Thursday, September 01, 2011

Ask the Counselor: “Should I Try to Forget My Past?”

Ask the Counselor: “Should I Try to Forget My Past?”

As a biblical counselor, people often ask me the important question, “Should I try to forget my past?”

I first respond with a one-word answer. “No.”

Then I respond with a blog-size answer using the words:

• Remember
• Reflect
• Repent/Receive/Renew
• Reinterpret
• Retell
• Resources


Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t forget the past. It’s impossible. More importantly, it’s ungodly.

Memory is our God-given capacity to store and recall what we have experienced and learned. Remembering is part of our design by creation—before the fall into sin. “Remember” is used 167 times in the Bible (NIV), thus reminding us of the importance of remembering.

Some people mistakenly interpret Philippians 3:13 to mean that we should try to forget our past. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” The Greek word for “forget” does not mean not to remember, but not to focus my attention on. More importantly, the biblical context is whether Paul would focus his attention on his works of the flesh, attempts at self-righteousness, and putting confidence in the flesh, versus focusing on Christ’s righteousness and the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is a testimony to the biblical value of remembering. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia” (2 Cor. 1:8a). Throughout the epistle, Paul recalls and rehearses a litany of past suffering.


In a similar way, the Psalms are a biblical testimonial to the power and value of remembering face-to-face with God. I call it reflecting.

People typically ask about forgetting in the context of dealing with past suffering—being sinned against, or dealing with past sin—sinning against others. I believe that attempting to refuse to remember our past can actually be a symptom of sin.

Trying to suppress past memories of pain (either regarding our suffering or sin) can be a refusal to face and deal with life. It can be an attempt to deal with pain apart from God. We could compare such attempts to self-sufficient “coping mechanisms” such as drinking and drugs—where we try anything to numb our pain, emptiness, or guilt.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I describe how the Psalmists, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul remember face-to-face with Christ through “candor and complaint/lament.” In biblical candor, we’re honest with ourselves regarding our past and present. In biblical complaint/lament, we’re honest with God regarding our past and present.

Rather than attempting to forget, we are to bring to mind past external events and our current internal thoughts and feelings and bring them to Christ. As I put it in the book, “No grieving, no healing.

Know grieving, know healing.” Reflecting on our past is our admission to ourselves and God that we can’t handle our past on our own, that we desperately need Christ.

Repent, Receive Grace, Renew

When our memories of the past relate to our past sin, Christ’s soul-u-tion is to remember, repent, and receive grace. “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).

In Psalms 32 and 51, David models remembering, repenting, receiving grace, and renewing his life by God’s Spirit. Rather than trying the impossible and sinful mental activity of suppressing the memory of his sin, David recalls to mind his sin against God. He repents deeply not only of behavioral sin, but of heart motivational sin.

Having repented, David receives grace—he accepts God’s gracious forgiveness and prays for shalom—a conscience at peace with the God of peace. He then prays that the Spirit would renew a right spirit within him so that he could turn from his path of sin (put off) and return to the path of righteousness (put on).


But what do we do with our emotional agony when we remember past suffering—being sinned against? God’s Word is clear. We never forget, we re-member.

Think about that word: re-member. To put our memories back together again, to shape our memories through God’s eternal grid.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I use the life of Joseph to portray how God wants us to remember and then reinterpret our past with spiritual eyes. There I call it “weaving.”

In Genesis 50:20 and 45:4-8, Joseph refuses to forget. He calls to mind his suffering past with these words. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

In the Hebrew, the word “intended” can be used in a physical sense for weaving together a tapestry, such as Joseph’s coat of many colors. It can be used in the metaphysical sense in a negative way for weaving together an evil scheme or plot, such as Joseph’s brothers did. Or, it can be used in a positive sense of God weaving together good out of evil.

How do we deal with our past suffering? We look at life with spiritual eyes by bringing to bear God’s eternal narrative, spiritual 20/20 vision, and larger story perspective. Weaving is re-membering—to create wholeness using God’s perspective to bring meaning to our suffering.

That’s how, like Joseph, we find hope when we’re hurting. That’s how, like Joseph, we grant forgiveness to those who have caused our suffering. In so doing we can say, “I grieve, but I don’t despair.”


Being human involves shaping our personal experiences into stories or narratives. That’s part of our God-given capacity of memory. We shape our sense of self and who we are in Christ from our retelling of our experiences.

As spiritual friends, it is when we listen carefully and compassionately to one another’s most important stories that we gain access to how our friends are attempting to make sense of themselves in the context of their past experiences. Our one-to-one relationships and our small group meetings should be places where we retell our stories.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I discuss how the retelling process moves us from “weaving” to “worshipping.” In worshipping we are committed to finding God even when we can’t find answers.

We are committed to knowing God more than knowing relief from our past. We worship God by retelling our stories like Joseph did—in a way that honors and glorifies God and His role in redeeming our past (see Genesis 45:4-8).

There is no power in forgetting our past. God doesn’t want us to pretend. Of all people, as Christians we must be the most honest about our past. We must remember, reflect, repent/receive/renew, reinterpret, and retell.


Two biblical counseling resources that I think you will find helpful in dealing with your past are:

God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting by Bob Kellemen.
Putting Your Past in Its Place: Moving Forward in Freedom and Forgiveness by Steve Viars.

Join the Conversation

What is your biblical answer to the question, “Should I try to forget my past?”

Saturday, June 04, 2011

“These Are Your Grandbabies!”

“These Are Your Grandbabies!”

Enjoy the last three paragraphs in the Introduction to my upcoming book (September 2001) Equipping Counselors for Your Church: The 4E Ministry Training Strategy.

Sister Ellen Barney is the First Lady (Sr. Pastor’s wife) of a large, predominantly African American church near Baltimore, Maryland. She has implemented the 4E Ministry Training Strategy for over a decade to equip over 1,000 women in her LEAD (Life Encouragers And Disciplers) Ministry.

They do it up big! Their graduation ceremonies are better than many colleges. I remember the first time Sister Ellen invited me to be their commencement speaker. As she introduced me, she looked over the crowd of over 50 graduates, and said, “These are your grandbabies Dr. Kellemen! You trained me and I trained them!” Now, years later, as Sister Ellen has trained trainers who train others, she tells me, “Dr. Kellemen, these are your great-great-grandbabies!”

Do you want to be a spiritual grandparent—discipling disciple-makers? Do you want to pass the baton of ministry? Do you want to change lives? Then equip God’s people to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth.

Join the Conversation

Who are your spiritual grandbabies? Do you know who your spiritual grandparent is?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Robust Resources for Changed Lives

Robust Resources for Changed Lives

Where do you turn for in-depth, comprehensive, relational resources that equip you to speak the truth in love so we can all grow together in Christ? There are numerous great sources available in the Evangelical world today. Another cutting-edge resource is coming your way.

Save the date. On Monday, May 2, 2011, the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC) will launch its Blog Site: Grace & Truth.

The first week, you can enjoy the following posts from leaders in the biblical counseling movement:

• Monday, May 2: Paul Tripp, The Ultimate Lens on Life
• Tuesday, May 3: Elyse Fitzpatrick, Despising the Shame
• Wednesday, May 4: Steve Viars, Biblical Counseling as a Community Bridge
• Thursday, May 5: Bob Kellemen, Our Competence Comes from Christ
• Friday, May 6: BCC Staff, Five to Live By: The Best of the Best on the Net in Biblical Counseling
• Saturday, May 7: The BCC Interview: Pastor Deepak Reju of Capitol Hill Baptist Church

The BCC Blog Site will also include a list of Featured Blogs and a list of Recommended Websites. The BCC is not about the BCC. The BCC is about bc—biblical counseling—linking you to valuable resources, best-practice churches, premier para-church groups, and conferences you won't want to miss.

Just the First-fruits

And this is just the first of several upcoming BCC “launches.”

In late May to early June, the BCC Book Review site will launch. Every week the BCC will post four biblical counseling book reviews. The site will also provide “The Best of Guides” (such as “The Top Ten Books on Biblical Counseling and Dealing with Anxiety”).

Then throughout the summer and on an ongoing basis, the BCC will launch the Free Resources section of the website. Eventually, the BCC plans to provide 1,000s of free articles, forms, counseling guides, videos, and audio resources.

Three Audiences

Every section of the BCC website will focus on three audiences:

• People seeking biblical care: all of us—people in need of change.
• People providing biblical care: pastors, counselors, spiritual friends.
• People equipping biblical care-givers: educators, equippers, writers.

If you’d like to be placed on the BCC e-mailing list to hear more updates and receive periodic e-blasts and e-newsletters, sign-up on the BCC home page (

Join the Conversation

• What blog post topics would you like to see the BCC address?
• What books would you like the BCC to review?
• What free resource topics would you want the BCC to provide?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Enjoy Five Book Trailer Videos

Enjoy Five Book Trailer Videos

Enjoy Equipping Counselors for Your Church: Watch the book trailer video sharing how to equip others to speak the truth in love.

Enjoy Soul Physicians: Watch the book trailer video sharing how to change lives with Christ's changeless truth.

Enjoy Spiritual Friends: Watch the book trailer video sharing how to care like Christ.

Enjoy Beyond the Suffering: Watch the book trailer video sharing how we can learn from the heroes of the Black Church.

Enjoy What About Bob?: No, not the movie by the same name. Watch a video that finally answers the question, "What does 'RPM' mean?"

Enjoy Our New RPM Ministries YouTube Channel: We've posted over a dozen videos on Christian living and biblical counseling.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To Boldly Go

For our new blog site with daily updates and a boatload of free resources, visit RPM Ministries.

My web/tech guy, Jon Barnes created this for me. What a riot! Live long and prosper:

Monday, February 28, 2011

Announcing the Launch of the Biblical Counseling Coalition

Keep Current/Download Free Resources/Read Our Daily Blog at the New RPM Ministries Site:

Announcing the Launch of the Biblical Counseling Coalition

During the past year, over two-dozen leading pastors, biblical counselors, and Christian educators have been prayerfully discussing whether the time is right to launch a new coalition of organizations, leaders, and participants in the biblical counseling movement. Those leaders are excited to announce the official launch of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

Pastor Steve Viars, the President of the BCC Board of Directors, captures the BCC’s purpose.

“The BCC is all about promoting relationships and providing resources. There are many tremendous organizations and individuals involved in the biblical counseling movement. The BCC seeks to connect such men and women in a way that creates a natural and healthy synergy. We believe that together we can accomplish more.”

The coalition’s Mission Statement further focuses the BCC’s vision.

The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.

The BCC wants to be a catalyst further strengthening and unifying already-existing biblical counseling ministries, churches, and schools committed to biblical counseling. The BCC is a bridging ministry keeping people connected to and informed about conferences, blogs, resources, and classes offered by other biblical counseling ministries.

The BCC’s Executive Director, Dr. Bob Kellemen, highlights the three-fold audience to which the BCC seeks to minister.

“We want to strengthen the biblical counseling movement by ministering to people who offer care, people who are seeking care, and people who train care-givers. For example, on our site and in links to other sites, people will find blogs, book reviews, videos, and resource articles on a topic such as depression. Some of those resources will be written for those who offer care—pastors, biblical counselors, lay spiritual friends. Some will be written to help the person who is seeking care for depression to find biblical hope and wisdom. Some will discuss depression from a theological perspective so that those who train care-givers can be stretched through the iron-sharpening-iron process.”

The Biblical Counseling Coalition seeks to serve the entire church. Pastor Garrett Higbee, who serves as the Treasurer of the BCC Board, explains that:

“More than counseling, the vision of the BCC is for the entire church to speak God’s truth in love. We want to motivate and equip folks at the most basic levels of self-counsel, one-another ministry, small group leadership, and intentional discipleship. We want counseling with truth and love to become viral in the church and to be a foundational part of every discipleship-based ministry.”

Learn more about the BCC’s robust, relational vision of biblical counseling by visiting the Biblical Counseling Coalition. At the “under construction” website you’ll find:

• The BCC’s Confessional Statement
• The BCC’s Doctrinal Statement
• The BCC’s Mission/Vision/Passion Statement
• A Welcome from Pastor Steve Viars, the President of the BCC’s Board of Directors
• A Welcome from Dr. Bob Kellemen, the Executive Director of the BCC
• Bios of the BCC’s Board of Directors and Council Board Members
• Testimonials: “Why We Need the BCC”
• Coming Soon: A Listing of Resources the BCC Will Be Offering

Email: and

Promoting Personal Change Centered on the Person of Christ
Ephesians 4:11-16

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Is Black History Month Still Necessary?

Is Black History Month Still Necessary?

As I speak around the country on Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, I’m frequently asked, “What do you think about Black History Month?” The question comes from my African American friends, many of whom are divided on the issue. Some think Black History Month is a net positive for African Americans, while others believe it is a net negative. The question also comes from my non-African American friends, who are equally split, and for various reasons. Having outlined The History of Black History Month now it’s time to discuss Is Black History Month Still Necessary?

Is Morgan Freeman Right?

Morgan Freeman, a long-time critic of the holiday, strongly believes that Black History Month is not just unnecessary but “ridiculous.” According to Freeman in a December 2005, 60 Minutes interview, Black history should not be relegated to a month. In fact, argues Freeman, Black history, after all, is American history.

Jessica McElrath asks it this way, “Has African American history now converged with American history, and, therefore, should the celebration be eliminated?”

Some believe that this is the case. According to Rochelle Riley, yes, the time has come to end Black History Month. Riley asserts that Black history is American history. So, suggests Riley, it’s time to stop celebrating, learning, and being American separately. It’s time to be an America where learning about Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians is part of school curriculums.

Jesse Washington, AP National Writer, asks the question with his title, “Time to End Black History Month?” He opens with the follow-up question, “Should Black History Month itself fade into history?”

Many people, both Whites and Blacks, argue that Black history should be incorporated into year-round education. Washington quotes Stephen Donovan, a 41-year-old lawyer, saying, “If Obama’s election means anything, it means that African American history IS American history and should be remembered and recognized every day of the year.”

Donovan believes that ending “paternalistic” observations like Black History Month would lead to not “only a reduction in racism, but Whites more ready, willing, and able to celebrate our differences and enjoy our traditions without feeling the strain of guilt that stifles frank dialogue and acceptance across cultures?”

What Does Our President Think?

Other portions of Washington’s article support another side of the story: the continued need for Black History Month. President Obama, like all his predecessors since the 1970s, believes Black History Month should continue. He lauded “National African American History Month” calling upon “public officials, educators, librarians, and all people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs that raise awareness and appreciation of African American history.”

Daryl Scott, Chairman of the history department at Howard University believes Black History Month is still needed to solidify and build upon America’s racial gains. “To know about the people who make up society is to make a better society. A multiracial, multiethnic society has to work at its relationships, just like you have to work at your marriage.”

“I don’t see it going away,” said Spencer Crew, a history professor at George Mason University, adding that a diverse year-round history curriculum can still be augmented in depth during Black History Month. “There’s a Women’s History Month,” Crew said. “No one would argue that we don’t need to be reminded of women who have done things that are important.”

Jessica McElrath surmises that most historians and African Americans believe that Black History Month remains necessary. According to McElrath, Black History Month is the only time of the year when Black history is recognized in many schools. She argues that schools often focus on White history year round, and, therefore, Black History Month is a necessary celebration.

Are We Fair and Balanced Yet?

Much of the discussion about whether Black History Month is still necessary relates to whether “main stream” history is accurately covering Black history year-round. My specialty is Black Church history, so I’ll speak to that. Evangelical Black Church history is not being fairly covered year round…not even close.

As Karole Edwards and I researched the history of African American soul care and spiritual direction, we found hundreds of primary sources for Black Church history from 1500-1900 (our time-frame). However, when we looked in secondary sources written today about American Church history, we found an embarrassing dearth of focus on women and minorities. Even in 2011, most general texts on American Church history continue to focus on dead White guys.

I’m not against the dead White guys. One day I will be one of them! I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on one of them: Martin Luther.

I’m simply of the conviction that fair and balanced history is still not being written. Just today I received the following testimonial to this fact.

“I hold an MA in biblical counseling from an Evangelical seminary. I also did coursework in ethics related to race relations. I ordered your book Beyond the Suffering and was deeply touched by it. It is a book that I longed for while in seminary as the majority of my textbooks were from an Anglo-American perspective.”

Others agree. As I present around the country on Heroes of the Black Church, participants are angry. In their Evangelical Bible colleges, Christian liberal arts colleges, and seminaries, they’re taking Church history courses and hearing nothing about Black Church history, especially Evangelical Black Church history. I’m being told that even Historically Black Colleges and Universities are not teaching about Evangelical Black Church history.

I always find it interesting when someone says, “Let’s just read about good people of all races and not focus on just one race!” I like to follow-up with the question, “So tell me the most recent book you’ve read, especially the most recent American Church history book that talked about anyone other than dead White guys…”

Or, I’ll ask, “So tell me some great heroes of the faith who are from a culture different from yours…”

Unfortunately, 99% of people can’t provide an answer. In theory, we say we want to read about all people of all cultures. In reality, most general studies books on American Church history are only about the dead White guys. And most of us read only about people who are like us.

What Does God’s Word Say?

We’ll celebrate unity in diversity in heaven for all eternity according to Revelation 7:9-10. God’s end game is not one homogenous group, but unity in diversity. Such unity in diversity reflects God. Our Trinitarian God is Three-in-One: unity in diversity.

Even if racism, prejudice, and imbalanced awareness were wiped from the face of the earth, the Bible still commands us to value diversity throughout eternity. The end of racism would not be the end of diversity. It would be the beginning of unity in diversity. There’s a world of difference.
While people may debate whether “race” is culturally-constructed, the Bible is clear that culture is God-constructed and approved. God does not want us to be “culture-blind.” He wants us to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate our differences in biblical unity.

What Should We Do Now?

Ideally, life could and should be both/and. We could have books that highlight the unique accomplishments of various cultural groups—celebrating their legacy. And, we could have books that integrate in a fair and balanced way the contributions of all cultural groups.

The same could be true of “history months.” We could have months celebrating specific cultural groups. And, we could and should, year-round, celebrate the contributions of all cultural groups.

Given the clearly documented lack of past and current historical balance (dead White guys getting all the press and other cultures and women given little honor), it is still necessary to highlight “minority cultures” and women in special months, books, etc. We can do this while also working toward integrating men and women, and people of all cultures, into year-round study and into overview books.

Join the Conversation

What do you think? Is Black History Month still necessary?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Top Ten Trends in Biblical Counseling

Remember to visit our new site with daily blog updates at RPM Ministries.

The Top Ten Trends in Biblical Counseling

Note: The Gospel Coalition originally posted the following article I wrote on The Top Ten Trends in Biblical Counseling.

As I speak around the country on biblical counseling, I typically hear two very different responses. Sometimes I’m asked, “When you say ‘biblical counseling,’ you don’t mean ___________ do you?” Various people fill in that blank with different labels—negative to them. What a shame that placing the word “biblical” in front of “counseling” causes some in the church to recoil in fear.

But there’s good news—the tide is turning. I consistently hear comments like, “God has used biblical counseling to change my life.” And, “Our church’s biblical counseling ministry is impacting our entire congregation and our community for God’s glory.”

It’s exciting to reflect on what God is doing as He empowers leaders to equip His people to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). With that reality as the backdrop, here are the top ten positive trends that I see in biblical counseling today—shared in reverse order, of course, to heighten the anticipation.

10. A Collegial Spirit

Increasingly, members of biblical counseling organizations are choosing to work together and to learn from each other. The 2010 launch of the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC) is just one example. The vision of Pastor James MacDonald and Pastor Steve Viars, the BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship. BCC President Steve Viars, explains this collegial vision:

“The BCC is about relationships and resources. Relationships because we believe that together we can accomplish more. Resources because we want to help everyone interested in practicing biblical counseling in their churches to have the best tools and training possible.”

To read the rest of the post, visit The Gospel Coalition site for The Top Ten Trends in Biblical Counseling.

To read the entire post in a PDF format, visit the RPM Ministries site at The Top Ten Trends in Biblical Counseling.