When The Church Becomes Complicit In Sin: Lessons On Preventing and Combatting Sexual Abuse

Originally posted: https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/august/when-church-becomes-complicit-in-sin-lessons-on-preventing-.html?visit_source=twitter

Just a month ago Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz and a voice for justice, died. His words remain: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

In reading through the Professional Investigators International (Pii) report regarding sexual abuse in the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE), it is clear that the Christian world needs to give heed to the words of Dr. Wiesel. Donn Ketchum, a missionary doctor in Bangladesh, allegedly abused those under his care.

When it was exposed, the system of ABWE used its power to ignore, silence, and cover-up that abuse. Although the investigation was invited by ABWE, it was significantly hindered early on by a lack of cooperation and ongoing lies. The Christian world would do great honor to the victims of this tragedy, and many others in the evangelical world, if we would heed the lessons inherent in this grievous situation.

Lesson One: Sexual Abuse Can Happen Anywhere

The first lesson is recognition that sexual abuse is not a problem out there; it is in here. It sits in our pews, it happens in our homes and schools. It occurs in churches, on mission fields, and within our organizations. We need to know how to speak about it, teach truth about it, and protect the vulnerable and care for those whose lives have been shattered by it.

Abuse means to misuse, force, deceive, or humiliate. It includes lying, coercing, and shaming humans by complicity with wrongdoing. Abuse is the misuse of the vulnerable by the powerful—powerful in position, size, age, verbal capacity, or knowledge. Scripture is clear that we are defiled by what comes out of us. Abuse is fruit borne by the abuser. It is never caused by the victim. All victims, child or adult, need understanding and protection, not blame. A grown man or woman can be abused. There are countless ways to coerce another human being into something they do not want.

Lesson Two: It Is Never Okay to Cover Up The Crime of Abuse

As Christians, we often fail to report the crime of abuse because we think we are protecting a family or some part of the Body of Christ. Family and church are God-ordained institutions worthy of our protection. However, there is nothing sacred about an institution full of hidden sin.

When the people of Israel were going to the temple full of sin, God sent their enemies to destroy that God-ordained holy place. Our God does not protect those institutions that He has designed when they are enterprises full of evil. God regards sin—not loss of reputation, or loss of institution—as the worst thing in the world. He wants those institutions that bear His name to be holy in the secret places. Only then are they truly His.

The ABWE report underscores the fact that Christian leaders are not trained to investigate sexual abuse or do forensic interviews. Leaders are not trained to manage the level of deception in offenders.

Lesson Three: We Must Humbly Admit Our Limitations

We need to have the humility to acknowledge these limitations so that when someone alleges that a serious crime has occurred—in their home, school or our own beloved Christian institution—we can immediately call the civil authorities who are trained to pursue the allegation and determine its truth. To fail to do this is arrogant and inevitably damages the victim and endangers others. Our choice to handle a crime ‘in house’ is never a choice on behalf of the victim. It is a choice made to protect the perpetrator and the institution.

Studies of deception have repeatedly shown that we cannot tell who is lying. Yet when we are told someone is abusing another person, we think, I know the character of that person; it cannot be true!

Scripture warns us that our hearts are utterly deceitful. We do not even know our own! Scripture says that Jesus trusted no person because he knew what was in us. We say, “I know him; I trust him!” Scripture tells us God does not judge by what His eyes see or His ears hear, but according to righteousness. Scripture says the tares grow right beside the wheat and they look exactly alike until the fruit is born.

When we trust the likeness and say the fruit cannot be so, we abandon victims and leave perpetrators in bondage to habituated sin. None of this looks like our God.

Lesson Four: Both Systems and Individuals Can Be Perpetrators

The Pii report demonstrates that systems, as well as individuals, can abuse. A system exists for a purpose (e.g., to teach, evangelize, disciple). An allegation of sexual abuse threatens the system. Unfortunately, that system often marshals its considerable power to silence, lie, and cover-up or protect the perpetrator so that the ‘godly’ works can continue.

When this occurs, godly words may be used to cover ungodly deeds; victims are crushed and we add ourselves to the list of their betrayers. An institution meant to serve others in the name of God clings to darkness rather than light and fails to defend the rights of the afflicted. In doing so, we ignore the potentially malignant lump, because to face it will disrupt the system we call “good.” Thus, the cancer spreads and ultimately destroys the victims, the perpetrator, and the system. In our denial, we become complicit with evil in the name of God.

What Have We Really Learned?

The failures of ABWE and other Christian institutions are a call to the people of God, reminding us that He says we are to live so as to make Him real to others. He came to bind up the broken-hearted and set captives free. Too often, we abandon the victims and support perpetrators in entrenched deception and its resulting evil.

God says He is our Refuge, and yet we frequently fail to be a safe harbor for those victimized by evil that is damaging to body, mind, and soul. Victims of abuse have, too often, found no refuge with us.

God is our Father and nourishes His children. He does not feed us lies, complicity, isolation, and darkness. Yet, often, we prefer to preserve our systems and reputations rather than follow Him.

He is the avenger for the vulnerable against the workers of iniquity who say God will not see (Ps. 94). Too frequently, we are avengers for our own names, positions, and places of power, telling ourselves we do it for Him while looking nothing like Him.

The psalmist says, “Holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore” (93:5). As His body, we are to be a dwelling befitting our God as we care for the abused. May it be so.

5 mistakes to avoid when counseling the sexually abused

When individuals tell you, Pastor, that they were sexually abused or raped, often those victims are terrified, full of shame, and sure that you are going to think less of them. However, they have also given you great honor and privilege because they have decided that you may be a safe person in their most unsafe place.

But ministering to men and women who are victims of sexual abuse can be tricky; there are several common mistakes that pastors make. By being aware of these pitfalls, you can be better prepared the next time an incident arises within your church.

Mistake #1: Failing to understand the weight of what they are telling you

First and foremost, we need to recognize the experience of victims of sexual abuse and recognize their courage in sharing about their experiences. To do so, we should be gathering information. What do they mean by “sexual abuse”? Was it one time or ongoing? For adults who share that they were sexually abused as a child, it may be that over the course of a decade or more, they were victims of that abuse. Or, it may have been a one-time occurrence. In gathering information, we are understanding the weight of what they have been through and can be better prepared to minister to them.

Mistake #2: Assuming they are safe

Many times we make the assumption that because sexual abuse happened when someone was a child, it no longer happens to that person as an adult, or we assume that it will never happen again. But these are wrong assumptions. Just because people are “adults,” that doesn’t mean they are safe where they are.

Pastors should be asking questions about their current safety, such as, “Are you safe where you are now, and if not, can I help you find a safe place?” You should ask these questions regardless of their age.

As an example, a twenty-year-old may share that an uncle used to abuse her, and now he is coming to visit for the weekend. That should be a red flag for us; it may be that this young woman does not have the strength to keep the abuse from happening again. Because of this, we may need to find a place for her to stay, or we may need to call the police to help keep her safe. We cannot assume that abuse has ended or that she is strong enough to keep it from happening again.

Mistake #3: Underreacting

A third mistake that pastors may make is underreacting to hearing about sexual abuse. This presents itself primarily in two ways. First, a pastor or church may fail to report the abuse. By law, in all fifty states, we are required to report the abuse of a minor. It is a felony to fail to report any instance of child abuse that we hear about. Sometimes, this is passed off as wanting to gather more information. However, we are not forensic investigators. Even with forty years of experience in counseling the sexually abused, I am still not the expert in that area. Our duty is to report and to let the forensic investigators take it from there.

The other way that pastors and churches frequently underreact is that they try to cover up the abuse. Perhaps the accused abuser is a church member or a friend. I have seen churches try to cover up for those accused, either to protect their reputation or out of pure disbelief. However, covering up abuse is a felony as well.

Mistake #4: Failing to be the church

A fourth common mistake pastors and churches make when ministering to victims of sexual abuse is simply failing to be the church to them. The role of the church is to care for the brokenhearted, to listen well, bear witness, and walk alongside them. But sometimes I see churches fail in these things. It is also the role of the church to demonstrate healthy relationships, which may mean engaging mentors or people who can demonstrate what it means to love one another properly.

As an example, when I work with a woman who has experienced a severe trauma like sexual abuse, it may be that she’s never known what a safe or healthy relationship looks like. With her permission, I have oftentimes had women close to her come meet with me. I give them resources to read, and I talk about what it might look like to be helpful to the victim on a practical, day-to-day level. This may mean having dinner in their homes and seeing how family members are supposed to treat one another. Or it may be demonstrating how to show respect to one’s spouse. There are all sorts of things that a victim of sexual abuse, especially ongoing abuse, may have never been exposed to that church members close to them can help with.

Mistake #5: Forgetting to lament

Finally, one of the other vital functions of the church, and one that I think we’ve forgotten, is the art of lamenting. People who have suffered severe trauma, such as sexual abuse, need to lament. Often, I will send them to the Psalms or to the Prophets, but I help them find words from Scripture to express their pain, their fear, their doubts, and sometimes even their anger at God. We see often in Scripture where the psalmist or the prophets call out to God, “Where are you?” or “Why don’t you hear me?”

As the church, we need to come alongside those victims and help them find those words. But we also need to be saying those words with them. We need to lament with them, to weep with those who weep. We need to be like the friends of Job in Job 2: “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place…. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (ESV). We need to be like these friends, weeping and crying out to the Lord on their behalf.

As pastors and churches seek to minister to victims of sexual abuse, they should recognize the gravity of what is being shared with them. In doing so, they can walk alongside them and lament with the victims. While that may also mean reporting cases of abuse, as required by law, supporting victims of sexual abuse demonstrates Christlike love toward them and ultimately leads to their healing.

Suffering and the Heart of God

Referenced from: http://byfaithonline.com/suffering-and-the-heart-of-god/

Diane Langberg has been a counselor for 40 years. She’s seen things most people can barely imagine: the aftermath of genocide, rape, sexual and emotional abuse, mental illness, and debilitating physical disease. These have pervasive affects not only on victims but on those around them and the wider society.

In her new book, Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, Langberg says the church’s greatest mission field in the 21st century is trauma. Trauma is extraordinary, she says, “not because it rarely happens, but because it swallows up and destroys normal human ways of living.” We have a choice. “We can flit from one cause to another or, like Jesus, we can leave our place of comfort and enter into the suffering.”

We, the church, Langberg says, must become representatives of God to suffering people. ByFaith asked Langberg to tell us more about this mission field and how we enter into it.

In Chapter 1 you say that trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the 21st century. Could we start with a definition of trauma? And could you explain why it is such a fertile mission field?

Trauma occurs when suffering overwhelms normal human coping. Those who are victims of such things as rape, domestic violence, child abuse, trafficking, the violence of our inner cities, and war are often traumatized humans. They live with recurring memories of atrocities both witnessed and endured. The memories infect their sleep, destroy their relationships and capacity to work, torment their emotions, shatter their faith, and mutilate hope. The wounds of trauma are not visible; their effects are. If we look out unflinchingly on God’s world today we will see thousands upon thousands who live with violence in the home or on the streets. We will see humans trafficked like slaves for sex and for labor. We will witness soldiers and civilians terrified from the wars, others from natural disasters, and the major worldwide crisis of a throng of refugees fleeing trauma only to find it again in the journey and in the camps. The total number of those suffering from trauma is staggering.

People who are suffering long for help and comfort. It is an open door for the church to bend down, like her Lord bent down for us, and enter into the great traumas of this world with real help and companionship and comfort. As we do so, we will begin to see, like Israel of old, the trauma wilderness in which many dwell, the Valley of Trouble, becoming a door of hope (Hosea 2:14, 15). The church of Jesus Christ is called to bring light to dark places, love to damaged souls, and truth about who our God is — He who entered in so that we might know Him and be like Him. Trauma worldwide is a call to God’s people to become like our Savior, who was love stooping to the uttermost depth to deal with the poison of evil in this world and in men’s hearts. Such work often opens the hearts of people to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. It did for us.

You describe the way many Christians turn away from trauma and sometimes “flit from cause to cause.” By doing so, you say, we choose complicity; we refuse to enter in. How so?

Entering into the life of another under good circumstances (such as marriage) is a challenging cross-cultural experience in many ways. We cannot, if we want a good marriage, be the center of our own lives. There are now two, and learning that duet requires a good deal of listening, understanding, patience, and laying aside our preferences, our family-of-origin ways, our little “must haves” so that we learn to know the other so well that we can love them generously and meaningfully. It is, if done well, a thing of beauty and a great sanctifier! Entering into suffering and trauma is similar. Think of walking alongside a tormented vet or abuse survivor. They have pictures in their head we would not want to see on television, let alone live through. They are afraid, they do not trust, they cannot think clearly, and they will not be better next month or even likely by next year. Human beings cannot suffer things we were never meant for and bounce back. It requires a long, steady obedience to our God to walk with traumatized lives. Such work is not so we will feel good about ourselves or have compelling stories to tell. It is simply humble service to the victims for the sake of our Lord whose humble service was for those crushed by sin and death. When God’s people refuse to go into suffering, they align with the perpetrators who saw their victims as insignificant and unworthy. When God’s people refuse to go, they also abandon God, for that is the way He went.

Growing up, you learned a lot from your father’s long-term illness. One lesson was that “We are not to respond passively. We are not to sit back and let evil, sin, suffering, or the Evil One have its way. We are called to do battle.” How do we do that?

We have been clearly told in the Scriptures that suffering is part of life in this fallen world. Most of us work hard to push that truth back and live as if it is not so or will not be for us. When it comes it can take the breath away and certainly rock the foundations of a life and a family. It brings into question the assumptions to which we have clung, and it can disable faith. Doing battle means facing and speaking truth rather than the deceptions we might prefer. Yes, he is sick; yes, it is progressive; yes, he will die. So many seem to cling to pretense at such times. We are called to truth. We also must do battle with our previous assumptions, e.g., if I live well everything will be fine; if I honor God I will be safe. God does not want us deluded about the illness or tragedy or about the state of this world. We must seek Him in the mess and bring our hard questions before Him. Where are you? Are you still good? I am afraid.

We also do battle with the dehumanizing nature of illness and tragedy. We give respect and honor to one created in the image of God no matter how clouded that image becomes. Even when a body is so broken that it is entirely dependent on the care of others or a mind is basically gone, we are called to give dignity to what remains, for it still houses one created in the image of our God. The enemy would keep us deceived and pretending. He would have us fear taking our grief and doubt and suffering to our God. He would have us think that if we had loved God more we would not suffer. He would have us treat the suffering one with impatience, disgust, and humiliation or, at least, distance. There are many of God’s children who are bathing sick bodies, emptying bedpans, smiling at faces that no longer recognize them, and singing to them when they no longer know the words, entering into trauma stories and caring for someone else’s “throw-away” child. They are doing battle against the ravages of disease and tragedy, and our God is glorified.

You explain that, “We blaspheme the name of Christ if we pretend that the evils of genocide, the rape of little children, or the events of a massive earthquake are less than they truly are.” Can you explain?

As Christians we are called to righteousness. You cannot have righteousness without truth. All sin is a lie; a crooked thing. Righteousness declares the truth — not just about good things but also about evil, sin, and suffering. Sometimes the most righteous thing is the facts about evil; facts that need to be named and to which we are called to respond. To pretend that an affair or hatred of others is a little thing is to deceive ourselves and others. Deception is what the enemy does. To turn away or minimize the rape of a child or ignore genocide is a failure to live in truth. It is, therefore, unrighteous. Also, in reducing evil to little or nothing we fail to see the work of Christ on the cross in truth. There is no evil He has not borne. He carried incest, genocide, war, and trafficking — all of it. Our “little” bit of pornography or “slip” in an affair has wounded Him grievously. When we speak of God’s redemptive work, we are speaking about a sacrifice that covered unspeakable atrocities, such as incest or genocide. We are also speaking of a sacrifice for things we, at our peril, minimize.

If we are His righteous servants, we are to see and speak truth about the wonders of His grace and mercy. We are, as light in this dark world, to “expose the deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). The God who sees calls His righteous servants to also face the horror of sin from His perspective, whether it is on a massive scale or hidden in our hearts. Righteousness measures and declares the truth.

When we deal with suffering people, you tell us that we become the “representative of God. Our words, tone of voice, actions, body movements, responses to rage, fear, failure all become ways that the survivor learns about God.” That’s a heavy responsibility. How does such a mindset help us? And how, realistically, do we represent God?

One aspect of the answer here is an understanding of what suffering does to humans. If you live with someone full of cancer or battling chronic pain, you know that suffering reduces a person. It lessens all of their capacities, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. They become less themselves. That is just as true for unseen wounds as it is for physical diseases. It is true for a combat vet, a rape victim, an incest survivor, a domestic violence victim, or a survivor of war. They may look fine, but the mind and heart wounds run deep and affect them profoundly. If we attempt to enter into the life of someone who is reduced, limited, or altered by their suffering we must reduce ourselves as well. That is in fact why we are quiet in a hospital room. For those suffering trauma, fewer words, quiet voices, patience, and pausing so they are not overwhelmed is vital to our entering in so we do not bring further harm. In doing so, we are following our Savior who was made flesh, greatly reduced from His eternal glory so as to enter in and become like us. It is, in fact, Christlike to reduce ourselves in the face of another’s suffering. And then, when sufferers are slow to speak, slow to listen, or slow to change, our responses are to also be like our Incarnate Savior’s toward us. It is in part how those who are suffering begin to see, in the flesh, a bit of who our God truly is with His creatures when they are reduced, overwhelmed, helpless, or slow. We bring Him to them by who we are with them in their worst places.

At the same time, a truth I did not see for some time became stunningly clear to me as the years went by. God is always working both sides. I am not just present to sufferers so that they can receive comfort or grow. I am there because God is exposing to me where I am unlike Him so that I can run to Him and have Him teach me where I am wrong and what He would do in me to make me more like Himself. It is a principle applicable to all of life. All God’s people are called to Christlikeness. Our failures in that area, which are many, teach lies about who He is and damage both us and those with whom we interact. Typically, humans react in painful situations with attempts to change the other person or the circumstances. So I attempt to get my spouse to change, or traffic to go faster, or a colleague to act differently. And certainly we do at times need to speak truth in (some) of those places. However, they are ever and always a place to get on our knees before God and bring Him what the situation reveals about us, asking Him for more of Himself so that we might represent Him more accurately to others.

Chapter 13 is a heartbreaking discussion about sexual abuse in the church. In your experience you’ve seen so many examples where sexual abuse is covered up to protect “God’s work” and where secrecy was employed “for the sake of the church or the mission.” What’s behind those rationalizations? And how should we react if we’re involved in these discussions?

I fear many of us have confused Christendom with Christ. We equate Christian institutions and organizations with the Son of God. They are not the same. Christendom is not even the same as the true body of Christ. Jesus Himself told us that. He said there are tares among the wheat, wolves among the sheep, and whitewashed humans posing as believers — sometimes in leadership. We long to be comfortable somewhere, to fit in, to feel at home, and so we let ourselves think Christendom is safe and fail to see and assess and discern. Instead we listen and follow, or we remain silent. Many poor sheep have unknowingly followed a blind guide and landed in a pit. Christendom, like all institutions or organizations, tries to protect itself. If you doubt that, just expose a case of child sexual abuse by a leader and watch what happens. Christendom has used Scripture to support or hide slavery, racism, domestic violence, and other cruelties our God hates. I fear Christendom today has become less interested in truth and more interested in power and protecting that power. Many have acquired fame, money, status, reputation, and kingdoms. At the same time we are steeped in pornography, marriages are failing in large numbers, the next generation is turning away, and we tolerate leaders in our organizations and pulpits who feed off the sheep. We have had a lot of recent headlines about Christian leaders and Christian systems that look nothing like our Lord. Christendom is not Christ.

Many years ago I learned about a youth pastor who had sexually abused two girls in the church. The leadership was sending him away to another church in a different state. In my conversations with them I was told, “Diane, he made a mistake. He is very gifted and we do not want that mistake to ruin his ministry.” They protected the youth pastor and the institution of the church. Like the abuser, they did not protect the sheep in their own congregation or in the church to which he was transferring. And sadly, they also did not care for the abuser, as they failed to deal with him in truth, thereby leaving him in his sin. His sin against God’s lambs became a mistake in judgment, and that is something we all make, so it only needs a new start; not truth, repentance, and care for the lambs. This dynamic often happens when child sexual abuse, pornography addictions, embezzling, clergy sexual abuse, or relentlessly arrogant and demeaning leadership are present in the church. The truth will “hurt” the church, and so it is excused, covered up, or given an innocuous name. Such actions protect the institution, not the name or true body of Christ.

Covering sin is never protective. It is the equivalent of ignoring a lump in your body. The disease receives no treatment and will spread. It is a failure to properly care for the one who has sinned, the wounded, and the larger body. Sadly, such things occur to “protect the church” or because “he is my friend, and I know him inside out” (though Scripture says we are so deceptive we do not even know ourselves) or “to preserve the gifts of the individual that are good for the church.” People go silent because no one wants to “hurt” the church. And indeed, truth will hurt, as does treatment for a lump in the body. But as G. Campbell Morgan said, “Sanctuary is a place having no complicity with the evil that makes sanctuary a necessity.” God’s people must not be seduced by the allure of Christendom and must learn not to heed the so-called Word of God when it is used to sanction something utterly unlike Him. I pray we will know Christ so well that we can discern what is unlike Him no matter the seductive or religious garb it wears.

Diane Langerg, Ph.D. is globally recognized for her work with trauma victims. She has trained caregivers the world over in responding to trauma and to the abuse of power.

Deception: A Supporting Column for Addictions

We are considering the topic of deception today and how it holds up or supports an addiction. It has been my experience throughout my years of counseling that God does not just bring people to me for the purpose of using me in their lives. He works both sides of the equation and uses them to teach me as well. So, as you will hear, in having me deal with many kinds of deceptions over the years He has also called me to look at my own deceptive heart. I pray He will do that for all of us this afternoon.

I want to start this by giving you a bit of information about myself so that you know the route by which I come to this very important topic.

I am a psychologist who loves Jesus Christ and His Word. I have been in practice for 35 years. My two primary areas of interest and expertise have been trauma survivors and Christian leaders. Unbeknownst to me, such emphases were to lead me into an intensive study of self deception. Sometime during the first two years of working I sat down with a young woman in her twenties and heard the words, “My father used to do weird things to me”. I frankly did not know what she meant.

Those were the years before public or professional discussion of childhood sexual abuse. When I went to a supervisor I was told that women sometimes tell these stories and your job is not to get hooked by them. You will contribute to their pathology if you believe them. In other words, these women are deceiving you, Diane, and you should not believe what they say. Over time, other women mentioned similar things to me and ultimately I chose to believe the women rather than the supervisor. It was, in fact, the supervisor who was deceived, not the women. Unknown to me I was beginning a crash course in deception. I began hearing about rape and domestic violence, acts full of and surrounded by, deception. I heard about evil and suffering unlike anything I had ever imagined.

These events were profoundly shaping and through the course of my work God began to teach me about His love of truth, rooted in His character of truth, as well as His longing that truth be reproduced in the lives of His followers. He showed me that to be a member, even an esteemed one, of the church, does not necessarily mean that a person’s citizenship is in heaven. He taught me that truth is sometimes about speaking of or exposing hideous things and that He is not surprised by nor does He ever minimize evil. As I saw the impact of deceit on human lives I began to understand that deception is soul-deadening and results in bondage and despair.

Somewhere in my first ten years of working God also brought me pastors – He brought me pastors who were weary and burnt-out and many who had been chewed up and spit out by their churches. He brought me missionaries who crawled home on all fours after too much work and too little support, and traumatic experiences on the field. I was tending to victims and to shepherds and sometimes shepherds who were victims. I was greatly saddened by what I saw among the shepherds. Many were weary and used up and often tossed aside by the people of God.

And then one day, God allowed the worlds to collide. I entered the murky waters of shepherds who made victims out of sheep – Missionaries who raped the nationals they had gone to serve, leaders who “unwound” from the pressures of ministry through a pursuit of pornography, or prostitutes and pastors who abused their power to feed off the women in their pews or counseling offices. I encountered churches that closed ranks to protect the abuser rather than the victim. I saw sin hidden and ignored rather than exposed to the light of God. Shepherds and churches became the predators. Institutions and organizations were protected rather than sheep. Deceitfulness seemed rampant. It was not just something individuals did but was also often systemic – even in the body of Christ. Deception was in the church and the lives of some of its shepherds.

I must confess to you that I struggled. I struggled with disbelief, anger, cynicism and judgment. I wanted to make whips and turn tables over and then a subtle arrogance crept in. Arrogance assumes superiority. Cynicism expects the worst of people. And I, who had judged others in the body of Christ for being whitewashed tombs full of deception, abuse and immorality, had myself become a whitewashed tomb full of the deceit of pride. Deceit not only lies without; it is within. I had become that for which I had disdain – a deceived and whitewashed tomb tending other whitewashed tombs. I was at the end of me, my skills, my stamina, my endurance and my willingness. I did not see how I could go into one more dark and poisonous place. I was myself full of the disease with which I was working.

Over time I have learned from the One who was so carefully teaching me – about evil and deceit and suffering – that He did not simply want me to see what was in humanity or to see what was in His church but also to see what was in my own deceitful heart and then to more fully understand His heart for all of us who are His children. He has gently insisted that part of His teaching is the giving of His heart for He what reveals – His heart full of both grace and truth. Without that such information would corrupt and disfigure the one who held it – as it was, in fact, disfiguring me. As you know so well, there is a terrible poison in this world and in us. It has been here since Eden. You cannot live with that poison, in your own life or the lives of other, without being contaminated and marred unless you learn to stay very close to the God who is truth and who will, by His Spirit, call you to face the deceitfulness of your own heart in the light of His Word of truth.

Now He has given me His heart for His church, she who is still blemished and spotted, she whom He died to redeem and purify. He has said that loving Him means loving His body. One cannot love the Head and despise the body for they are one entity. He has said that if I love Him then I will love His people. Failure to love His people, even His predatory shepherds, is a failure in my love for Him. He has taught me also that loving as He does includes a call to truth and light. Whenever we ignore, hide or excuse sin in the body of Christ we work against Him for He came to bring about the death of sin. Any pretense that sin is somehow tolerable – whether in my own heart, my own relationships or in the lives of those with whom I work – is actually a choice to infect and poison the body of my Lord.

These experiences have comprised an intensive course in deception. It is crucial in studying anything that is the antithesis of God’s character to steadily immerse ourselves in Him at the same time – the failure to do so was evident in my own life for a time – as my “course” in deception was clearly disfiguring me into its own image. The very study of sin (which is a natural and necessary part of counseling) can either seduce us into tolerating it in ourselves and others or so paralyze us that we sink into despair – deceived into believing that God is not able or over all. If we despair we will fail to fight evil in ourselves and lose the courage to work for the deliverance from it for others.

So the pathway of a study of deception has looked something like this for me – first a study of victims, their suffering and the lies they carry as a result – about themselves, about the world and about God. It then moved to a study of oppressors and the multitudinous ways they deceive first themselves and then others. I began to grasp that underlying abuse of power was a powerful self-deception, followed by the use of deception to control victims and finally the use of deception to try and manage or prevent exposure. I have watched this web ensnare individuals, families, institutions and nations. Using the lessons from my clinical work I want to tell you what I have learned about deception and how it works out in human lives so that you, as part of the body of Christ, will recognize it in yourself and in others more quickly.

This conference is about addiction and it is critical when working with addictions to understand the role of deception and how it holds up addiction; it functions as a supporting column. Deception is the core of all addictions. If we do not understand this we run the risk of helping someone stop addictive behavior but leaving them still living in bondage to deception. Deception is poisonous; it destroys lives and it mars the name of our Lord. It is by its nature often hard to see but according to the Scriptures, the cost of deception is ultimately slavery and death.

I am assuming all of you here today are involved in ministry of some kind – whether ordained or lay. You have encountered suffering people. Many of you deal with sexual abuse, domestic abuse, or addictions in the lives of others. Some of you have sadly had to intervene or work with those in leadership who were leading double lives and who have done great damage to the body and Name of our Lord. Any of you who have worked with batterers or pedophiles or addicts understand something of the role of deception in their lives. For those affected by this, it might be a good idea to consult with websites similar to pornaddiction.com.

How can a man sexually abuse a child for years, or beat the wife he promised to cherish or live enslaved to an addiction until his life falls down in ruins and sit there and look you in the face and say he is not guilty? He got there by way of deception. Deception is clearly involved in his relationship with the victims, but it is preceded by years of deception of the self. We as human beings have a seemingly unlimited capacity to hide truths that are painful to us. We have an uncanny ability to push down or cover over knowing what in fact we know. We do so by, at least initially, twisting the truth just a shade.

The most powerful lie of all is the lie which contains a likeness to the truth in some way – not unlike the lie the enemy told Eve. As a result self-deception can become the root of terrible evil. As Tim Keller said in a sermon on Saul – self-deception is not the worst thing that you can do but it is the means by which we do the most terrible things. Deception works on us little by little. We would not be deceived otherwise! Almost every pastor or Christian leader I have worked with who has destroyed his ministry by immorality or an addiction of some kind has sat in my office with his head in his hands and said, “I have no idea how I got here”.

There are a couple of passages of Scripture that I think help us understand the process of deception that leads people to such life-devastating results. In chapter 17 the prophet Jeremiah quotes Jehovah: “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord…for he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness…blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water that extends his roots…and will not fear/be anxious when the heat comes…the heart is deceitful more than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:5-11)?

These Scriptures offer us fascinating insight into the mechanisms of self-deception. A deceived person trusts in something human for heart/soul sustenance to the extent that eventually he does not recognize when true good comes. He may put his trust in others – for affirmation, approval, love – or in a job, an achievement, a ministry success – or in a substance such as drugs, alcohol, pornography, food and makes those things the place under which he shelters himself. Of course, his expectation of fulfillment is continually frustrated for such things never satisfy the soul; he has planted himself in a desert. And, having given him self over to something or someone, he becomes the slave of the one he has chosen to obey (Romans 6:16). Hence, an attachment (meaning in its original French – “nailed to”) or addiction ensues.

An addiction simply means that one’s desire has been nailed to something resulting in enslavement to that thing. To be addicted is to be devoted habitually to something; as Peter says “by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved”. Indeed, “cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength”. Jeremiah goes on to say that over time, convincing himself that what he is doing is okay or good, such a man loses his capacity to discern good from evil. The result is that he who feeds himself in this way lives in stony wastes and does not even see where he is. As Alexander Pope said in his Essay on Man, “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen; yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace”.

The addict becomes enslaved with chains of his own making, and eventually lives with such a level of deception that he not only cannot free himself, he does not even see the chains for what they are. He has called good that which is evil.

In contrast, the one who trusts God to Himself be his sustenance is not afraid when drought threatens but remains green and bears fruit for his roots draw from an infinite God, rather than finite man. Following this, almost like a commentary, is the well-known verse about the deceitfulness of the heart that concludes with a question suggesting amazement – “who can understand it”? The process of such deception is subtle; it paints a false color on things, cheats those who invest in them and finally results in their ruin.

Obviously, deceitfulness resides in the heart of every human. Anyone who has raised children knows that the capacity for deception is demonstrated at a very early age and never has to be taught! For some, especially those who grow up in homes full of deception and pain, self-deception can easily and unknowingly become a habit of the mind. Deception can essentially function as a narcotic for it protects us from seeing or feeling that which is painful to us. Such a narcotic is understandable if you think of a little five or seven year old girl who is being repeatedly abused in some way and cannot escape. She is repeatedly taught lies; schooled in them – It is your fault; you are bad; you are not loveable; no one will believe you. She is nurtured in an environment of deception and will begin to use it for herself as well – first, by believing the lies told to her and then to tend to her pain – perhaps eventually falling into an addiction – to a substance, or even to a socially acceptable one such as straight A’s – to attempt to silence the lies and to numb the painful feelings.

People do not just use deception in order to commit wrong but also to endure suffering. In our example of the little girl we see her experiencing pain she felt she could not tolerate and so having been taught lies she learns to habitually “inject” the narcotic of self-deception. She uses deception in order to stay sane and survive. It gives us a glimpse into why Christ spoke so harshly about those who mislead little children and cause them to stumble. To do so is to lead a little child in ways that are the opposite of God and are not for her good. Children are vulnerable, dependent and easily led. They are severely limited in knowledge and they are malleable. We concern ourselves with their nutrition because we know what they consume will affect their physical selves, not just in childhood, but in adulthood as well. Raising children in an environment of love, truth, wisdom and patience shapes their characters. Raising children in an environment of fear, evil and deceit shapes their characters as well. To raise a child on a diet of deceit is profoundly shaping.

Common Deceptions

A person who is skilled in deception is a person who is essentially addicted to deceit. Deception deeply habituates the soul to look at things diametrically opposed to the way God sees for He is a God of truth. Deception is about hiding, pretending, ignoring, camouflaging and covering.

Let’s consider the more common deceptions – one which we have all used – and which are the basic building blocks for more complex and enduring patterns of deceit.

Have you ever seen someone on a sidewalk or in a store that you did not want to encounter? Have you then had the experience of suppressing what you know? You turn your head or your eyes; you go a slightly different route in order to “keep from seeing them”. The deception can be carried even further if you encounter them in spite of your maneuvering and you respond with “surprise” that they are there. We deceive them and work to deceive ourselves about our awareness of them in an attempt to protect ourselves from an undesired encounter. We do a similar thing when we want to protect ourselves from an undesired or failed responsibility – “Oh, I did not hear you…I forgot…etc.”

In addition to pretending not to see, another manifestation of the “art” of self-deception is our ability to justify to ourselves that which we know is wrong. I speed because I am late, I eat too much chocolate because I worked hard, or I speak harshly to a family member because I was stuck in traffic. I know speeding, too much chocolate and harsh words are wrong but I use external difficulties to convince myself of a justification for breaking the rules. It is painful to me to face my wrongdoing and so I deceive my self, I administer the narcotic of deceit, in order to avoid that pain.

We also deceive ourselves by the use of comparing or contrasting – a way of minimizing our wrongdoing. We compare a bad thing we are doing to a good thing with the implication that the good somehow lessens the evil of the bad. For example, I may cheat on my taxes but at least I go to church or I hate my mother but at least I have never told her. We apply the narcotic of self-deception in order to maintain a good feeling or image of ourselves, even though what we are doing is wrong.

A fourth way we often deceive ourselves is by the use of misdirection, blaming or the “dodge-and-weave” technique. This occurs in many relationships – I see it all the time in marriage counseling. Your spouse tells you something you did wrong and you respond by pointing out something wrong with him or her. A weakness or failure in the person who is correcting you becomes your focus rather than facing the truth about what was said. Again, the narcotic is used to avoid the pain of facing the truth about us. In all these instances, we are living in the stony wastes and do not see what is happening to our souls.

We use all manner of self-deceptions to protect ourselves from information that would cause us to view ourselves in ways that we do not like. We use these to avoid facing our habits of anger, impatience, criticism and selfishness. This mechanism enables us to ignore others, commit wrongs, and feel justified or even righteous when in fact we ought to be facing our failures, abuses and sins.

The deception then goes another step because the deceived one attempts to draw others into his/her web of deception.

When you study the concept of “grooming” as used by sexual predators– you see the ways in which an abuser seduces a victim and you see that deception is the foundation, first of the self; then of the other. The self is first deceived into believing that the evil desire is good. The deceiver engages in a universal human habit – the habit of letting the eye, the desire, cheat the heart and the conscience and blind us to its conviction. Then reaching out to include another by buying gifts for the victim, or the use of words that hide something’s true nature (“I’m just loving you,” “You are special to me”, etc), all are deceptive. Soon deception is urged or forced on the victim – “Don’t tell anyone. Bad things will happen to you if you tell. No one will believe you. I know how to present things so no one will believe you”.

Addicts do this all the time. The lies they tell themselves, they also tell their families. They say they are fine; they can stop anytime; it is no big deal; no they have not been drinking, or they only drank a little bit; or they had a rough day – all of which are for the purpose of pulling others in so they will collude with the deception and be lulled, along with the addict, to allow the soul-deadening behavior to continue. The web of deception surrounding abuse or oppression or addiction is huge. It can occur in an individual life, an institution’s life, a community’s life as well as an entire country’s life. We see it in alcoholics, in corporations that hide research data, in churches that protect clergy who abuse, in families who cover for alcoholics or drug addicts or in the Rwandan genocide. These are all examples of widespread deception. A deception that began in the heart and envelops a life and then its tentacles reach out and pull in those around it – whether it is a family, a church or a nation.

Biography of Deception

Based on some of the things we have said let me walk you through the biography of deception or the growth of deceit in the character of a human being as seen in another portion of Scripture. I credit George Adam Smith, Scottish theologian and Hebrew scholar, with many of these reflections on Psalm 36 given in his book, Four Psalms.

We have said that deception’s origin is in the human heart and that none of us is exempt. It is there; you and I know its presence in our own hearts and we have heard its whisper. If we are honest, all of us have yielded to its whisper. All of us know the heart experience of temptation and its accompanying deception, and then the immediate response of our own self-deception, seemingly working in concert with the temptation to convince us of its rightness or to justify it in some way. We have mentioned ordinary examples already such as speeding because I am late.

Do keep in mind the object of our deception can also be good things, used wrongly – for example, verbal skills or theological knowledge. It is easy to use such wonderful gifts to lift ourselves up, to cover wrongdoing and render ourselves never wrong or at least unaccountable to anyone. When we have a fear of God in our hearts then another powerful factor is introduced into this battle in the soul. If there is no fear of God or we silence the conviction that comes then we can easily move into thinking by way of the deceptions we have used, that we can engage in the sin without harm to ourselves.

This is not unlike what the enemy told Eve – You will not die; it will not hurt you. We convince ourselves we can stop any time; one more time will not hurt; one more bite; one more look; one more late night; one more injection – of a substance or a human response of approval. If we engage in such self-delusion long enough we will, over time, lose our taste for the good and our power to loathe evil. We eventually silence the voice of God and our response of a proper fear and obedience to that voice. The problem of course is that sin will hurt us and contrary to what the enemy told Eve, it will lead to death.

Once we begin removing our taste for good and our power to hate evil, then we only habituate that which causes our death or as the psalmist says in Psalm 36:4 – “He sets himself on a path that is not good.” As deception becomes a way of life, evil can be easily practiced by an increasingly dead soul that then becomes presumptuous, planning and actively participating in evil. You see this if you work with addicts because they begin using all of their energy in support of their habit; it becomes the governing force in their life. Over time the possibility for penitence is destroyed, the soul is enslaved and the habit ends in soul death.

Think about this biography of deception and think about situations you have known or worked with involving sexual abuse, domestic violence, clergy sexual abuse, embezzling of funds, addictions – certainly drugs and alcohol, but also food, pornography, and more so-called common looking ones like infidelity or lack of integrity, gossip, lawbreaking – or the seemingly innocuous ones such as approval, rightness, and affirmation. Temptation arises, self-deception or delusion joins in, evil is termed good or at least justified, the choice is habituated and the prisoner is trapped, actively participating and barreling toward death, no longer able to stop.

When it is laid out like this, it all sounds horrifying and repellent. However, it can show up in our ministries and our lives in very subtle ways and even in pretty packages. I fear many people who are suffering terribly because they live with evil such as I have described have gone to leadership only to be sent home, disbelieved or even considered deceptive them selves. Deception and great evil can easily lie below the surface of high position, great theological knowledge, stunning verbal skills and excellent performance. If the enemy of our souls can appear as an angel of light then surely an evil human being who is in fact mimicking him can appear well-clothed, theologically articulate and beautiful to the human eye.

Suppose a woman comes to her pastor and she is timid and not very articulate, perhaps a bit hysterical and afraid. She tells him that her husband is addicted to pornography. She tells it haltingly, without much clarity, nervously pulling on her sleeve. Her husband is a successful business man who gives large sums of money to the church. He is an elder and well-known to the community. He is quite charming and everyone thinks he is a very fine man. In such circumstances it is very easy for two things to happen.

One is to presume outward appearances tell the story of the heart. We allow the eye to tell us the story that we want to hear. Surely someone with characteristics such as I have described would not possibly also be someone who is buried in pornography. We think, “I know this man; this is not how he acts”.

Two, if any doubt creeps in, it is easy and often desirable for the hearer to lean on his/her own capacity for self-deception and talk them selves out of considering the truth of what has been told. In other words, I will discredit the wife because of her presentation, and credit the husband because of his success, plus – how can I disrupt the church and community with this. If it were exposed and shown to be true, the church would lose money, reputation and possibly be divided over it. And of course things get even more complicated than this.

Suppose the wife is telling an elder and the man she is accusing of a sexual addiction is the senior pastor. The fact is, the hearer/witness is potentially very invested in the truth not being heard and exposed and so the truth-teller is sent away, discredited and unprotected. You see, often we think our positions, places, institutions, organizations are worth more protection than truth because if we stand with truth – or even exploring the possible truth of something – we risk the loss of what we hold dear. We do not, in fact, believe that sin is the worst thing in the world. And in that we are of course, just as deluded as the one we are hearing about or sitting across from in our office.

It is so easy to get caught up in the externals and believe that their destruction would be the worst thing that could happen. This is why families often silently collude with addicts and never speak up about the sin going on behind closed doors. And when they do speak up and come forward and expose sin the first response is often to either silence the truth-teller or to fail to grasp the depth of deceit involved and think a few words and a few tears equal heart repentance. We do so out of a misplaced concern about how the truth will damage the marriage, the church, or the institution. The governing force then becomes: protect the form at all costs, even if its substance is rotten.

Yet our God of truth, in response to the Israelites when they were continuously disobedient to Him, was to destroy the forms so the substance could be exposed and cleansed and eventually transformed. He hates evil and nothing is of enough value to protect it over and above dealing with that evil. Marriage is good and God-ordained, but evil in marriage is never acceptable. Church is good and God-ordained, but evil in the church is never acceptable.

Whenever sin is exposed it creates a crisis and crises do two things: they reveal character and they are also what we might call “separating” times. A crisis reveals character because in the moments of crisis we do what we have been practicing. We display what we have habituated. We demonstrate what or who we live in obedience to. That was clearly demonstrated when Katrina hit the Gulf States – the poor and the disenfranchised were left behind and forgotten because that was what had been practiced over the decades preceding the storm. They were always there and always in need and others had not practiced going back for them to care for them. When the crisis came people simply did what was practiced and did not go back.

The character of how a people habitually responded to the poor in their midst was revealed in the crisis. A crisis is a revealing time. It reveals what is in the person who has come to you, it will reveal the heart of one who is accused, it will reveal your heart to you and it will reveal the heart of the structure or organization that is threatened by the truth. It is absolutely crucial that what is being revealed be seen and understood and responded to in obedience to the Word of God.

A crisis is also a separating time. It separates the two roads that can be followed and exposes the heart of the chooser. Let’s consider what can happen at the point of crisis with someone in bondage to an addiction. The crisis comes – pornography is found on the church or work computer, the cell phone records expose an affair, the drugs or alcohol are found hidden away. What happens? Usually one of two things happens – outright denial (“I did not do it”) or an admission and a promise (“I did it and I won’t do it again”).

There are many variations of these two responses but they are the basic categories. They both serve the same purpose – they are an attempt to right the boat, to make things okay, to get things back to how they were prior to the exposure. People will marshal all their resources to that end – they will use tears, pleading, threats, justifications, blame and even Bible verses.

Why is this? Remember what an addict is – an addict is someone who is devoted to the practice of a particular habit. To be devoted means to give one self up, to give one’s time, energy, thought and action to something. Devotion is a matter of the will; of giving the self over to something or someone. So an addict is one who has given him/herself over to the practice of a habit such as ingesting a substance (drug, alcohol, food), or engaging in illicit sex of some kind. The habit is practiced, repeated, nurtured and protected. The self will eventually do whatever is necessary to insure ongoing practice of that habit. It seems necessary to and even good for, life and well-being. The thought of separating from the habit is frightening, and any threat results in holding one more tightly, i.e. desperately looking for new and better ways to deceive. Slaves, who have habitually served masters, do not suddenly walk or think free.

Addictions, however, are neither right nor healthy. Drugs and alcohol addictions destroy minds and bodies and families and careers. So does pornography. Repeated affairs, visiting prostitutes, homosexual activity, and pedophilia destroy fidelity, purity, marriages and children. Excessive eating causes obesity and incapacitates and destroys bodies. Habits of anger and bitterness and criticism destroy relationships. So how is it that normally intelligent people, even those who claim to know Christ and have at least some teaching in His Word can maintain such blatantly wrong and destructive behaviors and seem to live somewhat untroubled and oblivious to their impact?

I believe that the engine that drives addictions and habituated sin patterns of any kind is self-deception. Layers and layers of deception undergird and surround the devotion to the practice of a sinful and life-destructive habit. We use all manner of self-deceptions to protect ourselves from information that would cause us to view ourselves in ways that we do not like. It is crucial that we understand the anatomy of addiction or we will fall terribly short in our efforts to help those who are so enslaved. You can have a crisis of exposure and as a result a man can quit visiting prostitutes or using pornography but if the engine is still running he will continue to live with deception and simply find other ways to satiate him self that are less obvious to you or even to him self.

Underlying addiction is the engine of self-deception. Under the self-deception is a history which is important to explore and understand because it will help us see why the addiction developed and took the forms that it did. Addictions are often wrong responses to wrong things or they can be wrong solutions to right desires. Ultimately, underlying both deceptions and history is a human being who has claimed ownership of his/her life for him/herself.

In our example addictions were the response of a little girl to an abusing father. The child lived in an environment infested with evil. She was hammered with lies until they became truth for her. She learned to believe that she was trash, stupid, inadequate, and not of value. She is terrified those things are the truth and finds that intolerable. She devotes herself to attempts to prove those things wrong. She can do that by nurturing hatred, anger and revenge; she can do it by proving herself to be better, different and end up enslaved to success, arrogance and the need to be right; she can do that by numbing the excruciating pain with alcohol, drugs or sex. In doing so she is anesthetizing herself with the narcotic of deception. She has made flesh her strength and lives in the stony wastes. But she does not see. She will be tenacious in holding onto her addictions, i.e. deceptions, because to let them go means confronting the fear that the lies she learned growing up are in fact true and she would rather devote herself to self-protection by way of deception than to face that possibility.

It is important that we understand such things because we will often meet with a staggering tenacity when working with those trapped in addictions and unless we understand how the lies and ensuing behaviors and choices were developed we will likely respond with harsh judgment and impatience and expect change to come far more easily than is realistic. Those who grow up and are shaped in homes of repeated sin and evil and depravity are fed toxins for their souls. Those who have lived a lifetime of slavery are not suddenly free. Those who have claimed mastery of their lives rather than acknowledging God as Master will not learn to die to themselves quickly. Such poison is not removed merely by verbally challenging someone to change their behavior or choices though that is a necessary piece.

The work of counseling with addicts is the work of changing life-destroying behaviors. It is the work of understanding the role of deceit in the life and heart of the addict. It is the challenge of learning to habituate obedience to God, the only Master with whom we can walk free. It is the supernatural work of learning to die so that we might, in fact, live.

Something fascinating came up in my study of the verse in Jeremiah about the hearts capacity for deceit. One of the meanings of the word “deceitful” is “foot-tracked”. As I searched I found that this pertains to detectable evidence of a visible track of a substance. My husband and sons hunt. They know about detectable evidence of a visible track. They see it in the rubbings of buck in the woods. They see it in their footprints and in their droppings. Basically, what that means is that if we look carefully, we will see that the deception of a heart over time leaves “droppings”. It also means that we must go back to find the trail. The little steps of the trail with its detectable evidence will help us understand the outcome.

Counseling is, in part, the work of going back over life’s trail and finding the detectable evidence of a visible track. Without that the work will be shallow and fall short of the deep transforming work God desires to do in all of our hearts. With that work there is hope that the attachment to the flesh, which only brings bondage, will be broken, and the heart’s devotion will be habitually directed toward God Him self who alone brings freedom.


I want to close by giving you three elements that are necessary if we are to do this work and do it well.

First, know about people. Know about addictions. Understand what addiction does to human beings. Understand the biography of deception in a human heart. And yet, in knowing, never assume you know. No matter how many addicts you see, each is unique. If we do not understand this we will arrogantly make wrong judgments. We will prematurely expect change. We will give wrong answers. We will fail to hear because we think we know. Listen acutely. Study avidly.

Second, know God. Know His Word. Be an avid student of that Word. If we are going to serve as His representative to others we need to know Him well. We are often so presumptuous and we speak for Him where we do not really know Him. We need to be so permeated by His Word that we learn to think His thoughts.

George MacDonald said: “If you say, ‘The opinions I hold and by which I represent Christianity, are those of the Bible,’ I reply, ’that none can understand, still less represent, the opinions of another, but such as are of the same mind with Him’.” May we never forget that to know His Word, according to Him, means it is woven into our lives and we are obedient to it. Where we do not live according to His Word, we do not know God. We cannot work with addictions and deceit unless our roots go down deep into the one who is Truth allowing His surgical work in our own deceitful hearts.

Finally, do not do this work (or any other for that matter) without utter dependence on the Spirit of God. Where else will you find wisdom? How will you know when to speak and when to be silent? How will you discern the lies from the truth? How else will you love when you are tired or be patient when you are weary? How can you know the mind of God apart from the Spirit of God? How can we possibly expect to live as a person who demonstrates the character of God apart from the Spirit of God? How can we think that the life-giving power of the work of Christ crucified will be released into other lives unless we have allowed that cross to do its work in our own lives?

To work with addictions is to work with lies, darkness, and evil. It is the work of the enemy of our souls. You cannot fight the litter of hell in a life unless you walk dependent on the Spirit of God. You cannot bring life to the place of death unless you walk dependent on the Spirit of God.

Counseling is a work that is a privilege to do. It is a work that is difficult to do. The task of being a servant of God in the midst of lies and deceit – things we engage in so easily ourselves, is far beyond any capability of yours or of mine. It is a work however, that if you let it, will take you to your knees with a heart hungry for more of God that you might in turn bring His presence in very concrete ways into places and lives where He has not yet been known.