.

Why the story line of Little James in The Chosen resonates with me

Have you ever prayed to God, and not had your prayers answered? Or perhaps you’ve seen the Lord tangibly bless those around you, seemingly passing you over.

If this is you, good news! There is a Chosen character just for you.

The Chosen is a TV series offered through online streaming services like Prime, Angel Studios, and their app. The series is funded through crowdsourcing, and depicts the lives of Jesus and His apostles as they begin the Lord’s earthly ministry.

One of the great, yet controversial, aspects of the show is how it humanizes the apostles. Instead of being static figures depicted through stained glass, they each have personality quirks, and physical attributes.

The great thing about the way the apostles are humanized is that they become more relatable, thus more believable. In essence, The Chosen makes the Gospel come alive off of the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and provide some tangibility and credibility.

The controversial aspect to this is that much of the characterizations of the apostles is fiction. We don’t know that Matthew was on the spectrum, and there is no scriptural evidence to support that theory. Furthermore, many of the scenarios depicted in the show happen between the instances recorded in scripture, meaning that many of the events in The Chosen are completely fabricated and are fictitious.

However, these portrayals humanize the apostles and make the Gospel real and relatable.

So while The Chosen may be good for making the apostles relatable, and communicating the gracious and loving nature of Christ, as well as His divinity, those seeking truth are still well advised to open the Bible. Enjoy the show, but read the Bible.

Which brings me to my new, favorite character. Spoiler alert… if you keep reading, you may come across some plot information.

Little James, like Matthew, is depicted with a quirk. Again, no scripture that I can recall right off hand supports this portrayal, but such is the approach of The Chosen.

While Matthew’s issue is being on the spectrum, Little James suffers from a limp. Partially crippled, he relies on a walking stick he uses as a crutch. He struggles during travel, and believes his gait slows down the company as they travel.

So, the apostles travel, witnessing the miraculous healing our Lord freely performed for the masses. Multitudes, many of whom had the same disability as James, were suddenly healed and able to walk with little to no effort.

So, here’s Little James, crippled while everyone else around him is healed. He wants to ask, but he does not want to offend the Lord. He wants to understand, but does not want to be disrespectful to Jesus, and certainly doesn’t feel as if the Lord has withheld anything from him.

But, he desires healing. He desires understanding, and it’s breaking his heart. So, near then end of Season 3 Episode 2, he tearfully approaches Jesus, who gracefully understands, and encourages him.

Not gonna lie, that scene got me. It ranks right up there with the final scene of “Field of Dreams” for me.

Jesus told Little James that he could be healed, and someday he would, but what made his testimony so powerful was that he believed even though he had not been healed. And that through his testimony many would come to faith.

Modern Christianity has wrongfully turned faith into a transaction. You believe, then God gives you what you want. Therefore, if you do not have what you want, there must be something wrong with your faith. This is wrong and contrary to the scriptures, but leads to the following situations.

How many times have I sat with a weeping woman who couldn’t understand why God would not give her a child. A weeping man who doesn’t understand why God would allow his wife to have cancer, and why the miraculous healing still hadn’t come.

They had prayed, trusted the Lord, and called out to Him in ways we probably couldn’t imagine. Yet, no baby, no healing, no response. Yet, they still believed in the Lord. And yet, others continued to accuse them of imperfect faith, secret sin, and whatever else they could think of to explain the lack of a miracle.

Yet, these believers remained faithful, for their faith was in the Lord, His goodness and grace, regardless of their outcomes.

And I can not only admire that, I relate to it as well. I have lived knowing that God has forgiven me and cleansed me of all my sin, even while others tell me how awful I am. I have seen others receive tangible blessings from the Lord, while observers tell me that the lack of tangible answers to prayer in my own life reflect a flaw in my faith.

Yet, I live, with the peace in my heart knowing Jesus loves me, and that I have been blessed and forgiven. And nothing will take that away from me, nor will I ever be deterred.

And that’s why the story line of Little James resonates with me. How about you? Have you seen The Chosen? If so, what character resonates with you?

Confession to God

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Adam stood before the Lord guilty of breaking God’s one rule of the garden, he had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam’s explanation? “The woman you gave to be with me gave me the fruit, and so I ate.”

David was confronted by Nathan the prophet after having an affair with the wife of one of his best soldiers before having that soldier killed to cover his sin. David’s response to being confronted with his sin? “Against thee, thee only have I sinned: and done this evil in thy sight…. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51)

Which of these two men from the Old Testament offered God a true confession? If you answered David, you would be correct.

As we discussed in our previous post on confession, confession moves beyond an acknowledgement of one’s own action and admits fault, being transparent in one’s motivations and belief and placing one’s self at the mercy of another. Our previous exploration of the topic of confession was framed in the context of confessing our faults and struggles to each other, so that we can pray for one another, minister to one another, and be healed.

In this post, we will discover how this level of confession toward God not only brings forgiveness of sin, but also brings reconciliation to God and healing from the sin that has plagued one’s life. 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

According to 1 John, confession is the key that unlocks God’s forgiveness, cleansing, and thus healing. Denying sin, downplaying sin, or acknowledging the action without confessing that it is sin leads to a life marked by continued darkness, isolation and destruction. To deny sin is to call God a liar, which is the ultimate blasphemy, since lies are the hallmark of Satan.

Confession to God is made through one’s own prayer life, and while one may choose to confess their sin to their pastor, one has not truly confessed to God until one has approached God directly in prayer.

One of the great examples of confession in the Bible is the afore-mentioned Psalm 51. In it, David goes beyond confessing to his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband. In fact, he does not even mention it. Rather, he focuses his confession on the very darkness within his own soul, and within his own heart that led to the sin.

In essence, David’s confession was not about the action, but rather the heart that birthed the action. His confession is like bypassing the symptoms in order to treat the disease itself.

In his Psalm 51 confession, David mentions that he is, at his core, a sinner. He then pleads with God to cleanse him, to create in him a clean heart, and to restore the joy of his salvation while restoring the fellowship he and God once enjoyed.

This level of confession is the mark of true repentance, to which God responds every time.

Another great example of confession in the Bible is Paul’s confession in Romans 7:15-25, where Paul confesses that no good thing dwells within him, therefore he is predisposed to rebelling against God’s law and leadership in his life. His confession is that he needs Christ to rescue him from the body of that death and to enable him to serve the Lord (Romans 7:24-25).

In Paul’s confession, we see the sinner move beyond confession and repentance and toward faith, as Paul’s only option is to trust the Lord.

Most people live life defeated. We sin, we face the consequence of sin, we promise God to never do that sin again if he will rescue us from the consequence, and then we go on and sin again. In this vicious cycle, we never confess what’s truly in our heart. In fact, we often deny it.

Furthermore, we never stop to consider the sin within our heart, and what it would take to be cleansed from that sin, if we even desire cleansing at all.

By stopping, assessing the sin within us, and confessing that sin to God, we can not only identify the cause of our destructive behavior, we can truly turn from it and allow God to heal that brokenness within us. Anything short of this is an exercise in futility.

With all this in mind, what will you confess to God today?