5 Christian Cliches to Stop Using Now

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Christian cliches make you cringe, don’t they? Here are 5 Christians cliche identified by today’s guest writer Marie Notcheva, a featured counselor in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory. A certified counselor and author, Marie specializes in helping women and girls who have eating disorders, which she overcame through biblical counseling. Her article appeared first here on her website and is used with permission.

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heartIn biblical counseling, as in all forms of Christian ministry, we are called to exhort and encourage; listen and learn; love and give hope. Sometimes, however, words can hurt rather than heal. Although a counselor, friend, small-group leader or pastor may say something with the best of intentions, falling back on platitudes or Christian clichés can sometimes cause more harm than good to the listener.

Based on my experience as a biblical counselor and conversations with other women, I have identified five of the most damaging Christian cliches that have made their way into the counseling room. Over the years, I have heard all of these used, and while I understand the intent behind them, they make me cringe.

Let’s look at the five Christian cliches you should eliminate immediately from your counsel, and why.

1. “In order to feel good, you must DO good.”

This is an old maxim of biblical counseling, often said to depressed counselees who find themselves in a rut. The problem is that it’s often not true, and usually adds to the counselee’s guilt and self-recrimination.

A better approach? Get to the source of her depression.

A woman who is depressed because of a verbally abusive husband will not be helped by this phrase. She very likely is already “doing good things” to the point of burnout, to no avail. Is the counselee depressed because of a death? Telling her to get her act together and wash the dishes will not help.

The phrase implies that laziness is partially responsible for the depression, which is a dangerous assumption to make.

2. “How can I/we come alongside you?”

This is a Christian cliché that is so vague it is usually impossible to answer. Say what you mean. Perhaps make a suggestion: “I’ll show up at your place at 11 a.m., do your laundry, and take you out to lunch. You could use a break!”

Or, “Now that I know your family is struggling financially, let’s talk to the elders about getting a scholarship for your son to go to youth
camp. By the way, there’s a fund in place to help pay heating bills for folks going through a rough patch.”

The “coming alongside” offer can also be a thinly veiled but heavy-handed way of saying, “I’m going to interfere in this very private matter you’ve divulged to me, whether you consent or not.” Don’t spiritualize your offer of involvement. Spell it out, and respectfully ask the counselee, friend, or parishioner for permission.

3. “You have a very low view of Scripture (or Christ, or God).”

This is usually a callous way of dismissing what the other person is saying, simply because you don’t agree with it. It is presumptuous in the extreme to assume you know her heart on such matters, and it is lazy counseling.5-christian-cliches-to-stop-using-now

If a counselee or member is attending an evangelical church of any stripe, and especially if she is seeking out counseling, it is safe to take her at her word that she believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. It is doubtful that she has a low view of Christ, and to tell her this is confusing and hurtful.

One woman I counseled several years ago had been told at her prior church that she had a low view of God, because she had taken a tough-love approach to her son’s drug addiction. Although I don’t know the woman’s pastor, I have counseled addicts enough to know that she took appropriate steps – and indeed had a very high view of God.

If you don’t agree that the individual’s conclusion is biblical, do some research. It’s probably a matter of interpretation and you, as the biblical counselor, probably have the benefit of exegetical training. Engage the question; look at different angles and commentaries; reason together.

Never dismiss her by telling her she has a low view of Scripture/God/Christ. Such sweeping statements are designed to be conversation-stoppers, and have no place in the counseling room.

4. “Stop carrying around a root of bitterness/bitter spirit.”

This one is tricky, because it’s clearly a biblical warning. Bitterness is a sin, which ultimately destroys a person spiritually. The author of Hebrews cautions against letting such a spirit grow up within the Body, because it “corrupts many” (Hebrews 12:15). We see this all the time in the fallout of church splits, in the gossip and hard feelings that are left in its wake.

The problem here is being careful not to lump every angry emotion into this category, and gloss over it with this verse. This approach is what has given nouthetic counselors the reputation of “throwing the Bible at people” or a “take one verse and call me in the morning” attitude.

Having hurt feelings or struggling to forgive someone who has seriously wronged you is not bitterness. Often, counselors and pastors make the mistake of rebuking wounded believers for “bitterness” before they’ve even had a chance to start healing.

At that point, what hurting people need is to be listened to; have their experience validated; have the wrong of what was done to them validated. Then you can begin to help them work through the process of forgiveness. Bitterness is a heart attitude that comes about when one sees all others as enemies; deliberately refuses to forgive; and usually is a result of a non-existent prayer life.

Please do not forget that in some serious circumstances (such as sexual abuse, fraud, injury or murder of one’s relative), forgiveness may be a long, extremely painful process. Be very careful of bringing out the “root of bitterness” trump card.

5. “Thank you for sharing your heart.”

Usually said with the best of intentions, this is the single most meaningless, cringe-worthy, condescending, cliché-sounding phrase in the ecclesiastical lexicon, according to women I’ve spoken to.

It is meaningless because it is a non-answer, offering no resolve. It is condescending because it dismisses whatever the counselee (or parishioner) has said to the level of emotionalism. It is insensitive at best; insulting at worst. And rank-and-file church members know that.

One woman told me that this sounded like a pat-phrase taught in biblical counseling courses as a buffer; something to pull out when one doesn’t know what else to say. I know of another incident where a woman carefully documented details of incidents – with dates, names, witnesses and details – to give credence to a serious situation of abuse she had brought to her pastor’s attention. She was thanked for sharing her heart.

“My heart had nothing to do with it,” she said. “They wanted facts? I gave them very specific facts. I’ve never felt so dismissed and unheard in my life.”

A better alternative to thank you for sharing your heart might be to thank the person for the trust they demonstrate in you by sharing this information with you, and then ask what action steps she would like you to take.

This not only validates that the issue they’re addressing is important; it puts feet to the faith we profess to have. Faith and love both lead to action – there’s usually a reason they’re telling you something, and unless it’s over a coffee in Starbucks, it’s rarely just for the sake of sharing their heart.

Choose Words Wisely

As Christians, whether in the counseling room or out in the world, we’re called to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Although certainly none of us does this perfectly, thinking about how to make our words more meaningful (and edifying) might mean changing some of the ways we phrase things.

Always try to consider how the listener will receive what you say, in her personal experience and situation. Frame your words accordingly, and in this way you will be demonstrating the love of Christ.

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Friend, are you sick of Christian cliches? Would you consid effective, “cliche-free,” and caring biblical counseling?

Please contact me and we can set up a free 15-minute free consultation. We can “meet” by Skype, in person, or over the phone. Just the other day, a woman from Germany had a free consult with me, and now we’re counseling, looking to Jesus and the Bible for answers to life’s troubles.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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Saying Sorry Versus True Repentance

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When you hurt someone’s feelings, is it enough to say “I’m sorry”?

Or do these words fall flat when spoken without godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10)? Is there a preferred alternative? Is so, what?

Years ago these questions swirled in my mind when one of my children called her sibling a name, snatched an item without permission, or smacked her on the head.

In this short article, I’ll share. . .

  1. an experiment that flopped
  2. the change that made the difference.

The main point: Don’t raise a little pharisee who knows the right words to say. Instead, train up a child to who desires to please the Lord.

The ‘I’m Sorry’ Method

Several Christian moms at my church, Bible study, and MOPS swore by a method to change their dear children’s behavior after a skirmish.

Picture this scenario: Carrie tiptoes into older sister Mary’s closet and snags a super cool top to wear. Later Mary sees Carrie at school in her top and pointed words fly like daggers. Later at home their mom learns of the problem and tells the swiper to return the top and say “I’m sorry” followed by “I forgive you” from the other sister, then they hug. She requires both girls to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” for the mean words, and they hug again.

The mom in the scenario truly believes she’s getting to the root of the problem and that the girls learned a valuable lesson about taking without asking first and using hateful words. Have you found yourself in a similar situation? How did you discipline your kids?

My Experiment

Sort of hopeful (but not confident) this method would work, I tried a week-long experiment with my three children. I clued in my husband. A united front, right?

The plan: When one child was mean in some way to another, the offending kid had to say, “I’m sorry” whether or not she felt sorry. The offended kid had to say, “I forgive you” whether or not she truly forgave her — and they hugged.

The goal: to instill a humble, contrite spirit leading to true repentance. But did it work?

Ah, no.

Laura called Julia a name, said “I’m sorry” while rolling her eyes, and Julia said “I forgive you” with great enthusiasm, bless her heart. Their hug resembled a vice grip you might witness on WWE. Within minutes John hit Julia in the face with a bouncy ball. It was an accident.

“I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you.”

Vice-grip hug.

Those two began throwing things at each other just to get to the vice-grip hug. Laura was “like whatever” and escaped to her bedroom.

When a lamp crashed and a cat flew out of the way, I stopped the experiment. I could not handle another six days! 

The  experiment flopped.

My children said the right words without an inkling of repentance. I was raising vice-grip loving, little Pharisees!

Change That Makes the Difference

The real point behind genuine sorrow is repentance. Wordly sorrow is fakery; it’s death.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corninthians 7:10).

“Sorrow,” in this context, refers to sorrow that is according to the will of God and produced by the Holy Spirit, says pastor John MacArthur whose Grace to You media ministry reaches millions. True repentance is impossible apart from genuine sorrow over one’s sin.

sorryThis was my problem and my kids’ problem: The “I’m sorry” were just words, not genuine sorrow.

Worldly sorrow has no redeeming value. This type of “I’m sorry” results from getting caught in a sin or from wounded pride, and leads to shame, despair, self-pity, and even death (see Mattew 27:3 for the account of Judas’ hanging).

Genuine repentance is at the very heart of one’s salvation. Believers repent of their sin continually as they turn from loveless thoughts, words, behaviors, and motivations and turn to God.

A person who is truly repentant experiences change in the inner person. Consider this:

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19, NIV)

The Pharisees were experts in “good” behavior–as my children became adept at saying “I’m sorry” and vice-grip hugs–and missed heart change. True repentance cuts to the heart.

An Offer

Are your kids (young or older) driving you nuts? Do you need encouragment and godly counsel? Consider scheduling a free 15-minute phone call with me; contact me and we’ll set it up.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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Say ‘No’ and Flee from Idolatry!

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Idolatry is making a god of something or someone who is NOT the God. All of us are tempted to cozy up to idols. Guest writer Ellen Castillo, one of the counselors in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory, reveals her go-to idol and how she–and you–can learn to say “no” and flee. Her article appeared first here on her website and is used with permission. 

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What do you run to? What should you run from?

 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:15

It’s humbling to admit this. For many years my go-to idol has been. . .food. Sin is always humbling, isn’t it? And it can be embarrassing and even humiliating, except that the Gospel takes care of that kind of self-focus and self-condemnation.

I’ll take the humbling, because that is what keeps me from turning back to idolatry. I’ll keep purposing to reject the embarrassment and humiliation, because I know that my sins are forgiven. To try to pretend that I am not the worst of sinners is just silly because it’s written all over me. And you.

Let’s remember this: we have a Savior.

Idolatry Everywhere! 

Idolatry today comes wrapped in a lot of different packages. Food, alcohol, drugs, prescription meds, sex, materialism, shopping, anger, status, playing the victim, seeking approval and attention, relationships, celebrities, pride of all kinds, and so many more.

There is no end, really, to what we allow to become idols in our hearts. Whatever we put before God, wherever our treasure is, whatever we worship, those are our idols.

There is a reason these idols are called “false gods.” They are counterfeits. They ultimately fail us. We actually “become like them” and that is, to put it bluntly, disgusting.

The psalmist wrote:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them! Psalm 135:15-18 

This disgust gripped me a few months ago when I got a serious medical diagnosis that is worsened by my idolatry. I realized I had “eyes, but did not see, ears, but did not hear, and there was no breath in my mouth.”

I won’t say my idol is entirely gone now, but I am seeing consistent victories along the way. Praise God, it is His work in me, not my own. I am too weak apart from His strength. I have a long ways to go, but I am daily choosing to go toward Christ rather than my toward my false god.

Where are you going?

The Gospel Ensures Victory

One of the beautiful things about Jesus’s Gospel is that we do not need to strive for victory.

Yes, there is a part we must engage by obedience, but when (not if) we fail at times, we can praise God because He does not see what we see. Even if my hand gets caught in the cookie jar, I am forgiven.

That does not excuse my behavior nor does it give me the green light to worship my idols. It does offer me grace to get back up again and press on in obedience because of the indwelling Spirit in me. I need to know that God’s love for me does not change (nor does my eternal security) when I fail at times, and I do fail. But by God’s grace you and I can experience more victories and fewer setbacks as long as we are not relying on our own strength.

How does God deal with our idolatry? How are we to be rid of it? We see in Scripture that His dealings with His people were consistent and blatant. We see the same kind of dealings with our current culture (just view the news or your Facebook feed and you will see it.)

The Word Reveals Our Need

The commands are clear: we are to have no other gods before Him. God is a jealous God.

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:3-6 

In our personal lives, if you have a personal relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus, God deals with us and our sin of idolatry very individually and specifically. For example, my conviction came as a result of that scary medical diagnosis that requires a change of habits if I want to be healthy and live to know my grandkids, Lord willing.

We fashion our idols and enjoy them for awhile, until God reveals to us the thoughts, beliefs, and desires that lie at the core of our hearts. Those are the things that mold and transform in to our idols.

Out of that core of our hearts flow the things we worship, and we must remember that those things are not going to satisfy ultimately because:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

God’s Word is clear. When God reveals our idols to us, we are then responsible to flee them.

Ephesians 4 instructs us to put off the old man, and put on the new. Through the conviction, empowering, and enabling of the Holy Spirit, we can do this. We can say no.

Titus 2:12 reminds us that grace actually teaches us to say no.

Grace. The Gospel. Spirit indwelling. SAY NO. Flee!

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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7 Lies About Submission

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SUBMISSION? Use this S word among girlfriends in church or on a night out and toes curl.

Many people misunderstand what the Bible means when it says that wives are to “be submissive” to their husbands. This includes many married women I’ve counseled.

Forever I’ll remember the panicked call from a friend whose former college roommate fled her West Coast home, very pregnant and with two little ones in tow. The former roommate and I soon talked by phone. Through sobs the story came out:

Her Christian husband demanded that she “obey” his every word and threated her with physical harm.

Fearing for her children’s safety and her own sanity, she packed bags and drove east toward her childhood home.

Do you have a handle on the real meaning of submisison? Has someone use care about used this word against you in order to manipulate you or shame you?

For this article, I turned to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem for answers and discovered 7 lies about submision I share with your. Read 1 Peter 3:1-7 here and the 7 below. My prayer is for you to understand God’s plan for marriage and to learn common abuses over submission, like the one my pregnant counselee had encountered.

Lie 1: Put Your Huband in the Place of Christ 

Christ is always first. 1 Peter 2:21 says,

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men (1 Peter 2:13).

Rather, look to Christ and follow him.

Lie 2: Never Try to Influence Your Husband

You should influence your husband, wisely and winsomely. For instance, a wife whose husband is an unbeliever ought to win him over (to Christian faith) “without words by their behavior”–pure and reverent.

Lie 3: Stop Thinking for Yourself

Peter speaks directly to wives in 1 Peter 3:1-6, not to the husbands. He wants them to think about God’s Word and apply it to their lives. My former counselee who had put a safe distance between her and her husband reported that he told her what she should think. She wasn’t allowed to think for herself. Have you received a similar edict from your husband?

Lie 4: Give in to Your Husband’s Demands  

When a husband demands that a wife sin, she must say “no” to her huband. Her refusal to sin lines up with Peter’s command to have proper conduct among unbelievers:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Lie 5: You Are Less Competent Than Your Husband

This is another lie. In fact, some wives have far greater spiritual insight than husbands. This is certainly true when a Christian wife is married to an unbelieving spouse. She has the Holy Spirit dwelling within her. He does not.

Lie 6: Submission Means Wives Should Fear

On the contrary, Peter says wives should not “give way to fear” (verse 6). The instruction for husbands to respect their wives as “the weaker partner” has nothing to do with a woman’s lack of courage when endangered.

Lie 7: Submission Means Wives Are ‘Less Than’

Jesus submitted to God the Father, and he has dignitity and honor. A wife’s submission to her husband is similiar to Christ’s submission to the Father; they have equal importance.

What Submission Means

“Be submissive to your husbands” (verse 1) basically means that a wife willingly affirms the leadership of the husband. It doesn’t mean she’s a doormat or has no say or lacks value. Rather,

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives, as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:28)

Both the husband and wife are called to self-sacrifice. Look at the word the apostle Paul selected for love. It is agape in the Greek. This self-sacrificing kind of love isn’t about sex or affection or brotherly kindness. It is the kind that lays down one’s life for the other.

As a Bible study author astutely pointed out, an argument in a home where a husband loves his wife and she submits to his leadership might sound like,

“I insist that you have your way.”

“No, no, really, I insist you have your way.”

Just imagine that was the tone of your arguments, with the husband trying to out-sacrifice his wife and the wife trying to out-submit her husband. Just imagine the number of marriages that would thrive. The kids too.

I encourage you to read Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood for yourself. It sheds light on many Scripture passages that have confused men and women, leading to clarity in the roles of husband and wife in the home, church, and personal life.

Let us live in harmony with one another, as God intends.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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Abortion: Finding Healing at Your Church

abortionAbortion stories are very rarely shared in most churches today.

Christian women are far more likely to admit depression or anxiety, a rebellious kid, or a troubled marriage.

One reason Christian women don’t talk their abortions is fear of condemnation from other Christians.

Last year’s undercover videos of Planned Parenthood got everyone talking about the horrific selling baby parts after abortion. It set social media on fire. My heart hurt as I heard of the sale of livers and kidneys and craniums.

And my heart hurts. . .for the women and girls who’ve had abortions.

I am privileged to know Tiffany Stuart, a blogger and a wonderful women who shares her abortion story at Tea with Tiffany. God is using her ministry to educate women and to bring healing to those who’ve ended their pregnancies and feel horrible, empty, numb, angry, depressed, and unforgivable. Her voice offers healing words.

It Could Happen to Anyone

Lynn was just 17. College bound. A steady boyfriend. And a missed period, then another.

Did you know that every year in the U.S., there are roughly 1 million abortions? 1.5 percent of abortions are pregnancies from rape or incest. Lynn’s boyfriend drove her to the clinic and paid for the abortion.

“I’m so scared,” she confided to me. (Names have been changed.)

We were close friends, Lynn and me. After “it” was over, we never spoke of her abortion. Like it never happened. Back then I had believed the “right to choose” propaganda, and if an abortion was right for Lynn, then fine. Just get it over with and move on right? Right?

If it were that easy, why did we never speak of it again? Ever. Were we. . .

Ignorant?

Ashamed?

Prideful?

I didn’t know then what I know now: Women who have abortions are in desperate need of emotional and spiritual healing.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

Honestly, if I had known the devastation to women, I would not have helped my friend get an abortion. In fact, I would have yelled, screamed, laid down in front of her car, anything but stay silent.

The workers at Planned Parenthood had told Lynn that her unborn baby was a blob of tissue.

They are wrong. She was wrong. I was wrong. We know better now, don’t we?

Breaking the Silence in Churches

If you want to help make your church a safe place to share painful secrets of abortion, start with prayer. Ask God to bring a hurting woman into your life. If you’ve had an abortion, ask God to send you a compassionate woman whom you can trust.

Here are warm words for compassionate friends and hurting women.

Dear compassionate friend, the hurting woman won’t tell you her pain at first. She needs to know she can trust you. She needs to know you won’t condemn her.

The Bible says,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NIV)

Dear hurting woman, are you afraid to tell a friend about your abortion? If you haven’t experienced healing, you need to reach out. Do you feel nervous or angry around babies and children?  Sorrowful? This sorrow may show up as uncharacteristic silence. These are signs you need healing.

Dear compassionate friend, offer her hope. She must learn that nothing can separate her from God’s love. Show her this verse in the Bible:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

Dear hurting woman, you’ll find peace when you reconcile with God, with yourself and with others. If you haven’t already, talk with God and agree with him that you made a bad decision. Ask for his forgiveness. He will give it to you. At Calvary Jesus paid for all of your sins–past, present and future. However, you do not need to forgive yourself. No where in Scripture are we commanded to do this. God’s forgiveness is all that matters.

Dear compassionate friend, help the hurting woman reconcile with others when possible by speaking the truth in love to people who had a role in the abortion. They may have sinned against her, or she against them. Guide her in these difficult conversations.

Dear hurting woman, do you need a healing way to remember your loss? If you desire, write a poem or draw or sculpt, or memorize a scripture verse, to remember God’s loving-kindness toward you.

If anyone reading these words had an abortion, may you wrap yourself is the truth that God loves you and is for you. Why not talk with him? He’s waiting with open, gentle arms.

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Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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