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Archive for the ‘God’s Perspective’ Category

Would a Loving God Wound Me?

SOURCE:  Greg Morse/Desiring God

Of the few things I recall from my short season attending the church, the message covering the wall remains the strongest: “Prepare to meet your God.”

It was the big “E” on the eye chart; to not notice it confirmed blindness. Even when one did not wish to see it, the command stared at you.

With every distraction from the sermon it spoke — Prepare to meet your God. When attention began to drift in prayer, it found me — Prepare to meet your God. I prayed harder, sang louder, and listened better because of that inescapable command ever surveying as a watchman from his tower.

Agonizing Invitations

I also remember the day I gathered the nerve to look up the ominous words. Amos 4:12, the wall told me. I began in verse 6, where the Lord spoke these words to his people:

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest . . . yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:6–12)

Prepare to meet your God. This was not a call to worship for a Sunday service. It was a terrifying summons for an adulterous people to brace themselves to meet their jealous Husband in judgment. Yet this alone did not trouble me. All that God did before the severe warning also shook me.

“God will not leave us to perish. When we wander toward cliffs, he corrals us with his rod back toward heaven.”

Did you catch them?

God desired for Israel to return to him, so what did he do? He gave them cleanness of teeth (meaning he starved them); he withheld rain from them, tanking their food supply and economy; he destroyed their vineyards; he spread diseases among them; he killed young soldiers, repossessed their warhorses, and decimated their forces; he ordained for flames to overtake cities. God afflicted them in order that they should turn and seek him.

They refused. And since none of these trials brought the people to him, he would go to the people. “Prepare to meet your God.”

Fiercer Than We Expect

Is this picture incompatible with the God you worship? The God who, out of love for you, will harm you in order to save you? A love that will cut, break, and cause you to bleed — like an expert surgeon — in order to heal you? How many pews, I wondered, would have emptied if the verse crawled from the wall into the pulpit?

Many are content with God’s love consisting in only tender kindness and unbroken gentleness. They wish for his love to be wholly devoted to their immediate happiness — however they choose to seek it. Tenderness seems to be the unimpeachable disposition some imagine of God. Tender toward our dreams. Tender toward our desires. Tender toward our bank accounts and sins. This “god of love” takes no miracle of grace to adore; the atheist doesn’t mind this God.

Yet God’s love, as found in the Bible, is a fire that consumes dross, a chisel that molds into his own perfection, an eternal embrace that chokes out all rivals, a sharp scalpel intended to give real life and strong happiness far beyond the grave. This love has greater aims than our comfort, our health, or our safety — in this life. This love is fiercer and deeper than we often assume, better and stronger than we often want. This love can harm us, and this love can kill us.

He Scourges Those He Loves

God’s love does not orbit around our felt needs. He has our best, not our easiest, in mind. His love — dangerous, jealous, possessive — is the love that will consistently wound us to save us.

Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6)

“Chastises” here can be translated “scourges” or “whips.” It is something to endure. Something unpleasant and rather painful. Something we wouldn’t sign up for. Something we’re tempted to despise. Something that doesn’t feel tender, gentle, or loving in the moment. But his whippings are just that. Look at the text.

He strikes those he loves and harms every son whom he receives. He doesn’t discipline Satan’s children, only his own (Hebrews 12:8). These undesirable corrections, these marks of adoption, bring us to “share his holiness” and enjoy that “peaceful fruit of righteousness” leading to eternal life (Hebrews 12:10–11).

His love has sharp edges — not to destroy us, but to sever us from all that threatens to. Instead of what we often perceive to be the stormings of our angry God, proof of his disgust with us, these corrections are, in fact, the unlikely evidences of his love. As Calvin put it,

It is an inestimable consolation — that the punishments by which our sins are chastened are evidences, not of God’s anger for our destruction, but rather of his paternal love, and are at the same time of assistance towards our salvation, for God is angry with us as his sons, whom he will not leave to perish.

He will not leave us to perish. When we wander toward cliffs, he corrals us with his rod back toward heaven. What feels to be the glory of the “god of love” — being left to our own way — is, in reality, his wrath, which bears the refrain: “God gave them up . . . gave them up . . . gave them up” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28).

Even Death Can Be Love?

That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. . . . But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:30, 32)

God’s love does not sit by quietly, contentedly, while we wander off into destruction. It does not stand by and watch his bride play the whore. It finds us. Redeems us. Washes us. Transforms us. Disciplines us. And sometimes it kills us.

Such love came unrequested to some Corinthians. They began to eat the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. They did not examine themselves. They ate and drank judgment. How did God respond? “That is why,” the apostle explains, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Some were sick due to God’s discipline. Some were weak. Others died. Funerals were held because of God’s discipling his church.

Why would we be disciplined, even unto death? “So that we may not be condemned along with the world.” There is something worse even than death. God’s love sometimes stops our breath to save our souls. This love, unlike our puddle-deep assumptions, is an ocean, raging and beautiful. If God loved us like we love us, we would be lost.

To Be Loved by God

Oh, the fearsome, wonderful love of God. This God is so serious about having his own that he will starve them now to feed them forever, kill them now to keep them forever. His enemies may call him a monster, but his saints sing, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3).

To be loved by God is to be made holy, to be dressed for heaven, fitted for eternity, brought through the howling wilderness of this world, across the raging river Jordan, and secured within the Promised Land of a new creation. This love will not spare us the bumps, bruises, and bleedings to ready us for his presence.

To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because he is what he is, his love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because he already loves us he must labor to make us lovable. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 41)

“God’s love does not orbit around our felt needs. He has our best, not our easiest, in mind.”

And he does just that. Having forgiven us, he makes us beautiful. He bends all circumstance, works all things for good — every wound and every joy — for our everlasting glory of being conformed to this Son’s image (Romans 8:28–29).

God’s love embraces his children where they presently sit (he died for us while we were yet ungodly) — we do not make ourselves worthy of his love; we cannot. But his love, when it finds us, will not leave us where we are — we are destined to be holy and spotless before him in love.

With All His Heart and Soul

Yet this does not imply that he blesses and bruises equally, nor that he stands indifferent to our cries or our pain. Just the contrary. In the middle of a heart-wrenching lamentation over the Lord’s chastisement of Israel, Jeremiah reminds us,

The Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:31–33)

“He does not afflict from his heart.” His delight is not to wound us. He is not like the boy at recess burning worms with a microscope. Even when he lays the heaviest afflictions upon us, it is not his joy to do so. Rather, Jeremiah records his heart toward the church this way:

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:40–41)

This love — the only love strong enough to spare us from hell, to make us pleasing in his sight, to delight us for eternity — does not leave us alone to our pet sins and damnable devices. His love puts fear in us that we may not turn from him. He wants us where he is, with all his heart and all his soul.

He proved the imponderable depths of his heart for his people once and for all when Jesus Christ came to bear the wrath of God for our sins. It should not surprise us that God would crush us for our sins; it should surprise us that his love would crush the Son for us. No matter how God chooses to afflict us for our good, the heaviest blows are never what our sins deserve. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.

My Value Doesn’t Equal What I Do

SOURCE:  Brad Rymer/Living Free

“For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God—his chosen people. Peace and mercy on them!  Galatians 6:14-16 MSG

Wanting to perform at a level of excellence is admirable. The problem is we are not created to be excellent at everything. The world seems to expect us to be, however, and we sometimes take on unrealistic views of what to expect from ourselves.

Our human tendency is to base our value on how well we perform. We strive to accomplish many things to feel a sense of value and worth. When we do well, we feel good about ourselves. When we don’t meet expectations we or others have placed on us, we see ourselves as failures.

The possibility of trying to earn God’s and others’ love through how we perform and what we accomplish can overshadow the truth that God loves us for who we are. You may have heard it said that we are human beings, not human “doings.”

God loves you for who you are–his creation. He loves you unconditionally. He won’t love you any more–or any less–because of your performance. Take comfort and rest in knowing that who you are is more important than what you can do. In God’s eyes, you are valuable because he created you and loves you. You belong to him not because of what you have done but because of what Jesus did for you. When you accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, you became a new creation.

It is not what you do. “It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!”

Father, help me remember that my performance, my ability to succeed according to the world’s standards, does not determine my value. But I am valuable because you love me unconditionally, because Jesus died on the cross for me, and because of the person you are molding me to be. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …


Where is the Image of God in You?
by Brad Rymer.

The Husband’s Role Defined

SOURCE:  (Adapted from Different by Design by H. Dale Burke)

Husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church. (Eph 5:28-29) and Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:22, 33)

These Scriptures are saying simply that men feel loved when they’re respected and women feel loved when they’re cared for. These are the primary needs of men and women.

The question for men to answer is, “How are you to apply your servant-spirit on your wife’s behalf?”

For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Eph 5:23-25)

To live out the high calling of a husband, you must assume the role of a servant-leader. The text clearly states that the husband “is the head of the wife.” Unfortunately, extreme interpretations of this text have obscured its intended meaning. Some have said that it has absolutely nothing to do with authority. This is not true. Paul was speaking here of a leadership role for the husband. His emphasis was on how that role is to be carried out. The appropriate model is Jesus Christ. The husband is to lead by following Jesus’ example, which means His leadership is not as a dictator, which is not the biblical model for leadership. We are to lead as He leads, as a servant.

Another misinterpretation is the suggestion that husbands and wives are co-leaders in the home. It’s true that teamwork is essential for success in marriage. Men and women were created as equals. However, the issue here is not one of equality. It’s a matter of responsibility. And the apostle Paul was making clear that responsibility is central to the man’s role as the servant-leader. Just as Jesus takes responsibility for the needs of the church, so He expects the husband to take responsibility for the needs of the home. In saying this, we’re also acknowledging the husband’s responsibility to exercise initiative. If things at home are not as they should be, it’s the man’s responsibility to get the ball rolling.

A Servant-Husband Sacrifices. A husband sacrifices for his wife. The American Heritage Dictionary defines sacrifice as “forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of someone or something considered to have greater value.” It is saying that we’re to incur a loss in the transaction as we give ourselves for our wives. Imagine how your love would grow and your marriage would strengthen if every day you looked for ways, large and small, to give up things you value for your wife. And I’m talking here about things that cost you something.

A Servant-Husband Nourishes. In verses 26-29 of Ephesians Paul explained why men are to love their wives sacrificially the way Jesus loved the church:

So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for not one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.

You love your wife by caring for her. Another translation indicates “to pamper” your wife. What Paul was talking about here is meeting the needs of the other person, helping that person grow to maturity. The idea is that you want your wife to blossom. A good husband is to be about the business of attending to the needs of his wife, of helping her become all that God wants her to be. If you tell your wife that your intent is to nourish her, to care for her as you own body, you’re making a statement of radical love to her. To nourish her is to do whatever is necessary to see her become all God wants her to be, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. As husbands, our mission in life is to help our wife be “all that she can be. Bottom line, if she’s not healthy and growing as a woman of God, it’s our job to nourish that growth.

A Servant-Husband Cherishes. We must also cherish our wives. What does this mean? Nothing more or less than to hold dear and to value highly. Cherishing is saying to your wife, “You’re number one.” It goes beyond just meeting her needs. It’s also tuning in to who she is and saying with your words and actions, “You’re precious. You’re special.” If you tell your wife that you choose to cherish her, you’re saying she’s your top priority. Nothing means more to a man’s wife than to let her know there’s no one ahead of her on the list of people who matter most. What we are talking about here is the nature of your priorities in the daily world of relationships and the demands of life. Make sure your wife knows where she stands on that list. Tell her with your mouth – often – that you count it a privilege to have her as your wife. There’s a big difference between the special treatment a man gives something he deems to be of value versus the routine care he gives something he merely owns. We need both. Every marriage requires routine maintenance to stay in good working order. Part of it comes from the care that’s involved in nourishing your wife. But cherishing is essential as well, doing those special things, small and not so small, that communicate that vital message, “You, above all others, are special.”

A Servant-Husband Honors. Consider 1 Peter 3:7-

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

God says that if you don’t honor your wife, the effectiveness of your prayers will diminish. Honor signifies something you give to acknowledge value and worth. Something priceless. The idea is to esteem another person in such a way that you affirm their dignity. God wants our wives to be honored and praised. Every time you honor your wife with your words, follow them up with action. Just ask a simple question: “What can I do to help?”

How can you show honor? Consider:

*Praise her publicly
*Say “Thank You” often
*Open doors for her
*Wait on her joyfully
*Wait on her patiently
*Seek her opinion
*Take her advice
*Respect her feelings
*Bring her a gift
*Listen, listen, listen!

A Servant-Husband Understands. The phrase (in 1 Peter 3:7) as with someone weaker is not a signal of inferiority. The word weaker as used in this context means fragile. Peter was saying that a wife is more like fine crystal than a plastic container. The point is to handle your wife like fine crystal, not like cheap plastic. Be sensitive to her moods, feelings, and needs. She is different by design. She’s more fragile, delicate, and tender, often more aware of feelings and emotions than you are, and often more intuitive and interpretive of subtle nuances of communication that the average guy. We’re to work at understanding how they think, what their needs are, and how they most desire for us to meet those needs. We need to focus more on listening for the purpose of knowing and understanding our wives. That’s more important than listening so that I can fix my wife’s problems, which is the typical male approach. Most of the time, what a woman wants if for her husband to love her by listening in such a way that he hears exactly what she’s saying and seeks to know her better as a result. Our wives want to know that we care more about them than about their problems.

To sum up, a husband says, “I love you” by caring for his wife, by sacrificing for his wife, by nourishing his wife, by cherishing his wife, by honoring his wife, and by understanding his wife. The beauty is that love expressed like this has a profound impact on a man’s wife. It actually sets in motion a cycle of love that creates not only harmony but strength in marriage.

 

HE FEELS LOVED SHE FEELS LOVED
He gives more care She gives more respect
He sacrifices She admires
He nourishes She accepts
He cherishes She supports
He honors She trusts
He understands She respects

 

Book Review — With These Words: Five Communication Tools For Marriage And Life

SOURCE:  Bill Bellican

As a Counseling Pastor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, I continually am on the outlook for solid resources to help marriages grow and improve. After counseling couples for 24 years, I am convinced that learned communication skills promote effective communication practices.  When effective communication practices are employed, healthy marital outcomes are achieved evidenced by marriages that work well and honor God.

Marriage communication is like oxygen is to the body. Generally, if there is a healthy flow of oxygen, the body tends to be healthy.  If the oxygen flow is compromised or cut-off, the body is in trouble.  Even if there are other medical issues to address, the oxygen flow must be considered first or all else is a moot point.  This is the way it is in marriage.  Without healthy communication, a marriage is in trouble and won’t function as God intended.

Rob Flood’s book, With These Words, helps to ensure a marriage has a healthy flow of the right words, tone, attitudes, and techniques allowing spouses to work together to work out what needs to be accomplished in a way that honors each other and honors God.

While With These Words stresses how important healthy communication is to a strong and healthy relationship between husband and wife, it achieves something more foundational.  More than just achieving a better marriage, it is clearly outlined in this book that all communication is designed to glorify God and reflect his image through how our words are used. God is to be glorified in all things including the way communication is successfully handled within marriage.  That is the real motivation to reach a higher level of communication.  A better marriage is the outcome of being conformed to the image of Christ through the way spouses communicate and work through life and marriage challenges.  Flood emphasizes that this motivation becomes practical and fruitful as a couple walks with Jesus seeking and allowing him to influence each moment of their lives.  Therein lies the power for growth and change that makes a marriage a delight to the Lord and increasingly joyful for each other.

Once the rationale is established for better communication and the source of true Power for genuine change is known, Flood outlines the practical tools for crafting more effective and honoring communication skills that work within the marriage.

As Flood highlights, whether a marriage functions wonderfully or is beset by troubles, healthy communication is a fundamental part of a strong relationship between husband and wife.  And, a marriage like this brings glory to God!

Image result for rob flood with these words

New Growth Press

Q&A: Why would God put us in hard situations?

SOURCE:  Billy Graham

Question:

Our pastor said the other day that we ought to be glad when problems come, because we’ll become better persons as a result. I’m not sure I agree with him. Why would God put us into hard situations?

Answer:

Your pastor was only echoing what the Bible tells us about troubles, namely, that God can use them to make our faith stronger and draw us closer to Himself. The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…. so that you may be mature and complete” (James 1:2, 4).

Think of it this way: Suppose you never got any physical exercise; all you did was sit in your chair or lie in bed all day. What would happen to your muscles? You know the answer: They’d grow weaker and weaker, and eventually, you might not even be able to get out of bed. Our muscles only become strong if we exercise them and challenge them to do more. The more resistance they face, the stronger they’ll get.

The same is true spiritually. If our faith is never challenged… if we never have to put it to work… then our spiritual “muscles” will grow weaker and weaker. But when hardships and trials come into our lives, we’ll be forced to exercise those spiritual “muscles” — and when we do, our faith will grow stronger. We’ll discover that God still loves us and is with us, and He can be trusted to lead us through life’s storms. The Bible says, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

Thank God that He will never abandon you, no matter what comes your way. And when hard times do come, turn to Him and ask Him to use them to help you grow in your faith.

7 Things to Remember About Sex

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry/Bob Lepine

Your spouse approaches intimacy much differently than you.

It’s no surprise that many husbands and wives think differently about sex. And these differences can easily become a source of conflict in marriage.

With that in mind, I want to suggest seven things men need to remember about sex and seven things wives need to keep in mind as well:

What husbands should remember about sex

1. Hollywood sex is made up. It’s a fantasy. The people in romantic scenes in movies are actors. Don’t try to measure your marital sex against what you see in a romantic film.

2. Sex is probably (but not necessarily) a lower priority for your wife than it is for you. Are you as committed to meeting her needs and desires as you’d like her to be with your desire for sex? Could you even name her top three relationship needs? Here is one of them …

3. Your wife needs a safe and secure relationship. In order for her to engage in sex with heart and mind and body, she needs to know that you will be there for her, that you are committed to her, and that she is your one and only.

4. Your wife wants to have sex with a companion, not with someone who simply shares her mailing address. If you’re not spending time having fun together in all kinds of settings, she’s going to be less motivated to be with you sexually.

5. You don’t need to have an affair to be an unfaithful husband. Whether you look at pornography or at other women, the Bible makes it clear that any lust for a woman who is not your wife is adultery.

6. There is no secret formula to arousal. If you think you have found a secret formula, and you attempt to repeat the recipe, your wife will change the secret. Women don’t want to be figured out. They also don’t want to be manipulated.

7. Your wife is insecure about her physical beauty. She sees all the flaws. Watch what you say to her.

What wives should remember about sex

1. Sex is God’s idea. He created it and gave it as a good gift to husbands and wives in marriage. It is a key part of His plan for how we become one in marriage.

2. For most men, sex is a big deal—and it’s not because men are perverted or ungodly. God delights when a husband and wife enjoy marital intimacy.

3. How you respond to your husband when he initiates sex is critical. To be uninterested can communicate a lack of respect and honor for him. I’m not saying you need to say yes every time he initiates. But when you say no, explain why in a way that still affirms your desire for him.

4. Sex is a marital discipline. It’s a part of how we serve each other in marriage. It is wrong for a wife to use sex as a reward or a lack of sex as punishment. The Bible clearly teaches that husbands and wives are not to deprive each other in this area.

5. Men are visually oriented. No matter how you see yourself, he is stimulated by sight. Again, God is the One who made men with a desire to see women naked. And the only legitimate way for your husband to satisfy this God-given desire is for you to let him see you naked.

6. Men in romance novels and soap operas are made up. The strong, sensitive, caring men portrayed in most romance novels are fictional characters. No husband can live up to the near perfection an author presents.

7. Creativity is good. The Bible says that the marriage bed is undefiled. This means that a husband and wife have freedom to explore what brings them pleasure and enjoyment in the sexual arena of marriage. Neither of you should be pressured to do something you’re uncomfortable with in the sexual relationship. But passion can be stirred by variety and creativity in the sexual relationship.

IS THIS A SPIRITUAL ATTACK, OR IS MY SPOUSE JUST A JERK?

SOURCE:  Dr. Mike Bechtle/Focus on the Family

“Who are you …. and what have you done with my spouse?”

Have you ever wondered if you and your spouse are under spiritual attack or if your spouse is just a jerk? Before you said “I do,” your spouse seemed perfect — except for a few tiny dings and scratches. But after a few months (or years), all you can see is the imperfections in your relationship:

  • Your spouse isn’t as kind or loving toward you as they used to be.
  • They know which of your buttons to push and the worst time to push them.
  • You’re afraid to bring up any tough issues because it leads to conflict.
  • You have a low-grade irritation with your spouse most of the time.
  • Your husband or wife doesn’t meet your needs.
  • You try to stay positive and focus on their needs and interests, but you’re faking it.
  • You blame one person for every issue; either it’s your fault or their fault.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” you say. The marriage feels defective, and there’s no warranty or “return policy.” You don’t want to form the words aloud, but inside your head you’re saying, My spouse is a jerk.

Then a friend suggests that there could be a bigger issue: spiritual warfare. Satan is attacking your marriage, and you need to rebuke him and pray for protection. A spiritual battle needs to be fought in the spiritual realm.

So, which is it? And what should you do?

Acknowledge two truths

We can spend a lot of emotional energy trying to determine if it’s a spiritual attack or just an everyday marriage issue. But does it really matter?

Two things are true:

  1. Satan has your marriage on his radar and wants to mess it up.
  2. Your spouse is human — and so are you.

Yes, you’re under attack. And yes, growing in marriage is a process and takes serious work. Both things are true at the same time. If that’s accurate, your strategy should always involve a two-pronged approach:

  1. Pray for protection.
  2. Work on your relationship.

It’s not one or the other. Both things occur simultaneously, so our response should deal with them together.

Make conflict a trigger

We know that prayer should be our first response to everything that happens in our lives and marriages. But in the heat of the battle, it’s often our last response. We’re emotionally involved and focused on the conflict. That’s OK, because it’s happening in real time and needs to be dealt with in real time.

What if we made that conflict a trigger to ask God for wisdom, right at the beginning? That doesn’t mean dropping to your knees and spending 10 minutes in prayer. It’s just a simple acknowledgement and connection with God for wisdom during the conflict. It’s saying, “OK, I’m frustrated (or angry or discouraged or afraid). Help me think clearly and see my spouse through Your eyes. Block the Enemy in our marriage.” This acknowledges the reality of Satan’s plan as well as the process of growing our relationship.

Philippians 4:6 tells us that “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests
be made known to God.” The word “everything” is pretty clear; prayer should be a component in dealing with every marital challenge, no matter how big or small.

“With thanksgiving” gives us a practical way to keep our perspective about our spouse. While we’re taking our spouse before God in prayer, we can ask for a spirit of gratefulness. It might seem tough to be grateful for the spouse who’s irritating us. Through prayer, God can give us a thankful spirit that we might not have on our own. It might not happen right away, but that’s OK. We don’t have to fake it; we’re giving God “permission” to work on our attitude.

Pray for your marriage

Dealing with the spiritual side of our marriage simply means consistently inviting God into our relationship. We talk to Him about what we’re thinking and feeling. And ask Him to do His work.

Here are some practical suggestions to make prayer a meaningful and powerful tool:

  • Don’t pray “fix-it” prayers about your spouse. Be honest with God about what you’re feeling, but simply ask Him to do His work in your spouse — and in you.
  • Ask God to give you the confidence that He’s capable of working in your lives.
  • Don’t give God a timetable; His schedule might not match your desires.
  • Pray for spiritual protection for you and your spouse.
  • Pray for God to bring the right people into your spouse’s life — the ones who can come alongside and help them grow.
  • Pray for empathy, the ability to see through your spouse’s eyes. It doesn’t mean you agree with them on everything; it means you’re seeking to understand.
  • Pray that your communication skills will grow.

Get on the same team

When you’re frustrated with each other, it’s easy to assume that the other person is the problem. That’s a no-win situation, because you’re convinced that things won’t get better until the other person changes — and they’re assuming the same thing.

Instead of making your spouse the enemy, make the current issue the enemy. Find a time when there are no emotional issues and discuss how you can become partners in solving these issues when they occur. It’s not a panacea for every problem, but it puts you on the same team. Joining forces multiplies your strength in solving problems.

Work on yourself first

Here’s the biggest practical issue: The only person you can change is yourself. You can pray for your spouse, influence them and use logic with them — but you can’t force them to change. If that’s what you’re waiting for, you’ll end up continually frustrated.

Instead, work on becoming a better person and spouse. That’s something you can control. If you grow, your capacity to invest in your marriage grows.

Make regular investments in your marriage

Finally, don’t forget regular maintenance on your relationship. Just as your car needs regular oil changes, your marriage needs consistent tune-ups. Read a marriage book, attend a seminar or take a course together at least once a year. It’s a way of catching little problems before they grow into big problems. That’s why Solomon said, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards.” (Song of Solomon 2:15)

If the problems are already big, look for professional help (such as what’s available through Focus on the Family). If I have a sore throat, I might take care of it on my own. But if I had a brain tumor, I seek out the best professional I can find — a seasoned, trained expert.

The key to a healthy marriage is to recognize the reality of Satan’s attacks, as well as the challenges of normal communication and growth issues. Both are taking place all the time, so look for solutions that deal with both aspects simultaneously.

Focus on the solutions, not the problems. Then let God do His work!”

How to Handle Toxic and Critical People

SOURCE: Leslie Vernick

We all have encounters with difficult people who leave us rattled and shaken. A co-worker undermines us in front of our boss; our friend puts us down and says she was “just kidding.” Our spouse rages and then turns everything around to make us think that it’s our fault.

Most of us would prefer to minimize our contact with people like this but sometimes it’s just not possible. We may work with them, be married to them, or have some other connection that keeps us in regular contact with toxic individuals. For a long time, Christians have been taught to forbear and forgive. While Biblical in essence, most of us aren’t exactly sure how to live it out in real life.

We know that Jesus tells us that we’re to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us but actually doing it is much more challenging. The apostle Paul counsels us in these instances not to be overcome with evil but instead, to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). But honestly, there are times when evil feels stronger and we are not sure how to stop it from getting the best of us.

Below are 5 specific steps I have found helpful in putting these Biblical truths into practice, especially when dealing with a toxic or destructive person.

1. Press Pause: As soon as you feel that poisonous dart, take a deep breath and pray for God’s help. The words or behaviors of another person have just knocked you off balance and will infect you with its toxic effects if you don’t quickly apply an antidote.

2. Don’t panic and overreact or be passive and under-react. Stay calm and don’t fall for their bait. Try not to take what they have done or said personally (which is very tempting to do). Remember, the way someone treats you, whether it be good or bad, really has little to do with you. It reveals something about who they are.

3. Ask yourself this question: What in this present moment do I need to learn (or change) in order to become the person I want to become? Here are a few examples of things I have found I needed after I asked myself this question.

Courage

Humility

Generosity

To speak the truth in love

To set firmer boundaries

Patience

Not to worry so much what others think of me

Let go of my desire to make everyone happy

Not to let this person get the best of me or to make me act crazy

Believe me, it is very tempting in the moment to defend yourself, feel responsible for someone else’s feelings, become totally intimidated and overwhelmed, or strike back with your own attack. None of these responses will help you move forward with a toxic person. However, God does promise to use these painful moments for our good. Therefore, learn what you can and let go of the rest.

4. Teach yourself to respond out of who you want to be rather than how you feel at the moment. We already know how to do this when we act responsibly and get out of bed to go to work even when we want to sleep in or when we patiently work with our child on their homework even though we’d rather be doing anything else. If you must respond to a provocative situation, speak calmly, truthfully and firmly especially when you have to set a limit or say “no”. Refuse to engage in arguing, defending yourself, or circular conversations that go nowhere.

5. Practice (and this takes time) looking at this difficult/destructive person in a different way than you have in the past. Instead of meditating on his or her faults or sin against you, search for her goodness, his humanness, or his/her woundedness. When we can see a person in this new way, it’s much easier to allow God to fill us with His love and compassion for this pitiful person who would be so blind as to treat us (or anyone) in such a sinful way. Having this change in perspective doesn’t excuse the toxic person or give him or her license to continue to do damage, but it does help us not to judge and empowers us to forgive him/her, even if we can’t reconcile the relationship.

We can honestly pray God’s best for this person and leave him/her in His capable hands. We all encounter evil situations and difficult and destructive people, but by practicing these five steps, we can learn to overcome evil’s toxic effects in us with good.

8 Signs of True Repentance

SOURCE:  Jennifer Greenberg

“I’m sorry,” I remember my dad saying. “I’m sorry, and I love you.”

He didn’t say what he was sorry for. He didn’t mention the hand-shaped bruises aching up and down my small 11-year-old body. He didn’t seem to understand how afraid and devastated I’d been. But that was the first time I’d ever heard my dad say sorry, and the relief it brought felt like rain after a drought.

In the back of my mind, a little voice said, Don’t trust this. He’s only apologizing because Mom threatened to tell Pastor Jim if he didn’t. I shoved that voice down. I smothered my doubts. I had prayed for so long that Dad would change. I had tried to be a good daughter who reminded him of Jesus.

His apology, however vague, was hope and a sign that God was working. Or was it?

Cruelty of False Repentance

Around a decade would pass before I’d hear my dad apologize again. Initially, I didn’t assume sincerity. By that time, I’d already blown the whistle. I’d told our pastor everything. Dad was under church discipline. His marriage was imploding. He had nothing to gain by lying, did he?

And then something strange happened. As I began sharing my story with pastors, family, and friends, my dad would admit and apologize for things he’d done, but then weeks or even days later, claim he didn’t remember any of it. He’d say he didn’t recall beating me, throwing me down on the stairs, or even his recent apologies for those events. He didn’t remember his sexual comments, throwing a knife at me, or threatening to shoot me. He’d apologize, then retract. Remember, then claim to forget. Back and forth this went for maybe a year, until I felt like I was losing my mind.

“I don’t know what to think,” I told him over the phone one day. Huddled on the kitchen floor, I spoke between sobs. “I can believe either you’re crazy and didn’t know what you were doing, or you’re evil and you understood completely.”

“I’m not crazy,” he replied calmly. “You’re just going to have to accept that I’m evil.”

Analyzing Repentance

I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with unrepentant people: multiple abusers spanning two decades of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. All of this was reinforced and compounded by psychological abuse, which continued well into my 30s. Because of my background, I’ve accrued some practical wisdom. Because of my faith, I’ve turned to the Bible for guidance when distinguishing real from fake repentance.

There are stubborn sinners who refuse to apologize, liars who claim to be sorry when they’re not, and hypocrites who may truly believe they’re sorry yet lack sympathy or understanding of biblical repentance. So what are the attributes of genuine repentance? Here are eight signs I’ve gleaned, from life and from God’s Word.

1. A Repentant Person Is Appalled by Sin

Horrified by what they’ve done, they’ll humble themselves, grieve the pain they’ve caused, and be cut to the heart in their conviction. As the prophet mourned in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

2. They Make Amends

In Luke 19:1–10, we read the story of Zacchaeus and the generosity he demonstrated as part of his repentance. A tax collector, thief, and oppressor of God’s people, Zacchaeus made amends: “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (v. 8). And Jesus confirmed the authenticity of Zacchaeus’s repentance: “Today salvation has come to this house” (v. 9).

3. They Accept Consequences

A genuinely repentant person will accept consequences. These may include losing the trust of others, relinquishing a position of authority, or submitting to worldly authorities such as law enforcement. When the thief on the cross repented, he said to his companion, “Do you not fear God? . . . We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:40–41). And Jesus commended his repentance by assuring him of his salvation: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

4. They Don’t Expect or Demand Forgiveness

Often I’ve been told by my abuser, “If you don’t forgive me, God won’t forgive you.” But this threatening posture indicates insincere repentance. It’s unloving, manipulative, and implies the offender doesn’t accept or comprehend the gravity of what they’ve done. When Jacob approached Esau and repented, he didn’t expect mercy, let alone compassion. In Genesis 32, we read he felt “great fear” and “distress” (v. 7). He anticipated an attack (v. 11) and considered himself unworthy of kindness (v. 10). In fact, so certain was Jacob of retribution that he separated his wives, children, and servants from him, lest Esau’s anger fall on them too.

5. They Feel the Depth of the Pain They’ve Caused

A repentant person won’t try to minimize, downplay, or excuse what they’ve done. They won’t point to all their good works as if those actions somehow outweigh or cancel out the bad. They’ll view even their “righteous acts” as “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). They won’t shame the offended party for being hurt or angry. They won’t blame their victims or other people for making them sin. Rather, they’ll take responsibility, acknowledge the damage they’ve done, and express remorse.

6. They Change Their Behavior

A truly repentant person will realize they need God to sanctify their heart. They’ll proactively work to change their behavior and take steps to avoid sin and temptation. That may mean seeing a counselor, going to rehab, or asking friends, pastors, or law enforcement to give them oversight and hold them accountable. Consider the stark contrast between the church persecutor Saul before salvation and after. Acts 9 tells us that even though some Christians were understandably hesitant to trust him, his character had already altered dramatically.

7. They Grant Space to Heal

The fruit of the Spirit includes patience, kindness, grace, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). A truly repentant person will demonstrate these consistently. They won’t feel entitled to trust or acceptance; rather, they’ll be humble, unassuming, and willing to sacrifice their own wants and needs for the benefit of the injured party. They won’t pressure us to hurry up and “get over it” or “move on.” Rather, they’ll understand our distrust, acknowledge our grief, and honor the boundaries we’ve requested.

As an abuser, they loved their sin more than they loved you. As a repentant sinner, they should love you more than their sin and pride.

8. They’re Awestruck by Forgiveness

If a person feels entitled to forgiveness, they don’t value forgiveness. When Jacob received Esau’s forgiveness, he was so astounded he wept: “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, for you have received me favorably” (Gen. 30:10). Jacob realized that forgiveness is divine miracle, a picture of the Messiah, and a sign of the Lord’s mercy. Though Jacob and Esau hadn’t spoken for 40 years, Jacob knew God had enabled Esau, by grace, to forgive him.

Repentance and Forgiveness Are from God

When these eight signs of repentance are authentically present, we are blessed. Our offender has forsaken evil, and the God of peace is glorified. But what do we do when these signs are not present? What do we do when someone lies about being sorry to avoid consequences, or uses our goodwill as an opportunity to hurt us again?

For more than three decades, I begged God to call my abusive dad to repentance. Instead, like Pharaoh, his heart only hardened. His pretenses at change turned out to be a strategy he used to enable his wickedness. My own love and trust were weaponized to betray me.

Eventually, I had to accept that my dad didn’t want to get better. And no matter how much I loved him and wanted him to repent, change, be a good dad, love me, and love Jesus, salvation is God’s work, and I couldn’t fix my dad. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for a person is to not let them hurt us any longer.

A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce

SOURCE:  Rebecca VanDoodewaard

God hates divorce, doesn’t He? Absolutely.

Isn’t the gospel about forgiveness and love? Yes, it is.

And pastors and elders can use these two truths in isolation from the rest of Scripture and biblical principles to deny people divorce for biblical grounds. “But marriage is a precious thing,” one pastor told a woman whose husband was in prison for pedophilia. “It would be a wonderful picture of God’s grace to move on from this and focus on your marriage,” another one told the husband of an adulteress. “We’re working with him; he’s really struggling, and so you need to forgive him,” a session tells a woman whose husband has been using pornography for years.

Evangelical and confessional churches are striving to maintain a high view of marriage in a culture that is ripping the institution to shreds. So extra-biblical barriers to divorce can be well-meant. They try to protect marriage by doing everything possible to avoid divorce. In doing so, they not only fail to keep a high view of marriage. They also spread lies about the gospel, divorce, the value of people, the character of God and the nature of sexual sin.

The first lie is that forgiveness means that the offended party is bound to continue living with the guilty party once there’s an apology.

Wives in particular are told that God requires that they forgive a repentant spouse, which is true, and that this means that they need to stay in the marriage, which is not true. It’s like saying to parents who discover that the babysitter molested their children: “Oh, but the sitter said sorry. It would be unloving to not ask them to watch the kids again. You need to demonstrate your forgiveness.” The argument is that Jesus forgave you and took you in: Why can’t you do the same for a spouse? Because I am not God: I am human, too, and can’t atone for my spouse’s sin in a way that can restore an earthly marriage.

Sacrificing a person to save a relationship is not the gospel. The gospel is that Someone was sacrificed to free us from sin and bring us to God. We cannot always bear the relational punishment for someone else’s sin. We can forgive them, and will if we are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with them. You can forgive someone and divorce them. Scripture commands forgiveness where there is repentance, but it never requires that a relationship be continued in the way that it was before covenant was shattered. This lie of “forgiveness” places the burden on the innocent party. The sinner gets counsel, support, help and prayer, while the sinned-against gets pressure, guilt and a crushing future. Acceptance is often labelled the “Christian” thing to do. Since Christ gave divorce as an option in some circumstances, divorce can be the Christian thing to do, too. Forgiveness is always the Christian thing to do, and it simply means that the guilty party is forgiven, not absolved from all earthly consequences.

The second lie is implied: God hates divorce more than He hates abuse and sexual sin.

To put the lie a different way, God loves marriage more than He loves the women in it. While God created marriage, loves marriage and says that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, Jesus didn’t die to save marriage. He died to save people. He sacrificed His life to protect His sons and daughters, and hates when they are abused, violated and humiliated, particularly in a relationship that is supposed to picture Christ and the church.

This fact is especially true for women, who suffer at the hands of men whose actions mock servant leadership and so blaspheme the name of the Christ whom they are called to represent. Denying a woman legitimate divorce allows an unrepentant man to continue in this abuse and blasphemy. If we want to value and treat marriage rightly, we need to think about Jesus! His care for His church is not an abstract idea. We see it lived out in the gospels every day in purity, tender care for widows and intolerance of the Pharisees who thought they could be right with God while checking out beautiful women at the market. Christ’s love for His church found very concrete expression on the cross—willingness to die to save His beloved people. Yes, God hates divorce. And there are some things that He hates even more.

The third lie is that divorce is an unclean thing, often the fault of the innocent party.

This is a misunderstanding of divorce. Divorce is not the innocent party ending a marriage. Divorce is the innocent party obtaining legal recognition that the guilty party has destroyed the marriage. So often, we see the divorcing person as the one who ends the marriage—they are not! Where there has been sexual unfaithfulness, abuse or abandonment, it is the guilty party who ended it by breaking covenant. While legitimate divorce is not mandatory, it is a biblical option, on moral par with maintaining the marriage. The 1992 report by the PCA study committee on divorce and remarriage comments:

It is also interesting to recall in this connection Jeremiah 3:8, where Yahweh is said to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery (idolatry):?“I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.” If God himself can properly divorce his bride because of adultery, then, given Christ’s unqualified adherence to the authority of the Old Testament, it seems difficult to conclude that Jesus would not have had similar words on his own lips. (218)

The church needs to be clear about this: Legitimate divorce is holy and biblical if God Himself can speak of initiating it. And it is initiated to publicly recognize the destruction already there. Divorce does not end a covenant. It protects the spouse whose covenant has been violated—a picture of covenant protection in the face of human unfaithfulness. Always discouraging divorce, always making it a last, desperate option that really fails to show gospel power, implies that we know more about marriage than God does and value it more highly. If there are legitimate reasons for divorce, then making divorce look like a lesser option is wrong. God allows it: Who are we to discourage people from choosing a biblical option?

The fourth lie usually involved in this discussion is about pornography.

It is often classified as not technically adultery, so spouses are denied the biblical right to divorce. This is mind-boggling. Someone who seeks out sexually explicit material and has a physical response to it is in the same mental, physical and spiritual condition as someone in bed with a coworker. The difference is that the relationship with the coworker is at least private and limited, while porn use accepts and subsidizes an entire industry of sexual sin that is maintained by abuse and slavery, involves hundreds of people, and is tracked by the producing companies and Internet servers. Deliberate and repeated porn use is at least adultery, regardless of whether there is repentance at some point. Denying this makes people ask why some pastors are so committed to denying what porn really is. Our pre-technology definition of adultery allows souls and marriages to be ravaged from the inside out because we fail to admit what a porn habit really is. We look away from the institutionalized rape that it subsidizes. Countenancing sexual sin for any reason reveals a poor understanding of sexual sin as well as the gospel.

Do you see how these lies, sometimes borne out of a desire to protect marriage, actually bring about a low view of marriage? By granting, supporting and even facilitating a biblical divorce, we take a stand to say that we can forgive without being forced to live with people who have shattered us. This protects marriage by allowing the innocent party to leave a relationship that has been broken. By backing biblical divorce, we protect women whom God loves, showing Christ’s love when spouses have not. This protects marriage by refusing to allow sinners to abuse the institution with impunity. By publicly stating that sexual sin and abuse, not wounded spouses, ends marriages, we hold the marriage bed in honor. This protects marriage by creating a holy fear of violating it. By offering biblical divorce, the church affirms that pornography is depravity, and will not be countenanced by Christ’s church. Naming and disciplining sexual sin as the evil it is and offering divorce to the innocent party makes the value of marriage clear as we refuse to see it damaged, abused or treated lightly.

Developing and maintaining a high view of marriage does a lot. It protects women and children, often the people most hurt by sexual sin. It keeps us from falling into sin ourselves: The higher our view of marriage, the less likely we will be to dabble in something so devastating. And a high view of marriage honors the One who created it for our good and His glory—the One who promises to judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.

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).

Parenting a difficult child

SOURCE:  Julie Lowe/CCEF

Some of the most burdensome moments for a parent are when it is clear to those around you that your child is defiant or difficult. What are other people thinking? What does this say about me as a parent? They might assume your child’s behavior is a result of inadequate parenting or something else amiss in your home. People may even be bold enough to share their views, without any sense of the shame they are heaping upon you. Those of you with a difficult child understand. You feel marked, and even judged, by your child’s personal struggles. You hang your head around people who “know” about the problem. You assume they see you as a failure. If you were a good parent, surely your children would be well-behaved, love God, and have good manners. After all, their children are not so insubordinate.

If this is how you feel, you may have bought into the belief that good parents produce good children and bad parents produce bad children. At times, this seems downright biblical. If you raise a child in the way he should go, he won’t depart from it, right? So it follows that if you were godly enough, wise enough and patient enough, your child would not be so rebellious. It seems that the right formula is: love plus discipline plus godly instruction = “good” kids. And because, at times, the formula does seem to work, you determine the error must be in your parenting.

I’ve heard many a parent say, “We’ve exhausted all options, all approaches, all forms of consequences… and nothing worked. I tried being calm; I tried consistent discipline; I tried appealing to their conscience and praying with them and for them. Nothing helped. Nothing changed.” What the parent means is that it did not produce the desired behavior change or a visible heart change. The assumption is that, once again, the formula was applied, and it proved useless.

But this is a faulty, unbiblical approach. Good kids come out of horrific family backgrounds, and rebellious, willful kids come out of good, Christian homes. Children do not come to us as blank slates, but with their own personalities, strengths, weakness, desires, and temptations towards particular sin. They are born with hearts that are wooed by their own desires, and they exercise volition to choose for themselves the type of person they will become. There is an active moral responder on the other end of your parenting—one who chooses whom they will serve. And there is no way a parent can ensure the outcome.

Of course, a parent does play a significant role in a child’s life, but don’t buy into the belief that assumes good parenting will produce well-behaved children. It incorrectly places all the ownership and blame on you. And the burden of it might tempt you to want to give up or resort to poor or ungodly parenting (anger, yelling, harshness, despair, backing down, or backing away completely) because it might appear to work in the short run.

What then are you to do? Let me suggest two things that might help.

First, evaluate your motivation. Though you are not responsible for your child’s bad choices, could it be that, without realizing it, you are adding to the problem? If you are frustrated, despairing, or angry because your child is difficult, you need to ask yourself: What standard do you judge yourself by? Whose agenda is dictating your parenting? Is it a worldly, self-centered agenda, or a Christ-centered one? You can desire good things that become driven by very bad motives. Do you care too much about your own comfort or reputation? Do you desire a well-behaved child with few problems, or struggles? Children that make you look good, that are productive, smart, and kind? Are you embittered because you have invested yourself in this child and see no results? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, consider confessing the desires that grip your heart. Ask God to give you the grace, fortitude, and wisdom to parent your challenging child. Ask him to show you how to respond to your child out of love and concern for his or her wellbeing, not your own.

Second, remind yourself of what God calls you to as a parent—no more, no less. He calls you to love your children, to model a Christ-like character and lifestyle, and to respond wisely and thoughtfully to their struggles. You are to foster a personal relationship with the living God, and, to the best of your ability, shape your child’s strengths and weaknesses in his image. Though God expects you to parent with consistent love and wisdom, he does not hold you responsible for results that are driven by the child’s sin or rebellion.

Stop “trying” to make things turn out a particular way and just do the hard work of godly parenting. Do not judge its effectiveness by your child’s response. Simply wrestle with this:

Is my parenting loving?
Is it consistent?
Is it wise?

That will be challenging enough. You will fail, be convicted, and need forgiveness on those fronts alone. The rest must be left to the work of the Spirit in a child’s life. You will find much freedom from judgment, less care for the opinions of others, more hope and less despair when you commit your parenting to the Lord. Let him do the rest. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary of doing good.”

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

How do you know when someone is truly sorry?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.

Hosea 7:14

As biblical counselors, sometimes it’s hard to discern if someone is truly repentant.

Tears are often the language of the heart, but when one is crying in the counseling office, it’s important to hear what the person’s heart is really saying.  The apostle Paul speaks of two kinds of sorrow, worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).  As Christian counselors, it is crucial that we learn to distinguish between the two especially when we are doing couples work.

Worldly sorrow is a self-focused sorrow. It may contain great emotion, tears, and apologies, but the grief expressed is for one’s self. The person mourns the consequences of his or her sin and what she has lost. This may be a marriage, a job, a reputation, friends and/or family, or can even be one’s own idea of who they thought they were. Here are some of the things we often hear a person say when they are sorrowing unto death.

·         I can’t believe I did such a thing.

·         Why is this happening to me?

·         Please forgive me. – Implying, please don’t make me suffer the  consequences of my sin.

·         Why won’t he/she forgive me? (In other words, why can’t reconciliation be easy and quick?)

·         I’m so sorry (sad).

·         I’m a horrible person.

·         I wish I were dead.

·         I hate myself.

Judas is a good example of this type of sorrow (Matthew 27:3-5).  After he betrayed Christ, he was seized with remorse yet it did not lead to godly repentance, but self-hatred and suicide.

It is natural that we feel compassion for the person suffering such emotional and spiritual pain. However, it’s crucial that we not confuse this kind of sorrow with the kind that leads to biblical repentance, especially when we are working with both the sorrowing sinner and the one who has been sinned against.

Godly sorrow demonstrates grief over one’s sinfulness toward God as well as the pain it has caused others. John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

Below are eight things I have found that demonstrate those fruits of genuine repentance.

·         Accepts full responsibility for actions and attitudes, doesn’t blame others or situations.

·         Acknowledges sinfulness (instead of “I can’t believe I could do such a thing”).

·         Recognizes the effects of actions on others and shows empathy for the pain he/she’s caused.

·         Able to identify brokenness in detail such as abusive tactics, attitudes of entitlement, and/or areas of chronic deceit.

·         Accepts consequences without demands or conditions.

·         Makes amends for damages.

·         Is willing to make consistent changes over the long term such as new behaviors and attitudes characteristic of healthy relationships.

·         Is willing to be accountable and if needed, long term.

In my work with couples who have experienced grievous sin, I have found that it is not their sin that destroys most relationships. All couples experience sin. The destruction comes when we refuse to acknowledge it. It is our blindness to it and our unwillingness to humble ourselves to get help, be accountable, and repent that makes reconciliation and healing impossible.

Adultery – I Would Rather Die: Letter to a Would-Be Adulterer

SOURCE:  Francis Chan/Desiring God

“Lord, please kill me before I cheat on my wife.”

This is a prayer that I prayed many times when I was first married. I’m not saying that it was mature or biblical, but it gives you a glimpse into my mind. I did not ever want to bring shame to the church, and I knew that this potential for evil was in me.

I spent my single years battling for purity and often failing. At times the battle was all-consuming. Days were filled with a paralyzing guilt that kept me from effective ministry and enjoying Jesus. I tried many things to discipline myself. At one point, I even decided that if I gave into lust, I would spend the next day fasting. This forced me to spend days in prayer, asking for more strength and self-control. I’ve found that when you refrain from eating, it makes refraining from sin easier. While it didn’t work perfectly, it was helpful. (And I did lose a few pounds.)

The Bible is clear and simple when it comes to impurity: Run! “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Run away from temptation, and run towards righteousness. How we each pursue this may look different, but here are some pillars that have helped me in my journey.

Fear Can Be Good

The Scriptures teach, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). I am grateful that by his grace, God has gifted me with a deep-seated fear of him.

Many years ago, I remember reading an article about a man who had a fatal heart attack while having sex with a prostitute. I imagined how terrifying it must have been for that man to enter into the presence of a holy God at that moment. If nothing else keeps you from adultery, maybe the fact that Almighty God could take your life amidst the very act would terrify you enough to repent.

It was years later that a friend of mine, a fellow pastor, committed adultery with his assistant. I didn’t see him for months after it happened. When he came into my office, he looked awful. He proceeded to tell me the whole story. He explained how one thing led to another, and before he knew it he had committed the act he preached against for years.

What impacted me most was when he explained his thoughts and feelings after sinning. He told me of how he kept looking at his revolver, tempted to pull the trigger. He reasoned that everyone would be happier if he was dead. The other woman’s husband would be happier. His own wife and kids would be happier. His church would be happier. It was only by the grace of God that he was still alive.

Of course, taking his own life in the aftermath of adultery would only be multiplying the sin. But I was struck by the misery he felt. He seriously thought it would be better to be dead than to have done this and to live with the consequences! His misery was both a wake-up call and a warning to me. Fear can be a great grace.

Vigilant Discipline

My pursuit of sexual purity has been a discipline. I have said with the apostle Paul, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

I live each day with severe caution. I rarely counsel women, and never alone. I won’t go anywhere with a woman alone. In 23 years, I have never even been in a car alone with another woman (aside from relatives). It has felt silly at times to inconveniently tell women they had to drive separately even though we are going to the same location, but I believe it’s been worth it. My wife has access to all of my email accounts, phone records, and I don’t have a Facebook profile. There are no secrets between us.

I have alcoholic friends who were supernaturally delivered from any desire for alcohol. I have other friends who pray for deliverance, but are tempted daily. They refuse to have any alcohol in their homes, and stay away from tempting situations. After reading John Piper’s letter to a would-be adulterer, it sounds like his story has been one of supernatural deliverance, while mine has been one of discipline and daily strength. I believe God is glorified by both.

Focused Mission

Early on in my Christian journey, I focused only on running away from sin. I believe it was good and right, but not complete. It was later that I discovered the truth of Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

God calls us not only to run away from temptation, but to run toward him. He promises that when we are walking by the Spirit, we will not gratify the flesh. As I have followed God’s Spirit into meaningful ministry, it has been amazing to see the craving for sin diminish. The thrill of the Holy Spirit manifesting himself through me to bless others fills me thoroughly, crowding out sinful desires that might otherwise have had room to grow (1 Corinthians 12:7).

It’s like playing in an intense basketball game. I get tunnel vision. Winning is all I think about. My mind does not wander one bit. In the same way, when my wife and I are intensely pursuing God’s cause and kingdom, our minds don’t wander toward sin. Soldiers stay focused when they are in battle. “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). It’s when we relax, when we forget we are actually on a mission, that trouble comes.

More of Jesus

Just this morning, I read in Psalm 73,

I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:23–25)

I pictured God holding my right hand, guiding me, receiving me into glory. The longer I imagined that, the more I understood why the next verse says, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Take time to meditate on these truths. If you’re anything like me, you tend to take God’s commands more seriously than his promises. He wants us to have faith in both, and to find enjoyment in both.

While I am fifty years old, and have been walking with Jesus since high school, it has really been over the past few years that I have grown significantly in my enjoyment of him. A few months ago, I told a friend that I didn’t want to have any sin in my life because I am enjoying such close fellowship with Jesus. That was a new experience for me.

Fear, discipline, and mission are all biblical motivations — and have all helped me in my pursuit of holiness. But now that I have been enjoying deeper connection with Jesus, I feel like I’ve missed out.

I hesitated in writing this letter after reading Piper’s. I have been praying the five prayers he suggests there, and it has been life-changing. It has opened my eyes to the shallowness of my prayers, and it brought a new satisfaction into my life. It makes me wonder if the struggle could have been lesser, and the journey sweeter, if I had read and followed his letter years ago.

Or maybe the path to righteousness will look different for each of us, so long as we arrive in a place of deeper enjoyment of Jesus.

Chastity by C.S. Lewis

SOURCE:  Taken from the book by  C. S. Lewis/Mere Christianity

We must now consider Christian morality as regards sex, what Christians call the virtue of chastity…..

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it: the old Christian rule is, “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.” Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong.

But I have other reasons for thinking so. The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function.

Or take it another way. You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act–that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?

One critic said that if he found a country in which such strip-tease acts with food were popular, he would conclude that the people of that country were starving. He means, of course, to imply that such things as the strip-tease act resulted not from sexual corruption but from sexual starvation. I agree with him that if, in some strange land, we found that similar acts with mutton chops were popular, one of the possible explanations which would occur to me would be famine. But the next step would be to test our hypothesis by finding out whether, in fact, much or little food was being consumed in that country. If the evidence showed that a good deal was being eaten, then of course we should have to abandon the hypothesis of starvation and try to think of another one. In the same way, before accepting sexual starvation as the cause of the strip-tease, we should have to look for evidence that there is in fact more sexual abstinence in our age than in those ages when things like the strip-tease were unknown. But surely there is no such evidence. Contraceptives have made sexual indulgence far less costly within marriage and far safer outside it than ever before, and public opinion is less hostile to illicit unions and even to perversion than it has been since Pagan times. Nor is the hypothesis of “starvation” the only one
we can imagine. Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations.

Here is a third point. You find very few people who want to eat things that really are not food or to do other things with food instead of eating it. In other words, perversions of the food appetite are rare. But perversions of the sex instinct are numerous, hard to cure, and frightful. I am sorry to have to go into all these details, but I must. The reason why I must is that you and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess. Modern people are always saying, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” They may mean two things. They may mean “There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same.

It is not the thing, nor the pleasure, that is the trouble. The old Christian teachers said that if man had never fallen, sexual pleasure, instead of being less than it is now, would actually have been greater. I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body–which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other
religion: and nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.” If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. I do not say you and I are individually responsible for the present situation. Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favor of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance. God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome.

What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them. Before we can be cured we must want to be cured. Those who really wish for help will get it; but for many modern people even the wish is difficult. It is easy to think that we want something when we do not really want it. A famous Christian long ago told us that when he was a young man he prayed constantly for chastity; but years later he realized that while his lips had been saying, “Oh Lord, make me chaste,” his heart had been secretly adding, “But please don’t do it just yet.” This may happen in prayers for other virtues too; but there are three reasons why it is now especially difficult for us to desire–let alone to achieve–complete chastity.

In the first place our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so “natural, so “healthy,” and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humor. Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth–the truth, acknowledged above, that sex in itself (apart from the excess and obsessions that have grown round it) is “normal” and “healthy” and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal. Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of health, good humor, and frankness. For any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary; so the claim made by every desire, when it is strong, to be healthy and reasonable, counts for nothing. Every sane and civilized man must have some set of principles by which he chooses to reject some of his desires and to permit others. One man does this on Christian principles, another on hygienic principles, another on sociological principles. The real conflict is not between Christianity and “nature,” but between Christian principle and other principles in the control of “nature.” For “nature” (in the use of natural desire) will have to be controlled anyway, unless you are going to ruin your whole life. The Christian principles are, admittedly, stricter than the others; but then we think you will get help towards obeying them which you will not get towards obeying the others.

In the second place, many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not: faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: you will certainly get none for leaving the question alone. Not only in examinations but in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.

We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity–like perfect charity–will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the center of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting: the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the Human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

Mere Christianity, 1945

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Your Family Voyage: Discarding Resentment

SOURCE:  Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Some of the heaviest weight to unload is that of resentment.

The object of animosity may be a parent, sibling, authority figure, or some other significant person from your past.  You attempt to “get them back” by withholding love or approval, withdrawing, being uncooperative, ruminating on your anger, or severing the relationship altogether.  You may have denied or buried your anger so long that you aren’t even aware of your bitterness, but the emotion is expressed in a variety of ways:

Unmerited explosions of anger.

Avoidance of certain individuals.

A strong desire for vengeance or retaliation.

A pessimistic or critical outlook on life.

Sarcasm, cynicism, or critical attitudes toward individuals or situations.

Over-reactions or under-reactions out of proportion to the current situation.

In harboring resentment you suffer more than anyone else – anxiety, tension, regret, and isolation as well as physical effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.  The offending individual may not even be aware of or affected by your indignation.

The resolution of resentment is forgiveness.

When we choose to forgive another person, we receive the primary benefit – the freedom to choose our responses and commitments to others, to ourselves and to God.

Our model of forgiveness is God.

Each one of us has broken God’s laws and erected barriers in our relationship with him.  The offenses are ours, not Gods.  God’s forgiveness is not based on his denial of our sin; he is very aware of our offenses against him.  God’s forgiveness is not the result of his ability to pretend that we never committed any wrong.  The forgiveness our heavenly Father offers is based on his willingness to bear the cost of our sin.  Christ’s death on the cross was the payment for our sin.  Because of that payment, God is free to respond to us as a gracious loving Father rather than as a righteous judge.

When we decide to forgive someone who has offended us, we must choose to bear the cost of the wrong committed against us.  Once we forgive, we no longer require a payment for the offenses we experienced.  We cancel the debt by accepting the offense.  In essence, we pay the debt owed us.  We no longer punish the offending person through anger, silence, avoidance or criticism.  This process frees us from the burden of resentment and allows us to let go of troublesome patterns from the past.

If we are going to unload baggage from our past, it will be necessary to relinquish any bitterness we may harbor.  Forgiveness is necessary.  Without letting go of our desire for vengeance, we trap ourselves into the patterns of the past.

Does forgiveness mean I’ll forget the offense?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t a matter of blocking memories or denying the past.  You will probably always carry a memory of the offense, but your emotional response to that memory can change as you forgive.

How long does forgiveness take?  This varies a great deal.  Forgiveness is a process and seldom occurs instantly.  The process of forgiveness begins with a conscious decision.  Once you have decided to forgive, God can begin to work in you to heal your wounds and change your perspective.

How will I know when I’ve forgiven this person?  While the memory will remain, the experience of that memory will become a recalling of history rather than a current experience of anxiety, anger, or hurt.

How do I start forgiving?  Forgiveness begins with a decision.  Once you’ve decided to forgive, prayerfully ask God to soften your heart and broaden your understanding of this experience from your past.  As you sincerely look to him, he will be faithful to shape you into his image in this area.  Once you have confronted those painful memories, they lose their power.  When they “feel” real, you react emotionally.

Your painful memories may cause incredible and unpleasant discomfort the first few times you mentally walk through them.  But once you’ve confronted them, they lose their immediacy.  Conversely, as long as you expend effort trying to avoid a memory it will retain its vivid reality and negative power, even if in your dreams or in the far corner of the haunting attic you try to pretend doesn’t exist.

Is Pornography Considered Adultery?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Sadly, many men struggle with pornography and sexual addiction these days. Satan has a foothold into men’s hearts and homes, and the church hasn’t done a very good job at validating the devastating effects this habit has on one’s mind, body, spirit and marriage.

Perhaps some church leaders are reluctant to come down hard on this problem because they fear what might happen. According to surveys conducted by Barna Research, a sizable percentage of pastors also struggle with pornography problems.

Secular research and brain science are starting to speak about the damaging effects of watching pornography. Here is a link to an article and TED talk that is sobering to watch. Every adult and ministry leader should watch this.

Jesus takes this issue of pornography very seriously. He says, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye – even your good eye – causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand – even your stronger hand – causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30

Jesus says don’t mess around with this. He tells people to take decisive action if they have this problem. Gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand will not keep you from lusting, but what Jesus meant was, DO what it takes to deal with this problem NOW. Sadly, many men don’t listen.

Instead, they play with fire thinking they won’t get burned. But they’re wrong. The Bible is full of warnings about sexual immorality and the consequences of unbridled lust.

For example, Paul writes, “there should be no sexual immorality among us and that such sins have no place among God’s people.” He goes on to say, “we should not be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him.” And later he tells us to “expose the worthless deeds of evil and darkness.” (See Ephesians 5).

Does this mean porn is the same as adultery? Jesus says it is, as does Peter (2 Peter 2:14). And if it’s repeated and unrepentant, it may be Biblical grounds for divorce. The question that determines what happens next is what is a man’s response to his problem with pornography and lust?

Does he hate it? Is he repentant? Is he doing everything within his power to stop and eliminate this habit, even when it costs him? For example, is he willing to be without the Internet? Is he willing to put controls on his computer? Is he going for help with his thought life? Is he honest and open with others about his struggle and is he willing to be held accountable? And, is he grateful for a wife who holds him accountable for his behaviors so that he doesn’t burn himself and his entire family down to the ground with his own foolish fantasies?

If so, then a Christian wife’s response would be to be gracious and forgiving, coupled with an uncompromising stance against allowing such evil in her home and marriage. No woman in her right mind, Christian or otherwise, would allow her husband to bring another woman into their home to have sex.

In the same way, if he is not repentant or desiring to change, no woman should turn the other way or close her eyes to knowing her husband is ogling another woman or watching pornography. It degrades her, demeans him, and demeans the women he ogles.

It’s time women draw a line in the sand for the wellbeing of their marriage, family, and their spouse and say, “No more. If that’s what you want I can’t stop you, but I won’t live like this.”

This is a tough stance but Jesus and Scripture call for tough stances. If your husband won’t, you must. If you don’t your husband will continue to behave as if he can have his cake and eat it too. He can enjoy all the perks of home, marriage, and even family but still live treacherously and lustfully. Don’t let him.

Remember, this is not just his life it’s yours too. Your strong stand may be the one thing that will get his attention and hopefully motivate him to face his issue. If he refuses, then it’s time you quit enabling his habit to destroy you and your children.

Why Do We Suffer?

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll

Of all the letters Paul wrote, 2 Corinthians is the most autobiographical. In it the great apostle lifts the veil of his private life and allows us to catch a glimpse of his human frailties and needs. You need to read that letter in one sitting to capture the moving emotion that surged through his soul.

It is in this letter alone that he records the specifics of his anguish, tears, affliction, and satanic opposition. In this letter alone he spells out the details of his persecution, loneliness, imprisonments, beatings, feelings of despair, hunger, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, and that “thorn in the flesh”—his companion of pain. How close it makes us feel to him when we picture him as a man with real, honest-to-goodness problems . . . just like you and me!

It is not surprising, then, that he begins the letter with words of comfort—especially verses 3 through 11 (please stop and read).

Now then, having read those nine verses, please observe his frequent use of the term comfort in verses 3–7. I count ten times in five verses that the same root word is employed by Paul. This word is para-kaleo, meaning literally, “to call alongside.” It involves more than a shallow “pat on the back” with the tired expression, “the Lord bless you . . . ” No, this word involves genuine, in-depth understanding . . . deep-down compassion and sympathy. This seems especially appropriate since it says that God, our Father, is the “God of all comfort” who “comforts us in all our affliction.” Our loving Father is never preoccupied or removed when we are enduring sadness and affliction! Read Hebrews 4:14–16 and Matthew 6:31–32 as further proof.

There is yet another observation worth noting in 2 Corinthians, chapter 1. No less than three reasons are given for suffering—each one introduced with the term “that.” Can you locate them? Take a pencil and circle the “that” in verses 4, 9, and 11. Quietly, without a lot of fanfare, the Holy Spirit states reasons we suffer:

1. “That we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction . . . “ (v. 4). God allows suffering so that we might have the capacity to enter into others’ sorrow and affliction. Isn’t that true? If you have suffered a broken leg and been confined to crutches for weeks—you are in complete sympathy with someone else on crutches, even years after your affliction. The same is true for the loss of a child . . . emotional depression . . . an auto accident . . . undergoing unfair criticism . . . financial burdens. God gives His children the capacity to understand by bringing similar sufferings into our lives. Bruises attract one another.

2. “That we would not trust in ourselves . . . “ (v. 9). God also allows suffering so that we might learn what it means to depend on Him, not on our own strength and resources. Doesn’t suffering do that? It forces us to lean on Him totally, absolutely. Over and over He reminds us of the danger of pride . . . but it frequently takes suffering to make the lesson stick. Pride is smashed most effectively when the suffering comes suddenly, surprisingly. The express trains of heaven are seldom announced by a warning bell; they dash suddenly and abruptly into the station of the soul. Perhaps that has been your experience recently. Don’t resent the affliction as an intruder—welcome it as God’s message to stop trusting in your flesh . . . and start leaning on Him.

3. “That thanks may be given . . . “ (v. 11). Honestly—have you said, “Thanks, Lord, for this test”? Have you finally stopped struggling and expressed to Him how much you appreciate His loving sovereignty over your life? I submit that one of the reasons our suffering is prolonged is that we take so long saying “Thank you, Lord” with an attitude of genuine appreciation.

How unfinished and rebellious and proud and unconcerned we would be without suffering! Alan Redpath, the beloved evangelist and former pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago, once remarked;

When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible individual—and crushes him.

Here is another statement on suffering I heard years ago. I shall never forget it:

Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.

May these things encourage you the next time God heats up the furnace!

Don’t resent affliction as an intruder—welcome it as God’s invitation to trust Him.

— Charles R. Swindoll

Give God Your Worries

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll

What qualifies as a worry?

  • Anything that drains your tank of joy—something you cannot change,
  • something you are not responsible for,
  • something you are unable to control,
  • something (or someone) that frightens and torments you, agitates you, keeps you awake when you should be asleep.

All of that now needs to be switched from your worry list to your prayer list. Give each worry—one by one—to God . . . .

Tell Him you will no longer keep your anxiety to yourself . . . .

The more you practice giving your mental burdens to the Lord, the more exciting it gets to see how God will handle the things that are impossible for you to do anything about.

Turn your worry list into your prayer list.

Give each worry—one by one—to God.

————————————————————————————————————————————


Excerpted from Charles R. Swindoll, Wisdom for the Way

Don’t Stuff Your Pain, Tell God About It

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“Get up, cry out in the night, even as the night begins. Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord” (Lamentations 2:19a NCV).

Think you’ve had a bad day?

The biblical character of Job had a Ph.D. in pain and loss.

In the very first chapter of Job, after everything fell apart in his life, “Job stood up, tore his robe in grief, and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground and worshiped”(Job 1:20 GW).

Job expressed his pain to God. When you have a major loss in your life, the first thing you need to do is tell God exactly how you feel.

This may surprise you, but God can handle your anger and frustration. He can handle your emotions. Why? Because he gave them to you. You were made in the image of God, and he is an emotional God.

When your 2-year-old has a temper tantrum and beats on your knees, you can handle that. In the same way, God is bigger than your emotion, and it’s okay to tell him exactly how you feel. When you prayed for a promotion but it didn’t happen, when a loved one walks out of your life, when you get the dreaded call saying, “It’s cancer,” you can tell God, “I’m mad. I’m upset. I’m sick. I’m frustrated. I’m ticked off. I doubt.” God can handle your complaints, your questions, your fear, and your grief. God’s love for you is bigger than all of your emotions.

My kids know I love them. They know that I’ve been on this planet longer than they have and that I’ve had more experience than they have. But my children sometimes question my judgment. Can you believe that?

I’d rather have an honest, gut-level conversation with them than have them stuff their frustration and disappointment inside. God is the same way! He would rather have you wrestle with him in anger than walk away in detached apathy.

The right response to unexplained tragedy is not “grin and bear it.” Lamentations 2:19a says, “Get up, cry out in the night, even as the night begins. Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord” (NCV).

3 Common Mistakes of Addicts’ Families

SOURCE: Taken from an article by 

Families of addicts feel desperate to help their loved ones stop abusing drugs or alcohol. However, if their desperate, though understandable, responses to their loved one’s behavior are not informed by biblical principles, they will unwittingly and sometimes tragically do more harm than good. Here are some of the common mistakes families of addicts make, followed by tips on how to help families become aware of what they need to change.

Mistake #1: Trying to control the addict

Sometimes families try to control the behavior of an addicted member by limiting that person’s access to funds, monitoring his or her time, or keeping constant tabs on the addict’s whereabouts.

Unfortunately, this approach frustrates the addict and becomes an excuse for him or her to entrench deeper into drug or alcohol abuse. Though trying to control a loved one’s addiction is counterproductive, it is understandable. Families are desperate to keep their loved one from taking illegal drugs or drinking alcohol. And they may experience a small measure of peace when they know their loved one isn’t getting into trouble. But such a high level of control is impossible to maintain in the long term. Plus, exerting so much control stresses out family members who end up becoming more aware of all the many things they can’t control while trying to police their loved one. Dr. Joseph Troncale, medical director at Retreat Premiere Addiction Treatment Centers in Lancaster County, PA, says, “Family members with addicted loved ones would do well to consider becoming familiar with Al-Anon1 principles: (1) you didn’t CAUSE the addiction; (2) you can’t CONTROL the addiction; and (3) you can’t CURE the addiction.”

Mistake #2: Enabling the addict

Trying to love the addict, some family members enable that person to continue his or her destructive behavior. “They’re trying to please this family member and make him or her happy, and they do so in ways that are just encouraging sin. Rather than taking a stand and reproving, they’re encouraging the sin to take place,” said Dr. Mark Shaw, executive director of Vision of Hope in Lafayette, IN, and an ordained minister, biblical counselor, and certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor.2

The family may also enable out of fear of losing the relationship (e.g., a child has threatened never to speak to his parents again if they don’t pay his rent) or of violent retaliation (an addict may lash out violently if kept from her drug of choice). If fear for one’s safety motivates an enabling situation, you should address this first.

Mistake #3: Ignoring the needs of other family members

Often, families ignore the needs of other family members by focusing all their attention on caring for the addict. When this happens, those who are ignored can become bitter toward their parents or their addicted family member because the addict receives all of the attention, time, and resources. Siblings become bitter because their college funds are used to fund rehab. Spouses give up on marriages because their partners are consumed with their child’s addiction. Children who would excel in school don’t because a parent’s addiction robs them of the support and encouragement they’d typically receive. Neglected family members are often tempted to turn to unhelpful ways of coping with the pain and instability caused by living with an addict.

How to help the families of addicts recognize the effects of their actions

While it may be clear to you that the family is hurting their loved one or that they are not acting in his or her best interest, the family members may not be aware of this. In fact, they may believe that their approach is wise, is in the best interest of the family, and keeps the loved one from living on the street. So how do you get them to see what they’re doing wrong?

One of the best ways to do this is to ask them questions that help them see the effect their behavior is having upon their loved one. Author, counselor, and CareLeader.org’s own Dr. Jeff Forrey says that questions should elicit facts that help loved ones see the consequences of their actions.

He also points out that while it is important to help people understand the impact of their choices, it’s also important for family members to realize what’s not happening as a result of their choices. For example, ignoring the actions of an addicted family member may keep the peace, but the addict does not learn how his or her behavior is affecting others, and family members do not learn how to deal with conflict. Devoting hours to controlling behavior may not seem detrimental to the mother of an addict until she is led to realize how other family members are being neglected.

Guiding families to wiser responses

Once family members become aware of the immediate consequences of their behavior, you can also help them think through the long-term implications of their behavior. Once they realize the futility of their actions, here are a few truths that you may want to guide families of addicts to realize.

Truths for those who tend to control
Help family members realize there is so much that they can’t control. Consider reminding the family that God is the one who is ultimately in control of the situation and that He is able to rescue and work all things for good. Philippians 3:21 reminds us that His power “enables him to bring everything under his control.”

Families attempting to control an addict often fear the consequences of addiction. Remind them that God has a history of using bad things—even the consequences of sin—for good and, ultimately, His glory. This is a difficult truth for family members to accept, especially because ultimately it means wrestling with the idea that God could use even the death of their loved one for His purposes. Even the most mature believers may struggle to be at peace with the simultaneously heartbreaking and comforting realities of God’s sovereignty. So be patient with families struggling to embrace the idea that God is in control.

You can also explore other possible motives family members may have for trying to control the addict. A desire to keep others from finding out about the situation can be problematic, for example, when it is rooted in the family’s desire to protect its own reputation.

You can explain to families that the addict is worshipping the substance: the alcohol or drug has become his or her god, and no amount of human control can break the bonds of spiritual slavery at play.

As you suggest new ways family members can interact with the addict, a simple verse like Proverbs 3:5 can help family members: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Encourage family members to pray and trust that the Holy Spirit will help them learn to embrace God’s ways of responding to sin and not trust their instincts.

Truths for those who enable
Remind families with tendencies to enable that protecting the addict from experiencing the consequences of the behavior shows a wrong understanding of how God loves His children. The family members may think they are showing God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy, but forget that God still allows His children to reap what they’ve sown. When dealing with an addict, Christians can and should allow people to experience the consequences of their behavior.

Proverbs 3:12 reminds us of another side of God’s love: “The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” And Ephesians 5:11 states that Christians are not called to hide but to bring to light the sins of others: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

When counseling an addict’s family, help them consider whether their response is somehow facilitating addictive behavior. Disciplining an adult child, spouse, or other adult family member may not be possible or appropriate. But you can help them see that taking steps to stop destructive behavior (not enabling, but allowing people to experience the consequences of their behavior) is consistent with God’s character.

Am I a DOMINEERING Husband?

SOURCE:  

Counseling domineering husbands

In my practice as a biblical counselor, I counsel a lot of men who have hurt their wives—emotionally, verbally, or even physically. Every counselor who has worked with a couple in an abusive marriage knows how often Christian men will misuse the teaching of 1 Peter 3:1–6 to manipulate, control, and dominate their wives. Sadly, many Christian men haven’t thought much, if at all, on the instructions in verse 7: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (ESV).

I spend time in this text with men who are belittling and controlling toward their wives because there is so much here for Christian husbands to consider. First Peter 3:7 teaches that there is a particular view that Christian husbands should have of their wives that will help them love their wives well. I tell my Christian husbands who have hurt their wives that God wants them to become “3:7” husbands, and I even use this text as a template for men who are ready to reconcile with their wives.

But before I go any further, here is my important counseling caveat: there are narcissistic, self-exalting, power-hungry men who will never “get” this until Christ humbles their hearts. No amount of teaching of this verse will help them have this biblical perspective of their wives, because they don’t want it. Those men are the ones who will continue to encounter the active opposition of God (James 4:6b) and whose communion with the Lord will be hindered due to their arrogant, disobedient hearts.1 However, when working with a humble, repentant man who truly does not understand the role of a husband rightly, yet who desires marital health, 1 Peter 3:7 is a good start.

Seven truths about Christ and the gospel

The most important word in 1 Peter 3:7 is likewise, which calls us back to the description of Christ and the gospel at the end of the previous chapter (1 Pet. 2:22–25), where Peter draws heavily from Isaiah 53 to demonstrate that Jesus’ exemplary life gave us an example to follow in the way that He responded to difficult circumstances:

  1. He didn’t sin (v. 22a).
  2. He was not deceitful (v. 22b).
  3. When He was abused, He didn’t abuse back (v. 23a).
  4. Not only did Jesus not harm His abusers, He didn’t even threaten them with intimidating words (v. 23b).
  5. Instead, Jesus kept “handing over” (sometimes translated “entrusted”) every aspect of His life—His mission, His cause, and those who hurt Him—to God the Father. Jesus trusted that the Father “judges justly,” that God would both vindicate Him and punish His enemies if they didn’t repent. And this verse reminds us that this “handing over” to the Father has to be a continual act (v. 23c).
  6. And, just in case we start to think, “But that was Jesus. He was the Son of God, God in the flesh. I lack the power or the strength to respond as He did,” Peter also reminds us of the gospel itself, which gives us the power to live righteously (v. 24).
  7. Peter further reminds us of Christ’s lordship of our lives, as we have “now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (v. 25).

Peter points to the gospel and Christ’s active shepherding and oversight as all the resources that we need to follow His example. These seven truths are the motivation and fuel that enable men to be 3:7 husbands.

Now, let’s look at three applications of these seven truths and how they might help those we counsel to grow in Christ’s likeness.

Three applications of the seven truths

First Peter 3:7 begins with “likewise”—that is, in view of Christ’s example, His gracious response to our waywardness and abuse, His righteousness exchanged for our unrighteousness, His substitutionary atonement, the healing that He purchased for us, and His lordship over our lives—husbands should (literally) “live with your wives according to knowledge” (WEB). This is a command, and the first application of the seven truths named in 1 Peter 2:22–25.

While I think it is true that “according to knowledge” refers to “understanding” or “being considerate of” one’s wife, I would also agree with Tom Schreiner (The New American Commentary, Vol. 37, pp. 159–160) that this text primarily refers to the husband’s relationship with God. This phrase, together with the last phrase of the verse (“that your prayers may not be hindered”), makes clear that the way a husband treats his wife is to represent the way God has treated him, and this representation has implications for his ongoing relationship to God.

How reminiscent this is of James 4:1–4, where James speaks of our prayers going unanswered because they are asked for selfish ends, “to spend it on your passions” (ESV). When a husband is focused on his own desires and passions, making their fulfillment ultimate in marriage, his prayers (typically for his wife to change) will be hindered. Only when the idols of comfort, approval, power, control, etc., are identified, confessed, mourned over, and repented of can a husband enjoy the amazing grace offered by Christ and begin to truly understand the value of another—his wife.

A 3:7 husband lives with his wife according to his knowledge of how God has designed her, and more importantly, according to his knowledge of God. Therefore, here are questions you can ask husbands to ask themselves (and their wives):

  • Do I seek to understand God’s unique design of my wife and try to live with her accordingly?
  • Am I considerate of my wife?
  • Do I understand God’s call on my life to love my wife as Christ loves His bride, the church?
  • What examples can I give of living with my wife according to this knowledge?
  • What examples might she give to the contrary?

Second, husbands are called to “show honor” to their wives, and all women, “as the weaker vessel” (ESV). (Peter uses the word for “female” or “woman” here, instead of the word for “wife.”) The term “weaker vessel” is commonly misunderstood and misapplied to imply some kind of inferiority, but Peter isn’t implying that at all. A “vessel” in Peter’s day would have been universally understood as some type of container. In 2 Timothy 2:20–21, Paul speaks of types of household vessels made of gold and silver and vessels made of wood and clay—vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor.

Think of the difference between the honor shown for the everyday dishes in a home versus the respect shown for the fine china. In my home, we have the everyday dishes that we eat off of most of the time. We’ve been through several sets of those dishes in our marriage, as various plates, cups, and bowls have gotten chipped, cracked, and broken from everyday use. But we also have the really fancy plates, bowls, and cups that we were given when we got married. We bring those out only on special occasions, and we treat them very carefully, because we wouldn’t be able to replace them if something happened to them and because they are special to us since they were wedding gifts. In view of this consideration of women as “weaker vessels,” husbands should not be harsh with them (Col. 3:19), but instead be gentle with them.

A 3:7 husband treats his wife (and all women) with honor, as precious fine china—irreplaceable, priceless, and worthy of special care. Therefore, here are questions you can ask husbands to ask themselves (and their wives):

  • Does my wife feel irreplaceable and highly valued to me?
  • Does she feel more like the everyday dishes or the fine china?
  • In what ways do I honor her?
  • In what ways do I take her for granted?
  • What examples would she give?
  • Would she feel safe mentioning that she does not feel honored?
  • How do I respond when she shares concerns with me?

Finally, husbands are to treat their wives with respect—as equals in value, worth, and dignity, “since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (ESV). This teaching would have been very countercultural when Peter wrote it, during a time when gender inequality was considered the norm. But Jesus and the New Testament writers taught a radically different view of gender roles than was commonly held, recognizing the intrinsic worth of women as individuals and granting them a respect and dignity that they were not accorded in the society at large. There is no place in the Christian home for one spouse to look down on the other in any way. Such a view would be completely antithetical to the Christian view of marriage as a one-flesh relationship.

A 3:7 husband recognizes his wife as equal to him in value, worth, and dignity, and he treats her with the respect that she deserves as a co-heir with him of the grace of life. Therefore, here are questions you can ask husbands to ask themselves (and their wives):

  • Does my wife feel respected as an equal partner in this marriage?
  • Is responsibility shared in our marriage?
  • Do I invite and honestly value my wife’s feedback on how I am doing as a husband?
  • Can my wife disagree with me without punishment or retribution?
  • Do I apologize to and ask forgiveness of my wife when I am wrong? Does she believe that her opinions matter?

The 3:7 husband knows, honors, and respects his wife—regardless

The 3:7 husband will grow steadily in these three areas: knowing God and God’s unique design for his wife, honoring his wife as a precious and irreplaceable gift from God, and respecting his wife as a co-heir with him in the grace of life. His growth in these areas will often be of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety, but steady growth will ensue if he continually reminds himself of the seven truths of Christ and the gospel given in 1 Peter 2:22–25, and if he is willing to humble himself, submit himself to God, and repent when he fails. The 3:7 husband may not get a happy marriage or a reconciled marriage if his marriage is already broken. But he will know Christ more deeply and image Him more truly.

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.

GOD WILL STILL BE IN CHARGE (Tomorrow)

The Counseling Moment editor’s Note:  In the following article, author Max Lucado brings a solid and needed perspective concerning God’s perspective about and His sovereignty over the affairs of humankind — specifically the presidential election in November 2016.  At the same time, we can apply this understanding toward any aspect of life we face (or will face) that has any measure of uncertainty, confusion, and is troublesome to us.

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

Max Lucado: My Prediction for the Presidential Election

I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NCV).

On one occasion the Lord turned the heart of the King of Assyria so that he aided them in the construction of the Temple. On another occasion, he stirred the heart of Cyrus to release the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

Nebuchadnezzar was considered to be the mightiest king of his generation. But God humbled and put him in “detention” for seven years. “The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations” (Psalms 22:28).

Understanding God’s sovereignty over the nations opens the door to peace. When we realize that God influences the hearts of all rulers, we can then choose to pray for them rather than fret about them. Rather than wring our hands we bend our knees, we select prayer over despair.

Jeremiah did this. He was the prophet to Israel during one of her darkest periods of rebellion. He was called “the weeping prophet” because he was one. He wept at the condition of the people and the depravity of their faith. He was so distraught that one of his books was entitled Lamentations. But then he considered the work of God. Note the intentionality of his words:

“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:21-23)

Imitate Jeremiah. Lift up your eyes. Dare to believe that good things will happen. Dare to believe that God was speaking to us when he said: “In everything God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Many years ago, I spent a week visiting the interior of Brazil with a long-time missionary pilot. He flew a circuit of remote towns in a small plane that threatened to come undone at the slightest gust of wind. Wilbur and Orville had a sturdier aircraft.

I could not get comfortable. I kept thinking that the plane was going to crash in some Brazilian jungle and I’d be gobbled up by piranhas or swallowed by an anaconda.

I kept shifting around, looking down, and gripping my seat. (As if that would help.) Finally, the pilot had had enough of my squirming. He looked at me and shouted over the airplane noise. “We won’t face anything I can’t handle. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.”

Is God saying the same to you? If so, make this your prayer:

Dear Lord,

You are perfect. You could not be better than you are.

You are self-created. You exist because you choose to exist.

You are self-sustaining. No one helps you. No one gives you strength.

You are self-governing. Who can question your deeds? Who dares advise you?

You are correct. In every way. In every choice. You regret no decision.

You have never failed. Never! You cannot fail! You are God! You will accomplish
your plan.

You are happy. Eternally joyful. Endlessly content.

You are the king, supreme ruler, absolute monarch, overlord, and rajah of all history.

An arch of your eyebrow and a million angels will pivot and salute. Every throne is a footstool to yours. Every crown is papier–mâché to yours. No limitations, hesitations, questions, second thoughts, or backward glances. You consult no clock. You keep no calendar. You report to no one. You are in charge.

And I trust you.

True Guilt and False Guilt — What’s the Difference?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

What’s The Difference Between True Guilt and False Guilt?

Question: How do I discern true guilt from false guilt? I want to please God and serve others for Him, but I don’t want to give in to manipulators, either in my family or my friends.

Answer:   If a manipulator can make you feel guilty for saying no, he or she is much more likely to be successful in getting you to back down. Their strategy is to make you feel as if you are doing something wrong or you are being selfish when you won’t do what he or she wants. A manipulator’s thinking is simple. He believes, “If you love me, then you’ll always do what I want.” Therefore, if you say no, then you must not love me or you are selfish.

A two-year-old uses this tactic on his mother to get her to buy them something while standing in line at the grocery store. Most mothers are wise enough not to be manipulated by these tantrums. We know that a firm “no” to our child is the most loving thing we can do. The same is true for other relationships. Saying no to manipulation is actually taking a stand against someone else’s sin. This is a good thing.

However, when the manipulator is not our child, but our mother or husband or adult child, it’s much harder not to get sucked into his or her drama. It doesn’t help that they often accuse us of being unloving and selfish because we are not giving into their demands, and consequently, we’re tempted to feel guilty.

So what’s the way out? Let’s first look at Jesus. He never sinned, never was selfish yet he did say, “no.” He didn’t always do what people expected or wanted him to do. Jesus took time out for friendship, rest, relaxation, and prayer (Mark 6:30-31,46). When you feel guilty because you’ve said no to someone, take a moment to read Mark 1:29-39.

In this passage, we learn that Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house for a relaxing dinner, but people brought the sick to Jesus and the whole town gathered at the door. Can you imagine the pressure Jesus felt with everyone pressing in on him to do something? That evening he healed many people, but he eventually said no more and went to sleep. Those who were left behind unhealed must have felt disappointed.

While it was still dark, Jesus woke up and went off by himself to pray. Peter eventually came looking for him. “Jesus, where have you been? Everyone back home is waiting for you.” Jesus answered Peter saying, “I’m not going back to your house. Let’s go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Jesus knew he could not do everything everyone wanted him to do and still do what God wanted him to do. During that quiet time of prayer, Jesus asked the Father to help him discern between the good things and the best things. Just like we do, Jesus had to make some hard choices – to please God or to please others. He chose pleasing God. This priority regularly cost him the disapproval and disappointment of others, including his disciples, religious leaders, and his own family (see Matthew 26:8; Mark 3:21-22).

To break free from the guilt trip, we must all learn to distinguish between true guilt and false guilt. True guilt is a God-given warning signal that we are violating God’s moral law. False guilt arises when we or another human being judges our actions, ideas, or feelings as wrong, even if there is nothing sinful about them.

So next time you’re struggling with guilt, do these three things.

  1. Go to God’s word for clarity. Am I breaking God’s moral law or is it some other human being’s law such as “Thou shall never say no to me”?
  2. Invite the Holy Spirit to search you and see if there is any wicked way in you (Psalm 139:23-24). You may find you have more guilt over feeling angry and resentful that you said “yes” when you wanted to say “no” than you would have if you had just said “no” in the first place.
  3. Ask yourself this question. If I say “yes,” am I saying, “yes” because I want to or because God asks me to? Or do I feel I pressured to say “yes” because I’m afraid to say “no”?

Remember, you are a finite, limited human being. When you say “yes” to something, you also always say “no” to something else.

When you repeatedly say “yes” to a manipulator, keep in mind that you are also saying “no” to your own needs, to perhaps your children’s needs, or to the greater good of what God wants for you. When you accept that you can’t always make everyone happy with you, (Jesus couldn’t either) then the false guilt will dissipate.

Profile of a workaholic

SOURCE:  Ray Pritchard/CareLeader

Workaholics.

You’ve got them in your church, and at times, you can relate to them yourself.

A workaholic is a compulsive worker: he chooses to work a lot, think about work, and then work even more.

What does the Bible say to workaholics?

Ecclesiastes 6:7–8 says, “All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living?” (NASB). His “appetite is not satisfied.” The Hebrew word translated “appetite” may also be translated as “soul.” This is yet another reminder by Solomon that we were made for more than food. A man may get up, go to work, come home, go to bed, and then do the same thing for the next fifty years. After that he retires to Arizona, plays golf, and then he dies. So what? His soul has not been satisfied by anything he has done. He dies unfulfilled even though his friends said nice things about him at his funeral.

What are the signs of workaholism?

The modern term workaholic refers to those people who are addicted to their work. For them, work is life, and the more they work, the better they feel. Here are three telltale signs of workaholism:

  1. Their total energy is given to their work so that they have nothing left to give at home.
  2. They constantly think about their work even when they are not at work.
  3. They find it difficult to relax when they are away from their work.

What are common characteristics of a workaholic?

Workaholics generally are Type A personalities: committed, aggressive, demanding, perfectionistic, goal-oriented, high achievers, impatient with weakness, easily frustrated, having enough stamina to work twelve hours a day six (or seven) days a week. They love the long hours and the high pressure job. One man said, “I don’t know how I got rich. I only worked half-days: the first half or the second half.”

What wrong beliefs do workaholics hold?

From God’s point of view workaholics make three fundamental mistakes. To be more specific, they believe three heretical ideas:

  1. “It all depends upon me.”
  2. “If I don’t do it, nobody else will.”
  3. “My worth depends upon my work.”

Like all heresies, there is a grain of truth in each statement. Work is good. It was created by God for the benefit of the human race (Gen. 2:15). But for a person to believe his worth depends upon his work is to deny the truth of the grace of God. Workaholics are simply repeating the Galatian heresy—that we are saved by grace but kept by works (Eph. 2:8–9; Gal. 3:3).

The truth is, it all depends upon God. Everyone comes to that conclusion sooner or later. Unfortunately, some people have to die to find it out. Happy are those who understand the difference between living to work and working to live.

Tough Questions: Do I Have The Right to Cut Off Sex

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: I often see you suggesting withholding sex as a consequence for a spouse’s abusive behavior as a way to perhaps invite them to change.

However, I keep seeing this action described as abusive itself in literature I’ve been reading and so I’m confused.  Is withholding a legitimate option for a consequence in a marital relationship?

Answer: Actually I don’t suggest withholding sex merely as a consequence for an abusive spouse’s behavior or as a way to invite change any more than I would suggest the silent treatment for a spouse that is verbally abusive as a means to invite him or her to stop.

Talk and touch are both important in marriage and the primary way a couple builds intimacy. However, when the talk or touch is consistently ugly and cruel, sexual touch is usually the last thing a woman desires.

I think the literature that you are referencing is not talking about abusive relationships but rather ordinary marital spats where a woman may use withholding sex in order to have power over her husband so she can get what she wants. That is abusive and a misuse of the sexual relationship that God intended.

However, what I do talk about is that when your husband repeatedly abuses you, doesn’t stop and doesn’t care how it impacts you, having a healthy sexual relationship is impossible.

When a woman allows herself to be treated as a sex object, whether she is married or not, she will feel sicker and sicker. Why? Because God never intended human beings to have sex without the safety and security of a loving, committed relationship – marriage. When there is a legal marriage but a consistent lack of commitment, security, and safety, the sexual relationship also suffers

In addition, this blog has shared horrific stories of sexual abuse where a woman’s voice or choice regarding sexual activity within marriage has been silenced by her own husband. The very person God put in place to love and protect her treats her as an object to use rather than a person to love.

What’s is a Christian wife to do when she faces that reality?

Much of her choice will depend on how being a treated this way affects her. For example, if continuing to have an active sex life with your husband isn’t hurting you and you both can enjoy it despite the overall picture of your marriage, then that is your choice.

However, what I do have a problem with is when church leaders, pastors or counselors tell a woman she MUST provide sex to her spouse regardless of how he treats her.  What that message says to her is that God values a man’s sexual needs more than a woman’s need for protection and safety within the marital bond. And that theology is just not true. That too is a misuse of the sexual relationship as God intended.

Therefore, what is a wife’s Biblical responsibility to her spouse in this kind of situation? Is she to prop up the broken marriage, silence her own repulsion and pretend that all is well, deadening her soul and body to what’s happening at home? Or, does that approach enable her husband to continue to be self-deceived believing he can act selfishly and sinfully towards her with no relational fallout?

God’s word clearly tells us that we should not retaliate when we are sinned against, but that does not mean we should be passive. Instead, we are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). What does that look like in your marriage?

First, we know it is good for you to forgive your husband and deal with your own anger and bitterness towards him for abusing you. However, as I have said numerous times, forgiveness does not guarantee reconciliation of the relationship especially when there has been no repentance.

We also know it is good for you to love your husband, as God calls us to love even our enemies. But what does biblical love look like for an abusive husband? Biblical love isn’t necessarily feelings of affection, warmth, or sexual attraction, but actions that are directed toward our husband’s good or long-term best interests.

So let me ask you a question. Is it in your husband’s good and long-term best interests for you to continue to be available to him so that his sexual needs are met regardless of what it costs you or how he treats you? If your answer is yes, then keep in mind this still does not address your marital problem, it is only a solution to his sexual frustration.

Your Biblical role as a wife is to be your husband’s helpmate. As his partner, you can love him best by helping him become the man God designed him to beAs his wife, you are not a second-class citizen with no power or no say. That kind of wife was biblically called a concubine wife and clearly not God’s intent for marriage.

In marriages where there is repeated abuse, it is always in your husband’s best interest for him to repent of his selfishness, pride, and to submit to God (James 4:7). It would also be in his best interest and in the best interests of your marriage for him to learn to control his tongue (James 1:19James 3:10-12) and become more thoughtful and considerate of your feelings (Philippians 2:3-4).

When pastors or other people helpers tell a woman that no matter how her husband treats her God says she must have sex with him, what they are saying is that God cares more about the fact that her husband is sexually hungry than the fact that her husband is hurting her and their marriage relationship. And, that’s not biblical.

You don’t invite change by cutting sex off but by having the courage to have an honest talk with your husband. You might want to say something like: 

“No, I can’t have sex with you in a godly way because of the way you treat me. I can’t feel affectionate toward you when I feel afraid. When you curse at me, scream at me, and call me horrible names it breaks my heart. I am God’s image bearer, not an object be used for sex and then discarded when you’re finished. With God’s help, I choose to forgive you but I can’t reconcile with you in a loving relationship until you begin to see the damage you’re doing to me and to our marriage and change.”

Your words of truth spoken in love and humility are a potent medicine that could wake your spouse up to the fact that he can’t expect the perks of a good marriage without changing his ways and be putting in work. The Bible is full of examples of God’s law of consequences. What you sow, you reap (Galatians 6:7). If your husband wants a good marriage and not just a concubine, he will need to stop sowing thorns and thistles into your heart.

By following God’s word and working to overcome evil with good, you are empowered to take constructive action that may lead to the restoration of your marriage. That would be good for him, good for you and good for your marriage.

And if he doesn’t want a good marriage but just a body in bed, then you’ll have to decide what that means to you. But for many women, it is way too painful to be reduced to simply an object to meet his sexual needs.

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When Life Doesn’t Turn out Like It’s ‘Supposed to’

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Ashley Eure

How to not worry about meeting other people’s expectations.

I’m a single female in my late twenties. So I’m in that stage of life where I literally cannot open Facebook without seeing another couple engaged or pregnant. I’ll be honest, there are days where it irks me so much I have to get off social media.

It’s because of “the list.”

That’s right, society has a list.

It’s a checklist of: “you are this far along in life, therefore you should have achieved these things.” For the post-grad the list is: an immediate steady job that can be transitioned into a long-term career, if possible in a cool hipster city. For young marrieds it’s a baby and a cute home. It seems that for a single woman my age it’s a husband, a steady boyfriend… or at least some exciting dating life worth bragging about. If you don’t have these things, you are woefully behind in life and worthy of pity or shame.

It can be paralyzing. And demoralizing. The more you look at “the list” the more boxes seem to be unchecked in your own life. Everyone’s great life news is suddenly eclipsed by the feeling of being left behind and left out.

I know I’m not alone in this. When I graduated college and grad school it seemed as if the majority of people I knew went through some sort of disillusioned frustration that termed the “quarter-life crisis.”

We all felt that if we jumped through all the college hoops and played our cards right, we were entitled to check the life boxes of “stable job” and “clear career decision” off our life lists immediately upon graduation. The reality was that it rarely works like that, and as a result many felt like society (or even God) had sold us a bill of goods.

The truth is, “the list” is a lie.

Society claims that these achievements—relationship status, careers, income, location—are the benchmarks of success and meaning and self-worth. That’s simply not true. Our worth is in who Jesus says we are—and He says we were worth dying for.

There was a time in my life where I felt like God stripped away all the things I tend to place my identity in besides Him. It was like He unchecked every box, and then looked at me and said, “If I tell you now—with none of these achievements to your name—that I love you and that you are worthwhile and important, will you believe me?” That question was difficult to answer. I had to fill my head with the truth of what the Bible says in order to undo the damage all the world’s lies had done to my self-worth.

Here are just a few of the other things the Bible says we are:

• A dearly loved child of God (Col. 3:12)
• A co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)
• A conqueror (Romans 8:37)
• God’s workmanship, created for good works (Eph. 2:10)
• Chosen (Eph. 1:4)
• Fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)

The list goes on and on. If you are also feeling plagued by “the list” you are not alone. I know how holidays and time-markers like the start of a new year can amplify the unchecked boxes.

Let’s fill ourselves with the truth of who God says we are, what He says are the important check marks in life (hint: they don’t include a white picket fence and 2.5 kids). Let’s do our best for Him moment by moment and leave our worth for him to determine.

And when we start to look to the list, let’s fill each other up with truth again.

When Emotional Attachment Becomes Unhealthy

SOURCE:  JADE MAZARIN/Relevant Magazine

4 ways to let go when you are in a bad relationship.

I’ve had plenty of experiences in my life where I struggled with emotional attachment. Basically, I found my heart invested in someone and unable to let them go, even when I knew I couldn’t be with them. Maybe they weren’t interested, maybe we were no longer together, or maybe I knew that relationship wasn’t God’s plan for me. But regardless of what I knew mentally, I remained emotionally tied to that person.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that God called my attention to this tendency in a new way, and equipped me to tackle it head on. I started to understand reasons I stayed attached, even when I was never happy with it—and I got ideas to help me let go.

Why We Keep Holding On

Often, the first question we’re face when we’re attached is, “Why we can’t let go?” We know it’s unhealthy, and it stresses us out, so why can’t we move on? Basically it comes down to this: We’re not sure if we really want to.

Sure, we might feel tired with the situation. We might be mad at ourselves, embarrassed, ashamed and stressed. We can easily assume we want to let go and just can’t.

But the truth is, part of us doesn’t want to—even if we won’t admit it to ourselves.

Our inner self is in competition: Part of us recognizes the pain and the pointlessness of it, and another part of us continues to desperately hold on. That part of us usually clings to this person for multiple reasons: We think this person will meet our desires; we don’t believe we’re worth more; we figure that a little love is better than nothing. or we don’t believe God will bring something better.

We all know that famous verse, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Each of the reasons we hold on to are beliefs that are not true. If these are the core reasons why we stay attached, then each one has to be examined in the light—their truths thoroughly absorbed—in order to no longer hold us down. Each one of these motives can be remedied only as we grasp the reality of the situation and accept it.

Here are some keys for letting go of unhealthy attachments:

1. See Things as They Are

This happens first and foremost by seeing the relationship as it really is. This means recognizing its limitations. It means willingly facing the truth.

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Sometimes we have blinders on to what’s in front of us. We may cling to the belief someone will change, or that the situation is better than it really is. When we’re attached, we have to consciously take off the rose-colored glasses every time we automatically put them back on.

Once we see clearly, we are invited to accept what we see, rather than trying to change it. We can relax our grasp, and rest from efforts that don’t work. We can choose to relinquish control, surrendering our need to make things different from what they are.

2. Realize What You Want Isn’t Here

While accepting things as they are, we have to tell ourselves that what we’re looking for isn’t found here.

We all want love. We also want peace and true joy. Those are our deepest desires. But in unhealthy emotional attachments, we are not at rest. We do not feel contentment and stability. The joy we have is flimsy and minimal—mixed with unpredictable anxiety or pain. Any love we experience is empty and practically cancelled out with the frustration we feel inside.

The idea that what we’re looking for isn’t found here is one we have to process internally. Only when we really, truly believe this attachment is only hurtful, will we no longer be interested in it.

3. Shift the Focus to Yourself

Attachment causes us to center our mental world around the person we are not meant to be with. Detaching involves making plans for our own life and asking ourselves honestly How am I doing? What can I do for myself? It means shifting out attention from what this person is or isn’t doing, how they may or may not feel, and putting it on yourself.

If you find you need healing, you need comfort, then you should put yourself in the place to get it. Ask yourself what freedom you need to start feeling better, and decide to move into it.

We also need to turn our attention to our potential, and how God sees us. Maybe we’ve been so worn down in thinking of the other person that we forgot how God values and cherishes us. It’s time to get that back.

God wants you to see His unconditional heart for you. He also wants you to treat yourself with the value He ascribed to you when He gave His life for you.

4. Truly Consider God’s Role

It’s important to remember we’re not alone in this. We’ve got a Father, literally right by our sides, who “gets” it—why we feel how we do, and what more there is for us. Not only is He by our side, He really is in control. It’s not arbitrary that we’re not with this person. We didn’t mess things up, nor did we miss His perfect will. He’s got a reason for the way things are.

Letting Go for Good

Fundamentally, letting go of attachment begins with a deliberate decision to do so. Every time you waver in that decision, remind yourself to do the above actions. You can also get around friends or family who will give you an objective view of the situation and help you think clearly.

You are not alone in this. Unhealthy attachment is one of the most common issues we have to face. The roller-coaster of emotions you experience is typical as well. On Monday, you might be fueled with anger and ready to let go, then Wednesday you sob with the desire to reach out to this person. Saturday you may call him or her, while Sunday you completely regret it.

That’s normal. And you won’t stay in that place. As time passes, these feelings will spread further out. The entire season is temporary. And you will in fact, get through it.

Celebrate every moment you feel a little freer, every action you take that focuses on your well-being. Let yourself cry if grief rises up within you. Just come back to remembering why you’re letting go in the first place. Recognize that while it feels awful now, it will truly get easier. And it’s OK when you fall back, as long as you decide to keep moving forward. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself—just as God is.

8 Ways to Know You’re in a Healthy Relationship

SOURCE:  Jade Mazarin/Relevant Magazine

Some signs to look for.

As anyone who has navigated the world of dating well knows, romantic relationships can create some of our greatest happiness and some of our deepest heartache. They make us think, stress us out and bless us abundantly.

Most of us desire to end up as part of a happy couple one day. We want relationships that will last and bring us real joy. And God wants that for us, too. Therefore, it’s important for us to know what a healthy, lasting relationship looks like. We may need to assess the one we’re already in—or we may want to know what to look for in the future.

Below are eight key traits of a healthy relationship that can help create the foundation for long-term, side-by-side growth and happiness as God intended:

1. It Feels Stable

There is a sense of consistency to the right relationship. This doesn’t mean it’s never hard, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re riding a roller coaster where amazingly happy moments are followed by extremely awful ones.

Some people assume a relationship is good because there are good times. But, just as good relationships have hard times, even bad relationships have some good times. The key is recognizing how often the bad times come and how severe they are.

While we are meant to find our self-worth in God, He also wired us to feel good about ourselves when we are being affirmed and cared for.

There should also be a stability in your own thinking about the relationship. It’s a problem if you feel like you’re wildly in love on Monday, but on Wednesday, you feel ready to end it.

2. You Like Yourself in It

Like it or not, dating will change you. The more time you spend with someone, the more you pick up their tendencies, speech patterns and habits. Your partner’s personality will bring out different facets of your own.

If you don’t like the person you become around your partner, that is a huge red flag. On the contrary, some personalities will complement yours and help you become a better version of yourself. This can be challenging and hard, but in a way that feels good—like you are growing more and more into who you want to be.

Also, in a healthy relationship, you should feel loved and respected. While we are meant to find our self-worth in God, He also wired us to feel good about ourselves when we are being affirmed and cared for.

3. You Connect on the Deep Stuff

Small variations in habits, likes and personalities are usually not a bad thing. However, as research has shown, there are some areas couples really need to connect on in order to have a rich and lasting relationship.

You and your partner have to be able to agree and dialogue about the big stuff that affects your daily thinking and view of the world. This includes faith, relationships with family and communication.

Many people get into and even stay in relationships because they fall in love with surface stuff like affection and the fun they have together. But these things can only take you so far. The best relationships have depth to them, where the couple can practice faith together and communicate meaningfully.

4. You Feel Close to God

When Adam and Eve sinned, their inclination was to hide from God. We also tend to hide from God and others if we’re ashamed or we’re doing something we know is wrong—even if we don’t want to face it. How do you feel about praying for your relationship? Besides making you feel guilt, an unhealthy relationship will likely distract you and dampen your interest in God.

The right one, however, will help you feel closer to Him, be grateful toward Him and even feel a greater desire for Him.

5. There’s a Mutuality

It can be easy to fall into a place of helping someone when they need it, or relying on someone who feels like all we ever wanted. But it isn’t healthy. It prevents us from growing or respecting ourselves, and it doesn’t form a strong foundation for the future of the relationship.

The best relationships are those where both people completely enjoy each other, yet also recognize their personal relationships with God are immeasurably more important.

The healthiest relationships have a “give and take” to them where both people help one another out relatively equally. There may be times when one partner is struggling, but the dynamic over time should be that of a mutual partnership, not a codependent relationship where one person is the caretaker, and the other person is leaning on them totally.

6. You Feel Safe

Obviously, physical safety is paramount in a relationship. But you should also feel safe emotionally. You should feel comfortable around someone; able to be yourself. You should be able to bring up an issue if you’re upset and not worry that your significant other is going to yell and storm off.

A relationship can only be successful if both people can communicate honestly and feel safe express their hurt or fears. They need to feel they will be supported, not judged.

7. God is First for Both of You

God made us for Himself first. There’s only so much satisfaction we can get from another imperfect human being. The best relationships are those where both people completely enjoy each other, yet also recognize their personal relationships with God are immeasurably more important. Only as we lean into Him will we have the resources to grow and give to others.

8. Friends and Family Approve

Let’s face it: Sometimes we just don’t see what’s in front of us when our emotions are involved—or sometimes we just don’t want to see it. That’s where our friends and family come in. These loved ones who know us pretty well, can often recognize if a relationship is good or bad for us.

Of course, they don’t always agree. But be sure to listen if you have a few friends and family members who voice concerns over red flags in your relationship. They are concerned because they love you, so be willing to ask for and heed their advice.

God’s Desires for Us

It’s good to keep in mind the kind of love God has in mind for us. It’s special. It’s a mixture of a comfortable friend and a passionate love (check out Song of Songs). It’s one that will reflect His care for us, bring us closer to Him and to our potential.

Too often, we are tempted to settle for less than what He has planned. Along with asking ourselves about the above signs, our best tactic is to pray. Our thinking can only take us so far, but God can reveal what’s really true about a situation, and if we invite Him to, He can lead us to what is right. He loves us enough—and is powerful enough—to bring the best relationships (romantic and otherwise) into our lives.

Ten Questions to Ask after a Nasty Fight

SOURCE:  DEEPAK REJU/Biblical Counseling Coalition

Picture your last fight. For some of you, it was nasty—maybe something akin to nuclear war where there’s total devastation. For others, it was tense and hard, like a mild earthquake, but by the grace of God, you got through it. But now, as you sit back and reflect on why you fought, you are just not sure. In the aftermath of an earthquake, you sort through the mess. Windows shattered. Foundations damaged. But where do you start? Take a moment and use some of the questions below to help you think about what happened in your last fight.

  1. What was the problem/conflict/fight about and when did it happen? What were the basic facts of the situation—who, where and when? What were you fighting about? You need to get this straight before you can do anything else.
  2. What was each of you coveting, desiring, or hoping for? James 4:1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the desires (or passions) that battle within you?” You know that with every fight, there is something you want. When you are angry or frustrated, you spend so much time focused on the other person that you might forget (or even ignore) the war going on in your own heart. What desires or cravings or hopes rule your heart?Ruling desires can ruin your relationships. So get ahold of ungodly ruling desires before they wreak havoc in your life.
  3. What fears, lies, rationalizations, or self-justifications are you wrestling with? Which of these have a grip on your heart? Fears, lies, rationalizations, or self-justifications will shape and define what you do and say. Repent of these things (James 4:4-10), because they will lead you astray from what God wants.
  4. At what point did you get disappointed, annoyed, frustrated, or angry with your spouse or friend? And, why did you respond that way? In the midst of the mess created by conflict, you need to consider your reaction to your spouse or friend.
  5. Did you really understand the other person’s perspective? Ask that person if he or she feels like you understood him/her? Solomon warns that the fool is not interested in understanding someone else, but only in stating his or her own opinions (Proverbs 18:2). The fool is impulsive; he answers before he hears (Proverbs 18:13). To sort through a fight, you must understand the other person. If you don’t take the time to understand him or her, you can be misled by your assumptions.
  6. What are your typical rules of engagement in a fight? If you don’t have any, what should they be? If you are a Christian, slamming doors, screaming, cursing at your spouse or friend, throwing things, walking away, or ignoring others are not acceptable options. A Christian should be defined by grace, kindness, and love, even in the heat of “battle” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6; Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 4:6). Sadly, that’s not true for many Christians. So define your rules of engagement so that if you fight, you can fight well.
  7. Have you noticed any patterns—good and bad—in how you handle conflict? Look for the patterns that characterize your conflicts. Do you scream? Do you pout? Do you make accusations? Do you use exaggerated language—“you never come on time” or “you always forget”?
  8. What sins do you need to own up to and confess to God and your spouse or friend? Without repentance, conflict never gets truly resolved. Do you feel grief over your sin? Is it worldly sorrow or godly sorrow? If you feel regret after your conflict, but slip immediately back into the same old patterns of fighting, maybe you are experiencing worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). Are you truly and genuinely grieved over your sin in your conflicts? Or have you grown comfortable with your conflicts and with your sin? You might think the conflict is about you and your friend, but ultimately it’s about you and God. When you fight with someone, your selfish desires have gotten the best of you (James 3:13). James 3:16 reminds us: “For where you have envy and selfish ambitions, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Turn from your sin and turn back to God. After you reconcile with God, go back to the other person and confess your sin to him or her.
  9. When you fight, what helps you to reconcile with each other? Every couple learns in the midst of fighting what works for them. I know one couple, who after a fight in the morning, start texting each other as soon as they get to work, so that they can work through the different parts of the conflict. By the time they get home in the evening, they’ve worked through a lot. They desire to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). They are quick to reconcile and keep short accounts. In conflict, what helps you to deal with sin and build greater understanding? Do you initiate reconciliation in the midst of the conflict? If not, why not? Are you willing to humbly compromise, or are you stubborn as a bull with your opinions?
  10. Do you typically apologize to each other and ask for forgiveness? Reconciliation is not complete until you grant forgiveness to each other. Withholding forgiveness, holding onto grudges, or ignoring the problem is not an option for Christians.

Your forgiveness in Christ was not cheap. After all, blood was shed for your sins. Because of what God has done for you in Christ, you should quickly and freely forgive others (Matthew 18:21-33; Ephesians 4:32). A thoughtful pastor has often reminded me—forgiven sinners forgive sin. Verbalize your wrong and take responsibility for it. Ask for forgiveness. Offer restitution if needed. Don’t blame the other person—“I’m sorry, but if you hadn’t done that…” Focus on your sin only

As you consider these ten questions, remember this is not a step-by-step formal or quick fix for your fights. Heart work is hard work. Be patient, honest, and humble. Ask God to help you. Work through heart issues, mistaken expectations, and sinful patterns of communication.

And trust that God can redeem any marriage or tense relationship, even yours.

LET GOD CHANGE YOUR MIND

SOURCE:  Amy Simpson/InTouch Ministries

When it comes to worry, yes it’s all in your head and there’s something you can do about it.

There was a time I was nearly powerless against my own emotions.

Growing up in a household made confusing by my mother’s schizophrenia, I learned to mask my feelings well—the only way I knew how to handle them. When bad things happened or I got negative feedback, I’d quickly plummet into discouragement, depression, and sometimes self-pity. It was amazing how quickly I could drop from fine to really, really not fine.

Things have changed. I’ve changed.

A Christian counselor helped me understand the power of my “cognitive distortions”—negative and false messages I was habitually sending myself. I used to say, You’re a loser. You always screw up. You’re  worthless. Sometimes I didn’t even put these messages into words; I just directed hatred toward myself. I didn’t realize I was mistreating my own  soul. And because I sent myself these messages  so often, my spirit believed they were true.

Now my spirit believes something different.

I started sending myself messages grounded in biblical truth. I also started reading the Bible more, taking risks in Christian fellowship, and reaching out to develop supportive friendships. I can see those old messages are false, and when they do come to mind, I recognize them and tell myself what is true: I have purpose. I’m a beloved child of God. My God is much more capable than I am, and He loves me.

Fear and anxiety are normal, healthy, and productive capabilities given by God—but they’re not meant to be permanent states of being.

This change in self-talk affected more than my mind. It made a difference in my entire life. I’m less prone to depression, I’m more peaceful, and I have more love to offer others. I’ve noticed another change: I don’t worry as much as I used to. When I start to worry, I remind myself that God has transformed me into a new person by changing my mind.

Romans 12:2 is a commonly quoted verse, but we often focus only on not being shaped by the world but utterly transformed. We haven’t given enough attention to this transformation happening through a renewal of our minds. It’s not merely a soul or heart change. As the New Living Translation says, it’s a matter of letting God “transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Science is only now catching up to Scripture, which teaches us what is possible through Jesus Christ.

Our Changeable Brains

My story is one of many that demonstrate the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy. According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, this form of counseling “is based on the idea that our feelings and behaviors are caused by our thoughts, not external things like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the situation does not change.” Rather than live at the mercy of outside forces, we have a choice. And the most effective way to modify our habitual behaviors and emotional patterns is to let God change the way we think.

Strong, if emerging, physical science also supports this.  Research has transformed our understanding of the brain’s capacity for change through neuroplasticity. It turns out that our brains are moldable long past childhood; they can and do change throughout our lives.

“Brain plasticity is a physical process,” says Dr. Michael Merzenich, noted neuroscientist and expert in brain plasticity. “Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken, neural connections can be forged and refined or (conversely) weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities. Often, people think of childhood and young adulthood as a time of brain growth … but what recent research has shown is that under the right circumstances, the older brain can grow, too.”

Thanks to neuroplasticity, changing our thoughts (as well as our behaviors and experiences) causes us to form new synaptic connections, strengthen existing ones, and weaken others. These new and altered connections result in changes in our behavior. In his book Soft-Wired, Dr. Merzenich writes, “As a skill is developed (such as whistling, or doing a pirouette, or identifying bird calls), the specific neural routes that account for successfully performing this new skill become stronger, faster, more reliable, and much more specific to—specialized for—the task  at hand.”

This is as true for habitual worry as for anything else.

Worry Is a Problem

Many of us need this kind of change. In a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of respondents said that in the previous month, stress had caused them to overeat or eat unhealthy foods. Nearly one-third said they had skipped a meal because of stress, and more than 25 percent said they had been unable to sleep. Another survey found that more than 60 percent of American workers worry they will lose their jobs, with 32 percent saying they worry about this “a lot.” Parents commonly worry about their kids, and big worries start when children are small. Worry is not only common in our society; it’s also woven into our cultural fabric—an expectation of responsible people, a fashionable accessory whose absence seems suspicious.

We often confuse worry with two other states of mind: fear and anxiety. The three tend to be used interchangeably, but they’re different. Fear and anxiety are normal, healthy, and productive capabilities given by God—but they’re not meant to be permanent states of being.

Our culture provides plenty of opportunities to worry. But followers of Christ are called to live and think differently from the worried world around us.

Fear is a response to an immediate (real or perceived) threat. Anxiety usually appears in anticipation of what will or might happen.

Unlike normal anxiety, worry is not an involuntary physical response but a pattern we choose.

Coming from within ourselves, it’s a decision we make to stay in that place of anxiety, which was designed to protect us from immediate danger, not to see us through everyday life. For some, staying in a state of anxiety isn’t a choice but, rather, a disorder that happens when the body’s healthy, helpful biological process works overtime. An anxiety disorder is, essentially, too much of a good thing, afflicting 29 percent of us at some point in our life. It’s very different from voluntary engagement in worry and requires treatment with medication, counseling, or both.

For anyone tempted to worry (and who isn’t?), our culture provides plenty of opportunities. But followers of Christ are called to live and think differently from the worried world around us. Voluntary worry directly contradicts the way God commands His people to live. If we’re not careful, it can lead to sinful behavior. Hence Jesus’ words: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). This same message holds through the Bible, affirming a countercultural lifestyle of faith and trust from Genesis to Revelation.

Worry can injure our bodies and minds. It can cause shortness  of breath; heart palpitations; pain and damage in the back, neck, and shoulders; muscle tension; nausea; headaches; and other physical problems. In his book The God-Shaped Brain, Christian psychiatrist Timothy R. Jennings describes how the effects of ongoing worry look in our brains. As we spend more of our lives in a state of anxiety, fear, and worry, our neurons don’t function as well as they should, and we don’t produce as many healthy new ones.

The damage isn’t limited to our bodies. It injures our relationships with other people. And like all sinful patterns, worry forms a barrier in our relationship with God. It keeps us focused on ourselves, our agendas, and our own problems. It keeps us peering into the future, which is God’s domain, and clinging to people and possessions that belong to Him. That’s why addressing worry must include spiritual transformation. Voluntary worry ultimately cannot be overcome by sheer willpower—its solution is rooted entirely in who God is.

Solution: Faith

In their book How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman used neuroscience to establish this startling concept: Belief in God—and religious activity itself—physically changes our brains. “Faith tempers our anxiety and fears, and it may even temper one’s belief in an angry God,” they write. “The beauty of Job’s story is that it reminds the suffering believer that God  is ultimately compassionate. And from the perspective of medicine and neuroscience, compassion can heal the body as well as the soul.”

Changing worry means changing what we believe about God and ourselves.

The discovery of neuroplasticity is a startling affirmation of Christian belief in allowing God to transform us through the renewing of our minds. It affirms the power of cognitive change as well. “Watch over your heart with all diligence,” Proverbs tells us, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus Himself spoke of the true source of our behavior: “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matt. 15:17-20).

Likewise, Paul told the Roman church, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).

No therapeutic technique can transform us as the Holy Spirit can.

Acknowledging that neurological changes happen with a change in belief doesn’t diminish the mystery or power of God’s work in us. But we do have a choice—we can welcome this transformational work or resist it. God graciously gives us the freedom to believe.

Changing worry means changing what we believe about God and ourselves. If we don’t believe God is any bigger or better than us, we have reason to fret. But if we believe He’s all-powerful, trustworthy, righteous, and good, it makes sense not to waste our lives in worry, but instead to believe and embrace what we know to be true about God and who we are as His children.

God Doesn’t Promise You’ll Be ‘Successful’

SOURCE:  Relevant Magazine/Rachael Graf

How Jesus turned the system upside down.

As a young adult who was raised in a Christian home and who attends a Christian university, I have experienced a phenomenon I like to call “Christian success.” Usually, it runs along the lines of something like this:

“We broke the box office!”

“Trending on Twitter!”

“Number one for eight consecutive weeks!”

“100,000 members strong!”

Where did this idea of “Christian success” come from, and why have we equated influence with notoriety?

To many people of his day, Jesus was a poor, homeless, blaspheming rabbi. He was hated and rejected by many. He spoke of a kingdom not of this world, spent most of his time with sinners, broke the rules and washed dirty feet. And he claimed to be the Messiah—the king. Jesus did not fit the description of a successful, conquering king. If we really think about it, Jesus, from the perspective of his culture, was a failure.

Even Pope Francis thinks so. In his homily at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral back in September, Pope Francis spoke about Christian hard work and self-sacrifice. The danger, he warned, is when we

Get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. While affirming the desire for Christian excellence, he reminded his audience to look to the example of Jesus, “The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus … and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, in the failure of the cross.

When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, He did not promise them success. In fact, He guaranteed them failure: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:17).

He told his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24-26). He told them that the gate is narrow and the way is hard (Matt. 7:13-14). He told them that whoever wanted to be the greatest had to be a servant (Mark 10:43-45). He told them that he was going to the cross (Matthew 17:22-23). And he did. And many of his disciples deserted him.

They left because they did not understand why Jesus came. They thought he had come to overthrow Rome, to sit on a glorious throne and rule over Jerusalem. The Pharisees wanted an earthly king, and the Zealots wanted a rebellious revolutionary. Jesus was neither. He was fighting a different battle.

Jesus came to deliver mankind from its enslavement to sin, Satan and death. He knew when he came to earth that he would be reviled, but he came anyway. That is the greatest act of love imaginable.

“Christian success” does not come from rising to the top, being the most popular, having the most likes or followers, or sitting at number one on the list. That is how the world defines success. “Christian success” comes from following in the footsteps of our Savior. Although Jesus was God, he became a man and accepted the limitations of human flesh.

He was tempted in every way and was well-acquainted with suffering. He was cursed, denied, spit upon, mocked and condemned. He died the most brutal, humiliating death imaginable for our salvation. The sinless one became sin, crying out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46.) Yes, Jesus was familiar with failure.

But three days after He was buried, he walked out of his tomb, thereby defeating death with its own weapon. That is victory. That is success in its truest form. Sacrificial success.

We serve a paradoxical God, one who says that worldly gain is loss if it costs you your soul. That in foolishness there is wisdom and that in dying we live. That in failure there is redemption. Jesus does not promise us earthly success if we choose to follow him, because earthly success was never his aim. What he does promise us is a future so glorious that it cannot be fully described in human language (1 Cor. 2:9).

Success is not inherently wrong, and achievement is good cause for celebration. But we must remember that if we succeed—at anything—it is only because our abundantly gracious God has allowed us, for His glory. When we let the world define our success instead of Jesus, we fall into idolatry.

Because, at the end of the day, it is not what we do that is of lasting significance, but for whom we do it.

Numbing Out The Voice of God

SOURCE:  John Taylor/Relevant Magazine

Confessions of a Drunk Worship Leader

One man’s story of overcoming his secret alcohol addiction.

Hungover and leading worship on Easter Sunday, Seth Haines felt a sharp, nauseating pain in his stomach. Two thousand churchgoers sang along, unaware, as he, nervous about hitting high notes, struggled to keep from vomiting. He led the congregation in singing:

He has cheated hell / And seated us above the fall / In desperate places / He paid our wages / One time once and for all

After the service, a couple of friends caught Haines as he exited the stage. “You have a special anointing,” they told him, with their hands placed on the worship leader’s shoulders.

Haines forced a smile before stumbling back to his seat.  “Anointed?” he thought. “What are you talking about? I’m hungover. I was probably still drunk when I got here this morning.

It all began with a Nalgene bottle.

Two years before that Easter Sunday, Haines sat in a hospital waiting room, trying not to think about Titus, his infant son born with a hole in his heart and a rate of respiration that jogged a little faster than most.

“You get enough alcohol in your system and you don’t feel anymore.”

Friends, family members and strangers visited in rotation. They offered prayers for swift recovery.

Haines and his wife, Amber, watched as doctors squirted blue liquid into Titus’ mouth through a syringe. The 6-month-old gurgled, squirmed and wailed as plastic tubes entered his nose and reached down into his still-developing intestines.

The doctors shook their heads when they found clumps of blood the size of popcorn kernels. The Haineses discussed what songs they would play at Titus’ funeral.

That was when Haines called his sister and said, “I need you to bring me gin to the hospital. Smuggle it in.”

Hours later, a Nalgene bottle arrived, filled to the top with Tanqueray. Haines unscrewed the cap and poured its contents into a plastic cup filled with ice.

In that moment, Haines—the believer, husband, father of four, full-time attorney, worship leader, home group host and editor of the blog “A Deeper Church”—was becoming an alcoholic.

Because, as Haines would say later, “You get enough alcohol in your system and you don’t feel anymore.”

***

“I think everyone’s story of belief is pretty complex,” Haines says. “Mine is no exception to that rule.”

About two years ago, in that hospital room, gin and tonic became “more gin than tonic” for Haines.

He started with casual single shots. Then doubles. Then triples. And eventually, regardless of the pour, he consumed as many as 10 drinks daily.

Before long, and almost unwittingly, he found himself hiding his drinking from his wife, Amber.

To keep her from noticing his rapidly growing addiction, Haines says he would store empty bottles in his car, then drive garbage bags of them to the dumpster behind his office.

When he and Amber hung out in their living room—talking and usually listening to worship music—Haines would wait for his wife to go to the bathroom, turn up the stereo volume and run to the kitchen for another drink before Amber could get back.

Despite his efforts, Haines couldn’t hide from his wife.

“Do you think you’re drinking too much?” she asked one afternoon about a year into Haines’ downward spiral. “When’s the last time you went without drinking?”

“I just knew, ‘All I have to do is plod away at my desk, keep my Christian facade up, then get home at night and drink away the voice of God.’”

He couldn’t remember. “Last…” he looked away, trying to think of a day Amber would believe.

“Thursday,” he lied.

***

A few months later, Haines was out-of-town attending a Christian conference and staying with some friends. As usual, on one of his nights away, he’d “had a good bit to drink.”

“It was 3 a.m. and there were these college kids who came across the yard and introduced themselves,” he explains. “I started talking to them about church. Before long, I was pretty much witnessing to them.

“The next morning, when I sobered up, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?’”

That same weekend, as he describes it, the voice of the Holy Spirit spoke to him through a concerned friend. Somehow, she’d guessed that he had a problem. He says their conversation was revealing.

“I would say things like, ‘Yeah, but I’ve never been pulled over for a DWI.’

“And she would say, ‘Well, you know that doesn’t matter, right?’

“I said, ‘Well, I’ve never hit Amber.’

“And she said, ‘You know that doesn’t matter either, right?’”

Later that day, Haines dialed Amber’s number and said, “I think I have a problem, and I don’t really know what to do.”

When he arrived home, the Haineses started a long journey of drying out.

***

In his first therapy session, Haines tried to answer tough questions: “Were you drinking to pass out?” “Do you have the shakes?” “Have you been drinking and hiding the evidence?” “Is it starting to interfere with your job?” “What are you covering with the alcohol?”

After he admitted his problem, Haines needed to discover the reasons behind it.

Titus wasn’t getting any better, he explained to his therapist. He and his family prayed for Titus’ recovery for months, but those prayers seemingly went unanswered. Haines feared losing both his son and his faith, in that order.

“Sickness, I fear, is the permanent plague of my son’s life,” he said to his therapist. “Of my life.”

A breakthrough came while Haines and his therapist discussed the initial source of the pain that first drove him to that Nalgene bottle.

Throughout his life, Haines has suffered from asthma, and it was particularly severe when he was young. As a child, he regularly spent time in the hospital for it. And it seemed after a while that his parents exhausted their options. In a kind of last-ditch effort, the elder Haineses turned to a faith healer.

Haines remembers the experience vividly. The healer marked a cross on young Haines’ forehead, his finger dipped in olive oil bought from a nearby grocery store.

“With enough faith, all things are possible,” the man said. He prayed so loudly that he was nearly shouting.

It didn’t work, and Haines still struggles with asthma today.

“That moment, more than any other moment in my life, has haunted me,” Haines says. “It was the moment where my faith was put to the test, when my faith as a 6 year old didn’t measure up. And if my faith as a 6 year old didn’t measure up, it’s definitely not going to as a 37 year old.”

The experience drove doubts into Haines’ faith, and it continued to “undermine the good seasons” in his life. Off and on during the next three decades, he would question just about everything about God: “Is He really there?” “Does He really intervene?”

“I would have those seasons of intense thoughts,” he says. “But I always seemed to come through them.”

Then Titus got sick. Haines was back in a pediatric ward, this time with his son.

“Today, I’m dry. Tomorrow I’ll be dry. And then we’ll see what happens. ‘One day at a time’ is a real thing.”

“We were visited by a person who comes to the room and says to me, ‘I know Titus is going to be fine, because you’re a man of great faith. Through your faith, God is going to heal your son’,” he remembers.

That was the last thing Haines wanted to hear.

In therapy, Haines realized that Titus was a constant reminder of the loss of his childhood faith. From his experience with the faith healer, Haines internalized the idea that his faith wasn’t good enough for God. And with Titus, Haines was seeing that his faith—and all of his church involvement—again wasn’t good enough. Slowly, he stopped trusting in God.

Cognitively or not, Haines thought God abandoned him. More than fear for his son or any kind of parental stress, that’s what drove him to the bottle.

“For me, it was, ‘If I drink enough, I don’t have to hear the voice of doubt in my head,’” he explains. “I just knew, ‘All I have to do is plod away at my desk, keep my Christian facade up, then get home at night and drink away the voice of God.’”

***

The same friend who identified Haines’ addiction suggested he journal as a part of the recovery process. On one particular night, well into his dry-but-searching phase, Haines read through the passion of Jesus—the suffering Christ endured in the hours leading to His crucifixion.

A familiar story took new life.

“In the Luke account, one of the last things Jesus says to His crucifiers is, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing,’” Haines recalls.

That moment became the “touchstone” in Haines’ recovery. He knew what he needed to do. And so he journaled, “Father, teach me to forgive the faith healer.”

This September marked a full year since Haines’ last drink. And, yes, he’s a little nervous.

“I don’t like to think about what this looks like in five years,” he says, “because today, I’m dry. Tomorrow I’ll be dry. And then we’ll see what happens. ‘One day at a time’ is a real thing.”

The key, he says, is to believe God, and then to lay his anxieties at the Creator’s feet: Titus. The thirst for alcohol. The desire to be a better husband, a better father to his children.

As a part of his daily recovery, Haines says a simple prayer: “Lord, forgive my unbelief.”

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