Minggu, 29 Januari 2017

Advancing from Aleppo to Mosul

Christians staying in Aleppo
Advancing from Aleppo to Mosul
Last week The Voice of the Martyrs asked you to help support 40 Christian families who have chosen to remain in Aleppo as witnesses for Christ in that war-torn city.

Within days, generous believers had provided funds to support all 40 families. Thank you!

After speaking with our field staff in the Middle East, we learned that we also have the opportunity to support Christian families in and around Mosul. Iraqi forces have liberated the eastern half of Mosul from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) and are continuing their push across the Tigris River in order to liberate the rest of the city.

Help Christian Families Returning to Mosul and Surrounding Areas

Many Christians who fled Mosul in 2014 as ISIS fighters approached are anxious to return to their city to see what is left of their homes, businesses and lives. The Voice of the Martyrs is committed to helping them as they rebuild their lives and renew their witness for Jesus in Mosul.

On behalf of the Syrian Christians in Aleppo for whom you have already provided, thank you! We are now excited about the possibility of expanding this blessing to even more families, not only in Syria but also in Iraq.

Give to Help Christians Returning to Mosul and Other ISIS-Controlled Areas

7 Ways to Deliver Constructive Criticism

7 Ways to Deliver Constructive Criticism

7 Ways to Deliver Constructive Criticism
There are times where someone needs to offer constructive criticism. In fact, the best leaders and the best organizations are made better by learning to receive, process and respond to criticism. No one particularly likes criticism, but when it is offered properly it can actually improve life for everyone—which is why we call it constructive.
You see things others don’t see. You have experiences others don’t have. As a leader, I personally value healthy criticism, even when it is initially hard to hear.
If you often have a hard time determining when criticism is constructive and when it is simply selfish, try reading THIS POST.
The problem is often getting needed criticism heard. Working with dozens of leaders each year, I can testify much of the criticism received is never taken as seriously as it probably should be.
We all know there are times someone shares criticism simply to “blow off steam.” They are angry and want to express their displeasure. Some people are only known for their criticism. Some people share criticism simply out of selfishness—considering no one else in their complaint. In my experience, when it is determined one of these is the case, the criticism received is rarely considered as useful or valued by leaders.
How do you keep criticism that may be helpful—even constructive—from being drowned out by a perception that it is non-helpful criticism?
That’s what this post is about. You can have the best advice for someone, but if it’s delivered poorly, it will almost never be heard.

Here are seven ways to offer constructive criticism that actually gets heard:

Recognize and compliment the good
My mother used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Make sure you take a bigger picture approach when offering criticism. Most likely you are criticizing something small in the overall scheme of the organization, so think of the good things that are happening or have happened in the organization. Think of the good qualities of the leader. Start there. Compliment first. Some even recommend the “sandwich approach.” You start with praise and end with praise with a little criticism in the middle. I wrote more about this approach HERE.
Be specific
If you are going to criticize, at least make sure the recipient knows exactly what you are talking about. Guessing almost always leads to misunderstandings. Don’t hint at your problem or cover it over with ambiguities. Passive aggression—which I have seen so frequently in the church—overall causes more harm than it does good.
Offer suggestions for improvement
If you are thinking there is a better way, share it. If you haven’t thought of how to improve the area of your criticism, spend some time thinking about it before you criticize. When you think, do so from the perspective of the organization’s vision and the individual vision of the leader. It’s going to be hard for a leader to accept criticism that doesn’t mesh with the vision he or she feels called to achieve. You certainly don’t have to be a “yes person”—agreeing to everything a leader does—but, if you’re seen as against everything or against the leader, it will be harder to receive what you criticize as being “helpful.”
Choose words carefully
Kindness goes a long way. If the person you are offering criticism to feels you don’t even like them or support them, they are not likely to hear what you have to say. Be nice. That’s a good standard anytime, but becomes a strategic move when attempting to offer constructive criticism. Also, don’t criticize people or make the criticism personal. Criticism will almost always be rejected if the person receiving it feels they (or the team they lead) are being attacked. Talk less about the who and more about the what.
Have a vested interest
It’s hard to receive criticism as being constructive from people who really aren’t interested in the overall vision. For example, if you tell me you’d “never attend a church like the one I pastor in a million years,” I’m less likely to value your criticism about the music we sing. (And, that’s happened—more than once.) If it’s obvious you love the vision, you’ll be more welcomed to critique the methods by which people are trying to attain it.
Be humble enough to admit you may be wrong
You might be, right? Unless it’s a clearly spelled out biblical principle, then it is subject to interpretation. Yours might be right or it might be wrong. The willingness to admit this fact will go a long way toward your criticism being considered and valued.
Take the personal preference test
Check your heart for why you are sharing the criticism in the first place. Before you offer the criticism, ask yourself if you are really offering this criticism for the good of everyone or if this is simply a personal preference. It’s OK either way, but be honest enough with yourself and others to admit it. In fact, if you do this test appropriately, some of the criticism you think you need to offer you may decide you don’t need to offer after all. The less you are seen as offering criticism that only benefits you, the better the criticism you do offer will be received.
Do you want constructive criticism to be heard? These are simply some suggestions to hopefully help.
I’ve written numerous posts on criticism. Two of the more popular are 5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism and 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism.

Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual Maturity: 5 Signs You DON’T Have It

Spiritual Maturity: 5 Signs You DON'T Have It
The issue of spiritual maturity seems to provoke one of the super strange conversations in the North American and Western church today.
Here’s the bizarre part: Some Christians end up criticizing other Christians for not being “deep” enough or committed enough to be “real” Christians. (The fact that this may not sound bizarre to you is, in itself, evidence of how bizarre this has gotten.)
There is apparently a certain subset of Christians who have maturity figured out, and the rest of us, well, not so much.
And yet often what we call spiritual maturity…isn’t. In fact, at least five of the common claims we make about having spiritual maturity actually show you lack it.

This Is What The Conversation Sounds Like

So, to be clear, how exactly does this issue surface in conversation?
In leadership circles, the dialogue often starts with a question such as, “What are you doing to disciple your people?” (emphasis on disciple, often said with a deeper voice than normal) or a dismissive statement like, “So you’re attracting people, but then what?”
And it’s almost always said condescendingly, as though some people own the maturity franchise and enjoy watching other fellow-Christ followers squirm while they try to come up with answers that will only show how immature they really are.
I’ve been on the receiving end of that conversation many many times, because, well, our church reaches a lot of people who ordinarily don’t show up at church.

5 Signs of Spiritual Maturity…That Actually Show You Lack It

Before I outline the list, please know I’m not claiming to be “mature.” I’m not even claiming I understand the issue entirely. I’m just saying there’s something broken in our dialogue and in our characterization of spiritual maturity.
As for me personally, I would hope I’m maturing, but have I arrived? Not a chance.
Discipleship is an organic, life-long process. It has something to do with what the ancients called “sanctification.” The process of becoming more and more holy, a term, which stripped from its strangeness, simply means to be “set apart.” Basically, it means you’re different than you were. And that process continues until you die. I’ve outlined a few of the markers of more authentic spiritual maturity in this post, and again here.
In the meantime, if you want to keep growing, here are five signs that pass for spiritual maturity in our culture that probably show you lack it.

1. Pride in How Much Bible You Know

Since when was it a good thing to be proud of how much Bible you know, and to look down on people who don’t know?
As Paul points out, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Clearly he knew what he was talking about.
Some Christians strut their biblical knowledge like it is an accomplishment. That’s so wrong. 
I won my share of sword drills (remember those?) when I was a kid, and I take time to read and study the Scriptures pretty much every day, but as far as I can tell, I’m supposed to use that knowledge to function as a bridge to people, not as a barricade showing everyone else how righteous I am. Because, incidentally, last time I checked I wasn’t that righteous.
Use the Bible as a bridge to the culture, not as a barricade against it. To do otherwise puts us on the same ground as another religious group Jesus had strong views against. (Here’s a list of the Top 10 Things Pharisees Say Today.)
And it was never about what you know or don’t know, but about what God knows and who God loves.

2. Truth Without Grace

In a similar vein, being all about truth is a problem, as well.
I love how John phrases the arrival of Jesus: that Jesus came filled with truth and grace.
One of the things I love most about Jesus is that truth is never separated from grace, and grace is never separated from truth. He was always grace-filled as he spoke what is true…in that the truth is always designed to lead toward grace.
Yet some “mature” people feel it’s OK to land on one side of the equation. I’m a truth person, we tell people. No…maybe you’re just a jerk. (And I say this as a guy who leans on the truth side of the equation.)
Whenever I am tempted to speak truth, I always have to come before God to ensure it is equally motivated by grace.
Could you imagine if we all did?

3. Grace Without Truth

The opposite of course is also true. In the same way truth isn’t truth without grace, grace isn’t grace when separated from truth. Some “mature” people on the other side of the theological spectrum avoid the truth side of the equation as though love floats with no backbone.
No, grace has a backbone. We nailed it to the cross.
You cannot separate grace from truth any more than you can separate truth from grace. It is an incredibly difficult line to find, but we must find it. Grace without truth isn’t maturity any more than truth without grace is truth. Clearly, we need a Savior on this issue. And it’s a good thing for us He embodies both.

4. Harshness Toward Outsiders While Cutting Insiders Slack

Many people who consider themselves spiritually mature love to talk about how awful the world is. And it is pretty terrible. Pick a headline almost any day. It’s awful. God identified that as early as Genesis 6 (and if you take our theology seriously, he always knew it would be this way, which is a little mind-bending if you think about it). The passage from Genesis is worth quoting:
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord  was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.
So what did God do? He started again. What followed was an ark and a rainbow.
And ultimately God’s decision on his heartbreak was addressed in Jesus who came—as our favorite but often totally-missed-the-point verse tells us, God so loves the world and gave himself up for it not to condemn it but to save it.
So why do so many Christians behave like God hated the world? Because the world is corrupt and sinful, is the answer we hear back. But the truth of the matter, Christian, is that you are corrupt and you sin. But instead, we rail against the world’s sins as though it shouldn’t be sinning while cutting ourselves tons of slack on our moral failures.
What would happen if we started talking about church sins like gossip, gluttony, division and faction with the same conviction we use to talk about sexual sin?
wrote about that in more detail here. (Perry Noble also wrote an great blog about why we turn a blind eye to a church sin like obesity but rail on about homosexuality.)
So…what if the church started to take its own sin more seriously than we take the world’s sin? I think that’s what we’re supposed to do.
Finally, if you’re still not convinced, study Jesus. You will discover he extended invitations to notorious sinners and outsiders, and reserved his harshest words for the religious people of his day.
We simply have it backwards. If God so loved the world, who decided we shouldn’t?
And if you were trying to win people to open their lives to a loving God, why do you think leading with judgment is a great strategy? Very few people get judged into life change. Many get loved into it.

5. Telling People You’re Mature

This one mystifies me.
I’ve had more than a few people pull me aside over the years and ask, “So what do you do for spiritually mature people like me?”
Stand back while people like you part the Red Sea, I guess.
Telling people you’re mature is like telling people you’re wise…it’s kind of proof you’re not. The most mature people, in my view, also tend to be the most humble. If you’re strutting your maturity, it’s pretty clear you’ve got some growing to do.

What Do You Think?

I hope you can hear that this is borne not just out of frustration, but also out of love for God, for the church and for the world.
I’d love to see the conversation about spiritual maturity become healthier. As I’ve shared here, I think the church today is getting discipleship wrong. I’ve also argued we need a different kind of maturity in the church.
What have you seen?
What are some false markers of maturity?

Marriage, Divorce and the Church

Marriage, Divorce and the Church: What Do the Stats Say, and Can Marriage Be Happy?

Marriage, Divorce, and the Church: What Do the Stats Say, and Can Marriage Be Happy?
Valentine’s Day.
Love is in the air, and that means church signs are awkwardly communicating the love of Jesus, teenage boys are cowering before their girlfriends’ fathers, and married couples are waiting two hours for mediocre Italian food while their kids terrorize their babysitters.
However, for some, Valentine’s Day isn’t all chocolates and roses. It is a difficult day for some as it reminds them of a recent breakup or difficult divorce.
When it comes to marriage and divorce, people are drawn to shocking statistics.
But what do the stats really say? Do Christians divorce as often as the rest of the world or even more? Is happy marriage even possible? How can anybody actually be happy in marriage?
Let’s look at some research:
What the Research Shows About Marriage and Divorce
One of the most common statements that I’ve seen is “Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians,” undoubtedly giving the world another opportunity to shout “Hypocrite!” This is controversial statement that is surely going to attract eyes and pageviews, but how accurate is it? Some sociologists are even reporting that religious conservatives divorce more than the rest of society.
Furthermore, we’ve all heard that you have a 50 percent chance of getting divorced, because, you know, 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce.
Yet research found in Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told shows that couples who are active in their faith are much less likely to divorce. Catholic couples were 31 percent less likely to divorce; Protestant couples 35 percent less likely; and Jewish couples 97 percent less likely, which in itself is quite impressive, I must say.
In a recent article on Canon and Culture that I featured in my Morning Roundup yesterday, Andrew Walker interviews Dr. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project, and asks him the question, “Are religious conservatives really divorcing more than religious liberals, or more than people who have no religious affiliation at all?” Dr. Wilcox answers,
Up to a point, yes. The article finds that conservative Protestants, and counties with higher shares of conservative Protestants, are indeed more likely to divorce—compared to Americans in other mainstream traditions, from mainline Protestantism to Mormonism to Catholicism. But I’ll mention two caveats that have gone unrecognized by popular media treatments, such as Michelle Goldberg’s article in The Nation:
1. This study also finds that religiously unaffiliated Americans, and counties with higher shares of unaffiliated Americans, are the most likely to divorce. So, religion per se is not the problem and, indeed, secularism seems to be more conducive toward divorce than conservative Protestantism.
2. A new article by sociologist Charles Stokes in www.family-studies.org suggests that the problem here is mainly with nominal conservative Protestants—those who attend rarely or never. It’s these nominal conservative Protestants—e.g., the Southern Baptist couple in Texas who rarely darken the door of a church—who are much more likely to divorce.
And, while we are addressing stats, let me add that no reputable study has found that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce—ever—though that does not stop it from spreading because people love bad stats. (The New York Times explains a bit on that stat here.)
Keep in mind that when you hear a stat that does not make sense—like going to church makes you more likely to divorce, contrary to many other studies—don’t rush to assume it’s true. It is often more complicated that the initial news reports.
So is a happy marriage even possible? Can anyone, Christians or not, be happy in their marriages?
What the Research Shows About Having a Strong Marriage
Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained social researcher, popular speaker and best-selling author of For Women Only and a number of other books.
I am thankful that Shaunti Feldhahn will be with me at the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention here in Nashville in a couple of weeks, and that I have the opportunity to interview her for TBN’s Praise the Lord program at the end of this month.
In her newest book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Shanti compiles some stats and conducts some research of her own on marriage, and specifically, what makes for a happy marriage.
Her statistical findings, and the implications of these findings, are fascinating.
Here are a couple of stats that I found to be particularly interesting as it relates to faith and marriage:
  • 53 percent of Very Happy Couples agree with the statement, “God is at the center of our marriage” (compared to 7 percent of Struggling Couples).
  • 30 percent of Struggling Couples disagree with the statement, “God is at the center of our marriage.”
She writes, “Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness” (pg. 178, Highly Happy Marriages). (See her book for the methodology.)
Dr. Wilcox finds that “active conservative protestants” who attend church regularly are actually 35 percent less likely to divorce than those who have no religious preferences.
In all cases, notice the active element of the faith commitment.
“Nominal” Christians, however, those who simply call themselves Christians but so not actively engage with the faith, are actually 20 percent more likely than the general population to get divorced—perhaps there is a link between putting on a show in the religious and relational context.
So practically, what can we do? How can we have a strong, happy marriage? I’ve only been married 26 years, but I’ve learned a lot.
Some Advice
Well, since it is Valentine’s Day, I’ll share from my own loving relationship with Donna. We are not perfect, but here are 10 basic principles I’ve learned in over 25 years of marriage that may be helpful to consider as a married couple or even as a single person thinking about getting married and serving or leading a man or woman in covenant love for the rest of your life.
  1. Marriage is worth the investment.
  2. You have to invest in a marriage for it to be worth the investment.
  3. Choosing your marriage partner is the most important human decision you will ever make.
  4. Most fights are over stupid things that don’t matter.
  5. Most arguments are resolved when both people are more concerned with being in a relationship than with being right.
  6. Sex is essential to a marriage relationship.
  7. Practices (like date nights, long conversations and trips together) make your marriage stronger.
  8. Kids are awesome, but stress your marriage.
  9. Never go to bed angry.
  10. You need Jesus.
You can read more about those 10 pieces of advice here.
Happy, strong marriages are definitely possible, but it takes work—an ongoing effort. We’re all sinners who need a Savior, and when you put two sinners together in a relationship like marriage, it’s bound to be difficult sometimes.
Our sin supplants sacrifice with selfishness in our marriages. If we want to experience marriage as God created it to be, a reflection of his sacrificial love and leadership of the church, we’ve got to keep him at the center of our marriages.
Your spouse isn’t your Savior, Jesus is. Live that truth and your marriage will more likely thrive.
Chris Martin, my blog guy, contributed to this post.

Worshiping With a Broken Heart

Worshiping With a Broken Heart

Worshiping with a Broken Heart
I looked across the table at my boyfriend and replayed his words in my mind. “I just don’t enjoy spending time with you.”
I never knew a heart could break so suddenly, so rudely—in only one sentence. I was desperately grasping for anything to help soften the sharpness of those eight words. I could only muster three, “Take me home.” As we drove, my thoughts were as blurry as the trees going by. How can a three-year relationship end in three minutes?
The term “broken heart” is so widely used in our society that it often sounds romantic. In those moments, I learned just how terribly unromantic it is—the kind of tearing, ripping brokenness that demands your full attention, the kind of pain that won’t let up.
A broken heart might be a woman who gets the call from her doctor that she has miscarried. It’s the child who learns that his father has cancer. It’s broken relationships, debilitating depression, dreams dying and crumbling in our hands.
I walked into church the day after my heart broke. Broken, aching hearts fill the pews in each of our churches every Sunday. Although surrounded by community, the pain still felt intensely personal. “The heart knows its own bitterness” (Proverbs 14:10). The deep ache can feel as isolating as a prison cell. The enemy wants nothing more than to lock believers in that cell of pain, and keep us trapped in isolation. But God wants the opposite. Here are three things to remember when you are tempted to stay home on Sunday morning with a broken heart.

Broken Hearts Are Open Hearts

There are many sorts of broken hearts, and Christ is good at healing them all. —Charles Spurgeon
Imagine your heart is failing and you require a very risky open-heart surgery. At the hospital, there are several doctors who claim to be proficient at this surgery, but only one has a spotless record—nothing has ever gone wrong with his procedures. Everything he does is perfect.
Would you then choose a doctor with lesser experience, or a poorer record? Not if you value your life.
God is the only Physician who can fully heal a broken heart, and he has never failed in his ability to heal. Sarai, David and Hosea all suffered broken hearts for different reasons—a barren womb, a shameful trail of sin, unrequited love—and God healed them all. A broken heart is an open heart, and an open heart is vulnerable. In this time of vulnerability, let him be your refuge. Let him fill you with healing through the singing, praying and teaching of your church family.

Pain Is Personal, Healing Is Corporate

Have you ever had a close friend going through a great deal of pain, and they didn’t tell you? It’s painful when you finally learn about it. It’s painful for at least two reasons: 1) It hurts you that they are in pain, and 2) it hurts that you were not trusted to carry their burdens alongside of them.
As believers, we are called to carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). No one would argue that one man can lift more than ten men lifting together. So why do we often ignore the hands extended to help us carry our burdens, and try to bear the weight on our own? We may always bear the heaviest portion, but encouragement and support from brothers and sisters will significantly lighten the load. Battle hurt with heartfelt singing, loneliness with community and discouragement with the ministry of God’s word.
Surround yourself with God’s people, and you will see that healing does take a village—and that the village is stronger for it. We must combat resounding pain with resolute worship to the Father, alongside brothers and sisters who can pray with us and for us.

Worship Creates Perspective

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
Though suffering is never a small thing, God is always greater. Worship refocuses our minds on God’s greatness, and puts our pain in its rightful place—under the reign of an already victorious Father.
As strange as it may feel in the moment, lift your hands in praise and remember that the victory has been won. Remember that the God who holds your life in the palm of his capable hand is leading the victory march. “He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Standing at the top of the mountain of adoration, we are suddenly aware of our smallness. And it’s not offensive to us at all. We find joy in knowing that Christ is glorious beyond our imaginations and gloriously in control of all things, including every inch or second of our heartache. Nothing can touch you except that which has been carefully filtered through his loving fingers.
Let heartfelt praise remind you of his great love and absolute sovereignty, and let these reminders bring healing to your broken heart. Worship is a balm for even the deepest of wounds.

Enough Is Enough

Enough Is Enough—Why the Church Has to Stop Enabling Abusive Men

Enough is Enough—Why the Church Has to Stop Enabling Abusive Men
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
What does it mean to “hate” someone we are elsewhere called to sacrificially love? We are told to love even our enemies, yet Jesus here tells us to hate some of our closest family members. What could that mean?
Hatred here is Semitic hyperbole. In essence, it means “love less than.” There are times when our love and allegiance to God may be at odds with human loyalties; in those cases, love for God, His light and the way of truth must always prevail.
It’s OK (actually, commendable) for me to love the Seattle Seahawks. But if my wife needs me to take her to the hospital in the middle of a game or needs me to pay her some attention, I have to act like I hate the Seahawks and not even consider my love for them in service to my wife.
Let’s apply this principle in regards to how the church views marriage and divorce.
I recently spoke at a long-standing North American woman’s conference and was overwhelmed by the quantity and horrific nature of things wives are having to put up with in their marriages. Between sessions, I was bombarded by heartfelt inquiries: “What does a wife do when her husband does this? Or that? Or keeps doing this?” It broke my heart. I felt like I needed to take a dozen showers that weekend.
This may sound like a rant, but please hang with me, as I think this conference was a divine appointment. I can’t get this out of my mind.
One wife began our conversation with, “God hates divorce, right?”
“Yes,” I said. “I believe He does.”
“So I’ve just got to accept what’s happening in my marriage, right?”
When she told me what was happening, I quickly corrected her. “If the cost of saving a marriage is destroying a woman, the cost is too high. God loves people more than he loves institutions.”
Her husband is a persistent porn addict. He has neglected her sexually except to fulfill his own increasingly bent desires. He keeps dangling divorce over her head, which makes her feel like a failure as a Christian. He presented her with a list of five things he wanted to do that he saw done in porn, and if she wasn’t willing, he was through with the marriage. She agreed to four of them, but just couldn’t do the fifth. And she feels guilty.
God hates divorce, right?
This is monstrous and vile. This woman needs to be protected from such grotesque abuse, and if divorce is the only weapon to protect her, then the church should thank God such a weapon exists.
A young wife, barely in her 20s, held a baby in a blanket and looked at me with tears. Her husband has a huge temper problem. He’s made her get out of the car on a highway with her baby, twice. “But both times he came back for us,” she said in his defense when I looked absolutely appalled. They were separated and she was living with her parents. She wanted to know if she should take him back because his psychiatrist supposedly said there wasn’t anything really wrong with him. Her husband doesn’t think he has a problem, that, in fact, the problem is with her “lack of forgiveness.”
They had been married only three years and she had already lived through more torment (I’m not telling the full story) than a woman should face in a lifetime. My thoughts weren’t at all about how to “save” the marriage, but to ease her conscience and help her prepare for a new life—without him.
Church, God hates it when a woman is sexually degraded and forced to do things that disgust her. It should also make us want to vomit.
When a young man is so immature he puts his wife’s and baby’s life in danger on a highway (amongst other things), the thought that we’re worried about the “appropriateness” of divorce shows that our loyalties are with human institutions, not the divine will.
As Kevin DeYoung so ably puts it, “Every divorce is the result of sin, but not every divorce is sinful.”
Another woman told me about putting up with her husband’s appalling behavior for over 40 years. I was invited to look in her face, see the struggle, see the heroic perseverance, but also be reminded that counsel has consequences. So when I talk to a young woman in her third year of marriage and it’s clear she’s married to a monster, and someone wants to “save” the marriage, I want them to realize they are likely sentencing her to four decades of abuse, perhaps because of a choice she made as a teenager. When these men aren’t confronted, and aren’t repentant, they don’t change.
Jesus said what he said about divorce to protect women, not to imprison them. Divorce was a weapon foisted against women in the first century, not one they could use, and it almost always left them destitute if their family of origin couldn’t or wouldn’t step up.
How does it honor the concept of “Christian marriage” to enforce the continuance of an abusive, destructive relationship that is slowly squeezing all life and joy out of a woman’s soul? Our focus has to be on urging men to love their wives like Christ loves the church, not on telling women to put up with husbands mistreating their wives like Satan mistreats us. We should confront and stop the work of Satan, not enable it.
Look, I hate divorce as much as anyone. I have been married for 31 years and cannot fathom leaving my wife. I have prayed with couples, counseled with couples, written blog posts and articles and books, and have traveled to 49 of the 50 states and nine different countries to strengthen marriages in the church. By all accounts, I believe I’ve been an ambassador for improving and growing marriages.
The danger of what I’m saying is clear and even a little scary to me, because no marriage is easy. Every marriage must overcome hurt, pain and sin. No husband is a saint, in the sense that every husband will need to be forgiven and will be troublesome and even hurtful at times to live with. I’m not talking about the common struggles of living with a common sinner, or every man and woman could pursue divorce. (There are many men who live with abuse and could “biblically” pursue a divorce as well.) Charging someone with “abuse” when it doesn’t truly apply is almost as evil as committing abuse, so we need to be careful we don’t bear “false witness” against a spouse to convince ourselves and others that we can legitimately pursue divorce to get out of a difficult marriage.
That’s why I love how some churches will meet with a couple and hear them out to give them some objective feedback, helping them to distinguish between normal marital friction and abusive behavior. Some women need to hear, “No, this isn’t normal. It’s abuse. You don’t have to put up with that.” Others need to hear, “We think what you’re facing are the normal difficulties of marriage and with counseling they can be overcome.” There’s no way a blog post (or even a book) can adequately anticipate all such questions.
I love marriage—even the struggles of marriage, which God can truly use to grow us and shape us—but I hate it when God’s daughters are abused. And I will never defend a marriage over a woman’s emotional, spiritual and physical health.
I went back to my hotel room after that woman’s conference and almost felt like I had to vomit. I don’t know how God stands it, having to witness such horrific behavior leveled at his daughters.
Enough is enough!
Jesus says there are “levels” of love, and times when one loyalty must rise over another. Our loyalty to marriage is good and noble and true. But when loyalty to a relational structure allows evil to continue, it is a false loyalty, even an evil loyalty.
Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them. I can’t help feeling that if more women started saying, “This is over,” and were backed up by a church that enabled them to escape instead of enabling the abuse to continue, other men in the church, tempted toward the same behavior, might finally wake up and change their ways.
Christians are more likely to have one-income families, making some Christian wives feel even more vulnerable. We have got to clean up our own house. We have got to say “Enough is enough.” We have got to put the fear of God in some terrible husbands’ hearts, because they sure don’t fear their wives, and their lack of respect is leading to ongoing deplorable behavior.
I want a man who was abusive to have to explain to a potential second wife why his saintly first wife left him. Let men realize that behavior has consequences, and that wives are supposed to be cherished, not used, not abused and never treated as sexual playthings. If a man wants the benefit and companionship of a good woman, let him earn it, and re-earn it, and let him know it can be lost.
Enough is enough.
I know I’m ranting. But I don’t think it was an accident that I was constantly stopped at that woman’s conference and forced to hear despicable story after despicable story (“forced” isn’t the right word. I could, of course, have walked away). I think God wanted me to see the breadth and depth of what is going on, and in this case, perhaps to be His voice.
Message received! We are called to love marriage, but when marriage enables evil, we should hate it (love it less) in comparison to a woman’s welfare.

Check out Cherish, Gary’s latest book on marriage, here.

How to Go to Church with an Unbelieving Spouse

How to Go to Church with an Unbelieving Spouse

“I think I’ll go with you today,” Ted informed Krista as she started out the door one Sunday morning.
Her stomach knotted. She glanced at him, wondering what brought this on. “Sure.”
“I’ll change my shirt and be right out.”
Joy and dread warred within her. Every time Ted attended church her hopes soared. Is this the day he’ll ask Jesus into his life? Will this be the first of many weeks we’ll sit in church together? Will anyone talk to him? Will he hate the sermon? The music? At best, the experience was bittersweet.
On the drive, Krista rubbed sweaty palms against her cotton skirt, praying fervently in silence. God, please help him feel comfortable, and send men to shake his hand. Let the pastor’s message pierce his heart with truth. Open his eyes to see his need for You. Her endless, noiseless begging continued as she walked toward the double doors.
“Where would you like to sit?” she whispered. No use dragging him up to the front, where she normally settled into one of the first five rows. He would definitely be intimidated then.
Ted pointed to the last row. Krista nodded and slipped into the second chair, leaving him the seat on the end. Her hands, balled tightly into fists, rested in her lap. Her tension mounted as the praise team took the stage.
“I was a wreck, scrutinizing everything,” Krista commented afterward. “Every word the pastor uttered—I wondered how Ted interpreted it. I left with a headache, a stomach ache, and wondered if my life would be easier if he just stayed home. His coming along put me on an emotional roller coaster that left me exhausted and depressed.
“I wished the pastor had said this instead of that, wished the man sitting in front of us was friendlier, and wished the associate minister who prayed for the offering had foregone his mini-sermon about tithing. I already knew how Ted felt about church and money issues.
“Anyway,” Krista continued, catching her breath, “one day the truth hit me. I wasn’t trusting God! Startled by the revelation, I cried. I needed to relax and not worry about all the details. God is sovereign, and He’s big enough to handle the particulars. This concept brought freedom. I still pray for God to take charge of everything said and done, but then I just enjoy the service. God can and will do the rest.”
I resided at the opposite end of the spectrum from Krista. In the early years I invited Dean to church often. If he went, I usually ended up regretting I had asked, because he was miserable. When he said no, disappointment and sorrow nearly did me in. Either way, I lost, so I quit mentioning it.
I adopted a new policy: I would invite him only for special events and programs the kids were involved in unless the Holy Spirit directed otherwise. I would ask without pressure or expectation and pray for sensitivity to accept Dean’s answer graciously and trust the Lord for His timing. My spouse’s church attendance and salvation are God’s work, not mine.
Whether your life is filled to overflowing with people or you are in a season of isolation, choose to fill your voids with God alone. I’ve made both choices, having searched for answers in the things of this world and letting God be my all in all. Only in Him did I find peace, contentment, and joy—even in my empty pew.
Please be with me in those lonely times that naturally arise out ?of an unequally yoked relationship. Make me aware of my limitations, and give me the wisdom to choose wisely the activities that will enhance my growth and not cause me to stumble. And God, please reveal where You want me to serve in Your Body of Believers. ?On the occasions my husband does attend church, I invite You to be in charge instead of me. Teach me to rest, knowing You are there with me.
Open my spouse’s ears to hear what You know he’s ready to hear. Lay upon the hearts of men to reach out to him, and, Father, flood me with Your peace, that I may rest in You. ?I long to follow where You lead, so don’t let fear or lack of understanding paralyze me. May my trust be in You alone, knowing that You’re completely trustworthy. The plans You have for me are for my best, even when it doesn’t seem that way at the time. I thank You, my dearest and most faithful companion, for Your promise to never leave me. I love You, Lord.
In Your name I pray. Amen.
Spiritually Single: Living with an Unbelieving Husband. Used by permission.

Don't Let False Expectations Offend You

Don't Let False Expectations Offend You

Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. . . . And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt. 24:10-12 KJV).

The only way to not be permanently offended is to have the "unoffendable" heart of Jesus Christ.

Attaining Christ's heart is not a minor issue. Remember, Jesus warned that in the last days "many" would be offended.

A wounded spirit is not the same thing as an offended spirit. We may have experienced a cutting remark or slander from someone that wounds us. As the wave of this event rolls over our thoughts, it is right at this moment that we must determine the outcome, that with God's help we will make this work for us. It is at this juncture that we must process our wounds in a Christlike manner. If we fail to respond rightly we will begin to fake our Christianity.

Indeed, an offended spirit, left unattended and brooding in our minds, will soon manifest as betrayal, hatred and cold love. Jesus said offenses would be the ultimate cause that leads many to fall away from the faith. Listen well: in the above verse, Jesus linked the real cause of apostasy not only to wrong doctrines, but wrong reactions.

Isn't it important that our doctrines are correct? Of course, but we can have right information and still have a wrong response. Doctrinal information can always be upgraded and refined, but Proverbs warns that someone "offended is harder to be won than a strong city," and "contentions" between people "are like the bars of a castle" (Prov. 18:19). Yes, beware of false leaders, but more deceitful than false prophets or teachers are our own hearts when they are offended (Jer. 17:9).

Are you living with an offended heart? If so, you are gradually slipping away from true Christianity, which is known for its agape love.

Thus, dealing with an offended heart is vital in maintaining ongoing spiritual maturity. For this reason, we need to look again at the things that offend us.

The unrealistic expectations we sometimes put on others will, at some point, cause people to fall short and offend us. For instance, I know married couples that expect their spouse will meet their every need -- and yes, they will meet some of our needs. However, at the deepest level, our souls were created to find security in God, not man. When the Almighty truly becomes our source of peace and provision, our well-being is defined by our awareness of God's love. As we put our confidence in God, we can live more comfortably with the people around us.

Still, the very strength of our expectations can choke out the sweetness of a personal relationship. Suppose that, instead of burdening people with our expectations, we simply learned to appreciate them for themselves -- no strings attached. What if we approach family and friends with gratitude for who they are rather than disappointment for what they failed to do?

Suppose that a husband, instead of expecting a full-course dinner from his wife each night, learned to appreciate whatever she was able to offer him? Then instead of his failed expectation degrading into an offense, there would be a living, sincere appreciation for the food his wife prepared. I know we have arrangements by common consent, but in reality, a wife is under no obligation to cook special meals or do housekeeping. You did not marry her to be your housekeeper, but to become one with her.

Or imagine a husband who works a long, tiring job. However, his wife expects that he will work another two hours at home or go shopping with her or listen attentively about her problems. What if instead she welcomed him at the door and sincerely thanked him for daily giving himself to support their family? What if she met him not with demands but with appreciation? Perhaps she might even massage his shoulders and, because of love, have his favorite meal prepared.

You see, expectations can seem like legitimate aspects of a relationship, but false or unrealistic expectations can also cause us to be disappointed and offended when people fall short. I have known situations in the past where my expectations actually blinded me to the efforts being made by a loved one. They were trying to improve in an area I was unaware of because my focus was preset upon a different expectation. I should have been grateful and encouraging, but instead all I thought about was having my expectation fulfilled.

Now I discuss my expectations with those close to me. But the greatest expectation I have is that my heavenly Father will help me to respond like Christ to all situations. I put a premium upon enjoying the uniqueness of others, sincerely thanking God for their contribution to my life.
www.frangipane.org. Used by permission.

Pursuing God's Heart: Praying His Prayers

Pursuing God's Heart: Praying His Prayers

Much of the Word applies specifically to the battles we face. However, the Bible consists of sixty-six books. My point? The Bible has much to say about fighting the good fight of faith and becoming well-trained soldiers . . . but it also has far more to say about the pure pursuit of God, His righteousness, and His plan for us. I believe a wise conclusion to draw from the emphases in the Word of God is: give much time and thought to becoming well-equipped victors in the battle that rages, but give more time to the pursuit of the heart of God and all things concerning Him. Much about warfare. More about God Himself.
I think sometimes God must listen to our pitifully small acclamations and expectations of Him in prayer and want to say, “Are you talking to Me? I’m not recognizing Myself in this conversation. Are you sure you have the right God?” According to the prophet, “There is no one like You. You are great: Your name is great in power. Who should not fear You, King of the nations? It is what You deserve. For among all the wise people of the nations and among all their kingdoms, there is no one like You” (Jer. 10:6-7). Believe it or not, the ultimate goal God has for us is not power but personal intimacy with Him. Yes, He wants to bring us healing, but more than anything, He wants us to know our Healer. The prophet, Jeremiah, said, “I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be My people, and I will be their God because they will return to Me with all their heart” (Jer. 24:7).
Prayers to Offer Today:
Thank You, Jesus that You’ve given us “authority to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19).
Jesus, we rejoice in our victories over evil and that our “names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Dear God, we are grateful that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
We have not completely overcome the enemy. Lord, forgive us for allowing the enemy to maintain strongholds in our lives.
We do not always walk in truth. Cleanse us, God, for submitting ourselves to deception and wickedness rather than Your miraculous power.
Our churches often do not pursue God’s heart. Jesus, we repent of not making You the focus.
Lord, may we see sinners repent and witness dramatic conversions, according to Your Word: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
Dear God, as we seek victory over evil, might we sing with the psalmist: “I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame” (Ps. 44:6-7).
Jesus, as we pursue victories over evil might we discipline ourselves: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded” (James 4:7-8).
Praying for A Christ-Awakening: Relationship Press, p. 65-66.

Will You Have Friends in Heaven?

Will You Have Friends in Heaven?

Augustine and Aquinas—two of history’s most influential theologians—imagined that in Heaven people would focus exclusively on God and that relationships between human beings would be minimal or insignificant.[i]
These great theologians were swayed by Christoplatonism. For the most part, they didn’t seem to grasp that the eternal Heaven will be on Earth, where people will live and work in a relational society, glorifying God not merely as individuals but as a family in rich relationship with each other.
Near the end of his life, however, Augustine significantly changed his view of Heaven. He said, “We have not lost our dear ones who have departed from this life, but have merely sent them ahead of us, so we also shall depart and shall come to that life where they will be more than ever dear as they will be better known to us, and where we shall love them without fear of parting.”[ii] He also said, “All of us who enjoy God are also enjoying each other in Him.”[iii]
Do you have a close friend who’s had a profound influence on you? Do you think it is a coincidence that she was in your dorm wing or became your roommate? Was it accidental that your desk was near his or that his family lived next door or that your father was transferred when you were in third grade so that you ended up in his neighborhood? God orchestrates our lives. “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26).
Since God determined the time and exact places you would live, it’s no accident which neighborhood you grew up in, who lived next door, who went to school with you, who was part of your church youth group, who was there to help you and pray for you. Our relationships were appointed by God, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll continue in Heaven.
God’s plan doesn’t stop on the New Earth; it continues. God doesn’t abandon His purposes; He extends and fulfills them. Friendships begun on Earth will continue in Heaven, getting richer than ever.
Will some friendships be closer than others? Augustine claimed, “In the city of Godthere will be no special friendships. . . . All special attachments will be absorbed into one comprehensive and undifferentiated community of love. . . . The universalized love of heaven permits no exclusive, restricted circles of friends.”[iv]
But how does this position stand up to Scripture?
Just because we’ll be sinless doesn’t mean we won’t be drawn to certain people more than others. We’ll like everyone, but we’ll be closer to some than others. Jesus was closer to John than to any of the other disciples. Jesus was closer to Peter, James, and John than to the rest of the Twelve, and closer to the Twelve than to the seventy, and closer to the seventy than to His other followers. He was close to Lazarus and Martha, and closer still to their sister Mary. He was so close to His mother that while He was dying on the cross, He instructed John to care for her after His death. Since Christ was closer to some people than to others, clearly there can’t be anything wrong with it.
In Heaven there won’t be cliques, exclusiveness, arrogance, posturing, belittling, or jealousy. But when friends particularly enjoy each other’s company, they are reflecting God’s design. If, as you walk about the New Jerusalem, you see Adam and Eve holding hands as they look at the tree of life, would you begrudge them their special friendship?
Perhaps you’re disappointed that you’ve never had the friendships you long for. In Heaven you’ll have much closer relationships with some people you now know, but it’s also true that you may never have met the closest friends you’ll ever have. Just as someone may be fifty years old before meeting her best friend, you may live on the New Earth enjoying many friendships before meeting someone who will become your dearest friend. Maybe your best friend will be someone sitting next to you at the first great feast. After all, the sovereign God who orchestrates friendships will be in charge of the seating arrangements.
On the New Earth we’ll experience the joy of familiarity in old relationships and the joy of discovery in new ones. As we get to know each other better, we’ll get to know God better. As we find joy in each other, we’ll find joy in Him. No human relationships will overshadow our relationship with God. All will serve to enhance it.

[i] Augustine, quoted in Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), 58.
[ii] Ibid., 60.
[iii] Augustine, On the Christian Doctrine, 1:32–33.
[iv] Augustine, quoted in McDannell and Lang, Heaven: A History, 64–65.

Boring Marriage? Sexify It God's Way!

Boring Marriage? Sexify It God's Way!

Jeff Foxworthy, the redneck comedian who readily admits that he is “not smarter than a fifth-grader” is wiser than he looks. In spite of his humble roots, Foxworthy teaches us a thing or two about keeping romance alive in our marriages. The country boy chides women for becoming lackadaisical in their bedroom attire. The newlywed bride owns a veritable treasure trove of Victoria Secret’s finest lingerie to entice her new mate. After five years of wedlock, Wifey-Poo pads around the house in flannel polka-dot jammies she bought in bulk from Costco. After ten years of wedded bliss, her sleep attire consists of her husband’s old football jerseys. And, God forbid, on their twentieth anniversary, the blushing bride consistently wears holey granny panties and anything else she can retrieve from the Goodwill donation bag. Sad.
What happened to the mystery? What happened to the romance? When did passion, pleasure and spontaneity disappear? One factoid you may not know is that most Christian couples NEVER talk about sex, especially regarding what pleases and arouses their partner. Sex is a guessing game where both parties remain disappointed, bored and unsatisfied. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. Twice a week or even less. Sadly the beautiful act of intimacy God created to bind a man and woman together is lost the shuffle of mundane family routine. Kids are no help in the love-making department. My husband and I were looking forward to a sexy tryst in the New Mexico mountains when we discovered we had to bring along our fifteen-month old daughter with us. Thinking she was asleep, Roger and I were in the midst of a passionate kiss when Brie toddled through the door and said, “You Peskies!!!” So much for the romantic getaway. 
Keeping a marriage exciting is an art. Here are a few tips that may assist you in “firing up” a stale sex life. 
Praise the one you love sincerely and often. Accompany that praise with genuine affection. King Solomon waxed eloquent about his bride in Song of Solomon 4:1-3 NIV. 
“How beautiful you are, my darling!
    Oh, how beautiful!
    Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
    descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
    coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
    not one of them is alone.
Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
    your mouth is lovely.” 
I’ve always felt plain compared to my stunning sister. But from Day One Roger assured me I was gorgeous and alluring. Daily, consistently, he elaborated upon my beauty and charms. My Honey was sincere, poetic and persistent. One morning I was kinking my locks with a curling iron when my true love passed by. He put his arms around my neck and whispered in my ear, “Hello Beautiful!” My heart melted. For the first time, I looked in the mirror and thought, “I’m not so bad looking after all!” I felt so loved and secure.

Intimacy is the foundation for a rich, romantic union. Roger and I have taught hundreds of marriage seminars on intimacy. We always ask our couples, “What are some synonyms for intimacy?” The shy folks from Oklahoma blurt out “trust, transparency, communication, openness and vulnerability.” The Californian couples yell “hot, steamy sex” right off the bat. Wow, what a difference! Genesis states that Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. It was only after munching on the forbidden apple that the pair went clothes shopping!
"Adam and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame." Genesis 2:24-25 (NIV )
"Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Genesis 3:7 (NIV)

What is true intimacy and why is it foundational for good sex? God gave us three Hebrew words for intimacy. Yada-to know (Jeremiah 1:5), Sod-to disclose (Proverbs 3:32), and Sakan-deep, caring involvement. (Psalm 139:3). 
Don’t ever stop “getting to know” your partner. Learn what they love, how they think, what they need. Your mate is always growing and evolving. Don’t miss the transformation. Let them know you. Guys, this is usually more challenging for you. According to Psychology Today, women speak 25,000 words a day while men speak a measly12,000. Guys, open your heart and let your wife in, even if it is difficult for you.
Finally, remember Sakan. The reason you can let someone into your heart is because you know that your spouse wants to be caringly and intimately involved in your life. You don’t want to open up to someone and be wounded and betrayed. Trust is the basis for intimacy. 
Take time to think about sex with your partner. Psychology Today, in another study, reported that men think about sex18.6 times a day and women had sexual thoughts 9.9 times daily. In summary, men learn to talk about sex more often and openly with your wife. Women, purpose to think about sex more frequently (about your partner, of course!) 
Here’s a practical way to implement the process of igniting the fire of passion.
Make a love map. Each partner describes what a pleasurable sexual encounter would look like for him or her. This is where the differences between men and women become apparent. Here is the love map from one of our female conference attendees: 
Wednesday night: Home on time for dinner.
Thursday night: Take a walk.
Friday night: Dinner date and a movie.
Saturday night: Hot, burning love! 
Most men would look at that list and say: That’s wasting time! The first thing on EVERY man’s list? GET NAKED. 
Couples, meet in the middle. Learn what your partner desires and design a love map that works for both of you. (By the way, don’t leave the list on the coffee table for the kids to find. Discreetly stuff it in a dresser drawer away from prying eyes…). 
Finally, remember sex is spiritual-created and ordained by God. Paul says abstaining from relations with your spouse can hinder your prayers. Honor the Lord with the purest picture of Christ’s love for His bride, the church! 
 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32 NIV 
Don’t let your marriage grow stale. Light the fire!!!
www.greatcommandment.net. Some materials were created by Dr. David Ferguson. Used by permission.