Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘guilt’

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Children and Spouses of Troubled Families

SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

*The Children — Many children of dysfunctional families (termed CODF’s) have to cope with baffling and painful situations.  Children who are subjected to abuse of different kinds may receive little or no help from others, mainly because their teachers, neighbors, and church leaders may not realize their plight.  Without assistance from others, children try to fix themselves.  Clumsily, with childish hands, they suture the wounds, often leaving ugly scars or unhealed lesions that split open in later life.  All of this is an attempt to protect themselves from the abuse.  The home has the power to produce angry, rebellious, or disheartened children.  Families can aggravate serious psychological disorders.  Kids under stress can develop an abundance of physical and emotional problems even while in the womb.  Many scientists how believe that stress can program a fetus to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and other disorders in adulthood.  So sensitive is the brain to its environment that absence of emotional warmth can kill brain cells.  The loss of these cells is devastating during a child’s early years, when brain connections require learning skills for language, math, and getting along with others. As infants, if anything interferes with bonding with their mothers, they may have permanent emotional scars that will influence the outcome of the remainder of their development.  The extent of the damage done to CODF’s depends on lots of factors, for example, when in the life of the child the parent became addicted, how the family reacted to it, how long the addiction continued, and the severity of the abuse and neglect.

Thankfully, despite the severity of the situation, not all of these children will be severely wounded.  Psychologists call them resilient or stress-resistant children. Some CODF’s may have a strong orientation toward personal growth.  They are able to initiate and intentionally engage in the process of self-change.  Second, they may possess a trait termed hardiness.  Hardy people are actively involved in living, believing they can control their circumstances.  Some kids are less affected by their stressful family life because of the presence of another adult in their lives.

The children of troubled families may sometimes feel frustrated and unable to control their own lives. Their helplessness may be compounded by a feeling of failure.  This is due to their trying to solve the problem in their family.  Kids feel responsible for their parents’ problems partly because they are so egocentric, believing they are the cause of most everything that happens around them.  But they also may think they are to blame for the problem because the troubled parent tells them they are.  Taking such responsibility on themselves is usually destructive to children because they are doomed to failure.  Without someone explaining to them that they shouldn’t take the weight of the family on their shoulders, they may continue to do this into adulthood and even have trouble stopping then.  Their failure to solve the family’s problems may make them angry.  Thinking their good behavior will make their parents break free from their dependency or compulsion, they may be upset when they don’t get the hoped for results.  Their anger may take the form of resentment.

Expressing anger is complicated by the attachment the child has for the parents.  Besides needing the parents’ care, children are taught to love and respect them, making it very hard to accept the anger and hatred they feel.  Feelings are mixed – love and hate, pity and disgust, anger and sympathy.  The child plays the same Jeckyll-Hyde role the troubled parent is playing. Fear may also keep children from directing anger toward the parent.  And the “don’t feel, don’t talk” rules will make them keep their anger bottled up inside of them.  This may cause them to resort to sarcasm, forgetfulness, hostile jokes, and other passive-aggressive behaviors.  They may also overreact to normal events and become extremely angry with people who haven’t done anything to deserve such a reaction.

One way CODF’s express anger is by reverting back to an earlier stage of development.  Also, a child may make light of the stressful situation at home or resort to humor to handle it. Additionally, children may be deeply hurt by a parent’s abusive ranting and raving and lack what are known as “self-soothing” abilities.  They lack inner resources to calm themselves in the face of severe stress and intense emotions.  Finally, children in stressful situations may develop a false self.  Instead of the addicted parent’s encouraging the children to express themselves and commending them for it, the parent’s behavior demands that they become something else.  If the parent is also physically or sexually abusive, the squelching of the child’s personality can be extremely severe.

Shame is another emotion that inhibits children’s development of their true self.  Theirs is not a shame for what they have done, but for who they are—an absence of self-respect.  The time between eighteen months to three years is a time when a child gains a sense of autonomy.  Restricting the child, as dysfunctional families are prone to do, may make them doubt and dislike themselves.  Guilt feelings may also develop very early from ages three to six.  In an addictive family, the children may receive little affirmation for their ventures and be blamed for innocent mistakes, causing them to feel guilty for attempts to exert themselves.

They will also be shamed by the embarrassing activities of their parents.  Their shame may also be due to the fact that all children tend to identify with their parents.  Of course, constant parental criticism may result in children’s having little self-respect.  When little children are verbally harangued by their parents, told they are worthless or bad, they will believe these things.  They lack the maturity to realize these messages are lies of an evil, addicted, compulsive person.

Trust will almost always be a problem for the dysfunctional family’s children, too.  Consistent care teaches them that they can rely on others.  If their care is sporadic, harsh, or unkind, they learn to mistrust, making it difficult for them later to form close relationships.  Distracted and disturbed, a dysfunctional family may early breed mistrust in children.  The inconsistency of the wet-dry cycle probably is enough to instill distrust in a child.  Children in dysfunctional families are often compulsive and have a tendency to become addicted to something.  Or they may turn to an addiction as an escape from pain.  The enmeshed family system has taught them to depend on things outside themselves for happiness and satisfaction.  Additionally, children of dysfunctional families are often obsessed with pleasing others.

CODF’s cast themselves in various roles.  The child may choose the role as a survival tactic, or, because each role performs a function in the family system, the system itself will force the child into the part.  Sometimes a specific child will play more than one role or through time switch from one to another.  These roles help the family maintain its dysfunctional homeostasis and can eventually be harmful to the children.  The following are various roles:

Chief Enabler – shelters the addict from consequences of his or her behavior; cost to them is martyrdom;

Family Hero – keeps family’s self-worth, acts as family counselor; cost is a compulsive drive;

Family Scapegoat – diverts attention from the addict; cost is possible self-destructive behavior and often addiction;

Lost child – escapes family stress by emotional and physical separation; cost is social isolation;

Family Mascot – diverts attention from the addict by humor; cost is immaturity and/or emotional illness.

Family members learn “addictive logic” to deny the chaos.  They learn to lie and say the problem doesn’t exist so as not to betray the family.  To survive in an addictive system, children learn to deny healthy responses that tell them they are in danger; they have to keep increasing these dishonest coping skills as their situation worsens.  Also, a torrent of negative thoughts may be coursing through children’s innocent minds:  “I can’t do anything right; I am a failure; I’m not loved; I will be abandoned; I am ugly and bad…etc.”  They desperately need someone to tell them these are lies and help them see the truth about themselves and their families.

*The Spouses — Being married to an addict can be like a ride on a roller coaster – terrifying.  Life is chaotic and unpredictable, up one day, down the next, depending on how the spouse is behaving.  Emotions fluctuate and are mixed.  The dry period, when life is on the upside, inspires hope that it will last, along with nagging fear that it won’t.  In cases of spousal abuse, the cycle is well documented:  abuse followed by remorse followed by forgiveness followed by abuse followed by remorse, and so on.  The same happens in addictive marriages:  The husband manifests an addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober and pleads for forgiveness.  The wife forgives, and the two are reconciled.  The husband manifests the addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober, and on and on.  The spouse will probably be experiencing many of the same emotions as the children – fear, anger, helplessness, loneliness, and the like.  Some will hate their husband or wife, their bitterness created out of years of broken promises and neglect.  Spouses will also blame themselves for their partner’s problem.  Shame too can be intense.  And to cover his or her embarrassment, the husband or wife of the troubled person will strive hard to make a contribution outside the home.  He or she may be driven to succeed in the workplace.  Some will devote themselves to social work or church ministry.  The marriage relationship will deteriorate.  Feelings of love that were likely present in the beginning of the marriage will slowly die as the partner’s addiction progresses.

Three of the most important marital resources – respect, reciprocity, and reliability – will be challenged.  Respect involves conveying to another person (through words, deeds, or simply being present) that the other is of value.  By their irresponsible behavior and neglect of family duties, addicts and the like will not be likely to keep this resource in their relationship.  Reciprocity in relationships refers to the balance of giving and receiving care and consideration.  Not much fairness will be felt in a dysfunctional family where the weight of maintaining the family falls on the addict’s spouse and/or children.  Reliability refers to the expectation that the person will be there for us on an ongoing, fairly consistent basis.  Broken promises and no-shows will destroy this resource.  An addiction, like any other violation of the relationship bond, will chip away at trust.  People married to the addiction/compulsive behavior often convey to their partners that they are not important.  This deterioration of the marriage and emotional struggles of the spouse will sometimes diminish his or her capacity to parent.  Sometimes the spouse, wrestling with the partner’s addiction/behavior, will dump his or her responsibilities on the children.  Because of this neglect, some adult children are angry at the spouse of their addictive/compulsive parent more than they are the one with the addiction/compulsion.

*The Role of Codependency — Codependency is another form of enmeshment.  The spouse of the troubled individual is referred to as the “co-addict.”  This can be described as one person’s addictive patterns aligning themselves with another’s so that there is some degree of systemic collusion or addictive pattern.  Essentially, a codependent is related to another in an unhealthy way.  One person cares so completely for the other that he or she neglects himself or herself, living almost entirely for the other person.  Being an enabler is sometimes part of such a relationship.  Enablers don’t usually consciously do things to help their partner continue his or her destructive behavior.  In fact they will probably attack their partner’s problem with a vengeance, doing everything possible to get him or her to straighten out. Yet, at the same time, they will do things that facilitate their spouse’s behavior.  For example, they will protect their spouse from the consequences of his or her actions:  phoning his boss to report him sick when he can’t go to work because of the addictive behavior; giving money to a wife who has a money related addictive problem; making excuses to the kids for a parent’s absence, and so on.  Then, too, the partners contribute to the addicts’ problem by facilitating the reorganization of the family around them.  Children, too, can play the role of codependent.

Codependents sacrifice unnecessarily and to the detriment of others as well as themselves.  Following Jesus’ example, Christians are encouraged to make sacrifices, but they are not to make senseless ones.  Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself benefited others.  But the codependent’s sacrifices are harmful to the one for whom they are made.  It is not really loving.  Love, as conceived in the New Testament, is concern and care for a person’s highest good.  Preventing an addicted/compulsive spouse from suffering their own consequences is not showing this type of concern and care.  This troubled spouse needs to see the results of his/her lifestyle and choices.  As Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”  Love is sometimes expressed by not doing something for someone.  Also, codependents need to understand that it is not wrong to care for themselves.  As indicated in Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 19:19, we are commanded to respect others as we respect ourselves.

Some write that codependency is defined as “a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity.”  By this, they mean that people who live in enmeshed families develop a tendency to live this way in general, even with people outside the family.  Symptoms include the following:

* Thoughts and attitudes dominated by the other person: “I think more about your life than mine.”

* Self-esteem related to the other person: “I value your opinion more than my own; I need to help you in order to feel good about myself; I need to be needed.”

* Emotions are tied to the other person: “When you are hurting, I often react more deeply than you do.”

* Interests geared to the other person: “I know more clearly what you want than what I want.”

* Relationship to others is affected by the other person: “I neglect my friends to get overly involved in fixing you; I am compulsive about pleasing others, yet I get upset by their demands on me.”

In selecting a mate, some men and women seem to be attracted to a person who needs their care.  Besides the obvious shortcomings, one major problem of this type of relationship is the powerful dependence these partners have on each other.  They become so enmeshed that they seem unable to function as individuals.  They become so intertwined that it becomes difficult for the other to leave the relationship regardless of how dysfunctional it is.  Codependents will have considerable psychological distress.  They will suffer from poor self-esteem, since they may feel little worth apart from what is derived from rescuing others.  They will also suffer from an extreme need to be needed, making them depressed when they feel they are not.  Also they may have an unhealthy willingness to suffer, somehow believing that suffering for someone will make that person love them; being a martyr will make them feel rewarded.

Despite codependents’ sorry state of affairs, they will have a strong resistance to change.  Leaving the troubled spouse, even as a step toward healing, accountability, and re-creation of the marriage,  is not an option, because they fear feeling guilty, living alone, or not being able to make it financially.

In conclusion, when we or our families experience trouble, we must call upon the Divine weapons and resources that God has provided us.  We must remember that we cannot face the vast array of past and present problems on our own. Therefore, we must keep our focus on the Lord since we don’t know how to deal with these things (2 Chron 20:12b).  He has the willingness and power to do the impossible, demolish the past and present strongholds that have enslaved us, and make us to be who He created us to be (Phil 2:12; Luke 1:37; 2 Cor 10:3-5).

You Don’t Have to Live with Guilt

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance” (Proverbs 28:13 TLB).

God is always ready to give you another chance.

That’s a bedrock piece of Christianity. We’ve all been irresponsible. We’ve all screwed up. The Bible tells us, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT).

God doesn’t want you living with a heavy guilt trip about all the irresponsibility in your life. Guilt destroys your confidence, damages your relationships, keeps you stuck in the past, and even hurts your health. I read a report a few years back that said 70 percent of people in the hospital could leave if they knew how to resolve their guilt.

God wants far better for your life than that. You don’t want to live with guilt.

And here’s an important truth to always hang on to: You don’t have to.

God wants you to live with a sense of promise and hope. God can even bring good out of the stupid decisions that you’ve made in your life if you’ll give those failures to him.

How do you do that?

Admit to God you’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t surprise him. And it won’t change his perception of you. I hope you’ll take this step today. When you do, here’s what you can expect from God:

  1. God forgives instantly. The very moment you admit your sin to God, he forgives you.
  2. God forgives freely. You don’t need to earn it, and you’ll never deserve it.
  3. God forgives completely. He wipes your sin absolutely clean.

If you’re mired in guilt and shame, you’ll likely perpetuate whatever problem you have. You’ll tell yourself that you blew it, so you’re bad. Since you’re bad, you believe you’ll blow it again. It’s a nasty cycle from which we often can’t seem to escape — at least not on our own.

You need a power beyond yourself.

You need a Savior.

You need Jesus.

An Affair Does Not Have to Mean the End

SOURCE:  Carrie Cole M.Ed., LPC/The Gottman Institute

Ralph and Susan had been married for 13 years with two adorable children. Their suburban life was packed with work, school, and the kids’ extra-curricular activities. Neither made their marriage a priority, but overall they felt their relationship was good.

Susan withheld her suspicion when she noticed that Ralph was on his phone more than usual. At times she couldn’t help but ask “What’s going on?” only to receive “Nothing. Just checking the news,” or “There’s a lot of drama at the office that I need to take care of.” She trusted him.

When Susan discovered that Ralph had been texting another woman, she was devastated. Her world came crashing down. In her mind, Ralph was not the kind of person to ever have an affair.

Ralph lied about it at first. He felt like he needed to protect Susan from the ugly truth. But as more evidence came out, he couldn’t lie anymore. He was having an affair.

He didn’t know how he had got involved so deeply with someone else. It just happened. He and a co-worker had become close friends over time. It felt good to have someone to talk to who listened and made him feel special. He hadn’t had that in a long time with Susan.

During the affair he had to convince himself that Susan didn’t care. He felt she wasn’t interested in him sexually anymore. They were more like roommates than soulmates.

As a Certified Gottman Therapist, I have heard many versions of this story in my couples therapy practice over the last 15 years. An affair, whether emotional or sexual, is devastating. Both partners suffer tremendous pain. But an affair does not have to mean the end.

The PTSD of an Affair

The betrayed partner experiences a tidal wave of emotion. The pain, hurt, anger, humiliation, and despair are overwhelming. After the traumatic moment the affair is realized, they become fearful, anxious, and hypervigilant, wondering where or when the next blow is going to come – not unlike symptoms of PTSD felt by military veterans.

Their mind races with thoughts of What don’t they know? What’s the whole story? Scenes of their partner with someone else appear in their mind when awake and when asleep, making life a living nightmare.

The Guilt of Betrayal

The betrayer also experiences a great deal of emotion. The hopeless feeling of witnessing your partner in pain and knowing you can do nothing to alleviate their suffering is a horrible experience. The feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation are almost unbearable.

So, what causes an affair? Why do partners choose to cheat? The answers are complicated and may take months to unravel.

Recovering From an Affair

Is it possible to recover from an affair? The answer for most couples is yes.

Many couples I’ve worked with have actually created a stronger, more emotionally connected, and richer relationship from the ashes of an affair. However, it’s not quick or easy. As with any serious injury, it takes time to heal. And it usually takes therapy.

It’s tempting to think that it will automatically get better with time. The problem with “sweeping it under the rug” is that the anxiety, fear, anger, and guilt felt early on by the betrayed person often give way to resentment – a slow seething anger that leads to total contempt for the betrayer. Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that contempt is deadly in relationships and very difficult to recover from.

Couples therapy can help partners explore and understand what happened. The betrayed partner needs to have their questions answered, such as:

  • When did you meet?
  • Where did you meet?
  • How long did the affair last?

The betrayed partner attempts to understand how it happened and how they can prevent it from happening again. They also seek consistency in the stories from one telling to the next. Do I know everything? Are you lying to me now? These questions are best asked and answered in the emotionally safe environment of a therapist’s office.

It is best not to ask questions about the specifics of the sexual nature of the affair. Those questions usually do more bad than good in that they conjure up images that might haunt the betrayed partner’s thoughts.

When the betrayed partner feels that they have all the answers they need, the couple can begin to work on rebuilding trust. Couples like Susan and Ralph have turned away from each other in many small ways over time, which compounds into the feelings that ultimately led Ralph astray. They neglected the relationship.

Once couples process what happened, they need to begin to tune back into each other. Susan and Ralph found that they avoided each other to avoid conflict. Tuning back in requires dialoguing about problems – both ongoing perpetual problems and past issues that might have caused some injury to the relationship.

Recognize That Conflict is Inevitable

Conflict is a natural part of your happily ever after. Every relationship has conflict due to different values, beliefs, and philosophies of life. When these differences are discussed safely, and when honored and respected, the couple will experience greater intimacy. At times this can feel uncomfortable and take some push and pull. Communication skills provided by a therapist can help the navigation of these discussions go more smoothly.

Once the couple has tuned back into each other, it will be helpful to create some meaningful rituals to stay connected. Couples can be creative about ways to do that which are special and unique to them. One couple I worked with decided to have morning coffee together for 30 minutes. They would discuss the events of the day, check in with each other emotionally, and take the time to really listen to each other’s hearts.

Another couple developed a ritual of a bubble bath after the kids were in bed. They said they did their best talking in their big round Jacuzzi tub.

Sexual and emotional betrayals are a hefty blow to a relationship, but an affair does not have to be the end. Couples who have the emotional fortitude to reach out and seek the help they need can create a much more meaningful and intimate relationship in the aftermath of infidelity.

 

6 Little-Known Signs of Depression in Older Adults

SOURCE:  Kristen Sturt

Depression affects over two million people 65-plus; learn how to identify the signs, and how to get help.

Your husband might be depressed, and you might not know it. Or, maybe it’s your sister or your mother.

Maybe it’s even you.

Even though upwards of two million Americans age 65-plus experience depression, the majority of seniors—68 percent, according to a National Mental Health Association survey—know little about it. One big reason is that signs are easy to overlook, since they’re frequently confused with other ailments and changes that come naturally with aging.

“Often in older adults, when they’re depressed, you don’t see high levels of crying and sadness you might see in a younger adult,” says Dr. Sarah Yarry, Ph.D., a Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in gerontology. “You see it more often as withdrawal. It’s apathy, hopelessness, loss of appetite and interest.” Older adults regularly demonstrate physical symptoms, as well—particularly aches and pains—and when they’re not addressed along with the underlying neurological issues, depression is more likely to linger, and more likely to come back.

Depression comes with serious personal costs, too: It’s correlated with a higher risk of dying early from certain illnesses and is a major factor in suicides. That’s why it’s imperative to recognize the signs—even the lesser-known ones—before it’s too late. Here, then, are some common, but little-known indications of depression in older adults.

1. Joint and back pain

As we age, some pain is to be expected, and it doesn’t have to come with depression. That said, the connection between pain and depression can’t be ignored—especially if the pain is chronic, meaning it lasts more than a few months. Back aches and joint pain are commonly reported signs. One 2015 study in the journal Arthritis even found that about 12 percent of those with hip or knee osteoarthritis were depressed, versus about 6.6 percent of the general population. What’s more, “each additional symptomatic joint was associated with a 19 percent increase in the odds of self-reported depression.” Research shows that pain and depression is a chicken-egg scenario, too; the discomfort contributes to the depression, which can then intensify the agony. Physically painful illnesses, from stroke to multiple sclerosis, can exacerbate depression, too.

2. Cognitive impairment

While our mental abilities are expected to decline somewhat with age, depression can do a number on memory, focus, attentiveness, and even speech and movement. In fact, one small 2004 study found that more than half of participants suffering from late-life depression had significant problems with processing information and executive function (decision making, reason, etc.).

This mental cloudiness is frequently confused with dementia. As opposed to a degenerative condition like Alzheimer’s, however, “The confusion comes from lack of energy and apathy,” says Dr. Yarry. “It takes so much effort with them because they’re depressed.” This makes diagnosis crucial, since treating depression can improve sharpness.

3. Chest pain

Heart disease and depression often go hand in hand; depressed people show more signs of coronary illness, and people suffering from coronary illness are more likely to be depressed. Two recent studies support this:

  • A 2010 study in Heart Views found that chest pain patients demonstrated “more than triple” the rate of depression of the general population.
  • A 2015 study found that newly depressed angina patients “reported more angina and physical limitations” than those who were not depressed.

Depression apparently makes surviving coronary disease more difficult, too; depressed heart failure patients, for example, are four times as likely to die early. Part of this may be chemical, part if it is because depressed people may be less motivated to take good care of themselves. Either way, chest pain like angina can be an indicator of depression.

4. Irritability

In addition to melancholy, older adults suffering from depression may express grouchiness, increased anger, or even open hostility, all of which can be magnified by the use of alcohol (also tied to depression). Part of the reason for this is cultural. “It’s more appropriate to express depression as irritability rather than sadness, because that’s what’s acceptable in that generation,” says Dr. Yarry. “It’s the accepted way of expressing emotion.” Other feelings that might indicate depression: Increased fear, anxiety, guilt, and loss of hope.

5. Headaches

Though it’s not widely known, there’s a strong, long-established tie between senior depression and headaches. For example, in 1999, the journal Pain published a survey of 1,421 Chinese seniors that found those with frequent, severe, or migraine headaches were likelier to be depressed. Migraines are especially correlative; a 2008 study of migraine patients aged 50-plus discovered that nearly half showed “mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms.”  Like joint and chest pain, depression may exacerbate headaches, while headaches can contribute to depression.

6. Gastrointestinal issues

As we age, we internalize our psychological issues in more ways than one, and depression may have some pretty serious effects on our guts. Nausea, constipation, and digestive problems are common, as are appetite and weight changes. Depressed older adults may drop pounds and slow their eating overall, though some may go the other direction and gain weight, too.

If you suspect someone you know is suffering from depression—or you, yourself are experiencing symptoms—see a medical professional as soon as possible. “Bring them to a family doctor and get an evaluation,” says Dr. Yarry, who also suggests seeing a mental health expert whose focus is in treating older people. “Talk to a geriatric psychologist that specializes in depression issues.”

For more information about depression and older adults, consult one of these resources—and remember that there’s always help.

 

Are Manipulators Aware of Being Manipulative?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Is It Possible That Spouses Who Manipulate Are Unaware They Are Being Manipulative ?

Question: Is it possible that spouses who manipulate are unaware they are being manipulative? If so, is this because of defense mechanisms or some other emotional void?

Answer: I think every human being has defense mechanisms and emotional voids. If we were capable of being completely healthy and whole individuals we would not need God. And probably 99% of all human beings have tried manipulation. Why? Because it is a very effective way of getting what you want.

A toddler throws a fit in the grocery store because she wants candy. If her mom capitulates because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t want to say no, she’s been manipulated by a two-year-old. And as the two-year-old learns that manipulation works she will do it again the next time she is thwarted from getting what she wants.

If her parents always give into her manipulative tactics her manipulation will increase and she will gain a wide repertoire of manipulative strategies. From throwing a fit, to whining, to saying “I hate you,” to the guilt trip or silent treatment, to badgering, to sighing with disappointment or disapproval, the manipulator communicates, “I am unhappy with you”, “I will hurt you”, or “you are a bad person if you won’t do or give me what I want.”

But your question is, “Is the manipulator aware that he or she is being manipulative?”

She may not know at two years old that what she is doing is manipulative, but over time she knows that certain tactics produce the results she wants. As she meets new people who resist her manipulative ways, she may face some tough realities. She may have teachers, coaches, or friends who refuse to always give into her. They may even give her some feedback that she is being manipulative. But if she continues to choose this way, she is conscious that she is being manipulative.

The problem with manipulators isn’t necessarily their tactics, but rather their thinking and underlying beliefs. As my friend and colleague, Chris Moles says, “People do what they do because they think what they think and believe what they believe.”

Manipulators think that they are always entitled to get what they want. They believe that everyone should cater to their needs first and if one manipulative strategy doesn’t work (such as pleading and begging), they will switch to another tactic (the guilt trip, or bullying). They are so good and persistent at getting what they want, knowing that the victim becomes exhausted and eventually gives in. That is exactly what the manipulator wants.

You will need to learn to understand why you’ve allowed yourself to be manipulated over and over again and what you can do to change. Usually, fear and guilt are the underlying reasons why we say yes when we want to, or should say no. We fear the loss of the relationship and the loss of their approval and love. We may also fear that they will do something drastic or harmful if we don’t give in.

We feel guilty because the manipulator accuses us of being selfish and unloving when we say no or refuse to do what he or she wants. Even our best efforts will never get a manipulator to agree that our “no” was justified or appropriate. Our guilt also comes from religious teaching that has taught us to never have boundaries and that other people’s needs and wants always come before our own. This keeps us feeling confused and guilty, easy prey for manipulators.

By your question, I wonder if you want to believe that he or she doesn’t know better. That the manipulator manipulates as a defense mechanism or a result of some deep emotional void. And because of these voids or defenses, then you feel less angry or frustrated with him or her?

This perspective may help you. If you knew that someone was stealing money from you because they were fearful that they would not have enough to buy food for their family, you would probably have more compassion than if they were stealing it for drugs. However, the solution isn’t to allow them to steal. It is to provide them an opportunity to earn money to get what they need in an honorable way.

In the same way, you can have compassion for someone who manipulates, but you have to do so from a posture of strength, not weakness. You must have the strength NOT to give into the manipulator because giving in only enables the manipulator’s beliefs to go unchallenged and his strategies to continue. That’s not good for you or your relationship with him, and it’s not good for him. Imagine how many relationships he or she has lost because he doesn’t know how to tolerate someone’s no or accept someone’s boundaries in a healthy way.

So the next time he or she tries their manipulative tactics on you, say something like this:  “I know you just want me to (Fill in the blank) come to your house for Thanksgiving this year mom. I know it’s tough for you when we don’t come each year (Empathy and compassion), but I have to also think about what’s best for my family and me, and for this year it won’t work (Taking responsibility for myself and being respectful towards others.).

Then sit respectfully with his or her disappointment, anger, or grief without giving in.

Overcoming Thoughts of Spiritual Betrayal (by God)

SOURCE: Dr. Gregory Jantz/AACC

If you have faith in God, depression can be similar to a betrayal by him.

After all, you have trusted him to care for you, yet you are still depressed.  You may have heard from your childhood that, as a Christian, you were to experience and exhibit joy, peace, patience—all the fruit of the Spirit spoken of in Galatians 5:22-23.  This sense of betrayal may haunt your sleepless nights and invade your despairing thoughts.  Feeling forgotten by God, you may even be angry at him.

This anger at God can contribute to your depression by provoking feelings of guilt.  You don’t think you should be angry at God, or you don’t think you have the right to be angry at God, so you feel guilty when you pray, the more you are convinced that he could fix it, but he won’t .  You doubt his love.  But you’ve also memorized John 3:16, which begins, “For God so loved the world…” so you’ve been told he does love you.  Looking at all of this, you conclude he’s got a lousy way of showing his live, at least to you.

Or you may think, Perhaps I don’t deserve his love.  Maybe he doesn’t change my situation because I don’t deserve joy and peace in my life.  Possibly the things I’ve done are so bad that he wants to love me but can’t because of who I am.  And if God can’t love me, then I’m not really worthy to be loved by anyone.  And if my life is to be empty of love, hope is impossible.  If you look at it this way, depression is completely understandable.

Or is it?

Have you picked up the stream of thoughts in this line of reasoning?

It takes snippets of truth—God loves you, and Christians are to live lives of joy—and twists those around into something meant to injure you, not give you comfort.  This line of reasoning is not from God; it is from the Deceiver.  Rage is a deceiver.  False guilt is a deceiver.  Abject despair is a deceiver.  Depression is a deceiver.  That is why when you are in the midst of depression, you must replace your own negative self-talk with God-talk, which is based upon truth.  This God-talk will support your positive self-talk by agreeing with affirming statements, such as these:

  • I deserve love. (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16)
  • I deserve joy. (“Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” –Isaiah 51:11)
  • I am strong enough to learn and grow each day. (“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” – 2 Samuel 22:33)
  • I can experience contentment in my life. (“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” – Philippians 4:12)
  • I am able to respond to my circumstances, instead of react. (“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” – Romans 12:2)
  • I can look forward to tomorrow. (“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” –Lamentations 3:22-23)

How do you fill your life and your mind with God-talk?

The Bible is full of life-affirming messages.  It is, at its heart, a love story.  It is a story of a loving God, who created you to love you and to be loved by you.

Like every great story, there is a separation, which must be overcome by terrible sacrifice.  Through God’s sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, you are able to confidently say, “I can live happily ever after.”

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

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books.

You Don’t Have to Live with Guilt

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance.”(Proverbs 28:13 TLB)

God is always ready to give you another chance. That’s a bedrock piece of Christianity. We’ve all been irresponsible. We’ve all screwed up. The Bible tells us,“Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT, second edition).

God doesn’t want you living with a heavy guilt trip about all the irresponsibility in your life. Guilt destroys your confidence, damages your relationships, keeps you stuck in the past, and even hurts your health. I read a report a few years back that said 70 percent of people in the hospital could leave if they knew how to resolve their guilt.

God wants far better for your life than that. You don’t want to live with guilt. And here’s an important truth to always hang on to: You don’t have to.

God wants you to live with a sense of promise and hope. God can even bring good out of the stupid decisions that you’ve made in your life if you’ll give those failures to him.

How do you do that?

Admit to God you’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t surprise him. And it won’t change his perception of you. I hope you’ll take this step today. When you do, here’s what you can expect from God:

  1. God forgives instantly. The very moment you admit your sin to God, he forgives you.
  2. God forgives freely. You don’t need to earn it, and you’ll never deserve it.
  3. God forgives completely. He wipes your sin absolutely clean.

If you’re mired in guilt and shame, you’ll likely perpetuate whatever problem you have. You’ll tell yourself that you blew it, so you’re bad. Since you’re bad, you believe you’ll blow it again. It’s a nasty cycle from which we often can’t seem to escape — at least not on our own.

You need a power beyond yourself. You need a Savior. You need Jesus.

God Doesn’t Want You to Always Feel So Guilty

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Jason Jones

After my son, Jacob, died in an accident while I was asleep in the house, I struggled with debilitating guilt.

Guilt can be powerful.

For the first few years after the accident, it felt like an all-consuming force that I couldn’t let go of but one that I wanted desperately to run away from. I hated myself so much for all the things I could have done differently that day.

I felt so ashamed, angry, stupid and unworthy. I felt like a failure as a dad and a husband. The weight of carrying the guilt was something my therapist and I worked on for quite some time. Session after session, we would talk through it. There were a lot of tears and painful discussions.

Eventually, my therapist was able to help me realize some truths that slowly started to sink in over time. None of it was overnight. And none of it was like a light bulb moment to point to that instantly made me feel better.

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on.

Therapy is like a farmer tending to his garden. You keep watering and picking weeds, and one day you show up and something starts sprouting out of the dirt. You just have to keep showing up to do the work. During that time, I learned some really important realities while working on my guilt:

We Aren’t Defined By Our Mistakes

Early on, I beat the heck out of myself over what happened. I felt like I had failed my family. Most of all, I felt like I had failed Jacob.

The shame was permeating my entire identity. This caused unhealthy behavior, added stress and was a strain on my marriage and my ability to be a father to my daughters.

Through therapy, though, I was able to realize that one accident or mistake doesn’t define who I am. I’m still a good person, husband and father.

Healing Can Start When You Accept Responsibility

This step was incredibly difficult and took a very long time for me to work through. Although I definitely felt it, I was scared to death to say that I had any responsibility in Jacob’s accident. I fought as hard as I could and as long as I could to not accept it.

I was terrified to think what it meant about me that my decisions may have led my son’s death. What does it say about me as a father? Does it mean I am a bad person? Am I a terrible father? Did I fail my family? Am I worthy of being loved?

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on. This put me on a hamster wheel of personal torture that I couldn’t figure out how to get off of.

Thankfully, with hours upon hours of working with my therapist, I was able to get to a place where I could bear the guilt without it continuing to rule my life. Bearing the guilt meant I had taken and accepted responsibility for what I could have done to prevent this accident. There were things I could have done differently. I accept that. I bear that guilt, but it doesn’t control me anymore.

Giving Up Is Not an Option, No Matter How Bad It Gets

There were times when I wanted to die because I felt like such a failure in my guilt and shame. I thought about how I wouldn’t have to feel this way anymore and I would be with Jacob.

But, then I would quickly realize the amount of pain I would leave the rest of my family in. What a wreck I would leave behind. My therapist would tell me, “All you have to do is think about getting through each minute, each hour, then each day. Get out of bed and put your feet on the ground. Take a step, then another step. One foot in front of the other and keep breathing.”

It felt like torture at times, to keep going, but I knew inside that I could not give up. I couldn’t give up on my wife and my daughters. And I couldn’t give up on myself. No matter how hard it gets—you can’t give up.

This summer, I stumbled upon a song from a band called Colony House that really resonated with me.

Two of the members of Colony House, Will and Caleb Chapman, are sons of Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth Chapman. Back in 2008, one of Mary Beth and Steven Chapman’s daughters was killed when she accidentally ran out in front of Will’s car when he was driving up the driveway at their home. It was a total accident and terrible tragedy. From interviews I’ve seen, Will struggled with a deep sense of guilt after the accident.

In the song “Won’t Give Up,” Colony House sings about those feelings. The song starts:

I wear the guilt upon my chest
Cause I feel like I’ve earned it
And keep the bloodstains on my hands
To show that I’ve done this

Oh how I wish I could escape that day
Take back time and make everything OK
But I can’t

Oh, the pictures in my head
They roll like the movies
I shut my eyes to cut the thread
But my memory shows no mercy

It was like someone climbed into my head and pulled out how I felt and then wrote a song about it.

It ends like this:

Too many dreams I didn’t want to dream
Too many nights alone where I can’t sleep
I’ve got the devil on my back
Trying to take home from me
But I see Jesus out in front
He’s reaching back for the lonely
Reaching back cause He loves me
I take His hand because she loved me

No I won’t give up now

Sometimes our guilt feels like it’s taking a hold of us and dragging us into hell. It’s like our past mistakes are yelling at us through a megaphone, constantly reminding us of what we’ve done.

But I can tell you it is possible to find freedom from what can seem overwhelming and paralyzing.

Healing can begin when we accept that we are human and we all make mistakes. And the transformative healing takes place when we accept that our mistakes don’t define who we are as a person.

Guilt AND Guilt Feelings

SOURCE:  R. C. Sproul

In what way does God use guilt today?

When we talk about God’s using guilt, it sounds strange to many people in our society because there’s a widespread notion that guilt is something that is intrinsically destructive to human beings and that to impose guilt on anybody is wrong. The idea then emerges that God certainly would never use such a thing as guilt to bring about his will with human beings. If he did, that would be beneath the level of purity we would prefer in our deity.

In biblical terms, guilt is something that is real and is objective, and I think it’s very important that we distinguish between guilt and guilt feelings.

Guilt feelings are emotions that I experience subjectively. Guilt is an objective state of affairs.

We see that in our law courts. When a person goes on trial for having broken the law, the question before the jury and before the judge is not, Does the accused feel guilty? but, Is there a real state of affairs that we call guilt? Has a law been transgressed? So it is with God. Guilt is objective in the eyes of God whenever his law is broken. When I break his law, I incur guilt, but I may or may not have guilt feelings about my guilt.

I suspect that behind your question is a concern about how God uses the guilt feelings as well as the actual guilt itself.

One of the most important works of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is what the New Testament calls the conviction of sin. We can be guilty and not feel guilty. David, for example, when he got involved with Bathsheba and went even so far as arranging for her husband to get killed, felt no great remorse until Nathan, the prophet, came to him and told him a parable. The parable was about a man who took for himself a little lamb that belonged to a poor man. David was furious and wanted to know who this man was so that he could be punished. Finally Nathan pointed his finger at David and said, “You are the man.” With the realization of the full import of his guilt, David was broken instantly and then wrote that magnificent song of penitence, Psalm 51, in which he cried out in his conviction of sin before God.

What God does with our guilt and guilt feelings is to bring us to that state in which we are convicted of sin and of the righteousness we’ve fallen short of; he uses those feelings to turn us from disobedience to obedience. In that regard, guilt and guilt feelings are healthy. Just as pain is a necessary sign of the presence of disease, so guilt feelings may often be the divine way of awakening us to our need for redemption.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Tough Questions with RC Sproul is excerpted from Now, That’s a Good Question! Copyright © 1996 by R. C. Sproul.

Abuse: Who Defines My Self-Image?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

Perhaps you are a victim of spouse abuse. Or maybe you were in the past. Like other abuse victims, you have probably been challenged by the shame, guilt, and false sense of responsibility all victims take on as part of the “victimization” process.

You are probably also dealing with low self-esteem. Abuse attacks self-esteem in several ways. Grant Martin describes these areas in Transformed by Thorns.

They include the following:

  • Sense of being: Who are we in Christ Jesus? As we grow in our understanding of that and learn to cast our cares on Jesus, we can begin to walk in comfort. We develop a sense of well-being that reassures us of the love and healing God has for us.
  • Sense of purpose: Why are we in Christ Jesus? What purpose do we have? What does God plan to do with us? Why did he save us? God wants us to know we have purpose and meaning in our life. He is our meaning, and he gives us purpose.
  • Sense of ministry: We are here to serve God and be his body that ministers to one another. We are here to present the gospel to unbelievers so they can see and experience God’s love for them.

Meditate on these scriptures. Build your self-image on what God thinks about you—not what others think, your spouse thinks, or even what you think. Read the scriptures aloud. Write them. Put them on your phone or computer or post-its as constant reminders of who you are in Christ and how he cares for you.

You are his child. He cares for you. You are not alone.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. (1 John 3:1 NLT)

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7 NLT)

Jesus created you for a purpose. He has a good plan for your life, and he has equipped you to accomplish his purpose.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

Part of your purpose is to minister to others and allow them to minister to you. To share the gospel. He has made you unique and special.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. (Romans 12:6 NLT)

Always remember, when you received Jesus as Lord and Savior, God clothed you in the righteousness of Christ. When he looks at you, he sees Jesus’ righteousness, not your sins. Not because of anything you have or haven’t done but because of what Jesus did.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Romans 3:22-25 NLT)

If you’ve never taken this step, you can do so right now. Jesus loves you so much he died for your sins. He wants to have a personal relationship with you, to care for you. Talk to him now. He is waiting for you with open arms.

Dear God, I sometimes feel alone, and I don’t like myself very much. I want to invite Jesus to come into my heart. Please forgive my sins. And then help me see myself as you do. I want to be your child. In Jesus’ name . . .

————————————————————————————————————————————————————–


These thoughts were drawn from …

 Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Abortion: How Does God See Me Now?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Kim Ketola

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.” (Romans 5:8-9 NLT)

Abortion has created strife that sometimes may spill over into the church. Those who are rightly outraged about the loss of life that happens with each abortion may not be sensitive to the pain experienced by those who learned the truth too late. Or the double pain known to millions of Christian women because we denied what we knew to be true when we chose abortion against our own beliefs.

Kim admits, “Whether through perceived judgment or my own guilt, abortion made me avoid church.” Many women feel like a second-class citizen in church after abortion—caught in the crossfire of abortion politics and personal guilt and shame.

But God’s ways are not our ways. No matter how others may see us . . . or how we see ourselves . . . Jesus looks at us through eyes of love.

God doesn’t hate us for our weakness and our need. He knows we are frail and need his help.

Jesus can help you consider all the circumstances of your abortion and hold you in love as you think it through with him. Even if he doesn’t love what you did, he never stopped loving you. As you mourned, he mourned too.

Jesus sees us through eyes of love. He loves us so much he died for us while we were still sinners. And no matter what we have done, if we will leave it at the cross and trust Jesus, he will make us right in God’s eyes. Jesus does not condemn. He forgives.

Lord, I do need your help. Help me get past my fears and shame and trust you to walk me through this. . . . Help me reach out for your forgiveness and peace. Thank you for loving me. In Jesus’ name . . .

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


These thoughts were drawn from …


Cradle My Heart: Finding God’s LOVE After Abortion by Kim Ketola.

The “ONLY” Way Forward –> Bringing Our Failures To God

SOURCE: Taken from  D.A. Carson/The Gospel Coalition

[Based on:  Leviticus 25Psalm 32Ecclesiastes 82 Timothy 4]

“BLESSED IS HE WHOSE TRANSGRESSIONS ARE FORGIVEN, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1-2).

In a theistic universe where God keeps the books, it is difficult to imagine any greater blessedness.

The sad tragedy is that when many people reflect on this brute fact — that we must give an account to him, and there is no escaping his justice — almost instinctively they do the wrong thing. They resolve to take the path of self-improvement, they turn over a new leaf, they conceal or even deny the sins of frivolous youth. Thus they add to their guilt something additional — the sin of deceit.

We dare not ask for justice — we would be crushed.

But how can we hide from the God who sees everything? That is self-delusion.

There is only one way forward that does not destroy us: we must be forgiven.

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven.” And what is bound up with such forgiveness? For a start, such a person will not pretend there are no sins to forgive: blessed is the man “in whose spirit is no deceit.”

That is why the ensuing verses speak so candidly of confession (32:3-5). It was when David “kept silent” (i.e., about his sins) that his “bones wasted away”; his anguish was so overwhelming it brought wretched physical pain. David writhed under the sense that God himself was against him: “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (32:4).

The glorious solution?

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ — and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (32:5).

The New Testament writer closest to saying the same thing is John in his first letter (1 John 1:8-9).

Writing to believers, John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There it is again: the self-deception bound up with denying our sinfulness.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There it is again: the only remedy to human guilt.

This God forgives us, not because he is indulgent or too lazy to be careful, but because we have confessed our sin, and above all, because he is “faithful and just”: “faithful” to the covenant he has established, “just” so as not to condemn us when Jesus himself is the propitiation for our sins (2:2).

My Wife’s The Breadwinner! Is That OK?

SOURCE:  Keri Wyatt Kent/Marriage Partnership

Women Breadwinners: A Holy Calling?

Women Breadwinners: A Holy Calling?

Perspectives from couples who reflect a growing trend

Alison Strobel Morrow works three jobs. She’s a full-time middle school language arts teacher, she writes women’s fiction, and she runs a home-based health and wellness product business.

Her husband is a part-time church newsletter editor and primary caregiver for their two children, ages 4 and 7, whom he home-schools. He handles most of the housework, although Alison pitches in occasionally.

Alison is just one of many women who are the primary breadwinners for their families. Each family has a unique story, yet is part of a larger trend: a steadily growing number of women who out-earn their husbands.

“For the most part, I’m okay with my role,” she says. While her close friends understand, she admits, “I get a lot of weird looks from people when I first explain our situation, but I’m over caring whether or not people approve. I’m immensely relieved to have a job and insurance at all.”

40 Percent and Growing

Some 40 percent of wives now earn more than their husbands, a trend which challenges the traditions of American society and has stirred debate and commentary about its sociological implications (with publication of books such as Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, and Liza Mundy’s The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family). Because of the growing number of women earning advanced degrees and ascending the corporate ladder, that percentage is growing.

A small (but growing) fraction of those wives are solo breadwinners while their husbands stay home with the children. Many more are part of couples in which both spouses work—but she earns more. Some observers predict what Mundy calls “the big flip”—the coming day where the majority of women will earn more than men.

For Christian families in this situation (and there are many), the changes can be unsettling—especially if they are a part of a conservative faith tradition that taught them it is “biblical” for a man to go out to work and a woman to stay home.

Some Christian husbands who want (or need) their wives to contribute to the household income by working may feel conflicted when their wives advance in their careers. Others are quite content to earn less, especially if this allows them to be closer to their children because they’ve become the primary caregivers and household managers. Their supporting roles often help their wives thrive in their careers.

Changing Roles

When Cathy and Dave Breslow had their kids 18 and 16 years ago, they were “adamant” that one parent would be home with them. Cathy had assumed it would be her, but her job as a software engineer for Safeway Foods had benefits, a retirement package, and a good salary. Dave’s work as an insurance salesman had no benefits and paid straight commission.

So he suggested that he stay home with their children. “At first I was like, what?” she admits.

“It was very unusual at the time,” Dave says. “But we didn’t want someone else raising our kids. I wanted to impart my values to them.”

After prayer and conversation, “we felt that the Lord was leading us in that direction,” Cathy says. “My husband handled it brilliantly. When you look at it over the long haul, we knew this is what God had for us.”

He continued to work part-time selling insurance but has been the primary caregiver for their children, as well as doing the cooking, shopping, and cleaning. He also coaches basketball and volunteers at their church.

When his daughter was 2, he wanted to take her to a playgroup through his church but noted it was called the Moms Friendly Playgroup. When he jokingly said, “I guess I’m not invited,” the church changed the name to Parents Friendly Playgroup.

However, most of the families they know at their church in the San Francisco Bay area have dads working full-time. “Would I have done things differently? No. Do I have regrets? Not at all,” Dave says.

Living the Dream

A year ago, Jeff Walton quit his job to be a stay-at-home dad to his two boys, ages 4 and 8, so his wife could take a promotion to district sales manager.

Today, the family feels they are living the dream. Kathy is free from the stress of what to do when she was 50 miles away and got a call from school saying one of her boys was sick. She is able to devote more time to her job, and she has had a banner year.

“I’ve always liked my job, but I like it so much more now,” that her husband is at home, Kathy says, although she admits that “it’s very, very, very stressful to be the sole breadwinner, especially when you’re in sales.” But Jeff’s support means both less chaos and more free time for both of them.

“We used to both do everything, when we were both working, but it was stressful. I no longer have a ‘laundry room mountain’ waiting for me on Saturday, when we’ve got to get to a soccer game, and wondering when that’s going to get done.”

Kathy says her women’s group at church has been very supportive, which helps her. Jeff’s also in a Bible study there, and that group also has been very encouraging, he said.

When they were both working, Jeff and Kathy would have their kids up by 6:00 a.m. to get out the door less than an hour later. They’d pick them up from daycare or after-school care around 5:30 p.m.—long days for both parents and kids.

These days, Jeff takes the boys to the library after school on Tuesday afternoons, and he plays ball with them or helps with homework on the other weekday afternoons.

“When we were both working, it seemed like every time Kathy would have to travel, one of the kids would get sick,” Jeff recalls. “It was so much stress.”

When both of them were trying to build their careers, Jeff recalls, “we’d have this ‘whose job is more important’ question when we both had a meeting, and we’d have a debate about that. We’ve taken that question out of the equation. She can focus more on her job, and the more successful she is, the more successful we are.”

The couples most comfortable with breadwinning wives had similar attitudes to Jeff’s, seeing her success as “our” success.

When he quit his job, Jeff reorganized the kitchen, then the laundry room, and divided the house into “zones” he cleans one at a time, working methodically around each room. “It’s very ‘FlyLady,’ ” Kathy laughs.

“I might have been going a little crazy at first, trying to prove that I was working,” he admits. He’s a meticulous budgeter, and he analyzed their finances to cut expenses before he left his job. “Kathy often tells me she wouldn’t be able to do this without me,” Jeff says.

He also does the yard work, cooks, and buys groceries, although Kathy still helps plan the meals and sometimes cooks for fun on the weekends. Those weekends also have margin for time to just hang out as a family or a couple.

“We have time to just be together. I’m no longer asking when I’m going to have time to actually live. I feel so blessed.”

A year ago when Kathy had just received her promotion, and Jeff was still working, she remembers crying at a sales meeting, telling her boss, “I don’t think I can do this.” She recalls, “My boss is an amazing guy, and he just looked at me and said, ‘What are you talking about? Of course you can do this!’ And when Jeff quit his job, I could. I went from crying that I couldn’t do it last year, to being named district sales manager of the year this year.”

Man’s Identity?

A recent Time Magazine article by Mundy, author of The Richer Sex, points out that “In the face of women’s rising power and changing expectations, many men may experience an existential crisis. When the woman takes on the role of primary breadwinner, it takes away an essential part of many men’s identity: that of the provider, the role he was trained, tailored and told to do since he could walk and talk.”

For Christian couples, it is often not just a role that he was trained for and understood that society expected him to do. Many, especially those in more conservative traditions, were told that God decreed that the husband was supposed to play the role of provider. To go against that, even when it makes economic sense, creates stress and guilt.

And yet many Christian couples find themselves—whether by choice or economic necessity or simply because women are reaping the benefits of decades of hard work and education—in this very situation.

Some couples said that the husbands’ confidence was eroded by their inability to play the traditional breadwinner role—even as they said they appreciated their wives’ efforts. Some accepted their non-traditional role but admitted it caused some tension or guilt in the relationship. Others have embraced it as the way God is providing for their families, while allowing the wives to follow God’s calling.

In her July 2012 Wall Street Journal article, “When the Wife Has a Fatter Paycheck,” journalist Susan Gregory Thomas says she’s part of that 40 percent of wives who earn more than their husbands, and notes that the situation puts her: “in the middle of a distinctively modern dilemma: how to handle the tensions of a marriage between an alpha woman and a beta man.”

In an online column responding to Thomas’ article, writer Candice Watters opines: “The dilemma Susan Gregory Thomas raises has even higher stakes for a Christian couple. We’re not merely talking tensions between alpha and beta, but defiance of the Alpha and Omega.”

“My Friends Made Me Feel So Guilty”

Whether or not you agree with Watters’ hermeneutic, she’s echoing what many people think—and many churches teach. Directly or indirectly, conservative Christian culture holds up the ideal of “man as provider, woman as homemaker.” However, the reality is, many wives do have to work, and some have far greater earning potential and ambition than their husbands. Then what?

“My friends made me feel so guilty,” says Diana Searls, who has always been the primary breadwinner in her marriage. “And if we were raised that way, to believe that earning more than your husband is absolutely wrong, the guilt is intense.”

Diana, who heads up the leadership and management development program at a career center, says she and her husband Ed “had a lot of conversations. We asked, Is this wrong? We searched the Scriptures together, and our conclusion is God did not say it’s wrong, but man has done this. That was important for us.”

Clarity about Calling

Another couple, Jean and Robert*, have both worked for all of their marriage—sometimes full-time, sometimes part-time, as they raised their two boys, who are now 20 and 17. Currently, Jean is working 50 to 60 hours a week as a project manager for a consulting company. Robert, who was downsized out of middle management several years ago, is back in school, getting his teaching credentials—at age 53. He works part-time in retail as well. While Jean is glad he’s finally found his calling, it’s been challenging.

“I’m doing what I feel called to do,” Jean says. “But the fact that Robert is not in a job he loves, kind of puts a damper on it. I’m grateful that God has provided in this way, but—there’s this big but—we’d all be happier if Robert had a better job. Although I wouldn’t trade Robert for anything because of the kind of husband and father he is.”

Jean grew up Catholic but “never got the message it wasn’t OK for me to work,” and in fact was praised for her achievements and ambition. Still, she thinks “there is this pressure, socially, that he needs to provide. He feels it more than me.”

She says she believes women “naturally have to recreate ourselves” in different seasons of life: as a student, a mother, then perhaps launching in a new direction after the kids leave the nest. Men, on the other hand, she believes, are taught that they just work, and that work defines them. When they’re unemployed, under-employed, or just not experiencing the career success their wives do, some men struggle.

The Recession’s Toll

Another couple, Jim and Angie*, met at their church in their late 20s, after she had finished a masters in social work. He worked as a carpenter, remodeling high-end homes. During the real estate boom of the late 1990s, his talents were in high demand, though the work was rarely steady. Angie’s income was the family’s main support.

The recession crippled Jim’s business. Indeed, a growing number of women have gone back to work to help make ends meet when their husbands lost their jobs—and ended up actually doing quite well. A 2010 University of New Hampshire study showed that an economic recession often results in an increasing number of breadwinner wives.

Angie works as an account manager for a company that administers employee assistance programs. She worked part-time when her children, now ages 13, 11, and 8, were young (and Jim was earning more money), but she currently works full-time. She’s always managed the money.

“Sometimes I am just overwhelmed by the responsibility of managing the finances and balancing the work demands with family life,” she admits.

Resentment and Guilt

Some men find it difficult to release traditional roles or expectations. The “man as provider” is definitely more deeply ingrained in the conservative Christian subculture than in American culture at large.

“I don’t think the tradition of faith impacts me as much as my husband. Although I cannot speak for him, at times he says things like, ‘I feel like I’m a failure,’ or ‘I will never be able to provide for you the way your father provided.’ I believe those stereotypes impact his self-esteem,” Angie says.

Angie’s advice to women who find themselves in a similar situation? “Be content in all circumstances. Trust the plan God has for you and your family. Accept the situation as it is and don’t allow resentment to creep into your attitude toward your husband.”

That’s easier said than done. Another woman, who asked to be anonymous, confided: “For a long time I was really resentful of the fact that I was the one who had to go back to work…I’ve really struggled to accept that this is God’s will for us…However, I think our girls have benefitted greatly from having him home.”

Contentment with Your Calling

Christians often talk about stewardship of their resources—but what if a woman’s skills, and God’s calling to the workplace, are gifts to be stewarded as carefully as any others?

The couples that seem to thrive with women in the breadwinner role have the support of their churches, family, and friends. They believe not just that such an arrangement is permissible, but that it’s beneficial to have the wife as primary breadwinner. They’ve prayed and studied and listened to God and followed his calling.

If God calls a woman to do work that provides for her family, that calling and the resulting income should be stewarded carefully. What does that look like? It includes the support of her husband (with practical help at home), and it also includes the woman responding wholeheartedly to that calling. By accepting and leaning into the way God has gifted her, a woman can find meaning and purpose and allow God to use her to provide for her family.

——————————————————————————————-

* These couples asked that we not use their real names.

Keri Wyatt Kent is a freelance journalist and the author of 10 books.

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.

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

Guilt Trip To…Nowhere

SOURCE: Adapted from  Stepping Stones/Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network

Because I teach people to make decisions based on information, not emotions, I cringe when I hear parents, ministries, or pastors using guilt to “motivate” others. “If you loved me, you would do your chores.” “I worked long and hard on this meal, so you better eat it.” “We’ll have to cancel the event … unless you help us.” “Look at these starving kids in Africa and all the food you throw away. Please send money.” “See the pain Jesus went through for you? You should feel terrible; now accept Him as your savior.”

Guilt is an incredible motivator, but that’s not the correct role for or use of guilt. I am all for pointing out injustices and needs so people can step into their roles to help these situations or make good decisions.

The issue I am trying to separate through these examples is this: we shouldn’t use guilt to motivate people.

Several subliminal, distorted, and false messages can unwontedly occur when people act out of guilt.   Here are some examples:

1. I am responsible for and can control someone else’s feelings through what I do.

2. The other person won’t feel better unless I act the way he wants.

3. When you want a friend to do something for you, it is OK to lay a guilt trip on her.

4. Decisions should be based on self-needs and emotions, not God’s truth, facts, and reasoning. This is probably the worst message of all.

Unfortunately, these distorted messages subtly seep into our everyday functioning, and dramatically interfere with Godly decision-making.

Many pastors and priests try to whip their congregations into Christian action by delivering guilt-inducing sermons. Whether it’s guilting someone to say the sinner’s prayer, to give money, to volunteer, or to stop a certain behavior, the end does not justify the means. I have personally experienced these guilt-evoking messages. And unfortunately, they undermine the very foundation of grace and love that God wants to instill in a believer’s heart.

Today, take notice if you are feeling guilty about something, or if you are inducing guilt in someone else. Stop and examine why guilt is present. Guilt is important if you have done something wrong. So let the guilt warn you that a problem exists. But don’t let it be your decision-maker. Let reason and the Bible direct your heart and actions. Confess, repent, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. You are responsible for your feelings and happiness; the other person is responsible for his own. Above all else, be mindful that God does not measure and judge you by the amount of good works you do. Rather He looks into your heart. It’s your decision to allow God or guilt to motivate you, so choose well.

Prayer
Dear Father God, I do not want to be stressed out about not “doing enough” as good Christian. I know that You want me to relax in the assurance of Your perfect love. Today help me remember that You delight in me more than I can ever imagine, that You see me cloaked in Your light and presence … and that there is no condemnation for those cloaked in You. Help me daily, Lord, to come closer to having the Mind of Christ. Help me make decisions based on Your word, not my feelings. Help me feel convicted and guilty about my wrongs, and then look to You for forgiveness, and to Your word for guidance in doing right. I pray in the name of the One who knew no guilt ‘til He bore all mine, Jesus Christ;   AMEN!

The Truth
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest.  Isaiah 61:10

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  Romans 8:1-2

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.

Living With an Angry, Abusive or Violent Spouse

SOURCE:  Edward T. Welch/CCEF

No matter how bad your situation is, remember that you are not alone.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

It shouldn’t happen.

You married someone you trusted, and you gave yourself to that person. How could it be that the person you once trusted with your life now acts like the person who could take your life? Whether you are facing unpredictable anger or outright physical abuse, this is betrayal at its worst.

It just shouldn’t happen.

A quick scan of the Internet reveals that you are certainly not alone. Twenty-five percent of adult women say they have experienced violence at the hands of their spouse or partner in a dating relationship. Men, too, can be victims of spousal violence. Eight percent report at least one such incident. But since men are more often violent against women, and since women are typically weaker than angry or violent men, this article is written especially for women.

If you have experienced violence, and you are living scared, statistics are little comfort. Women who live in identical conditions don’t protect you or give you hope for peace and reconciliation. But the numbers do remind you that others know the pain of such a living situation, and that resources are available to help you.

You are not alone: There are people who want to help.

Where can you turn for help?  Where can you find a wise friend to guide you?

If you attend a church, talk to your pastor. If you don’t attend a church, find one in your area. Look for a church that is centered on Jesus Christ and believes what the Bible says about Him—that He is the Son of God who came to earth, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and is the living and powerful head of His church today. Find a community of people who worship this Jesus and who express their worship in love for one another. There you will find hope and direction.

You are really not alone: Listen to the God who hears.

Your long-term goal should be to know the personal God. This won’t magically change your situation, but you will find that knowing God does change everything. Think about it for a moment. What would it be like to know you are not alone, you are heard, and the One who hears is acting on your behalf? It would make a difference. It would especially make a difference if you knew that this person was the holy King of the universe.

The challenge, of course, is that, at this time in history, you cannot see God with your eyes. When you want real hands and feet to help you, the knowledge of God’s presence might seem to provide very little consolation, but don’t let your senses mislead you. God’s presence is a real spiritual presence. The Spirit will confirm this, and “Blessed are those who have not yet seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, ESV).

How do you know that the invisible God of the universe is with you? Look at the evidence from the past. The Bible is full of stories about God hearing the cries of His people and coming to their rescue.

In Genesis, the first book in the Bible, a woman named Hagar and her young son, were unfairly sent from their home and left in the wilderness to die. She turned her back on her son so she wouldn’t have to watch him die, and they both wept. They thought they were utterly alone, but “God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation’” (Genesis 21:17, 18).

This is a pattern. God’s ears are finely tuned to tears. Like a mother who wakes at the sound of her child, God hears the cries of the oppressed.

We see this again when God’s people, the Israelites, cried out because of their slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:23, 24). Like Hagar, the people were not even crying out to God; they were simply crying, and God heard. While some people can hear and do nothing, when the God of heaven and earth hears, He acts. He gave Hagar and her son water and made her son the father of a great nation. He responded to the cries of the Israelites by delivering them from their slavery in Egypt.

So don’t think that God merely listens. His listening always includes action. We may not see all of what He is doing, but, make no mistake, He is acting.

You are not alone: The God who hears wants to listen to you.

God wants you to direct your cries and fears to Him. Does that seem impossible? If so, He will help you to find the words. Psalm 55 can get you started.

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest…For it is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.”
 (Psalm 55:4-8; 12-14)

Psalm 55 has given a voice to human betrayal for centuries. If the words fit your experience, then you are now part of a much larger body of people who have sung this psalm and made it their own. One person in particular leads the singing. Yes, King David wrote this psalm, but he wrote it on behalf of the perfect King who was to come after him. It is Jesus’ psalm, and you are sharing in His Words (read Mark 14). He was the innocent victim of evil people. He was tortured and suffered a terrible death at their hands. To be part of His chorus, all you have to do is follow Him.

Indeed, you are not alone.

The God who hears is against injustice.

The God who came to this world as Jesus and experienced oppression and injustice also stands against it. When people are oppressed by those who have authority or physical power, God pronounces grief and judgment on the oppressors.

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”  (Jeremiah 23:1-3)

This doesn’t mean you should silently gloat, “Yeah, go ahead. You’ll get yours some day.” As you probably know, women who are victimized usually don’t think like that. It’s more likely that you feel guilty, as if somehow you are the cause of judgment on your spouse. But neither response is what God intends. He wants you to respond by depending on Him to be your defender. He wants you to trust that He is hearing your cries and is going to act on your behalf.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Most likely, you are numb, scared, confused, and paralyzed. If this describes you, then you might know some action steps, but taking one will seem impossible. There is no trick to taking a first step; you just have to do it.

Start by making a phone call to your pastor or a friend. You need help, and God’s hands and feet often are the friends He raises up to help you. Look for God’s help to arrive from God’s people.

You have many reasons why you don’t ask for help. One is that you don’t know exactly what kind of help you need. For example, you aren’t eager for someone to confront your husband because you are afraid he will get even angrier at you. You don’t want to leave. So what’s left to do? Your path isn’t clearly marked, and you’re not sure what to do next. That makes it even more important for you to ask for help from someone else.

Don’t let your sense of guilt or shame paralyze you.

Another reason you might not ask for help is because you are experiencing something shameful. You’re probably asking, “What kind of wife gets treated this badly by her husband?” The wrong answer to that question is, “Only a bad wife could elicit such a response from someone sworn to love her.”

The truth is that you are not to blame for the cruel anger of another person. Even if you incite anger (and that is rarely the case), there is never any excuse for cruelty.

Put it this way: You cannot make someone else sin. Sin comes from our own selfish hearts. Your spouse, when he is sinfully angry, is caring only about himself and his own desires (James 1:13-15). He will try to make it sound like it’s your fault—there isn’t a victimized woman in the world who doesn’t feel like she is somehow at fault—but his sin is his alone.

If necessary, find refuge.

If you’ve been physically hurt by your spouse, and he continues to threaten you, then you should get protection. If children are threatened, this is essential. Every county in the United States has domestic abuse hotlines that will provide you with resources. Protection from abuse orders are available though your local courthouse. Friends may have an extra room or two. As you think about how to keep youself and your children safe, please find someone to discuss this with you and guide you. God’s wisdom says that the more important the decision, the more critical it is to receive counsel from wise people.

The reality is that most women who are suffering like you don’t take these steps. Some who do quickly renege on them and go back to the abusive situation. Why? Fear of retaliation, fear of aloneness, love for the perpetrator, hope that things at home will change, and the lingering guilt that says, “It’s your fault.” These are powerful tugs that make decisive action very difficult.

With this in mind, you can see how important it is to listen for the consensus among the wise people around you. If you have fears and doubts about their counsel, voice them.

Distinguish between loving your spouse and wanting to be loved by your spouse.

Here’s a hard distinction, but it can go a long way toward bringing you sanity. Have you noticed that in all relationships we balance our commitment to love with our desire to be loved? Usually the scales are tipped in favor of wanting to be loved. Your goal is to tip the scales towards a commitment to love.

This is the way to avoid the twin contaminants of most relationships—anger and fear. When you need someone more than you love that person, you will be prone to anger, because you don’t get the love that feels so critical to you. You will also be prone to fear, because the other person has the power to give or withhold what you think you need.

When you set your sights on your commitment to love, the possibilities are limitless. Love gives you the clarity to make difficult decisions on the fly. Should you speak out or be quiet?   Love can guide you more than you realize. Even going to someone else and asking for advice and help with your difficult relationship can be an expression of love. You need help because you care about your spouse. His foolish, selfish lifestyle is not only hurting you, but it’s also hurting him because it’s spiritually self-destructive. Love wants to warn the fool. It wants to rescue, if possible, the self-destructive person from the wrath of God.

Love can be patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13). It can rebuke (Leviticus 19:17). It can stand against injustice and confront another person in their sin (Matthew 18:15-17). The challenge is to keep the scales tipped in love’s favor.

You can only do this when you remember that God always tips the scales in love’s favor in His relationship with you. No matter how moral you have been, you have not been perfectly faithful to the one who created you. But instead of withdrawing in anger, God pursues you even when you don’t want to be pursued.

Find the book of Hosea in your Bible (it’s in the Old Testament), and read the first three chapters. You will get a picture of God as the relentless lover of His people. Although His people repeatedly reject Him, He will not give them up or let them go.

As you know and experience God’s pursuing love, your love for others will become stronger than your desire to be loved. Trusting in God’s love will free you to love others the way you have been loved. After all, when we were God’s enemies, He extended His call of love to us (Romans 5:10). Since God loved us like this, we should expect that we will have the opportunity to love others in the same way. The Bible calls this overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:20).

Learn to disarm an angry person.

Outfitted with love, you have more power than you think. Love comes from the Spirit of the living God, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. Whenever you encounter the Spirit in the Bible, you encounter power. The power, of course, is the power of wisdom and love, and there are times when it can disarm an angry man.

Because of the limitless possibilities of love, let wise friends brainstorm and pray with you. Here are some things that the Spirit of power can help you do when you are faced with an angry spouse:

    • Ask him why he thinks you are the enemy.
    • Leave the house when he is sinfully angry.
    • Go and get help instead of being silenced by your shame and his threats.
    • Accept responsibility for your own sinful responses, and not accept responsibility for his.
    • Tell him what it is like to be the recipient of his anger and hatred. Angry people are blind to how they hurt others.
    • Ask him if he thinks that he has a problem.
    • Speak with a humility that’s more powerful than anger. When in doubt, you could ask what he thinks you did that was wrong. You don’t have to defend your reputation before him.
    • If he claims to want to change, ask him what steps he is taking to change.
    • Keep James 4:1-2 in mind. You are witnessing his selfish desires running amok. Be careful that you don’t become an imitator of such behavior.
    • Don’t minimize his destructive behavior. Sinful anger is called hatred and murder (Matthew 5:21, 22).
    • Read through the book of Proverbs underlining all the sayings about anger. Proverbs like “reckless words pierce like a sword” will validate your experiences (Proverbs 12:18).
    • Remember, it is possible to overcome evil with good.

This is only a sketchy list. The details will have to be worked out within your community of counselors. What guarantees do you have? God doesn’t guarantee the momentary peace and quiet you might be longing for; instead He promises you something much more lasting. He promises that as you turn and trust Jesus Christ you will become more like Him; that His Spirit will help you love more than you need to be loved; that God will be with you, He will hear and act on your behalf; and that although the Spirit of God is the one who changes hearts, you have more power than you know—the power to both know and promote peace.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it wrong to leave, even if my husband is violent?   Isn’t marriage a permanent commitment?   

The Bible does emphasize that marriage is a covenant that should not be broken unless we have God’s permission (Matthew 19:6). Do you have permission when there is domestic violence? Know this for certain: God opposes such evil and intends care for the oppressed (Jeremiah 23:1-3). Such care can sometimes be found in finding a place for refuge and protection. If you need to leave and seek safety, that is not necessarily a first step toward divorce. It is better understood as a statement of hope and a desire to see change in the marriage relationship.

You are right that these decisions are difficult. Therefore, ask for help. Ask your pastor to guide you in the knowledge of what God says.

Can angry men change?

This question can be heard two ways. First, “I want a relationship. Can my spouse change?” The answer is yes, absolutely! God changes all kinds of people. If He can change us, when we see that our hearts are prone to selfishness and quickly stray from trusting Him, then He can certainly change people who are like us.

You probably already believe that God has the power to change anyone. Your biggest struggle will be to put your hope in God more than you put your hope in your husband changing. When you put your hope in God, you live on a rock. When you put your hope in a person, you will feel like a life raft let loose on the open sea.

Second, this question might be about the process of change. You might be really saying something like this, “My husband has promised to change so many times, but we end up at the same place. Can he change, or is there a deeper problem?” Sin is hard to leave, in part, because we like it. In the case of abusive anger, the angry person might like the sense of power and control. If your husband says he wants to change, then he should have a plan. This plan should include at least the following things:

    • Accountability: He must be willing and able to speak openly about his sinful behavior to others who can help
    • Confession: He must be able to understand and confess that his anger has been destructive, recognize that his behavior is ultimately against God, and learn to hate his sin.
    • Growth in the knowledge of the true God: All the best intentions are not enough to bring about deep change. The real problem with angry men is their arrogance and “hatred toward God” (read James 4:1-10), in which case they must both confess their sin against God and set out on a course of knowing and fearing Him.

      —————————————————————————

      Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

“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.

Bruised and Mutilated by Sin

The Bruised Reed

SOURCE:  John Macduff (by Deejay O’Flaherty)

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”  Isaiah 42:3

When a human soul is bruised and mutilated by sin, He (God) casts it not away. He repairs it for its place in the heavenly instrument, and makes it once more to show forth His praise.

Look at David, the Psalmist of Israel.

Who more a “bruised reed” than he?

God had inspired his soul—made it a many-stringed instrument in discoursing His praise; but now it lay a broken mutilated thing, with the stain of crimson guilt upon it, tuneless and mute. “I kept silence,” says he; “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me, my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”

Does Jehovah desert him?—does He cast the reed away and seek to replace the void by another, worthier and better? Does He mock the cry of penitential sorrow as through anguished tears that stricken one thus implored forgiveness—”Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness, according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my transgressions”?

No.

Hear him detail his own experience—”I acknowledged my sin to You, and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” And then he takes up the re-tuned instrument, and sings for the encouragement of others—”Let everyone who is godly pray to You while You may be found.”

In the case of some aromatic plants, it is when bruised they give forth the sweetest fragrance; so it is often the soul crushed with a sense of guilt which sends forth the sweetest aroma of humility, gratitude, and love.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

——————————————————————————————-

Macduff, John Ross, a Presbyterian minister, was born at Bonhard, near Perth, Scotland, May 23, 1818, and educated at the high school of Edinburgh and in the university of the same city. He became a minister of the Church of Scotland in 1842. Among his pastorates was one of fifteen years in the city of Glasgow. In 1871 Dr. Macduff gave up the pastoral relation. He is the author of a number of volumes in prose and poetry, some of which have great practical and devotional value and have a wide circulation. Most of his hymns appeared in his Altar Stones, 1853, and in The Gates of Praise, 1876. He died April 30, 1895. The Universities of Glasgow and of New York each conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

Adult Children Gone Astray

We Raised Our Children To Love And Follow God. Now They Have Rebelled. What Did We Do Wrong?

SOURCE:  Jerry White/Discipleship Journal

“The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him” (Prov. 20:7).

We have all claimed verses like this for our children. But many of us have seen our children struggle and even turn away from God. For those who love God, there is no greater fear than the possibility that their children will rebel and fail to follow Him.

I know hundreds of committed Christians with teenagers and adult children whose difficulties run the gamut—drugs, rebellion, alcoholism, homosexuality, divorce, psychological disorders, immorality, children born outside of marriage, coldness of heart toward God.

These parents ask, “What did we do wrong?” assuming that the fault is theirs. Many godly parents around the world have done all they knew to do to nurture their children in the Lord— yet their children still face many problems. Even though today my wife and I thank God that our own children are walking with Him, we have been through our share of troubles.

When spiritual disaster strikes their children, some parents reason that they are no longer qualified to minister. Guilt, shame, discouragement, worry, and fear invade our hearts when our children rebel. All our biblical knowledge and teaching cannot erase pain that is real and deep.

Let me encourage you not to blame yourselves. As children mature, they make their own decisions, some of which are disastrous. They, too, are sinners, needing their own deep encounters with God. They choose their own actions. You did not make them do what they did. You brought them up to fear the Lord and allowed them to make their own decisions.

In today’s psychological climate of parent bashing, do not fall prey to unfounded accusations. Certainly you’ve made mistakes, for no parent is perfect. But you did not set out to harm your children. If there are areas where you have sinned, confess this to God and to your children. Ask for forgiveness and claim God’s grace Do not wallow in guilt.

If you are struggling with a difficult situation with your teen or young adult child, may I offer a few words of advice and encouragement?

• Realize you are not alone. Other parents have similar experiences. Most important, remember that God is with you (Is. 41:10, Is. 41:13).

• Find a few trusted friends to share your concerns and pain. Don’t put on an “everything is okay” front (Prov. 17:17).

• You are not obligated to explain your family situation to everyone. If curious people probe, merely ask them to pray (Prov. 10:19).

• If you know you have sinned against one of your children, confess to them and to God, asking their forgiveness (Prov. 28: 13).

• Hold your children accountable for their actions. God does (Prov. 20:11, Gal. 6:7).

• Refuse to feel guilty or ashamed. Don’t let your children lay guilt upon you when you know you served God and them with integrity.

• Love them deeply. Be there for them, but don’t always rescue.

• Wait and pray. God is a God of patience and hope. Wait for them to respond. In most cases there will be reconciliation (Ro. 5:3–5, Ro. 12:12).

• Keep ministering. You are still called by God. Satan often seeks to shake us from our calling by attacking our families (Prov. 24:10, Ro. 11:29).

• Submit yourself to God’s sovereignty, both in your life and in the lives of your children (Ro. 8:28–29).

What about outside counseling? It may be helpful, but only if the counselor operates from a biblical base, not just a secular, psychological one. In their book What Did I Do Wrong? What Can I Do Now? psychologist William Backus and his wife, Candace, comment on psychological theories:

Many parents who blame themselves for their child’s problems don’t realize that much of what they’re telling themselves is out-of-date psychological theory and not fact at all. Most are unaware that the theories, in fact, change regularly. It’s important, therefore, not to crucify yourself or anybody else on the basis of a psychological theory!

God’s children, too, rebelled: “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! for the Lord has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me'” (Is. 1:2). He cried in His pain for them to repent and return. Finally, He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for their sin and rebellion.

Christ is our hope. He is committed to you and your children and has not given up on you or on them. In His time He will work in their lives.

Forgiveness: Coming Home to God’s Embrace

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Paul Thigpen

When Wycliffe Bible translator Bob Russell sought a word for “forgiveness” in the language of the Amahuacas of eastern Peru, he discovered their unique way of asking one another for pardon. In that culture, if an offender wants to be reconciled with someone he’s offended, he says to him, “Speak to me.”

Russell learned that Amahuacas who are unreconciled typically refuse to speak to each other. So when the offender asks the offended to speak, it’s the equivalent of saying, “Show me we’re friends again by being on speaking terms once more.”

The many biblical terms translated in English as “forgive” reflect a beautiful array of meanings: to cancel debts; to lay aside or to cast away sins; to spare, to cleanse, to rescue, or to free the sinner. Yet the Amahuaca expression strikingly translates what is the most important biblical meaning of God’s forgiveness—above all, it is a reconciliation, the restoration of a friendship with Him that has been marred by sin.

The prophet Isaiah put it this way:  “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Is. 59:2).

Our wickedness is an offense to God’s holiness, and we aren’t on “speaking terms” until the offense is forgiven. But Christ’s sacrifice has made a way for us to be reconciled.

For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins . . . Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

—Col. 1:13–14, 21–22

The sins that came between God and us can be cast aside so that we can be friends again.

All other meanings of the word forgiveness must be seen in the light of this one. As the various biblical terms imply, our debts have indeed been remitted, our punishment has been averted, our hearts have been cleansed and set free, our lives have been spared—and all with a single purpose in mind: that we might receive the greatest gift of all, to be once again “on speaking terms” with our Father in heaven.

Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, we’re relieved to be swapping our smelly rags for a silken robe and our pigs’ pods for a fat-calf feast (see Lk. 15:11–32). But what could possibly match the thrill of seeing our Father—the one whose heart we broke with our sin—running toward us with open arms? He has welcomed us home again!

It takes two.

If God has gone to such great lengths to reconcile us, why do we sometimes fail to experience His marvelous forgiveness? Instead of returning to our Father as the prodigal son did, why do we so often wallow with the pigs, far away from home?

It’s not that God’s grace isn’t great enough or that some sins provoke Him so mightily that He refuses to forgive. It’s simply that God’s offer of forgiveness is essentially an offer of friendship. Since friendship takes two, our response is critical.

Those who have accepted God’s great offer of reconciliation through Christ may sometimes fail to experience His forgiveness in concrete situations because of certain attitudes or behaviors that are somehow marring their relationship with Him.

I had a close friend in college who always seemed to be short of cash. One day he asked me for a small loan. As he well knew, I didn’t have much money to spare, but I made the loan on the condition that he pay it back by a certain date when I would need it to pay a bill.

That date came and went, and the loan remained unpaid. At first I was upset, because I had to scramble to pay my bill. But I was well aware of his situation, so I let go of my anger and determined to cancel the debt for the sake of our friendship.

Yet there was a problem:  Because my friend knew he was guilty of breaking his promise and causing me hardship, he started avoiding me. He no longer dropped by my dorm room and never returned my phone calls. He began eating in a different dining hall so he wouldn’t run into me.

In short, he lived every day under a cloud of shame that ruined our friendship. And his failure to come to me and talk about his offense denied me the chance to say, “I forgive your debt.”

Opening Ourselves to Forgiveness

In a similar way, experiencing divine forgiveness and its proper fruit depends in part on our right response to God. Scripture reveals several responses that help us open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness in its fullness. Consider these.

Confess your sin. The scriptural promise of forgiveness for our daily failures includes an important condition: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9, emphasis mine).

King David tells us how his own failure to admit his sin blocked his reception of God’s forgiveness.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long. . . .
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions
to the Lord”—
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

—Ps. 32:3, 5

In a sense, our refusal to confess our sins to God is a refusal to be “on speaking terms” with Him. If we would be reconciled, then we must admit to the sins that are damaging our friendship with Him.

Practice humility.   We can’t ask God to forgive our sin—and we can’t accept His forgiveness for it—when our pride keeps us from even recognizing that we’ve sinned. Our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector vividly demonstrates this obstacle to forgiveness (Lk. 18:9–14).

The tax collector was painfully aware of his failings, beating his breast and crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (v. 13). The Pharisee, on the other hand, was self-righteous (v. 11), patting himself on the back for all his good deeds. Yet despite all the Pharisee’s religious accomplishments, his relationship with God was flawed by pride, and pride is blind to its own evil. Not surprisingly, then, Jesus tells us that the humble tax collector went home forgiven, but the proud Pharisee did not.

Fight against habits of sin.   Like the conscience blinded by pride, the conscience blinded by habitual sin is unable to recognize its need for grace. Perhaps the most startling scriptural example of a hardened conscience is the mocking thief crucified next to Jesus, whose cruel and blasphemous attitude suggests that his heart had been calloused by his crimes (Lk. 23:39). His scorn of Jesus’ sacrifice and his lack of any remorse stand in stark contrast to the humble plea of the other thief, who rebuked the impenitent criminal for failing to see that they both deserved their punishment (vv. 40–43).

The same gift of grace appeared to both men; the same possibility of forgiveness was offered to both. One, because of a seared conscience, refused grace and was lost forever. The other, though equally a sinner, accepted grace—and gained paradise with the Lord.

We may not refuse God’s grace altogether as the one thief did. But if we persevere in a particular kind of sin until it no longer disturbs us, we may become like those whom Paul described as having “consciences . . . seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). Our friendship with God will be damaged by the sin we no longer regret.

Recognize the seriousness of sin.   Even when we must admit to ourselves that some aspect of our attitude or behavior is sinful, we may nevertheless convince ourselves that the sin is of little consequence. Yet only when we recognize the true seriousness of even “small” sins are we able to experience fully God’s forgiveness of them.

Remember the “woman who had lived a sinful life” and who came to Jesus while He was the guest of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36–50)? She wet the Lord’s feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured costly perfume on them. When this scandalized Simon, Jesus observed that her extravagant behavior reflected her own keen awareness of the seriousness of her sin: She was able to love Him deeply, to enjoy an intimate fellowship with Him, because she knew how great was the debt she had been forgiven.

In contrast, Jesus pointed out, Simon had received Him rather coldly. The Lord compared the Pharisee to a man who “loves little” because he “has been forgiven little.” Self-righteous Simon probably took that to mean that he didn’t have any serious sin to be forgiven. But knowing Jesus’ explicit and repeated condemnations of pharisaical pride and hypocrisy, we might more reasonably conclude that Simon’s problem wasn’t that his sin was insignificant. He had simply failed to recognize just how serious it was, and thus he had failed to accept forgiveness for it.

Recognize grace as a costly treasure.   God’s grace is free, but it isn’t cheap: It cost Him the most precious life of His Son. If we fail to recognize the steep price that was paid to reconcile us to God—if we view forgiveness as cheap—then we’ll place little value on our restored friendship with God, and we’ll be more likely to persevere in sin.

The writer to the Hebrews recognized the seriousness of this problem. He warned that those who “deliberately keep on sinning” (10:26) have actually devalued and despised God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ. Such a person “has trampled the Son of God under foot . . . has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him . . . has insulted the Spirit of grace” (v. 29).

When we persist in sin with the idea, “No problem—God will forgive me,” we lose all sense of the treasure that is God’s grace, and we reject the freedom from sin that it’s intended to bring. Is it any wonder in such a case that our experience of forgiveness will be empty?

Cultivate faith in God’s goodness and mercy.   Sometimes the obstacles to experiencing God’s forgiveness have less to do with an inadequate grasp of the seriousness of our sin and more to do with a wrong understanding of God and His great gifts to us. Our Lord’s parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14–30) reveals the sad irony of those who mistrust God because they doubt the goodness of His character. Though they receive the same gifts of grace others receive, they’re unable to profit from such gifts—they bury them—because they’re paralyzed by fear.

To experience fully the grace of our reconciliation with God—to know the power of His forgiveness—we “must believe . . . that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). If we doubt that God is willing to forgive us, we won’t be motivated to seek His forgiveness. So we must plant firmly in our hearts the scriptural promises of divine mercy, meditating on them and using them in prayer as the psalmist did: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Ps. 86:5).

Realize that no sin is greater than Christ’s sacrifice.   Sometimes we fail to experience God’s forgiveness because we’re tempted to conclude that our sin is so great, or so tenacious, or so shameful that God can’t possibly forgive it. But this conclusion is simply a failure to appreciate the magnitude of what God has done to reconcile us to Himself. Think of the infinite value of Christ’s atoning death. Could our sin possibly be greater than His sacrifice?

Forgive others quickly and completely.   Finally, we must note that Jesus was quite explicit about the consequences of holding a grudge. After teaching His disciples what has come to be called the Lord’s prayer, He added a sobering comment: “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:15). Then, as if to underline the point, He later told the frightening parable of the servant who was denied mercy because he himself was unmerciful (Mt. 18:21–35).

The lesson is clear:  Bitterness damages our relationship with God and blocks our experience of His forgiveness. What we refuse to grant others, we reject for ourselves. For that reason, we must obey the scriptural command: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

On Speaking Terms

Is God’s forgiveness available to all? Is it a free gift? Is it greater than the greatest of our sins? Is He always willing to forgive? Yes, on every count. But our experience of His forgiveness depends in part on our right response to His grace.

Once again, I think of my cash-short college friend. Though he hid from me for months, the story had a happy ending. One night we ended up at the same party. When my friend walked into the room, his eyes met mine, and he knew what he had to do. He took me aside to ask my forgiveness. I told him the debt had been canceled long ago and asked him, with a hug, what had taken him so long to find out.

We were on speaking terms again.

The parallel should be clear. To know the breadth and depth of God’s mercy, we must strive, in all the ways we’ve noted, to let no sins or doubts remain between us, causing a separation. Only then can we enjoy the fullness of a restored friendship with the Father who never tires of running to meet us with arms open wide.

Self-righteous Goodness OR Unrighteous Badness: GRACE Will Cover It All

SOURCE:  Tullian Tchividjian

Nothing is more difficult for us to get our minds around than the unconditional grace of God.

It offends our deepest sensibilities. We are actually conditioned against unconditionality–we are told in a thousand different ways that accomplishment precedes acceptance and achievement precedes approval.

Grace Messes Up Your Hair

Society demands two-way love. Everything’s conditional; if you achieve only then will you receive: meaning, security, respect, love, and so on. But grace, as Paul Zahl points out, is one-way love, “Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable.”

Like Job’s friends, we naturally conclude that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff. The idea that bad people get good stuff is thickly counterintuitive; it seems terribly unfair and offends our sense of justice. Even those of us who have tasted the radical saving grace of God find it intuitively difficult not to put conditions on grace.

The truth is that a “yes grace, but” posture is the kind of posture that perpetuates slavery in our lives and in the church.

Grace is radically unbalanced. It has no “but”; it’s unconditional, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and undomesticated. As Doug Wilson put it recently, “Grace is wild. Grace unsettles everything. Grace overflows the banks. Grace messes up your hair. Grace is not tame. In fact, unless we are making the devout nervous, we are not preaching grace as we ought.”

Grace Wrecks, Then Rescues

With this in mind, let’s look at Luke 7:36-50. This is the famous account of the sinful woman (most likely a prostitute) barging into a party of religious leaders and washing the feet of Jesus with her tears of repentance. Two rescues are happening in this passage: the obvious rescue of the immoral person but also the rescue of the moral person.

Only in the gospel does love precede loveliness. Everywhere else loveliness precedes love.

Normally, when we think of people in need of God’s rescuing grace, we think of the unrighteous and the immoral. But, what’s fascinating to me is, throughout the Bible, the immoral person gets the gospel before the moral person. It’s the prostitute who gets grace and the Pharisee who doesn’t. What we see in this story is God’s grace wrecks and then rescues, not only the promiscuous, but also the pious.

The Pharisee in this story can’t understand what Jesus is doing by allowing this woman to touch him because he assumes that God is for the clean and competent. But Jesus shows God is for the unclean and incompetent, and when measured against God’s perfect holiness, we’re all unclean and incompetent. Jesus shows the Pharisee the gospel isn’t for winners, but losers. It’s for the weak and messed-up person, not the strong and mighty person. It’s not for the well-behaved, but the dead.

Mortal Not Moral

Remember: Jesus came not to put into effect a moral reformation but a mortal resurrection (moral reformations can, and have, taken place throughout history without Jesus. But only Jesus can raise the dead, over and over and over again). As Gerhard Forde put it, “Christianity is not the move from vice to virtue, but rather the move from virtue to grace.”

Wrecking every religious category he had, Jesus tells the Pharisee he has a lot to learn from the prostitute, not the other way around.

What we see in this story is God’s grace wrecks and then rescues, not only the promiscuous, but also the pious.

The prostitute, on the other hand, walks into a party of religious people and falls at the feet of Jesus without any care as to what others are thinking and saying. She’s at the end of herself. More than wanting to avoid an uncomfortable situation, she wanted to be clean–she needed to be forgiven. She was acutely aware of her guilt and shame. She knew she needed help. She understood at a profound level that God’s grace doesn’t demand you get clean before you come to Jesus. Rather, our only hope for getting clean is to come to Jesus.

Only in the Gospel does love precede loveliness. Everywhere else loveliness precedes love.

Release Your Guilt and Shame

What the Pharisee, the prostitute, and everyone in-between need to remember every day is that Christ offers forgiveness full and free from both our self-righteous goodness and our unrighteous badness. This is the hardest thing for us to believe as Christians. We think it’s a mark of spiritual maturity to hang on to our guilt and shame. We’ve sickly concluded that the worse we feel, the better we actually are. The declaration of Psalm 103:12 is the most difficult for us to grasp and embrace: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Or, as Corrie ten Boom once said, “God takes our sins—the past, present, and future—and dumps them in the sea and puts up a sign that says ‘No Fishing Allowed.’” This seems too good to be true…it can’t be that simple, that easy, that real!

God’s grace doesn’t demand you get clean before you come to Jesus.

It is true! No strings attached. No but’s. No conditions. No need for balance. If you are a Christian, you are right now under the completely sufficient imputed righteousness of Christ. Your pardon is full and final. In Christ, you’re forgiven. You’re clean. It is finished.

——————————————————————————-

Tullian Tchividjian is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:  This is a lengthy article, but it is so well worth the investment of time to read thoughtfully and prayerfully through these truths.

SOURCE:  David Powison/CCEF

3. It’s a WIDER war

Sexual sins grab everyone’s attention. They haunt the conscience and excite the gossip. They push other sins into the background. They go up on the marquee in red letters 10 feet high.i But consider the struggle with sin this way. Imagine a multiplex theater screening many movies simultaneously. Sexual sin is the “feature film” advertised on the marquee. But other significant films are playing in other screening rooms. The war with sin takes place in many places simultaneously. In ministry to people who struggle with sexual sins, you may get the breakthrough in another screening room, with a sin that you might not have noticed or might not have considered to be related. A breakthrough – with anger, or pride, or anxiety, or laziness – may have ripple effects that eventually help disarm the big bogie-man that has been hogging all the attention and earnest concern. It’s very important to widen the battlefront, and not to let the high profile sins blinker us from seeing the whole picture. I will give a case study of how sexual sin can and must be located within wider battles.

“My temper tantrum at God.” Tom is a single man, 35 years old. You might be able to fill in the rest of his story, because his pattern is so typical! He came to Christ, with a sincere profession of faith, when he was 15. At about the same time, his 20-year struggle with sexual lust began. It involves episodic use of pornography and episodic masturbation, about which Tom is deeply discouraged. Over the years he has experienced many ups of “victory,” and just as many downs of “defeat.”

Tom came for help from me as his elder and small group leader. He was currently discouraged by recent failures, by the latest downturn in a seemingly endless cycle. Over the years he has tried “all the right things,” the standard answers and techniques. He’s tried accountability – sincerely. It helped some, but not decisively. Accountability had a way of starting strong, but slipping to the side. At a certain point, to tell others you failed yet again, and to receive either sympathy or exhortation, stopped being helpful. Tom has memorized Scripture, and wrestled to apply truth in moments of battle. It’s often helped, but then in snow-blind moments, when he most needs help, he’ll forget everything he knows. Sex fills his mind and Scripture vanishes from sight. Other times he just overrides the truth in an act of “Who cares?” rebellion. Then he feels terrible – his conscience only goes snow-blind for half an hour at a time! He’s prayed, and continues to pray. He’s fasted. He’s sought to discipline himself. He’s planned constructive things to do with his time, and to do with and for others. He’s gotten involved in ministry to teens. He’s tried things that aren’t in the Bible: vigorous exercise, cold showers. dietary regimes. Briefly, he even tried the advice of a self-help book, trying to think of masturbation as “normal, everybody does it, so give yourself permission.” His conscience, wisely, could never get around Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28. Tom has tried it all. Most things (except giving up the fight) helped a bit. But in the end, success was always spotty and fragile. Tom has gained no greater insight into his heart and into the inner workings of sin and grace. For twenty years it’s been: “Sin is bad. Don’t do it. Just do _____ to help you not sin.” His entire Christian life has been conceived and constructed around this struggle with episodic sexual sin.

His pattern is as follows. Seasons of relative purity might last for days, weeks, even for a few months. He measures his success by “How long since I last fell?” The longer he goes, the more his hopes rise, “Maybe now I’ve finally broken the back of my besetting sin.” Then he falls again. He stumbles through seasons of defeat, wandering back to the same old pigsty. “Am I even a Christian? Why bother? What’s the point? Nothing ever works.” He’s plagued with guilt, discouragement, despair, shame. Sometimes Tom will even turn to pornography to dull the misery of his guilt over using pornography. He’ll beg God’s forgiveness over and over and over, without any relief or any joy. Two weeks or a month of “victory” does far more to alleviate his guilt than anything arising from his relationship with Christ. Then, for unaccountable reasons the season will change for the better. He’ll get sick of sin or get inspired to fight again. That’s when he gave me a call. He really wanted deliverance once and for all.

What should I do in trying to help Tom? I was reticent to simply give Tom more of the same things he’d tried dozens of times, and found wanting. I didn’t want to just give him a pep talk and a Scripture, urge him to gird his loins to run the race, and offer accountability phone calls. What is he missing? What’s happening in the other theaters of his life? Are there motives and patterns neither of us yet sees? What’s going on in the days or hours before he stumbles? What about how he (mis)handles the days and weeks after a fall? Why does his whole approach to life seem like so much complicated machinery for managing moral failure? Why does his approach to the Christian life seem so dehumanized and depersonalized? His Christianity seems like a big production, a lot of earnest effort at self-improvement. Why does his collection of truths and techniques never seem to warm up and invigorate the quality of his relationships with God and people? Is the centerpiece of the Christian life really this endless cycle of “I sin. I don’t sin. I sin. I don’t sin. I sin.” What are we missing?

I asked Tom to do a simple thing, attempting to gain a better sense of the overall terrain of his life: “Would you keep a log of when you are tempted?” I wanted to know what’s going on when he struggles. When? Where? What just happened? What did you do? What were you feeling? What were you thinking? If you resisted, how did you do it? If you fell, how did you react afterwards? Does anything else correlate to sexual temptations?

Through all the ups and downs, Tom had maintained a great sense of humor. He laughed at me, and said, “I don’t need to keep a log. I already know the answer. I only fall on Friday or Saturday nights – usually Friday, since Saturday is right before Sunday.” If you have any pastoral counseling genes in you, you light up at an answer like that. Repeated patterns always prove extremely revealing on inspection. I asked, “Why does sexual sin surface on Friday night? What’s going on with that?” He said, “I go out and buy Playboy magazine as my temper tantrum at God.”

Amazing. Look what we’ve just found out: another movie is playing in a theater next door. Now we’re not only dealing with a couple of bad behaviors, buying pornography and masturbating. We’re dealing with anger at God that drives those behaviors. What’s that about? Tom went on to give a fuller picture. “I come home from work on Friday night, back to the apartment. I’m all alone. I imagine that all my single friends are out on dates, and my married friends are spending time with their wives. But I’m all alone in my apartment. I build up a good head of steam of self-pity. Then by nine or ten o’clock, I think, ‘You deserve a break today’ – I even hear the little MacDonald’s jingle in my head, and then sexual desires start to look really, really sweet. ‘God has cheated you. If only I had a girlfriend or a wife. I can’t stand how I feel. Why not feel good for awhile? What does it matter anyway?’ Then I hop in the car, head to 7-11, and fall into sin.”

Amazing, isn’t it? Pornography and masturbation grabbed all the attention, generated all the guilt, defined the moment and act of “falling.” Let’s call that Screening Room #1. But we’ve also heard about anger at God that precedes and legitimates sexual sin: Screening Room #2. We’ve heard about hours of low-grade self-pity, grumbling, and envious fantasies: a matinee performance in Screening Room #3. We’ve heard Tom name the original desire that leads to self-pity, to anger at God, and finally to sexual lust: “God owes me a wife. I need, want, demand a woman to love me.” That’s playing in Screening Room #4, an unobtrusive G-rated film, seemingly no problem at all. It’s a classic non-sexual lust of the flesh that Tom has never viewed as problematic. In fact, in his mind, it’s practically a promise from God: “Psalm 37:4. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. If I do my part, God should do His part and give me a wife.”

As Tom and I kept talking, I found out why God owes him a wife: “I’ve tried to do all the right things. I’ve served Him. I’ve tried accountability. I’ve memorized Scripture. I’ve tried to be a good Christian. I do ministry. I witness. I tithe.… but God hasn’t come through.” In other words, the “right answers” for fighting sin are also the levers to pry goodies out of God. Tom’s words sound eerily like the self-righteous whine of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son: “I’m good, therefore God owes me the goodies I want.” Subsequent anger at God operates like any other sinful anger: “You aren’t giving me what I want, expect, need, and demand.” This fatally-flawed, proud ‘upside’ of the classic legalistic construct has been showing in Screening Room #5. And why does Tom mope in self-lacerating depression for days and weeks after falling, rather than finding God’s living mercies new every morning? That’s the self-punitive, despairing ‘downside’ of the legalistic construct: “I’m bad, therefore God won’t give me the goodies.” Screening Room #6 is where self-punishment, self-atonement, penance, and self-hatred play out.

It doesn’t take much theological insight to see how all these distortions of Tom’s relationship with God express different forms of basic unbelief. We suppress living knowledge of the true God. We create a universe for ourselves voided of the real God’s presence, truth, and purposes. Unbelief does not mean a vacuum; rather the universe fills up with seductive, persuasive fictions. Screening Room #7 is showing a blockbuster that Tom had never noticed as trouble. (When Dame Folly keeps her clothes on she sounds like common sense.) In fact, we even found out why Tom is so eager right now to get my counsel and advice. Why did he want to have victory over his lust problem, to try again, to defeat the dragon of lust once and for all? He’s recently had his eye on an eligible young lady who started to attend our church. That’s reawakened his motivation to fight. If only lust goes, then God owes, and maybe he’ll get the wife of his dreams. Even Tom’s agenda for counseling plays a bit part in the wider battle: Screening Room #8!

Look how far we’ve come in half an hour. Tom’s “fall” at 9:30 P.M. last Friday was not where he started to fall. It was not even his most devastating fall. For me to assist Tom’s discipleship to Jesus is not simply to offer tips and truths that might help him remain “morally pure” on subsequent Fridays. Counseling must be about rewiring Tom’s entire life. “Cure of souls” is what ministry does.

You can see why we must widen the battlefront in order to cure souls. Tom concentrates all his attention on one marquee sin that sporadically surfaces, defining and energizing all his guilty feelings. But that narrowing of attention serves to mask far more serious, pervasive sins. As a pastor, friend, or other counselor, you don’t want to concentrate all your energies in the same place Tom does. There are other, deeper opportunities for grace and truth to rewrite the script of this man’s life. Tom had turned his whole relationship with God into flimsy scaffolding. Self-righteousness (“victory at last”) would get him the goodies he really wanted out of life. Though Tom knew and professed sound theology, in daily practice he reduced God to the “errand boy of his wandering desires” (Bob Dylan).

Tom and I put the fire of truth and grace to the scaffolding. Wonderful changes started to run through his life. We didn’t ignore temptations to sexual sin, but many other things that he had never before noticed became urgently important. We spent far more time talking about self-pity and grumbling as “early warning” sins, about how the desire for a wife becomes a mastering lust, about how the self-righteousness construct falls before the dynamics of grace. Temptations to sexual sin greatly diminished. The topography of the battlefield radically changed. The significance of Jesus Christ’s love went off the charts. The lights of more accurate and comprehensive self-knowledge came on. A man going in circles, muddling in the middle, started to leap and bound in the right direction. We experienced the delights of a season of gazelle growth. Ministering to someone who has struggled for 20 years with the exact same thing is disheartening, and frequently a recipe for futility. Ministering to someone who is starting to battle a half-dozen foes that were previously invisible is extremely heartening! Widening the war served to deepen and heighten the significance of the Savior who met Tom on every battlefront.

4. It’s a DEEPER war

The Bible is always about behavior, but it is never only about behavior. God’s indictment of human nature always gets below the surface, into the “heart.” His gaze and Word expose the thoughts, intentions, desires, and fears that shape the entire way that we approach life. An immoral act or fantasy – behavior – is a sin in itself. But such behavior always arises from desires and beliefs that dethrone God. Whenever I do wrong, I am loving something besides God with all my heart, soul, mind, and might. I am listening attentively to some other voice. Typically (but not always!), immoral actions arise in connection with erotic desires that squirm out from under God’s lordship. But immorality results from many other motives, too, and usually arises from a combination of motives. We saw some of this in describing Tom. Erotic motives, the “feel good” of sex, played an important role. But other motives – “I want a wife”; “If I’m good, God owes me goodies”; “I’m angry because God has let me down” – interconnected with his eroticism. Many co-conspirators play a role when Tom starts rummaging in the gutter of “I want to look at a naked Playmate” and “I need sexual release now.” Many other lusts join hands to give a boost to sexual lust. It’s worth digging, both in order to understand yourself and in order to minister wisely to other people. As our understanding of sin’s inner cravings deepens, our ability to know and appreciate the God of grace grows deeper still. Consider a handful of typical examples to prime the pump.

a. Angry desires for revenge.

Sexual acting out can be a way to express anger. I once counseled a couple who had committed backlash adulteries. First they had a big fight, full of yelling, threats and bitter accusations. In anger the man went out and slept with a prostitute. Still burning with anger, he came home and gloated about it to his wife. In retaliatory anger, the woman went out and seduced her husband’s best friend. Did they get any erotic pleasure out of those acts? Probably. But was eros the driving force? No way. Though it’s not always so dramatic, anger often plays a role in immorality: a teenager finds sex a convenient way to rebel against and to hurt morally upright parents; a man cruises the internet after he and his wife exchange words; a woman masturbates to fantasies of former boyfriends after she and her husband argue. In all these situations, the redemption of dirtied sexuality can only happen alongside the redemption of dirtied anger.

b. Longings to feel loved, approved, affirmed, given romantic attention.

Consider the situation of an overweight, lonely, teenage girl with acne, whose enjoyment of sex as an act is minimal or even nil. Why then is she promiscuous, giving away sexual favors to any boy who pays her any attention? She barters her body in service not to erotic lust, but in order to feed her consuming lust for romantic attention. When boys say sweet things and pledge their faithful love, she might even know inside that they are lying. She knows that they are merely using her as a receptacle for their lust, but she temporarily blocks out the thought. She does sex anyway – because she’s hooked on “feeling loved.” Ministry to such a young woman does her a disservice if we only concentrate on the wrong of fornication, and do not help her to understand the subtler enslavement of living for human attention. Sex can be an instrument in the hands of non-sexual lust. Both evils must find the mercies and transforming power of Christ.

c. Thrilling desires for the power and excitement of the chase.

Some people enjoy the sense of power and control over another person’s sexual response. The flirt, the tease, the Don Juan, the seducer are not motivated solely by sexual desires. Often evil erotic pleasure is enhanced and complemented by deeper evil pleasures: the chase, the hunt, the thrill of conquest, the rush that comes with being able to manipulate the romantic-erotic arousal of another. There is a kind of sadistic pleasure driving through such sexual sins. They like to see people get aroused, “fall” for them, and squirm. They may become indifferent to a willing sexual partner once that particular chase has ended. Repentance and change for seducers will address lusts for perverse power and excitement, as well as lusts for sex.

d. Anxious desires for money to meet basic survival needs.

The obvious link of sex to money is the “sex industry”: sex makes lots money for lots of people. As in the previous cases, eros may be one factor. But in money-making sex, pleasure plays second fiddle to mammon. There are also more subtle situations. A single mother in our church was in very tight financial straits. She found herself strongly tempted by her sleazy landlord’s offer of free rent in exchange for sexual favors. If she had fallen, sexual desire might have been non-existent. In fact, she might have fornicated despite feeling active repugnance, shame, and guilt in the act. To God’s glory, she opened up her struggle to a wise woman. In a variety of appropriate ways the church was able to come to her aid with care and counsel. One aspect of care for her came from the deacons (who didn’t even know what almost happened): “Know that you will not end up on the street. We are your family. If you get stuck, if you wonder where the money will come from for rent, or groceries, or a doctor’s bill, don’t think twice about asking for help.” Interesting, isn’t it? Mercy ministry to financial needs played a significant role in reducing a woman’s vulnerability to one particular sort of sexual temptation. She needed counsel, too, in order to run further in her race of repentance. But anxiety, finances, and the character of God were more salient than her sexual temptation.

e. Distorted messianic desire to help another.

Certainly there are pastors and priests who are sexual predators, but that’s not the only dynamic of sexual sin in the ministry. I’ve dealt with a number of situations that involved the very impulses that make for ministry – run far off the rails. For example, a pastor feels deep concern for a lonely young widow or divorcée. He so much (too much) wants to help her and comfort her. She so appreciates his wise, Scriptural counsel. He’s such a role model of kindness, gentleness, communication, attentive concern. But life is still very hard and lonely for her. He starts to console her with hugs. They end up in bed. The motives? Sexual, yes. But more significant in the early going was a warped desire to be helpful, to be admired, to make a real difference, to be important, to “save” her. When anyone who is not the Messiah starts to act messianic, it gets very ugly very fast. When you minister to a minister who has committed sexual sin, you might find that sex was only the poisoned dessert. The poisonous entrée might be a very different set of deceitful desires, desires arising more in the mind than from the body (Eph. 4:22; 2:3).

f. Desires for relief and rest amid the pressures of life.

Sexual sin often serves as a kind of “escape valve” from other problems. When steam pressure gets too high in a pressure cooker, it blows off steam. That’s a metaphor for what’s often true with people, too. Consider a man who faces, and mishandles, extreme pressures in his work place. He’s part of a team facing a drop-dead deadline for a major project. They’ve been running behind. He’s had a month of 80-hour work weeks. He’s harried, driven, preoccupied, worried, worn out. Every day his boss applies more pressure, more panic, more threats. There’s been vicious infighting on the project team: who’s responsible for what task, who’s to blame for what glitch, who gets credit for what achievement. All along, he is not casting real cares on the God who cares for him; he is not “anxious for nothing,” but anxious about lots of things. After two straight all-nighters, just under the wire, they finish the project. They made it. He made it. Success. Finally he has a free night, with no deadlines, no jungle of intramural combat, no tomorrow to worry about. But after a month of living ‘stressed-out’, he feels no relief. He finds no satisfaction in achievement. So he surfs the internet, revels in pornography, forgets his troubles. What’s going on with him?

Erotic sin is part of his picture, but there’s lots more. Every deviant motive – all lusts of the flesh, lies, false loves – is a hijacker. It mimics some aspect of God. It usurps some promise of God. Consider that about 2/3s of the Psalms present God as “our refuge” in the midst of the troubles of life. Amid threat, hurt, disappointment, and attack, God protects, cares, and looks out for us. Our friend has faced troubles: people out to get him, threats to his job, intolerable demands, relentless weeks. But he’s been finding no true refuge during this frenzied month. Now, in a spasm of immorality, he takes “false refuge” in eroticism. His erotic behavior serves as a counterfeit rest from his troubles. Psalm 23 breathes true refuge: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” This man pants after false refuge: “After I’ve walked through that godforsaken valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because the photograph of a surgically-enhanced female wearing no clothes is with me.” A false refuge looks pretty silly when it’s exposed for what it really is.

Sexual sin is one expression of a deeper war for the heart’s loyalty and primary love. Learning to see more clearly is a crucial part of your sanctification journey. Teaching others to have eyes open to the deeper battles is a crucial part of wise pastoral ministry. Jesus Christ looks better and better the more we see what He is about. He is not simply in the business of cleaning up a few embarrassing moral blots. Deepening the battle deepens the significance of the Savior. He alone sees your heart accurately. He alone loves you well enough to make you love Him.

5. It’s a SUBTLER war

A newcomer to war imagines that the first battles are the hardest battles. When you’re first coming out of the morass of an adulterous relationship, of being betrayed by a spouse’s adultery, of promiscuous fornications, of having experienced rape or molestation, of a homosexual lifestyle, of an obsession with internet porn, it can seem like your troubles will be over if you can only get past the particular bad behavior (yours or another’s) that insulted God and sucked the life out of you.

Those battles are hard. But will your troubles be over? That’s not how life works. That’s not how sanctification works in the clean-up from sexual dirt. In fact, in some ways it’s the opposite. The more obviously destructive sins can be “easier” to deal with. The subtler sins can be more stubborn, pervasive, sneaky, and elusive.

Consider a metaphor for this. Many computer and video games send you out on a quest, a sort of pilgrim’s progress. You proceed through level after level, facing test after test, until, say, at Level 50 you’ve run the race and won. Level 1 starts you out with easier challenges. The tasks are clear cut. The enemies are slower, more limited in their abilities, more obvious in their approach, not so smart. With some practice, you learn to accomplish your task and blow away your attackers. Level 2 gets a little harder. Each successive level gets harder still. The tasks get trickier. The enemies are wilier, stronger, quicker, more numerous. The skills you need are subtler and more varied. If you ever arrive at, say, Level 40, it’s because you’ve died often, but you learned something each time, and you kept coming back. You’ve come a distance in the right direction.

The struggle with sexual sin (as with any other sin) has a certain similarity to those video games. There is typically a front-and-center issue, and the “front lines” of the current battle move from the more overt sins to subtler sins.ii Let’s work out the metaphor.

a. High-effort, high-cost sins.

Think of consenting sex (adultery, fornication, homosexuality, prostitution) and criminal sex (rape, child abuse) as the Level 1 sins. These are the obvious evils. I don’t mean that such sins are easy to break or easy to change. But they are relatively easy to see. Easier to recognize as wrong. Easier to know when you’re doing wrong, once your conscience starts to see straight. And such sins are usually harder to do and harder to get away with. Think about that. You have to put in a lot of effort scheming in order to arrange a liaison. You have to hide things from people who love you, who would be unhappy if they found out what you’ve been doing. You have to tell consistent and increasingly complex lies in order to get away with it. You have to lie to your own conscience to persuade yourself that everything’s OK. Because these actions involve actual copulation with other people, those partners may blow your cover, or blackmail you, or slip up, or report you. These sins can catch up with you very quickly, taking you down in an instant. They can destroy your reputation. Destroy family relationships. Destroy finances. Destroy health by a sexually-transmitted disease. Even send you to jail. In other words, these sins take a lot of work and can bite back hard. If you’re willing to seek mercy and change, it’s easier to set up meaningful barriers against the high-effort, high-cost sins.

Jesus Christ often begins His work of mercy and renewal by dealing with such high-handed sins. Often the dramatic first steps of sanctification shake off overt evils. Oily-rag people make leaps and bounds into the garden of light. There are adulterers who repent and never have sexual relations with anyone who is not their own wife or husband. It is entirely possible to have lived an immoral life for many years, with a string of lovers, and then to make such a complete break with that sin that you will never be immoral again – in the Level 1 sense. That does not always happen. And it’s never a snap of the fingers. And you may still face ongoing consequences. And believers do fall back into such sins. But grace and change can be as easy to see and as powerful as the sin once was. Accountability relationships can really help. The Scriptures openly and frequently speak into the obvious sins to bring transformation. (By doing this, God also familiarizes us with how the subtler versions of sin and love work, teaching us how to see more of life for what it is and can become.)

b. Lower-effort, lower-cost sins.

Let’s say you’ve done some growing. You’ve put away overt evils. No immoral liaisons. By grace you’ve worked and fought your way to a Level 8 battle. Pornography was around before, but now it’s the biggie. In some ways, pornography is a tougher problem than adultery. In one sense, it’s “not as bad,” because it doesn’t involve an accomplice or victim. But it’s harder to get rid of. Harder to set up protective barriers. Why is this? Pornography is easier to do and easier to get away with. The necessary deceit is not as complicated. It doesn’t take much work for you to do the sin. Adultery usually takes a lot of effort, both to arrange and to cover your tracks. But pornography? The gap between temptation and sin can be a matter of seconds. Three clicks of the mouse, and you’re there. A few dollars at an airport magazine shop. Standard fare in films. A remote control in your hand to check out what’s on cable TV. And who’s to know? No one. Pornography use is harder to discover. Unless you fail to erase it off your computer. Or you spend so many hours on-line late at night that friends and family get suspicious. Or someone walks in on you. Or you get depressed and grouchy because you feel guilty. Or your relationships slowly fray and alienate because of your preoccupation, defensiveness, and hiding. The consequences are shameful – but usually not as disastrous as with the interpersonal sins.

So pornography is both “not as bad” as adultery, and yet harder to defeat because it’s easier to do and not as devastating. Christ is merciful here, too. Lots of people have broken with pornography and never gone back. You learn the joys of righteousness, the deeper pleasures of a clear conscience and honest relationships. You learn to say No to yourself. You get more interested in good things. You care about people, and sin just doesn’t have as much room to insinuate itself into your heart. Some practical tools can help, too. A friend who will look you in the eye, ask a direct question, and expect an honest answer can help you. You can set up Covenant Eyes software (www.covenanteyes.com) to monitor your internet use and e-mail a report to a friend.

c. No-effort sins.

Let’s say you’ve put pornography and immoral copulation aside. The acted-out sins no longer draw you. Are there no more enemies to fight? Now we’re up to Level 16: mental tapes. This is an even subtler problem. You don’t even have to do anything. No effort, no expense. You aren’t copulating outside of marriage. You aren’t cruising the internet. But you have a theater and library in your own mind. It’s all stored there: memories, images, stories. At your mind’s fingertips are things you did, experiences you had, people you watched or read about. You don’t have to tell any lies or arrange anything. You just open a door in your mind. You can’t get caught – except by the Searcher of hearts, before whose eyes all things are open and laid bare, Him with whom we have to do. Because He sees us on the inside, and because He’s merciful both inside and out, grace is available here, too.

Sometimes the battle with mental tapes stalls because you actively cherish and nurture old memories. But when you actually start to fight, you wish you could push ERASE, and obliterate the collection of old videos. But the erase button on memories doesn’t work on request. It’s a subtler battle, learning to say No inside your mind, and Yes to your Father who is right at hand. The point is clear. The enemies get subtler. They aren’t as “bad” outwardly. But they’re “worse” when it comes to getting rid of them, because sins are so easy to arrange and not so immediately self-destructive.

I’ve chosen examples from the active sins. But there is an analogy for those who experienced the dark splash of evil as the victim of another’s sin. In some ways, it can be “easier” to deal with an abusive relationship (Level 1). Hard as it is to get away, it can be done. The problem is clear cut and definable. Like adultery, the wrongdoer can be caught in the act. Violence can be intercepted. The action steps are more obvious. Friends will help you. The law can help protect you: police intervention, a restraining order, criminal charges against the offender. You can flee. When you aren’t in the same room, the person can’t hurt you anymore. There are places to live where you are safe. But how do you deal with the memories (Level 16)? Memories aren’t as “bad” as being abused, but they can be “worse” when it comes to getting rid of them. They inhabit the room of your mind. Or, how do you deal with the fact that your pump is primed to interpret anyone’s irritation at you as a threat of imminent violence (Level 24)? How do you deal with the subtle fears that you now bring to all relationships, apprehensions so automatic that you don’t even know you’re doing it (Level 40)? Those motions of your soul are almost invisible, pervasive, hard to intercept, and highly corrosive to developing future trust and love. Safe refuge, peace, and watchful care run deep in the psalms. God is trustworthy at every level. Psalm 23 means one very good thing at Level 1, something still richer at Level 16, and wonders beyond wonders at Level 40. The significance of the Lord’s kindness is not exhausted at the more obvious levels. The psalms go deep, deeper, and deepest, the more you bring complex, honest experience onto the table.

d. Sins that come looking for you.

Let’s say you’ve left adultery and pornography behind, and simply don’t go there. You’re closing and locking the door on mental tapes. But how about those situations where you aren’t looking for sin, but sin is out looking for you? Let’s call that Level 24. In this battle the insurgents are trickier. An invitation to lust can sneak up and attack you in ways that no actual human being with adulterous copulation on the mind could find you. Our culture has many “acceptable” predators. Have you ever been blindsided by a lewd image or suggestion that you were not looking for, but it was looking for you? The fashion industry, entertainment industry, advertising industry, and sex industry know their business well. They are looking to find you, to snag your heart, to shape your identity, your goals, your worries, your spending. Some of my examples arise because we live in a culture of visual media, where such ambushes are increasingly common.

    • You’re doing a book search on the internet, looking for an out-of-print theology book. A slightly mistyped web address pipes hardcore porn onto your screen. Or, you open an e-mail that looks like it’s for real, but it turns out to be well-disguised spam spewing gutter words in bold, colorful print. Or, you recognize that an e-mail is spam and delete it, but you can’t avoid reading the filth on the subject line. You feel splashed with sewer water. You weren’t looking for sin; you didn’t linger; you’re dirtied anyway.
    • In the grocery store, a handsome, charming young man starts to flirt suggestively with you, a mature, married woman with well over 100,000 miles on your odometer! Is there an answering flutter inside you?
    • You hear that a certain movie is worth watching, but get blindsided. A lewd scene was gratuitously inserted into an otherwise good movie for the sake of avoiding a G rating. Or, the cinematography is beautiful, but deep emotional empathy is created for a man and woman whose respective spouses are portrayed unfavorably. The couple is portrayed as committing wondrously life-affirming adultery. Are you neutral and detached? Disgusted? Somehow hooked?
    • You’re driving down the highway, and voilà, a 20’x60’ billboard advertises Coors beer by featuring a lady wearing practically no clothes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were nothing inside answering back to her call, if that ad created the same neutral indifference as the neighboring billboard, on which Citizen’s Bank advertises its thrilling 5.25% mortgage rate?! Suddenly, you’re in a fight that you didn’t start. You didn’t do anything to put yourself in harm’s way. Nobody (except God and your conscience) will ever know if you sin by responding to the Coors woman’s initiative in a way that commits adultery in your heart. No one ever came under church discipline or was sued for divorce by driving on the interstate and looking twice at the billboard of a mostly naked lady sprawling behind a beer bottle. But that’s where an ambush occurs.
    • You’ve learned to deeply trust and love your God and a circle of dear friends, after torturous experiences many years ago. You’ve learned not to shrink from new people. Your new boss generally treats you reasonably, but his appearance, voice, and mannerisms bear an uncanny resemblance to the person who once betrayed you. Where that person was cruel, your boss is only irritable and sarcastic on occasion. His sins are 1% of what you once experienced; but that’s where today’s battle erupts.

You can have a lot of light growing in your life, good latticework in place, gardens of healthy sexuality. But wherever there’s still a broken lattice, an oily stain, then an inner spark or inner flinch can answer to what comes at you. Redemption proceeds exactly in such places. You face things that whisper the very things that once shouted in your life. And Christ speaks loud and clear, so at this level, too, you learn to choose well.

e. Sins so atmospheric they seem like who you are.

Sometimes lust is so subtle it doesn’t even seem like lust – until you think about it, unmask it, pull it towards the light: Level 40. For example, have you ever tried to battle the instinct to employ sexual-attraction criteria in sizing up what a person look like? It can be a largely unconscious operation. Subliminal radar attends, explores, notices, registers on the wavelength of mildly sexualized desire. It’s a quiet current trending in the direction of lust. You’re subtly aware of a body’s shape, of the cues communicated by posture and gesture, of the messages expressed through clothing, hairstyle, makeup, scent, tone of voice. This subtle attentiveness correlates to the heart’s erotic attraction: “Is this person desirable to my eyes, worth further exploratory interest?” Perhaps this thought process rarely surfaces into conscious awareness. Perhaps you almost as instinctively say No, resisting the impulse to convert its intentions into a conscious lewd look. (Garden of light within the lattice! Unchosen, unplanned, freely given fruit of the Holy Spirit!) But the very existence of such atmospheric erotic intentionality subtly stains you. It is yet another aspect of our battle with darkness.

When you see sin’s subtlety, you realize how much our lives hang upon sheer mercy from God. He is utterly aware of thoughts and intentions of which we may be barely aware or wholly unaware. Mercy extends here, too. “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.… May the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:12, 14). The stains that corrupt our hearts are not simply the planned, willful, chosen, enacted sins that emerge at the more obvious levels of our battle.

Is it possible to alter the subtle tendencies that pattern how you look at people? Yes. The Holy Spirit is about this business. It takes awhile: a lot of walking on the paths of light, a lot of needing God and loving God, a lot of receiving His mercies, a lot of learning to genuinely love people. But you can grow wiser even at this subtlest of levels. You can increasingly view each human being as a sister or brother, a mother or father, a daughter or son, not as a sexual object. Your gaze and intentions can become more and more about the business of caring and protecting.

f. Truly changed, truly changing, and still at war.

All this – from Level 1 to Level 40 – is the arena of sanctification. Heart, soul, mind, and might we are being conformed and transformed into radiant purity. A heightened view of our war brings with it a heightened view of the significance of our Jesus Christ. One of the deep truths of sanctification is that you get “better” and “worse” at the same time!

You truly shine more brightly as you move towards the light. You hold onto God more steadily. You’re more loving and joyful. You’re more trustworthy. More teachable. You give to people rather than use them. But brighter light also exposes more dark corners, pockets of unconscionable and once unimaginable iniquity. As we have seen, sin is not only the worst things I ever did. It’s also an atmospheric narcissism: “Is that person pleasing to the sexual beck and call that animates my desires?” John Calvin captured well the historical wisdom of the church regarding these things:

The children of God [are] freed through regeneration from bondage to sin. Yet… there still remains in them a continuing occasion for struggle whereby they may be exercised; and not only be exercised, but also better learn their own weakness. In this matter all writers of sounder judgment agree that there remains in a regenerate man a smoldering cinder of evil, from which desires continually leap forth to allure and spur him to commit sin.iii

A smoldering cinder of evil. A restless inner motion of sin. Jesus’ first beatitude is first for a reason. Awareness of impoverished need for mercies from outside is the opening motion of living faith. Jesus’ blessing on the inwardly poor is not “first” in the sense that having once experienced it, we move on and leave our need for grace behind. The first beatitude is foundational. It sets the shape and infrastructure of the entire building. The better I know my Christ, the better I know my need for what He alone is and does.

When you understand your subtle sinfulness, you will never say of any human being, “How could he do that?” or “She’s so unbelievable!” We are fundamentally more alike than different. You may never have been an adulterer, fornicator, homosexual, or consumer of pornography. But you know with all your heart that no temptation overtakes anyone that is not common to everyone (1 Cor. 10:13). And you know how significant it is that God is faithful. Grasping the subtlety of the battle helps you to grasp the true subtlety and scope of the work of our Savior. Remember me, O LORD, according to Your loving-kindness.

6. Remember the goal

We’ve looked at many varieties of sexual darkness. The war is longer, wider, deeper, more subtle than we might imagine. It is no accident that the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love and work of Jesus is more wonderful than we understand at first. What is God after in remaking our lives? Is His purpose that we would just stop sinning? Is His purpose to get us diligently involved in religious activities?: have a quiet time, participate in corporate worship services, find fellowship. Yes, stop sinning. Yes, use the means of grace. But neither is an end in itself. The point is to become like Jesus in real life. The ends of grace are the active opposites of sin: love.

Jesus loves God. He lives out a head-on, honest relationship with His Father. The psalms open up his inner workings. He’s talking, not just living in his head. Whether in pain or joy, whether needy or exultant, whether looking at the weather or looking at the people out to hurt Him, whether considering God’s love or considering God’s wrath, Jesus talks it all out. He needs God, thanks God, trusts God, serves God. The psalms aren’t “devotions.” When Jesus talks and acts, He brings life to God and brings God to life. That’s what God intends the means of grace to accomplish. As you stop sinning, that’s how you live instead.

The way Jesus works as a person is the diametric opposite from how the oily rag works. When you’re living in sexual sin (or swamped in unredeemed sexual sufferings), you live in your own head. Sin pulls us into an incurving, self-absorbing inertia. We shut God out. The universe becomes all about me. Suffering tends to have the same effect, because we return evils (40 levels, from obvious revenge to subtle apprehensions) for evils. But Jesus suffers in the exact opposite way, opening out to God in need. As Jesus starts to rearrange how your personhood operates, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person. You operate differently. He teaches a life lived in God’s direction. He teaches you how to talk out everything that matters with the One whose opinion most matters, the only One who can do something about it all.

In the same way, Jesus loves people. He notices others. He stops. He helps people where they most need help. He answers real questions. He inverts hostile questions. He relentlessly leads people to think about the two decisive life-or-death questions: “Who are you living for? How are you living?” He’s dedicated to the true welfare of others. He protects and promotes the sexual purity of others (even when interacting with notoriously immoral women). He attacks oppressors, and tenderly bends towards the helpless. He dies willingly, the innocent for the guilty. Jesus works with people in the very terms we’ve been talking about throughout this article. He takes in hand the gamut of real problems. He initiates a war that is much longer, wider, deeper, and subtler than people realize. He gives graces, mercies, and truths that are much longer, wider, deeper, and subtler than we realize.

The way Jesus loves is the diametric opposite from how sexual sin works. Whether flagrant or atmospheric, whether copulatory or imaginary, sexual sin is hate. It misuses people. Jesus’ love treasures and serves our sexual purity. We misuse a gift when we do not treasure and serve the sexual purity of others. We degrade ourselves and degrade others. As Jesus starts to rearrange how you treat people, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person. A James Ward spiritual puts it this way: “I won’t treat you like I used to, since I laid my burden down.” Let me give two simple examples.

First, you learn to see and treat all people in wise, constructive ways. In principle, every person of the opposite sex fits into one of three categories: either family member, or spouse, or threat. (Every person of the same sex fits into one of two categories: either family member or threat.) Family member is the controlling category. In general we are to view and treat people like beloved sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers. The lines are clear: anything that sexualizes familial relationships is wrong. True affection and fierce protection go hand in hand. The notion of incestuous sexuality is abhorrent before the face of God. In marriage, one sister, Nan, becomes my wife, and I become her husband. All our sexuality belongs rightly and freely to each other. The notion of treacherous sexuality – infidelity – is abhorrent before the face of God. A third group of people fall into the category of threat. Males and females who prove unfamilial in their intentions are threats. Again, the lines are clear: nothing sexualized, so flee seduction, whether in person or in imagination. The notion of an invitation to immoral sexuality is abhorrent before the face of God. Love is radically free to be fiercely faithful.

Second, good sexual love is simply “normal.” Sometimes the idealized view of good sex can sound overheated, even when we prize and protect marital sexuality. Sometimes we can give the idea that good sex (in both senses) is a gymnastic, ecstatic, romantic, athletic, electric, semi-psychotic, erotic, high-wire, bug-eyed, luxuriating, ravishing bliss of marital passion! Sorry to disillusion you. But much of good sex is just… well, normal, everyday. Think about it. Most people in the history of the world have lived in one-room huts, where the kids sleep in the same room with their parents! Countless families have lived in flats, with only curtains for room dividers, your mother-in-law in the far corner, your wife’s younger brother sleeping on the couch. Or they’ve lived in tents, as nomads. Not much sound-proofing or major privacy operative in that housing arrangement! Not much in the way of gymnastics or sound effects is possible unless you have no children. That’s not to say that a married couple with children shouldn’t get away for a weekend, or close the door, or do things to make sex special. Nothing wrong with some high-wire encounters that bring a little extra spice.

But think of the analogy with food, another of life’s very redeemable pleasures. Occasionally you pull out the stops for a memorable feast with all the fixings: Thanksgiving dinner. But in normal life, you eat a lot of healthy breakfasts. In the redemption of sex, lots of normal things flourish. How about courtesy? Basic kindness and patience? How about humor – pet names, teasing, irony, private jokes? Good sex is not that serious! How about mercy? How about a shower, shave, and being relaxed? How about a fundamental willingness to be available to another, simply to give. How about conversation? How about quiet, slow, leisurely time together? Basic love goes a long way towards making good sex good. It’s great when the Richter Scale tops out at an earth-shattering 8.1. But in normalized good sex, you’ll also enjoy 3.1 temblors that hardly rattle the teacups.

Get your goals straight. It heightens the significance of your Savior. He alone restores you to practical love for God and to the practical love appropriate for each of your various kinds of neighbors. He alone makes daily life shine with visible glory.

7. Get down to today’s skirmish in the Great War

We’ve talked about the war, the direction of the journey, the destination. The final word in restoring  joy is to get down to business. And your business has three parts.

First, where is today’s skirmish? Your battle always gets fought at the next step, not all at once. “Today’s trouble” is where you find God’s aid. A clear view of what you face defines the fork-in-the-road, your choice points. Where are you tempted, now? For example, Tom had to figure out how to refight his Friday nights so he wouldn’t keep coming out a loser. How about you? You are somewhere between Levels 1 and 40. Where is today’s choice point? The current struggle is the place the Vinedresser is pruning. It’s where you need life support from the Vine. Making all things new is always about something going on today. Restoring pure joys is not theory. It’s what’s happening here and now. It’s not about instant perfection (I hope that’s clear by now). And it’s not about yesterday. If you’re still brooding and obsessing over yesterday’s failures, then today’s choice point is, “How do you handle failure?” How will you quit curving in on yourself after you fall, and start dealing with your sins the way Psalm 25 does? (See section 1-c above). You’ll always need your Father, Savior, and Comforter to help you, forgive you, and teach you. Today’s trouble identifies where.

Second, what one thing about God in Christ speaks directly into today’s trouble? I gave an example earlier from Psalm 25. Just as we don’t change all at once, so we don’t swallow all of truth in one gulp. We are simple people. You can’t remember ten things at once. Invariably, if you could remember just ONE true thing in the moment of trial, you’d be different. Bible “verses” aren’t magic. But God’s words are revelations of God from God for our redemption. When you actually remember God, you do not sin. The only way we ever sin is by suppressing God, by forgetting, by tuning out His voice, switching channels, and listening to other voices. When you actually remember, you actually change. In fact, remembering is the first change.

Here’s a simple example. God says, “I am with you.” Those are his exact words. How does taking that to heart utterly change the script of your sexual darkness? What if you are facing a temptation to some immorality? For starters, nothing is private, no secrets are possible: “I am with you.” “I… am… with… you.” Say it ten different ways. Slow it down. Speed it up. Say it out loud. Say it out loud back to him: “You are with me, Lord.” You’ll probably find that you immediately need to say more, like “Help me. Have mercy on me. I need you. Make me understand that you are with me.” You will find that the competing voices, sly and argumentative, will become more obvious. To the degree that you remember that your Lord is with you, then what those other voices have to say will sound devious, tawdry, hostile to your welfare. How did they ever sound so appealing?! The contrast, the battle of wills, the battle between good and evil, will be more evident. Your immediate choice – which voice will I listen to? – will become stark. Remembering what’s true does not chalk up automatic victory. It’s not magic. It’s life. It’s not easy. Your battle will heat up. But we only do secretive things when we’re kidding ourselves. Every time you remember that you are out in public, then you live an out-in-public life. “I AM WITH YOU” means you’re always out in public. In order to sin, you’ll have to drown out the voice of reality, put your fingers in your ears, and switch channels to the fantasy channel, the lie channel, the death channel. And even if you switch channels and sin by high-handed choice, you will still be in broad daylight before God’s searching eyes. You can shut your eyes and plug your ears, He’s still right here. You’ll never get away. And you only have to open your eyes, listen, and turn around in order to find help. After all, He who loves you says, “I am with you,” mainly to encourage you. You have some degree of shame and secrecy attached to your sexual sin, unless you are a brazen, sleazy advocate for your fornications (not yet even fighting enemies at Level 1, but still committed to adore your enemies). Sin can’t stand to be out in public where everybody knows and everybody’s watching. “I am with you” means that the person who can help you right now knows and is watching. In fact, He is watching over you to protect you. He will help you escape darkness, because he has transferred you into the kingdom of the Son whom He loves.

What if you face a different struggle today? What if you feel overwhelmed with aloneness and fear, buried under your hurt, abandoned and betrayed by people? “I am with you.” “I am with you.” Again, when you really hear that, and take it to heart, you know you are not alone. You are safe. Manipulative or violent lust betrayed you; steadfast love never betrays you. Or what if you’re overwhelmed by the grime of past failures? “I am with you.” God is not shocked by the ugliness of your real-time evils. He came to die for “the worst of sinners” (as Paul twice refers to himself – 1 Timothy 1:15f). Whatever your struggle, “I am with you” changes the terrain of battle. You now see a fork in the road. A good road runs uphill towards the light, where previously you only knew to hurl yourself down a bobsled run into the abyss.

Third, put trouble and God together. Start talking, and start walking. We already began to do this in the previous paragraphs. It was impossible simply to identify choice points and then to offer promises and revelations of God without starting to capture the honest human responses: faith’s need for God, and constructive love for others. The Psalms put trouble and God together and talk it out. “Remembering” is not some la-de-da recitation of Bible verses. You fiercely pursue God. He must be to you what He says He is, and do for you what He says He does. In remembering, you change what’s on your mind. You change direction. You seek help. No face-plant in the muck today? That matters – even though tomorrow, or next month, the battle will mutate into some new form. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, step by step in real life. The Proverbs put you on the street before God’s eyes, and walk out how to live as a wise, loving person. The voice you listen to determines the choice you make. (Interestingly, Proverbs 1-9 drives this truth home by using sexual immorality as a vivid case in point.) How will you treat people today? Will love contain and express your sexuality well? Or will evil squander and warp your sexuality, treating others as sex objects?

Walking in the light is not magic. When you see the fork in the road more clearly (today’s skirmish)…, and when you see and hear your Lord more clearly (something He says)…, then you start talking, start needing, start trusting, and then you start making the hard, significant, joyous choice to love people rather than use them.

Go into action in today’s battle. That’s our final word. It gets us down to where our Savior is going into action. It’s where our Father is making us more fruitful. It’s exactly where the Spirit of life is changing us into His image of light and delight.

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


This characterization partly arises from tendencies within American Christian culture. Other Christian cultures may do their calculus of the conscience a bit differently. In Uganda, for example, anger is particularly shameful, the bogie-man sin that automatically disqualifies from ministry. But Ugandans view sexual immorality the way that Americans view anger outbursts or gluttony. Such behaviors are sinful, but aren’t uniquely shocking and damning. Dante’s Divine Comedy portrays ‘normal’ sexual sins – sensuality, fornication – as meriting a shallower circle in hell. Like gluttony or sloth, these are distortions of normal desires. But sins of treachery, sexual and otherwise, involve betrayal of trust, and they sit in the deepest pit of hell.

ii The video game metaphor captures a progression of different kinds of battles we face . It does not capture how in real life we also “regress,” and may have to fight an old battle over again. It also does not capture that in real life the subtler sins are actually present all the way through. But they don’t tend to come front-and-center when some other struggle is more overt and decisive for that moment.

iii Calvin, Ibid., III:iii:10.

Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (Part 1)

Editor’s Note:  This is a lengthy article, but it is so well worth the investment of time to read thoughtfully and prayerfully through these truths.

SOURCE:  David Powilson/CCEF

For many years, a quilt has adorned one wall of our living room. The artist took swatches of fabric and cut hundreds of tiny squares and triangles. She created a lattice pattern through which you gaze into a luminous, iridescent garden. I view her quilt as an invitation to pause and catch a glimpse into paradise. The latticework encloses, protects, provides structure, revealing wonders. The garden within creates an impression of color and light, flower and air, life and pleasure.

It gives a small picture of our God’s great work, the brightness of all creation, the brightness of our salvation.

As such, it gives us a picture of sexuality – and of every other luminous thing that becomes darkened and can be redeemed. Sex is one good strand of God’s good work in creation. Sex is one good strand of his good work in salvation. Imagine your sexuality transformed into a garden of delight protected within the lattice. God began to do good work in you, and He is working to complete this. You will flourish in a garden of safety and joy. Wrongs are made right, “and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich). The highest pleasure, the joy that remakes all lesser pleasures innocent, is our pleasure in Christ, the inexpressible gift. He is light. He is lifegiver. In his light, your sexuality transforms into one blossom among all that is good.

I needed a contrasting object lesson, so I stopped in to talk with my auto mechanic. He fished a greasy rag from the trash bin at the back of his garage, and handed it to me. Unnamable filth had soaked through that scrap of fabric. Ground-in, oily dirt. If your hands are clean, you don’t really feel like touching such a sordid rag. If you must handle such an object, you pick it up by one corner between thumb and forefinger, holding it out away from you at arm’s length. The filthy rag gives us a second, all-too-familiar picture of sexuality. Sex soaks up dark, dirty stains. We must deal with such ground-in evils if we are to fix what’s wrong with us and with others. We understand why Jude evokes an unpleasant sense of wariness even amid his call to generous-hearted love: “On some show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 23).

You can hardly bear to put a name on what some people do, or on what happens to some people. Is your sexuality misshapen and misdirected? Sexual evils are among the dark things that pour forth from within our hearts. Jesus bluntly indicts a roster of sexual wrongs (Mark 7:21-23) – and offers costly mercy to the repentant. Has your sexuality been harmed by others? Some people experience terrible sufferings at the hands of predators, users, misusers, and abusers. Jesus fiercely curses those who trip up others (Matthew 18:6-7) – and offers safe refuge to sufferers.

On the one hand, sex becomes a complex darkness. On the other hand, sex becomes a garden of simple, pure delights. Which picture represents you?

It’s not really a fair question! You probably can’t answer either-or, because most likely you’re somewhere in the middle, aren’t you? That’s important. This article is about making new, about the long restoring of joys to the broken and dirtied. In other words, it’s about the process of change. It’s about moving along a trajectory away from the dark and towards the light. It’s about knowing where you’re heading while you’re still somewhere in the middle.

Are you tilted more towards darkness? Of course, some human beings aren’t in the middle, but live utterly mired within sexual darkness. They even call “good” what God calls “evil.” But they’re not likely to have kept reading this far, because they want to feel justified in wrong, not to be remade right. They want more of what they already have. But if you have read this far, that very persevering has been because light, however far away it seems, is drawing you. There is no darkness so deep that it is immune to light. Perhaps you’ve been wronged sexually, and have lived a nightmare of fear and hurt. But you long for light. Such longing is a blossom of light pulling you in the direction of more light. Or, perhaps you’ve been wrong sexually, and have lived in a fantasyland of lewd, nude, and crude. But you feel sick and tired, dirty and ashamed. Such honest guilt is a blossom of honesty. It pushes you somewhere towards the middle. Your sins delight you less and less; they afflict you more and more. Kyrie, eleison; Lord, have mercy, You whose mercies are new every morning. When you know you need help, then you’re already moving in the middle, not stuck in filth.

Are you tilted more towards light? One man did live utterly as that garden of light shining through the lattice. Jesus did no sin. Yet He chose to enter our deepest darkness. He bore your stains, and did so without becoming stained. He is able to sympathize with your particular weakness and struggles, because He has entered your plight, facing the temptations of sin and suffering. He is able to help you in your failure and your vulnerability to future failure, because He remains unstained. He does not hold you at arm’s length. Jesus is willing to deal gently and truthfully, however ignorant and wayward we are. He is bringing us back to the paradise of light. Perhaps you have come far along this good path already. You have been given much light sexually. Much of the garden of faithful pleasures already flourishes in you. Much latticework of loving restraints is set in place. O hopeful joy, so much has already been purified! Gloria in excelsis Deo; glory to God in the highest. But I know, and you know, that oily stains and cracked slats remain in the fabric of every person’s life. We must still run the race of renewal.

A contemporary hymn contains this line, “In all I do, I honor You.” When I sing that hymn, I always think, “Well, Iwant to honor You in all I do, but I don’t.” The line is truest as a statement of honest intention, but often false as a statement of achievement. We want the garden, but grime still clings to us and oozes from us. Augustine put his struggle starkly: “As I prayed to you for the gift of chastity I had even pleaded, ‘Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.’ I was afraid that you might hear me immediately and heal me forthwith of the morbid lust which I was more anxious to satisfy than to snuff out.”i We want the latticework to protect us, but dark creatures slip into or out of our hearts. When talking about something as important and troublesome as sex, it is important to affirm that the desire for light is the beginning of the emergence of light in our lives.

One theme runs through this article: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). What does that lifelong process look like? How do you get from here to there? How does dirt transform into beauty? What’s the battle like? You’re somewhere in the middle, but Christ has begun a good work in you. He has washed away true guilt. He has broken your willing bondage. Jesus knows his business well. He is looking out for you. He is working to clear away sin’s rot. Jesus is remaking you into a person who actually loves people, and who begins to consider their best interests. Your opinions and impulses no longer reign. What He has begun, He will complete. On the final day, He will entirely remove the instincts and energies of sin from you. How does the war work out? We will look at seven aspects.

1. Bring light to ALL that darkens sex

You fight on many fronts. There are many kinds of evil, more than you might imagine. Some are obvious, some not so obvious. So what are you up against?

a. Unholy pleasure

The most obvious forms of sexual darkness involve the sins of overt immorality. There are countless ways that sexuality veers into extramarital eroticism. Sex can become like living in a Carnival of intoxicating fires, a dreamworld of erotic arousal, predatory instinct, manipulative intention, and the pursuit of carnal knowledge. In a nutshell, in each of the many forms of wrong, a person copulates with the wrong object of desire. Sexual love flourishes as a loving intimacy between one husband and wife. But desire is easily distorted and action misdirected. Such miscopulation can occur either in reality or in fantasy. These are the typical, red-letter, on-the-marquee sins. So what do the weeds of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, pornography, rape, bestiality, voyeurism, incest, pedophilia, fetishism, sado-masochism, transvestitism, prostitution, and bigamy-polygamy have in common? You copulate, in person or in your imagination, with the wrong object of desire.ii Others become objects of unholy desire. These fantasies and interpersonal transactions are the obvious ways in which human sexuality is misdirected into overt sins.

Historically, the behaviors mentioned have usually been evaluated and stigmatized as socially shameful. They have often been named as criminal acts in legal codes. To the degree that cultural values and laws mirror the call of love for others, rather than endorsing lust, they express the way that God sizes up human sexuality. Of course, when mores and laws change for the worse, such behaviors may even be reinterpreted as good, right, and sweet, rather than evil, wrong, and bitter (Isaiah 5:20f). But God teaches us to see things for what they are.

The bold-print sins point in the direction of the fine-print versions of the same sins. Many varieties of flirtation, self-display, foreplay, and entertainment don’t necessarily “go all the way” to orgasm: dressing to attract and tease the lust of others, looking voyeuristically, suggestive remarks, crude humor, erotic kissing, petting, and the like. All these intend in the direction of immoral copulation, whether they consummate their intention or not. Such behaviors (whether occurring in daily life or portrayed on film or page) cross the line of love. Whether or not our cultural context views such things as acceptable, or even as entertaining, they are evils. Love considers the true welfare of others in the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Jesus Christ comes to those who have pursued unholy pleasures. He who hates the gamut of perversities listed in previous paragraphs, is not ashamed to love sinners. He does not weary in the task of rewiring sexuality into a servant of love. He is not only willing to forgive those who turn; he takes the initiative to forgive, and to turn us, and to give us countless reasons to turn. He says, “You need mercy and help in your time of need. Come to me. Turn from evils, and turn to mercies that are new every morning. Flee what is wrong. Seek help. Everyone who seeks finds. Fight with yourself. Don’t justify things that God names as evil. Don’t despair when you find evils within yourself. The only unforgivable sin is the impenitence that justifies sin and opposes the purifying mercies of God in Christ. Come to me, and I will begin to teach you how to love.”

Our culture thinks that any consenting object of desire is fair game for copulation. Individual will is the supreme value. But Christ thinks differently, and He gets last say. He backs up His point of view with a promise of clear-eyed, unavoidable reckoning: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Eph. 5:6). He backs up His point of view with a promise of hard-won mercies and with power to patiently change you so that you learn to love Him supremely. Each of the perversities makes sex too important (and makes the maker, evaluator, and redeemer of sex irrelevant). Sex becomes your identity, your right, your fulfillment, your need. That is nonsense. Each ends up degrading sex, as a mere urge that must find an outlet. That, too, is nonsense. Whether exalted or degraded, sex ends up disappointing, self-destructive, and mutually-destructive.

Jesus brings sanity and good sense. He starts by making sex of secondary importance. Sex is a real, but secondary, good. God neither overvalues nor degrades the good things He has made. By realigning who youmost love (away from yourself and distorted pleasures), He makes all secondary loves, including sexuality, flourish in their proper place. That might mean containing sexual expression during a long season, even a lifetime, of purposeful celibacy as a single adult. Jesus himself lived this way. It might mean a season of frequent sexual expression within loving marriage. That’s the most common calling. It might mean short or long seasons of again containing sexual expression because of the different kinds of celibacy that arise in the course of marital life: e.g., advanced pregnancy and post-partum; forced separation for business or military reasons; a chosen fast from sexual expression because of more pressing needs; the diminution of sexual arousal with advancing age; consequences of prostate surgery or other illnesses; the loss of your spouse if you are widowed. Whether by containment or by expression, our sexuality can be remade into love.

When we think about the forms of “sexual brokenness” that need to be made new, it is natural that we think first of the obvious sins. But other evils also begrime us as sexual beings. These also lie within the scope of redeeming love.

b. Unholy pain

Many people experience pain and fear attached to sexual victimization. Have you ever been attacked or betrayed sexually? Sex becomes like life in Auschwitz, like a burn survivor, a waking nightmare of hurt, fear, and helplessness from the hands of tormentors. Jesus’ kindness redeems both sinners and sufferers. He rights all wrongs. Jesus is merciful to people who do wrong (forgiving and changing you). He is merciful to people who are done wrong (comforting and changing you). When you are used, misused, and abused, sex grows dark. If you are or were a victim of sexual aggression, if you were violated, betrayed, or threatened by the sins of others, then sex often becomes ambivalent or fearful.

The erotic is meant to be a bright expression of mutual loving kindness. Sex thrives in a context of commitment, safety, trust, affection, giving, closeness, intimacy, generosity. The erotic flourishes as one normal, everyday expression of genuine love within marriage. A man and woman are “naked and unashamed” with each other and under God. They give mutual pleasure. Sex with your spouse can be simple self-giving, freely given and freely received. Your sexual interactions can express honesty, laughter, play, prayer, and ecstasy. Sex can be open before the eyes of God, approved in your own conscience, and approved in the eyes of family and friends who care for you.

But sex can become very distasteful. Pawing, seduction, bullying, predation, attack, betrayal, and abandonment are among the many ways that sex becomes stained by sufferings at the hands of others. When you’ve been treated like an object, the mere thought of the act can become filled with tense torment. Sexual darkness is not always lust; sometimes it is fear, pain, haunting memories. If immoral fantasies bring one poison into sex, then nightmarish memories infiltrate a different poison. The arena for trusting friendship can become a prison of mistrust. The experience of violation can leave the victim self-labeled as “damaged goods.” Sex becomes intrinsically dirty, shameful, dangerous. Even in marriage, it can become an unpleasant duty, a necessary evil, not the delightful convergence of duty and desire.

If such things happened to you, you might well feel hatred, terror, and disgust. You might feel guilt, shame, and self-reproach over what someone else did to you. Your thoughts of sex might be filled with loathing and despair, the furthest thing from lustful desire. This, too, is a rag soaked in the grease of nameless dirt. To those for whom sexual experience has resulted in unholy pain, Christ says, “I understand well your experience. Psalm 10 captures the outcry of a victim of predators. I hear the cry of the needy, afflicted, and broken. Come to Me. I am your refuge. I am safe. I will remake what is broken. I will give you reason to trust, and then to love. I will remake your joy.” With reason, two-thirds of the Psalms engage the experience of those who suffer violence, violation, and threat. These sufferings found their point of reference in the God who hears you now, who is your refuge, your hope, who is willing to hear your anguish and loneliness, who overflows with comforts. The reference point makes all the difference. God cares, and will patiently repair what has been torn.

In different ways, both violator and violated are stained with the filth of a fallen world. In different ways, Jesus Christ washes both. And there’s still other dirt on the shop floor, and other fresh mercies.

c. Guilt

The activity of doing sin is different from the repercussion of feeling guilt. Temptation arises as internal desire and external allure culminate into action. Then, if the conscience is not seared, comes the typical aftermath: guilt, shame, regret, remorse, resolves to change, penance, self-reproach, despair, making up, concealment, and so forth. The “carrot” draws us into one sort of darkness; the “stick” pounds us into a different darkness. Obsession with erotic pleasure yields to obsession with moral failure. Grace addresses both in different ways, because both are part of the dynamic of sexual evils.

Are you haunted by your sins, in the eyes of God, in the eyes of your conscience, and in the eyes of others who might find out? The sin may have just occurred a few minutes ago; it may be a distant but potent memory. Perhaps you don’t actively participate in that sin anymore. You’ve come far, and no longer feel any allure to a lifestyle you once avidly pursued. Or perhaps you just did it again. But the memory – whether fresh-minted or ancient history – fills you with dismay. Perhaps immediate and long-term consequences of your sin run far beyond the repercussions within your conscience: an abortion, STD, inability to bear children, ongoing vulnerability to certain kinds of temptations, a bad reputation, ruined relationships, wasted time, failed responsibilities. Nobody did this to you; you did it to yourself and to others. The same sense of dirty distaste haunts your sexuality as haunts those who were victimized. You victimized yourself (and others you betrayed). You, too, feel like damaged goods. Sex is not bright, iridescent, cheerful, generous, matter-of-fact. It is not a flat-out good to be enjoyed with your spouse or saved should you ever marry. You might live with such guilty feelings in your singleness. You might have brought them into your marriage. Perhaps you are afraid of relationships, because you know from bitter experience that you can’t be trusted. Perhaps it’s hard to shake off the train of bleak associations that attach to sexual feelings and acts.

We often underestimate just how radically biblical faith relies on grace. Grace means that what makes things right comes to you from the outside. It’s the sheer gift that someone else gives to you. You don’t get it by jumping through certain religious hoops. You are forgiven, accepted, saved from death outside of yourself andbecause of Another. Listen to how a man of faith dealt forthrightly with his former sins. The italics highlight how much your hope amid real guilt lies outside of you:

Remember, O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses,

for they have been from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.

According to Your lovingkindness remember me,

for Your goodness’ sake, O LORD.…

For Your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity for it is great.

– Psalm 25:6f, 11

David’s sexual sin was high-handed. It tore his conscience (Ps. 51; cf. Pss. 32, 38). It brought immediate and long-lasting consequences (2 Sam. 12:10-12, 14). Yet David was truly forgiven (2 Sam 12:13). He experienced the joy of repentance, and the wisdom, clarity, and purposeful energy that real repentance brings (those same psalms, and the rest of 2 Sam. 12). Notice: David radically appeals to the quality of “Your mercy, O LORD.” David’s own conscience remembers only too well, but he appeals to what someone else will choose to remember: “When God looks at me, will He remember my sin, or His own mercies?”

Sin itself turns you in on yourself, blinding you to God. Guilt also tends to turn you in on yourself. Self-laceration exalts your opinion of yourself as supremely important; shame exalts the opinion of other people. But living repentance and living faith turn outward to the one whose opinion most matters. What God chooses to “remember” about you will prove decisive. Your conscience, if well-tuned, is secondary and dependent on the stance He takes. If the Lord is merciful, then mercy has final say. It is beyond our comprehension that God acts mercifully for His sake, because of what He is like. Wrap your heart around this, and the typical aftermath of sin will never be the same. You will stand in joy and gratitude, not grovel in shame. You’ll be able to get back about the business of life with fresh resolve, not just with good intentions and some flimsy New Year’s resolutions to do better next time. This is our hope. This is our deepest need. This is our Lord’s essential, foundational gift. You know people who need to know this. They typically mishandle the aftermath of sin with further forms of the God-lessness that also manufactured sin. You, too, need to know how faith in Christ’s mercy decenters you off of yourself and recenters you onto the living God’s promise and character. The one with whom we have to do freely offers mercy and grace to help us by the lovingkindness of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:13-16).

d. Don’t view sexual sin as just a male problem

When the church talks about “struggles with sexual lust,” the implicit assumptions are often far too narrow. As we have seen, our teaching, love, illustrations, and applications must not only mention the obvious behavioral sins. We also must touch the ways people brood over sexual suffering and over sexual guilt. In the same way, teaching too often only assumes and targets the struggles of men. Seductive women (“out there”) may be viewed as sources of temptation to men (provocative clothing; participation in making pornography; the temptress at work; the prostitute working in the sex industry). But women often slip under the radar of “struggles with lust.” Unvarnished erotic lust is seen as a typically male problem: e.g., the familiar line, “95% of men struggle with lust…, and the other 5% are lying.” But what about 100% of women in here? There are core similarities between men and women, along with some typical differences.

For starters, the Bible is candid that “there is no temptation that is not common to all” (1 Cor. 10:13). This doesn’t mean temptations always take exactly the same form, but there are underlying similarities. By God’s creation, men and women are primarily the same (human). By His creation and providence, we are secondarily different (male-female differences tied to biology, masculine-feminine differences tied to culture). Add it up, and we struggle with the same kind of thing, but may struggle in different kinds of ways. That does not mean that a female is not perfectly capable of the same unvarnished, immoral eroticism that characterizes some males. It takes two to tango in any act of adultery or fornication. The woman may well be the initiator/aggressor in sending out sexual signals or in arranging a liaison. Women have roving eyes and get hooked on erotic pleasures. Women masturbate. Women adopt a homosexual lifestyle. A woman can pattern her identity around fulfilling sexual self-interest and having a magnetic effect on male sexual interest. When she finds mercy in Christ and starts her journey towards the garden of light, her struggle may directly parallel the struggle of a man who has similarly patterned his lifestyle around immoralities. Both must learn how to love, rather than how to fulfill and arouse lust.

Second, it’s noticeable that female sexuality in America has taken on cruder forms in recent years (or, at least, is far more willing to be brazen). Open lewdness and frank immorality have replaced coy, suggestive hints of availability. Male or female, if you want it, go for it. For example, female athletes increasingly do the openly obscene behaviors that were once the prerogative of male athletes: gutter humor, mooning, streaking, sexualized hazing and initiation rites, predatory sexual acts, an atmospheric grossness. Using obscene language, attending a strip show, and surfing pornographic websites are not exclusively male sins. Women’s magazines (e.g., Cosmopolitan, and the like) have increasingly become sex manuals for how to have wildly ecstatic sex with your “partner” of choice. Marital status is an optional, irrelevant category. But Jesus Christ is “no respecter of persons”: a coarse female is as ugly as a coarse male. Jesus loathes the degradation of sex (Ephesians 5:3-8a). His self-sacrificing mercy works to transform sex into an expression of love, light, and fruitfulness (Eph. 5:1f, 8b-10) for females and males alike.

Third, there are some typical and noteworthy differences between men and women. Both strugglers and those who minister to them should be aware of variations on the common themes. At the level of motive, for example, male sexual sin and female sexual sin often operate in somewhat different ways. An old joke plays off the difference between simple and complex eroticisms:

Question: What is the difference between men and women?

Answer: A woman wants one man to meet her every need, while a man wants every woman to meet his one need.

Men are often more wired to visual cues, to anonymous “body parts” eroticism. Women are often more wired to feelings of personal intimacy and emotional closeness as cues for sexual arousal. These aren’t absolute differences (notice the ‘oftens’). They are bell curves that slide one way or the other. But being aware of the tendencies can be helpful. The motives driving adultery, fornication, and promiscuity may follow somewhat different patterns.

Homosexuality provides a particularly obvious example. Lesbianism typically presents a different picture from male homosexuality. Many lesbians were once actively, unambivalently heterosexual, whether promiscuous or faithfully married. They might have conceived, borne and raised children without much questioning of their sexual identity. But over time the men in their life proved disappointing, violent, drunken, uncomprehending, or unfaithful. Perhaps during the unhappiness of a slow marital disintegration, or while picking up the wreckage after a divorce, other women proved to be far more understanding and sympathetic friends. Emotional intimacy and communication opened a new door. Sexual repatterning as a lesbian came later, often the result of a slow process of experimentation that followed emotional closeness. The life-reshaping “lusts of the flesh” were not initially sexual. Instead, cravings to be treated tenderly and sympathetically – to be known, understood, loved, and accepted – played first violin, and sex per se played viola. Often the core dynamic in lesbianism is intimacy lust running out of control. In male homosexuality, the core dynamic is often sexual lust running out of control. (Again, notice the ‘often’. I’ve known male homosexuals where desires for acceptance or for power played first violin). What the Bible terms ‘lusts of the flesh’ include many different kinds of desires that run amok, hijacking the human heart.

It’s no surprise, then, that lesbians tend to form more stable relationships, and tend to be less promiscuous than male homosexuals. It’s no surprise that homosexualist ideology rarely attempts to make the argument that female homosexuality is genetic, though it often attempts that argument for men. Raw, obsessive sexuality seems to invite biological rationalizations in a way that a more multi-factored relationship doesn’t. Many homosexuals, both male and female, make comments along the following lines: “Why bother with the whole male-female thing? It’s easier to be gay! If men just want sex, let them score with each other. If women want to be known, understood, and loved, let them build relationships with each other. You can avoid the whole hassle of trying to bridge the male-female divide in relationships. It’s easier to get what you want with the same sex. And you can have simpler friendships with the opposite sex, too, when you take the sex thing off the table.”

Fourth, the culture of romance novels, soap operas, and women’s magazines does not draw nearly as much attention as male-oriented pornography. Men do graphic pornography. That’s an obvious problem. Women do romance. It’s the same kind of problem, though the participants keep their clothes on a while longer, and there’s more of a story to tell before they tumble into bed. Romance novels are female pornography. The sin comes wired through intimacy lust first, and builds towards erotic lust. The formulaic fantasies offer narrative emotion-candy, not visual eye-candy. Romance tells a story about someone with a name, someone you fall in love with. It builds slowly. It’s more than a moment of instant gratification with anonymous, naked, willing bodies. But like male pornography, there is a progression from soft-core (e.g., Harlequin series), to more openly erotic (e.g., Silhouette series), to frankly pornographic writings that target women. The male model Fabio made his career posing for the formulaic book cover art. A big, strong guy, stripped to the waist, tenderly cradles a beautiful woman. He’s the knight in shining armor, protective, gentle, understanding – and the handsome hunk of beefcake. The romantic novel genre has even made a crossover to evangelical Christian publishing houses. The sex is cleaned up; the knight in shining armor is also a deep spiritual leader who marries you before sleeping with you. But the fantasy appeal to intimacy and romance lusts remains as the inner engine that allures readers.

Female versions of sexual-romantic sin are shop-floor rags as much as male versions. Jesus Christ calls all of us out of fantasy, delusion, and lust, whether the fantasyland is filled with naked bodies or with romantic knights. Jesus Christ is about the reality business. Francis of Assisi got things straight: “Grant that I would not so much seek to be loved as to love.” Jesus teaches us how to be committed, patient, kind, protective, able to make peace, keeping no record of wrongs, merciful, forgiving, generous, and all the other hard, wonderful characteristics of grace. He teaches us to consider the true interests of others. He teaches us a positive, loving purity that protects the purity of others. Instead of our instinctual ways – narcissism, fascination with our own desires and opinions, self-indulgence – Jesus Christ takes us by the hand to lead us in ways that make vive la difference shine brightly.

e. Sexual struggles within marriage

We mislead ourselves and others if we say or imply that just getting married solves all the problems of sexual sin, sexual pain, sexual confusion. All sorts of remnant sins can carry on in marriage. All sorts of remnant heartaches and fears can still play out. “Making all things new” continues to remake sex within marriage. Here are some examples.

  • One person may need to learn that sex is good, not dirty. You can relax rather than tense up. You can give yourself freely, rather than worry about what will happen to you. Pleasure will not betray you. Your spouse is faithful and can be trusted. (Only larger, deeper, fundamental trust in God can free us to grant simple trust and generous love to another human being, who will in fact let us down and do us wrong in some ways.)
  • Another person may need to learn that sexual bliss is not the summum bonum of human life. You still need to say No to lust. There are seasons and reasons for self-denial and temporary celibacy. Your spouse may struggle, in sex as in other areas, and you will need to learn that “love is patient” comes first for a reason.
  • Some people may need to learn whole new patterns of sexual arousal. Willing nymphomania, copulatory gymnastics, and oral sex may have turned on your fantasies and fornications. But your spouse, God’s gift to you, may enjoy quiet, tender moments being held in your arms. The Richter Scale of raw ecstasies may have spiked higher in your past immoralities than in your marriage. But you need to learn that the scale of solid joys and lasting treasures proves incomparably deeper and more satisfying.
  • Still other marriages may need to give up evil relational patterns: game-playing, manipulation, give to get, avoidance, bartering sex for other goodies, sulking. Even high-stakes criminal sins – sadistic sexual aggression, violence, and rape – can occur in marriage.
  • Still other people must sever the link that equated sex with “success or failure,” with “performance” and “identity.” As Christ redefines and recenters your identity, he changes what sex means. Sex can become a simple and meaningful way to give. It can become a simple pleasure, as normal as eating breakfast. It can become a safe place where failures and struggles can be talked about and prayed through.
  • Some marriages may deal with impotence and frigidity (‘erectile dysfunction’ and ‘arousal disorder’ in the medicalizing jargon of our times). On the male side, Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra present a purely chemical solution for symptoms. The problem sometimes has a significant biological component unrelated to normal aging. But most often there are significant links to spiritual issues: performance anxiety, an unwillingness to face the diminishments of aging, the separation of sex from love, guilt over premarital sex, or unreal expectations of potency that have been learned from the media, pornography, or fornication.
  • Still others may face temptations to make comparisons with previous partners, or with fantasy partners, or with some idealized fantasy of what marital bliss should be like. Wise sex loves your husband or wife.
  • Still others will continue to struggle with familiar patterns of lust. They may be tempted to flirt, or to cheat, or to view pornography, or to masturbate in the shower, or to fantasize about past experiences.
  • Finally, every person will struggle with garden variety anger, anxiety, grumbling, selfishness, unbelief, and the weight of life’s difficulties. The everyday non-sexual sins and troubles don’t disappear! Other sins and hardships can clutter the bedroom with non-sexual troubles that greatly affect sexual intimacy. Christ’s ongoing mercies will remake your sexuality in part by remaking worry and irritability (and the rest) that arise in response to life’s pressures.

You get the picture! He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. His redemption will touch every form of grease. We can’t do justice to “sexual brokenness” or bring mercy unless we get the whole problem on the table. Jesus works with us. And it is our joy that He works with far more than just the Technicolor sexual immoralities.

2. It’s a LONGER war

One key to fighting well is to lengthen your view of the battles. If you think that one week of “shock and awe” combat will win this war, you’re bound for disappointment. If you’re looking for some quick fix, an easy answer, a one-and-done solution, then you’ll never really understand the nature of the honest fight. And if you promise easy, once-for-all victories to others, then you’ll never be much help to other strugglers.

The day of “completion” will not arrive until the Day that Jesus Christ arrives (Phil. 1:6). When we see Him, then we will be like Him perfectly (1 Jo. 3:2). The wiping away of all tears, the taking away of every reason for sorrow, crying, and pain, will not come until God lives visibly in our midst (Rev. 21:3-4). Someday, not today, all things will be made new (Rev. 21:5). Much of the failure to fight well, pastor well, counsel well, arises because we don’t really understand and work well with this long truth. Consider two specific implications. First, sanctification is a direction you are heading. Second, repentance is a lifestyle you are living.

a. Sanctification is a direction

Too often our practical view of sanctification, discipleship, and counseling takes the short view. If you memorize and call to mind one special Bible verse, will it clean up all the mess? Will prayer drive all the darkness away? Will remembering that you are a child of God, justified by faith, shield your heart against every evil? Will careful self-discipline and a plan to live constructively eliminate all failure? Is it enough to sit under good preaching and have daily devotions? Is honest accountability to others the decisive key to walking in purity? These are all very good things. But none of them guarantees that three weeks from now, or three years, or thirty years, you will not struggle to learn how to love rather than lust. We must have a vision for a long process (life-long), with a glorious end (the Day), that is actually going somewhere (today). Put those three together in the right way, and you have a practical theology that’s good to go and good for the going.

Look at church history. Look at denominations. Look at local churches. Look at people groups. Look at families. Look at individuals. Look at all the people in the Bible. They all have a history and keep making history. Things are never finished. No one ever says, “I’ve made it. No more forks in the road. No more places I might stumble and fall flat. No more hard, daily choices to make.” Look at yourself. Life never operates on cruise control. The living God seems content to work in His church and in people groups on a scale of generations and centuries. The living God seems content to work in individuals (you, me, the person you are trying to help) on a scale of decades, throughout a whole lifetime. At every step, there’s some crucial watershed issue. What will you choose? Who will you love and serve? There’s always something that the Vinedresser is pruning, some difficult lesson that the Father is teaching the children He loves (John 15; Heb. 12). It’s no accident that “God is love” and “love is patient” fit together seamlessly. God takes His time with us.

In your sanctification journey and in your ministry to others, you must operate on a scale that can envision a lifetime, even while communicating the urgency of today’s significant choice. ‘Disciple’ is the most common New Testament term describing God’s people. A disciple is simply a life-long learner of wisdom, living in relationship to a wise master. The second most common term, ‘son/child/daughter’, contains the same purpose: by living in life-long relationship to a loving Father, we learn how to love. When you think in terms of the moral absolutes, it’s EITHER oily rag OR garden of delights. But when you think in terms of the change process, it’s FROM oily rag TO garden of delights. We are each and all on a trajectory from what we are to what we will be. The moral absolutes rightly orient us on the road map. But the process heads out on the actual long, long journey in the right direction. The key to getting a long view of sanctification is to understand direction. What matters most is not the distance you’ve covered. It’s not the speed you’re going. It’s not how long you’ve been a Christian. It’s the direction you’re heading.

Do you remember any high school math? “A man drives the 300 miles from Boston to Philadelphia. He goes 60 mph for 2 hours, 40 mph for 3 hours, and then sits in traffic for 1 hour not moving. If traffic lightens up, and he can drive the rest of the way at 30 mph, how many hours will the whole trip take?” If you know the formula, “distance equals rate times time,” you can figure it out (8 hours!). Is sanctification like that, a calculation of how far and how fast for how long? Not really. The key question in sanctification is whether you’re even heading in the direction of Philadelphia. If you’re heading north towards Montreal, you can go 75 mph for as long as you want; you’ll never, ever get to Philadelphia. And if you’re simply sitting outside Boston, and have no idea which direction you’re supposed to go, you’ll never get anywhere. But if you’re heading in the right direction, you can go 10 mph or 60 mph; you can get stuck in traffic and sit awhile; you can get out and walk; you can crawl on your hands and knees; you can even get temporarily turned around. But at some point you’ll get where you need to go.

The rate of sanctification is completely variable. We cannot predict how it will go. Some people, during some seasons of life, leap and bound like gazelles. Let’s say you’ve been living in flagrant sexual sins. You turn from sin to Christ; the open sins disappear. No more fornication: sleeping with your girlfriend or boyfriend. No more exhibitionism: flashing in your trenchcoat or wearing that particularly revealing blouse. No more pornography: buying Penthouse or the latest salacious romance novel. Ever. It sometimes happens like that. For other people (and the same people, at another season of life) sanctification is a steady, measured walk. You learn truth. You learn to serve others constructively. You build new disciplines. You learn basic life wisdom. You learn who God is, who you are, how life works. You learn to worship, to pray, to give time, money, and caring. And you grow steadily – wonder of wonders! Other people (and same people, another season) trudge. It’s hard going. You limp. You don’t seem to get very far very fast. But if you’re trudging in the right direction – high praises to the Lord of glory! One day, you will see Him face to face, and you will be like Him. Some people crawl on their hands and knees. Progress is painful. Praise God for the glory of His grace, you are inching in the right direction. And then there are times you aren’t even moving, stuck in gridlock, broken down – but you’re still facing in the right direction. That’s Psalm 88, the “basement” of the Psalms. This man feels dark despair – but it’s despair in the Lord’s direction. In other words, it’s still faith, even when faith feels so discouraged you can only say, “You are my only hope. Help. Where are You?” That counts – it made it into the Bible. There are times you might fall asleep in the blizzard and lie down comatose and forgetful – but grace wakes you up, reminds you, and gets you moving again. There are times you slowly wander off in the wrong direction, beguiled by some false promise, or disappointed by a true promise that you falsely understood. But He who began a good work in you awakens you from your sleepwalk, sooner or later, and puts you back on the path. And then there are times you revolt, and do a face-plant in the muck, a swan dive into the abyss – but grace picks you up and washes you off again, and turns you back. Slowly you get the point. Perhaps then you leap and bound, or walk steadily, or trudge, or crawl, or face with greater hope in the right direction.

We love gazelles. Graceful leaps make for a great testimony to God’s wonderworking power. And we like steady and predictable. It seems to vindicate our efforts at making the Christian life work in a businesslike manner. But, in fact, there’s no formula, no secret, no technique, no program, and no truth that guarantees the speed, distance, or time frame. On the day you die, you’ll still be somewhere in the middle, but further along. When we lengthen the battle, we realize that our business is the direction. God manages to work His wonderworking glory in and through all of the above scenarios! God’s people need to know that, so someone else’s story doesn’t set the bar in a place that is not how your story of Christ’s grace is working out in real life.

b. Repentance is a lifestyle

What was the first trumpet call of the Reformation?

It was not the authority of Scripture, foundational as that is. Scripture is the very voice, face, and revelation of God. A Person presses through the pages. You learn how He thinks. How He acts. Who He is. What He’s up to. But Scripture alone did not stand first in line.

It was not justification by faith, crucial as that is. We are oily-rag people. Christ is the garden of light. We are saved by His doing, His dying, His goodness. We are saved from ourselves outside of ourselves. No religious hocus-pocus. No climbing up a ladder of good works, or religious knowledge, or mystical experience. He came down, full of grace and truth, Word made flesh, Lamb of God. We receive. That’s crucial. But faith alone wasn’t actually where it all started.

It was not the priesthood of all believers, revolutionary as that is. Imagine, there aren’t two classes of people, the religious people who do holy things by a special call from God, and the masses of laity toiling in the slums of secular reality. The “man of God” is not doing God’s show before an audience of bystanders. We all assemble as God’s people, doing the work and worship together, with differing gifts. The one Lord, our common King and attentive audience, powerfully enables faith and love. Yes and amen, but this radical revision of church didn’t come first.

The trumpet call, Thesis Number One of Luther’s 95 Theses, was this: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That dismantled all the machinery of religiosity, and called us back to human reality. Luther glimpsed and aimed to recover the essential inner dynamic of the Christian life. It is an ongoing change process. It involves a continual turning motion, turning towards God, and turning away from the riot of other voices, other desires, other loves. We tend to use the word ‘repentance’ in its more narrow sense, for decisive moments of realization, conviction, confession, turning. But Luther uses the word in its wider, more inclusive sense. We live FROM-TO, when we live in Christ. John Calvin put it in a similar way: “This restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year…. In order that believers may reach this goal [the shining image of God], God assigns to them a race of repentance, which they are to run throughout their lives.”iii The entire Christian life (including the more specific moments of repentance) follows a pattern of turning from other things and turning to the Lord.

Luther went on to write a beautiful statement describing the transformation dynamic that occurs as we live FROM-TO.

This life, therefore,

is not righteousness but growth in righteousness,

not health but healing,

not being but becoming,

not rest but exercise.

We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.

The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.

This is not the end but it is the road.

All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.iv

Lifelong progressive sanctification was the trumpet call back to biblical faith. It was a call back to this life – including sex – in which the living God is on scene throughout your life. He planned a good work. He began a good work. He continues a good work. He will finish a good work. He has staked His glory on the completion of that work. Lengthening the battle heightens the significance of our Savior for every step along the way. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.

————————————————————————————————-


i Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding, Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1997, Book VIII, Chapter 17, p. 198.

ii Marriage per se is neither magic nor magically loving. A few of these perversions of sexual goodness can be performed between married parties: e.g., joint use of pornography, sado-masochism, ‘homosexual marriage’, rape, bigamy. But such practices violate the call to loving intimacy before the eyes of God, who created sex good and defines good sex. The sexual identity and desires of one or both parties can be warped, whatever the marital status. The last part of this section will discuss sexual sins that more typically occur within marriage.

iii John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III:iii:9.

iv Martin Luther, “Defense and Explanation of all the Articles,” Second Article.

*****

David Powlison is a faculty member at CCEF and has been counseling for over thirty years.

This article appeared as a chapter in the book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, and published in 2005 by Crossway Books.

Where Is God in the Midst of All My Troubles?

SOURCE:  an article by J. Budziszewski/Focus on the Family

Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself?

If you hurt enough to ask such questions, you deserve an answer.Trouble suffocates me. Worry entangles me. By night I can’t sleep, by day I can’t rest. The burden of suffering is intolerable. Where is God? Does He know, or are my prayers heard only by the wall? Is He near, or somewhere distant, only watching?

Some people think that you don’t. You’re sick, you’re dying, you’ve been deserted, you’ve lost a child, you’re innocent but accused of wrongdoing — and they try to shush you. Their intentions may be good, but they are hard to bear. “Don’t question God’s ways; He might hear you.” In my cry of anguish, don’t I want Him to hear me? “It’s probably for your own good.” If I’m to be tormented for my own good, don’t I get a say in the matter? “I’m sure there’s a good reason.” No doubt there is, but did I ask for a philosophical explanation? What I asked is “Where is God?”

Some Comforters

Even worse are the people who say, “You’re being unfair to God. It isn’t His fault. If He could have kept your trouble from happening, He would have, but He couldn’t. God is just as helpless as you are, and He weeps to see your sorrow.” No. If God is really God, then He could have stopped it; if I’m suffering, then He could have stopped it but didn’t. I may be baffled by Him, I may be frustrated by Him, but the God I want to hear from is the God who rules the world. I’m not interested in a God who is “not responsible.”

Some Comforters, Some Religion

Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself? I am weary of my comforters, tired of His defenders. I want God to answer me in person. If only I could state my case before Him and hear His answer!

There was once a man who did that. His name was Job. He too was plagued with so-called comforters and defenders of God, but he demanded a hearing from God Himself, and God answered him. The history of the incident is told in great detail in the Bible.

Job is blameless and upright, a man of such integrity that even God likes to show him off. If anyone deserves blessings, Job does. Yet one day God puts him to the test. Job”s life falls to pieces; calamity of every kind descends upon him. Raiders sweep his fields; his livestock are captured or destroyed; his servants are put to the sword; a house collapses on his sons and daughters and kills them all. Disease strikes him, and he is covered with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. In all this, he submits patiently to God, only to be mocked by his wife, who tells him to “curse God and die!”(Job 2:9) Friends arrive, and still he is patient. For days they sit with him in silence, seeing how greatly he suffers.

A Torrent of Grief

Finally Job can contain himself no longer. In a torrent of grief and protest, he cries, wishing that he had never lived. He doesn’t curse God, but he curses the day he was born. The terrible curse demeans all the previous good in his life; it implies that his joy, his home, his peace, and the lives of his children had never meant a thing, just because now they are gone.

This is too much for Job’s friends, and they rebuke him. On and on they lecture him; they cannot scold enough. Suffering, they say, is punishment for sin. The greater the sin, the greater the suffering. Since Job is in agony, he must have done something terrible to deserve it. Obviously, then, he is covering up. He only pretends to be just; he is really a hypocrite. If only he would confess and take his punishment, God would forgive him and relent — but instead, like a fool, he complains.

To hear these accusations is unbearable to Job. He rages in grief, defending himself and denouncing his friends. Against God, his complaints are even more bitter — and inconsistent. One moment he wants God to leave him alone, the next moment he wants Him to listen. One moment he declares himself guiltless, the next moment he admits that no man is. Yet through it all, he insists that his suffering is undeserved, and he demands that God give him a hearing.

Answer in a Whirlwind

In the end, Job gets his hearing. God answers from the heart of the whirlwind. He doesn’t pull His punches, and the encounter is overpowering. Meeting God turns out to be nothing like just hearing about Him. But Job is satisfied.

There are two amazing things about this face-off. The first is that God never explains to Job the reason for his suffering. In other words, it isn’t because God answers Job’s questions that Job is finally satisfied. In fact God asks questions of His own: Where was Job when God laid the foundations of the earth? Can he bind the stars of the constellations? Job has challenged the Creator of the mind, but does he comprehend even the mind of the ostrich? Job confesses, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know”(Job 42:3).

The second amazing thing is that God does not side with Job’s friends. He sides with Job. It seems impossible. Wasn’t Job God’s accuser? Weren”t his friends God’s defenders? But there cannot be any mistake. Even though God humbles Job, not once does He express anger toward him. Yet toward his friends, God declares that His anger blazes out. He says that He will not forgive them until Job has prayed for them. And why? Because they have not spoken the truth about Him, “as my servant Job has”! (Job 42:7-8)

What truth could Job have spoken? Didn’t he just admit that he hadn’t known what he was talking about?

Not All Suffering Is Our Fault

Yes, but about one thing Job was right: He didn’t deserve what was happening. Not all suffering is our fault. We do bring some suffering upon ourselves: Adulterers destroy their homes, drunks their livers, wasters their wealth. Yet the innocent suffer too. Dreadful things happen, things we don’t deserve, things that seem to be senseless. This is why God sides with the sufferer, even in preference to those so-called defenders who merely “explain away” the pain.

In His justice, God understands that this will seem unjust to us. He does not even try to give us “answers” that we could not understand. Instead, He visits us, as He visited Job. Is He not God? He is a better answer than the “answers” would have been. Indeed, He is the only possible answer. Though we find ourselves buried in a deeper dark than night, from the midst of the whirlwind, He speaks.

You may object, “What good is it for God to visit me? He’s not the one drowning in troubles; I am. You say God sides with the sufferer,” but these words are meaningless. God can’t suffer with me. He only watches.”

But there is more. The story of Job is not God’s last word. Nor is it His last deed.

Human Wrecks

Let’s face it. In all our thoughts about suffering, we have sidestepped the main issue and focused on the secondary issue. To be frank, we human beings are wrecks. The external troubles that we blame on God are the least of our suffering. Something worse is wrong with us, and it is wrong with us inside.

One writer describes the problem as a “deep interior dislocation in the very center of human personality.” What we want to do, we don’t. What we don’t want to do, we do. We not only do wrong, but call it right. Even the good things in us become polluted. We may long to love purely, but our desires turn into idols that control us. We may long to be “blameless” like Job, but our righteousness turns into a self-righteousness that rules us. We may long to be reconciled with God, but we can’t stop wanting to be the center of the universe ourselves.

Can’t Repair Ourselves

Not only are we broken, but we can’t repair ourselves. Could you perform surgery on your own eyes? How could you see to do it? Suppose you tore off both hands; could you sew them back on? Without hands, how could you hold the instruments? Our sin-sickness is something like that. Many philosophies teach about right and wrong with pretty fair accuracy. What they can’t do is heal the sin-sickness. However true, no mere philosophy can do that. Our cancer requires more than a philosophy. What it requires is the divine surgeon, God Himself, and the name of His surgery is Jesus Christ.

Jesus was God Himself in human flesh — fully God, but fully man. Most people have heard that He taught, performed miracles, healed the sick. Most people have heard that He was executed on a Cross and rose again. What is less well known is what this was all about.

Did someone say God doesn’t suffer? In Jesus, God suffered. That was why He became one of us — to suffer for us.

Even though He had no sin of His own, Jesus identified with us so completely that He took the burden of our inward brokenness — our sin and sin-sickness — upon Himself. He understands it all, because He bore it all — the whole weight of it, all for us. By dying, He took it to death; by rising, He opened for us a way, through Him, to life.

There was no other way for God to help us. He bore real agony, bled real blood, died real death. On the Cross, even He felt alone. When He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” it was for us (Matthew 27:46). All this He saw coming from afar, and He accepted it on our behalf. He paid the price that we cannot pay, He bore the burden that we cannot bear. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened,” He says, “and I will give you rest”(Matthew 11:28).

This is not a fable; it actually happened, and it is really true. If we trust Him as our price-payer, as our sin-bearer, then through Him we give up our broken life and receive His own life in its place. Then no suffering can be meaningless, because it is lifted up into His own suffering and redeemed.

Did you read the catch? “If we trust Him.” Can you do that? Can you do it utterly, without reserve? Can you give up the ownership of yourself, and transfer the title to Him? If something in your heart is an obstacle — some fear, some pain, some pride — can you at least ask Him to remove it?

Though He had 77 questions for Job, for you He has only one. Will you come?

Godly AND Depressed

Editor’s Note:  Too often, as Christians, we can be beset by a overwhelming spirit of depression as we cling to the presence and promises of God.  This article pinpoints the reality of this dilemma AND the truths of the God who is with us through these times.

SOURCE:  Taken from the article,   Though I Sit in Darkness:  One Man’s account of keeping the faith in the midst of depression.  Discipleship Journal

I stand with the rest of the congregation for a familiar hymn. My heart is sad and parched. Mouthing the words takes a Herculean effort. I feel out-of-place in the midst of so many people with smiles on their faces and praise on their lips. I can’t remember the last time I felt buoyant in spirit or put my heart into worship. Guilt badgers me, for I’m aware that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

I’m trying to muster enough resolve to keep a lunch appointment with a student and to teach an afternoon class at the university. The last thing I want is to be around people. As I walk to the campus cafeteria, my gait is slow and my spirit is lethargic.

I hope the student won’t show. The idea of listening to and feigning interest in another person creates pressure that I resent. There’s a high humidity in my heart that smothers motivation and saps energy for the daily routine.

I sit in my recliner, clutching a second handful of tear-soaked tissues. In stark contrast to the afternoon sun, my spirit is pitch-black. “Where are You when I need You?” I cry aloud to God as despair envelops me. “Don’t You care enough to help?”

My weeping becomes so violent that my body convulses. All the prayers I’ve uttered seem in vain.

The pain won’t ease up.

These vignettes from the past year depict my ongoing struggle with depression. When I’m caught in it, I’m either too numb to feel anything, or the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme and I collapse in a torrent of tears. Yet whether I’m void of emotion or hypersensitive, hopelessness taunts me. A battle rages in my spirit. The voice of despair insists that the darkness is inevitable, that the pain will never subside. The voice of faith offers a rebuttal, pointing me to God and asserting that hope will have the last word. Despite the severity of the symptoms I’ve experienced, I choose to believe the voice of faith. Hope can triumph over despondency.

I believe that the gospel is hopeful, that God is good, that any form of adversity can serve a redemptive purpose. So I refuse to wave a white flag when my spirit sags. I identify with the psalmist who—within a single verse—acknowledged despondency and told himself to focus on God as an object of trust:

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. —Ps. 42:5

I can’t claim victory over the nemesis of depression. Yet I can share how I contend with it and avoid yielding to the foe of hopelessness. I can tell you what I’m learning about keeping faith when the feeling is gone.

Godly and Depressed

A myth persists among some Christians that if a person is right with the Lord, despondency won’t descend on him. A member of my church, aware of my depression, inquired about my devotional life. I assured her that days in which I’ve had unremitting emotional pain began with Bible study, fervent prayer, and confession of known sins. She walked away, apparently unconvinced.

I’ve learned that there is no direct correlation between the onset of depression and the quality of my relationship with the Lord. I’m not suggesting that time alone with God and His Word isn’t crucial in the fight against despondency. I am saying that neglect of spiritual disciplines isn’t a satisfactory explanation for the onset of my emotional lows. I can be in the vise-grip of depression when I’m in close fellowship with the Lord, or I can be lighthearted when I’m not so close to Him.

More than once, King David experienced life-sapping melancholy that was apparently not the result of sin or disobedience. According to Ps. 13:1–2, David felt sorrow in his heart and thought that God had abandoned him. On a different occasion, David asked the Lord to be responsive to his tears and expressed a desire to smile again (Ps. 39:12–13). The same man whom the Scriptures call a “man after God’s own heart,” who encouraged others to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” experienced bouts of discouragement that we would likely call depression today.

Medical experts agree that recurring depression, especially when it cannot be linked to a personal setback or external event, has a biological basis. That’s why medical intervention may be needed. Since 1990 I’ve been under a physician’s care. Through early 2002, prescription medications boosted my mental health and kept the depression in check.

Since then, however, the effectiveness of medicines has waned, and I’ve been depressed more often than not. This has forced me to rely more on my faith for sustenance. Though there’s not a cause-and-effect relationship between my devotional habits and the onset of melancholy, faith is still key in my fight against it. I’m discovering that even depression that has a physical cause must be fought with spiritual weapons, as well as with medications.

Promises, Promises

My first weapon in the battle against despondency remains the promises in God’s Word. I’ve discovered that memorizing selected verses keeps me from giving up and yielding to the despair. God’s promises fuel the faith that’s needed to counter my hopelessness.

In Future Grace, John Piper emphasizes,

Wherever despondency comes from, Satan paints it with a lie. The lie says, “You will never be happy again. You will never be strong again. You will never have vigor and determination again. Your life will never again be purposeful. There is no morning after this night. No joy after weeping. All is gathering gloom, darker and darker.”

When I’m bombarded with similar messages, I buttress my faith with verses such as Ps. 30:5, that combat Satan’s lies: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Another buoyant promise that keeps me from drowning in discouragement is Nah. 1:7:

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.

No matter how I’m feeling, I strive to cling to a right view of God as depicted in Is. 30:18: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” I cannot prevent most attacks of despondency by memorizing Scripture, but I can shorten their stay and minimize their effects by focusing on God: who He is, what He has done for me, and what He has pledged Himself to do.

The author of Psalm 73 also fought despair by riveting his attention on truth about God. He acknowledged weakness and despondency with these words: “My flesh and my heart may fail.” Yet he refused to yield to discouragement. He battled back by telling himself, “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (v. 26).

One effect of depression on my work is my inability to sense God’s presence as I prepare for and teach classes. That’s when I choose to lock my mental lens on Is. 41:10:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I “preach to myself.” I remind myself that God is with me whether or not I feel His presence. I tell myself that God’s Word, which promises His presence, is far more reliable than my fickle feelings. The outcome is that I work with renewed confidence and vigor.

Gather Round

In addition to clinging to God’s promises, I desperately need the love and support of my friends and family. During one particularly rough week, my wife and closest friends thought I might be suicidal. A friend took me to breakfast and assured me of his love. Another showed up at my house the same day. “I’m sitting by your side for the next couple of hours,” he announced. “I didn’t come with advice, but I’m here in case you want to talk or pray. Even if you just read the paper or watch TV, I’m not leaving your side.”

Their actions affirmed and encouraged me. I was on the receiving end of two of the Apostle Paul’s relational commands to believers:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

—Gal. 6:2

Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

—1 Thess. 5:11

The Greek verb translated “encourage” literally means “to come alongside.” Remember the last time your car had a dead battery? You asked someone to pull his car alongside yours. You used jumper cables to connect the good battery and the depleted one. The energy flowed into the weaker battery until it could function on its own. What a picture of the ministry of encouragement! It occurs when sensitive people pull alongside someone whose battery is low, who needs an infusion of strength, who can’t function without assistance. I thank God for the two friends who pulled alongside me that day and gave me a jump-start.

No one can help me bear the burden of depression, however, unless I’m willing to be transparent and admit my need. I have to swallow my pride and risk appearing less than victorious before I can receive strength from other believers. On my most downhearted days, I call close friends and ask them to pray with me over the phone. Once I drove to a friend’s house and knocked on the door. When his wife answered, I pleaded through tears, “Can I borrow David for a while?”

Anyone who is depressed needs the safe harbor of a friend or a small group where he can drop anchor and receive emotional support. In some cases, the help of a Christian counselor may also be needed.

With the support of Scripture and of those around me, I am better able to recognize and experience the spiritual benefits of my despondency.

A Softened Heart

Though emotional pain is not the direct result of sin on my part, depression pays dividends in my war against sin. It softens my heart and makes me open to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. When I’m victimized by a flagging spirit, I’m in a more dependent state. I pray more—if only for relief. And when I’m in the presence of God more often, the Holy Spirit takes advantage of my brokenness to beam a light on areas of impurity. He can expose sin more readily because there’s less pride hindering the process.

For several weeks, I supplemented my prayers with meditation on Ps. 139:23–24. Along with pleas for help with melancholy, I started asking the Lord to search my heart.

 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Subtly, the focus of my prayers began to change. Before long, the tears I shed were a result of conviction, spawned by sensitivity to sin instead of by depression. I became increasingly conscious of a tendency to stretch the truth, of lustful thoughts that I’d rationalized as being inevitable for men, and of attitudes that kept me from greater intimacy with people close to me. Repentance wouldn’t have occurred if my heart had not first been crushed by depression.

I don’t know if God permits my despondency for the purpose of purifying me, but His cleansing work has been an outcome of it. A key factor has been persisting in prayer regardless of how I feel. Keeping the line of communication open with God prevents my heart from going cold and hard.

Pointing to God

Depression not only softens my heart, but I’ve discovered that it provides an opportunity for God to receive more glory through my life and ministry. We may think a person best glorifies God through devoted service or a demonstration of uncompromising character. No doubt we honor Him in those ways. But I’m convinced that God gets more glory when we’re needy, when we’re in a situation requiring His intervention.

The idea that God gets more glory through our weakness than through our strength is couched in Ps. 50:15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” When we’re compelled to pray due to the limits of our own resourcefulness, God answers our plea or displays His power in some manner. The consequence is that we praise Him and testify before others of His faithfulness. Or others who see our perseverance and the fruit of our ministry salute Him, rather than us, since they’re aware of our shortcomings. Second Corinthians 12:9 reinforces this. Referring to the limitation imposed by Paul’s thorn in the flesh, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Realizing that my need provides an opportunity for God to be magnified motivates me to pray when I’m depressed. I believe He will hear my plea because my situation offers an occasion for Him to act. It’s the Giver, not the recipient, who gets the glory. I feel confident that God will use me in ministry despite my despondency, since it gives Him a chance to do what only He can do.

Charles Spurgeon is a prime example of a person who honored God despite debilitating weakness. His first bout with depression occurred when he was 24. “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep like a child, yet I knew not what I wept for,” reported the eloquent British preacher. The melancholy returned repeatedly throughout his life, leading him to admit, “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with; . . . as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, indefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.” Despite bouts with despondency, Spurgeon made a huge impact on his generation as a preacher and an author. He understood that human need magnifies the sufficiency of God. Spurgeon wrote, “We shall bring our Lord most glory if we get from Him much grace.”

Spurgeon’s remark resonates with me, because I’m a man who is receiving much grace from God. If my life glorifies Him as a result, then even my depression serves a redemptive purpose.

Though bouts of depression persist, a ray of light often penetrates the darkness. I see the light in the promises of Scripture, in the faces of supportive friends, in the purifying work of God’s Spirit, and in the realization that my plight provides a prime opportunity for God to receive glory. Thanks to these means of sustenance and perspective, Mic. 7:8 rings true in my life: “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

Jesus Set Boundaries

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Bill Gaultiere

Many Christians feel guilty setting boundaries. In the early years of my ministry I had this problem. It seems selfish or not nice to say no to people with hurts and needs. The best response I have for this – and any problem for that matter! – is to look at Jesus.

If Jesus accepted his personal limitations and set boundaries in his helping then surely it’s good for you and I to learn to do the same! Jesus shows us that indeed there are two words for love: “yes” and “no.” With practice and coaching and prayer you too can learn to set holy and healthy boundaries.

Jesus, in his Incarnation, had Limits that he Accepted

  • Basic Needs. He ate healthy foods, got the sleep he needed and even took naps, took time to relax, and did a lot of walking (Matt 4:6-7; 26:18, 20; John 12:2)
  • Support from Friends. He sought the company of friends (Matt 26:36-38)
  • Solitude. He withdrew from the crowds to go away on retreat, alone or with friends
  • Singular Focus (This people, this place, this time). He left one city to go to another because he couldn’t be in two places at the same time (Mark 1:38)
  • Pace of Life. He was never in a hurry, except to go to Jerusalem and embrace his cross (John 11:6; Mark 10:32)

Jesus Said No to Inappropriate Behavior

  • Demands. He withdrew from the crowds who wanted him, for 1:1 time with the Father (Luke 5:15-16)
  • Abuse. He fought his way through the crowd that was trying to throw him off a cliff for claiming to be the Messiah  (Luke 4:28-30)
  • Entitlement. He didn’t give in to his mother and brothers who tried to use their relationship with him to pull him away from the crowd he was ministering to (Matthew 12:46-50)
  • Baiting Questions. When the religious leaders asked him baiting questions to make him look foolish he answered with incisive questions of his own (Matthew 21:23-27, 22:15-22)
  • Cynicism. He said no to Herod’s mocking demand of “Show us a sign that you are the Son of God.” (Luke 23:8-9)
  • Manipulation. He said no to Peter and the disciples who had an inappropriate agenda for Jesus to a political king or military warrior rather than a sacrificial lamb. (Matthew 16:23)
  • Pride. He didn’t heal those who were too proud to trust Him (Matthew 13:58).

Jesus Spoke the Truth in Love to those Stuck or Wrong

  • Exploitation. He used a whip to clear out the temple of the vendors and money changers who were taking advantage of the poor and turning God’s house into a marketplace (Matthew 21:12-17, John 2:12-16)
  • Addiction. He told the Rich Young Ruler that he couldn’t help him until he gave away the money that was controlling him (Matthew 19:16-21).
  • Misguided. He rebuked the disciples who tried to keep the little children away from him and told them that they needed to emulate the children’s faith (Matthew 19:13-15).

Jesus Had Expectations for People in Need

  • What do you want? Two blind men called out to him for help from the Jericho road.  He asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  They needed to ask for what they needed and they needed to trust Him. (Matthew 20:29-34)
  • Do you want to get well? For 38 years the invalid at the Sheep gate pool hadn’t been able to get into the miracle waters.  He felt helpless and sorry for himself.  He expected someone to fix his problem.  Jesus challenged him, “Do you want to get well?… Get up!  Pick up your mat and walk.” It was up to him to be motivated and to take responsibility for himself.  (John 5:1-14)
  • Do you believe? A father sought deliverance for his son who was mute and had seizures and said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  Jesus put it back on the father, “`If you can’?  Everything is possible for him who believes.”  The father needed to believe that Jesus could cure his son. (Mark 9:17-27)

Jesus Offered Grace and Truth as Needed (John 8:1-11)

  • The humble and broken. To the woman caught in adultery he offered grace (“Neither do I condemn you.”) and truth (“Go and sin no more.”).
  • The proud and self-righteous. To the Pharisees who tried to condemn this woman and to trap Jesus he listened (grace) and then confronted their pride and scapegoating with the truth (“Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.”)

Jesus Taught Boundary Setting

  • Personal Prayer Time: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).
  • Be Honest: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
  • Set Priorities: “No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13).
  • Please God, Not People: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).
  • Obey God: “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  ’I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “’The first,’ they answered” (Matthew 21:28-31).

Repentance And Change Are Much Better Than Guilt

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

My views on guilt have evolved over the years. Like many people, I beat myself up and thought that guilt was the Christian thing to do. I figured guilt motivated me to do better so I heaped it on myself. My first and early realization was that I lived in false guilt or shame. It wasn’t just that I’d done something wrong, but I was wrong. So I worked on breaking free from false guilt.

But I still thought true guilt was useful because so many people don’t admit when they’re wrong. Then I started listening to my friend Dallas Willard, who made blanket statements such as, “Guilt never helps.” I was puzzled though because he wasn’t from my psychobabble generation; he was of that generation that seemed to love guilt. Why did he say that?

But over the years, I’ve seen how even true guilt doesn’t help me. It just makes me hopeless. Even worse, it fixes my eyes on me (what I’ve done wrong!) rather than on God and what God has done right. My view of guilt actually made my spirituality about me and my performance (and lack of it), not about God. So I became suspicious that Dallas might be on to something. I’ve experimented with dumping guilt and I’ve discovered some important things.

First, repentance is much better than guilt. Repentance isn’t feeling bad, bad, bad about sin. It’s metanoia, thinking about my thinking—examining how I think. It’s making changes in how I think, which then makes changes in how I act. A short cut version of this is that I began focusing much more on, “What is my next step?” instead of “Wow, my last step was really dumb!”

Next, I realized that we need better training in how to confess sin. Glossing over things doesn’t work; we’re as sick as our secrets. It’s healing to say to God exactly what I did and why I think I did it. Then we allow space to hear this truth of God: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.” We bask in this: Lord Jesus Christ, how merciful you are to me, a sinner! And, very importantly, we allow space for asking God about what our next step might be.

Lately, I’ve noticed something else. In general, the devotional masters and saints throughout the ages weren’t depressed by their sins. The closer they were to God, the more they felt their sin, but the more they focused on God’s greatness. They saw God as a Helper (Psalm 54:4) not as Condemner, picking out their sins. In monasteries, abbots didn’t allow monks to think obsessively about their sin. God’s purpose in revealing sins to us is to help us change, to give us power to change. God is like a craftsman, saying, “Here, let’s do this better.”

As a spiritual director, I have many conversations with people who are motivated by guilt. They are steeped in sadness and feel defeated. It destroys them and forces them to look at themselves and make their spirituality about their own (miserable) performance. I don’t think this is a work of God but a work of the enemy of our soul. This enemy paralyzes us with guilt; but the holy God of heaven invites us to repent, to change, to live in the deep gladness of being loved. This is the voice we listen to.

Be Lovingly/Honestly “Different” With Your Kids

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  Stepping Stones

Transformational Thought

Some mothers prepare their teenage daughters for premarital sexual activities by helping them with birth control plans. They may feel guilty asking their teenage daughters to abstain from sex outside of marriage, especially if they, as teenagers themselves, did not. Likewise, some fathers may allow their teenage sons to drink alcohol … after all, they did when they were teens … how can they say “no” now?
 
No matter what mistakes we may have made, that is history. If we have received Jesus’ forgiveness, the past is past. This is today … and God is calling us today to train our children in the way they should go. The way that is pleasing to Him.
 
But for your message to have real impact on them you need to do 3 things:
1.      Don’t just tell them the right decision to make, but live it, role model it.
2.      Understand the reasons that those behaviors aren’t good and explain them to your child. Your explanations need to go deeper than “the bible says so” or “because you’ll get in trouble”.
3.      Start equipping them with a concrete strategy so they can become better decision-makers. Teach them decision-making skills and the rewards and consequences they will experience physiologically (their brain chemistry), psychologically (their personality), and spiritually (their connection to and relationship with God). Knowing the benefits of doing the right thing will help motivate them to do the right thing.
 
Today, remember you don’t have to do it alone. Ask God for the courage, the strength, and the wisdom to train your children in the way they should go. Today, do some self-assessment and see how you disciple those God gave to you to mentor with decision-making skills.  
Prayer
Dear God, help me to guide and disciple my children so that they won’t make the same mistakes that I did. Help me to train them in the way they should go. Help me understand how You designed me and why I make the decisions I make. Help me learn how to make Godly decisions and teach these principles and motivations to my children. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One You sent to train me in the way I should go, Jesus Christ;  

The Truth
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6
 
The Lord your God will delight in you if you obey his voice and keep the commands and decrees written in this Book of Instruction, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand, and it is within your reach. Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Deuteronomy 30:10-11, 19-20

Designed by God

Source:  Living Free (12/2/06)

In the United States, an estimated six to eleven million people struggle with eating disorders. Distorted body image and denial of actual body size can trigger eating disordered behavior. Most people falling into the trap of eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia are preoccupied with food and with their body image.

People with this preoccupation usually let their body define who they are. They exaggerate the importance of slimness and are terrified of gaining weight. They are dissatisfied with their body to the point that their day-to-day state of well-being is affected.

Does this describe you or someone you love? I encourage you to ask God to help you see yourself through His eyes. He loves you unconditionally. He created you in His image. In fact, the Bible tells us that God formed our inmost being in our mother’s womb with His plan already in place for our lives. He made you special and unique, equipped with the gifts you need to accomplish His purpose for your journey.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27  (NIV)

When you look in the mirror, remember that you are viewing someone very special, designed by God. Your self-worth does not depend on how much you weigh or even on what you accomplish. You are special because God created you and because He loves you. I encourage you to open your heart up to His love today.

All Shapes and Sizes

People struggling with eating disorders become preoccupied with food and their body image. They become overly concerned about how others see and react to their body size. They tend to feel extremely guilty after eating and think a lot about dieting. Sometimes they even have fears about never being able to stop eating.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing this kind of fear and guilt, here are a few thoughts. Try to accept the fact that bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Remember that we can be our own worst critics and that others really find us attractive. Cut yourself some slack! Allow for normal variations in your weight and shape.

Let yourself enjoy the functions of your body parts, not just how they look. Be thankful that you can use your legs to walk and run, and your arms and hands to do thousands of wonderful things.

Be willing to recognize your strengths in terms of your appearance–the parts of your body that you like–and your personal qualities like caring, enthusiasm, and honesty.

God created you … He loves you … And that makes you very special indeed.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8  (NLT)

Choose Your Focus

People with eating disorders tend to get so preoccupied with their body image that they develop a distorted view of themselves. Their concerns about food, diet, body and weight can even begin to affect their relationships and their ability to function in day-to-day life.

If you are in this situation, I encourage you not to let your obsession with your body keep you from closeness with God and with others. Decide how you wish to spend your energy–pursuing the “perfect” image? … Or focusing on your spiritual growth and your personal and interpersonal needs.

Society changes its view of what is beautiful–styles come and go. But God’s view of beauty never changes. Identifying and challenging your negative thoughts and feelings about your body and keeping God’s view in mind are essential to accepting yourself and your body.

Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That’s the most sensible way to serve God. Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him. Romans 12:1-2 (CEV)

Always remember … your value as a person is not based on how you look or what you accomplish. Your value is based on the unchangeable fact that God loves you so much that He gave His son Jesus to die on the cross for you. Reach out to Him today. Receive His love and forgiveness. And thank Him for making you just the way you are.

Focus on the Internal, Not the External

People with eating disorders tend to become very self-focused and overly concerned with being acceptable to other people.

Acceptance of your body is a daily process of perspective. One day you may feel fat and unattractive, and the next day you may feel slim and pretty–even though your body has not essentially changed. Ask God to help you see your body from His perspective and to accept yourself as His special creation.

It is important to take your focus off your external body and begin to explore your internal self–emotionally, spiritually and as a growing human being. Remember that attractiveness comes from within. Feeling positive about yourself will affect how others view you.

Spend time reading the Bible. Ask God to help you begin to comprehend just how much He loves you and how special you are to Him. Remember that He knew you even when your body was being formed within your mother’s womb. He has a special plan for your life and it is a good plan. Thank Him for loving you. Thank Him for making you just the way you are. And open your heart to his unconditional love.

You are the one who put me together inside my mother’s body, and I praise you because of the wonderful way you created me. Everything you do is marvelous! Of this I have no doubt. Psalm 139:13-14  (CEV)

Seeing Through God’s Eyes

Preoccupation with our body image is counter to God’s will for our lives. If you find yourself in this struggle, I urge you to ask God for help. Ask Him to help you see yourself as He does–as His treasure. His precious child. He loves you unconditionally. He love you so much that He gave His Son Jesus to provide a way for you to be forgiven and live with Him in heaven forever.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.  So you must honor God with your body.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20

God loves you just the way you are. No matter what you have or haven’t done, no matter how you look. He wants you to know how special you are to Him. He has a good plan for your life.

Take time right now to talk to Him. Tell Him how you feel. Ask Him to help you. Accept His forgiveness for all past sin and commit to follow Him, to do things His way. He won’t turn you away. Actually, He’s waiting for you with open arms.

Your problems probably won’t instantly disappear. But Jesus will be holding your hand and guiding you to health and healing, to right choices, and to becoming all He has designed you to be.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.  Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God!  Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!  Proverbs 3:5-8  (MSG)

Help for the Suicidal

By David Powlison, CCEF Faculty
Are you having suicidal thoughts and feelings? Perhaps you are convinced that life is not worth living. You feel like your world is collapsing in on you. Your life seems hopeless – like a black hole with all love, hope, and joy sucked out. If you are contemplating suicide, you have already done a lot of thinking about your life. But have you thought about how God views your life?

Your Life Matters to God

Right now you are living in a world of despair. You can’t see any solution to your problems. You’re not looking forward to anything. The future seems empty. But God’s perspective on your life is very different. Your life is precious to him. He knows everything about you – even how many hairs are on your head (Matthew 10:30). Your life is so significant to him that he forbids you to take it. God says that all murder is wrong, and that includes the self-murder of suicide (Exodus 20:13).

Bring Your Hopelessness to God

God is not surprised or put off by your hopeless feelings. He wants you to bring your despair to him, and cry for help right now, in the middle of your darkness and pain. Throughout history God’s children have cried to him and he has helped them. Listen to the voice of David who cried out his despair to God thousands of years ago: “In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me” (Psalm 86:7).

Today is your day of trouble. Tell God all your sorrows, all your troubles, and all the reasons suicide is on your mind. Do you feel, like David, that you are in the “depths of the grave”? Ask God to hear your prayer and listen to your cry for mercy (v.6). On this day the living God promises to listen to you and help you.

Your Reasons for Despair; God’s Voice of Hope

Why are you feeling hopeless? Are you struggling with physical suffering? A broken relationship? Shame and guilt from mistakes and failures? An unrealized dream? What problem do you believe suicide will solve?

Your suicidal feelings and actions don’t come out of the blue. They have reasons you can discover and understand. Your particular reasons will show you how you’re experiencing, interpreting, and reacting to your world. When you discover your reasons, you will also be describing what is most important to you. The loss or pain that makes you feel like your life is not worth living points to the thing that you believe would make your life worth living.

We will look at four kinds of reasons for hopelessness. As you read, look for the specific reasons you are feeling hopeless. And then listen to what God says to you about your particular troubles that brings hope.

Unrelenting Suffering

Your hopelessness might stem from overwhelming suffering. The death of someone close to you, your own chronic pain and illness, postpartum depression, a broken relationship, poverty, racial prejudice, etc. are all situations that can fill you with despair. If this is why you feel hopeless, read through Psalm 31. This psalm, written by David, vividly captures the feeling of wasting away with grief.

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing” (Psalm 31:9-10)

Is this what your life is like?

But this psalm is also filled with hope. David remembers that God sees him in his affliction and knows all about his troubles. He remembers that in God’s presence he is safe.

“Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 31:19, 20)

David’s life, like yours, was full of troubles and discouragement, yet because God was with him, he has hope. He says, “But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help” (Psalm 31:22). And he ends with this call, “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). David is able to endure with courage because God is with him.

God is calling you to persevere in your suffering, but not by simply gritting your teeth. Persevering through suffering is only possible when you put your hope in the living God. He promises to come near to you, to be present with you, and to let you experience his goodness right in the middle of your pain and difficulty

Personal Failure

Your suicidal thoughts and feelings might be related to your mistakes and failures. Is your hopelessness an attempt to atone for your sins, to punish yourself, to avoid feelings of shame? Perhaps you are so full of guilt and shame that you don’t want to be around people or even continue to live. Can you find hope when you’ve blown it so badly that you think you will never be able to hold your head up again?

The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is full of real people who made serious missteps-just like you. David wrote Psalm 32 after he committed adultery, the woman became pregnant, and to cover things up he arranged to have the women’s husband murdered. You can read the whole story in 2 Samuel 11 – 12.

In Psalm 32 he vividly describes his experience of despair. Perhaps you are also feeling like this:

“…my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3, 4)

David’s experience of guilt and failure comes partly from God and partly from his own conscience. But why is this psalm full of joy instead of shame? Because of what God has done for him in the middle of his nightmare of guilt. His joy comes from God’s forgiveness of him and from God’s promise to guide him (Psalm 31:1, 2, 8).

Here’s someone, like you, who is living with terrible personal failure. But instead of meditating on his failures and turning his sins and mistakes over and over in his mind, he chooses to remember who God is. He knows the God who forgives. He trusts the God who promises to keep his eyes on him, who will personally instruct, lead, and counsel. So he ends like this, “steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord,” and adds a call to joy, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:10, 11).

What an amazing turnaround! Someone who knows his sinfulness, but also knows God’s mercy, can be called righteous by the grace and mercy of God. You, too, can experience what David experienced. But to do so, you must seek this Lord. David described how he felt after his sin was exposed, but he hadn’t confessed his sins to God. His vitality drained away, he felt hopeless and lifeless. If that is how you feel, then do what David did: go to God with your sins and failures.

Here is a wonderful description of seeking God in the middle of your failure and guilt. David says, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). Notice that David is turning to God with his failures, not to those around him. He doesn’t live in shame anymore because he is forgiven. He can hold up his head, even though everyone knows about his failures, because God is with him.

And then David gives the key to having God with him. “Therefore, let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you.” He knows that prayer brings him into God’s presence where he is safe from trouble, even the trouble he brought upon himself.

Failed Dreams

You can also struggle with hopelessness when the thing that has given your life meaning is taken from you. Perhaps it’s a job you didn’t get, an unrealized life goal, or your children turning out a certain way, but whatever you have organized your life around, its absence can leave you feeling empty and despairing

Perhaps you didn’t know how important your dream was to you until it didn’t happen. Now you are experiencing the hopelessness of a failed dream. But what does your failed dream reveal about where you find meaning? When what you have lived for is taken from you, it can feel like you are dying. You are in so much pain that suicide seems like your only alternative. But God has a better way. He will give you true, lasting hope that can never be taken away from you.

God says, in Psalm 33, that it is he who “frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). Later in the psalm he says why-because all those hopes are futile. “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue” (Psalm 33:16, 17). These are things that people trusted in thousands of years ago. What you trust in – those things on which you built your life, your identity, your success – are different, but the result is the same. Anything you trust in besides God’s steadfast love for you is futile. When you put your hope in God’s love, he will deliver your soul from death (Psalm 33:18, 19).

Let the death of your dreams be the door into putting your trust in God’s love for you. He will be your help and shield. As you “trust in his holy name,” he will deliver your soul from death, from thoughts of death, and from trying to take your own life.

False Hopes

Perhaps your suicidal thinking is not from hopelessness, but from false hopes. Dreaming about and planning your suicide is what brings you hope. You believe that killing yourself will bring about some wonderful answer or solution to your problems. If you have been deeply hurt by someone, you might see suicide as a way to make others suffer. You might hope that suicide will bring an end to your suffering and those you love will be better off without you. Or you might hope that your suicidal gesture will get you what you want: attention, love, or even a break from the pressures of life. But whatever your hopes are – “I’ll be in a place of peace,” or “Then everyone will know how much they made me suffer” – if they include suicide as a solution they are a false hope

Suicide is never an answer. Two wrongs never make a right – don’t forget that suicide is a great wrong. If you have been wronged, please don’t think that suicide is the way to make that wrong better. God offers you true, living hope, not a false hope based on your death. Hope from God comes in the midst of evil and trouble and it is a hope that will never end.

Paul talks about true and living hope in the second half of Romans 8. True hope comes from knowing God as your Father and receiving his Spirit as a gift. Living as a child of God means that instead of responding to trouble by hurting yourself, you go to your heavenly Father for help. He gives you his Spirit to help you in your weakness and even teach you how and what to ask for (Romans 8:15, 16). It’s the Spirit of God that will teach you that your present sufferings “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” in you (Romans 8:18).

We live in a world where bad things happen. But you have received the best gift of all: the Spirit of life, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. You have been given the gift of a relationship with God now that will lead to an indestructible life forever. There is nothing in this world that can separate you from God’s love-not trouble, distress, hardship, or anything in all creation (Romans 8:35). God’s love will keep you safe, and it’s yours for the asking.

It’s easy to see the risk factors for suicide – depression, suffering, disillusioning experiences, failure – but there are also ways to get your life back on track by building protective factors into your life.

Ask for Help

How do you get the living hope that God offers you in Jesus? By asking. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

Suicide operates in a world of death, despair, and aloneness. Jesus Christ creates a world of life, hope, and community. Ask God for help, and keep on asking. Don’t stop asking. You need him to fill you every day with the hope of the resurrection

At the same time you are asking God for help, tell other people about your struggle with hopelessness. God uses his people to bring life, light, and hope. Suicide, by definition, happens when someone is all alone. Getting in relationship with wise, caring people will protect you from despair and acting out of despair.

But what if you are bereaved and alone? If you know Jesus, you still have a family: his family is your family. Become part of a community of other Christians. Look for a church where Jesus is at the center of teaching and worship. Get in relationship with people who can help you, but don’t stop with getting help. Find people to love, serve, and give to. Even if your life has been stripped barren by lost relationships, God can and will fill your life with helpful and healing relationships

Grow in Godly Life Skills

Another protective factor is to grow in godly living. Many of the reasons for despair come from not living a godly, fruitful life. You need to learn the skills that make godly living possible. What are some of those skills?

” Conflict resolution. Learn to problem-solve by entering into human difficulties and growing through them.

” Seek and grant forgiveness. Hopeless thinking is often the result of guilt and bitterness.
” Learn to give to others.
Suicide is a selfish act. It’s a lie that others will be better off without you. Work to replace your faulty thinking with reaching out to others who are also struggling. Take what you have learned in this article and pass it on to at least one other person. Whatever hope God gives you, give to someone who is struggling with despair.

Live for God

When you live for God, you have genuine meaning in your life. This purpose is far bigger than your suffering, your failures, the death of your dreams, and the disillusionment of your hopes. Living by faith in God for his purposes will protect you from suicidal and despairing thoughts. God wants to use your personality, your skills, your life situation, and even your struggle with despair to bring hope to others.

He has already prepared good works for you to do. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). As you step into the good works God has prepared for you – you will find that meaning, purpose, and joy.

Gutsy Guilt

(Adapted from Christianity Today online 10/19/07 – John Piper )

False Hopelessness

Being armed with biblical knowledge of God, Christ, the Cross, and salvation can give such ballast to the boat of your life that the wind of temptation will not be able to tip it over easily. The reason this is not a popular remedy for temptation today is because it is not a quick fix. It’s the work of a lifetime. You have a tremendous weapon against the Devil when you know your punishment for sin has already been paid in Christ and your righteousness before God has already been achieved in Christ, and you hold fast to these truths with heartfelt passion.

With this passionately embraced theology-the magnificent doctrines of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith (even if you don’t remember the names)-you can conquer the Devil tomorrow morning when he lies to you about your hopelessness.

I Will Rise

What will you say to him? Micah 7:8-9 is a picture of what you say to your enemy when he scoffs at your defeat. I call this practice “gutsy guilt.” The believer admits that he has done wrong and that God is dealing roughly with him. But even in a condition of darkness and discipline, he will not surrender his hold on the truth that God is on his side. Pay close attention to these amazing words. Use them whenever Satan tempts you to throw away your life on trifles because that’s all you’re good for.

Micah 7:8-9 is what victory looks like the morning after failure. Learn to take your theology and speak like this to the Devil or anyone else who tells you that Christ is not capable of using you mightily for his global cause. Here is what you say.

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy.” You make merry over my failure? You think you will draw me into your deception? Think again.

When I fall, I shall rise. Yes, I have fallen. I hate what I have done. I grieve at the dishonor I have brought on my King. But hear this, O my enemy, I will rise. I will rise.

When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. Yes, I am sitting in darkness. I feel miserable. I feel guilty. I am guilty. But that is not all that is true about me and my God. The same God who makes my darkness is a sustaining light to me in this very darkness. He will not forsake me.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. Oh yes, my enemy, this much truth you say: I have sinned. I am bearing the indignation of the Lord. But that is where your truth stops and my theology begins. He-the very one who is indignant with me-will plead my cause. You say he is against me and that I have no future with him because of my failure. That’s what Job’s friends said. That is a lie. And you are a liar. My God, whose Son’s life is my righteousness and whose Son’s death is my punishment, will execute judgment for me. For me! And not against me.

He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. This misery that I now feel because of my failure, I will bear as long as my dear God ordains. And this I know for sure-as sure as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my punishment and my righteousness-God will bring me out to the light, and I will look upon his righteousness, my Lord and my God.

Whatever Happened to Sin?

(Adapted from Healing Care, Healing Prayer by Terry Wardle)

Dysfunctional behaviors are largely rooted in deep pain and unaddressed needs. We must also accept that much of our unhealthy behavior is at some level symptomatic of horrible wounding and loss, suffered at the hands of others &/or tied to harsh life events.

But, it is also important for us to consider that our dysfunctional behaviors must be identified for what they are: sinful responses to pain and unmet needs in our lives. Whenever we kill pain and try to meet needs in unhealthy ways, we are falling short of God’s desire for us. And the simple definition of that set of choices is sin. Failure to identify this truth takes away the personal responsibility for our actions that we must accept. Even when we are in pain or facing a genuine need, choosing to address it in a way that is hurtful to ourselves or to others is a sinful response. The presence of underlying wounds does not absolve us from responsibility for the unhealthy choices we make. Having been wounded by others does not give us the right to react in a way that wounds anyone else, even ourselves. Sin must be recognized and dealt with before the Lord as an integral part of the inner healing process.

We need to be overwhelmed by God’s good grace and experience His unbelievable acceptance, forgiveness, and hope in the midst of our own problems. However, the starting place for experiencing His matchless grace is recognizing why we need His mercy in the first place. We are like straying sheep, wandering away from God’s best, feeding in places that ultimately lead to our own destruction. Many times this happens because we do not know better. At other times we make bad choices consciously, either unconcerned or unconvinced that the consequences are really that serious or sinful. But they are, and there is no responsible way to detour around that reality on the path to inner healing.

What precisely is sin? It is a transgression of the law of God: disobedience of the divine will; moral failure. Sin is failure to realize in conduct and character the moral ideal, at least as fully as possible under existing circumstances. In other words, sin is the failure to live according to what God expects. This involves not doing what God has told us to do, and/or doing what He has expressly forbidden. God has set before us a standard of character and behavior and to fall short of that is to miss God’s mark. And to miss the mark is to sin. Dysfunctional behaviors aimed at killing pain or meeting needs in unhealthy ways do in fact miss the mark.

The Words of Jesus are most helpful and pastoral on this topic. He defined the purpose of life as “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39). He said that all of the rules and laws contained in the Bible hang on these two commandments (Matt. 22:40). Expanding on an Old Testament text, Jesus was telling all His followers that they are to live according to the rule of love. How does one know what is right and wrong? According to Jesus that is really quite simple. Do what is loving to God, loving to other people and loving toward oneself. Every action that is rooted in the law of love hits the mark of God’s expectation, dead center. Conversely, if any thought or action is not loving toward God, another person, or oneself, it is sinful. Therefore, painkilling and meeting needs in any way that is unloving toward God, hurts another person, or which at any level compromises the well-being of an individual – even ourselves – is sin. For example, let’s look at one’s need to obtain acceptance and worth through performance in light of Jesus’ teaching regarding the law of love. First, by turning to performance in order to gain a sense of worth, I am in fact creating an idol. God has made provision for that need through the work of Christ. To seek worth apart from Him is unloving toward God and clearly misses the mark He set before me. As for others, it is very easy to subconsciously use people to meet my own deep needs. They become an unhealthy means to an end, which devalues and invalidates. That is not loving either. An as for myself, continuing to rely on this behavior is both damaging and depressing.

I believe it helpful to be reminded yet again about the seriousness of sin, as described by Paul. In Romans 6:19-23, Paul writes:

I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness, leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap from the things that you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wage of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Consider what Paul is saying about sin in this text. First, he repeatedly used the term slavery with reference to sinful actions. Paul was well aware of the practice of slavery and knew its terrible cost. Slaves had no freedom to go where they wanted to go, do what they wanted to do, or become what they wanted to be. They were in bondage, forced to live according to another person’s demands and desires. They were often mistreated, dehumanized and devalued. They had become the property of another, enslaved to spend their lives serving people who had little care or concern for them as human beings.

Sin leads to slavery. When hurting, we have a pain and need deep within that becomes too much to bear alone. Misguided, the thought can come to us to try some way to alleviate the ache inside our souls. Whether out of ignorance or rebellion, we stumble upon a short-term solution to our problem. Initially it is a conscious act that we initiate and control in order to feel better. But over time, the action turns into a habit, less conscious, more impulse driven. Slowly the habit sets deep talons into the flesh of our wounded soul and we become enslaved to a behavior that begins to rip and tear at our life on every level. The behavior has turned into the beast, and we become a slave to sin’s dark design. This slavery is a constant result of sinful choices, and we need to call it the ugly taskmaster that it is.

Paul also challenges us to consider the results of the sins for which we are now ashamed (Rom. 6:21). As broken men and women, we often wear shame like a dead skin that should have been shed long before. It is ugly, heavy and carries with it the most horrible feelings of self-contempt.

Shame has been defined as:  A soul-deep sense that there is something uniquely wrong with me that is not wrong with you or anyone else in the world. Because I am not perfect and problem free, I feel hopelessly, disgustingly different and worth less than other people. I view myself as, literally, worthless. It isn’t that I make a mistake when I make a mistake; I am a mistake when I make a mistake.

This definition cuts to the core of shame’s dark nature. Inevitably, we who are caught in sin wrestle with its suffocating presence. Often that battle occurs in silent hiding because we don’t want others to see what we live with day in and day out. While sinful choices seem at first to offer some relief to deep need, in the end they bring a covering of shame that only heightens an already difficult inner battle.

Paul does not end there, but speaks to a third consequence of sin: death. He says quite clearly that the ultimate and most devastating consequence of missing God’s mark is destruction. Paraphrasing his words, “death is the final payoff of sin” (Rom. 6:23). Enslavement to dysfunctional behaviors has the potential to emotionally, mentally, relationally, spiritually, and at times, physically kill. Though we may think such choices are harmless, long-term bondage rips and tears at us until we begin to die deep within our souls. It is often a slow demise, as dark forces, bit by bit, steal the life that God intended for us.

Given this reality of sin and its deep and devastating consequences in our lives, there is good news that has come to us through Jesus Christ. God the Father’s unconditional gift of love, Jesus Christ, has provided a way for us to be free from sin and its devastating consequences. Through the Cross, each of us has the opportunity to experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Sinful choices need no longer plague us with slavery, shame, and death. Jesus gave His Life so that all who believe can be saved. And that salvation definitely includes the element of healing, reconnecting lost people with God, and empowering them to move forward in spite of the past, present, or future in the Power of the Spirit.

The Apostle Paul has clearly revealed all that is possible for us in our brokenness because of the Work of Jesus on Calvary. In Colossians he wrote:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15)

To call this good news is an understatement. As Christians, we have been forgiven all our sins. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law and paid for sin at the cross. Through His shed blood, Jesus has disarmed all the dark forces aligned against us, giving us authority by His powerful Name to defeat our evil foe. Because of this, we are now alive with Jesus, held securely in His eternal embrace.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul assures believers that they receive every blessing they need through Christ, and that even as they struggle, Jesus has made a way for them to be holy and blameless in God’s sight (Eph. 1:3, 4). He assures us that, as Christians, through Christ we are sons and daughters of God, recipients of great gifts, redeemed by His blood, and heirs to glorious riches of God’s grace (Eph. 1:5-8). And let there be no question about the grace-based faith that Paul declares. All of this comes, not because someone has worked hard or lived right, but as gifts, freely given to all who believe in the wonderful work that Jesus did on the Cross. They are not, according to Paul, given stingily, but instead lavished upon those whom God calls into His eternal family (Eph. 1:8).

Sometimes we come fearing the Lord’s rejection and punishment for what we have been doing. Granted, we must know that our choices are sinful and ultimately destructive. But we must also remember God’s steadfast love and acceptance in spite of our actions. He has no punishment left for us, having poured it out upon Jesus who died on our behalf. No behaviors could qualify us for God’s love, and none can cause Him to stop loving His own. He looks toward our brokenness with Divine compassion and understanding. While He in no way minimizes sin, God offers us the power to be set free and thoroughly forgiven. He longs to love and touch His sinful, wounded children.

We need to hear that nothing can separate us from His love, and that even on our worst day, He is thoroughly crazy about us. God rejoices as we turn home. He meets us long before we expect Him to be there. He welcomes us with great joy and provides the healing we need. As he calls us to set aside our painkillers and dysfunctional behaviors, He opens the way for us to have our deepest needs met in Him. And where pain continues to be present, He comes to strengthen and equip us to move forward in the Power of His enabling grace. So, while on the one hand, we need to see the seriousness of sinful choices, on the other, we need to see the matchless love of the God who desires to free us from all that is dark and evil.

In a practical way, how do we seriously deal with both known, unresolved, and unknown sin?

1) First, I need to meet God in prayer and ask Him to define obvious, known areas where there are sinful responses to pain and unmet needs in my life. I need to be open and honest before the Lord, allowing the Holy Spirit to show me where I have gone astray. I need to see my life from His point of view. Prayer-time like this may take place over days, weeks, and even months.

2) Next, I must spend time in prayer to seek the Lord regarding unresolved past sin. As a believer, it is a fact that all my past sin has been forgiven by Christ. But, even though I may have moved away from certain sinful behaviors, I may have done so without ever dealing with them before the Lord. Not only is that a matter of confession, but also an issue of closing the door completely on what has happened.

3) Finally, I must pray about unknown sin. I must seek the Lord and be open to the Spirit’s work of convincing, convicting, and revealing what I am not aware of.

As the Lord begins to reveal, define, and remind me of thoughts and behaviors He wants me to bring to Him, I can follow the following steps:

*Recognize. I acknowledge and admit that specific choices and actions that the Holy Spirit has identified are sinful. I declare to the Lord the destructive results and all that these actions have cost, and I admit that these short-term solutions bring long-lasting devastation to my life. I lay before the Lord all the ugliness that I feel, have done, have failed to do, whatever.

*Repent. I choose to tell God that I want to turn away from these sins and turn toward Him for help and healing. I invite Him to do whatever He must do in my life to break me free of what enslaves me. I tell Him that I can ask Him to this because I believe He will only do what is Good, Loving, Just, Wise, and Best regardless how I feel about it.

*Renounce. Sinful choices open the door for the oppressive and harassing work of the evil one. I tell the Lord that I choose to renounce any involvement the evil one may have in my problems, and that I desire to bring myself and my problems entirely under the Lordship of Christ. I ask the Lord to demolish any strongholds to which I have, in any way, given myself over to resulting in slavery and bondage. I further state that I desire only to be enslaved to Jesus Christ.

*Receive. I allow myself to freely (and even audibly) accept the forgiveness and cleansing that is mine in Jesus Christ. I ask the Lord to give me the emotions He wants me to accurately experience that represent the cleansing He has released within me.

*Realign. I seek the Lord’s help to have the desire and ability to make specific changes in my lifestyle related to the sin I am confessing. Also, I ask the Lord to empower me to look to Him as the Strength of my life and the true Source of all that I need.

*Rejoice. I ask the Lord to enable me to praise Him. I seek to have His ability to wait on His timing to bring solutions to my problems in the way He knows is best. I also ask for the supernatural ability to continue to trust in Him and praise Him no matter how differently He answers my prayers, or even if He should not answer them at all. As bad as I want answers to my problems, I ask for His help to be able to love Him, trust Him, and praise Him even more than I want answers to any of my requests.

Tag Cloud