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Archive for the ‘Entitlement’ Category

Q&A: Have I’ve Done All That I Can Do Or Has My Marriage Died?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question:  How can I be confident that I’ve done all that I can do and nothing is going to change in my marriage? When will I have enough evidence that it’s time to leave? My husband says lots of “right” things, but his belief system, which drives his actions, reveals that for the most part, he doesn’t really care for anyone but himself. 

Answer: I’d like to rephrase a common myth. The myth is that it takes two to break a marriage. That’s a lie. One person can kill a relationship effectively all by himself or herself.

The truer reality is that one person cannot keep a marriage together all by herself. It always takes two people to keep a relationship alive or to put a marriage back together especially once it has suffered broken trust.

A marriage is more than a legal agreement or a piece of paper. It is a living relationship that needs regular maintenance and sometimes, repairs. 

I was talking to a man this week at a business meeting I attended and he told me how unsuccessful he’s been in marriage. The problem was that he hadn’t found the right person yet.

I asked him what he meant and he said he’s been divorced three times and when he finds the right person, he’ll know. Meaning…the right person will make it easy for him to stay married long term.

I challenged his thinking. I said, “If you built a brand new house – one that you loved and thought was amazing, and you never maintained it, never took out the garbage, never cleaned it, never repainted the walls, or cut the grass or weeded the yard, or only did those things once in a blue moon, how would that house look and feel in 10 years? 30 years? Horrible! Like a stinky dump.” He agreed. Then I went on to add…

“A house needs more than regular maintenance. It also usually needs repairs over time. What if you ignored the leaky roof or the black mold growing in the bathroom, or the infestation of termites? How would it feel to live in that house?”

YUCKY!  TOXIC! Exactly.

This man lived with a mindset that if love is real, or I find the right person, then keeping the relationship alive will be easy. I shouldn’t have to work at it. But that’s not true.

Therefore, I’m curious about your mindset. I wonder if you believe that if only you do more, somehow you should be able to change your marriage into something enjoyable and safe.

From what you wrote, it sounds as if you’ve been doing the heavy lifting of maintenance and repairs in this relationship with dismal results. You’re tired and worn out. You feel scared because you see the marriage dying and you’re worried that maybe you haven’t done enough.

How do you know?

Your question reminds me of ER professionals who work hard to save a person who’s had a heart attack or was brought in after a terrible automobile accident. As hard as they try, at some point, they have to accept that they’ve done all they can do.  When that time comes, they don’t try harder. They stop and call the time of death. They accept their limitations. They cannot save everyone. Nor can they always bring someone back when seemingly dead, no matter how hard they try, because the patient is really dead.

As Christian women, we’ve often been blamed and blamed ourselves when our marriage feels dead. “What else could I have done?” we ask. “How can I do more to get my spouse to see? To change? To repent? To stop doing destructive things.” And the truth is, there are some things you can do to open his eyes to the dying marriage problem. But only he can decide to change.

Here are some things you can do. Speak to him about your feelings and concerns.  You’ve probably done that hundreds of times over the years. He gives you back the right words, but over the years there has been no meaningful change. Some people will never wake up with words alone. That takes you to the next step.

You allow your spouse reap what he sows (Galatians 6:7-9). In other words, he doesn’t get the perks of a happy wife and good marriage when he sows abuse, indifference, deceit, selfishness, and/or other destructive behavior. Often times that consequence is separation, whether an in-house separation or asking him to move out. But understand this: even with painful consequences, some people still refuse to wise up or change.

Proverbs 1:28-30 says,

“Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the Lord,
Would have none of my counsel,
And despised all my reproof,
Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
And have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
And the complacency of fools destroys them;

You don’t know the future. All you know is the past and present and those are pretty good predictors of someone’s future behaviors. God doesn’t expect you to be omniscient and know everything. He is asking you to walk in truth and faith, not fear and condemnation.

Please don’t put your hope in your husband changing his ways since the past and present show no indication that’s going to happen. You trying harder will not get him to change because you have no power to get him to change no matter how hard you try.

Trying harder to love him more, forgive him more and enduring more destructive/abusive behavior only feeds his entitlement. It feeds the lie he believes that he is so special and wonderful, so unique, he doesn’t have to do the regular work ordinary people have to do to maintain and repair relationships. He believes he’s entitled to a loving partnership even if he behaves in selfish, unloving ways.

Trying harder doesn’t help him face the truth. It also doesn’t help you, nor will it help your marriage to get better.

So you have three choices.

You can keep doing what you’ve always done and getting the same results, which is the definition of insanity.

You can decide to stay well, which means you let go of your desire to have a loving, mutual relationship, and live your life as best you can with a selfish man.

Or, you can decide to leave well, and say, “I don’t think God is asking me to lie and pretend we have a loving marriage when we don’t. I’m going to work on me, to get healthy and strong, and I invite you to do the same.” And then see what he does.

Probably he will do what he always does by giving you empty promises, but as you get stronger, you won’t fall for them as quickly. John the Baptist wisely challenged the religious leaders of his time when he said, “Prove, by the way you live that you’ve repented of your sin and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

Stop Overindulging Your Children

Advice on how to meet all their needs, but not all their wants.

SOURCE:  Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby/Family Life

What do your children really need from you? Love, guidance, shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and an education.

That’s it.

Everything else is a want, a luxury: video games, gadgets, phones, the latest fashion—whatever new item their friends have.

Today, far too many parents fall for the “nag factor.” They know their kids are bombarded by ads telling them to buy certain products and that many parents are buying those products for their children. They know the pressure that comes from their children’s peers, and so they buy their kids far more “stuff” than they can even use, all in the hope that their children will fit in and be accepted by their peers.

According to a recent survey of youth commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream, the average 12- to 17-year-old who asks a parent for products will ask nine times until the parents finally give in. For parents of tweens, the problem is particularly severe—more than 10 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds admit to asking their parents more than 50 times for products they’ve seen advertised. Kids have learned if they nag enough for long enough, parents will give in.

Parents, stop falling for the nag factor.

Refuse to overindulge your kids

Sadly, our self-absorbed society has told parents to help their kids feel good about themselves, that it’s the parents’ duty to make their children happy. But underneath it all, kids don’t need parents who make them happy. They need parents who will make them capable.

Dr. Connie Dawson, co-author of How Much Is Enough, writes:

When parents give children too much stuff that costs money, do things for children that they can do for themselves, do not expect children to do chores, do not have good rules, and let children run the family, parents are overindulging.

Here are some other signs of overindulgence. As you read them, watch for your weak spot:

1. Giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests:

  • Allowing a 5-year-old to dress like a pop star.
  • Allowing a 12-year-old to watch an R-rated movie.
  • Removing curfew from a 16-year-old with a new driver’s license.

2. Giving things to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s:

  • A mom buying her daughter the trendiest clothes, because Mom believes it’s a reflection on her own style.
  • A dad giving his son the “stand out” wheels at 16, so Dad’s friends—as well as his son’s friends—will think he’s “the man.”
  • A parent giving his or her children the best of the best in order to make the parent look successful.

3. Neglecting to teach children the life skills they need to survive in the “real” world beyond their home:

  • Tying shoes and dressing 4-year-olds who are perfectly capable of dressing themselves.
  • Doing the laundry for teenagers who are more than capable and need to learn to do it for themselves.

I admit that I slipped into overindulgence in raising my sons in more than one area. It’s important to realize the harm this can do to our children. According to one study conducted in 2001, children who are overindulged are more likely to grow up to believe the following:

  • It is difficult to be happy unless one looks good, is intelligent, rich, and creative.
  • My happiness depends on most people I know liking me.
  • If I fail partly, it is as bad as being a total failure.
  • I can’t be happy if I miss out on many of the good things in life.
  • Being alone leads to unhappiness.
  • If someone disagrees with me, it probably indicates that the person doesn’t like me.
  • My happiness depends more on other people than it depends on me.
  • If I fail at my work, I consider myself a failure as a person.

So, for the sake of your children, stop overindulging them.

Instead, teach them the difference between a need and a want, and then make them work for their wants. For instance, rather than buying that new video game for your children, give them two options: Tell them they can place it on a wish list for a birthday or Christmas present, or they can do extra duties to earn the money to buy it themselves. If your children are willing to work for their “heart’s desire,” they’ll take better care of it, be more grateful for it, and think long and hard before turning a “want” into a “need” in the future.

Repairing the damage of overindulgence

Parents, you can begin to remedy the damage done by overindulgence by doing two things:

1. Help your kids cultivate patience. The truth is parents often prevent their children from learning patience. We’ve gotten just as caught up in our fast-food society as anyone else. We’ve forgotten that real life problems aren’t solved in 15 minutes, that it takes time to find solutions to everyday struggles. We’re the ones who try to speed things up for our kids.

So don’t be so quick to solve your children’s problems for them. A bit of a struggle is good for them.

2. Give children opportunities to develop responsibility and to feel valuable. Your children need your help if they are going to learn necessary life skills. They need you to give them regular chores or duties and to hold them accountable for taking care of those duties. In so doing, you will help your children become adults, not just grown-ups.

All children will at times engage in a power struggle when it comes to carrying out chores or duties. But if parents give in and don’t assign age-appropriate duties for their children, their kids will grow up to be irresponsible, which is heartbreaking for the parent and tragic for the children. No matter the age of the child, any duties you assign them should encompass these purposes:

  • Helping your child learn life skills.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of the family.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of society.

By giving your children opportunities to help and serve each other within the family, you’re preparing them to take care of themselves and go out and serve society.

Now that I’ve asked you not to overindulge your kids with their wants, I want to encourage you to overindulge them with love, real love. Love that molds and shapes them into the young men and women they are meant to become. Patiently help them develop patience, and with persistence and persuasion give them age-appropriate responsibilities. As you do these things, you’ll be preparing their hearts and minds to accept the responsibilities God has planned for them.


Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright ©2008, Jill Rigby. 

3 Unrealistic and Detrimental Expectations About Marriage

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

There’s no shortage of unrealistic expectations about marriage. Which we can pick up from our families, from friends, from fairy tales, from television and movies, from magazine articles. And these supposedly true beliefs can sabotage our relationships, creating a whole lot of misunderstanding and chipping away at our connection.

Unrealistic expectations “set up couples to fail,” said Clinton Power, a clinical relationship counsellor. “When you expect that your relationship is meant to be a certain way, and that expectation doesn’t happen, this can create feelings of anxiety, sadness, and despair.” It can spark resentment, which can ruin relationships.

Below are three unrealistic expectations—and the truths behind each one.

Unrealistic expectation: Happy couples continue to feel the same intense feelings of love. “Falling in love is often called a ‘temporary psychosis’ for the very reason that when you are ‘head over heels’ in love with another person, you are often blinded to some of their differences and quirks,” said Power, founder of Clinton Power + Associates in Sydney, Australia. You love everything about your partner, and want to be with them. All. The. Time.

There are physiological reasons for this. According to psychotherapist and relationship expert Melissa Ferrari, “Oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin dance with the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, fueling our desire and keeping us on a ‘happy high’ of love and lust.”

But eventually, these electric effects dissipate. And what’s left are two people dealing with the reality of day-to-day life, Ferrari said. “And this is where the hard work starts.”

After the honeymoon period is over, it’s totally normal to enter a period of conflict, Power said. For instance, the quirks you once found adorable, like your partner regularly running late and losing things, are now like nails on a chalkboard. Now it’s a significant source of tension. After all, you take pride in your punctuality, and you have a penchant for organization. Which your partner keeps messing with.

The good news is that conflict isn’t inherently a problem. In fact, it’s actually an opportunity, Power said. When you’re experiencing conflict, you “learn to negotiate and manage your differences” and “how to successfully soothe one another when one or both of you are upset.”

Unrealistic expectation: Happy relationships remain the same. We assume that the person we married will remain exactly as they are, and thereby so will our relationship. This expectation might even be subconscious, but it rises to the surface in the form of surprise: Your spouse starts exploring a new career path or passion or moving away from something they used to love (and you still do), and you’re taken aback.

Maybe you even think, this isn’t the person I married. And maybe they’re not.

“[P]eople grow and change over time, and this means that the relationship changes,” Power said. He shared this example: A couple starts dating when one partner is only 19 years old. This younger partner receives a big promotion—and begins traveling more and more and spending more time at the office, building their dream career. The other partner, who’s at home, misses them and becomes increasingly bored. So they start going out more. Both partners are upset at their new reality because they feel disconnected from each other, drifting further and further apart.

“The issue is they haven’t accounted for some of the individual changes they are each going through. The relationship can’t be like it used to be, because they are different people now than they were when they first met.”

Unrealistic expectation: Partners are responsible for each other’s happiness. We tend to have expectations about what we’ll “get” from our partners, Ferrari said. And when our partner doesn’t give us what we think we should be getting, resentment emerges, and starts settling in. (“Over time, resentment can evolve into contempt, which is coined ‘the sulfuric acid of love’ because it will erode a marriage.”)

Ferrari works with many, many couples who expect their partner to meet their happiness quota. For instance, they expect their partner to earn enough money to give them anything they want. “That places pressure on your partner to make you happy about something that you could be aspiring to yourself.”

Plus, it’s very different from trying to understand your spouse in a profound, meaningful, vulnerable way, and fulfill their unmet needs. This might look like giving your partner a big, long hug every time you come home because you know that physical touch helps them to feel loved. This might look like making it a point to thank them for their kind gestures, because you know that as a child, they regularly felt unappreciated. This might look like talking calmly through conflict because they grew up in a volatile home.

The above is about being considerate and getting to know your partner. It isn’t about doing something for them that they can do themselves. It isn’t about taking responsibility for satisfying their needs. It is about supporting them.

It is about helping them to heal past hurts, Ferrari said. Which can “help them greatly psychologically, particularly in terms of confidence, feeling loved, safe and secure…” And that is incredibly powerful.

Explore the expectations you have about relationships—about what healthy, connected marriages look like, about how you and your partner should behave, about what you should “get.” Then explore where these beliefs stem from—and whether they’re genuinely true. Because many of our expectations are not, and many of them can interfere with our relationship.

Marriage: When Trying Harder Becomes Destructive

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick, LCSW (AACC)

Christian women in troubled marriages who have gone to their pastor or a Christian counselor seeking help are often encouraged to work on themselves and try harder to be more submissive, more caring, more attentive to their husband’s needs, more respectful, and less demanding.

In many marriages this might be wise counsel.  When one person starts to try harder it often begets a reciprocal response in the other person. He begins to try harder too.  Amends are made and the relationship is repaired.  This is a good start and when the marriage stalls, someone needs to get some movement forward. However, in certain kinds of marriages it is not a good idea and can actually make the marriage worse.

Briefly, let me explain why, in some marriages, trying harder to accommodate one’s husband, do what he wants and needs and to be more compliant and submissive to what he says becomes destructive not only to her but also to her husband as well as their marriage.

It Feeds the Lie

Some men do not want to be married to a real woman who has her own feelings, her own needs, and her own brokenness. Instead they want a fantasy wife.

A blow-up-doll wife that continues to bounces back with a smile even when he knocks her down. He wants a wife who always agrees, always acts nice, always smiles and thinks he’s wonderful all of the time no matter what he does or how he behaves.  He wants a wife who wants to have sex with him whenever he’s in the mood, regardless of how he treats her.  He wants a wife that will never upset him, never disagree or never challenge him, and never disappoint him. He wants a wife that grants him amnesty whenever he messes up and never mentions it again.

The more a woman colludes with her husband’s idea that he’s entitled to a fantasy wife, the more firmly entrenched this lie becomes.  She will never measure up to his fantasy wife because she too is a sinner. A real wife will disappoint him some times. She won’t always be able to meet every want or need. A real wife also reflects to him her pain when he hurts her and God’s wisdom when she sees him making a foolish decision.

In a healthy marriage where both individuals are allowed to be themselves, couples must learn to handle disagreements, differences and conflicts through compromise, mutual caring, and mutual submission.  Sacrifice and service are mutually practiced in order to love one another in godly ways. When we fail (as we will) we see the pain in our partner’s face and with God’s help, make corrections so that damages are repaired and love grows.  In an unhealthy marriage when real wife and fantasy wife collide, it’s never pretty.

Therefore, how do we counsel wives in destructive marriages? We must help her gain a vision for God’s role as her husband’s helpmate. According to the Bible a helpmate is not an enabler, but rather a strong warrior. It means she will need to learn to fight (in God’s way) to bring about her husband’s good.  She will need to think and pray about how God can use her to meet her husband’s deepest needs, not just his felt needs.

I often give women in these situations this challenge. Ask God what are your husband’s biggest or deepest needs right now.  Is it to continue to prop him up, indulge his self-centeredness and self-deception or does he need something far more radical and risky from you?

I encourage her to prayerfully and humbly ask God to show her how best to biblically love her husband. It may be to stop indulging his selfish behavior and speak the truth in love. It may be to reflect back to him the impact his behaviors have on her and their children.  It may be to set boundaries against his misuse of power under the guise of headship so that he doesn’t remain self-deceived. It may mean exposing some of his sins to the leadership of the church so that they too can act as a reflective mirror so that he has the best opportunity to look at himself from God’s perspective and repent.

That kind of love is indeed risky, redemptive, and sacrificial as she does not know what his response will be to this kind of love.  But if he wakes up and repents of his demand for a fantasy wife that would be a positive change for her, for him, and for their marriage.

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Leslie Vernick, M.S.W., is a popular speaker, author, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and relationship coach with a counseling practice in Pennsylvania. She is a best-selling author of seven books, including The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. For more information, visit her Web site at www.leslievernick.com.

It’s Not About the Toilet Seat: Understanding Power Struggles in Marriage

SOURCE:  Ron Welch, Psy.D/AACC

“Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.” —William Gaddis

In my forthcoming book The Controlling Husband: What Every Woman Needs to Know (Baker/Revell, 2014), I write:

“It can happen in the car, at the ball game, in the grocery store, on the phone—you name the place—and if the conditions are right, you and the one you love can end up in a disagreement. It may start as a minor difference of opinion, and sometimes it ends right there. There are times, though, that the disagreement turns into an argument and the argument into a major conflict. Some of you can get into arguments that would make your mother (or at least your grandmother) blush. Others of you have perfected the silent treatment. Regardless of your technique, you are probably concerned about how conflict is being handled in your relationship.

Control and power in relationships are best seen on a continuum; they will be present in all relationships to some degree. Sometimes the power struggles are very small and easily resolved, while others can last for hours or even days. In a world of finite resources, there is no way we can have everything we want. There are times when negotiation is possible, but often, one party (or both) has to give up some of what they want. If the power struggles are resolved well, through honest and direct communication, couples can move on and be no worse for wear. However, when resentment builds up and scorecards are kept, trouble is just around the corner.”

Lest you think I am simply writing about clients I have worked with or sharing some ivory tower concept written from afar, let me share one other excerpt that explains why this is personal for me: “I never wanted to be that guy…you know, the one who thinks the world revolves around him and lets everyone else know it, the man who always wants to be in charge and drives people nuts because he always thinks he’s right. Somehow, without even realizing it was happening, I became that guy. I’ve heard all the names—control freak, ego maniac, narcissist, know-it-all, controlaholic (okay I made that last one up)—but you get the picture. For many years, I was the poster boy for controlling husbands.

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly bad man and I don’t believe I suffer from any specific mental illness. I can be narcissistic at times, I have problems with anger control, and I can be extremely selfish, but I’m not evil. What I have done is spent much of my marriage caring more about myself than my wife and children.”

Here is what I think a counselor needs to understand about power struggles in marriage: they are not about what they are about. Let me say this another way—a power struggle that occurs due to a conflict over where to go for dinner is not about the dinner. I’m a huge process guy—I think most things those of who serve as therapists deal with are much more about the process than the content.

Let’s use the timeless example of the husband leaving the toilet seat up—something most couples who have been married can relate to. When he leaves the toilet seat up and she becomes offended, it’s not about the toilet seat.

She is hurt because she feels that he doesn’t care enough to think about the inconvenience leaving the seat up causes her (even though it doesn’t really take a tremendous amount of effort to put it back down). It’s the principle of the thing, right?

Power struggles in marriage are often based more on issues of safety and security than on any specific difference of opinion. One partner feels threatened or unsafe, while the other may be defending his or her territory out of fear of losing the security of being in control. As counselors and therapists, we would do well to focus on the underlying issues of safety and security, instead of the surface conflict that represents only the tip of the iceberg.

I know for me, focusing on my own selfishness, which is rooted in insecurity and anxiety, is the best way to understand power struggles that I find myself involved in. When I get away from the content of the disagreement and focus on the process driving it, the power struggle goes away, and I can deal with the real issues that created it. I think you will find this to be true with the clients who allow you the privilege of working with them, also.

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Dr. Ron Welch has been a clinical psychologist for over 20 years and is the author of the book, The Controlling HusbandWhat Every Woman Needs to Know (Baker-Revell, June 2014).

8 Signs You Have Not Done Everything You Can to Save Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Every marriage struggles. And in most troubled marriages that are on the brink, one or both spouses often say something like “I’ve done everything I can, and it just isn’t working out.”

While a spouse may feel like they’ve done everything they can, in reality, they may not have. And the stakes are too high to claim you’ve done all you can when you maybe haven’t. Before you call it quits, there are some important questions to ask yourself, as I’ve blogged about before.

But it’s time now to test your heart and your actions to see if you really have done all you can. Here are some signs that you haven’t yet:

1. You’re not willing to see a counselor.

Counseling can be expensive and feel intrusive. But believe it or not, even healthy marriages sometimes need counseling help. Susan and I have seen a marriage counselor to help us through various issues in our marriage and it has really helped us. It’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength to admit that another perspective could be helpful. If you have resisted this step, you’ve not done everything you can.

2. You’re not willing to work on or give up your bad habits.

Whether it’s porn, constant criticism, crushing comparisons, toxic words, or other bad habits, these type of patterns are hard to break, and are hurting marriages every day. For the sake of your health, your kids and your long-term prospects as a family, you need to be willing to let go of these things. If you find yourself saying “I can’t” or “I won’t” then you’ve not done everything you can.

3. You’re not willing to give up your hobbies.

Fishing, Facebook, horseback riding, football games, golf, poker, book clubs, etc., all these things can be fine in and of themselves. But if you put these things above your marriage, you are being shortsighted. Don’t make your wife a football widow by being unwilling to turn the game off. One young man used to call golf his mistress in the early years of his marriage and decided to quit for the sake of his marriage. His hobby became an idol, and he knew his marriage was more valuable than his handicap. If you haven’t been willing to sell off your collection, stop your activities, or even pause them for the sake of your marriage, you’ve not done everything you can.

4. You’re not willing to let anyone challenge your assumptions of what your marriage is.

You may think that marriage is just a 50-50 partnership, a contract and if your spouse is not holding up their end of the deal, then you have a right to get out of the marriage. But marriage is actually a 100%-100% give-it-all-you’ve-got relationship.  And as I shared through my blog, 3 Things to Remember Before You Call it Quits in Marriage, is a life-long covenant between God, a husband, and wife.

5. You’re not willing to change the priorities of your life.

Reprioritizing is crucial to navigating choppy waters in marriage. Sometimes you need to step back and reassess where you are, where you’re headed, and what you need to do to get back on the same page. Perhaps you’ve put your job ahead of your spouse. If so, you’ve got some changes to make.

6. You’re not willing to move or change jobs.

Big changes are sometimes necessary for the sake of marriage. Jobs come and go. Houses can be bought, sold or burned to the ground. But ending your marriage will make any of those seemingly drastic changes seem like child’s play. If you aren’t willing to accept drastic changes like moving or changing jobs for the sake of your marriage, you’ve not done everything you can.

7. You’re not willing to admit that you’re part of the problem.

The famous British author G.K. Chesterton was once asked by a journalist of the day what was wrong with the world. His reply letter was brief but poignant: “Dear Sir, I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.” Very rarely is a marriage truly a one-sided problem. If you refuse to acknowledge your own shortcomings and issues, you’ve not done all you can.

8. You’re not willing to listen.

Usually, in a troubled marriage, one or both spouses are exasperated because they don’t feel heard. A bad listener makes for a bad friend, co-worker, or spouse. In every area of your life, being a good listener is critical to healthy relationships. Listening takes effort, but it can do wonders for your marriage. If you haven’t tried to listen better, to learn how to listen better, you’ve not done everything possible to save your marriage.

The bottom line: Don’t give up. There are lots of strategies you can choose to help your ailing marriage. Start by being honest. Have you really done everything you can to save your marriage? 

Living With A Narcissist

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Les Carter/CareLeader

Helping those living with a narcissist

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is defined as a personality so consumed with self that the individual is unable to consistently relate to the feelings, needs, and perceptions of others.

Why is it so difficult for someone to live with a narcissist?

It is quite challenging to live with a narcissist since chronically controlling and exploitive behavior is at the core of this personality, and over time narcissists have a knack for generating exasperation in those who simply want to relate with equality and respect.

Anyone can be self-centered. What makes a person a narcissist?

When we refer to a narcissistic personality, we acknowledge that self-absorption is not just present, but it is the defining feature. Even when they appear helpful or friendly, narcissists eventually illustrate that their good behavior has a self-serving hook on the end of it. (“Now you owe me.”)

What are some indicators that someone is a narcissist?

Key indicators of a full-blown narcissistic personality include an inability to empathize; expecting special favors; an attitude of entitlement; manipulative or exploitive behaviors; hypersensitivity when confronted; being loose with “facts”; extremes in emotional reactions, both positive and negative; idealism; an unwillingness to deal with reality; an insatiable need for control; the need to be in the superior or favored position; and an ability to make initial positive impressions.

How can someone have a healthy relationship with a narcissist?

I know it seems pessimistic for me to state this, but when someone engages with a narcissist, he or she cannot afford to think “normally.” Normal relationships have an ebb and flow of cooperation, something a narcissist knows little about. (Keep in mind, the narcissist thinks he or she is unique, meaning above the standards of everyone else.)

Is it wise to try and reform the narcissist?

While it is tempting to plead or debate with the narcissist, such efforts will only increase one’s aggravation. The narcissist has no interest speaking as one equal to another. The narcissist must win, meaning the other person must lose. There is a very small probability that person will respond to another person’s good comments with, “I really needed to hear that. Thanks for the input.” Don’t waste emotional energies by bargaining, insisting, or convincing.

How should someone communicate with a narcissist?

A very predictable tactic of the narcissist is to argue the merits of one’s beliefs or needs. This strategy draws a person into a debate that will never end well for the person (Prov. 26:4). The good news is that the hurting spouse is not required to be a master debater, and in fact, after the spouse has explained his or her thoughts and feelings once, those words do not need to be repeated. For instance, when the narcissist continues to argue, instead of being sucked in, a person can say something like, “I know we differ, but I’m comfortable with my decision.” When receiving the predictable pushback, he or she can say, “I’m comfortable with my decision, so I’ll stick with my plans.” No debate, no needless justification.

Why is it important for those living with a narcissist to demonstrate a belief in their own dignity?

Someone may often feel poorly about him- or herself since a narcissist so readily discounts that person, leaving the person to wonder, “What’s so awful about me?” Encourage the person not to fall into that trap. Contrary to the narcissist’s assumption, one’s dignity is a God-given gift, and it does not vary due to the narcissistic person’s invalidations (Ps. 139:13–14). Encourage the person who feels poorly to connect with friends and associates who understand how relationships can be anchored in mutual regard.

What can a person do to stay at peace with a narcissist?

Narcissists can stubbornly persuade and coerce, telling others how to think and behave. Being inebriated with correctness, they quickly turn discussions into a battle for dominance. The best way for a person to be in control of him- or herself is to drop the illusion that he or she can control the narcissist, and also to remember that sometimes there’s only so much one can do to keep the peace (Rom. 12:18).


Additional resources

For more detailed instruction on how to live with a narcissistic/self-centered spouse, see Brad Hambrick’s free online resource Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse. It’s a helpful guide you can use to help spouses develop Christ-centered strategies to deal with a narcissist. The resource is also designed for self-study.

How to Help Your Young Adult Build Their Own Life

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Carey Casey/Charisma Magazine

You know that fatherhood doesn’t end when a child turns 20, right?

We recently heard from a distraught mom. She and her husband have a son in college who lives at home, and he basically takes the approach that since he’s an “adult” now, he can pretty much do what he wants. And he isn’t doing much, which makes things very tense.

This son is lazy and sloppy and doesn’t show any respect when his dad asks him to help out around the house. Mom and Dad don’t want to upset him or make things worse, so they pretty much put up with it. This mom says she cleans up after her son because she wants her home to be orderly for the rest of the family.

These are such difficult situations because all parents want their children to be happy. But sometimes doing what’s best for them will cause some discomfort and unhappiness, at least for a while. But bottom line, parents can’t let their adult children wreck their households. When they are irresponsible and living at home, it puts strain on everyone. They should not be allowed to act like children when they need to be transitioning to adulthood. If a child in his 20s isn’t forced to take on more responsibility for his own life, there’s no motivation for him to become an independent, self-reliant adult who can handle the “real world.”

If he’s disrespecting his parents along with it, there definitely needs to be a change. He needs some motivation to step up and take on responsibility.

How does that look, exactly? Well, let me warn you: The ideas I have might sound a lot like “tough love,” which can leave a child angry and upset for a time. In some scenarios, he may leave and say he never wants to see you again, and you might not hear from him for weeks. But chances are good that eventually he’ll come around, and maybe even thank you for giving him the “kick” he needed to get going.

Think about birds teaching their young to fly. Often they nudge them out of the nest. And in some cases, that’s how it is with young adult kids.

So how can parents handle this?

One suggestion is to draw up an agreement with your young-adult child in writing. The details depend on the specifics of the situation, but a good general rule comes from the authors of the Love and Logic books. It’s called the “good neighbor policy.”

If a friendly neighbor needed a place to stay for a while, you’d probably help him out. But if he wanted to stay longer, you would likely draw up an agreement. He’d need to obey your house rules and pay something for room and board—on time, each month. Of course, if he didn’t like the rent amount or the rules, he’d be free to find another situation.

If necessary, you would take action to move him out of your home.

That might sound cruel. Maybe you could never imagine doing that to your own child. But that might be exactly what he needs to get his life on track.

Let me quickly add, while pushing, it’s important to communicate in several different ways, “We love you, and we want you to learn to be responsible, independent and content.” That could include encouraging words, regular invitations for home-cooked meals back home and financial help related to the transition itself. For example, you may want to help cover the security deposit on an apartment lease. Or something like a gift certificate to a men’s clothing store for your son to pick out a new interview suit.

Also, understand that even a bird doesn’t do this until the young one is ready. So, not all situations call for the same approach.

But if you’re in this situation, get with your wife and do some research, maybe talk with other parents, and figure out an approach you both believe in. You need to be on the same page and not let any issues with your child come between the two of you.

Confronting Discontentment in My Marriage

SOURCE:  Jennifer Smith/Family Life

 I had a plethora of marriage expectations that were formed as far back as early childhood. Many of those expectations were veiled, hidden in the deep places of my heart. For years I justified my notions of life and marriage, unaware of the devastating effects of those expectations if left unmet.

Entering marriage with such high expectations set my husband and me up for ruin. For example, trusting in my husband to be my everything was one of the most detrimental ways I hurt our marriage. I set my husband up for failure when I expected him to fulfill me completely.

When I wanted to feel worthy, I sought my worthiness in my husband. When I wanted to feel loved unconditionally, I sought love from my husband. When I wanted to feel comforted, cherished, validated, or encouraged, I sought those things in my husband and only in my husband. However, because my husband is human and prone to sin, inevitably he let me down and could not fulfill my needs completely. And in those times, I felt unworthy and unloved.

While some expectations are good—for example, I expect my husband to be faithful to me—when they move into unrealistic and unattainable places, they become destructive. My expectations were so lofty they hurt him. Aaron could never be my everything—he was never designed to be! And whenever I tried to make him fit that role, I unintentionally placed him as an idol above God, believing that he had the capacity to do more for me than God Himself.

With the strain Aaron and I were experiencing, we tended to be overly sensitive to conflict. It did not take much for us to offend each other, and I am embarrassed to admit I took advantage of retaliating when I felt I deserved something I was not receiving. When I became aware of any opportunity to point out fault, I didn’t hesitate to blame him. I complained about our living situation, about not having enough, about having only one car, about our finances, about our sexless life, about my husband’s flaws, about work, about anything I deemed worthy of complaint. Those unmet expectations flowed over into discontentment, which too often I nursed in my heart.

Not only did discontentment grow, but pride did as well, which grew into a sense of entitlement: I deserve better than this. And that mentality seeped not only into my marriage, but into my relationship with God. Unmet expectations of God’s role in my life lit a fire of anger within me. I believed being a daughter of the King meant that I would receive the best of everything. When it seemed as if God didn’t intervene, that anger spread like wildfire, consuming everything inside me, including my faith. I had high expectations for God to do the things I wanted, unable to grasp that God was more concerned about my character than my comfort. But in the midst of my pain and self-centered complaining, I exhausted my husband and I believe I saddened God.

After I spent several years repeating this same offense and suffering the consequences, God opened my eyes to the destruction of unmet expectations. God needed to transform me. He could do that only as I humbled myself and let go of my unrealistic and unmet expectations. Each time God humbled me, He used that experience to mold my attitude and character to reflect that of Christ and to shape my expectations to more closely align with His, which in all honesty are better than what I could ever dream of.

The transformation I underwent didn’t happen immediately. Rather, the process was spread out over time as I sought to know God and make myself known to Him—a process that continues to mature me every day.

Joy and contentment defend me from the barrage of unmet expectations. If I don’t have joy, those notions wreak havoc in my heart, turning it against the ones I love. I know because it happened countless times. It took me years of suffering and loathing in self-pity, guilt, and brokenness even to begin to understand the power of pure joy.

Joy springs up where contentment thrives, and contentment is produced through sincere thankfulness. The greatest constant I have found to help sustain me and give me strength and hope, no matter what the circumstance, is to cling to the joy of the Lord. God’s Word tells me, “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10).

God taught me how to be thankful by sharing specific things I am grateful for with God and with my husband. As thankfulness fills my heart to the brim with contentment, I find myself living with extraordinary joy, regardless of unmet expectations or circumstances or past hurts.

God showed me the value of being a wife of faith, a wife who trusts Him wholeheartedly, who is confident of her worthiness and purpose. I choose to be a wife who believes she can change and believes her husband can be transformed into the man God designed him to be, and I choose to strive to affirm him in truthfulness.

I desire to be a wife of faith who can persevere no matter the circumstance because she is full of hope, which is the foundation of her motivation. I believe as I choose to walk in the Spirit, love will pour out and bless my marriage. With God’s help I can endure. I can have a thriving marriage. But it requires faith and hope.

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Taken from The Unveiled Wife, copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Smith.

 

Anger, Pain and Depression

SOURCE: Nando Pelusi, Ph.D./Psychology Today

Anger, pain and depression are sometimes perceived as one big emotion, but when you don’t distinguish between them, they could end up fueling each other.

Anger, pain and depression are three negative experiences so closely bound together it can sometimes be hard to know where one ends and the other begins. Pain is a complex phenomenon that has emotional and physical components. The emotions play a huge role in the experience of pain, and pain is intimately associated with depression. It’s long been known that the psychic pain of depression feeds anger. But just as often, anger fuels depression.

A powerful emotion physiologically and emotionally, anger often feels good—but only for the moment. It can be a motivating force that moves you to action. But there are good actions and bad ones; it’s vital to distinguish between the two.

Many people confuse anger and hostility. Anger is a response to a situation that presents some threat. Hostility is a more enduring characteristic, a predisposition, a personality trait reflecting a readiness to express anger.

Anger is usually anything but subtle. It has potent physiological effects. You feel it in your chest. You feel it in your head. You feel it coursing through your body.

Nevertheless, anger can be insidious. Anger confers an immediate sense of purpose; it’s a shortcut to motivation. And if there’s something depressed people need, it’s motivation. But anger creates a cycle of rage and defeatism.

When you feel anger, it provides the impulse to pass the pain along to others. The boss chews you out, you then snap at everyone in your path. Anger, however, can eventually lead you into self-pity, because you can’t slough off the self-hurt.

Anger is classically a way of passing psychic pain on to others. The two-step: You feel hurt, “poor me,” “I hate you.” It’s a way of making others pay for your emotional deficits. It is wise to change that tendency. Whether or not anger fuels depression, it isn’t good for the enjoyment of life.

Here are ways to keep anger from feeding your depression.

  • First, of course, is to identify anger and to acknowledge it. Anger is one of those emotions whose expression is sometimes subject to taboos so that people can grow up unable to recognize it; they feel its physical discomfort but can’t label it.
  • Build a lexicon for your internal states. If you have a word for your emotional state, then you can begin to deal with it. Feelings are fluid; you need to stop and capture them in a word, or else you lose them and don’t know you have them. A label improves your ability to understand your feelings.
  • View your anger as a signal. It is not something to be escaped. It is not something to be suppressed. It is something to be accepted as a sign that some deeper threat has occurred that needs your attention.
  • Make yourself aware of the purpose your anger serves. Be sure to distinguish purpose from passion. Things that have a positive purpose seek betterment, growth, love, enhancement, fulfillment. Things that have a negative purpose are motivated by a sense of deficiency. Your boss yells at you, you feel diminished; the anger you express at others is driven by the blow you’ve just received. Are you enraged about an inequity or unfairness?In order to identify your motivation, you need to look within. It’s a matter of becoming psychological-minded and engaging in introspection. Tune into the inner dialogue that you customarily have with yourself.
  • If your anger is deficiency-motivated, driven by a wish to rectify a wrong you believe done to you, work on acceptance. Give up your obsession about the wrong. See that the opposite of anger is not passivity but more functional assertiveness.
  • Uproot mistaken beliefs that underlie your response. Very often anger is the result of beliefs that lead you to place unreasonable demands on circumstances, such as, that life must be fair. Unfairness exists. The belief that you are entitled to fairness results from the mistaken idea that you are special. If you feel that you are special, you will certainly find lots to be angry about, because the universe is indifferent to us.Insisting that life must be fair is not only irrational, it will cause you to collect injustices done to your noble self. Even if you are experiencing nothing more than your fair share of unfairness, such a belief can still fuel rage and lead to depression.Those who hold the deep belief that life should always be fair cannot abide when it is unfair. That leads directly to rage that is totally inert, because they believe there is nothing that they can do about the unfairness. They feel helpless and hopeless—in other words, depressed. Self-pity is another description of the same phenomenon.
  • Notice your own complaining. Listen for both overt and covert complaining. Overt complaining hassles others. It’s really a manipulative strategy. Know when it’s becoming a downer and a barrier to a strategy of effectiveness—like complaining about a fly in your soup. Covert complaining hassles you; it drags you down into passivity and inertia. Once you notice it, determine to give it up.
  • Once you can accept that life sometimes is unfair, then you can pursue positive purpose. You can work constructively against injustices you find, transforming your anger into passion. Or you can pursue fulfillment in spite of the unfairness that exists.

Q&A: My Wife Say’s I’m Controlling? Is She Right?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My wife says I’m manipulative and controlling. I don’t think I am. Let me give you an example. We have been separated for about a year, but recently we were out to dinner. While we were sitting there, she was friendly to some other patrons (policemen who she knew). She wasn’t flirting but I felt slighted and insulted that she was ignoring me. I told her how I felt and she accused me of being controlling. Is that true? I don’t see it?

Answer: First, let me applaud you for even asking the question. Most people when given that kind of feedback totally ignore or discount it. The fact that you are asking the question suggests that you might be open to the possibility that it’s true, even if you don’t see it.

Manipulating and controlling behavior are often subtle and hard to prove in the moment. They become much more obvious over time. If we just take this one incident, you might find it difficult to see your behavior as controlling. 

I think most people feel a little uncomfortable when they are out to eat with someone and that person has an extended conversation with someone else and does not include us, whether it is in person or on a cell phone or even texting.

So the only way we can truly answer this question is to examine your patterns over time, especially in relation to your interactions with your spouse. As you do this, you may begin to see a pattern of manipulative and controlling behaviors emerge.

Most people who use these kinds of behaviors don’t usually recognize them as wrong or harmful, it’s just the way they have learned to cope with uncomfortable or painful emotions or ways they’ve learned to get their own way or what they want from others. Underneath these dysfunctional behaviors are usually attitudes of entitlement as well as unrealistic expectations of how others should be or how they should treat you.

For example, perhaps you felt insulted at the restaurant because you believed that you were entitled to your wife’s undivided attention and anything less than that meant that she wasn’t interested in you or your conversations. Ask yourself were you attempting to control her friendliness with others by making her feel guilty about “slighting” you.

Or you may believe, “A wife should never talk with other men, even as friends. If she does, that means she doesn’t love me or I’m not most important.” Again your response to her indicates that you had some expectations of her to give you her undivided attention the entire time you were together. You didn’t say how long she was engaged with the policeman, but was it extensive or just a few minutes?

Here are other ways people manipulate and control others. Read through the list. Perhaps you will recognize using these methods to get your way.

Argue: You don’t take no for an answer but rather continue to make your point over and over again until she wears down and finally agrees with you. The underlying message is it’s not okay for her to disagree or have her own opinion.

Begging: “Please? Please? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease? Continuing to ask, beg and plead until she changes her mind. The underlying message is she is not allowed to say no.

Bargaining: “If you do this, then I’ll give you….. A bribe to get her to do or not do what you want. You use favors as a means to manipulate her into doing something that she would not have wanted to do otherwise.

Guilt Trips: You might say, “You’re not following God or you’re being an unsubmissive wife or God hates divorce or if you really loved me or our children you would…..” The message here is that if she doesn’t do what you think she should do, God will be upset with her or you won’t be able to handle it or she is not a good/godly person.

Micromanaging: This is usually in the areas of time and money where one person makes the other person feel like a subordinate employee or child. She is not allowed to make her own decisions or handle her own life without asking your permission.

Misquoting or Twisting: “You said……” when in reality the person didn’t say it that way but you twist what they said to suit your own purposes. For example, “You said we were going to get back together soon, when what she really said was, “I don’t know if we can get back together soon.”

Playing Holy Spirit: We are all tempted to do this when confronting someone with his or her sin. But it is not our job to convict or change someone else’s behavior to line up to what we think it should be. When we see someone caught in a sin or trespass, we can try to restore such a one in a spirit of humility and gentleness (Galatians 6:1) but if we try to hold someone accountable to a change that they have not initiated, we are attempting to play God in his or her life.

Promises: I will do anything, just ……… Whether or not you keep your promise is irrelevant. You use a promise to get her to do something you want her to do.

Punishing actions: Using physical, sexual, economic, or verbal pressure, abuse or tactics to punish her for not doing what you think she should do. You might stop paying the bills, close the bank account, curse at her, call her names, accuse her of things, tell friends and neighbors untrue things about her to teach her a lesson for not doing what you want her to do. You feel justified because she did something “wrong” and won’t change or stop or admit she was wrong.

Irritation or Silence: I am so bothered or angry that you won’t do what I want that I won’t speak with you or treat you kindly until you change and do what I want.

Threats: Threatening to leave, to hurt one’s self or others, to hurt something she loves like her pet, her parents, her children, her stuff if she doesn’t do what you want her to do.

Some of these patterns overlap and many are used in conjunction to try to get another person to do something we think they should do or to stop doing something that we don’t want them to do. When we do that we try to control their behavior and often their thinking. That is not our role or responsibility and when you do this you will not have the intimacy or love you desire.

If you see yourself in these examples, that’s a good start but it usually doesn’t result in permanent changes unless you invite your wife and others to tell you when you fall back into them. Then it is your responsibility to learn how to tolerate the uncomfortable emotions that you may feel when she disagrees with you, doesn’t want to do what you want her to do or wants to do something different, in a mature way.

Two Traps to Avoid: “If Only” and “What If?”

SOURCE:   Susan Yates/Family Life

In each season of my life, I’ve found myself falling into two mental traps which are not helpful.

One is the “If only” syndrome, and the other is the “What if?” syndrome.

Here’s how “If only” might express itself:

  • “If only I had a husband.”
  • “If only I had more money.”
  • “If only my husband would act like…”
  • “If only my husband (or I) had a good job.”
  • “If only we had a different house.”
  • “If only my parents (or his) understood.”
  • “If only my child would sleep through the night.”
  • “If only I had a really close friend.”
  • “If only I didn’t come from such a wounded past.”
  • “If only I wasn’t stuck in this place.”
  • “If only I was free of this disease.”
  • “If only I knew how to handle my teen.”
  • “If only I didn’t have to do this.”
  • “If only I didn’t struggle with this.”

Can you identify?

You can probably add to this list yourself. Over the years I’ve realized that these thoughts merely lead me into a real case of self-pity. At the core of what I’m expressing is: “Life is about me and my happiness.” I have a bucket that needs to be filled.

But the reality is that even if the desire for one “If only” is met, I’ll just have another one to add to the list. Too often I get myself into this mindset without even realizing it. And it sinks me into a bad mood or a feeling of being depressed. The focus is on me, and I need to confess this selfishness and ask God to forgive me and to enable me to focus on Him and on others. And I need to ask Him to give me a grateful heart.

The other trap is “What if?”:

  • “What if I can’t get pregnant?”
  • “What if my husband leaves me?”
  • “What if I don’t get this raise?”
  • “What if I can’t complete this project?”
  • “What if we lose the election?”
  • “What if the medical tests bring bad news?”
  • “What if my child doesn’t make the team?”
  • “What if I fail?”

This mindset leads to fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the “What if” comes true. And this can be a paralyzing fear.

The “What if” syndrome is especially hard for those of us with an overactive imagination—we are often visionaries; we are creative. We tend to have this weakness, however: We can create the worst-case scenario in our imagination in three seconds flat! It can be terrifying.

What’s at the core of this attitude? I fail to believe that God is in control. My “What if” has become bigger than my God. I have temporarily forgotten that He is loving, He is kind, He is present, He is good, and He will never, ever forsake me.

I can give Him my “What if”—He can handle it. He will sustain me.

Underlying the “If only” and “What if” syndromes is an expectation that our lives should be completely satisfying. We may recognize that’s not realistic, but too often we live with that expectation in our thought life without even realizing it.

We need to remember that, in this life, our bucket will always have holes. Life will not be perfect until we get to heaven. Eternal life in heaven will be a perfect bucket with no holes completely filled with the love of Christ and satisfaction—no wants or fears, just sweet fellowship with Jesus and those who have gone before us.

Today, what is your “If only…”?  What is your “What if”?

Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts, which produce self-pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash, or fireplace).

Begin to say His traits out loud: “You are my Father, You go before me. You prepare a way for me. You protect me. You bless me. You understand me. You forgive me. You know me better than I know myself and you love me totally, completely, perfectly. No matter what happens You are still in charge. You will never forsake me.”

This puts your focus on God, where it belongs.

Marriage Isn’t For You

SOURCE:  Seth Adam Smith

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.  Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided we no longer wanted to be just friends. 🙂 I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s “Walmart philosophy”, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and anguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.

Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.

 

I Deserve Better Than This! Don’t I?

SOURCE:   Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Even in Darkness, Light Dawns

When I talk to patients or workshop attendees, they often express a desire for a trouble-free life. And even if they don’t feel they actually deserve it, they desire that problem-free life anyway. It’s true for all of us, isn’t it?

The real question is, “What do we actually deserve?” I’m just trying to keep things real and be straight with you. The answer we all know deep down is: the wages of sin is death. If we really want to accept responsibility for our actions, death is what we deserve.

By choosing “self” over God, Adam and Eve reaped the consequences of separation from God, shame, pain in childbirth (and child-rearing) and difficulty working in the field. Our own sins bring consequences to others and ourselves. We are constantly paying for our sins. And, as we established, when we sin, we deserve death.

Everything we get in this life—breathing, walking, thinking, a home, family, heat, food, or even the ability to read or listen to this devotional—is more than we deserve. What we receive in life is given totally from God. It is His amazing grace-gift to us.

When we think that His provision isn’t enough, it reveals an unbelievable level of immature entitlement, that we feel we actually deserve all the blessings we get. The icing on the cake is that we really believe we deserve more than we already have, despite how much wrong we have committed throughout life.

Instead of being happy about the 38 cancer-free years we enjoyed, we are bitter, believing we “deserve” better than cancer. Instead of being happy about the eight years we had with our son, we ruminate and believe we are entitled to more time with him when he dies. I know this sounds harsh, but we have to get over our level of entitlement, thinking we are the almighty Oz who knows and sees everything.

Just because we had something yesterday, we feel entitled to have it again today (job, finances, college, friendship, health, family, etc). Jesus tells us clearly in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world and that we will find peace only in Him. No pain, no gain. When we are weak, He is strong, but we have to believe and apply these time-tested principles.

Today, let go of the illusion of the trouble-free life and begin turning your focus toward your Lord during the dark times, for “even in darkness, light dawns.” Show God you trust His prescription and provision for your life more than your own plan. Remember the grace God extends when you sin. He has a plan for you. Adversity is a necessary component to get your attention and grow you.  Whether you control your reaction to the times of darkness and pain or you let them control you, it’s your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father, please help me give up the belief that I deserve a problem-free life. I remain constantly hungry for solutions for all the difficulties in my life. I know now that this is false hope. You tell me through Your Word that in this world I will have trouble. Help me focus my energy on seeking You—the only perfect One—instead of seeking perfection in this fallen world. I know and believe that it is possible to enjoy You and glorify You in the midst of adverse situations and circumstances. In fact, You have taught me that Your light shines most brightly through believers who trust You while they are in the dark. I thank You, Lord, for the Christians you have placed in my life. The kind of trust they have in You is clearly supernatural, possible only by Your Spirit living within them. It’s so beautiful and encouraging to see their steadfast hearts, trusting in You, Lord. I pray this in the name of the One who was perfect and who deserved the trouble free-life, but who instead suffered for me, Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

The Truth

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  Psalm 112:4 and 7

Understanding The Bitter Heart

SOURCE:  Julie Ganschow/Biblical Counseling Coalition

Bitterness is unresolved, unforgiven anger and resentment. It is the result of anger changing from an experience to a belief. Bitterness is seething and constant. Bitter people carry the same burdens as angry people, but to a greater extent.

Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.  Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)

Bitterness does not affect only you, dear counselee; it affects everyone with whom you come into contact.

In the book of Ruth we read about Naomi (which means pleasant), the wife of Elimelech. Elimelech took his wife and two sons down from Bethlehem to the country of Moab because there was a famine in the land. While living in Moab, the sons took wives named Ruth and Orpah from among the native people. Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab and left Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah to fend for themselves.

When news came that the famine in the land of Judah had lifted, Naomi decided to return home to her own people. The three women set out together, but on the way, Naomi gave the young women the freedom to return home to their own people.

“No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.” But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD himself has caused me to suffer.”  Ruth 1:10-14 (NLT)

Orpah did turn back, but Ruth was committed to Naomi and to her God.

So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was stirred by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Instead, call me Mara, [meaning bitter] for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why should you call me Naomi when the  LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy?”  Ruth 1:19-21 (NLT) 

What do you suppose it was that caused the whole town to stir? Could it have been Naomi’s appearance? Do you wonder if they could see the changes that had taken place inside her heart or on her face? Note the things Naomi says in verses 19-21:

“Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD himself has caused me to suffer.” And “. . . call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why should you call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy?”

Naomi blamed God for making her life bitter and empty. All she could see was that she no longer had what she loved. Her bitterness reflected a heart of unbelief in the justice and sovereignty of God. She held on to the anger for what had been done to her and stood in judgment over God. In the entire text, we see nothing of Naomi’s quest to understand the purpose of God in her suffering. We only read that she was angry and bitter for what she had lost.

Perhaps you struggle with the same type of bitterness. Sometimes women and men who have lost children to illness or accident blame God for their loss. “God, how could you take my beloved child  from me? Don’t You know how much I loved him? How could You do this to  me?” An abandoned spouse may become bitter as they wonder: “God, don’t You see how much I am struggling to raise these kids while he is out living the high life?How can you let him get away with this? I am the one who was faithful, and now I am  he one who is miserable while he has it made! Don’t you care about me? Why aren’t you punishing him?”

The honest businessman sees a crooked businessman prospering while he flounders. “God, how can You stand by and let this happen? I am an honest businessman, and  my business is failing! How can You let him get way with such thievery? I have a wife and kids to feed, God; why are you doing this to me?”

The childless couple is bitter when they see families with several children and they cannot seem to have even one. “God, why don’t You let us have even one child when these other people have so many! It isn’t fair that we can’t have even one child to love while so many are being aborted and abandoned! God, why are You doing this to us?”

You become bitter out of a belief that God will not punish the people who hurt you, that God does not hear your plea, or that He does not care about your plight. Since God is apparently not going to intervene in your circumstances,  you stand in as judge, jury, and executioner in the lives of other people.

It becomes a circular pattern. The more you dwell on what has been done to you, the injustice you have suffered, or the loss you have incurred, the deeper goes the root of bitterness. You already know that carrying around a load of bitterness is exhausting.

Bitterness hardens your heart on the inside and your features on the outside. It also defiles those around you because it is contagious.

Curing The Bitter Heart

Do you want the cure for bitterness? You must understand that the only cure for bitterness and anger is forgiveness.

Bitterness is focused on what has been done to you. To break up bitterness, you must also be willing to look at what you have done to others. Your task is to admit what your responsibility is in the matter and go to those you have hurt, confess your sin, and first seek their forgiveness. You must be willing to get the log out of your own eye prior to examining your neighbor’s eye.

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.  Matthew 7:3-5 (NLT) 

The examination process begins right here at home. Start with yourself and seek God’s help in revealing the contents of your heart in relation to how you have sinned against others.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.  Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT) 

There needs to be a willingness on your part to forsake your sin of bitterness.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,  even as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT) 

Confession of your own sin and repentance for that sin must take place in your heart first. Then you must seek for other relationships to be healed and restored. You may want to pray a prayer similar to this one:

Gracious Heavenly Father, I realize now that I have a root of bitterness in my heart. Thank You that You have chosen this time in my life to reveal it to me. I ask for Your help, dear Lord, to see the areas of my heart and life where bitterness has grown. I trust the Holy Spirit will reveal to me my sin and I confess to you the sin of bitterness regarding the following circumstances in my life : __________

Thank You, dear Lord, for revealing to me the areas of my life over which I am bitter. Please help me to overcome this sin that defiles many and begin to put on the fruit of forgiveness in my life. Please help me to restore and repair the relationships that I have wounded and destroyed by my bitterness. Thank You for Your great gift of grace to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Forgiving others is not an option for the Christian; it’s required, and it is step number one in removing bitterness.

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:12-13 (NLT)

In forgiving others, it is important to remember a few important rules: When I forgive, I resolve never to bring this circumstance or situation up again to the one I forgave, to anyone else, or even to myself. It is a closed book. If you are going to pattern your forgiveness after that of the Lord, then you will choose to remember no more the sin committed against you.

But what if you are bitter toward God? What if it is God who has hurt you and caused you pain? My dear friend, please take hold of this truth: God is the sovereign God of the entire universe. It is His, and He does with it what He wishes, and it is always good. In fact, it is always very good!

To believe you must forgive God for what you perceive He has done against you insinuates that God has sinned, and this cannot be. God is a loving, holy, and perfect, sinless God who does not make mistakes.

Naomi, as recorded in the book of Ruth, may have believed for a time that God somehow made a mistake in taking her husband and sons from her, for she said He “brought me back empty.” It was no mistake, however. God was purposely unfolding His divine plan for humanity in Naomi’s life and in the death of her loved ones. Take note, dear one, that if Naomi’s son would have lived, Ruth would have remained his wife. Without the death of her husband, Ruth would not have been free to meet and marry Boaz, who became her kinsman redeemer. Ruth would not have given birth to their son, Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who is the father of David, from whose lineage comes the Christ.

Acceptance of hard things at the hand of a loving God is not easy. I encourage you to seek God in your circumstances and to trust that He is unfolding a divine plan that you cannot see right now, just as He did in the case of Naomi and Ruth. God’s sovereignty is always balanced by His love, and He promises to bring good out of every tragedy and heartache.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters.  Romans 8:28-29 (NLT) 

A Prayer for Letting Go of the Desire to Get Even

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom. 12:19). Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice (Prov. 24:17). Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Pet. 3:9)

Dear heavenly Father, I love the taste of deep dish, double-crusted apple cobbler, topped with sharp cheddar cheese and homemade vanilla ice cream. But, with less nutritional value, I also savor stories of creative revenge, seasoned with spiteful retaliation, and topped off with the gravy of humiliating retribution—when the bad guys “get it”1000 times worse than they gave it. Alas, the very attitude confronted by these Scriptures.

You commend, even command, that we work for justice, and long for the Day of ultimate righteousness. But we must heed your many warnings to avoid a vengeful spirit, as surely as we’d run from coiled rattlesnakes, toxic fumes, threatened momma bears, or E. coli poisoned waters.

No matter what the provocation—from a personal “dissing,” to evil parading its hatred of beauty—you tell us that we have no right to revenge, no right to gloat when an enemy falls, no right to get even with anybody. The gospel calls us to a different way of stewarding our hurts and anger.

Father, I’m so glad you didn’t “get even” with me, for all the ways I’ve rebelled (and do rebel) against you; for all the ways I’ve chosen my gain over your glory; for all the ways I’ve misrepresented you to the world, even to my own heart.

You didn’t get even; you got generous—lavishing mercy and grace upon this ill-deserving man. May the gospel keep me humble and patient, prayerful and expectant of the Day of consummate justice. I don’t want to waste one more self-absorbed moment rehearsing things that hurt me and relishing personal revenge.  So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

We’re ALL Sexually Broken

SOURCE:  Bob Lepine/Family Life

[This is the second article in a three-part series on God’s design for sexuality. Click here to read part one, and click here to read part three.]

I was born in 1956, two days after Elvis recorded “Heartbreak Hotel” in Nashville.  By the time I became a teenager, America had experienced a huge cultural revolution.  That revolution affected fashion, hairstyles, and the music we listened to.  But maybe the most significant aspect of that cultural revolution was the impact it had on how we look at sex and morality.

Teenagers in the ’60s had a sure way to know if something was right or wrong: If their parents were for it, it was wrong. My generation saw life differently. We believed that we knew better than our parents about life.

Sexual sin was not new in the ’60s. People have been sinning with their bodies since the beginning of time.  What was new a generation ago was that we didn’t call it sin anymore. All of a sudden there were no taboos. Suddenly, the idea that sex before marriage or sex outside of marriage was wrong started to evaporate. Sex anytime was groovy; it was natural.  If you can’t be with the one you love, we were told, love the one you’re with.

Several decades have passed since the sexual revolution. We now live in a culture where sexual sin is celebrated. It’s normalized. It’s made to look attractive and glamorous. The temptation to sexual sin is more intense than it’s ever been. It is more constant. It’s more accessible than ever. All around you are people—even Christians—who are disregarding God’s design for sexual purity.

The culture tells us that we should be liberated and free about sexuality—that those who follow biblical standards are uptight and repressed.  You may think, “I don’t want to be repressed. Why should I obey God in this area?”

Here’s why:  Because God, who created you, has designed sex as a good gift and a blessing if you enjoy it as He intended.

When you pull sex out of its original design, you will do damage to your soul.  It will degrade you, it will cheapen you, it will wound you.  It will rob you of a sense of who you are.

Naked and unashamed

In the first article of this series, I looked at the creation account in Genesis and what it tells us about God’s purposes for marriage and sexuality.  Genesis 2 ends with a glorious declaration that the husband and wife come together and become one flesh.  Then it says, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”  The man and woman were transparent with each other and with God; they felt safe and protected.  Nothing was broken. Yet.

But look what happens in Genesis 3, as the man and the woman succumb to the serpent’s temptation and declare their independence from God: “Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (verse 7).

What God had brought together—the pinnacle of His creative work—joining the man and the woman together in marriage and uniting them in one flesh—now began to unravel. Suddenly there was shame, and the shame was directly related to their sexuality in their marital union.

It’s important for us to recognize that our enemy’s first point of attack was the marriage of Adam and Eve.  He divided them, and the first thing they realized after their rebellion was that what God had made perfect had now become damaged.

Usually we call this story the “the fall.”  I think the term is too passive.  Adam and Eve did more than fall.  They rebelled.  They committed divine treason. They declared their independence and rejected their Creator.

And here is what we need to understand: This rebellion continues to have an impact on all of creation. It has left every human being broken. And that brokenness has affected every aspect of creation, including our sexuality.

Here’s the bottom line: Because of our rebellion against God, all of us have some type of disordered and ungodly sexual desire.

All in the same boat

Before sin came into the world, there was no lust. Adam never lusted. There was no adultery. There was no fornication. There was no pornography. There was no homosexuality.  But when sin came into the world, sex was broken.

Your disordered sexual desire may be different than mine, but we’re all in the same boat.  Sexual brokenness may manifest itself as sexual selfishness, where sex is used as a way to control or manipulate someone else. It may be sexual indifference in marriage—a lack of desire to be intimate with the spouse God has given you.  It can be the desire to watch movies or television shows that stir up lustful, sexual passion inside of you. These are all ways that broken people demonstrate their ongoing rebellion against God’s design for human sexuality.

Men and women who continually seek sexual conquest are manifesting their sexual brokenness and rebellion.  We see it in solo sex, in the widespread use of pornography, and in any variety of sexual addictions, or anonymous sex, or homosexuality, or other activities that reveal just how deeply broken and rebellious we are in this area.

Any time you engage in any kind of passion-stirring sexual behavior outside of marriage, you are declaring to God that you are going your own way.  God tells us, “Look, I’ve got a gift for you. But it is a good gift only within these boundaries.”  But we say, “No, I want to use it over here!”  What we’re really saying to God is, “I know better than You.”

If it’s broken, can we fix it?

There are three important points to understand here:

First, just because sexual brokenness is part of our fallen nature, this does not give us an excuse for engaging in sinful behavior.  You can’t say, “I’m broken in this area, so I’m not responsible.”  As with any other sinful behavior, we have a choice about our actions.

Second, we can’t “fix” our brokenness on our own.  Healing can only occur through the saving grace of Christ.  Forgiveness and salvation are possible only through Him.  Only He can cure our rebellious nature.

Finally, as we live daily with sexual brokenness, we must keep short accounts with God and repeatedly repent of sin and reaffirm our belief in the gospel.  First John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This is not a one-time cleansing; because we sin regularly, we must repent regularly.

The longing of your soul

Our souls crave the intimacy and the rightness of the sexual experience God created us for, but we settle for cheap substitutes. And in the end those substitutes always disappoint, because they fall short of what God intended.

What’s most important is being in a right relationship with God, where He satisfies the longing of our souls, and provides the sanctifying grace that we need.  Only as we yield to Him and trust Him will we recognize the goodness of His gift of sex.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

This article is adapted from a message Bob Lepine delivered at Redeemer Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Marriage: We Need It, Want It, Gotta Have It

SOURCE: Adapted from an article by Dennis/Barbara Rainey

American Dreamers

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 
1 Timothy 6:6

Whether you know it or not, your marriage is susceptible to the American Dream Syndrome–the notion that you can have it all, that you deserve it all. The more stuff you have, the better off you are. Desire to acquire. The slogans, like the wish lists, are practically endless.

Yet contrary to the seductive tune of the American Dream, enough is never enough. Getting more only fuels the urge to get more. So how do you learn to live within that truth without constantly feeling like your lives don’t measure up?

You embrace contentment.

Contentment arises from a spirit of gratefulness. It’s the courageous choice to thank God for what you have and for what you don’t have. Even when you don’t know where this week’s grocery money is coming from. Even when the washer goes on the blink. Even when the kids need braces. Even when your next-door neighbor drives home in a new car or is gone on a fabulous vacation to an exotic location.

The apostle Paul, who wrote the words that appear at the top of this page, knew how it felt to be beaten, shipwrecked and imprisoned. He knew the hardship of being pummeled with rocks and left for dead. But he also knew that God could be trusted. He knew his situation was being monitored by the all-wise awareness of his loving heavenly Father.

Occasionally, we all need to be reminded: Material things will never satisfy the hunger in our hearts. A couple who fails to see this could spend a lifetime chasing the American Dream, only to find it to be a desert mirage, forever just out of reach.

Bring your needs and shortages before the Lord right now. Leave them there, thank Him for where He has you, and walk on embracing contentment.

Do I Need Something MORE than GOD?

SOURCE:  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

[Envy is] wanting and sometimes craving what others have, instead of getting our joy from God and what He has given us. Envy is one of the traps Satan sets for us, using our pride, flesh, and satisfy-me-now mentality against us. Satan deceives us constantly. He actually distorts our lenses, so we believe that our fulfillment and joy in this life come from emotional, psychological, physical, or material answers. His goal is getting us to close down our spiritual radar, turn off our spiritual antennae, and ignore divine answers for our needs

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had a fantastic set up, a direct relationship with the perfect God in the perfect setting and no adversity. But they weren’t omniscient and they were gullible (like us). Satan tricked them into believing they needed something more. They thought or feared that something was missing from their life. He duped them into thinking they needed more power and more knowledge, and could get all that through a piece of fruit. I like to think I would have held out for a steak. Instead of staying in relationship with God and relying on Him, they were swindled by Satan, tricked into trading eternal life with God for separation from God and life on their own. Thankfully, God wasn’t vengeful against them and provided a way back into relationship with Him.

Here’s the trap.

If you believe your happiness and contentment depend on your external circumstances, or some place or someone else other than God, you will always be lost, unhappy, and discontent. Those things weren’t meant to bring you what you desire, nor can they.

God designed us specifically to be immune to those external things. So regardless of our circumstances, or more importantly, the mistakes we make that damage our circumstances, we still have access to a peace, comfort, and joy that is independent of who or what is around us.

Look inside and identify some of your traps … fruit/apples … you have been tricked into believing. How were you tricked into believing they could deliver what you really desire, in the deepest places of your heart. It seems silly when we put it that way, but that shows the cunning of our Adversary in the war we are fighting.

Don’t mistake momentary relief for true fulfillment. That’s Satan’s trap! Whether you choose God to meet your needs or settle for the substitutes of this world is your decision, so choose well.

Dear God, You and only You are the source of my joy, peace, and comfort. I confess that my need to control life is the apple I frequently grab. Help me grow trust in Your control in my life instead of my inadequate abilities. Please grow in me eyes that see and ears that hear the traps Satan places in my path. Lord, help me choose the Stepping Stone You have for my movement forward to Christ-likeness. Strengthen me through Your Spirit to resist the temptations and impulses of my flesh so I don’t get trapped and have to ask for Your forgiveness yet again. Thanks for Your endless grace and forgiveness. In Jesus’ all providing death and resurrection I pray;  – AMEN!

The Truth
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:4-7

The Power of Forgiveness in Marriage

SOURCE:  Domeniek L. Harris/Today’s Christian Woman

Does your flesh seem to crawl when you come into contact with certain people?

When you hear the sound of their voice, does every fiber of your being cringe?

Does your chest tighten when you think of them?

Are you embarrassed to admit this is the way you feel about the person you share your life with? There is a possibility Satan has you in his grip through unforgiveness.

Identifying Our Real Enemies

Too often in marriage when there is offense and conflict, we identify our mates as the enemy. Our mates are never the enemy. If we learn who our enemies really are, we can effectively fight the battles in our marriages and rise to victory. Our real enemies are the powers of darkness and our own flesh. These enemies often go unnoticed in the heat of battle.

Our flesh seeks to please itself and cannot please God. The apostle Paul warns us about our flesh, in Romans 8:8, “Those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.”

The powers of darkness intend for all marriages to be destroyed. If you commit to God and your mate, you will wrestle with the forces of darkness. Ephesians 6:12 declares, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

When we recognize our enemies, we are more effective in loosening Satan’s grip of unforgiveness.

Forgiveness Is Not

We often equate forgiveness with something warm and fuzzy.

Truthfully, forgiveness is quite the opposite.

Forgiveness can be quite painful when it involves someone you are madly in love with. In marriage, forgiveness is not “Don’t worry about what you did, I’m fine with it and we all make mistakes.” It sounds spiritual and great coming out of our mouths, but inside we are struggling with hypocrisy. We are plagued by an abyss of pain, anger, bitterness, and resentment. Forgiveness is not lip service.

These unchecked feelings can potentially become emotionally, mentally, verbally, or physically murderous. Forgiveness is not being so numb to pain that we are oblivious to reality. In marriage, when we embrace numbness our hearts transform into ice. Forgiveness is not forgetting the offense. Forgiveness is not choosing to inflict the price for the offense.

I learned to honor God with my heart and not just my mouth. We are lying when we say we have forgiven but unforgiveness still rots our souls. Satan grips and weakens us through unforgiveness. He tightens his grip through a religious spirit that says the right thing while refusing to confront the offense and heal.

Struggling to Forgive

How do you forgive someone who was never supposed to hurt you in the first place?

Why forgive them?

What about all the damage to your marriage and family?

The best answer is you must; forgiveness was extended to you.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” If you refuse to forgive, you operate in sin and in covenant with Satan.

These questions and declarations are hard to swallow. I have battled with them in my marriage, but I came out victorious. I battled so much with unforgiveness because I could not see my own sin. I could not see that my unwillingness to forgive was just as ugly to God as the things I blamed my husband for.

The reason we battle unforgiveness is because we can only see the depravity in the souls of others, ignoring the beams in our own eyes. I won the battle of unforgiveness when I realized that I was in need of forgiveness from God and my sweet husband. I won the battle when I was willing to face the ugliness of my own heart and surrender my heart to God. I realized my enemies were my own flesh and Satan, who loves to work in my flesh. Unforgiveness is a work of the flesh, and it will remain until you crucify it on the altar of forgiveness.

We struggle to forgive because we justify our rights and inappropriately apply God’s Word. Many of us have declared inwardly or outwardly, “The Bible said, ‘Be ye angry.’ ” We forget the rest of the Scripture verse: ” … and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26, KJV). If we are honest, many of us are angry and sin for days, weeks, months, years. Many of us will carry the sin of unforgiveness to our grave.

Forgiveness becomes a struggle when we seek to please our flesh. We struggle because the Holy Spirit demands that we be like Christ. God is as displeased with unforgiveness as he is with sexual sins, deception, lying, and envy. We must remember that any sin either of us could commit, Jesus paid for at Calvary. Who gave us the right to make our spouses pay for sin when we did not?

Due to the gravity of their offenses, we believe we have the authority to execute judgment on our mates. But God would never entrust vengeance into our hands. Why? Our sin-stricken souls will never view our spouses purely through the eyes of God’s grace. We should be concerned for ourselves when we seek revenge on the people we promised to love, honor, and cherish. Unforgiveness unequivocally implicates the wickedness hidden in our hearts and the depravity of our own souls.

Real Forgiveness Is

Through many offenses, trials, betrayal, and calamity, I have learned real forgiveness. I have learned that the world’s standards for marriage are a slap in the face to God. When we decide not to forgive, we call it “irreconcilable differences.” God calls it unforgiveness. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the only biblical sin for which there is no forgiveness. In most divorce cases, blasphemy is never mentioned.

Real forgiveness is threefold.

Forgiveness means excusing the penalty for an offense, offering pardon. Forgiveness means renouncing anger and resentment.

Finally, forgiveness is a choice. God gave all of us the power to choose. These definitions are simplistic, but they pack enough power to loosen the stronghold of unforgiveness. As an immature Christian, I thought I had the right to be angry and my sin was justified. It never was.

Several years ago, I went through a very difficult time in my marriage. Having experienced betrayal, my heart had grown biting cold, filled with anger, bitterness, and resentment. In hindsight, the way I treated my husband is embarrassing and was disrespectful to God’s Word. There was no remorse—I believed I was the victim and my actions were justified. How much pride is that? I entered a covenant with Satan for several years, while my marriage burned to the ground. I tried everything to fix it, except forgiveness. I flirted hard with the idea of divorce.

God’s grace is sufficient; God’s Word eventually penetrated my heart. I experienced real forgiveness and it released me to forgive. I was on my knees in the bedroom, praying and crying to God about all the wrong that had been done. I knew it was unacceptable for me to be the victim; surely it was unacceptable to God. The next few moments humbled me into a heaping pile of humanity. God put a mirror to my face. He acknowledged my concern, rebuked me for my sins, and told me to repent to my husband. I was annihilated, but I responded in obedience.

Until then, I had hindered the move of God because I had too much pride to forgive. God has such infinite wisdom. My husband had been asking God how to bring restoration to our relationship, and God showed him that he needed to seek forgiveness from me. That day began a new chapter in our marriage as we both sought forgiveness from God and each other.

Over the years, after much struggle with the sin of unforgiveness, I learned that forgiveness is a choice. We make the decision to forgive, even if our emotions, feelings, and desires have not surrendered in obedience to God. As children of God, we are lead by faith, not feelings. When we make decisions based upon feelings, we give Satan the rope to hang us with. Real forgiveness is demonstrating what Christ did for us on the cross.

Honestly, most of us have repeated the cliché “What would Jesus do?” The answer: forgive.

Loosening Satan’s Grip

The devil understands the power of forgiveness. He had the opportunity to behold the glory of God and the kingdom of heaven. He has been doomed to hell and is mad and desires us to share his fate. Satan knows that forgiveness redeems and restores relationships.

Satan is employed to steal, kill, and destroy. Unforgiveness opens the door for him to hold us back. Each day we incite harsh words because of offense and inflict the silent treatment, we strengthen Satan’s rope of entanglement. As the sun sets and we nurse anger, bitterness, and resentment, the devil smiles. We have embraced the power of darkness.

Satan is selfish and prideful; when we are unforgiving we act like him. Unforgiveness is laced with pride—which cost the devil the kingdom of heaven.

Loosen Satan’s grip and forgive. God’s forgiveness propels us into salvation and restoration. Your marriage can be restored and bring glory to God.

Lord, Please Do NOT Bless Me If…………….

SOURCE: Taken from an article by Barbara Rainey/Family Life Ministry

Beware of Blessings?

Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God.

                                           Deuteronomy 8:14

I remember driving home alone in my car years ago and contemplating this question: How did I get to this place where I (and everyone else I know) feel out of breath from the daily race?

I found myself imagining how much simpler life must have been in Little House on the Prairie days.

If I were living on a farm in the 1800s, I wouldn’t worry about having my hair cut and frosted (which is where I’d been for the past two hours). We’d be living miles from our nearest neighbors, so I wouldn’t have a whole town full of people to compare my house with. Running errands would be a simple event with only one store in town that would have everything we needed.

But is living in the twenty-first century the only reason why our lives are so cluttered with lessons, parties, activities, trips, classes, events and meetings?

No.

We live this way because we can — and because we choose to. Because we’re prosperous enough to do so. That’s the only explanation for why we work countless hours earning money to spend on countless things we don’t really need.

Prosperity is a blessing from God; His Word makes that clear. But He also makes it clear that prosperity can kill us, because abundance brings with it the very real danger that we will forget God, the true source of it all.

Thomas Carlyle said, “For every one hundred people who can handle adversity, I can only show you one who can handle prosperity.” Adversity reduces our choices and many times crystallizes our priorities. Prosperity, however, increases our options and activity. Stress soon follows!

Always be wary of prosperity and what it’s capable of doing in you.

What is more important to you than success? And how much of your average week is spent on those priorities?

Commit to the daily exercise of remembering who you belong to and why you have anything.

Marriage Is for Holiness — Not Just Happiness

SOURCE:  Paul and Halee Scott

How our marriage has made us better people

Neither of us “needed” to get married.

Both of us were independent and for the most part, content in our singleness.

Paul dreamed of living alone on a boat off the coast of Newport Beach, California; Halee had plans to travel the world teaching English overseas. Yet there we were, barefoot on a sandy beach outside Santa Barbara, making our vows to the sound of rushing waves crashing on the shore.

Make no mistake, we were (and still are) head over heels for one another, but neither of us needed marriage to make us happy because we were already happy in our singleness. We understood—even then—that our marriage was ultimately more about our moral development than personal satisfaction and contentment. And that day, we washed each other’s feet in the surf to symbolize our commitment to serve each other to that end.

For most of human history and in most societies, the goal of marriage was to provide economic security through family alliances and to serve as a context for procreation. To marry for personal happiness (or love) was considered a selfish act that disregarded the needs of the broader community. It wasn’t until the 12th century that the troubadours (a group of traveling poets) introduced the concept of courtly love as we know it today.

Still other groups have emphasized the spiritual goals of marriage. The Catholic church believes marriage is a sacrament because the relationship between husband and wife represents the union of Christ to his bride, believers. In 1930, Pope Pius XI proposed that the primary purpose for Christian marriage was not procreation or sacrament, but to serve as a context for moral development. He writes, “This mutual molding of [spouses], this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony.”

The trouble—even for contemporary Christians—is that we often approach marital issues in an individualistic way.

In the cornucopia of Christian marriage self-help books, the guiding questions seem to be along the lines of “What can I get out of this?” or “How can I cope in this marriage?” rather than “What are we forging together?” or “How can our marriage make us each more like Christ?”

It’s not that God doesn’t want our marriages to bring us deep satisfaction and happiness, it’s just that marriage is bursting with opportunities for deeper spiritual growth—opportunities we may be missing if we’re not asking all the right questions.

But what do these opportunities look like in everyday life? How exactly can marriage make us more holy? Here are a few small, specific ways God has used marriage to carve virtue into our character.

Prudence.   Often translated “wisdom,” the word prudence comes from the word providence, which means “to see ahead.” I (Halee) can be candid to a fault. I’ve always had a knack for saying exactly what I think at the very moment I think it—regardless of the impact it has on the hearer. Early in life I’d seen how damaging it was to bury emotions, so in an effort to avoid that mistake, I made the equal and opposite error of expressing myself without a great deal of forethought.

But when we married, I noticed that my honesty was more divisive than it was beneficial to our marriage. I saw the impact my words had upon Paul, and I started to pay attention to how he communicated with me and with others. Paul knew what to say and the right moment to say it. He spoke thoughtfully, ensuring that his words contributed to the well-being of others. The truth didn’t always have to be painful.

Because of his daily influence, I’ve learned how to be more tactful in the way I say things. It was a difficult transition, especially in the beginning. During this period, Paul taught me his “three-day rule.” When I was tempted to respond to someone quickly and brashly, I took three days to think it through and pray. Eventually, I didn’t need to practice the three-day rule in order to exercise prudence in my daily interactions with Paul and others. I was able to “see ahead” and discern what words would best build up the other person.

Courage.   C.S. Lewis called courage “the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Courage isn’t the absence of fear as much as it is the willingness to move forward despite fear. Throughout our marriage, I (Paul) have seen Halee demonstrate courage over and over. She applied (and was hired) for jobs I thought she needed more experience for. She speaks regularly in front of hundreds of people even though she’s terrified of public speaking. The night our daughter was born, I caught her crying for a single minute (when she thought I wasn’t looking) as the labor pains intensified. She went on to brave 16 hours of labor to bring our daughter into the world.

I don’t like to get out of my comfort zone, but seeing Halee exercise courage over the years gave me the courage to quit my job in the middle of the recession. I’d been working for the company for 14 years, and I’d known God was calling me to leave the company for a long time, but I couldn’t imagine leaving after all the years I’d put into the company. I was afraid, wondering how I would be able to provide for my family. But eventually, I did quit and moved into the work that God had called me to.

Temperance.   St. Augustine wrote, “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” Temperance is the ability to practice moderation in action, thought, or feeling. I (Halee) have never been good at moderation; I always seem to operate in extremes, whether in work or play. It wasn’t enough to have one job while going to school when I had time enough for two (or three). It wasn’t enough to run three miles when my daily goal was five. It wasn’t adequate to pick up the clutter around the house when the floors needed to be mopped and the baseboards scrubbed.

It wasn’t long into our marriage when I discovered Paul didn’t share this “value.” He was a diligent worker, but he didn’t feel compelled to put in excessively long hours. When we took the same course in graduate school, he was content with an A- (or even a B+!) while I sweated it out for an A+. When he cleaned the house, he didn’t always dust or mop or polish the leather couches. When we climbed mountains, he didn’t need to go to the top—he was content with going halfway. For him, it wasn’t so much about the destination as it was the journey along the way.

Believe it or not, this difference in our approaches to things was one of the biggest sources of conflict in our marriage. But more often than not, his temperate approach was the better way, and even if it doesn’t always come naturally, I’ve learned to practice moderation in various areas of my life.

Charity.   Charity is the highest, the most important of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity). Charity is agape love, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. Thomas Aquinas describes it as “the most excellent of virtues … the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” A mistake many people make in marriage is fighting for their “rights” when charity—or love—requires that we lay down our “rights” for God or for the sake of others.

For example, guys sometimes think they have a “right” to their own space or their own time (like a night out with the guys), but I (Paul) realized that the perceived “rights” I had were really selfish aspects of my character that God wanted to change through our marriage. When I surrendered my rights—like cutting short a night out with friends to take care of Halee when I knew she’d had a long day at school or work—I became more diligent, motivated, and sensitive to others’ needs.

Marriage provides a daily context for spiritual growth because it gives us opportunities to put away sinful tendencies and practice more virtuous behaviors. The Roman lyric poet Horace wrote, “To flee vice is the beginning of virtue.” Every action we take has a consequence for our character. Our actions become habits and habits, like grooves on a well-worn path, become our character.

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Paul Scott is a registered therapist specializing in drug, alcohol, and sexual addition. Prior to this role, he served in leadership for Every Man’s Battle for 13 years. Dr. Halee Gray Scott is an author, independent scholar, and researcher.

Not Health–Not Happiness, BUT Holiness!

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

. . it is written, ’Be holy, for I am holy’ —1 Peter 1:16

We must continually remind ourselves of the purpose of life.

We are not destined to happiness, nor to health, but to holiness.

Today we have far too many desires and interests, and our lives are being consumed and wasted by them. Many of them may be right, noble, and good, and may later be fulfilled, but in the meantime God must cause their importance to us to decrease. The only thing that truly matters is whether a person will accept the God who will make him holy. At all costs, a person must have the right relationship with God.

Do I believe I need to be holy?

Do I believe that God can come into me and make me holy?

If through your preaching you convince me that I am unholy, I then resent your preaching. The preaching of the gospel awakens an intense resentment because it is designed to reveal my unholiness, but it also awakens an intense yearning and desire within me. God has only one intended destiny for mankind— holiness. His only goal is to produce saints. God is not some eternal blessing-machine for people to use, and He did not come to save us out of pity— He came to save us because He created us to be holy. Atonement through the Cross of Christ means that God can put me back into perfect oneness with Himself through the death of Jesus Christ, without a trace of anything coming between us any longer.

Never tolerate, because of sympathy for yourself or for others, any practice that is not in keeping with a holy God.

Holiness means absolute purity of your walk before God, the words coming from your mouth, and every thought in your mind— placing every detail of your life under the scrutiny of God Himself.

Holiness is not simply what God gives me, but what God has given me that is being exhibited in my life.

Hindrances In Connecting With God: Bitterness

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Leslie Vernick

There is a huge difference between not understanding God, even complaining to him about our plight, and being bitter with him about it.

Job experienced severe loss, great physical pain, and relationship difficulties that would trigger deep depression in most of us. Job was confused, hurt, and angry, but in all of this, Job did not get bitter toward God. Job spoke honestly about his feelings, all the while hoping in God’s character (Job 13:15; Job 16:19-21; Job 19:25-27).

Although we’d be ashamed to admit it, some of us are in a relationship with God only for what he gives us.

Our bitterness exposes this truth. So does our chronic grumbling and complaining (see Exodus 16:8). When God doesn’t come through for us as we’d like or expect him to, our bitterness says, “God, you’ve failed me. You do not love me very well. You’re not giving me what I need to live my life the way I want or planned.”

This was Jonah’s response to God when God allowed the vine that sheltered him to wither. Jonah became so angry with God that he said, “I am angry enough to die” (Jonah 4:9). Through this loss, God was trying to show Jonah that their relationship was superficial and hindered by Jonah’s self-centeredness and lack of love. Jonah desired God’s favor and love for himself, but he didn’t want to show God’s compassion or love to others.

These painful experiences aren’t meant to drive us from God, but to expose our sin and our incorrect or distorted view of God. Often in our anger, we’re not honestly looking for God. We’re just looking for him to make things better for us or give us what we want. In order to remove this stumbling block, we must learn to humble ourselves, allowing God to be God and draw near to him so that he can change our heart.

If you find yourself chronically angry and bitter with God because you feel he’s gypped you out of something you need, understand you’ve fallen for the oldest lie Satan’s used.

Isn’t that what he told Eve? You need more than God already gave you?

How do we change this mindset?  God always loves us and cares for us even when we’re mad at him or involved with other loves, but we might not be noticing it or appreciating it because all we have eyes for is what we’re lacking.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, each morning write in your journal three to five specific things you can thank God for. At the end of the day, draw your attention to ways God has shown his love and care for you that day. Thank him. Our relationship with others grows deeper and sweeter when we appreciate them and notice the little things they do for us.

The same is true with God.

Letting Go of Lust

Why willpower alone is not enough

Source:  Discipleship Journal

The young man looks at the pile of work on his desk and takes a deep breath. With dread, he thinks about the deadline that looms on Friday. The pressing tyranny of so many things to do day after day has begun to wear on him.

As he heads to the kitchenette for another cup of coffee, a coworker steps out of her cubicle in front of him. He notices her clothes, or more specifically, how they fit her. In an instant, his thoughts race into forbidden territory as his glance sweeps over Marcia’s body.

“Morning, Sam,” Marcia says with a friendly smile.

“Morning, Marcia,” Sam replies according to script, unable to look her in the eyes.

Sam and Marcia discuss the morning’s non-news, the mundane stuff of casual conversations between coworkers. Almost unconsciously he watches her as she turns to leave the kitchenette.

As soon as she disappears around the corner, Sam realizes he’s fallen again.

Despite his pleas to God and his vows to try harder, to do better, still his eyes wander. Like Peter after the cock crowed, Sam is filled with remorse. Back at his desk, he quietly pleads, “Forgive me, Lord.” But he neither feels forgiven nor has much time to think about it as he picks up the next invoice to record in the ledger.

Anatomy of Lust

Many sincere followers of Christ struggle with lust. What, exactly, is lust?

Webster’s defines it as an “unusually intense or unbridled sexual desire.” In Ephesians, Paul says that lust characterizes those without Christ:

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

—Eph. 4:18–19

Paul also wrote, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:3).

These passages paint a dark picture of the person trapped in lust.

Though Paul was talking about unbelievers, when believers give in to lust regularly, our souls are similarly darkened. We grow insensitive to sin and increasingly pursue fleshly gratification. Lust promises satisfaction but never delivers. Instead, we’re left with a driving hunger for more.

People who struggle with lust may be tempted to wonder, Is obedience in this area of my life really possible? This has been a pressing question for me. I’ve had seasons of consistent obedience as well as failure. I wish I could say that I have “arrived” when it comes to defeating this demon. But I have not discovered the silver bullet that will permanently vanquish lust from my heart, mind, and eyes.

However, I have begun to see that dealing with lust demands a deeper examination of the core beliefs from which our sinful choices spring. We can make important behavioral changes—such as memorizing Scripture and seeking accountability—but still fail to look carefully at what’s really going on in our hearts. To experience lasting change, we must recognize that sexual sin springs from wrong beliefs about God, about others, and about what will ultimately satisfy our longing.

Unmasking Unbelief

What drives us to choose something that so consistently fails to satisfy, something that heaps debilitating shame upon our lives?

God has created us with a natural desire to experience intimacy. Lust is a debased form of this desire to connect with others. We want other people to understand what’s going on inside us. Lust, however, mistakenly elevates the sexual component of intimacy. It twists and warps our hearts into the tragic belief that sexuality—and fantasy—is the chief means to that end.

Lust also reveals a stunted belief in God’s goodness and His ability to meet our needs.

Throughout the Bible, God has promised to fill, satisfy, and sustain us.

Isaiah 51:12 says, “I, even I, am he who comforts you.”

Zephaniah 3:17 describes God’s passion for us in poetic terms: “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

David spoke of God’s love for him: “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you . . . My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Ps. 63:3, 5).

In Ps. 16:11, David also said, “You will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Finally, Isaiah wrote about how God has designed our relationship with Him to quench our deepest thirsts. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Is. 12:3).

The New Testament echoes the Old in the ways it describes God’s promise to satisfy us. Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). Paul wrote, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19, NRSV). Paul repeatedly described believers as heirs to the inexhaustible riches of a Father God who loves us passionately. We are children of the King!

And yet we sometimes choose to live as paupers, rooting around desperately in the trash instead of dining on the rich fare He offers His children at His table. If we capitulate to the siren song of the flesh, distortions and lies creep into our thinking in subtle ways. Enticing but life-sapping alternatives to His goodness always crouch in the shadows of the soul, seeking to seduce our heart’s attention. Whether we realize it or not, we begin to rationalize our sin.

We may think, I’ve sought to serve Him with all my heart for many years, but still He hasn’t brought me a life partner. It doesn’t matter if I indulge this lustful thought a bit. God knows I’m a sexual being. I deserve a bit of comfort.

Instead of recognizing our sin for what it is, we come to see it as a right. We squint at God, viewing Him as a stingy miser who has established unreasonable laws to keep us from what we think will satisfy us. Lust is born the moment we choose to meet our needs our way instead of trusting God to be true to what He’s promised.

Maybe we don’t vocalize those thoughts. But when we choose lust, our actions uncover what we believe. We have essentially said to God, “I really don’t believe You can satisfy my deepest needs, and I’m tired of waiting. I am going to have what I want, on my terms, right now, and I’m not willing to wait for You to fulfill my desires in Your time.” Lust, then, is the wicked child of unbelief.

That’s why willpower alone can never be the ultimate solution to the battles we wage against the lusts of our flesh.

I may vow, “I’m never going to do that again.” But that momentary intention does not get at the root of the problem: my unbelief in God’s goodness.

Instead, I must recognize that one key to resisting lust’s lies is learning to go to the Father and praying in faith, “Lord, You have said that You delight in me, that You love me, that You want to comfort and fill me with Yourself. You have said that You alone are life and that Your love is better than anything we might experience in this life, including sex and my fantasies about it. Father, help me to trust You in this moment of temptation. I believe in Your ability to fill and satisfy me.”

Peter said that if we take God at His word, we will experience freedom from the shackles of sin and we will know Him intimately. “He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4).

Seeing Better

In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, a once proud and noble king slowly goes insane, slipping into deep paranoia about those close to him. One of Lear’s friends admonishes him, “See better, Lear.” Like the senile Lear, we, too, need to see better. Not only does lust reveal unbelief, but it also demonstrates that I see others only as objects of gratification, not as individuals whom God has lovingly created in His image.

How can we begin to see people as God sees them?

By allowing Scripture to saturate our hearts. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, God’s Word will transform our perspective. As we read and meditate upon it, we see what He values and discover how He wants us to relate to others. He uses His Word to rewire our perspective on reality, giving us new eyes to “see better.”

All of Scripture pours forth God’s love for each individual. A couple of passages, however, stand out regarding the way we see people. One important thing to reflect upon is that every person has been made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27). David describes God’s craftsmanship in Ps. 139:13–16:

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful . . . My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

Every person has tremendous dignity and worth simply by virtue of being created lovingly by God. We can begin to combat lust by asking God to help us remember and believe, deep in our hearts, that each individual is a unique and wondrous creation who bears His image. When I lust after a woman, I do violence to her dignity by failing to see her as a whole person and respect her as an image bearer of our God. Over the last couple of years, this truth has significantly changed the way I see people.

Another passage is one of the most familiar commands in the Bible: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7:12). As a man, I’ve rarely been on the receiving end of lustful glances. However, one experience showed me how ugly, how selfish, how disgusting my lust is.

On a weekend trip to Santa Fe with one of my best friends and his wife, we discovered a club that featured a different kind of music every night. We enjoyed a delightful evening of jazz and returned the next night to see what else was on tap.

When we walked in, I noticed that everyone sitting at the bar was male. My friend whispered to me, “This feels weird.” He was right. Several male couples openly expressed their affection for one another on the dance floor. Recognition dawned: It was gay night.

By the time my friend and I turned to leave, three men at the bar were openly sizing us up. No veil of shame or embarrassment cloaked their hungry eyes. I remember how disgusting it felt to be seen as a steak on a platter. Almost immediately, however, a familiar voice said, “Adam, how often do you do the same thing?”

I try to remember that sense of violation. I try to remember because it’s not the way I want to be treated, nor is it the way I want to regard any woman. By God’s help and power, I am learning to see better.

Intimacy and Community

Earlier I commented that lust is a misguided attempt to meet our legitimate needs for intimacy. We may think the key to escaping lust’s tenacious grip is paying more attention to private spiritual disciplines. While this is important, I believe another crucial component is often overlooked. Those who struggle with lust must experience wholesome intimacy within the context of a loving community. We need to be with others who love us deeply, yet not sexually. We need to receive their affirmation, their affection, their love, and their touch.

Genuine community is built upon a willingness to take off our masks in front of others. Though we need to be careful to do this in appropriate settings, such as in a small group or even with one other person, it’s critically important that someone knows who we really are.

Moving toward that kind of honesty is never easy, even if someone else has taken the risk first. But often, we will have to be the one who steps forward, takes the risk, and talks openly about our sin.

Proverbs 28:13 describes the healing process that takes place when we confess our struggles to an accepting community of believing friends: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” I’ve sometimes failed to live up to the standards of purity God commands of us. Each time, I experience a tortuous descent into self-loathing, a crippling burden to bear alone.

Even after I’ve confessed my sin to God, I can only find complete freedom from my shame by confessing the whole truth about my choices to several men I trust. In doing so, I’ve never failed to experience the mercy about which the writer of Proverbs speaks.

The freedom and healing in confession come from knowing that others have glimpsed the dark places in our hearts yet accept and love us anyway. God graciously uses other believers as vessels of His mercy and grace, reminding us through them that forgiveness is real, that it is our birthright as His sons and daughters.

Hope for the Battle

When we find ourselves giving in again to lust, we need to look beyond the behavior itself to what’s going on in our hearts. Lust is a clue that something about the way we’re approaching life is not right.

If you’re wrestling with this sin, consider how you’re seeing God and others. Do you believe God is capable of meeting your needs? Are you carving out time to know Him in increasing intimacy through His Word and prayer? How are you looking at other people? Are you seeing them as image bearers of God or treating them as objects? Are you sharing your heart with others, letting them see your struggle, and receiving the gift of their prayers and willingness to listen? Or are you in hiding?

Paul’s promises about God’s work in my life give me hope for this ongoing battle. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). By His grace, I recognize His tremendous Father-love for me more each day. As I do so, His eyes become mine, and I see other people from His redemptive, life-giving perspective, instead of viewing them through the warped lenses of lust.

Beware the Peril that Lurks in Success

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.  (2 Samuel 11:2)

We are never more vulnerable to sin than when we are successful, admired by others, and prosperous, as King David tragically discovered. Imagine him reflecting on his adultery a year later.

It was spring again. David once had loved warm, fragrant spring afternoons on the palace roof. But this year the scent of almond blossoms smelled like deep regret.

David had no desire to look toward Uriah’s empty house. If only he had not looked that way a year ago. The memory throbbed with pain. His conscience had warned him to stop watching Bathsheba. But in his desire-induced inertia it had felt like he couldn’t pull himself away.

What pathetic self-deception! Couldn’t pull himself away. He would never have tolerated such a weak excuse in another man. If Nathan had unexpectedly shown up while he was leering would he have pulled himself away? O yes! Wouldn’t have risked his precious reputation!

But there on the roof alone, he had lingered. And in those minutes, sinful indulgence metastasized into a wicked, ultimately lethal plan.

David wept. His sovereign, lustful selfishness had stripped a married woman of her honor, murdered her loyal, valiant husband, and killed his own innocent baby boy. Bathsheba was now left with a desolate, hollow sadness.

And he shuddered at the Lord’s dark promise: “The sword will never depart from your house”(2 Samuel 12:10). The destruction had not run its full course.

How had he come to this?

David thought back to those harrowing years when Saul chased him around Horesh. How often had he felt desperate? Daily he had depended on God for survival. He had longed for escape and peace in those days. Now he viewed them as among the best of his life.

And then came the tumultuous, heady years of uniting Judah and Israel under his kingship and subduing their enemies. And it had all climaxed with God’s almost unbelievable promise to establish David’s throne forever.

Had a man ever been so blessed by God? Every promise to him had been kept. Everything David touched had flourished. Never had Israel as a nation been so spiritually alive, so politically stable, so wealthy, so militarily powerful.

And at the peak of this unprecedented prosperity, David had committed such heinous sin. Why? How could he have resisted so many temptations in dangerous, difficult days and then yield at the height of success?

Almost as soon as the question formed in his mind he knew the answer. Pride. Monstrous, self-obsessed pride.

Honored by his God, a hero to his people, a terror to his enemies, surrounded by fawning assistants and overflowing affluence, the poisonous weed of self-worship had grown insidiously in David’s heart. The lowly shepherd that God had plucked by sheer grace from Bethlehem’s hills to serve as king had been eclipsed in his own mind by David the Great, the savior of Israel — a man whose exalted status entitled him to special privileges.

David cupped his face in his hands as his shame washed over him again. Bathsheba’s body had been nothing more than a special privilege he had decided to bestow on himself. And in so doing he had placed himself above God, his office, his nation, Uriah’s honor and life, Bathsheba’s welfare — everything. David had sacrificed everything to the idol of himself.

David fell on his face and wept again. And he poured out his broken, contrite heart to God.

But profound hope was woven into the deep remorse David felt. Knowing he deserved death, David marveled at and worshiped God for the unfathomable depths of mercy in the words, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). It took his breath away. This word had come before a single sacrifice had been offered.

This was love that surpassed knowledge. Something miraculous was at work here, something much more powerful than horrific sin. David wasn’t quite sure how it worked. What he did know is that he wanted other transgressors to know the amazingly gracious ways of God.

The greatest enemy of our souls is the pathologically selfish pride at the core of our fallen natures. If we look deep enough, this is what we will find feeding the strong, sinful cravings of our appetites.

And this is why prosperity can be so spiritually dangerous. We tend to see our need for God more clearly in adversity. But seasons of success can be our most perilous because we are so easily deceived into thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Self-exalting pride is what leads us to usurp God’s rightful rule.

We must beware this danger that lurks in blessings.

And when we sin, we must run to and not avoid the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). On this side of the cross we now know fully what David didn’t: God put away our sin by placing them on himself.

Only at the cross will we hear, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Ever.

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Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994.

Homosexuality: Tammy’s Story (3)

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Lee/Tammy Webb-Witholt

“As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life,a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, ‘I am holy; you be holy.'” 1 Peter 1:15-16 MSG


Tammy’s testimony continues: “One big lesson I’ve learned is that the Word of God is clear about obedience and how it relates to the Christian walk. Obedience is not optional. In a world that claims no authoritative truth, we must resolve to accept the Word of God as authority in our lives.”

“For a long time, my attitude kept me from obeying God. ‘I deserve a loving relationship,’ I rationalized. ‘If this is not permissible, then why do I feel gay? I never asked to be attracted to others of the same gender.’ I felt as though the God who was seemingly absent in my childhood was now demanding more than I could give. My anger fueled my disobedience and, in my mind, justified my rebellion.”

“As I opened my heart to God, I recognized my rebellion for what it was. God’s call for obedience ceases to be a list of unattainable rules when we realize it is the request of a loving heavenly father inviting us to trust him. He has a plan for my life that exceeds my own, and I can trust him because his love has no limits.”


Is there an area of rebellion in your life? Ask God to help you trust him with every part of your life. Choose to do things his way and begin to live “a life energetic and blazing with holiness.”

As you study the Bible and pray, discover as Tammy did that God’s ways really are the best ways. That he is your loving heavenly Father and is inviting you to trust him. Just as he had a plan for Tammy’s life, he has one for yours. You can trust him because his love has no limits.

Prayer
Father, please forgive me for my disobedience. I want to trust you with every area of my life. To do things your way. I want to obey you and accomplish the purpose you have for me. Help me to walk on obedience—to live a life energetic and blazing with holiness. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Lessons Learned: Moving from Homosexuality to Holiness by Tammy Webb-Witholt. This group study offers biblical tools, along with an abundance of hope, to anyone struggling with homosexuality.

Am I Manipulative and Controlling?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question:   My wife says I’m manipulative and controlling. I don’t think I am. Let me give you an example. We have been separated for about a year, but recently we were out to dinner. While we were sitting there, she was friendly to some other patrons (policemen who she knew). She wasn’t flirting, but I felt slighted and insulted that she was ignoring me. I told her how I felt and she accused me of being controlling. Is that true? I don’t see it?

Answer:  First, let me applaud you for even asking the question. Most people, when given that kind of feedback, totally ignore or discount it. The fact that you are asking the question suggests that you might be open to the possibility that it’s true, even if you don’t see it.

Manipulating and controlling behavior is often subtle and hard to prove in the moment. It becomes much more obvious over time. If we just take this one incident, you might find it difficult to see your behavior as controlling. I think most people feel a little uncomfortable when they are out to eat with someone and that person has an extended conversation with someone else and does not include us, whether it is in person, on a cell phone or even texting.

So the only way we can truly answer this question is to examine your patterns over time, especially in relation to your interactions with your spouse. As you do this, you may begin to see a pattern of manipulative and controlling behaviors emerge.

Most people who use these kinds of behaviors don’t usually recognize them as wrong or harmful. It’s just the way they have learned to cope with uncomfortable or painful emotions, or the way they’ve learned to get their own way or what they want from others. Underneath these dysfunctional behaviors are usually attitudes of entitlement as well as unrealistic expectations of how others should be or how they should treat you.

For example, perhaps you felt insulted at the restaurant because you believed that you were entitled to your wife’s undivided attention and anything less than that meant that she wasn’t interested in you or your conversation. Ask yourself, were you attempting to control her friendliness with others by making her feel guilty about “slighting” you?

Or you may believe, “A wife should never talk with other men, even as friends. If she does, that means she doesn’t love me or I’m not most important.” Again, your response to her indicates that you had some expectations of her to give you her undivided attention the entire time you were together. You didn’t say how long she was engaged with the policeman, but was it extensive or just a few minutes?

Here are a few more ways people manipulate and control others. Read through the list. Perhaps you will recognize some ways you attempted to get your wife to do what you wanted using these methods.

Arguing:   You don’t take no for an answer, but instead you continue to make your point over and over again until she wears down and finally agrees with you. The underlying message is that it’s not okay for her to disagree or have her own opinion.

Begging:   “Please? Please? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease? You continue to ask, beg and plead until she changes her mind. The underlying message is that she is not allowed to say no.

Bargaining:   “If you do this, then I’ll give you…” You use a bribe to get her to do or not do what you want. You use favors as a means to manipulate someone into doing something that they would not have wanted to do otherwise.

Guilt Trips:   You might say, “you’re not following God,” “you’re being an un-submissive wife,” “God hates divorce” or “if you really loved me or our children, you would…” The message here is that if you don’t do what I think you should do, God will really be upset with you, I won’t be able to handle it, or you are not a good/godly person.

Micromanaging:   This is usually in the areas of time and money where one person makes the other person feel like a subordinate employee or child. They are not allowed to make their own decisions or handle their own life without asking your permission.

Misquoting or Twisting:   You state, “you said…” when in reality the person didn’t say it that way, but you twist what they said to suit your own purposes. For example, “You said we were going to get back together soon,” when what she really said was, “I don’t know if we can get back together soon.”

Playing Holy Spirit:   We are all tempted to do this when confronting someone with his or her sin, but it is not our job to convict or change someone else’s behavior to line up to what we think it should be. When we see someone caught in a sin or trespass, we can try to restore them in a spirit of humility and gentleness (Galatians 6:1), but if we try to hold someone accountable to a change that they have not initiated, we are attempting to play God in his or her life.

Promises:   You say, “I will do anything, just …” Whether or not you keep your promise is irrelevant. You use a promise to get her to do something you want her to do.

Punishing actions:   You use physical, sexual, economic, or verbal pressure, abuse or tactics to punish her for not doing what you think she should do. You might stop paying the bills, close the bank account, curse at her, call her names, accuse her of things, or tell friends and neighbors untrue things about her to teach her a lesson for not doing what you want her to do. You feel justified, because she did something “wrong” and won’t change, stop or admit she was wrong.

Irritation or silence:   You are so bothered or angry that she won’t do what you want, that you won’t speak with her or treat her kindly until she changes and does what you want.

Threats:   You threaten to leave, to hurt yourself or others, or to hurt something she loves like her pet, her parents, her children or her stuff if she doesn’t do what you want her to do.

Some of these overlap and are used together to try to get someone to do something we think they should do or to stop doing something that we don’t want them to do. When we do that, we certainly are trying to control their behavior and often their thinking.  That is not our place.

If you see yourself in these examples, that’s a good start, but it usually doesn’t result in permanent changes unless you begin to invite your wife and others to tell you when you fall back into them. Then it is your responsibility to learn how to maturely tolerate the uncomfortable emotions that you may feel when she disagrees with you, doesn’t want to do what you want her to do or wants to do something different.

I want more and I WANT IT NOW!

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

When is Enough, Enough?

Walking through the store recently, I heard a young girl (about nine years old) whining loudly. She was following her mom with big crocodile tears flowing down her face. “Mom, I want it. Why won’t you buy it? Mom, pleeeease!”

As the mom ignored the youngster, her pleas escalated. Now sobbing, her daughter howled, “Mom, I want it. I WANT IT NOW.”

The mother valiantly tried not to lose her temper. Finally she turned to her daughter and said in a very firm voice, “Stop it. You are not getting it. You did not behave.”

My heart sank. Although this mother may have been correct in not rewarding her daughter’s misbehavior with a special treat from the store, she missed a larger opportunity to teach her child an important truth.

We live in a culture of “I want more” and believe “If I had more, I would be happier.” Even as adults we’ve bought into this lie. Who hasn’t said to themselves, “If only I had more ___________, then I’d be happy.”

If only you had more money, more time, a bigger house, a different spouse, a newer car, then you’d feel happier? Right? Not really. That kind of happiness only lasts for as long as it takes to start dreaming of the next thing you want.

This little girl in the shopping mall is growing up in a culture of entitlement where we not only want more, we think we NEED more and we deserve more. Every television commercial reminds us that we deserve more because we’re worth it.

Entitlement thinking enlarges the self as we become more and more self-centered and self-absorbed, but it diminishes the spirit and poisons the soul. Instead of feeling happy and grateful for what we have, we feel gypped and grumble and complain because we are not getting more of what we think we need and deserve. More isn’t better because more never satisfies. More just fuels our desire for more.

So how do we break free from the mindset of more? The apostle Paul tells us that if we want to grow we must retrain our mind to think in new ways. (Romans 12:2). We have to realize that the world’s way of thinking is not only incorrect, it leads to death.

Paul shares with us a secret that he learned that helped him reject the tyranny of more. He learned how to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11).

We too can learn to be content, but it takes some discipline. Here are two practices you can begin and teach your children in order to learn contentment.

1.  Gratitude: The Bible says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord (Psalm 92:1). Gratitude counters our entitlement mindset and helps us appreciate the things we do have. On the way home from the store, this mom could have invited her daughter to think of five things she is thankful for. As she turned her attention toward her blessings, her daughter’s grumbling attitude may have changed.

Even when it’s hard to see the good in a particular situation, God calls us to give thanks in all things (not necessarily for all things) (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Mom might have been tempted to grumble internally about her daughter’s misbehavior and immaturity, but retraining her own mind would have reminded her instead to give thanks. Although aggravating, that teachable moment was a gift from God to help her and her daughter see things in a new way. They don’t need more in order to be happy.

2.  Turn to Praise and Worship: When our entitlement mindset looms large, consciously turn your heart away from more and turn it toward God in praise. Praise thanks God for who he is and what he has given us. As we faithfully practice praising and thanking God, we learn to trust his character and his plan for our life even when we don’t understand or like it.

The apostle Paul learned these lessons while sitting in a prison cell. Often it is in the hardest places where we are most teachable. Today when you are tempted to grumble and complain or just want more, stop; tell yourself “enough already” and turn your heart and mind toward all that you have and all God has done. See what a difference this small shift makes in your mood.

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