Monday, November 30, 2015

I'm Sorry, You Can't Change Him

So many Christian women come to biblical counselors to learn how to change a husband who is difficult, harsh, and unloving. The wife is crying out for love and affection in her marriage and her husband is not interested in providing it.

The last thing she wants to hear is, I'm sorry, you can't change him.


It is really hard to look the sorrowful wife in the eye and confirm what she's suspected all along. She can do everything right, she can be obedient, godly, sexy, submissive; really, be a great wife and mother and he will still be who he is. This is deeply discouraging for a woman to hear. His heart change does not depend on her behavior. He will only change as the Spirit of God moves in his heart; as he is convicted by the word of God as to how he is to live and then responds. 

What I have observed about women in such marriages is her heart is also in danger. A natural (but sinful) response to such hurt and sorrow is anger and bitterness. Even if she doesn't recognize it as such, it is often present and is evidenced in her words, demeanor, and actions around her husband. She sees everything in the marriage as being to his advantage because the Bible commands her to respect him, submit to him, and obey his wishes. This includes give him sex when he wants it. When she has contemptible feelings toward him she wants to do none of these things. 

Sometimes such a woman comes for counseling looking for permission to leave her husband. She is angry because she wants to escape the marriage and it is common that she has already been told by her pastor or other church authority that she has no biblical grounds for divorce. She feels trapped. She comes to view her marriage as something to bear instead of as a one flesh relationship. A woman in such a marriage often says she has no positive feelings for her husband anymore. She views the rest of her life as misery to be endured because she does not love him. Her life becomes performance out of obligation, and she dreads it. The more she focuses on her circumstances and the negative feelings she has, the more anxious and unhappy she becomes.

Because few pastors are trained to do any effective counseling (biblical or otherwise), they refer such couples to a marriage therapist who will use unbiblical methods with the couple. Since it is common for such counsel to be focused on feelings and his needs/her needs and not on the heart issues or the necessity to change for the glory of God, little change takes place. The other thing we hear in our office is wives are blamed for the actions of the husband. One woman reported her pastor saying to her, “Surely you must have done something for him to turn away from you.” When this kind of “help” is given it is common for one or both marital partners to become increasingly frustrated and hopeless. It is at this point the marriage breaks up and very often one or both people leave the church. They believe the church failed them, and Jesus or His Word was not sufficient to address their problems.

I believe it is extremely important for the church to be involved in reconciling these relationships, either directly by providing biblical counseling or by referring to a biblical counselor who has experience in these issues. The church must teach, and train the couple in righteousness, and they must be correcting and rebuking them for their individual sin. A wise, godly man should be actively confronting the husband for his unbiblical actions in the marriage if he is willfully withholding himself from his wife. A wise, godly older woman should be addressing the sinful responses of the wife as well (Titus 2). In the best case scenario, this will be taking place in tandem with weekly biblical counseling. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Difficult Holidays

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and while it is going to be a day of celebration and family fun for many of you, for others it will be a day of sorrow and loneliness. It is the first of several difficult holidays to come, and you dread it. 

Holidays can be very hard when there are broken relationships among family members. Whether it is spouses battling with each other or children estranged from their parents, what would otherwise be a day of food and festivities will be full of heartache and sorrow. 

There are no easy answers here. I have no magic wand to wave and I cannot give you anything that will make your loved ones kinder, and more cooperative. What I can offer you today is the knowledge that God understands your sorrow. The Bible teaches us that God is familiar with such distresses for He has experienced the sorrow of rebellious children (us), and broken relationships (with His people) since Genesis 3. He longs for His children to come to Him in obedience and surrender, to love Him and want to be in His presence. Jesus gives us this example regarding Israel: 

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." Luke 19:41 (ESV) 

Many a mom has felt this way about her wayward children. 

As you go through Thanksgiving Day, pray for those who are difficult or hard to love. Try not to get drawn into difficult conversations, or entertain topics you know will raise the ire of those in the room. Even if they mock or taunt you, pray for them as you go about your tasks. 

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:44 (ESV) 

Sometimes it seems as though our homes are war zones instead of the places of peace and tranquility we want them to be. Sitting around the living room with family members who are unbelievers can be very stressful. Remember that they don't share your belief system and won't be able to understand why you believe what you believe (1 Cor. 2:13-16). 

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (ESV) 

Love them, serve them, be kind to them. Do your best to be Jesus with skin on. They may be much more receptive to your demonstrations of love than your words. 

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:1:4 (ESV) 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 (ESV) 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Are You Fearful of God?

You don’t need me to tell you that at this point in history we have more reasons than ever before to be fearful, anxious and to worry. Our economy is faltering, every day there is a new story of terrorism, we live with threats, shootings, and natural disasters. 

Many of the Old Testament saints struggled with fear and worry. Great men like Moses (Ex. 3:11, Ex. 4:1, Ex. 4:10, 4:13), or King Saul (1 Samuel 15:21-22).

The first woman, Eve, struggled with the serpent in the OT narrative (Gen. 3) of being afraid she was going to miss something by not eating of that tree in the center of the garden. Let’s pick up her story today after her and Adam both partook of that fruit. In Gen. 3:8-10, we see Adam displaying a new kind of fear. 

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” Genesis 3:8-10

They became afraid when they knew good and evil. When their eyes were opened and they understood things they were not intended to understand. They became afraid of discovery, afraid of punishment, afraid of God. 

Thankfully, a believer in Christ we have no reason to fear God in that way. Scripture has no references to their being any sort of punishment from God for a born again believer in Christ. What would God punish us for? Scripture teaches us that all our sin- past, present, future was paid for on the cross. Romans 8:1 tells us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! When God looks at the blood bought saint, all He sees is Christ. If there was something for God to punish us for, then it would mean that Christ’s sacrifice and His redemption of our souls was incomplete. Living in fear of God and believing He waits to punish His children is unbiblical.  

If you are a person who lives in fear of God, you have to ask yourself if you have a real reason to be afraid. Do you see God as condemning and judgmental? Is it possible you are laboring under a false salvation? It is possible to have an understanding of your sinful condition and still be in stubborn rebellion before God. It is possible to have head knowledge of salvation, know the right words to say, what you are supposed to believe and still be unregenerate! Once you place your faith and trust in Christ that fear will dissipate.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Following and Striving

What does it mean to "follow after Christ"? I have been pondering this question as I am counseling someone who is wondering if their faith is genuine. Genuine struggle is a part of our faith journey; it is a part of our sanctification process.

However, I have great concern for my perfectionistic brothers and sisters in Christ. It seems so many of them truly struggle with being accepted based on their performance. As they read the Scriptures, they see only the commands and little of the grace! They try to be "good" and are so deeply affected when they fail.  Each day they leave their beds with one goal: "to do." Living this way sucks the joy right out of life.  Their days contain one (perceived) failure after the next, and depression quickly sets in as they come to the point where they are not even sure they believe what they thought they believed.

My heart is so heavy and burdened for such as these. My desire is to point them back to the cross, but the cross no longer represents freedom and victory to them; it represents failure on their part. It becomes one more thing they cannot understand or make sense of.

Set aside your personal expectations and rules of performance and return to your first love- Jesus Christ. I do think it is alright to simply rest in Him and allow His grace and love and mercy and acceptance to wash over you and renew your heart and mind. God is in charge of this process in your life, I promise (because HE promises) that you won't miss a thing. Return to the basics of your relationship with Him and find your purpose there.

Yes, a part of following Christ is doing things. We are to demonstrate the Christ-life within us through the lives we live and how we impact those around us but that is not the focal point of being a Christ follower. Performing all things Christian can become a god, and an idol of the heart and effectively steal away our love for the Lord and our joy.

In a vast majority of cases feelings have become an idol, and have been allowed to rule the persons life. Here is truth: feelings are to be ruled over by the Holy Spirit; and the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of the body are to be filtered through the grid of Scripture. Too many allow their feelings to dictate their reality.

Spiritually they must preach truth to themselves. Consistent reminders of what our unchangeable God says in His own inspired Word about who we are in Christ, our position in Christ, and about our never-ending need for the gospel are vitally important. These desperate hours are designed to bring them back to that great equalizer- the foot of the cross.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Will You Help?

Dear Friends,

For the past seven plus years I have devoted time to writing and preparing this blog as a ministry to you. Several times each week you receive biblical truth and information and many, many of you have written me both here and via email to thank me for providing a blog that addresses the real problems and issues you face in life. 

You will notice there are no ads on this blog. There never have been, and I don't intend to start monetizing this blog- ever. I find ads on blogs to be annoying and they get in the way of what I click to see there. I don't like them, and I assume you don't either. While I don't monetize this blog, it isn't free to me, and I need your help.

You may have recently received an email from my ministries, Reigning Grace Counseling Center and Biblical Counseling for Women explaining that as the ministry has grown, so have the financial needs. If you haven't seen the email, the letter is posted on the Donation page of the website.  I want you to know there is no organization that underwrites anything that I do, the ministry goes forward on the grace of God and by fulfilling the needs of those seeking biblical counseling.

That said, the ministry could really use your help in the form of a financial gift to enable me and my staff to continue to serve those looking for help, healing, and hope through biblical counseling and discipleship. The ministry is a non-profit 501(c)3 charitable organization, and every gift is tax deductible. Will you consider helping with a donation of any size? I've made it easy to donate from the website for Reigning Grace. Just click here! If you want to help but don't want to do so over the internet, there is information on the website for how to do that too. 

I'll be honest, it is not easy for me to ask you to financially support the ministry. It is even more difficult to know that some will stop following or reading this blog because I am asking for a financial gift. But the needs are real, and I hope you will consider donating to Reigning Grace Counseling Center and Biblical Counseling for Women for your end of the year charitable giving. 

Thank you,  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Meeting Needs in Marriage

As biblical counselors, we spend considerable time teaching our counselee’s new things about marriage because most have not been taught much at all. Many come to the altar with the wrong idea of what marriage is, for and is to be about. They wrongly believe that the other person is going to make them happy. Both people are concerned with themselves and asking, “How can my needs be met?”  “How can you please me?” “How can you serve me?”

When, for example, a wife realizes her husband is not overly concerned about meeting her needs all the time because he is concerned about his needs being met trouble brews quickly!

We all have legitimate needs. We expect that when we marry that our spouse will love us and care for us and provide for us. We expect they will be our life-long mate and will be there when things are going wrong or we need help. When you agree to marry someone, you are committing to selflessness for the rest of your life. This is not something to enter into for the supremely selfish. The problem for the married couples we see in biblical counseling is that maybe no one ever told them that! Each person goes into the marriage with an “It’s all about me” attitude and is unwilling to be the initiator in giving.

Your obligation in marriage is to provide for your spouse. Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not a 50/50 relationship. It is a 100/100 relationship. Each of you has to be willing to give it all away. You have to give it all away and expect nothing in return. You do it because you agreed to in the beginning, and because doing it glorifies God.

Sacrificial living for your spouse glorifies God. I have told women I counsel that to determine to serve their husband no matter how ungrateful and selfish he is brings God glory. They are to look at serving him as though they are serving Christ. There are times when glorifying God is going to be a time of human suffering, especially if one person is not fully committed to glorifying God in the marriage.

When a marriage begins to get sour and is full of strife, upset, anger, bitterness and such it is because there is a problem within one or both people in that marriage. There is a problem within the heart and that is what must be dealt with first before there will be any change in the relationship. Your heart must be renewed first by God's grace in salvation and then through the sanctification process as your mind is renewed (Rom.12:1-2).

If your marriage is in trouble your goal should be to glorify God in your marriage. The chief end of man is to live to glorify God in all aspects of life. If you are determining to respond to your husband out of love for God and obedience to Him rather than to serve yourself or to make yourself "happy" then you will begin to experience those changes of heart that will lead to changes in your marriage.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Double-Edged Sword

I used to be a talker. I wanted people around me all the time and if I didn't have them in person I was on the phone with them. As the years have gone by and most especially in the last decade of my life I realize that I am changed. I love people, I love to serve and minister and counsel, but I am no longer one for idle chatter like I used to be.

As I think about how and why this changed, I would have to say that what had the greatest impact on me was when I determined to really talk only of Him. I have a dear friend (who I don't see nearly as much as I would like) and when we had the opportunity to get together we did not speak of much else except how we were growing, changing, and learning about Jesus. It became our habit to just talk about what God was doing in us and through us to those around us as my old pastor says.

This causes me to be more of a person of reflection than a person of reaction much of the time. I have become very comfortable in my own skin and I am content to be alone with only Jesus to talk to. This has become my prayer life, and I look forward to those times of day where I can be one with Him in discussion about the needs of others and myself. I rejoice in praising Him and thanking Him for His goodness and gracious love He demonstrates toward me.

The other day I heard a song in which the singer was asking the Lord to draw us to Himself. This made me think... I truly desire closeness with the Lord yet I have come to understand that the act of being drawn has a personal cost to my flesh. It seems to be a double edged sword as being drawn comes with pain and suffering or trials.

It is when God is drawing me through His means, and I sense that pull in my Spirit that I understand more of what is required of such a relationship. Don't misunderstand, nothing is required of me for the act of salvation that is all of Him and none of me. I am referring more to living this Christian life that we are called to live and how it is required of me, now bought with a price to be chiseled and hammered and molded and shaped into His likeness. I know when He draws me that another time of painful, delightful growth is headed my way.

I respond to Him as I see magnets respond to the drawing or repel each other. There are times when I welcome whatever He brings and the pull is irresistible and there are times when I want to hover near but not actually embrace what He has for me. My goal is to always welcome His knock at the door of my heart, whether it is noon or midnight. I confess I am not there yet!

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Romans 7:21-23 (NASB)

How thankful I am that Romans 8 directly follows Romans 7! It is hope-giving and life-giving to those who wish they would never try to run from the drawing hand of God.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Put Off Lies

Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Ephesians 4:25 (NET)

No one likes to be lied to. It destroys trust and can ruin relationships. What is the correct and biblical response and how do you overcome that impulse to be sinfully angry? That is the topic for today's blog posting.

I really hate being lied to. It is one of those things that will destroy the bonds of trust that have been built up and gives me reason to doubt anything that person tells me is true.

I get angry when someone lies to me. Sometimes that anger is understandable and perhaps even righteous because the Bible says that God hates lying lips (Prov. 12:22). What I do with the anger is what gets me into trouble. If I respond sinfully by yelling or retaliating in some way that is wrong. Manipulating by giving the silent treatment is also wrong.

But what do we do with these emotions that want to take us captive in the heat of the moment? To keep yourself from falling into the trap of a sinful response, you must train your thoughts on Scripture so that in the moment you can respond righteously.

You might ask the person who has lied questions about the situation instead of making nasty or accusing statements. Before you speak, ask yourself if what you want to say will help the situation; is it profitable? Will it give grace to the hearer (Eph 4:29)? Or are your words designed to hurt and cut them to the quick?

You want to learn if the person understand how serious lying really is. It seems to me that lying is considered by most people to be a respectable sin. I think people are so accustomed to lying that they think little of it. I don't agree with this, of course, but I suspect I am in the minority! Little white lies, telling shades of the truth, sparing someone's feelings, omitting all the facts; these are all ways lies infiltrate our conversations every day.

God does not think lying is acceptable. In fact, Revelation 21:8 makes special note of His displeasure. In the present, lying has serious consequences. We must put off lying ourselves and then help others to understand how to put off the heart attitudes of selfishness, pride, and fear of the opinions of man that lead us to sin in such a way.

A liar will remain a liar until they begin to put on the truth - first to the heart and then to their life. You may be able to help them to learn this truth and to teach them how to put off lying as a lifestyle.

Monday, November 9, 2015

But, I Said I Was Sorry!

Asking forgiveness may not be the end of the matter in a conflict undergoing the process of reconciliation. When fellow Christians confess their sin to one another it does not erase the hurt and it does not automatically fix the situation. The offender must understand that being granted forgiveness may not and in some cases should not automatically return everything to normal.

That is not to say that the person who has done the forgiving continues to hold the offense over the former offender, but if trust has been destroyed or violated it will take time to in essence prove that change has taken place.

There are consequences to every action and the sinful actions sometimes bring serious consequences. A thief must commit to a schedule of repayment, a liar must submit to being examined for truth, and an adulterer must accept that their spouse will be checking up on them and be willing to be accountable for their time and in some cases their money.

Few people who are in the position of receiving the consequences enjoy this period of reconciliation. Many would rather just skip it altogether and make declarations about "going forward." I assure you, this is going forward!

The person who has repented and asked forgiveness must begin to demonstrate a changed heart by changed actions. It is right to question the sincerity of a person who cannot demonstrate any change of heart. Of course, we do not expect perfection from anyone and any progress is welcome and should be viewed as movement in the direction of righteousness.

It becomes the responsibility of the church to teach and train in righteousness a person who has been corrected. We are to take seriously the admonition of restoring the fallen brother or sister.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Polished Arrow

"...he made me into a polished arrow" Isaiah 49:2

I was reading in Streams in the Desert recently, and the entry for that day was this portion of Isaiah 49:2. It got me to thinking about the adversities of life and God’s purposes in them.

The goal for many of us is to get through life as unscathed and trouble free as possible, when that is not God’s intention or plan at all for His children. Think of all of God we would miss without adversity, without hardship, and without persecution.

Our faith and trust in God grows deep in times of trial. The roots of our belief and understanding grow deep and strong into our hearts and create anchors that are immovable. Some of the best times of growth in my spiritual life have been when life has been at its worst. When times were tough and I was completely uncertain of everything in this life and how it would unfold is when the “Who” of God became real.

Do you know what I mean by the “Who of God?” Until we have cause to grab hold of all we have learned and put in our minds about God and His character it is all ethereal and unformed. There is little substance that we can wrap our arms around. But when those harsh waves of adversity crash into life we begin to experience God. We begin to “see” who He is and receive in ways that defy words the things God promises to us as we believe.

Without these things in life we would remain unpolished, our edges both outer and inner would remain jagged. Adversity brings change on some level. It brings us changes of the heart (the inner man) because we receive things that we don’t want, or we are denied things that we do want and we have to make a decision to respond righteously. This causes change as what we have learned in the abstract now must become real to us in application. When we make that transfer, change takes place.

God’s polishing tool brings us pain at times, literal, physical pain. Illness, disease, and suffering are all tools of the Almighty in shaping us into His image. He will stop at nothing to create in us what He has foreordained.