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Yesterday Emma spoke at a conference along with 3 other amazing Christians. They all told stories of God meeting them in hard places.

One of them has the most stunning testimony I've ever heard.  I can't relate the details for his own security, but it involved Christ calling him out of the Mosque of which he was Sheikh.  As hundreds listened, open-mouthed, I was part-thrilled, part-devastated.

You see I had spent the 10 minutes prior to the seminar chatting with this guy.  About the Olympics.  The Olympics!  In particular, an event I knew nothing of.  For ten precious minutes.

Later, as he gave his testimony, I had a thousand questions I wanted to ask him.  But I knew he'd be swamped after the seminar.  I'd had my chance.  And we'd spoken about sport.

How'd it happen?

Well it went something like this:

Me: Where are you from?

Him: I'm from the country of X.

Me: [Smirking because I knew one tiny, stupid little fact about that country] Oh... didn't they just win Gold in such-and-such an event?

Indeed they did.  Well done Glen!  Ten points and control of round two.  With that little nugget of trivia we were off.  For ten long minutes, we were off not speaking about the most amazing story and the most amazing God.

As the conversation unfolded, things were not helped by my attempt to demonstrate knowledge of this sport.  I'd read something you see.  A while back.  And it was important that I share this tit-bit.  Knowingly.  For the sake of the conversation you understand.  It turned out that my tit-bit was false.  But he was gracious and put me straight.  It wasn't like that in country X you see.

But wait.  I wasn't finished blagging.  Because, to me, it sounded a little like the situation in country Y.  A country I was more familiar with.  Here was me demonstrating a connection you see.  For the sake of the conversation.  It turned out country Y was not really that similar.  But I'm sure, deep down, he was appreciative of my efforts to relate.  Not to mention my ability to be semi-ignorant across a broad range of global concerns.

Ten minutes!  Ten minutes of me saying things like "Oh, yes, I'd heard that such-and-such is a real problem... No? Ok, well I suppose that's because of the so-and-so factor.  Really?  Not that either eh?  Hm."

Ten minutes.

Ten minutes of me covering.  That's the biblical term for what we do when we feel naked. Ever since man sinned we've wanted a covering - something to hide our shame, our weakness, our ignorance.  As we relate to each other we conceal our bad bits, show off our clothing and remain, decidedly, at a distance.

Conversationally, we spend our lives building up a bank of "things to say" in certain situations.  X is mentioned.  We go to the filing cabinet and deliver our lines on cue.  Why?  We're covering.

What would it have been like if, instead of covering, I'd been curious?  Just curious about him?

Well I'd have dropped those fig-leaves of trivial "knowledge" that only side-tracked the conversation.  I'd have confessed ignorance of his country and his context and could have allowed him to tell me his story on his terms.

And, ironically, if I'd stopped pretending to trivial knowledge, we'd have gotten down to subjects far closer to my heart.  A real heart-to-heart can happen when we're into curiosity not covering.

In the Q&A section of the seminar, the last  two questions were asked of Emma and of Ruthie (who was bereaved aged 27 and whose wonderful blog you can read here.)  The question for both was "How can we help people who have gone through situations like yours?"

Both Emma and Ruthie essentially answered the same:  Don't be frightened by your own ignorance.  Don't shy away because you don't know "the right thing to say."  Ask the sufferer what's the right thing!  Ask the sufferer how you can help!  Because they don't need you to have the answer.  They need you.

In other words.  Stop covering.  Be curious.



Here's excerpts from a longer paper from my website appraising Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a

  • short-term,
  • practical,
  • client-based,
  • collaborative,
  • problem-solving,
  • life-skill learning

‘talking therapy’ which has had excellent and well documented success in alleviating certain emotional problems.


CBT represents a small number of different counselling schools which understand the process of change to involve the re-habituation of thoughts and (secondarily) behaviours.  The underlying assumption is that faulty emotions and behaviours flow from faulty thinking.

Thoughts =>  Feelings => Behaviours

These thoughts are themselves the result of faulty beliefs which underlie them and need to be confronted and changed.


The chief benefit of CBT for the church  is perhaps the myriad tools that have been developed to uncover faulty thought patterns and beliefs.

Christians have always known that beliefs and thought-patterns are life-altering, but three or four decades of clinical practice at ‘digging down’ into the beliefs of counsellees has produced very useful tools which can also be used by the Christian.

Identifying Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs)

  • Ask directly – What are you telling yourself when you feel X…
  • Guided discovery (ask around the issues, get them to unearth)
  • Note emotional change as they speak – these are ‘hot cognitions’
  • Worst consequence scenarios – What would be so bad if…?
  • Imagery (some NATs are images) – Do you have a picture of yourself or of your environment when this is happening?
  • Exposure exercises – go to uncomfortable situations either physically or in your mind. How are you now thinking?
  • Offer multiple suggestions of what the NATs may be
  • Offer suggestions opposite to client’s expected response. They will usually say ‘No, no, I’m telling myself X’

Question the assumptions underlying the NATs:

  • What would be so terrible about X?
  • What would it be like for you not to do or feel X?
  • What does it say about you that you have done or felt X?
  • Are there verdicts being passed on you from God, the world and yourself associated with X?  What are they? Could you put them in words?
  • On what basis are these verdicts being passed?
  • On what basis are you believing them?

At this stage, CBT identifies the faultiness of such thinking as certain cognitive errors:

  • Arbitrary inference: e.g. ‘I was much happier when I happened to be X, therefore I must regain X’
  • Selective abstraction: e.g. ‘X (and nothing else) is what makes me special.’
  • Over-generalisation: e.g. ‘Everyone who has X is happier and more successful.’
  • Magnification (of the bad) and minimisation (of the good): e.g. ‘I may have Y and Z, but that’s nothing.  X is everything.’
  • Personalisation: e.g. ‘My performance of X wasn’t bad, was bad. Everyone must hate me.
  • Absolutist, dichotomous thinking: e.g. ‘It’s black and white, all or nothing.  Either I’m X or I’m nothing.’
  • Mind reading: e.g. ‘I know what they’re all thinking…’
  • Crystal ball: e.g. ‘I know what’s going to happen now…’
  • Catastrophizing: e.g. ‘It’s all over now. X is out of the bag, all hell will break loose.’
  • Emotional reasoning: e.g. ‘I feel X so strongly, therefore it must be a fact.’
  • Self-labelling / blame: e.g. ‘X makes me an idiot!’ ‘X makes me ugly!’

Beneath these faulty cognitions are the schemas or core beliefs that feed such thinking. CBT also offers helpful techniques in bringing these to the surface.

To identify core beliefs, look for…

  • ‘If…, then…’ statements: ‘If I’m X, then I’m a failure.’
  • ‘Shoulds’ and ‘Musts’
  • Themes in the NATs
  • Family sayings, mottoes, memories

The CBT practitioner should then get the counsellee to put this core belief into words.  Make them identify it as a rule: e.g. “I need everyone in my environment to be ok with me or else I will be destroyed.”  Simply the process of articulating this rule – exposing it as the dominating force in a person’s every decision, act and feeling – is incredibly powerful.  In Christian contexts it should lead to heart-felt and deep confession.


[Summary of intervening points]  In John 16:9 Jesus identified the criterion by which the Spirit would condemn the world for its sin - "in that people do not believe in Me."  Through loving Christian community, the tools listed above can be a means of the Spirit uncovering those false faiths.

A key verse in Christian counselling is Proverbs 20:5: "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters but a man of understanding draws them out."  When I encounter a Spirit-filled 'man of understanding' in these circumstances I am exposed for my sinful beliefs and purposes - not simply my behaviours - and therefore may be brought to a broken and contrite heart.

I say may because it is always the Spirit's work to convict me of sin - never simply the work of logic.  More on this below...


Perhaps the chief criticism that could be levelled at CBT from a Christian perspective is this: It is not wise and persuasive words that are required but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

At the core of CBT is the challenging of irrational beliefs with logical standards.  However the deceitful and unfathomable heart will take more than good reasoning to shake it from its madness.  The truth of God’s gospel must be driven home to the counsellee with living power by the Spirit.  Faith does not come by reasoning but by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.  Therefore there ought to be a healthy dose of proclamation to pastoral counselling, a worshipping community to surround it and the regular table fellowship of the Lord’s Supper. All the means of grace ought to be employed by the Christian counsellor.  This goes far beyond pointing out faulty cognitions!

It is not our intellects that need changing but our hearts.  The heart is the centre of a person according to Jesus and the source of our thoughts and actions.  Our true hope is in the change of hearts.  This means:

a) we will not look for non-rational means (the heart is not an anti-intellectual concept in the Bible)

b) we will employ emotional, artistic, sensory means also

c) true change is ultimately the work of God


The whole article, including a potted history of the development of CBT, can be found here.


Emma writes a vivid account of some mundane but murderous marital bullying she overheard.

...For almost forty minutes, he ran her down. Criticised her appearance, complained about the coffee she ordered (and brought to him), repeatedly insisted that she was stupid and useless. When she went to get some groceries, he greeted her return with a volley of anger and abuse. Nervous and bowed, she fluttered like a tiny bird, trying to appease him. But to no avail...

As terrible as I find this gross assault, I recognise the bully in me.  Here's an older post of mine about how men and women use words.  Verbal intercourse is just like the other kind - and attended with all the same abuses (see here for more).   I think addressing 'words that pierce' (Prov 12:18) should be front and centre in marriage prep.  And something to revisit time and again...


This week I had a couple of chuckles over the words people had chosen.

First was an email from an internet accountability site.  It told me that a friend had accessed websites that were "Highly Mature."  Judging by the domain names, "infantile" would have been a much better description.  There's nothing adult about porn.

The second chuckle came when meeting one-to-one with  pastors in Eastbourne to discuss evangelism.  Two different pastors from two different churches have told me exactly the same thing:

We don't like to use the word evangelism.  It scares people.  We don't have an "Evangelism team" any more, we have a "Witness team."

I fully agree that "evangelism" scares people.  And "witness" sounds much nicer.  But once you know the meaning of the two words, it's a tad ironic...

We don't like to be good news bearers, we'd much rather be martyrs!

In this programme about the KJV, Peter Hennessy (Professor of Contemporary British History) speaks of the Sermon on the Mount:

It's 150 words of the best copy ever written in the world.  No caveats.

I once tested this out, I re-wrote it as if it was a government white paper.

"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God... always bearing in mind the overall need to maintain the effectiveness of the British strategic nuclear deterrent.  Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth... always bearing in mind the overall constraints on public expenditure."

If it was written by anyone else it would have been caveated away.  Just think if the management consultants had written it!

Jesus talks straight.  It's the devil that's 'subtil'.

Of course I may have overstated this and there's always another point of view - I make no claims to comprehensive understanding of these issues which are surely more complicated than can ever be expressed in a forum such as burble burble mutter blatch.


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