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Posts tagged ‘grace’

What Forgiveness is “NOT”

Adapted from:  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 206-207.

To understand what forgiveness is, we must first see what it is not.

Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Forgiveness involves a series of decisions, the first of which is to call on God to change our hearts. As he gives us grace, we must then decide (with our will) not to think or talk about what someone has done to hurt us. God calls us to make these decisions regardless of our feelings–but these decisions can lead to remarkable changes in our feelings.

Second, forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiving is an active process; it involves a conscious choice and a deliberate course of action. To put it another way, when God says that he “remembers your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25), he is not saying that he cannot remember our sins. Rather, he is promising that he will not remember them. When he forgives us, he chooses not to mention, recount, or think about our sins ever again. Similarly, when we forgive, we must draw on God’s grace and consciously decide not to think or talk about what others have done to hurt us. This may require a lot of effort, especially when an offense is still fresh in mind. Fortunately, when we decide to forgive someone and stop dwelling on an offense, painful memories usually begin to fade.

Finally, forgiveness is not excusing. Excusing says, “That’s okay,” and implies, “What you did wasn’t really wrong,” or “You couldn’t help it.” Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. The very fact that forgiveness is needed and granted indicates that what someone did was wrong and inexcusable. Forgiveness says, “We both know that what you did was wrong and without excuse. But since God has forgiven me, I forgive you.” Because forgiveness deals honestly with sin, it brings a freedom that no amount of excusing could ever hope to provide.

Confessions of a Former Perfectionist

SOURCE:  Todays Christian Woman/Kathy Collard Miller

How four discoveries helped me realize my unreasonable expectations of my husband

One evening when I returned home from shopping, my husband, Larry, met me at the door, grinning. What’s he up to? I wondered.

He led me into the kitchen and announced, “I did the dishes for you!”

As I hugged him and exclaimed, “Thank you!” I looked over his shoulder and noticed crumbs and drops of liquid on the counter.

But you haven’t wiped the counter, I thought. You haven’t finished the dishes! Before I could chastise him, I remembered how my struggles with perfectionism and impatience robbed me of enjoying and appreciating my wonderful husband. I thanked him again, determined not to allow his “mistakes” to bother me.

The next evening Larry did the dishes again. I realized he wouldn’t have washed them a second time if I’d criticized him the day before. I witnessed again the power of affirming his attempts—even if they didn’t meet my expectations.

Someone once said that a perfectionist is a person who takes great pains and passes them on to others. I would have given my husband a great pain that evening if I’d discounted his effort. Yet that’s exactly what perfectionism does: It brings pain and destruction to our lives and marriages.

Throughout the first seven years of our marriage I struggled with perfectionist tendencies. Nothing Larry did was good enough. He wasn’t a good enough provider—even though he worked two jobs to support our family while I stayed home with the kids. He didn’t talk enough to me; he didn’t help properly with the housework; he wasn’t as concerned about my desires and expectations as I was. The list went on and on. My standards were set so high that Larry couldn’t win—ever. Since Larry didn’t meet all my needs, I believed I couldn’t give him credit when he showed me love. Instead I focused on his inadequacies. No matter how Larry tried to please me, I found fault and pointed out his shortcomings to “motivate” him. I “punished” him with my displeasure by withholding sex, affection, joy.

My demands and impatience were destroying my marriage! Larry began to work more overtime, and when he was home, he tuned me out by reading or watching TV. My sense of failed expectations became so bad that I felt I didn’t even love him anymore!

Then one day during my devotions, God opened my eyes to what I was doing. My behavior wasn’t getting me what I wanted. So why was I continuing it? I’d thought, When Larry changes and meets my needs, then I can be joyful and content.But I realized he might never change! God wanted me to be joyful and content regardless.

From that day on I worked to reverse my attitude, become more patient, and strengthen our relationship by putting these four ideas into practice.

It’s okay to give yourself a break.

I realized I couldn’t give Larry a break, because I couldn’t give myself one. Perfectionism can be called a kind of “dys-grace” or “ungrace” because it’s the opposite of grace. Perfectionism says, I need to earn approval, while grace offers approval as a free gift.

I expected myself to be perfect because I felt God—and others!—required it. That pressure spilled into my marriage. From my perspective, I was striving for perfection—so my spouse should too!

Granting myself grace has been a gradual growth process. But if we believe that God understands our mistakes and messes—that he’s willing to forgive—then we can stop expecting too much from ourselves and our spouse. In Philippians 1:6, the apostle Paul assures us God knows our weaknesses and won’t give up on us: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (NASB). As Christians, because we accepted that Jesus bore our sins when he died on the cross, you and I are already perfect in God’s sight. We have nothing to prove; we’re accepted.

It’s okay to give your spouse a break.

Once I was able to understand that God grants me grace, I was able to offer grace and patience to my husband.

One day God helped me put that into practice. Larry, an amateur pilot, was out flying his plane while I was home cleaning the house. I sensed God say, “Tell Larry you love him.” I was shocked. No! I thought. I don’t love Larry. My unmet expectations had squelched my love—because love and a perfectionist attitude can’t really coexist.

Besides, I thought, I haven’t said those words to him in more than two years. If I say them now, he might think I approve of his negligence toward me and the kids. In my perfectionistic thinking since I didn’t feel love for Larry all the time, I couldn’t say I loved him.

Finally, I felt God whisper, “Think it the next time you see Larry.”

That’s strange, I thought. But if he doesn’t hear me, then he can’t use it against me. All right, Lord, I’ll do it, even if it isn’t true.

That evening when Larry returned, I stared at him, gulped, and thought, I love you … but I don’t really.

Even though I obeyed God begrudgingly, an amazing thing happened. Over the following months, as I continued to think the words I love you whenever I looked at Larry, I began to feel love for him. I also recognized that I’d been holding Larry responsible for my happiness. As I received grace for myself and then offered it to Larry, my “all or nothing” thinking changed. I accepted the truth that Larry couldn’t meet all my needs—only God could. In time, Larry noticed that I wasn’t as angry and demanding. And our marriage became more comfortable and enjoyable for both of us.

It’s okay to give positive feedback.

I remember one time when Larry was hanging pictures, I refrained from saying anything positive until all were placed precisely the way I wanted. I reasoned, If I tell Larry he’s doing a great job before he’s finished, he’ll get lazy and not complete the project the way I need it done. I didn’t realize I was discouraging him; I thought I was motivating him.

But excellence is doing our best with the resources at hand. Positive feedback is what really motivates my spouse—even in the middle of a project or when it may not be done as “perfectly” as I’d like! That’s why I could say “thank you” the day he did the dishes, even though he hadn’t wiped the counter. Years ago, I would have felt it was my duty to correct him immediately, withholding approval until the job was done exactly to my specifications.

When I sense the need to correct my spouse and withhold praise for the job he’s done, I ask myself these questions: Is it really that important? Can I wait until another time when he isn’t basking in the glory of his accomplishment? Waiting helps diminish those perfectionistic tendencies.

Once I began to lighten up, Larry confessed, “I used to think, Kathy is never satisfied no matter what I do, so I might as well give up trying to please her. I don’t think that anymore. Now I want to please you because I know you’ll appreciate it.”

It’s okay to be different.

While this is an obvious statement, it was a shocker for me to grasp: My spouse views life differently than I do. I always believed Larry saw life from my perspective. And since there was only one way of doing things, he should do them the right way—my way!

My viewpoint took a 180 degree turn, however, after a friend gave Larry and me a personality test. After we finished, we discovered our temperaments and learning styles are different.

My temperament, combined with my perfectionism, makes me want to over-analyze all the facts before making a decision. And then I constantly second-guess myself. Larry’s temperament enables him to make fast decisions and feel confident about them. Before, I’d thought fast decision-making indicated he wasn’t sensitive to my opinions.

The test stressed that different is different; it’s not necessarily wrong. It didn’t mean he was insensitive to my opinions. As I recognized that Larry and I view situations differently—and that’s okay!—I became more patient, loving, and kind toward him. I have to remind myself that there are several ways to do something—not just my way. As someone once said, “Two plus two may equal four. But so does three plus one.”

While sometimes it still frustrates me that he “can’t get his act together,” I rely on patience and grace. I ask myself, Is this because we define “act” differently? Are different motives energizing us? Then I take a look at my answers. Usually, I’m the one who’s more rigid, so I stop taking his behavior personally, back off, and accept our differences.

Now that Larry and I have been married 35 years, we look back on that time 28 years ago when my perfectionism brought “great pains” into our relationship with gratitude for God’s healing. By changing my viewpoint and giving grace and patience to myself and to my husband, I’ve learned to appreciate him. Now I express my love many times a day—and so does he. And yes, we even rejoice in our differences!

God’s Grace: No Matter WHAT, WHERE, or WHO

SOURCE:  Desiring God/Jonathan Parnell

God’s Grace Will Find You

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 

(Psalm 23:3–4)

The grace of God will find you.

No matter where you’ve gone or how far you’ve drifted, nowhere is out of the reach of God’s grace.

This is the truth behind David’s words in Psalm 23:3–4. The focus is on the Lord’s active nearness as the shepherd of his people. The Lord makes us to lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside the still waters. He restores our souls and leads us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

In the Shadow of Death

This is a boundless nearness. It is a nearness even in the valley of the shadow of death.

The phrase is so popular, do we really know what David is saying? “Even though,” he begins, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil . . .” (verse 4). This is death, remember. Death. It is the great enemy of mankind, the place that every person will go — and go alone. Death stands off in the darkness, hunkering down in the shadows of our lives like a monster. It is terrible, lonely, fearful. But not for David — not for us who are in Christ.

Why? Because God is with us even there.

The grace of God will find us. We won’t be afraid. We will fear no evil. The Father will not forsake us. Just like Jesus wasn’t left in the tomb — and because he wasn’t — we won’t be left alone either. God will be with us. Like yesterday, and now, God will be with us even as the shadow of death falls over us.

Help for Today

So what does that mean for us now? How does the assurance of God’s nearness in our final moments of this life help us today?

It means that if God is with us in our greatest affliction — in the shadow of death — he will be with us in all the other afflictions of our lives. Painful as they are, as dark as the night may get, we know it is not too painful for God. It is not too dark for him.

God is there as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death — and he is there in every valley along the way. His grace will find us. That grace that saw us before the foundation of the world, that spoke creation into existence, that led Jesus to the cross, that will abound for us in eternity — that grace will find us.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. The great grace of God is able to reach you. God in his grace is able to be there with you. In the midst of pain and uncertainty, in the high of blessing and cheer, God is with you. His grace will find you.

Sexual Addiction: NOT just for MEN ONLY!!

SOURCE:  Marnie Ferree

Women and Sexual Addiction

While most people tend to assume that sexual addiction is a problem only for men, the evidence suggests the contrary. Addictions, all addictions, are pretty much equal opportunity diseases. And sexual addiction is no exception.

Marnie Ferree is a pioneer in the treatment of female sex and relationship addicts. This article is material taken from a workshop she gave recently in Seattle. Sex is the fastest growing addiction in this country. And it is, I believe, the addiction of choice among Christians. Because of the immediacy, availability and affordability of the Internet, more and more Christians find themselves struggling with sexual addiction. A third of the participants who come to the workshops we do for male sexual addicts are involved in some kind of church ministry. Men who would not be caught dead going into a liquor store, or gambling or using any kind of illegal drugs, can—within the privacy of their own home—be sexually involved with people on the Internet. It is an incredible problem.

I don’t know if you have a picture in your mind of what a sexual addict looks like. I would be even more surprised if you had a picture of what a female sexual addict looks like.

There are, however, many of us. And all of us must deal with the enormous shame connected with sexual addiction. Today, if someone said in a social setting—even in a Christian social setting—”I’m a recovering alcoholic,” I think many people might respond with: “Good for you. You’ve admitted you have a problem. You’re doing something about it. You’re getting help.” We have an element of respect for someone who admits to being a recovering alcoholic. But if you say, “I’m a recovering sex addict,” you will still experience enormous amounts of shame and very little understanding.

There was a time when alcoholism was thought to be only a male problem. Surely women didn’t struggle like this. But we know today, of course, that females have about the same incidence of alcoholism as do males. It is probably about the same in the area of sexual addiction. If the shame associated with sexual addiction is great, the shame associated with being a female sex addict is even greater.

Sexual addiction is not, of course, a new problem. I’m not going to suggest that the Apostle Paul was a sex addict. But he certainly understood powerlessness and unmanageability. When you read what he says in Romans 7 about the struggle between the flesh and the desire to do good—this is a man who knew what it was like to feel powerless, a man who kept doing what he did not want to do. That is the essence of all addictions.

Sin or Disease?

I’m asked often, “Is sexual addiction a sin, or is it a disease?” The answer is yes. It is both. Undeniably the kinds of behaviors we are going to be talking about are sinful. The affairs that I was involved in, the great promiscuity that I was involved in before my marriage, these are unquestionably sin. And they are also part of a disease called addiction.

Sometimes people come to a Christian pastor or counselor looking for help with sexual addiction and they get an answer like this: “Pray more, go to church more, read your Bible more. Be more committed. Be more [whatever].” I don’t want to be misunderstood. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in reading the Bible. I believe in being connected with other Christians and going to church. And I believe in surrendering to Christ. So I’m not minimizing the importance of these things. But these things in and of themselves will not help with the disease of addiction. Believe me, people who struggle with sexual addictions have prayed. They have tried to surrender their will to God. They have tried to get connected at church. And it has not helped. Putting a kind of spiritual Band-Aid on this problem is not going to be helpful. It is going to be harmful, because it will contribute to the hopelessness that people feel. Suppose you tell someone to “just pray more,” and they take your advice and pray more, and it doesn’t help. Then what? It will add to their despair. And few things are more powerful fuel for addictions than despair.

So what is the solution?

Sexual addiction is a multifaceted disease, and it requires a multifaceted solution. There is a physiological aspect to the problem. We know that there is a neurochemical component to sex addiction. The neurochemical changes that happen in your brain when you engage in sexual activity are closely related to the changes that take place in your brain when you take crack cocaine. So there is a physiological, biological base to this addiction. There is also an emotional component to this addiction. The shame that the addicted person feels is overwhelming. There is a mental component. There is a relationship component. And there is a spiritual component. All these components need to be addressed if the addicted person is to experience healing.

Characteristics of Addiction

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of sexual addiction.  There are four components that make any addiction an addiction.

First, there has to be a compulsion. I can’t stop. I keep doing what I don’t want to do. I’m powerless to stop. You will always hear addicts say, “I know what I’m doing is wrong; I want to stop, but I can’t.” That was certainly true for me. I was raised in a pastor’s home. I went to church all my life. I knew that the affairs I was involved in were wrong. I felt incredible shame about the affairs. I wanted to stop. I had chosen to stop many times. But I could not.

A second key component of any addiction is obsession. It’s all I can think about. It’s like a blanket that covers me. I’m spending so much time being sexual, recovering from being sexual, figuring out how to hide the fact that I’ve been sexual, planning my next sexual or relationship encounter. It’s like a little bird sitting on your shoulder; it’s always, always, always with you. Either as guilt and shame or the planning or the preparation. Some part is always with you.

The third main hallmark of an addiction is continuing in spite of negative consequences.

Because of my promiscuity and sexual behaviors I was diagnosed with cervical cancer caused by a sexually transmitted disease. I had three major surgeries within a year. I literally almost died because of massive hemorrhaging resulting from the first surgery. But even that was not enough; I still could not stop. I lost one marriage because of my sexual acting out. I married very young for all kinds of unhealthy reasons. I was unfaithful in that marriage. The truth is that he was happy to get rid of me. And I was happy to get rid of him because he was determined to fix me and I was angry about that. But I still could not stop. I married a second time and had a fairly long period of sobriety—or rather at least a fairly long period of the absence of acting out. But I was not in recovery. When the stresses of life hit again, I returned to acting out. I knew intellectually, This is going to mess up my life. I had been there once before. I’d had one divorce because of this behavior. I can tell that things aren’t going well here. They are not going well in our marriage. They are not going well for our children. We had two very young children who were already very angry and impaired by being part of an addicted family. And then the health consequences began to hit. I knew this was not working for me. And yet I could not stop. When we continue in spite of adverse consequences, that is a clear sign of addiction.

The last main characteristic of addiction is tolerance.

The idea of tolerance is borrowed from our understanding of chemical dependency. We understand that, for a person who does not usually drink, a glass of wine will make you feel however it makes you feel. Tomorrow a glass of wine will make you feel about the same. And the next day maybe the same. But it won’t take very long before that one glass of wine will no longer give you the same kind of feeling that it once did. It might take two glasses, or three. That same phenomenon happens around our sexual activity. There is a tolerance component to the process. Part of the tolerance effect is a purely neurochemical, physiological change in the brain. We are up against our own brain chemistry. That’s one aspect of the problem. But we addicts are also often adrenaline junkies. We are in this for the high. So if the high of one kind of behavior isn’t enough, then either it will take more and more of that same kind of behavior or it will take going on to other, higher risk behaviors to get the same effect. The disease progresses either to more and more of the same behavior or to higher risk behaviors.

There are other characteristics to all addictions. All addictions lead to an unmanageable life. It is a progressive or degenerative process. Addictions are used to escape feelings. What an addiction does is alter our moods.

Addictions are often fueled by a sense of entitlement. I think about a pastor who is overworked and underpaid. There are so many demands on his life, he’s fighting with the deacon board, nobody understands him, and he is not appreciated the way he should be. Eventually he asks himself, Who is meeting my needs? I deserve something. That is a typical way for addicts to think. No one is meeting my needs. I’ll just have to do it myself. That’s what I mean by entitlement. I deserve this.

Addictions are also often used by addicts as a reward. Sexual addicts experience sex as the answer to everything. If I feel overworked or lonely or sad, sex can make me feel better. If I feel happy and things are wonderful, what’s the best way to celebrate? Sex. It’s the answer to everything. It can medicate the kind of entitlement, anger and loneliness that we experience or it can serve as a reward.

Finally, addictions, and certainly sexual addiction, can create a feeling of power. This is particularly true for women who are sexually addicted. There is an incredible feeling of power involved. In our culture we learn that a woman’s core worth in the world is her sexuality. We use sex to sell everything from cars to dishwashing liquid to carpets. Everything you can imagine. Those cultural messages are very powerful. So particularly for women who are sex addicts there is a big power component at work.

The Link Between Abuse and Addiction

The roots of sexual addiction are often found in childhood abuse—physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual. One out of three women and one out of six men will experience some kind of overt sexual abuse before the age of eighteen.

My susceptibility to sexual addiction is deeply rooted in my experience of childhood abuse and neglect. My mother died when I was three. My father was a pastor whose duties kept him absent from our home a great deal of the time. He spoke somewhere seven nights out of seven for the entirety of my childhood. And I felt very lonely. When I was five a twenty-year-old man, a deacon in the church, came into my life as a substitute father figure. He took me roller-skating every Saturday morning for years. He encouraged my writing. He would read to me and spend an enormous amount of time with me. From the age of five to the age of twenty, when I left my father’s home to be married, he abused me sexually. I never thought of it as sexual abuse. He never hurt me physically. He never coerced me physically. He loved me—I thought. I loved him—I knew. We had a relationship.

The level of sexual activity did not escalate to intercourse until I was fifteen years old. Well, by fifteen—remember I was a good preacher’s daughter—I knew that was wrong. In my limited understanding I had consented to this relationship with a man who at that time would have been over thirty. The only way I could explain those experiences was, I must be a whore. I know this is wrong. I know I’m not supposed to do it. From the age of five he began to sexualize me, training me to respond to him sexually. But my experience was that it was all my fault. It was only many years later when I was in counseling that I began to see that, of course, it was sexual abuse. Even the nongenital behaviors starting at age five were clearly sexual abuse.

The wounds of sexual abuse are profound. It is my conviction that until we face clearly the wounds of childhood abuse we will not be helpful to sexual addicts whose struggles are rooted in abuse. We know that eighty-one percent of sexual addicts, both men and women, are adult sexual trauma survivors—untreated trauma survivors. It is critical to understand this link between sexually abusive experiences and sexual addiction.

It is also important to emphasize that the experience of abandonment in childhood can be as problematic as the experience of abuse. I have worked with some sex addicts who are not sexual trauma survivors, but I have never worked with a sex addict who is not a survivor of childhood abandonment. After my mother died my father buried his grief in his work addiction. It was this abandonment that set me up for the sexual abuse. Physical abandonment—through death, as in my case, or through the work addiction of a parent, or through divorce—is only one kind of abandonment. Sexual abandonment—the lack of appropriate information and appropriate modeling of sexual closeness—can also cause problems. If parents display no appropriate affection around their children, there is a neglect. I have had many women tell me of the shock of their first menstruation. No one had bothered to tell them basic information about their sexuality. That’s sexual abandonment. Spiritual abandonment can also be a factor. We seem to model rules-based spirituality. But many people have never had grace-based spirituality modeled for them in their family. That’s a kind of spiritual abandonment. These kinds of experiences give us some very unhealthy core beliefs that, in turn, prepare us for the addictive process.

Let me say something briefly abut the core beliefs of addicts and how they are connected to neglect, abandonment and abuse.

The first core belief of sexual addicts is, I am a horrible, terrible person. When we are abandoned or abused, that is what we conclude. I thought, If I had been a better little girl, my mom would not have died. Or, for sure, If I had been a better little girl my dad would have wanted to spend some time with me. If you add on top of this the sexual abuse I experienced, what can a child conclude other than, I am a horrible person.

The second core belief shared by all sexual addicts is, No one will meet my needs.

Is it any surprise that a child who experiences abandonment comes to this conclusion? The people that I should be able to trust and depend on are not there for me. The third core belief is this: Sex is my most important need. Again, the connection between sexual abuse and sexual addiction is profound. When we are sexualized at an early age and experience all the confusion around that abuse, we inappropriately sexualize love, touch, nurture and affection. Everything really important in life becomes sexualized. We come to believe that love or relationship is our most important need.

Finally, sex addicts believe this: If you really knew me, you would leave me. There is this front that I present to the world, and maybe it looks really good on the outside, but it’s not what is on my inside. If you knew me, you would leave. These core beliefs, often impacting us on an unconscious level, set us up for addictions of all kinds.

Healing from Sex Addiction

There are a number of key ingredients that make recovery possible. I’ll discuss just a few.

Fellowship.Fellowship is the antidote to trauma and the key to long-term recovery. We cannot recover in isolation. God made us for fellowship. We were wounded in relationships, and we have to heal in relationships. Fellowship is also the antidote to lust. Healthy fellowship is what will help us become free from lust.

Accountability. It’s not enough to just have fellowship. We can have fellowship that does not involve accountability, and that’s not going to solve the problem. We need people who know our story and who will hold us accountable for the rituals as well as for the acting out. In my opinion, Twelve Step programs are the best place to find the right mix of fellowship and accountability. When I walk into a Twelve Step group and say, “Hi, my name is Marnie, and I’m a grateful, recovering sexaholic,” I am home. I know these people understand. They have been there themselves. And I know that we can provide for each other the fellowship and accountability we need. I won’t preach the whole sermon, but I believe that Christ intended churches to operate a whole lot more like Twelve Step groups. They need to be places where it’s okay to be real, okay to have problems. Places where you don’t have to have all your problems fixed before you feel at home.

Counseling. The Twelve Steps lead us through a methodical process that focuses on our addictive behaviors and on the defects of character that underlie our addictive behaviors. But the Twelve Steps, as wonderful and useful as they are, will not adequately address all the problems of abuse and abandonment that are at the root of sexual addiction. That’s not their goal. The goal of Twelve Step programs is sobriety. And sobriety gives us an opportunity to work on the other problems that have led to our addictions or that accompany our addictions.

For example, sexual addicts, in addition to being addicted to sex, are also often depressed. And that’s a problem for which counseling and medications can be very helpful. In the Christian community we do not hesitate to treat most medical problems. It bothers me that in the Christian community we so often experience resistance to the treatments and medication that have been shown to be helpful for depression. We don’t tell an insulin-dependent diabetic, “Just pray more and you’ll feel better. You don’t need the insulin.” But people who are depressed do hear people say things just like that. Depression is a medical illness. It often requires medication in addition to counseling in order to be helpful. Counseling and medication can play an important part in the recovery process. Sometimes intensive workshops or inpatient programs can also be helpful. For some people an intensive treatment program is essential for recovery, and almost all sex addicts can be helped by having an intensive jump-start to the recovery process.

Courage. Recovery requires courage. It is a difficult journey—and one that is not undertaken lightly or easily. In the Twelve Step community we say that recovery is simple but it is not easy. It will cost a lot. For many of us giving up an addiction feels like death. It is our addiction that has helped us cope with the wounds of abuse and abandonment. When we have no other, healthier coping skills, becoming abstinent from our addictions can be an absolutely terrifying, incredibly painful process. That’s another reason why the fellowship and accountability is so important. Without support we will inevitably retreat into “safer” territory.

Grace. The experience of grace is central to the recovery process. I know clearly when I first felt grace. It was when I was in the middle of getting a divorce from my first husband. I was a full-blown sex addict. My life was totally out of control. And it was the first time in my life that I felt suicidal. Some people that I worked with—people that I didn’t know well at all—saw my distress. It wasn’t really because of the divorce. The real pain and despair I was experiencing came from the shame I experienced from the religious community of my father, the pastor. I was disowned. And shamed. I had sweet church people coming to my home at ten o’clock at night and at seven o’clock in the morning to tell me I was going to hell for divorcing my husband. I was distraught about that as much as I was about anything else. These friends put me in their car and took me to a Christian counselor. I assume that they had arranged this ahead of time, since he was available to see me. They walked me in and introduced me to this man, and then they left. I was not comfortable in that office. I did not want to be there. He said something like, “What can I do for you?” And I unleashed on him a long speech complete with some pretty salty adjectives about what I thought about Christians and what I thought about pastors. I let him have it. I said I didn’t care anything about his blankety-blank whatever. But, I said, if you can stop me from killing myself I’ll give you ten minutes.

You know what he said? “Okay.” Just “Okay.” No moralizing. No lectures on right and wrong. Right then I felt grace for the first time in my life. I let this man know just a little about who I really was. At that moment I was a really, really angry person. But he accepted me without judgment. I only met with him a few times; I wasn’t ready yet to do the hard work I needed to do. So my life continued in the pattern of acting out for another twelve years after that. But I think he saved my life that day. With a single word he showed me more of the grace of God than I had experienced before. That helped me to believe twelve years later that it just might be possible for a counselor to help me. It helped me to return to that kind of resource when I was ready and able to do so.

When we experience grace, instead of the preoccupation and fantasy that drives the addictive process, we develop a vision for a different kind of life. Part of recovery is recovering a graced vision for our lives. We need a vision of a life of sobriety, a life in recovery. We need to be able to envision a life truly connected to God in a deep spirituality. And to envision ourselves and our families living a healthy life. Instead of the unhealthy rituals that lead to acting out, we need a vision of healthy rituals and disciplines in our lives. Prayer, meditation and Bible study are healthy disciplines. To be a part of a community of faith or a support group is a healthy discipline. These kinds of healthy disciplines can support healthy choices. Instead of despair, we need a vision of joy. That’s what recovery is about.

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Marnie Ferree offers individual and couples counseling through the Woodmont Hills Counseling Center in Nashville, Tennessee (www.woodmont.org).

Marriage Q&A: Choosing To Live With A Very Difficult Spouse

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

How Do I Live With A Basically Good Man Who Is A Tyrant?

QuestionMy husband is basically a good man.   He is a school teacher and the music director/organist of our Church.  He can be patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual.  He can also be demanding, tyrannical and irrational.

He blames everyone and anyone for any problems that arise. It is a knee-jerk reaction to even the slightest, most inconsequential of events. If one of our children falls down, his first reaction is to scream an “I told you so” at them- never is his first reaction one of concern for their well-being or safety.  He expects our older children- living away from our home with lives of their own- to always be at his beck and call.  If he wants them to do something for him, it does not matter that they have jobs, plans, etc.  He refuses to be told no.  And, everyone cow-tows to him just to keep him on an even keel and avoid the rants and literal rages that he has demonstrated.

While he is a school teacher, his passion is the piano and he is an accomplished pianist and composer- just not as revered and accomplished as he would like to be.  Whose fault is that?  His parents. His father for having a health crisis when he was younger or his mother for not knowing or doing enough to promote his career.  The children and I are also to blame because he has to work a “meaningless” job to put food on the table.

He takes no responsibility for any failure, real or imagined, in his life.  He doesn’t seem to have any concept that not everyone’s life revolves around him and that people are allowed their own lives and opinions.  He is negative in all aspects of his life- except, of course, if it relates to music.   While I could write pages about this aspect of his personality, suffice it to say that he will always see the dark cloud around the silver lining.   He is also very vocal about his negative thoughts and when he’s challenged, he plays the victim and accuses the challenger of attacking him.  It’s to the point where conversation with him is seldom initiated because we all know what his reaction will be.  Want his opinion?  Just think of the most irrational response, and go with that.

He is like a petulant two-year-old who demands his own way and nothing is ever right for him.  Even if you do something considerate to try and make life easier for him or take care of something that he hadn’t time to do, his reaction is never one of gratitude- there is always, always, always a negative reaction.  Things are still done or taken care of for him, but it’s never brought up to him and, if he does notice, it’s never mentioned.

While we all love him, he is driving a wide and very deep wedge between himself and the rest of our family.  It is very difficult to live with someone when you are walking on eggshells at all times.  I am not looking to leave him or my marriage.  I am looking for help in how to live with him and how to help my children live with him.  I do not want my children to grow up like their father.

Answer:  I feel a little confused. You say that your husband is basically a good man, patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual.  Then you go on for several paragraphs listing all the ways he is not patient, loving, good or spiritual.  Perhaps what you mean is that your husband can be charming and act loving when everything is going his way and everyone meets his needs and expectations in exactly the way he wants.  When that doesn’t happen, (which is real life) watch out!

Now your question, how do you live with someone like that and how do you help your children live with someone like that?  The best answer I can offer you is you can only live with this (if you choose to) with a good support system and lots of grace and truth, with no expectations of a meaningful relationship or mutual give and take.

I am reluctant to put a label on anyone but your description of your husband’s behavior is typical of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  A craving for admiration, an attitude of entitlement and lack of empathy for anyone else’s needs are usually the big red flags.   You can google it and read more information on it if you want to see if it fits.

Let’s start with grace. In order to live with someone like this you will need to learn to lean hard into God’s loving grace, knowing that when your husband doesn’t treat you well or love you like you wished he did, you are still deeply loved and valued by God.  You will need God’s grace to continually forgive your husband and keep a clean slate of the wrongs he does against you so that you don’t become hardened by bitterness and resentment. Your husband will never apologize or take responsibility for the wrong’s he’s done which makes it that much harder to forgive and let things go so your strength must come from outside yourself. It can only be from God.

You will need God’s grace to biblically love your husband when you feel like screaming at him and grace to not repay evil for evil. Jesus calls us to love our enemies but we rarely have to live with our enemies day in and day out.  To live in a relatively conflict-free relationship with your husband you will need to accept that you will always be more the giver. God sees how much you give whether or not your husband notices or appreciates it.  You will need His eternal perspective on your marital loneliness and suffering because you will feel unheard, unloved and unvalued much of the time, which may tempt you to seek other male companionship.

You will need grace to not judge your husband and have contempt for him as a man or as a person, even though truth tells you his attitudes and actions are sinful.  Grace keeps us humble, reminding us that we too are sinful and have our own brokenness.  Grace keeps us mindful of the logs in our own eyes before trying to remove the speck in our spouse’s.

You will also need to stay focused on God’s truth to stay healthy emotionally, spiritually and mentally.  Your husband blames and shames everyone around him and it’s tempting to believe his harsh words.  Don’t do it. Listen to what God says about who you are and not your husband’s words.  You will need God’s truth to explain to yourself and even your children that sometimes their father acts selfishly and it’s not wrong of them to say “no” or to ask him to consider their needs, and not just think of his own (Philippians 2:4).

Truth will help you know when boundaries are important and how to set them. For example, when he begins his angry tirade you might stop talking, turn around and walk away. If he continues, leave the house.  When you return you can say something like, “I can’t listen to you when you scream at me. You would do the same if I talked to you that way”  Keep it short and simple.  Or “I don’t want to feel angry and hateful toward you so I’m leaving until you can cool down.”  Then do it.

You will also need truth to guide you when to confront your husband’s sinful behavior and how.  There may be a strategic or teachable moment where you could say something that may cause him to press pause and think about his actions and you want to look for those moments and ask God to give you an anointed tongue.

We are to speak the truth in love to one another but it’s tempting to either to placate this kind of person or eventually get sick of it and blow up, only to later feel guilty, regretting your reaction which only adds more fuel to his fire.  Wear truth as a necklace and she will teach you when the time is right to speak. Hard words need not be harsh words.

For example, when he’s inconsiderate of your needs or your schedule, you could say, “I know this is important to you, but this is important to me so I have to do this first.”  Your goal in this kind of statement is to remind him that you are a separate PERSON with your own needs, feelings and thoughts.  You are not just a slave or a robot or a “wife” but a person and even if he doesn’t value you, you are going to value yourself.

You said you don’t’ want your children growing up to be like their father.  Children do learn a lot from their parents, but their father isn’t their only influencer.  You have a huge impact on your children and the way you interact with their father will say a lot to them about not only who he is, but who you are.  If you act as if he’s right and he’s entitled to act this way, they get the picture that men (fathers, husbands) get to have their way all the time that’s “normal”.  Therefore it’s important to speak truthfully to your children about things such as, “I think sometimes your father can be self-absorbed and not realize that you have your own plans. It’s okay to remind him that you can’t always accommodate him and stick to what you need to do for yourself.”

You say your husband is deeply spiritual. Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about the person who lives in the spirit and one who lives in the flesh.  Perhaps in a moment when your husband seems open or more in tune with God, you could ask him which one he inhabits most often?  Or when he is most negative or critical say, “You don’t seem to experience God’s joy or peace very much.  Why do you think that is?”  Your words will have little impact on him but God tells us that His words are powerful and don’t return void. They have the power to cut right to the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Ask God to use His Word, even those in the lyrics of the music he plays each week at church, to cause him to see the truth about why he is so critical, so miserable and so unhappy.

Lastly, don’t forget you do need good relationships, even if it’s not in your marriage. Seek out healthy girlfriends that can encourage you, love on you, pray for you and hold you accountable to be the kind of person you want to be while living in this difficult marriage.

It’s Okay for Your Kids to Fail

Source:  Jim Daly/Focus on the Family

How do we teach our kids how to deal with mistakes correctly?

I think Christians may have a harder time dealing with mistakes than nonbelievers.

Some of my friends who aren’t Christians have tremendous relationships with their kids. They have a great rapport with them, in part because they have a basic acceptance of their humanity, an understanding of their own innate weaknesses. That seems easier for nonbelievers to accept.

As Christians, we have very high standards for our kids, and perhaps rightly so. But that can also make us more intolerant of mistakes than we should be. When we aim for perfection, an inherently impossible standard to reach, we run the danger of not just encouraging our children to do better and to improve, but also of telling them they’re just not good enough and they will never be good enough.

But that’s a me problem, not a God problem. When you look at it from God’s point of view, I doubt He’s looking for perfection, since He knows it’s impossible for us to attain. He’s looking instead for a continuously better relationship with Him. Sometimes the moments we veer off course are the exact moments we swerve closer to our Lord. Sometimes when we feel as though God is grading us with an F, we’re actually getting an A. Why? Because we’re getting closer to the One who made us and realizing our dependence on Him. We’re depending on the payment of perfection that Jesus provided by dying for each of us.

Learning lessons

This doesn’t mean God likes us to make mistakes or commit sins. He simply knows that we will and expects us to learn from them and not repeat those mistakes. So how do we turn our mistakes into lessons? How do we teach our kids how to deal with mistakes correctly, not flogging themselves over them, not by accepting them like they’re no big deal, but by growing from them?

In my family, it begins with a talk. If you were to ask my kids what I tell them about perfection, they’d say, “Oh, he says he’s not perfect. And we’re not perfect.” I’ve tried to plant that thought in their minds—that we’re all works in progress in God’s eyes.

There’s a big difference between “not good enough” and “not perfect.” When you’re talking about perfection, you’re talking about God’s standard of measure. To understand that we’re not perfect, and can never be perfect in God’s eyes, develops in us a healthy understanding of reality—God’s reality. We all fall short of God’s standard of perfection.

From there, we build in the theology of the acceptance of Christ and sanctification and trying by His power to do better. We can teach our kids that, when we fail, we must turn to God and ask for forgiveness. And by extension, doing this will help us teach how important it is to apologize to the people in our lives whom we’ve hurt through our mistakes and shortcomings.

This understanding of our own imperfections helps us avoid the modern-day legalism that endangers so many Christians. We in the Christian community need to learn to relax a little, to realize that perfection for our kids remains out of reach. Sure, we want them to learn and grow from their mistakes all the time; we will help them see that God wants us to live every day in a way that shows we are making progress. But we have to understand, and help our kids understand, that we all fail sometimes. And that failure is okay.

Let me repeat that: It’s okay for your kids to fail sometimes. Because that’s often how they learn the best.

It’s a tough balancing act, but it’s a challenge that all dads deal with at some point—and may even have opportunities to teach several times a day.

Turning a mistake into an opportunity

I had a moment like this with my son Trent not too long ago. He lied to me about finishing his math homework. When I discovered the truth, I sat him down for a talk. We talked about why it’s important to work hard in school. We talked about why lying, particularly to your father, is never appropriate. We talked about how we’re made in God’s image and how we need to strive to be more like Jesus every day.

I wanted to turn his mistake into an opportunity to learn and grow—not to make him feel like a failure (because he had failed) but to help him understand why it’s important to do better the next time.

It took time to get to this point, to understand that mistakes are just lessons in disguise. My frustration level when my boys were younger rose much higher than it does today. I can feel myself mellowing out. And I’m happy with that. I like it.

For me, it’s all about concentrating on the things I should concentrate on. The things I can teach. The love I can show. The ability, when something bad happens, to put my arm around my child and say, “It’ll be okay.”

That’s so important, because kids have such great fears about disappointing us or letting us down. They worry about consequences. And honestly, they may have to face big consequences for what they do. Just because we understand that kids make mistakes doesn’t alleviate the importance of trying to correct those mistakes. But we should always help our children understand that, even if they get punished for something, it isn’t going to separate them from our love.

Own up to your mistakes

And somehow in the middle of all that, as parents we must find a way to convey that we’re not perfect either. Now that doesn’t mean we should spill out our guts to our kids when they’re 5. They don’t need to hear about the time you tried pot in high school or about your sexual experiences in college. There may be a time and a place to talk with your kids about your less than God-honoring experiences, but sometimes what’s in the past is better served staying there for a while.

But when it comes down to the mistakes you make today, particularly the moments you wrong your own children, it’s important to confess and tell them you’re sorry, just as you’d expect them to confess and apologize to you.

It’s a wonderful model and an enriching moment to deal openly and honestly with your kids, to be able to say, “I’m sorry, I think I’ve offended you,” or to ask, “Have I hurt you in some way? Have I embarrassed you? Have I in the last week made you angry?”

I know families who do this around the dinner table during a family chat. It has to be a safe environment in which kids can answer questions honestly, without fear of punishment. They teach the kids that it’s safe to answer candidly and to transparently share their own feelings.

Parents need some training too. They have to resist the temptation to rationalize or correct their children. I know we feel strongly tempted to brush off a child’s hurt and concerns because when we do this exercise in my own house, I feel as tempted as anyone. I want to rationalize or explain why I did this or that. It’s hard to ask a really frightening question—“Have I done anything this week to offend you?”—and then just accept the answer, particularly when your kids are 12 or 13 or 14. So many things can offend kids who are that age.

It can be both hard and humbling. But it can also open the doors to an enriching honesty that’ll pay huge dividends later on.

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The Good Dad  Adapted excerpt from The Good Dad by Jim Daly

A Prayer for Letting Go of the Desire to Get Even

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn’t Love Cover A Multitude of Sins?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick LCSW [www.leslievernick.com]

A woman struggling in an emotionally destructive marriage once asked me, “Doesn’t love cover a multitude of sins? (1 Peter 4:8). Who am I to hold my husband’s sin or blindness against him? The bible teaches us, “It is good for us to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Shouldn’t I just keep quiet and minister to him, and pray that he will see God’s love in me?

Many of us in a destructive relationship struggle with this same question.

Jesus makes it clear. We are not to judge or condemn anyone (Matthew 7:1,2). God instructs all his followers to forbear with and forgive one another. We know we all fail one another (James 3:2), and we know that we should take the log out of our own eye before attempting to deal with the speck in someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). To bring up each and every offense in any relationship would become tiresome indeed.

Love does cover a multitude of sins but not all sins.

The scriptures also instruct us to warn those who are lazy (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We are not to participate in unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). We’re told to bring a brother back who has wandered from the truth (James 5:19), as well as restore someone who is caught in a trespass (Galatians 6:1). When someone offends us, we’re to go talk with them so that our relationship can be repaired (Matthew 18:15-17).

Yes, we ought to forgive and forbear, overlooking minor offenses hoping others will do the same for us. And, we are to speak up when someone’s sin is hurting them, hurting others, or hurting us.

Serious and repetitive sin is lethal to any relationship. We would not be loving the destructive person if we kept quiet and colluded with his self-deception or enabled his sin to flourish without any attempt to speak truth into his life (Ephesians 4:15). Yes, we are called to be imitators of Christ and live a life of love, however, let’s be careful that we do not put a heavy burden on ourselves (or allow someone else to put it on us) to do something that God himself does not do. God is gracious to the saint and unrepentant sinner alike, but he does not have close relationship with both. He says our sins separate us from him (Isaiah 59:2Jeremiah 5:25).

When someone repeatedly and seriously sins against us and is not willing to look at what he’s done and is not willing to change, it is not possible to have a warm or close relationship. We’ve misunderstood (or been taught) unconditional love requires unconditional relationship. Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisee’s are examples of him challenging their self-deception and pride so they would repent and experience true fellowship with him (Matthew 23). He loved them, but they did not enjoy a loving or safe relationship. Jesus never pretended otherwise.

A marriage or relationship that has no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy nor is it spiritually sound. It enables someone to continue to believe that the rules of life don’t apply to him and if he does something hurtful or sinful, he or she shouldn’t have to suffer the relational fallout. That thinking is not biblical, healthy, or true. For the good of the destructive person, our marriage, our own emotional and spiritual health as well as our children’s well-being, there are times we must make some tough choices. We must speak up, set boundaries and implement consequences when a destructive person’s behavior is destroying what God holds so precious—people, marriage, and family. Scripture warns, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper” (Proverbs 28:18).

Yes, the destructive person desperately needs to see God’s love, but he or she also desperately needs to see himself more truthfully so that he can wake up and ask God to help him make necessary changes. We are not better and God doesn’t love us more than he loves the destructive individual. We are all broken and in desperate need of God’s healing grace. The problem for the destructive person is that he or she has been unwilling to acknowledge his part of the destruction. She’s been unwilling to confess or take responsibility or get the help she needs to change her destructive ways. Instead she’s minimized, denied, lied, excused, rationalized, or blamed others.

Confronting someone and/or implementing tough consequences should never be done to scold, shame, condemn, or punish. We have one purpose—to jolt someone awake. We hope that by doing so, they will come to their senses, turn to God and stop their destructive behaviors.

The Sweetness of Forgiveness

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 209.

Have you ever been told words like these?

“Well, you know I’ve forgiven you. But I’ll never forget the time you …”

If so, what was your relationship like afterwards?

Was trust restored? Did you feel the warmth and intimacy of true friendship and a restored relationship? Probably not.

Why is such false forgiveness so incredibly unsatisfying? It is because this is not forgiveness modeled on the forgiveness we receive from God in Christ.

When someone claims to forgive you, but continues to remind you of your wrong over and over again, it is easy to feel ongoing guilt and shame. This is in contrast to the happiness–blessedness–and freedom we have knowing that when God forgives us, he removes our sin “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)

If the person you wronged constantly brings up your past offense and keeps you at a “distance,” it is incredibly hard to relax and be yourself around that person because of the sense of ultimate rejection.

Compare that to the sweetness of our loving relationship with “Abba Father” who grants us the gift of repentance and then runs to his prodigal children to lavish forgiveness on us and restore us into his family.

So what are we called to do?

First of all, we worship God and thank him for his amazing forgiveness.

Secondly, we pray for the grace to never say such harmful and unforgiving words to anyone ourselves.

And lastly, we are called to persevere in relationship with someone who claims to “forgive” us, but who consistently brings up our past offense, tells others about it, and keeps us at arms-length.

We look for opportunities to bless them, share Christ with them, and prayerfully strive to help deliver them from their bitterness and unforgiveness towards us.

A Good Day I Must Never Forget

Source:  taken from Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan [born 1628]

113. I had, also, once a sweet glance from that in II Cor. 5.21: ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’ I remember, also, that one day as I was sitting in a neighbour’s house, and there very sad at the consideration of my many blasphemies, and as I was saying in my mind, What ground have I to think that I, who have been so vile and abominable, should ever inherit eternal life? that word came suddenly upon me, ‘What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom. 8.31). That, also, was an help unto me, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (John 14.19). But these were but hints, touches, and short visits, though very sweet when present; only they lasted not; but, like to Peter’s sheet, of a sudden were caught up from me to heaven again (Acts 10.16).

 
114. But afterwards the Lord did more fully and graciously discover Himself unto me; and, indeed, did quite, not only deliver me from the guilt that, by these things, was laid upon my conscience, but also from the very filth thereof; for the temptation was removed, and I was put into my right mind again, as other Christians were.

 
115. I remember that one day, as I was travelling into the country and musing on the wickedness and blasphemy of my heart, and considering of the enmity that was in me to God, that scripture came in my mind, He hath ‘made peace through the blood of his cross’ (Col. 1.20). By which I was made to see, both again, and again, and again, that day, that God and my soul were friends by this blood;

yea, I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other through this blood.

This was a good day to me; I hope I shall not forget it.

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Bunyan, J. (1995). Grace abounding to the chief of sinners (57–58). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Remembering Our Place When Wronged

SOURCE:   John Henderson/Association of Biblical Counselors

Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants. ”

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Genesis 50:18-19)

We find in Joseph a kind of humble grace that deserves our thought and appreciation. His brothers had wronged him severely.

They had sold him into slavery and death. Years later, as second in power to Pharaoh in Egypt, Joseph is given an opportunity for retribution. It would be easy to assume that God was providing a chance for him to even the score. What would you do if you were in Joseph’s place?

I am amazed by how he responded. The posture Joseph takes is contrary to our sinful nature and wholly divine.

Clearly the Spirit of God abides in him. Mankind tends not to act in this way. None of us tend to act this way. When hurt and abused, we tend to be quicker to punish and revile. We need help. We need God abiding in us. We need to believe and practice what Joseph believed and practiced.

Remember the place of God– to assume the seat of judge upon the souls of others is to forget the Lord has already filled the seat. It is like a pardoned convict demanding the judge step aside so that he may evaluate and sentence a fellow criminal. The Father has given the position of Judge to His Son.[1] Not one of us can bear the burden, nor would we exercise the chair with wisdom that is fitting. We can take comfort, however, that God is Judge enough. He dispenses mercy and wrath in perfect seasons and proportions.

Remember the place of Self– a recipient of grace. Perhaps we are offended in the present situation, but we have often assumed the other spot. Whether we recall the incidents or not, the Lord remembers countless moments when His grace was extended to us, undeserved. Our grit and savvy did not secure our pardon, but God’s grace in Jesus Christ. “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?”[2]

Remember the ways of God– they are righteous and pure. They have always been righteous and pure. “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. ”[3]

We can trust our God. We can trust His works. Since the foundation of the world, He has proved Himself holy beyond measure. His law is perfect. His wrath upon sinners is perfect. His wrath was so perfect that the sacrifice of His Son was necessary to satisfy it. Indeed, His grace is perfect too.

Remember the ways of Self– they are prideful and distorted. Whatever true justice we perceive and dispense is a gift from God anyway. It is not of us or from us. If we had our way, then true grace and mercy wouldn’t happen.

Justice wouldn’t either. We cannot trust ourselves. We cannot trust our works. It is not our instinct to redeem, or absorb transgression, or overlook a fault in love. The Spirit must train our hearts to believe and apply the gospel in these forms.

Next time we are offended, let us pray for the Lord to bring these verses and truths to our minds. Let us pray to give the same mercy we have received. Then we will better understand what it means to be children of God.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. ”[4]

[1]John 5:22

[2]Proverbs 20:9

[3]Deuteronomy 32:3-4

[4]Matthew 5:44-45

“In this world you will have trouble.”

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 63.

Left Ahead

In this world you will have trouble.” John 16.33

The fact that God is good does not mean that he will insulate us from all suffering.

Rather, it means that he will be with us in our suffering and accomplish good through it (Isa. 43:2-3).

J.I. Packer writes, “We see that he leaves us in a world of sin to be tried, tested, belaboured by troubles that threaten to crush us–in order that we may glorify him by our patience under suffering, and in order that he may display the riches of his grace and call forth new praises from us as he constantly upholds and delivers us.”

Imagine this scenario: Jesus is ascending back to heaven as his disciples are looking on and he tells them, “I’ve got to go now. Hang in there, and best of luck.” Sound ludicrous? It would be almost impossible to continue following someone who left you like that. Even those of us who have blood type D (duty) would eventually need a transfusion of something; something to give us hope in this broken world. If that had been the case, then Jesus would have truly left us behind. But that’s not how the story goes.

He left us ahead; he told us what it was going to be like, no surprises (John, chapters 14-16):

  • The world will hate you.
  • They will persecute you.
  • They will put you out of the synagogue.
  • They will think that killing you is a service to God.

And he told us right where he would be:

  • I will be with you.

As we suffer conflicts, insults, and other hardships, we must remember that Christ is our Emmanuel–God with us!

We press on through those valleys of the shadow of death, but we don’t press on alone; no, we have the presence of the living Christ guiding, encouraging, refining, strengthening, and protecting us all along the way. And as our faith matures, God does more and more of what God loves to do–display the riches of his grace and call forth new praises from us as he constantly upholds and delivers us.

Who Me, A Wretch?

SOURCE: Adapted from an article by  Joe Stowell/Strength for the Journey

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

There are a few hymns that I really like, and “Amazing Grace” is one of them. But somehow, like so many other familiar tunes, the weight of the words soon gets lost in our familiarity with the song. From bagpipe bands, to presidential events, to state funerals, to gospel songfests, to nearly every church in America, “Amazing Grace” has been performed so many times that we easily become numbed to its profoundly disturbing message.

You know the first line by heart: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . .”

Hold on. Me—a wretch?!

None of us like to think about how wretched we are.

We’d rather live in the self-delusion that compared to others we aren’t all that bad after all. We go to great lengths to look and feel good about ourselves. We exercise and diet to lose weight so we look good at the beach. We put makeup on in the morning so that we look good when we get to work. I ask my wife to help me pick out clothes so that I look good when I speak in church. And when someone says, “Hey, you’re lookin’ good!” we feel we have arrived.

But here’s the sobering news.

If we were to look at ourselves the way God sees us even when we have it all together, we would see something totally different.

He sees through all of our efforts to be “lookin’ good.” His vision probes far deeper than the all-too-cool clothes we wear, our makeup, our rippling abs and our great tan. He strips away the layers of self-delusion and penetrates deep into our hearts where each of us is a desperately lost sinner. And, no matter how good you think you are, it’s not until we know that we are like condemned criminals before Him that we can begin to understand how amazing His grace really is.

When you can honestly say that His grace saved a wretch like you, you can begin to stand in amazement at the greatness of His grace. In fact, His grace is only a “sweet sound” when you know how deep it had to go to clean you up!

What is God’s amazing grace?

It’s the outstretched love of Jesus whose agonizing death and victorious resurrection saves us from who we really are—not from who we think we are. Romans 5:8 says: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He died the worst kind of death imaginable, because it needed to cover the wretchedness of our desperately lost souls. We weren’t lookin’ good when He died for us. If we were as cool as we think we are, He could have stayed in heaven. But like hopeless beggars trapped in the sludge of sin, we needed Him. And so He came and died in our place. Now that’s what I call amazing!

Getting over our self-deluded sense of coolness is step one toward reveling in the stunning grace of God. Every once in a long while someone will come up to me and say: “Hey, Stowell, you’re a really good man.” And while I like the sound of that, I know in my heart that I am not a good man. I’m a fallen man in desperate need of help. But by His grace I am a forgiven man.

I thank God every day that there was a Really Good Man who lived on the earth 2,000 years ago who hung on a cross to save a wretch like me!

Acting Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick/Discipleship Journal

God can use the annoyances of marriage to school us in his love.

It was one of those crazy weeks: deadlines looming, clients in crisis, dirty dishes scattered throughout the house. In a moment of frustration, I yelled at my husband, “You never help me around the house!”

That was not accurate. Although Howard doesn’t always notice the things I do, he is always willing to help. I’m sure he was tempted to defend himself: “What do you mean I never help you around the house? Just last week, I  . . .”

But that’s not what he did. Instead, he asked, “What can I do?”

Still frazzled, I snapped back, “Plan next week’s menu, shop for all the groceries, and cook all the dinners.” And he did. The meals were simple (frozen pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets), but the love behind them was extravagant.

It is an incredible gift to our husbands or wives when we respond in a godly way to their wrong actions. This gift comes through hard work—and the grace of God. God uses our relationships to school us in how to love when we don’t feel like it, how to forgive when we’ve been sinned against, and how to overcome evil with good. God can use the imperfections, weaknesses, differences—and, yes, even the sins—of our spouses to help us become more like Christ. Marriage provides the perfect backdrop for continual lessons in applied theology.

It’s My Problem?

Someone once said, “Adversity introduces a person to himself.” When our spouses aren’t behaving as we’d like, God often wants to show us a few things about ourselves.

Before marriage, I pictured myself as a kind and easygoing person. Once married, however, I began to glimpse another side of me. I saw how much I liked my own way and how angry I became when I didn’t get it. I noticed a tendency to hang on to my hurts. I got a peek at my pride when I believed I was right, and my husband was equally convinced I was wrong. These negative aspects of my personality were exposed when Howard wasn’t doing what I thought he should. When things were pleasant between us, these sins remained hidden.

I see the same pattern as I counsel married couples. When I ask, “When did your problems start?” I often hear, “I didn’t realize I had problems until I got married.”

Rather than focus on what our spouses are doing to us that is annoying or hurtful, we must redirect our attention to what our spouses’ wrongs reveal in us.

We generally blame our spouses for our reactions: “You make me so mad.” “If you didn’t do that, I wouldn’t act this way.” But our spouses actions don’t cause our responses. For example, I feel impatient and irritated when I am waiting in line for a slow clerk who is chatting with another clerk. The clerk is notmaking me feel these things. She is simply the trigger that exposes the impatience and anger already in my heart.

Jesus explained it this way.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

—Lk. 6:45

What overflows from your heart and comes out of your mouth when your spouse behaves badly? God uses those moments to expose our hearts so we can see ourselves more clearly, change, and grow. Part of that change is learning to step back and take in the larger picture.

The Real Battle

When I’m fighting with my husband, I usually lose sight of whom I should be fighting and what I should be fighting for. I fight to get my way, to be right, or to prove my point. But the real struggle couples face is not for such temporal victories. As much as we might feel it in the moment, our spouses are not the enemy. Rather than engage in combat with each other, we need to ward off Satan’s tactics. Rather than seeking to vindicate ourselves, we need to fight for the glory of God, the preservation of our marriages, our spiritual health, and our children’s future.

Satan is our real enemy. He is out to destroy us (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan tries to convince us that God’s ways don’t satisfy and that following Him will rob us of something enjoyable. During marital troubles, he whispers, “Why should you work on your marriage? After all, look what your spouse has done. Why should you forgive? You have needs too.”

When Susan discovered that her husband, John, was heavily involved in internet pornography, she felt deep hurt and anger. Her first impulse was to shame him publicly, exposing him to his family, church, and employer. But if Susan is going to win her battle, she needs a clear understanding of Satan’s strategies and the weapons available to her.

The only weapons that have real power are spiritual (2 Cor. 10:3–5). God gives us a powerful alternative to reacting recklessly to our spouses’ sin: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Ro. 12:21). The Apostle Peter reminds us, “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15). We overcome evil with good when we stop battling our spouses and respond to wrongdoing in ways that are godly, righteous, and loving.

From Reacting to Responding

Jennifer came to counseling grinning from ear to ear. “I finally get it,” she said. “When I don’t react to Paul’s stupid remarks with a sarcastic dig, God actually works in his heart.” Jennifer had learned an important lesson. Though we don’t intentionally set out to ruin our marriages or hurt our mates, our reactions to our spouses’ wrongs can be like tossing a lit match into gasoline. A relationship deteriorates rapidly when two sinners sin against each other at the same time.

To reverse this pattern, we need to stop reacting out of our fleshly natures and start responding as God calls us to do. Most often, this process starts by harnessing our tongues. Proverbs tells us, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Prov. 12:18). The psalmist knew about struggling with the tongue. “I said, ‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence'” (Ps. 39:1). Yet he also knew that keeping quiet can be tough. “But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased” (v. 2). Something in us feels good when we open our mouths and let someone have it.

In our culture, we are encouraged to express our negative feelings so we don’t become unhealthy. But negative feelings are a lot like vomit. It feels better to get it out, but vomit belongs in the toilet—not on your spouse.

Writing letters to my husband—the kind I rip up rather than send—helps rid me of destructive emotions. Ask God for His perspective. He will teach you what to do with your negative reactions so you can address why you’re upset in a constructive manner. Inevitably, God–directed responses will demonstrate His love.

Costly Choices

Many couples are committed to staying married “no matter what,” but they do so with hard hearts. God doesn’t command us simply to stay married, however. He commands us to love, no matter how another person is behaving. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:27–28).

Love, from God’s perspective, is much more than an emotional feeling for another person. And it is bigger than a commitment to stay together no matter what. To love my husband as God calls me to means that I must consciously choose to act in his best interests, even when it costs me. This type of love is demonstrated when a tired husband stays up late talking with a wife who needs a listening ear, or when a wife who hates to cook gladly makes her husband’s favorite meal. But what does godly love look like when our spouses hurt us, disappoint us, or sin against us?

David knew his wife, Lisa, wasn’t honest with him about their finances. But he never confronted her about it. He said he loved her and didn’t want to upset her or make her mad.

However, genuine love is defined by actions that focus on another person’s good, not actions that simply make another person feel good. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Prov. 27:5–6).

What was in Lisa’s best interests? She didn’t need David to overlook her spending and deceit; she desperately needed him to confront her. Lisa’s “wrong” became part of God’s plan to mature David. God wanted him to become a God–centered husband, not a Lisa–centered husband. David learned to wrap himself in God’s all–sufficient love and received strength to move beyond his fear of rejection. Then he could boldly love Lisa by confronting the spending problem—for her good and for the welfare of their marriage and family.

The Gifts of Love

Loving our spouses when we are angry or hurt is difficult. It may even feel impossible. But the love that gives good gifts to undeserving people does not originate in a human heart; it is God’s love displayed through us. When our spouses act wrong, we may not readily be able to give them our affection, warmth, or companionship. However, there are gifts of love we can give, regardless of the current climate of our marriages.

The gift of acceptance. Sometimes we refuse to accept our spouses as they are and where they are. We seem surprised when our spouses act imperfectly or differently, as if somehow they aren’t ever supposed to do such things. “I can’t believe you did that,” we say. “How could you think like that?”

I’ve heard people say again and again in counseling, “You’re not the person I married!” One time, a husband replied, “Oh, yes I am. But the person you dated? He was a fake.”

Learning to accept our spouses doesn’t mean we like their faults, neither does it imply that we resign ourselves to a hopeless situation. True acceptance begins with understanding reality: We—and our spouses—are creatures in process.

Acceptance is more than a grudging acknowledgement of reality. Acceptance is a true gift when we stop resenting having to give it, when we learn to be emotionally content with our spouses as they are, all the while asking God to mature them.

The gift of truth. We do not always face the truth in our marriages. We imagine the best in spite of evidence to the contrary. We close our eyes to information that would help us make better decisions. However, there are times when we must tell the truth about reality, though always with love (1 Cor. 13:1,Eph. 4:15).

None of us likes it when our spouses tell us something about our behaviors or attitudes that we don’t want to face. Yet it is loving and good when they do so. Why? So we do not continue to deceive ourselves into thinking that all is well when we are about to fall off a cliff (Jas. 5:19–20).

At times, our efforts to give the gift of truth will have wonderful results. Other times, we may see no change or repentance; we may even be mocked. Remember, God has called us to love our spouses as no one else in this world will. That may mean suffering under mockery and still speaking truth (Ezekiel 2).

The gift of kindness. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and being kind is one of the definitions of love (1 Cor. 13:4). Yet, as with the other gifts, we struggle to give the gift of kindness when we don’t feel like it or when our mates have hurt us.

Joan’s husband, Adam, was an alcoholic and a drug abuser. His drug use was so out of control that Joan finally asked him to move out until he got help. When, through friends, she heard he had a bad case of the flu, she cooked a pot of soup and delivered it to his apartment. Joan gave the gift of kindness to her selfish and irresponsible husband.

Being kind and gracious doesn’t mean you ignore wrongdoing or pretend it didn’t happen. Being kind means that what happens to you doesn’t define you. It doesn’t shape you or turn you into something evil. Extending kindness and mercy doesn’t depend upon whether the other person has been good or bad, wrong or right. Kindness is a gift of love, not a reward for good behavior.

In every marriage there are moments, even seasons, when we have the opportunity to choose to act right when our spouses act wrong. It might be in small, everyday ways (cooking hot dogs for dinner) or in big ways (extending forgiveness in the face of deep betrayal). God will use even the pain of a difficult marriage to help us become more like Christ—which He promises is very, very good.

‘ask in MY Name!’

SOURCE:  Paul E. Miller in a post by tollelege

“In Jesus’ name”

“Deep down, we just don’t believe God is as generous as He keeps saying He is. That’s why Jesus added the fine print– ‘ask in My name.’

Let me explain what that means.

Imagine that your prayer is a poorly dressed beggar reeking of alcohol and body odor, stumbling toward the palace of the great king. You have become your prayer. As you shuffle toward the barred gate, the guards stiffen.

Your smell has preceded you. You stammer out a message for the great king: ‘I want to see the king.’ Your words are barely intelligible, but you whisper one final word, ‘Jesus, I come in the name of Jesus.’

At the name of Jesus, as if by magic, the palace comes alive. The guards snap to attention, bowing low in front of you. Lights come on, and the door flies open. You are ushered into the palace and down a long hallway into the throne room of the great king, who comes running to you and wraps you in his arms.

The name of Jesus gives my prayers royal access. They get through.

Jesus isn’t just the Savior of my soul. He’s also the Savior of my prayers. My prayers come before the throne of God as the prayers of Jesus.

‘Asking in Jesus’ name’ isn’t another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. Is it one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect.”

–Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2009), 135.

Receiving Help That I Might Be Of Help

 SOURCE:  Dr. Tim Clinton/AACC

Real Soul Care

Somewhere outside Atlanta. All alone. Discouraged, and perhaps even a bit depressed. Questioning myself. Confused about the direction my life was taking. Wondering about God’s plan. Even questioning whether or not God cared, or was even listening.

Years ago, that is where I found myself. It seemed as if the wheels were coming off of my life, and I was simply driving aimlessly around. When my phone rang, the caller I.D. displayed “Michael Lyles”. I answered, albeit hesitantly. “Where are you Tim?” he asked. When I told him, he said, “Stay right there… I’m on my way.”

The next few hours felt like fresh water to a man dying of thirst. Mike listened. He prayed. He poured spiritual comfort and grace into my very soul. He affirmed and encouraged me. He believed in God’s work alive in my life. It was as if he came along side of me as a brother, friend and fellow warrior. Still, not everything in life made sense, but now I knew for sure that I wasn’t facing it alone.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV) have been “life” verses for me for a very long time:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Recently, I came across those verses in The Message

“All praise to the God…of all healing counsel! He comes alongside uswhen we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

Often in the New Testament, the writers refer to the “God of all grace”… or the“Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Amazing Grace.

What’s important to understand is that I received the Grace of God that day in North Atlanta. And it was poured into my life through the life of another. Strong’s Concordance describes grace (charis) with these words… divine influence upon the heart, and it’s reflection in the life. And don’t miss this — God comforts us in ALL our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in ANY affliction…

Let me paraphrase all of this if I might:

When we are going through hard times, God comforts us with grace, and that grace has a divine influence upon our hearts. Often he uses someone else to help bring that grace to us. And He comforts us in ALL of our trials. Then, further down the road, when we meet someone else who is going through ANY hard time, the grace that God poured into our lives is now reflected into their life – so that further down the road, when they meet someone else who is going through ANY hard time… And on and on it goes.

Life is tough. Struggles, trials and hard times will come. When they do, look around you. God is probably bringing someone along side of you to pour grace into your life. Grace to turn your life around — so that one day you can help turn someone else’s life around.

A Prayer for Serving Our Friends Who Struggle with Depression

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Ps. 43:5

Heavenly Father, today my heart goes out, and my prayers reach up, on behalf of those who struggle with depression, in one of its many forms. I have friends who live all along the axis from mild melancholy to the relentless pangs of suicidal depression. And my family tree has roots in clinical depression—with many loved ones who’ve struggled with emotional fracture and darkness as a way of life. Father of mercies, grant all of us greater compassion and wisdom for loving those whose mental health is under siege.

Thank you for rescuing me from simplistic views of depression. It’s not as simple a condition as I used to think. I grieve the ways I used to counsel the depressed, and it saddens me to realize how much pressure I put on them get better and “get over it.” Happiness is not always simply a choice.

David asked the right question in a season of duress: “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” (Ps. 43:5). Indeed, Father, what are the various reasons for a downcast, disturbed soul, and what does hoping in you look like for each?

Father, for friends who are depressed for no other reason than living with a graceless, gospel-less heart; keep them miserable until they rest in the finished work of your Son, Jesus. May they despair of their own unrighteousness and their “wannabe” righteousness, until they are driven to the righteousness that only comes from faith in Jesus. Sometimes misery is a great mercy.

Father, for friends who suffer from depression generated by chemical complexities, lead them to the right kind of medical care. And help us in the community of faith to be patient and understanding of the complexities involved in their care. The risk of abusing medications is always there, so give us wisdom.

Father, for friends who suffer from depression fueled by the demonic, grant me humility and wisdom. A part of me doesn’t even want to acknowledge that this is an issue at all, but how can I read your Word and dismiss the demonic so lightly? His condemning, blaming, and shaming voice, alone is enough to generate the deepest forms of darkness and a disconnected self. Yet his schemes are multiple (2 Cor. 2:11). Show us, in the Body of Christ, how are we to care for those under the spell and sway of our cross-defeated, fury-filled foe (Rev. 12:12).

Father, for those of us whose downcast-ness is little more than the fruit of blocked goals, idol failures, self-pity or the consequence of our own disobedience, smite us, yet again with the gospel. May we cry, “Uncle!”, that we might cry, “Abba!”

By your great and sufficient grace, I make King David’s affirmation mine. I do and I will yet praise you, my Savior and my God. My hope is in you, Father—for me and for all of my brokenhearted downcast friends. The gospel will win the day. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ compassionate and victorious name.

Four Promises of Forgiveness

 SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 207.

Promises For You

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he
removed our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:12

I once heard a joke that described a frequent failure in forgiving. A woman went to her pastor for advice on improving her marriage. When the pastor asked what her greatest complaint was, she replied, “Every time we get into a fight, my husband gets historical.” When her pastor said, “You must mean hysterical,” she responded, “I mean exactly what I said; he keeps a mental record of everything I’ve done wrong, and whenever he’s mad, I get a history lesson!”

Food for Thought

Take a moment today to remember the Four Promises of Forgiveness:

1. I will not dwell on this incident.
2. I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
3. I will not talk to others about this incident.
4. I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Then take a moment to remember something else: This is the way God forgives you. It’s natural for us to read the Four Promises of Forgiveness as another set of laws to which we’re presently failing to live up; however, the gospel reminds us that they should be read first and foremost as God’s commitment to us because of the sacrifice of his son. That commitment says that he will never “get historical” in bringing up sins for which we have been forgiven!

Is there an area in life where you feel condemned even though you’ve genuinely repented before God? Take a moment to hear God speaking the Four Promises of Forgiveness to you with regard to that particular issue. As you read them again, try adding your name to the beginning of each promise as a reminder that God speaks them personally to you. Remember Romans 8:1 applies to you, not just other Christians: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

When you accept this and apply it to your own life, prepare to be pleasantly surprised how much easier it will become to apply the Four Promises of Forgiveness to others who have hurt you.

The God who hears your cries

Source:  The Daily Spurgeon

The God of most men — the God of the unregenerate — is an inanimate God, or, if alive and able to see, he is an unfeeling God, careless about them and their personal interests. “Oh, it is preposterous,” say they, “to think that he takes notice of our sorrows and troubles — and still more absurd to suppose that he hears prayer, or that he ever interferes in answer to the voice of supplication, to grant a poor man his requests. It cannot be.”

That is their God, you see. That is the God of the heathen — a dead, blind, dumb God. I do not wonder that they do not pray to him. They could not expect an answer.

But the God of grace is one who has opened a communication between heaven and earth, who notices the cries of his children, puts their tears into his bottle, sympathises with their sorrows, looks down on them with an eye of pity and a father’s love, has communion with them, and permits them to have communion with him, and all that through the blessed person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

From a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon entitled “The God Of Bethel.”

The Gift Of Consequences

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  While the thrust of this article is geared toward wives concerning their husbands, I believe the wisdom of what the author shares can be applied equally by husbands toward their wives.

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today I want to talk about a gift of love that is often harder to see as loving, yet it may help your husband make the changes both of you need in order to have a better marriage. Sometimes it can be the only thing left that may save your marriage. It is the gift of consequences.

One of my coaching clients grumbled recently, “My husband doesn’t pick up after himself. This drives me crazy. I’m either nagging him or feeling like I’m his slave. I don’t want to resent him but how can I get him to care about my feelings and be neater?”

This dilemma is classic because it represents many of the minor irritants of married life that challenge our ability to respond and love in a God-honoring way.

God calls us to love even when we don’t feel like it. So, what would loving her husband look like in this specific situation? First I’m going to assume that there have already been numerous conversations about this topic with no positive result. I’m also going to make the assumption that her husband is not generally disrespectful or uncaring, but that he is not in the habit of picking up after himself and his need for neatness is not at the same level as his wife’s.

That being the case, there are two biblically valid approaches. First, as covered in my previous blog, this woman could love her husband by giving the gift of acceptance. All of us enter married life imperfect. Part of our own growth and maturity is to learn to forbear with our spouse’s weaknesses in a gracious way. When you accept your husband’s messy habits, it results in one of two changes. You either learn to live without complaining, criticism or disrespect in a messier home, or you accept he doesn’t value neatness the same way you do and you take care of it and pick up after him without criticism, complaining or disrespect.

Another valid biblical way to love your spouse in this example is by giving him the gift of consequences. What that means is that you don’t pick up after him but allow him to experience the consequences of his own messiness. Unfortunately when his messiness spills over into mutual living quarters, you too suffer, and so it’s important that when this happens, you are patient with the process of your spouse coming to understand the change he needs to make.

Let me illustrate how the gift of consequences might work in this situation. Instead of nagging or criticizing her husband when he left his dirty clothes all over the floor, my coaching client gave her husband a gentle wake up call. She said, “Honey, I’m tired of nagging you to put your clothes into the hamper. I know God doesn’t want me to be resentful and angry about this and I’m really sorry for the way I acted earlier.”

Immediately her husband’s ears perked up because he too was tired of the fighting. She continued, “But I don’t want to feel angry and resentful toward you either. So from now on, if your clothes don’t make it into the hamper, you’ll have to wash them yourself. I won’t nag or ever mention it again.”

And, she didn’t. It was difficult for her to see all of his dirty laundry accumulate on the floor but it only took several weeks of unwashed clothes for him to realize that his wife meant what she said. His clothes soon found their way into the hamper each week. He realized it was easier to pick them up than to wash them himself.

In marriages where there is serious marital sin, the gift of consequences may indeed be the most loving thing you can give your spouse. Consequences are meant to wake us up and help us recognize the damage we’ve caused. The pain of our sin is meant to teach us not to repeat the same things over and over again.

The scriptures are clear. What a man sows he reaps (Galatians 6:7). When a man or woman sows discord, abuse, enmity, strife, addiction and pain in a marital relationship, he or she doesn’t reap the benefits of a good marriage.

I think this is where many Christian women have been misadvised and foolish in trying to be godly women and wives. They have suffered terrible mistreatment and yet are counseled that they must try harder to “love” their spouse (meaning forgive and forget) and continue to provide the relational closeness of a healthy, loving marriage.

But in these instances, a more biblical approach to love would be the gift of consequences. Consequences act as a potent yet loving wake-up call that reminds him that he cannot reap the benefits of a good marriage if he chooses to continue to sow deceit, abuse, discord, and chronic selfishness in the relationship.

Forgiveness is only one step of healing a broken relationship. Without repentance and change by the offender, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to anyone. Our sin separates us from God, and our repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another.

Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is chronic serious sin. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound.

C.S. Lewis wisely said, “Love is more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” The gift of consequences may indeed be the most loving thing you can do for a wayward spouse in order to help him come to his senses, repent, and change so that your marriage and family have a chance to heal.

For another example of the gift of consequences, see Leslie’s blogspot at www.leslievernick.blogspot.com.

Portions of this blog were taken from Chapter 9, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (WaterBrook Publisher, 2001).

God is our first, last, and only option

How to Pray in the Storm

Reaching out to God in turbulent times

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Jim Carpenter

What do you do when you’re suddenly in the path of a tornado?

I found out on June 29, 1998, as I huddled in the darkness of the basement, our house shuddering from the force of the wind as it cut a swath through the northern Des Moines metro area. In only minutes, the sky went from a serene blue to an angry charcoal. Rain, whipped by nearly 100-mile-an-hour winds, plastered shredded leaves to the sides of our house and poured through an open window. Broken glass sliced through my office as the window casement was wrenched away. Trees snapped off 15 feet above the ground or were torn out by their roots. My neighbor’s camper landed upside down in someone else’s backyard. Shingles sailed by like flocks of Frisbees.

As the thunder and lightning escalated, the power went out, and the entire house began to tremble. Sirens started to blare. I headed for the basement, and a scene from the movie Twister flashed through my mind—the scene where a man is ripped out of a storm shelter and sucked into the mouth of the monster wind.

What do you do when your house may be leveled by a storm, when you might die? You pray. And not a neat, textbook prayer. You pray in desperation and beg God to spare you and your family. You plead with Him to preserve your house and stay the force of the storm. You cry, “Have mercy! Have mercy!”

When Storms Threaten

Storms swirl into our lives in many forms: a doctor’s grim diagnosis, a financial disaster, a slick road on a dark street, a teenager’s tragic choice. Storms bring us to our knees, cowering in the dark basement of our fears. And so we pray.

When the tornado struck, I had been studying 2 Chronicles 20. Now my Bible falls open to that chapter, the pages permanently wrinkled from the ferocious rain that streamed into my office that day. I realized I had a lot in common with King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah. They, too, were standing in the path of a storm.

An angry alliance of Judah’s enemies was marching inexorably toward Jerusalem, determined to destroy the nation. The word came to Jehoshaphat: “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea” (v. 2). The enemy horde was already on the west side of the Jordan, only 40 miles from Jerusalem!

Significantly, Jehoshaphat didn’t spend any time consulting with his generals. He knew that Judah had no military defense against such a foe. No, “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast” (v. 3).

God’s response to Jehoshaphat’s desperate prayer was gracious and powerful. Looking at desperate times through the lens of the king’s example, I began to discover some principles of prayer for the storms that lie ahead.

Measure the storm by the character and promises of God.

Jehoshaphat brought his people together in grave recognition of the nation’s peril. But then he led them to focus on Almighty God, claiming His power and promises.

First, he focused on God’s attributes.

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.

—v. 6

When we gauge the fury of the storm by the power of Almighty God, the storm is absolutely dwarfed!

Next, Jehoshaphat reminded God of His promises to His people.

O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.

—vv. 7–9

Jehoshaphat echoed the words of King Solomon, who prayed to dedicate the temple a century before. The night after that ceremony, the Lord appeared to Solomon and made a promise that His people have been claiming ever since. It must have been on Jehoshaphat’s heart in the middle of the storm:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

—2 Chron. 7:14

Centering our thoughts and emotions in the Scriptures will help us pray through the storm. For years, I have printed four-by-six-inch cards with passages about God’s wisdom, sovereignty, mercy, faithfulness, and goodness. His Word, hid in my heart, helps me ride out storms in confidence.

Our son Zach joined the army (right before the tornado) to finance his college education. At the time, the world seemed to be at peace. But in the months since, the U.S. military has been embroiled in one regional crisis after another.

At times I am overwhelmed with fear for my son. Often, the Lord brings Psalm 91 to my mind, a song of God’s protection. The familiar words quiet my heart: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. . . . For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (vv. 1, 11).

Then I am able to pray through the psalm, personalizing it for Zach, and once again entrusting my son to my faithful heavenly Father.

Demonstrate helpless dependence on God.

Judah’s assembly was an eloquent testimony to their dependence upon the Lord. Whole families stood together, babies in arms, praying and fasting (v. 13). They knew God was their only hope. If He didn’t intervene, they would be destroyed.

Jehoshaphat ended his prayer with this humble statement: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (v. 12).

The storm forces us to this place of dependence, confessing that nothing else has the slightest chance of saving us—not our possessions or our connections, not our personalities or our education. Not our religion or our luck. Letting God know we know that He is our first, last, and only option is a good thing.

While it is true that we can pray from any position, our posture can mirror the attitude of our hearts. Sometimes I feel the need to pray flat on my face. Other times I stand with hands raised to heaven. Similarly, when we say no to food or to sleep for a time, we remind ourselves—and God—that we are counting on Him and Him alone.

Corporate prayer, fasting, and confession allow us to say, while the storm rages around us, that our hope is in You, Lord. Only You.

Wait for God to communicate.

When Jehoshaphat finished his prayer, there was nothing more to say. While the enemy army drew nearer, “all the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord” (v.13). They simply waited.

And God spoke through a man named Jahaziel (v. 14).

The Lord’s communiqué matched their situation perfectly. They were fearful, so He comforted them.

Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s… Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.

—vv. 15, 17

They didn’t know what to do, so He gave them explicit instructions.

Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem.

—vv. 16–17

Prayer was never intended to be a monologue. Learning to practice “listening prayer” has transformed the lives of many of God’s children and prepared them for gathering storms ahead.

So how does God speak? Well, certainly through His Word. He might communicate through the counsel of a friend or through circumstances. Sometimes He even speaks to us through dreams. He might also bring impressions to a yielded mind. For years I have depended upon semi-annual prayer retreats, where I withdraw for a day or two to pray and to listen.

The night after the tornado, the Lord communicated with my wife, Dionne. While we were thankful that God had preserved our lives and home, we were still very discouraged. We had been trying to sell our home for months, and one disaster after another had prevented it.

In the aftermath of the storm, our property looked as if it had been shelled. A dozen of our huge trees were shattered, the remains littering every part of our acre lot and crushing our neighbor’s fence. Our roof was damaged, and the back wall of our garage hung by a few nails. Who would want to buy our house now? We went to bed very depressed.

That night Dionne could not sleep. She got up, grabbed a Bible, and headed for the living room. Desperate for a word from God, she prayed for God to speak.

The Lord led her to Is. 43:1–3:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

The next night, 24 hours after the tornado, we sold our house!

Respond with courageous obedience.

Obedience may not always require courage, but in this case it did.

“Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa” (v. 20).

Only hours before, the Israelites had been paralyzed with fear. Now, in obedience to the Lord, they rose early to meet an army bent on their destruction. But rather than lead with their best soldiers, “Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness” (v.21). They marched forward, praising God with triumphant words from Psalm 136: “Give thanks to the Lord… His love endures forever.”

Did you ever think of worship as an act of courage? In my first year of seminary, a student was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. One of our professors broke the news to us, and before he led in prayer, he said, “In times like this, I don’t know what to do but worship.”

Worship takes courage because it is the ultimate expression of trust. When you stand in the path of the storm, when circumstances are close to destroying you, when you look around and see nothing but chaos, to worship is to say, “My God is bigger than this. I trust Him and His promises more than my eyesight, more than my perception of reality.”

So we worshiped and prayed. Weeks later, we rejoiced that God had chosen to heal our friend.

The summer of our Iowa tornado, Paul and Jule Becker were in the middle of their own storm. Jule was fighting a battle with cancer that had lasted, to that point, seven long years.

As I prayed for Jule with a friend, we sensed God was leading us to organize an intense time of prayer and fasting for her. Her team of intercessors already numbered in the hundreds. In obedience to God’s leading, people all over the world determined to fast and pray, worship and wait. God preserved Jule’s life for another year. But in the end, with great grace and dignity, Jule went to be with Him.

The howl of the wind and the crash of the thunder may threaten to dislodge us from the habits of obedience we normally practice: worship, witness, stewardship. To keep our footing will take courage—the courage to obey even in the darkest hour of the storm.

Expect God’s best.

The Lord exploited the diverse factions of this conglomerate army. Some believe He also intervened with angelic warriors.

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men . . . who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

—vv. 22–23

The invaders were routed. The voluminous provisions they brought became an abundant overflow of God’s blessing. “There was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it” (v. 25).

And it all happened without a single weapon being raised in Judah! God’s people prayed a desperate prayer, and He delivered them through the storm.

Sometimes God’s best is victory over the enemy. For Jule, God’s best was not physical healing but homegoing. Either way, God carries us through the storm, connected to His love and buoyed by His faithfulness.

When my wife was a little girl, her parents were missionaries to Jordan. Violence permeated that part of the world then, just as it does today.

One frightening day the political climate turned stormier than usual, and a mob of angry men swirled together. They stood shoulder to shoulder, many men deep, locked arms, and began to march with murderous resolution toward the mission compound where Dionne’s family lived.

The compound was walled on all four sides, but that day the gate was open, and Dionne and her younger brother were playing in the courtyard.

As the mob came nearer, the children were hustled back onto the porch. The family watched in horror as the men marched in rank through the open gate, across the courtyard, and directly toward the front door.

Just as the first group of men reached the front step of the porch, Dionne remembers a dazed look coming over their faces. Suddenly the lead men veered left, marched to the side wall, and clambered to the street. All the men behind followed suit, scrambling over the wall like a stream of fire ants.

Weeks later they received a letter from my wife’s grandmother in Chicago. The Lord had awakened her in the middle of the night and told her to pray for her family in Jordan. Gripped by a sense of imminent danger, she dropped to her knees in earnest intercession. Finally the burden lifted. She was writing to discover what crisis the family might have faced.

The date and time of her prayer matched precisely the date and time of the threatening mob and their sudden detour away from the family.

There are storms coming—that much is certain. Christians have no special immunity from the fury of the tornado. But whether the storm passes us by or visits us with crushing force, prayer is our refuge under the darkening sky. In desperate times, prayer connects us to the God of the storm. The same Jesus who brought peace to a boatload of terrified disciples still reigns today. And the wind and the waves still do His bidding.

It is a hard fight, BUT the victory is yours

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow

He Is Faithful To Forgive

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Deal much and closely with the fullness of grace that is in Jesus. All this grace in Christ is for the sanctification of the believer. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell,” for the necessities of His people; and what necessities so great and urgent as those which spring from indwelling sin?

Take the corruption, whatever be its nature, directly and simply to Jesus: the very act of taking it to Him weakens its power; yes, it is half the victory. The blessed state of mind, the holy impulse that leads you to your closet, there to fall prostrate before the Lord in lowliness of spirit and brokenness of heart—the humble confession of sin, with the hand of faith on the head of Jesus, the atoning sacrifice—is a mighty achievement of the indwelling Spirit over the power of indwelling sin.

Learn to take the guilt as it comes, and the corruption as it rises, directly and simply to Jesus. Suffer not the guilt of sin to remain long upon the conscience. The moment there is the slightest consciousness of a wound received, take it to the blood of Christ. The moment a mist dims the eye of faith, so that you can not see clearly the smile of your Father’s countenance, take it that instant to the blood of atonement.

Let there be no distance between God and your soul. Sin separates.

But sin immediately confessed, mourned over, and forsaken, brings God and the soul together in sweet, close, and holy fellowship.

Oh the oneness of God and the believer, in a sin-pardoning Christ! Who can know it?—He only who has experienced it. To cherish, then, the abiding sense of this holy, loving oneness, the believer must live near the fountain. He must wash daily in the brazen laver that is without; then, entering within the veil, he may “draw near” the mercy-seat, and ask what he will of Him that dwells between the cherubims.

Thank God for the smallest victory gained. Praise Him for any evidence that sin has not entire dominion. Every fresh triumph achieved over some strong and easy-besetting infirmity is a glorious battle won. No victory that ever flushed the cheek of an Alexander or a Caesar may once be compared with his, who, in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, overcomes a single corruption. If “he that rules his spirit is better than he that takes a city,” then, he who masters one corruption of his nature has more real glory than the greatest earthly conqueror that ever lived.

Oh, how God is glorified—how Jesus is honored—how the Spirit is magnified, in the slaying of one spiritual enemy at the foot of the cross!

Cheer up, precious soul!

You have every encouragement to persevere in the great business of sanctification. True, it is a hard fight—true, it is a severe and painful contest—but the victory is yours! The “Captain of your salvation” has fought and conquered for you, and now sits upon His throne of glory, cheering you on, and supplying you with all needed strength for the warfare in which you are engaged.

Then, “Fight the good fight of faith, be men of courage,””be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,”—for you shall at length “overcome through the blood of the Lamb,” and be “more than conquerors [triumphant] through Him that has loved us.”

Here, beneath the cross, would I breathe for you the desire and the prayer once offered by the apostle of the Gentiles, in behalf of the church of the Thessalonians: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus. Christ.”  Amen and amen.

———————————————————–

Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878), also known as “The Pilgrim’s Companion”, stood out as one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century in England and America.

“The Lord Rebuke You, Satan!”

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/David Daniels

Acquitted!

Satan’s Accusations Are No Match For Jesus’ Defense.

The problem started during “the rockets’ red glare.” My six-year-old was playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for his elementary school talent show. For several months, Pearson had been learning to play piano by ear, and my wife and I were thrilled that he was confident enough to show off his skills to a listening public.

However, he missed one note—just one among a hundred.

When the piece concluded, the audience erupted in thunderous applause, but Pearson clearly was discouraged. After the show, I cut through the crowd to congratulate him for a fabulous job. His feelings of disappointment and self-criticism burst like bombs and destroyed his ability to bask in my praise. In his mind, he was a failure.

Like Pearson, I sometimes allow even the smallest errors to stifle my sense of success. I can spend multiple weekends crafting a project in my woodshop. Then, after all my hours of sawing, gluing, sanding, and finishing, friends will compliment me on my accomplishment. They marvel at the masterpiece, but I see the mistake.

Such is the tension of living as a Christ follower.

All of us carry past stains or flaws that Satan uses to convince us that we are failures. Like a wrong note or a crooked cut that seems to nullify an otherwise great job, past sin—though confessed and forgiven—can overshadow the abundant, joyful life we have in Christ.

At these moments, we need a reminder of grace. When the devil points out our spiritual blemishes and accuses us of sin, God provides an immediate defense to help us reflect on the past but not dwell there.

Court in Session

The exiled Israelites also struggled to overcome guilt for past sins. During the second year of his reign, the Persian king Darius permitted them to return home to Jerusalem. They had been taken captive generations earlier by the Babylonians, not because they were militarily inadequate but because of sin. The Israelites had traded the worship of God for idols, the holiness of God for sensuality, and the justice of God for selfishness. So God made their home like their hearts. Their city walls were demolished, their temple was destroyed, and their people were deported to live as aliens in a foreign land.

Ezra, one of the leaders during the time of their return, reflected on the reason for their defeat:

From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.

—Ezra 9:7

God’s people were under God’s discipline. He had used shaping, sharpening circumstances to correct them and redirect the course of their lives. Although God disciplined them out of love to produce the fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:6, 11), it was nonetheless painful.

At Israel’s return to Jerusalem, this pain was unbearable. As the leaders stood atop piles of debris, they surveyed a city in disrepair and wept. The rocks and rubble were reminders of their former depravity and God’s severe discipline. How could they ever hope to receive His favor again?

Israel’s discouraging circumstances set the stage for the courtroom drama that unfolds in Zechariah 3. Zechariah was a prophet called by God to speak to Israel as they were rebuilding the city and temple. In a vision Zechariah received from God, the spiritual representative of God’s people stood before the angel of the Lord. Satan was also present—as the prosecutor.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.

—Zech. 3:1

This vision depicts the ongoing spiritual battle we, as God’s people, face every day: As we work toward restoration, the enemy attacks with accusation.

Accusation is one of Satan’s primary strategies. His name means “accuser” or “one who opposes.” In Rev. 12:10, he is called the “accuser of [the] brethren” (NASB). After he traps us in sin through temptation, he overwhelms us with reminders of our failure.

A scene from The Lion King clearly illustrates this strategy. The villain, Scar, leads his nephew, Simba, into the middle of a wildebeest stampede. Simba’s father dies attempting to rescue his son, and Scar blames the young cub for the devastating outcome. His accusations consist of a wickedly covert combination of “no one will ever know” followed by “I told you so.”

Satan repeatedly uses the same tactic against Christians.

Our accuser lures us into sin and then puts us on trial when we take the bait. Even after we’ve confessed and sought forgiveness, he continues to condemn us for our failures.

In Zechariah’s vision, “Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel” (Zech. 3:3). I know exactly how Joshua must have felt: exposed, ashamed, unworthy. The devil’s attacks cause me to question my position before God, the cross’s power over sin, and God’s protection from eternal judgment. First, I experience guilt—that painful sense that I am unclean and unforgivable. Second, my heart floods with doubt: Does God still love me? Is the cross big enough for my sin? Third, I drift into fear, wondering whether I really am saved; perhaps I have lost the eternal security I once possessed. Finally, I slip into hopelessness—that discouraging sense of irreversible defeat.

For the Defense

Fortunately, there were three people in the courtroom Zechariah saw. As soon as the devil stood to deliver his prosecution, the Lord rose to defend His servant:

The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?…Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it, says the Lord Almighty, and I will remove the sin of this land in one day.

—3:2, 8–9

The courtroom judge became a criminal advocate. This is a picture of amazing grace. When the devil harasses us, God rises to our rescue.

God based His defense on His promise to send a servant, the life-giving “Branch” who would remove the sin of the people in a single day and deal with their failure once and for all. What God’s people at that time could only imagine, we enjoy fully today. Through Jesus Christ, God is both “just and the justifier” (Ro. 3:26, NASB). The Apostle John summarizes this remarkable assurance when he writes, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 Jn. 2:1). Because of Christ’s work on the cross, the one who can damn me rises to defend me instead.

The remainder of Zechariah’s vision spells out Jesus’ threefold defense.

Grabbed by God

First, we have been chosen by grace. In verse 2, the Lord vigorously reprimands the enemy:

The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?

The people of Israel understood grace. Their nation was the fulfillment of the covenant (Genesis 12) in which God selected Abram to be the father of His chosen people, not because of his great ancestry, spiritual potential, moral lifestyle, or good looks, but as an act of grace. So when Satan’s accusations came, the Israelites could lean on the fact that their relationship with God wasn’t initiated or earned by them . They didn’t grab God; He grabbed them like sticks snatched from a fire. Therefore, their position with God was secure. Likewise, Jesus assured His followers, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16).

Grace is difficult to grasp. I earn an income. My children earn an allowance. I earn a degree, a promotion, and a reputation. When the telemarketer enthusiastically informs me that I’ve won a free cruise, I laugh. Because nothing in life is free.

Except salvation.

Paul affirms this great truth by reminding his readers that our salvation is a free gift not based in any way on our merit (Eph. 2:8–9). None of us is strong enough, smart enough, or good enough to crawl out of the fire of judgment. We are simply sticks snatched away by Jesus, the righteous Branch.

Fortunately, we cannot undo what we did not earn. Since God chose us even with the stain of past sin, He doesn’t reject us when we experience present failure. His grace not only reaches to the depth of our deepest sin; it also reaches far enough to cover our sin day after day after day. Just as our goodness didn’t secure our salvation, so our sin cannot endanger it. When we are reminded of our imperfections, we can rejoice in the unfailing grace of God.

Squeaky Clean

Each year my oldest son, Grant, enjoys a summer camp tradition called Buffalo Hunt. During this activity, preteens chase their counselors through mud pits trying to steal token rubber bands from their wrists. By the end of the game, Grant’s clothing is so dirty, so stained, so foul, that even the strongest detergents can’t clean it.

Literature sent out before camp warns, “Have your child wear something that can be thrown away.” At least the camp is honest. The shorts and shirt are unredeemable. They’re filthy. They must be discarded.

So must our sin.

God doesn’t excuse, ignore, or minimize our sin. He calls it what it is. Joshua was “dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel [of the Lord]” (Zech. 3:3). The word filthy means “covered with excrement.” Sin is like dung in the presence of God. There is nothing that can be done but to strip it away and throw it out.

And that’s exactly what God does for Joshua:

The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.

—3:4

The ugliness of our sin is removed by the ugliness of the cross. Christ died to make us clean. That’s our second defense.

First Corinthians 6:9–11 describes sin’s repulsiveness and God’s remedy:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I will never forget the first time I read those words. After the first few verses, inadequacy tumbled into hopelessness. The wicked have no inheritance in the kingdom of God! As far as I could tell, my life was hidden in the list of sinners.

Then suddenly, the passage changed direction. “That is what some of you were”—past tense (emphasis mine). I used to be a sinner wrapped in filthy rags. That was my identity. But I was washed by Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.

Whenever a person comes to Christ, the old is stripped away (2 Cor. 5:17). God removes our sinful nature and gives us a new, Spirit-infused one. He also takes away the guilt or stain of our sin, throwing our transgressions “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12) and forgetting them forever. Finally, He takes away our fear of condemnation (Ro. 8:1) so that we can live at peace with Him. We are not old stuff veneered to look brand new. We have been completely renovated, with all sin, guilt, and fear stripped away. So when we hear the voice of accusation, we can rejoice that we are clean!

New Threads

As quickly as Joshua’s clothes were removed, rich garments and a clean turban were brought out, and he was dressed in fine array. Not only was he clean; he was clothed.

Just before I was married, I purchased an antique wardrobe as a gift for my new bride. Because the auction find was covered in years of dirt and neglect, I spent many evenings after work stripping off decades of stain and varnish to reveal a beautiful mahogany cabinet. But the removal of the old was only half the restoration process. I also needed to reapply stains and sealants to protect the furniture from further abuse.

After God removes our sin, He redresses us in a new fashion. He clothes us in “garments of salvation” and arrays us in “a robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10). This completes our defense against Satan’s prosecution. Our new clothes seal us from further accusation by identifying us as God’s children.

In the story of the prodigal son, when the wayward young man comes to his senses and decides to return to his father’s house and admit his failure, he hopes that he can at least have a room among the lowest servants. Instead, the gracious father receives his son with open arms and, after a moment of celebration, demands that a new robe, sandals, and the family ring be brought to the son. After all, a son must look like family, not like a hired servant.

In Gal. 3:27, Paul writes that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” As believers, we are wrapped in Him and His righteousness. This is our new identity. We are no longer strangers, but children. Not aliens, but heirs. Not enemies, but friends. Not sinners, but saints genuinely changed by Jesus forever.

I must be careful not to define myself by anything—positive or negative—other than the righteousness of Christ. I am not essentially Type A or a perfectionist or a pastor. My Christian friend isn’t an alcoholic, a divorcée, or an entrepreneur. There are no workaholics, Olympic champions, middle-classers, Gen-Xers, financial experts, or introverts in the kingdom of God. All that our Father sees is the righteousness that He has put on us. Everything else is a limiting, often unfair label—not an accurate indicator of our new identity in Christ.

This is our greatest defense against the devil. When he calls us a failure, a fraud, a hopeless sinner, we may stand firm on the truth that we are nothing less than righteous offshoots of the Divine Branch. Our life in Christ is simply learning to live what is already true about us.

Almost 200 years ago, Edward Mote penned words for a hymn that take on greater meaning in light of Zechariah’s vision:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,

All other ground is sinking sand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

I have no other hope than what Christ has done for me and in me. I cannot trust any identifying factor in my life other than the righteousness of Jesus that He gained for me at the cross. I stand on the foundation of Jesus. The last verse of this affirming song summarizes this truth:

When He shall come with

trumpet sound,

Oh may I then in Him be found.

Dressed in His righteousness alone,

Faultless to stand before the throne.

Faultless. Without accusation. The devil may point his finger at us, but we stand innocent before the throne of the Eternal Judge because we stand clothed in Christ.

Case Closed

In November 1999, I conducted a private memorial service for four unborn children. Wesley, Richie, Jessica, and Drew had been aborted years earlier, and their mothers wished to honor them. As you can imagine, the service was filled with intense reflection, grief, and loss. If anyone faced the temptation to sink into the depths of unworthiness, these women did. But something had happened to each of them in the years since their regretted decisions. They had discovered a new life in Christ. They knew they didn’t have to bear the burden of their offenses. They had been chosen by grace, they were cleansed of sin, and they were clothed in Christ.

Grace triumphed. Jesus stood for them. They had been acquitted, and court was adjourned.

FORGIVE

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  John Eldredge

We must forgive those who hurt us.

The reason is simple: Bitterness and unforgiveness are claws that set their hooks deep in our hearts; they are chains that keep us held captive to the wounds and the messages of those wounds. Until you forgive, you remain their prisoner. Paul warns us that unforgiveness and bitterness can wreck our lives and the lives of others (Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15). We have to let them go.

Forgive as Christ has forgiven you. (Col 3:13)

Now – listen carefully.

Forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling – don’t try and feel forgiving. It is an act of the will. “Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving,” wrote Neil Anderson. “You will never get there. Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made . . .” We allow God to bring the hurt up from our past, for “if your forgiveness doesn’t visit the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete.” We acknowledge that it hurt, that it mattered, and we choose to extend forgiveness to our father, our mother, those who hurt us. This is not saying, “It didn’t really matter”; it is not saying, “I probably deserved part of it anyway.” Forgiveness says, “It was wrong. Very wrong. It mattered, hurt me deeply. And I release you. I give you to God.”

It might help to remember that those who hurt you were also deeply wounded themselves. They were broken hearts, broken when they were young, and they fell captive to the Enemy. They were in fact pawns in his hands. This doesn’t absolve them of the choices they made, the things they did. It just helps us to let them go – to realize that they were shattered souls themselves, used by our true Enemy in his war against [us all].

Judgment of Christians by Christ: Utter Horror or Contribution to Joy?

SOURCE:  John Eldredge 

Gratitude And Awe

We know a time will come for us to look back with our Lord over the story of our lives.  Every hidden thing shall be made known, every word spoken in secret shall be uttered.

My soul shrinks back; how will this not be an utter horror?

The whole idea of judgment has been terribly twisted by our enemy. One evangelistic tract conveys the popular idea that at some point shortly upon our arrival in heaven the lights will dim and God will give the signal for the videotape of our entire life to be played before the watching universe: every shameful act, every wicked thought.

How can this be so? If there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), how is it possible there will be shame later? God himself shall clothe us in white garments (Rev. 3:5). Will our Lover then strip his beloved so that the universe may gawk at her? Never.

However God may choose to evaluate our lives, whatever memory of our past we shall have in heaven, we know this: It will only contribute to our joy.

We will read our story by the light of redemption and see how God has used both the good and the bad, the sorrow and the gladness for our welfare and his glory.

With the assurance of total forgiveness we will be free to know ourselves fully, walking again through the seasons of life to linger over the cherished moments and stand in awe at God’s grace for the moments we have tried so hard to forget.

Our gratitude and awe will swell into worship of a Lover so strong and kind as to make us fully his own.

(The Sacred Romance , 190, 191)

The Gift of Forgiveness

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Forgiveness is the oil that smoothes over the rough spots as two people struggle to love when it’s hard and become what God calls them to be. When we keep score on marital wrongs, love is impossible. Although some excellent books have been written on the subject of forgiveness, I still find in my counseling practice a common misunderstanding of what it is. When I asked one client how she will know she has forgiven her husband for his adultery she replied, “When I don’t hurt anymore.”

Getting past the emotional pain caused by someone who has hurt you is a reasonable goal, but not a prerequisite for forgiveness. In fact, it was while Jesus was in pain he forgave those who abused him saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness doesn’t remove the hurt or the consequences that sin has inflicted upon the victim. Sometimes the life-long consequences are worse than the original sin.

For example. Susan wasn’t honest with her husband about how much debt they were in. She had started her own business just a few years earlier and the expenses were much greater than she had ever anticipated. Instead of sharing that burden with her husband, Susan kept it to herself and tried to resolve the household cash flow problems by taking cash advances on all the new credit card offers she received.

When the creditors finally started calling the house because of unpaid bills, Danny hit the roof. Although it wasn’t easy, eventually Dannydecided to forgive Susan for her deceit and pride even though he stillfelt hurt and angry. They had to file for bankruptcy. They lost their home and Susan’s business. If Danny waited until he felt no more anger or pain before he forgave Susan, their marriage may not have survived. The consequences of Susan’s deceit was devastating and would impact their lives for years.

Extending the gift of forgiveness doesn’t guarantee an absence of pain. Neither does it imply an automatic restoration of the relationship. Sometimes we confuse forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is something we can choose to offer because of who we are. God tells us we are required and empowered to forgive because we have been forgiven, not because the other person deserves our forgiveness or has even asked for it. In fact, it is often the person who has hurt us the most that never asks us for forgiveness. They are not sorry, or they simply don’t care.

Forgiveness is choosing not to hold onto our right for justice or vengeance. We cancel the debt they owe us. In order to be able to do this we must free our heart from the bitterness and resentment we often feel when someone has wounded us. Although love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 3:8), there are times that reconciliation of the relationship depends upon the genuine repentance of the one who has sinned. 

When we sin, God eagerly desires to forgive us, but our relationship with him is broken until we repent. In order to move back into right relationship with God, we must acknowledge our sin, turn away from it and seek his forgiveness. Like God, we too must extend the gift of forgiveness to those who have hurt us, but for true reconciliation to take place, repentance and forgiveness must work together.

Part of Susan’s repentance involved cutting up all credit cards, allowing Danny to handle the checkbook and being accountable for all expenditures. The restoration of their marriage relationship involved both Danny’s decision to forgive and Susan’srepentant heart and behaviors, leading to their eventual reconciliation.

As fallen human beings, forgiving someone is not something akin to our nature. Justice and revenge come more naturally. We can only truly forgive someone if we learn how to do it from the great forgiver himself—Jesus. Part of seeing what God is up to when our spouse acts wrong is understanding that God teaches us how to become more like Jesus through this process. For how do we ever learn how to forgive if no one ever hurts us?

There is wonderful freedom in knowing we do not have to react to a painful wrong either by shutting down or retaliating. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, we become a reflection of who he is in us rather than a reflection of what others have done to us. Gary Thomas author of Sacred Marriage writes, “We will be sinned against and we will be hurt. When that happens, we will have a choice to make: We can give in to our hurt, resentment, and bitterness, or we can grow as a Christian and learn yet another important lesson on how to forgive.”

**The gift of forgiveness as well as the other gifts are from chapter 9 of How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (WaterBrook, 2001).

Is Suicide Unforgivable? Good Question!

Question: What is the biblical hope and comfort we can offer a suicide victim’s family and friends?

SOURCE:  By Lewis B. Smedes/Christianity Today

People who ask this question seek biblical grounds for giving hope to the kin of believers who take their own lives. The burden of proof, I should think, lies not with those who offer the solace of grace but with those who deny it.

Will Jesus welcome home a believer who died at her own hands? I believe he will, tenderly and lovingly.

My biblical basis? It is the hope-giving promise of Romans 8:32, that neither life nor death can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

How can I trust in this promise and then deny its comfort to people who doubly grieve for brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers who in horrible moments of despair decided to end their lives? I believe that Jesus died not only for the sins of us all but for all of our sins, including the forgotten ones, including suicide–if indeed he reckons it always as sin.

The Bible does not seem to condemn suicide. There are, I think, six accounts of suicide in the Bible, the most notorious being those of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:2-5) and Judas (Matthew 27:3-5). Others are Abimelech (Judges 9:50-54), Samson (Judges 16:23-31), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), and Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20). As far as I can tell, none of the six is explicitly condemned for taking his life.

Some say that suicide cannot be forgiven because the person who did it could not have repented of doing it. But all of us commit sins that we are too spiritually cloddish to recognize for the sins they are. And we all die with sins not named and repented of.

When I was a child, I heard compassionate people comfort the loved ones of a suicide victim with the assurance that anyone who commits suicide is insane at that moment. So, being mad, a suicide victim would not be held accountable by God, despite the sin. But they were wrong of course. People of sound mind make rational decisions to end their lives. They choose to die rather than endure more pain than they think they can bear, or to spare their loved ones the pain of watching them die an ugly death. And rational people of good intentions sometimes help them do it.

But people who take their own lives are not usually cool and rational about it. Nor do they mean to flout the will of God. Most of the 500,000 people who attempt suicide every year in America do not so much choose death as stumble down into it from a steep slope of despair.

We are told that every 17 minutes someone in America commits suicide. In North America, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people 15 to 25 years old, college students for the great part. And note this tragic feature of American life: among children between 5 and 14 years of age, suicide is the sixth most common cause of death.

Suicide is also a significant threat to young people who have discovered that they have homosexual feelings. While there are no conclusive statistics on the phenomenon, some studies suggest a high rate of suicide attempts among young people with same-sex attractions. These are not people sticking their fists in the face of God. These are children who look in their own faces and hate what they see.

The heart asks, Why? But the answer is blowing in the wind. Young people kill themselves mainly for one reason: they cannot believe their lives are precious enough to make them worth living. Despair, depression, hopelessness, self-loathing– these are the killers.

I believe that, as Christians, we should worry less about whether Christians who have killed themselves go to heaven, and worry more about how we can help people like them find hope and joy in living. Our most urgent problem is not the morality of suicide but the spiritual and mental despair that drags people down to it.

Loved ones who have died at their own hands we can safely trust to our gracious God. Loved ones whose spirits are even now slipping so silently toward death, these are our burden.

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

Lewis B. Smedes is professor emeritus of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. His latest book is Standing on the Promises: Keeping Hope Alive for a Tomorrow We Cannot Control (Thomas Nelson).

If a Christian commits suicide, is he still forgiven?

SOURCE:  Christian Aplogetics and Research Ministry

This might seem like a perplexing question, but it does have an answer. Though the Christian who has committed suicide has committed a grave sin, he is still forgiven. But, in order to understand why a Christian who commits suicide is forgiven, we first need to understand what salvation is and what it is based upon.

Salvation is the state of being saved from God’s judgment upon the sinner. The only way to be saved is to trust Jesus for the forgiveness of one’s sins (John 14:6Acts 4:12). All who do not trust Jesus alone, by faith (Rom. 5:1Rom. 6:23Eph. 2:8-9) are not forgiven and go to hell when they die (Matt. 25:46John 3:18). When Jesus forgives someone, He forgives all their sins and gives them eternal life and they shall never perish (John 10:28). He does not give them temporary eternal life — otherwise, it would not be eternal.

Salvation is not based upon what you do. In other words, you don’t have to obey any Law of God in order to become saved. This is because no one is saved by keeping the Law of God (Gal. 2:21Rom. 3:24-28). But that does not mean that you can go and sin all you want. Rom. 6:1-3 expressly condemns such action. Instead, we are saved for the purpose of purity (1 Thess. 4:7). Our salvation is strictly from God: “By grace through faith you have been saved…” (Eph. 2:8). Other than acting by faith in trusting and accepting what Jesus did on the cross, you don’t do a thing (John 1:12-3) in order to become saved. Since you did not get your salvation by what you did, you can not lose it by what you do.

What about the unforgivable sin? Is that suicide? No. Suicide is not the unforgivable sin. Jesus spoke of the unforgivable sin in Matt. 12:22-32. The context is when the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Therefore, suicide is not the unforgivable sin.

Is repentance necessary for salvation?

This is a good question and the answer is yes — and no. Now, before you throw stones, hear me out. Repentance is a necessary result of the saving work of God, not the cause of salvation.  If repentance brought salvation, then salvation is by works; or rather, the ceasing of bad works.  That isn’t how it works.  God grants repentance to the Christian (2 Tim. 2:25). The Christian then turns from his sin; that is, he stops sinning. He is able to repent because he is saved, not to get saved.

In 1 John 1:9 it says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession of sin and its natural result of repentance are necessary elements of the Christian’s life. But, what about the sins that we do not know we commit? If we do not confess them and do not repent of them, are we still saved? Of course we are! Otherwise, we would be forced to confess and repent of every single sin we ever commit. In effect, we’d be back under the Law, living by a rule of absolute repentance of every detail lest you be damned. This is bondage, not freedom. Jesus said His yoke was light, not hard (Matt. 11:27-30.

So, repentance is not the cause of salvation, but it is a result of salvation.  The believer repents from his sins upon trusting in Christ and thereafter, continues to repent of further sins that the Lord reveals to him.

Back to the suicide issue

Suicide is, in effect, self-murder. The unfortunate thing about it is that the one who commits it cannot repent of it. The damage is permanently done. We can see in the Bible that murderers have been redeemed (Moses, David, etc.), but they had opportunities to confess their sins and repent. With suicide, the person does not.  But that does not mean the person is lost.  Jesus bore all that person’s sins, including suicide. If Jesus bore that person’s sins on the cross 2000 years ago, and if suicide was not covered, then the Christian was never saved in the first place and the one sin of suicide is able to undo the entire work of the cross of Christ. This cannot be. Jesus either saves completely or he does not.

Is suicide always wrong?

That I cannot answer because I cannot list every possible situation. But, it seems obvious that suicide is clearly wrong, though forgivable. However, there are general categories of suicide on which we could briefly comment:

Medically Assisted Suicide – I’ve never seen this as being acceptable. The doctor is supposed to save life, not destroy it. But, lately as destroying the lives of the unborn is more common place, destroying the lives of the sick has become the next logical step.

Suicide to prevent prolonged torture – Let’s say that someone was being tortured in an excruciating manner for an unbearably long period of time, is suicide an option? Perhaps. But if it were in this situation, why wouldn’t it be all right in the medically-assisted context if the patient were also in excruciating pain for long periods of time? Quite honestly, I’m not sure how to answer that one.

Suicide due to depression – Of course, this is never a good reason for suicide. Seasons pass and so does depression. The one who is depressed needs to look to Jesus and get help. Depression is real and powerful and is best fought with help. Also, severe depression robs the mind of clear thinking. People in such states are despondent, not in their right mind.

Suicide due to a chemical imbalance in the brain – The human brain is incredibly complex and the medical community is full of accounts of extraordinary behaviors by people whose “circuits got crossed.” I don’t see how a situation like this would make it justifiable. I think it simply would make it more explainable.

Accidental suicide – Sometimes people accidentally kill themselves. This could mean leaning over a balcony too far and falling to one’s death, or actually, purposefully taking a stupid risk like playing with a gun. Of course, with either, stupidity does not remove us from the grace of God.

Conclusion

Is the Christian forgiven for suicide? Yes. But suicide is not an option. We do not have the right to take our own lives. That belongs to God.

Suicide and Forgiveness

Is Suicide an Unforgivable Sin?

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

I realize this is a heavy issue for this blog, but seriously…I have had to sit with people several times after a loved one committed suicide.

A clouded or confused mind may see suicide as the only way out, although it is never the right option, but it is never easy reconcile for the people left behind. I believe one of my dearest pastor friends died of a broken heart after his son committed suicide. Sadly, suicide appears to be on the rise. Our local paper reported this week (see article HERE) that our state has been awarded $1.4 million to aid in suicide prevention.

This post is not aimed for those who have ever considered suicide…

If you are at all thinking of taking your life…STOP and call for help NOW!!!

This post is for those who are victims of knowing someone who has taken his or her life…

One of the things I hear after a suicide breaks my heart. Families are often left wondering what happened to their loved one. Well-meaning people often repeat something they’ve heard before…that friends and family members who commit suicide are destined to be separated from Jesus the rest of their lives.

They assume that suicide is the unforgivable sin.

I’ve encountered people who struggle for years with the thoughts that their loved one died apart from Jesus. The only problem with that assumption is that I can’t prove it in the Bible.

Yes, suicide is a sin.

Murder is a sin…taking a life is a sin…suicide is a sin…

Please don’t resort to that…There is always a better way…

If you are at all thinking of taking your life…STOP and call for help NOW!!!

But, suicide is NOT the unforgivable sin.

The grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient even for this sin…

I’m fully convinced there will be brothers and sisters in Christ who are in Heaven, who were experiencing terrible trials…who felt trapped or helpless…who made a bad decision…who took their life…but fully believed that Jesus was the only answer for salvation.

Jesus describes the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12:22-32.    It says nothing about suicide.

A Prayer for Days When You Don’t Feel Like Praying

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

Dear Father, this is one of those days when I could create a long prayer list and methodically go through it, but I’m not sure I would really be praying. I could go through the motions, but to be quite honest, it would be more ritual than reality—more about me, than the people and situations I’d bring before you. I’m feeling distracted this morning, scattered and not very focused at all.

It’s one of those days I’m glad the gospel is much more about your grasp of me than my grip on you. It’s one of those days I’m grateful your delight in me is not contingent upon my delight in you.  It’s one of those days I’m very thankful for the prayer ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Gracious Father, I have no problem or reluctance in acknowledging my weakness this morning. In fact it’s freeing to know your Spirit doesn’t abandon us when we’re weak, but helps us in our weakness. Just as Jesus constantly prays for us, the Holy Spirit faithfully prays in us through “wordless groans.” Though I don’t understand everything that means, I do get the part about you searching our hearts and knowing the mind of the Spirit, and that brings me incredible comfort today.

No one knows our hearts better than you, Father. And you search our hearts to save us, not shame us; to deliver us, not demean us; to free us, not frown upon us; to change us, not chide us. You know my past and future, my fears and my longings, my struggles with sin and my standing in grace. What a glorious and gracious God you are!

And at this very moment your Spirit is praying inside of me—perfectly tuned into my needs and in total harmony with your will. I cannot measure the peace that brings. I surrender right now, Father. I gladly groan to your glory. I collapse on Jesus in this very moment. I will not waste any energy today in the paralysis of analysis, vain regrets, pretending or posing. I know you are at work for my good in all things, including in my unrest and uncertainty.

Father, all I have to do is look at Jesus and know these things are true, for he is the author and perfecter of my faith. It’s because of what Jesus has done, not what I do, that you love me. You have called me to life in him and you will complete your purpose in me. I do love you, I would love you so much more. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

“Should I Try to Forget My Past?”

SOURCE:  Dr. Robert Kellemen

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

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

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

• Remember

• Reflect

• Repent/Receive/Renew

• Reinterpret

• Retell

• Resources

Remember

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

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

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

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

Reflect

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

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

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

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

Rather than attempting to forget, we are to bring to mind past external events and our current internal thoughts and feelings and bring them to Christ. As I put it in the book, “No grieving, no healing. Know grieving, know healing.” Reflecting on our past is our admission to ourselves and God that we can’t handle our past on our own, that we desperately need Christ.

Repent, Receive Grace, Renew

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

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

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

Reinterpret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retell

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

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

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I discuss how the retelling process moves us from “weaving” to “worshipping.” In worshipping we are committed to finding God even when we can’t find answers. We are committed to knowing God more than knowing relief from our past. We worship God by retelling our stories like Joseph did—in a way that honors and glorifies God and His role in redeeming our past (see Genesis 45:4-8).

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

Resources

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

• God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting by Bob Kellemen.

• Putting Your Past in Its Place: Moving Forward in Freedom and Forgiveness by Steve Viars.

Forgiven, But Not Forgiving?

Would you rather punish those who hurt you than forgive them?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Gloria Chisholm

I struggled with angry and hurt feelings toward a group of people with whom I had engaged in conflict for what seemed like the hundredth time that week. My prayer scenario went something like this:

Me: Lord, they did it again. Do they lie awake at night thinking up ways to torment me? Of course, I know I’m not perfect. Please forgive me for my part in this.

God: I do.

Me: But I pray that You show them what they’re doing. I know You want them to grow and all that, so I know it’s Your will to bring them to repentance. God, make them pay (whoops!).

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Father, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12). Forgive? To forgive would be to let the offense go and open myself up to my tormentors once again. It would be to get hurt again and again and again.

Peter thought he was doing well if he forgave someone seven times (Mt. 18:21). I’m with Peter. Seven times seems like plenty to me. Yet Jesus pushed it to seventy-seven times. In other words, He wasn’t putting a limit on forgiveness. In fact, He was saying, “Forgive anyone and everyone as often as necessary, and make it a lifestyle.”

An impossible feat? In the context of these verses in the Lord’s Prayer, what Jesus is after is the attitude behind our inability or refusal to forgive, our resistance to face the truth God wants us to see in our hearts.

Along those lines, I see four basic attitudes connected with the forgiveness process that we must eventually acknowledge, whether consciously or unconsciously, in order to work through our hurts to a place of healing. We may hold more than one of these attitudes simultaneously, or we may move through them one after the other. The important thing is that we see where we are so that we can respond to where God wants to take us.

“I Won’t.”

The unmerciful servant had experienced forgiveness (Mt. 18:23–35). With his wife, kids, possessions, and his own life on the line, he pleaded for mercy. His master forgave him, canceled the debt, and let him go.

Offered the same opportunity to forgive a fellow servant, he made a sad choice. The Bible tells us “he refused” (v. 30).

When his master found out about it, he was furious and had him thrown in jail. Jesus summed up this parable with these shocking words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (v. 35).

These may sound like harsh words coming from our compassionate, loving Savior. But the truth is that it’s because He is a loving God and desires for His people to love each other that He lays out the choices for us. It is always our choice. We get to forgive or be locked up. Literally. Refusal to forgive thrusts us into bondage.

If we look at this parable symbolically, we can imagine who the “jailors” are: bitterness, unforgiveness, depression, physical disease, etc. If we choose to act unmercifully to a fellow sinner like ourselves, we leave our Master no choice but to turn us over to unmerciful jailors. What else could a just God do with an unforgiving heart?

You may think you have never said “I won’t” to forgiveness. But what about the church you stopped attending because people there hurt you? Or the boss who fired you? The parent who abused you? The friend who gossiped about you? Have you ever stopped pursuing a relationship with someone because they hurt you and you live in fear of the same thing happening again?

There is hope for those of us who have said “I won’t.” I don’t know about you, but the isolation I feel in my soul drives me to repentance. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Ps. 13:2).

God leaves how long up to us. We decide when we’ve suffered enough bitterness, enough isolation, enough unforgiveness.

“I Can’t.”

Those of us who claim we can’t forgive have often been burned by a relationship that has caused us more pain than we ever thought we could endure. We’re tired and resentful, and we’re full of unforgiveness.

Gordon MacDonald writes: “Spiritual passion cannot coexist with resentments. We can do our best to claim that we are in the right, but the Scriptures are clear. The unforgiving spirit is no home to the energy that causes Christian growth and effectiveness.”

It takes a lot of energy to maintain a bitter heart. Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging the painful feelings that surface when we’ve been offended, we repress them. We continue to say, “I can’t,” and the pain sinks deeper and deeper into our subconscious, finally coming to rest on top of the pile of offenses we’ve collected throughout our lives.

To say “I can’t” is to say “I don’t want to try anymore. I give up.” Here we totter on a precarious edge. We can become numb, or we can admit our powerlessness and our dependence on God. When we do this, we allow God to surface the sinful attitude and skim off the impurities unforgiveness produces. The decision to do this takes courage, since the process can be extremely painful. But it is productive pain that activates healing, unlike the destructive pain of unresolved bitterness.

“I Don’t Want To.”

This may be the most honest response you can make when an offense is gnawing at your heart.

“I don’t want to” is usually a conscious response, unlike “I won’t” and “I can’t,” which are often unconscious. “I don’t want to” means you know where you are, but you don’t know how to get out of that place. To forgive is to allow more pain in and you don’t want any part of that. So you feel trapped.

I remember a time when someone in my life was hurting me fairly consistently—the seven-times-(and more)-a-day kind of offender. Inside, I had to admit I wanted God to “get her.”

I discussed the situation with a number of people, sometimes to vent my anger, sometimes because I wanted help.

“Waste her,” was my teenage son’s advice. (If you have kids, you know what he meant.)

“Pray for her,” was another friend’s response.

“Love her.”

“Tell her off.”

“Ignore her.”

I considered everyone’s advice (yes, even wasting her). And then God spoke: “Forgive her.” Profound, yet simple. But I didn’t want to. Now what?

Forgiving this person would be a test in endurance because the offenses occurred daily. But my commitment to grow in love toward God and others finally kicked in. I couldn’t love her if I couldn’t forgive her.

My decision to forgive, which was only the beginning, has taken me on a long, hard journey. I’m still on it, learning to walk in forgiveness, to embrace the pain. Learning to confront and to let go of offenses and judgments. God is there daily, cheering, affirming, and supporting me. I couldn’t make it one day without Him.

“I’m Willing.”

Jesus did not condemn Peter for asking if seven times was enough to forgive someone in a day. He simply laid out the consequences of what would happen when the eighth offense rolled around and Peter’s attitude didn’t allow for any more forgiveness.

God does not condemn you for your unforgiving heart. All He desires is that you sacrifice it for a broken and contrite one (Ps. 51:17) and that, like David, you pray, “Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Ps. 51:12). All He asks is that you be willing to forgive.

When the father of the boy with the evil spirit came to Jesus to ask healing for his son, he said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Jesus picked up on the word if, which revealed the man’s heart. “‘If you can?'” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

The father did believe, but in a precious moment of honesty, he cried out, “Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:22–24).

Too often, when we see our unbelief, guilt overwhelms us and we deny the reality of our sin. We don’t seem to understand that to cry out, “Help me overcome my unbelief!” is to repent of our unforgiveness.

One thing that keeps me stuck in unbelief is fear that if I don’t punish my debtors, they won’t be punished. They’ll get off scot-free. My pain will have been in vain. That’s why I easily fall into a martyr’s role and, in my sinful heart, desire for God to “get” my debtors. But this is where trust comes in. I must trust that God is just; He will deal with my offender as He deals with me.

“Get ‘em, God!”

How long it takes us to move through the forgiveness process isn’t the issue. The important thing is that we keep moving and that we continue to stay open and willing to God’s softening of our hearts.

We don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. We have sinned against Him, against others, and against ourselves. We can be thankful no one is counting our sins, least of all, God. Instead He offers forgiveness. Can we do any less for our offenders?

Chuck Swindoll sums it up well. “The extent to which you can envision God’s forgiveness of you, to that same measure you will be given the capacity to forgive others.”

Envision forgiveness? How about our Lord hanging on a cross, bloody and beaten? Dying to forgive your sins and mine? Let’s hold that image clearly in our minds. Then we can pray, “God, forgive us our debts, but as for our debtors, get ‘em  . . . with Your love and forgiveness. Pour it on as you have with us.”

Surrendering Our Failures

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/John Ortberg

Sometimes we forget to surrender. Sometimes we refuse. Then our sense of guilt and inadequacy can cut us off from the current of God’s presence. On the occasions when we have failed to surrender, then we have to learn to surrender even our failure.

The most important thing about failure is this: Even when we have failed, the flow of the Spirit can be restored in our lives at any moment. All we have to do is ask.

Since my family moved to northern California, we have become surfing addicts. Actually, my son is the addict; I am more or less an enabler. I am not at all good at surfing. I fall off the board a lot. I spend much of my time in the water looking around for sharks.

But the good news about surfing is this: If you miss one wave, if you fall off, if you wipe out, there’s another wave coming right behind it. God just keeps sending them. He never runs out of waves. He has an inexhaustible supply. The Bible’s word for that is “grace.”

It works this way:

I stopped at a gas station but was in a hurry to get to work. The car in another lane was leaving. The right-of-way was not real clear. He cut in front of me.

I felt a surge of anger that shocked me. He looked at me; I looked at him.

He started gesturing, with intense hostility in his face.

I gestured back—differently, because I’m a pastor. I’m thinking, Get out of my way. Don’t you know I have to get to the office, write a book about how to flow with the Spirit of God every moment of your life?

When my car pulled into the street, I could feel it in my belly: For that little exchange I had extinguished any sensitivity to the Spirit’s presence or guidance in my mind. I was a resistor instead of a conductor. I had broken the circuit.

But my failure doesn’t get the last word.

For then I say, as I’ve said a thousand times before, “God, I’m sorry. I don’t want to live that kind of life. I don’t want to be that kind of person. Forgive me. Help me try again.”

And Jesus says to me again the words that are His specialty, the words He Himself cried out to His Father from the garden of Gethsemane, the words that death itself cannot stop. They are the same words by which the Princess Bride finally recognizes her true love, the words that can align a straw to the Gulf Stream.

As you wish.

Christ & Sexual Sin

SOURCE:  John Freeman

Homosexuality has embraced our culture and our culture has embraced homosexuality. It’s part of the fallen nature of things, and fallen man has always been an expert at creating ingenuous ways to celebrate his brokenness.

Homosexuality is one of those topics that draws vibrant reactions. Complex issues of the heart usually do. Christians are in a sort of no-man’sland here. Suggesting that homosexuality is sinful can appear, to the world, as uneducated, rude, and stupid. On the other hand, suggesting that God loves and forgives sinners who struggle with homosexuality and that we should do the same may appear compromising and wishy-washy.

While we can oppose the advancement of this movement by vocalizing our concerns and participating in the political process, for the Christian a far deeper response to homosexuality and the gay community is needed. In such a heated debate, Christians have a responsibility to represent Christ to a fallen world in four ways.

Patiently Listen: “Let every person be quick to hear” (James 1:19). I don’t mean just to look for loopholes or a chance to criticize or find fault. We must listen so as to get to or gain the “heart thrust” of what a person is saying. This is hard work and an art — a skill to be learned. It’s not natural. It takes practice. Listen to what moves other people. Listen for where their passions lie, what they value, what their experience has been (especially with other Christians), and what they fear.

The more you understand a person’s point of view, the more you can profit from it. Why do they think that way? What events led up to their adopting that worldview? What’s been their experience of Christianity — of other Christians or the church? What wounds from their family of origin and from other people lie festering in the background? As adults, we’re usually a composite of all this.

Personally Repent: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans? … No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1–5). Only a redeemed sinner, knowing he stands condemned apart from Christ, can reach a sinner who doesn’t know he needs redeeming. What’s your motivation? Is it to reach lost people with the enduring love that has found you out — that has exposed you as a cut-throat and depraved sinner? Is it your own awareness that, at heart, you’re a sham, misfit, counterfeit, and phony? Or is it to make a nice, neat little package of this messy aspect of life? Are you concerned about making a complex world seem simple? Where are you walking in hypocrisy? Do you really care about homosexuals — or only want them to shut up and disappear? Luke 7:47 says that “he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Gently Instruct: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone … correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:22–25). Is the Holy Spirit instructing us as we seek to instruct others? Do we pray for Christlikeness as we seek to correct others? Are our unloving and impatient hearts a hindrance to the gospel message? It should always be the truths of Scripture, not our demeanor or presentation of it, that people reject.

Talking to those who are blind to the reality of their hearts but who live in a world that applauds their sin is both a privilege and a challenge. They are victims of their own sin and the lies and sin of others; therefore, they’re caught. But they’re also accountable before a holy God. We must represent both aspects of the truth as we share Christ.

Mercifully Pursue and Then Engage the Heart: “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22–23). God calls us to be neither reclusive nor rude, but to move boldly into confusing, high-stakes situations with the gospel of God’s mercy. We bring the gospel where it is most needed: to the vocally anti-Christian progay activist; to the mild-mannered clergy who says the love of Jesus means affirming homosexuality as God’s gift; to the quietly confused and scared teenager who fears he’s gay and there’s no other option. Showing mercy means practically caring for people. It means being patiently and persistently available to help those who live in a fallen world.

As we do this, we’re able to move into other people’s worlds. Engaging people by asking good questions, respectfully, is an important part of this. I once stopped a protester who was marching at a gay rally and subsequently had a two-hour conversation that ended with this man thanking me for stopping him to speak with him — in spite of the fact that I shared the gospel with him! I listened and engaged his heart, and that was infectious to him. Listening, asking questions, and engaging people with respect, even if we have fundamental differences, gets people into their story quicker than anything else.

Jesus was the master of all that I’ve just spoken about (though He was in no need of repentance). We should be too. His methods are the most under-utilized and missed aspects of evangelism.

SUBMISSION – What of that undeserving spouse, parent, governor, boss, pastor?

The gospel of radical submission

SOURCE:  Joel J. Miller

The Scripture commands husbands to love their wives, wives to respect their husbands, children to honor their parents, citizens to obey the authorities, employees to follow their employers, and believers to subject themselves to the elders of the Church.

None of this has anything to do with how much or well the other party deserves it. There are plenty of unlovable wives, disreputable husbands, dishonorable parents, unworthy governments, ill-willed employers, and untrustworthy church leaders out there. I’m sure any one of us could run out of fingers just counting the ones we know if given the opportunity.

Deserts, just or otherwise, have little to do with it. God is trying to knit together a world of mutual submission, all of it in submission to him. That requires something from each of us in whatever station we find ourselves.

The word “submission” means to go where someone asks you to go, to follow their direction, to go their way and not your own. Words like “hard,” “dangerous,” and “risky” come next to mind when I think of that. What might I lose? What am I forfeiting? Possibly everything. And by losing — in the inscrutable asymmetry of the gospel — we gain.

“Among Christians such are the conditions of victory,” wrote Basil the Great, “and it is he who is content to take the second place who wins a crown.”

A world of radical, mutual submission looks like one united by grace and peace. Consider these words from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

[F]ulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

It also looks like a world in which our sanctification is realized through humility.

Paul’s very next words to the Philippians are these: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” this mind of preferring others to ourselves, of lowliness in mind, of subjecting our personal ambitions. God desires that our hearts be shaped by humility, and we take on its contours as we learn submission. Jesus learned obedience by the things he suffered, as Paul says in Hebrews. And so do we if we can say with Jesus, “Not my will, but yours.”

What of that undeserving spouse, parent, governor, boss, pastor? A few verses later in the same passage, Paul tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

We have no idea what that person needs for their salvation. But that’s not our concern anyway. We’re to work out our own, and in the context of the passage, it’s clear Paul wants us to start with radical submission and Christlike humility.

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