Blog Sabbatical – Be Back in Late July!

be back soonI appreciate those of you who faithfully follow my blog. When I initially experimented with blogging in 2009 I had no idea that it would become such an enjoyable and fruitful form of ministry. But being able to serve and resource so many individuals, couples, and churches has truly been a joy.

Over the next month I’m going to take a brief break to recharge.

BUT when the I begin posting new material again my blog should have a NEW DESIGN. I am very excited about the updates that are coming.

  • My site will be converting from “a blog with lots of resources” to a “resource hub with a blog.” This has been needed for a while.
  • The readability and simplicity of design for the site will be significantly better.
  • The resources currently available in video form will also be available in downloadable podcast form.
  • All posts will be available in a printable PDF format, making them more user-friendly as teaching supplements or counseling homework.
  • Clearer guidance will be provided for how to use this site for personal benefit, as a friend, as a pastor, or as a counselor.
  • Clearer guidance will be provided for churches wanting to launch the marriage/pre-marital mentoring or peer support group ministries from the seminars on this site.

Again, thank you for your encouragement and support by utilizing the resources from my site. I think you’ll be excite about the updates that are coming when I resume posting in late July.

How to & How Not to Repent: Best & Worst Practices

repent_kellerThis post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor Raudel’s sermon “Bear Fruit: Repentance – Psalm 51,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday June 10-11, 2017.

How to Repent

There is no formula for repentance. The six points below are merely meant to help you experience the full redemptive impact of repentance. In this sense, repentance and God’s forgiveness can be like a smart phone. They have many features that we may not know are present or how to utilize. When we buy the phone, we get them all; but we do not get the full benefit of them until we realize they’re there and how to use them.

After each point, we will offer an area of self-assessment. These questions are meant to help you determine whether you are placing yourself in a position to receive the benefits God intends to provide through each aspect of repentance.

1. A desire to live for God and submit to His Lordship.

Repentance does not begin with remorse. If that were the case, then we would be saying the cure for guilt begins with feeling worse.

Repentance begins with a genuine desire to submit to God’s Lordship out of trust for His character. Repentance begins with the belief that what God wants for us is actually what is best. We trust God to lead our lives more than ourselves.

When we see God’s ways as best, we are sorry we strayed from them, but this remorse is not “icky” like shame; instead it is like the sense of reunion with a trusted friend after you realize you were wrongly upset with them and they graciously embrace the friendship again.

  • Self-Assessment: Are you surrendering to the Lordship of Christ because you trust his love for you or are you primarily seeking relief from unpleasant emotions and destructive habits?

2. An understanding of how our sin sought to replace God.

It is not just actions or distorted motives for which we repent. We repent for having replaced God with ourselves. 

The idols that fuel our sin want to control all of our lives; to interpret all the events and people in our lives. Repentance acknowledges this false worship as an affront to God and wants him to have his rightful place in our lives; allowing God to again rightly interpret the events and people in our lives.

  • Self-Assessment: Are you able to see the “against God” nature of your sin?

3. Brokenness over the nature of our sin.

A healthy life begins with recognizing our fallen human condition. Ultimately we sin because we are sinners. The myriad of factors that led to our sin are not the root cause. The root is that our nature has been distorted by the Fall (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

True repentance is not just sorrow over particular idols or behavioral failures but brokenness over our condition as a sinful person. When we acknowledge our depravity, we gain an accurate self-assessment that motivates us to perpetually rely on God. Realizing this is the perpetual need of every person allows for a non-shame-based honesty in which a real relationship with God can thrive.

Repentance is what allows you not to have to be either fake or fatalistic about your short-comings and perpetual struggles. Repentance allows you to be honest and have hope at the same time.

  • Self-Assessment: Do you resist seeing yourself and allowing yourself to be known as someone who is in perpetual need of God’s sustaining grace?

4. Expression to God.

After sin, our pride or fear causes us to hide from God rather than talk to God (Gen. 3:8). Too often we think that a directionless sense of regret for sin is the same thing as repenting to God.

You will not feel restored to God as long as you are avoiding God because of your sin. It does no good to address your repentance “to whom it may concern.” Any ambiguously addressed repentance is little more than talking to yourself differently. Talk to God when you repent so that you can know His response to your repentance.

  • Self-Assessment: Have you talked to God in your repentance? If not, might it be that your repentance seems ineffective because the “no one” you spoke to can have no power to forgive or comfort?

5. Faith in God’s willingness to forgive.

Repentance is an expression of faith. We come to God with nothing to offer in exchange for forgiveness. If we do not believe God will freely forgive, we will continue in our “try harder” or “hide more effectively” approaches that allowed our sin to fester.

All this does is inadvertently reinforce the false beliefs that our sin is good and God is mean. Unless we believe that God is willing to forgive on the basis of His grace and Christ’s death, then repentance becomes a form of penance that is more like putting peace in layaway than receiving a gift.

  • Self-Assessment: How do you view God (i.e., expression on His face, posture of His body, tones when He speaks, words that He says, gestures of His hands) when you come to God in repentance?

6. New direction of life usually expressed first by confession (to those we’ve offended and other Christians for accountability).

Repentance is our part of entering into or recommitting to a covenant relationship (i.e., like marriage) with God. This is why sin is frequently called spiritual adultery. 

Repentance is our vow-renewal ceremony that expresses our renewed commitment to covenant fidelity. Marriage ceremonies and vow renewals are not done in private. They are public declarations of who has our ultimate allegiance. This parallels why repentance doesn’t remain private. It is also expressed through confession.

  • Self-Assessment: Does it startle you to think of repentance as a vow-renewal ceremony? How does that image extend the implications of repentance beyond the moment of prayer?

How Not to Repent

The recognition that there are healthy and unhealthy forms of repentance is both common sense and biblical (2 Corinthians 7:8-13). On this everyone agrees; secular and sacred. The difficulty is in discerning disingenuous repentance. Mature and discerning people can witness the same conversation and walk away with distinctly different impressions about whether a given expression of remorse represents genuine repentance, sorrow for being caught, or a tactic to gain relational leverage.

In this post, I hope to accomplish two things. First, I will attempt to clarify two common misperceptions about manipulation. Second, I will discuss a series of phrases commonly used in repentance which can be red flags that the remorse being expressed will not lead to healthy relational restoration.

Misperception #1:

Manipulation is about motive (why or how something is done) more than method (what is said or done). There is no way to make a list of “manipulative phrases.” Every phrase listed below has a context in which it could be legitimate and appropriate. Manipulation is about motive (resisting change, minimizing responsibility, blame-shifting, etc…) and is most effective (in a negative sense of “effectiveness”) when that phrase/action used seems legitimate.

Implication – The explanation after each phrase below will be important to understand. If the description of how each phrase can be a part of manipulative repentance does not fit a given use of that phrase, it should not be considered manipulative.

Misperception #2:

Manipulation does not require “malice aforethought” or intellectual cunning. From my experience in counseling, most people who are using remorse to gain an advantage or avoid responsibility are not aware, in the moment, of what they’re doing. They just want to escape the discomfort of the moment. This driving desire (i.e., to escape) shapes the way they define words and frame questions.

In reality, that is what manipulation is: manipulation is defining words and framing questions (by verbiage or emotions) in such a way that makes a healthy response from the other person seem selfish, mean, or unreasonable.

“I know I’m not perfect.”

Your expectations that I responded decently are unreasonable. You are holding me to a perfectionistic standard. In order to avoid being confronted by you, I would have to be perfect. You should feel bad for being judgmental and harsh instead of asking me to seek restoration for what I did.

“I’ve never pretended to be someone I’m not.”

You knew who I was when we started this relationship so you are being unfair by expecting me to be decent. This confuses genuineness with righteousness; authenticity with holiness. By this standard, someone could be consistently hurtful and we would still be to blame for their sin because we chose to be in relationship with them.

“You are bringing up stuff from the past.”

We can only talk about events, not patterns of behaviors. Often this impasse is reached when the individual repenting is unwilling to see that the event (for instance, intoxication or belligerence) in question was part of a larger pattern (i.e., addiction or abusive speech). If there is a pattern of behavior and this pattern goes unacknowledged, then the level of efforts towards change will be inadequate to produce the necessary change.

“You know I am not the kind of person who would do that… that is not what I meant.”

Your experience of me is not an accurate depiction of reality. My self-perception and intentions are truer than your experience. These phrases leave the person repenting in charge of defining the event for which forgiveness is being sought. The intent /self-perception of the sinner is being imposed as a limit on the pain of the one sinned against. The result is that the offended person has less voice in describing their pain. The offending person remains in charge of the narrative.

“I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me? What more can I do?”

If anything more than my words (i.e., “I’m sorry”) are required in response to my actions, then you are being unforgiving, mean, weak, or hyper-emotional. Also, this response often implies that an apology should be met with an immediate sense of trust and equanimity in the relationship. Any lingering sense of mistrust by the offended person is then labeled as an unreasonable and ungodly form of punishment.

More use of first person pronouns (i.e., I, me, my) than second person pronouns (i.e., you, your).

While this is not a specific phrase, the excessive use of self-centered pronouns may reveal that the person repenting is focusing on their personal experience of the offense more than the impact on the person they hurt or offended. In this way, the person repenting is remaining the main character in their repentance as much as they were in their sin.

Note: First person pronouns should be used in the active / ownership part of repentance. However, in the description of the impact and aftermath of our sin, healthy repentance focuses more on the disruption we caused in the other person’s life.

“There are a lot of people / couples who have it much worse than you / we do.”

You should feel bad for complaining when the situation was not as bad as it could have been. This equates “could have been worse” with “not bad enough to mention.” It also portrays suffering as a competitive sport in which only those who suffer the worst merit sympathy for their hardship.

This phrase often comes towards the end of an unhealthy repentance conversation. Early in the conversation the repenting person minimizes or blame-shifts. When the offended party tries to clarify the degree of hurt, this is viewed as exaggeration. This perception of exaggeration leads the repenting person to use the logic of “this situation is not as bad as [more exaggerative situation].”

“I promise I will do better (without agreement about the problem or concrete examples)”

Even though I minimize and disagree with you about the past and present, you should trust what I mean when I say “better” about the future. Commitments to change are not bad, although these commitments should usually have more humility than an absolute promise. However, when commitments to do “better” are made during a disagreement about the nature of the offense, these commitments become a way to shut down communication. Again, if you don’t accept my promise, you’re being mean, unforgiving, or unreasonable.

Conclusion

Remember most expressions of manipulation are unintentional (this does not reduce culpability). Many people are unskilled at difficult communication and become unduly shaped by their own interests when they should be owning their sin.

Frequently, I have found that when a counselor can articulate the unhealthy dynamic that exists in an attempt to repent, the offending person can see the coerciveness of their attempt at reconciliation. Usually (if it’s in marriage counseling), the couple will say, “Yikes, we do this a lot. We knew it wasn’t working but we couldn’t figure out why.”

This leads to a fruitful conversation about why their past efforts at restoring conflict through the biblical process of repentance and forgiveness had been unsuccessful (or, only intermittently effective).

In other cases, where the offending spouse is more committed to their self-centeredness, these explanations are rejected as unreasonable. In these instances, helping the offended individual / spouse remain open to the possibility of a more fully restored relationship without acquiescing to the manipulative style of communication becomes the focus of counseling (example of this kind of approach here).

Responding to a Full Disclosure: Marital Restoral After Sexual Addiction or Adultery

full-disclosureThis post is an excerpt from Step 2 of the True Betrayal seminar manual. If you read the content and feel like this is a very weighty step, you are right. But it is a vital step in marital restoration. It is advised that you and your spouse have a counselor or mentoring relationship to support you in this process.

The main factual content of what your spouse should share with you is outline in the description of his/her “full disclosure” in Step 2 of False Love. This is meant to remove the I-have-to-ask-the-right-questions-in-order-to-get-the-full-answer game (not a fun or fair game). If your spouse is unwilling or procrastinates in completing this exercise, then there is not a “magic” way to ask questions that will produce the information you desire. Do not place the pressure on yourself to ask questions “just right.” In such cases, restraining from sexual involvement, sleeping in a separate bedroom, requesting a higher degree of counseling involvement, and contacting your church leaders for an additional level of disciplinary involvement may be appropriate responses.

While completing the full disclosure exercise is good and beneficial step in the right direction for your spouse, it will likely be very difficult to hear. Realizing this will help both of you during the disclosure process.

“[Testimony] It was the best and worst day of my life. I knew for once that he told the truth at the risk of great personal cost. It gave me hope that he could grow up and face life’s responsibilities. It was the first time his words and his actions were congruent. I felt outraged and sick, yet I also felt respected and relieved. It gave me hope for our relationship (p. 31).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

“Adultery is like a funeral, and you need to view the body. Mates need a thorough, honest confession (viewing the body) to validate that a real loss has taken place. Then they can slowly grieve and reclaim the marriage. If confession comes out in dribbles then trust continues to be broken (p. 349).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Read Job 1:13-22. Hearing reports of evil invading your life is incredibly hard. Notice that when you read Job’s intensely emotional response (v. 20) you admire him rather than view Him as weak. Even as you read His words that are factually true but border on despair (v. 21a), you naturally read them as filled with faith because they are still addressing God and looking to Him for hope (v. 21b). Use Job’s initial response as an example for your initial response to your spouse’s disclosure – emotionally honest, physically expressive, and directed God-ward. It is wise to take your spouse’s disclosure and discuss it with God before you try to discuss it with your spouse.

Discussing the disclosure with God before your spouse does not replace bringing your questions to your spouse. It would be tempting for both of you to believe that one intense, honest conversation should “put this subject to rest.” Repent and forgive in one lengthy talk, right? Wrong. In False Love, your spouse has been taught that disclosure and confession are two separate actions. Rarely does the shame, deception, recidivism, and defensiveness of sexual sin allow these actions to occur simultaneously, although most people giving their disclosure would (at that time) consider it fully confessional.

“The first thing you need to realize is that disclosure isn’t a one-time event—it’s a process (p. 32).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

For this reason, it is false to think that asking additional questions only makes the situation worse. There does come a time when additional questions are counter-productive, but that is when either (1) the questions are being asked as a form of punishment to force the offending spouse to relive their shame, or (2) you already know the answers to the questions and are holding on to the false hope that eventually the answers will become untrue. Otherwise, questions can be a healthy part of assimilating the hidden sin into your life story and gathering the information necessary to know that future decisions are being made with adequate awareness.

“We wrongly believe that to love or forgive means never bringing sinful realities into focus since they would result in pain. Such thinking is dangerous and debilitating; it avoids pain at the expense of healing (p. 79).” Earl & Sandy Wilson, et al in Restoring the Fallen

Full Disclosure Follow Up

After your spouse’s full disclosure and you taking time to think about and talk to God about what you’ve heard, you will still have questions. You will have questions to clarify what you’ve been told and you will have questions that just randomly pop into your mind. If you bring these to your spouse in a random fashion, it will make assimilation of the new information harder. When you are hurt these randomly ordered conversations negatively affect the trust built through the additional disclosure. Random emotionally connected questions produce random logically unconnected answers that seem “fishy” even if true (and your current hurt makes it very hard to be objective about this).

For this reason, it is suggested that you write out your questions as they come to you (“popcorn” style), and then organize them. Having your questions grouped together will help your spouse’s answers fit into a cohesive history and, thereby, help you assimilate the answers. Now that your spouse has put the effort into writing out his/her full disclosure, this reciprocated effort is warranted. There are several ways that you can organize your questions.

  • Based upon the full disclosure outline – The recommended outline for the full disclosure was organized around the different expressions that sexual sin can take. This would allow you to ask questions based upon different aspect of the sin. This structure is often most helpful when you still do not feel like you know or understand what your spouse has done.
  • Based upon the history of the marriage – In this approach, the questions are arranged based upon a time line that may begin with dating and comes to the present. This structure is most helpful when the lies associated with sexual sin removed the confidence that you know your spouse or your own personal history (the theme of “disrupted story” will be developed more in Step 4).
  • Based upon subject areas – You may find that your questions better cluster around certain subjects (i.e., behavior at work, guy’s/girl’s night out, taking phone calls outside the house, etc…). This structure can be more helpful when your uncertainties gather certain events, devices, or people.
  • Based upon the dominant emotions you are feeling – When the other structure prove ineffective, you can arrange questions based upon the emotions they come from or illicit (i.e., anger, fear, sadness, etc…). This structure is recommended for when you believe your spouse has been honest with you, but you do not think they “get it” about their sin’s impact on you.

The “Why?” Question

This is the most common question with the least satisfying answer. Most of the time the “why?” question creates a Catch-22 scenario: either the answer comes across as blame-shifting (i.e., “Because you/we weren’t…) or ignorant (i.e., “I don’t know. It just kinda happened.”). One is insulting; the other infuriating.

“The reality is that we will never find a good enough reason for some of the wrongs done… Neither of us found ‘the answer’ or ‘the reason’ Gary chose to risk everything for an affair. He just did. Mona had to accept that as fact so she could move forward (p. 172).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

In order to get anywhere productive with this legitimate question, we must grapple with the nature of sin. Sin is ultimately foolish and foolishness will never be explained rationally. When we try to explain sin rationally it always results in some form of blame-shifting.

“All sin is ultimately irrational….. Though people persuade themselves that they have good reasons for sinning, when examined in the cold light of truth on the last day, it will be seen in every case that sin ultimately just does not make sense (p. 493).” Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology

As you ask the “why?” question, you need to recognize that the best answer that you are going to get is either an expression of repentant dissatisfaction (i.e., “I was upset with you for not appreciating me and, wrongly, I found someone who would,” or “I was under so much pressure that I used porn as a form of escape”) or acknowledged foolishness (i.e., “It doesn’t make any sense now, but I wanted to learn about different sexual experiences and porn was a fun way to do it ‘without risk’,” or “Once I started getting attention, I liked it and never did anything to stop it from escalating”).

No answer to the “why?” question will be satisfying. Ultimately, when asking the why question you are looking for the idolatry at the root of the sin – what did your spouse wanted so badly that he/she was willing to sin in order to get it? Your spouse may not be able to see his/her desire as an idol at this stage. In Step 3 of False Love your spouse will explore the motives of his/her sin. This is when you can anticipate more productive conversations about “why” to begin to emerge.

Playing the Detective

You might ask, “What if I don’t think my spouse is telling me the whole truth? How far do I go to get the truth? Should I check his/her computer, phone, bank records, etc…?” Ideally, in this situation, you would be honest with your spouse and say, “I am having a hard time believing you and would like for you to live transparently enough to settle my fears.” In Steps 5 and 6 of False Love, your spouse will learn that transparency in marriage is normal rather than a punitive response to sexual sin.

If your spouse responds negatively or negligently to your direct request, then verification of your concern may be something you choose to pursue. If you do seek to verify your concerns by checking on your spouse’s activity without his/her awareness, then you should adhere to the follow principles.

  • If your spouse is actively engaged in False Love with a counselor, mentor, or group and participating in the restoration process, it is not advised that you not seek information without your spouse’s awareness.
  • Before taking any investigative step, you should be seeing a marriage counselor or, at least, a personal counselor. A relationship at this level of trust deterioration will have a hard time surviving, even if you fears are disproven, without outside guidance.
  • You should resolve before you check anything to tell your spouse what you have done, what you found, and why you deemed this step necessary. Gaining information you will not share will only serve to further damage the relationship and you.
  • You should not do anything illegal in the pursuit of information. Your spouse’s past or continuing immoral action does not warrant you taking illegal actions no matter how hurt you feel.
  • You should not make this your regular practice. Investigation, even when it finds nothing, does not build trust. If your search finds problematic materials and your spouse will not acknowledge clear facts of sin, then you may need to take the next step outlined in Appendix A. If your search proves empty, then you should inform your spouse of your search, your concern, and trust that God will expose your spouse’s sexual sin (if ongoing) as He was faithful to do on the previous occasion(s).

“It is important for the wife to walk the fine line between trust and caution. One extreme keeps a wife in ignorance and the husband in his secret sin. The other extreme keeps the wife in a miserable life of fear which never disappears completely, no matter how hard the husband is trying (p. 34).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Pornography” or “Favorite Posts on Adultery”  post which address other facets of this subject.

Council of Counselors: Women’s Discipleship / “The Talk” / Biblical Counselors / Aging Parents / Boring Bible

This is a weekly post that highlights resources from other counselors that I have found helpful. The counselors may be from the biblical counseling, Christian psychology, integration, or secular counseling traditions. By linking to a post, I am not giving it my full endorsement, I am merely indicating that I believe it made a unique contribution or raised an important subject for consideration.

Six Ways Men Can Support Women’s Discipleship by Trillia Newbell

My experience reflects a larger, more widespread challenge inside the church: Male clergy and lay leaders have the power to impact and support women’s discipleship, but many of them (by their own account) fall short. “When you consider how many ministries and committees depend upon the genius, generosity and sweat of our sisters,” writes pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, “it’s almost criminal that most any pastor you meet has no plan for discipling the women of his church apart from outsourcing to a women’s ministry staff person or committee.”

How to Teach Your Kids About Sex by Dennis Rainey

Of all the discussions we have had in our family about sex, probably 95 percent of them have concerned character issues. We’ve had discussions about God’s purposes for sex, the importance of sex and marriage, and why you should wait for marriage before you have sex. We talked about how to avoid situations in which you are tempted, how different types of media shape our thoughts in this area, the types of movies to see and avoid, how to respond when someone challenges your convictions, and many other topics. We have found that the issues surrounding human sexuality, such as self-control and obedience to God, are the foundational character qualities every parent wants to build into his teenager.

Five Biblical Portraits of the Biblical Counselor by Bob Kellemen

In my previous post, Truth and Love: Sharing Scripture and Soul, I addressed the question, “Does the Bible teach that in biblical counseling relationships are tertiary?” I was responding, in part, to a blog post I had read by a fellow biblical counselor, Donn Arms, that stated that relationships are secondary or perhaps tertiary in biblical counseling. I based my response upon numerous biblical passages including Romans 15:14; Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 1:9-11; and 1 Thessalonians 2:8.

  • In you enjoyed this post, consider my collection of posts on “Counseling Theory.”

Caring for Aging Parents: 6 Ways to Prepare Your People Well by Michele Howe

With such a large group of Baby Boomers getting older, there is also a larger number of middle-aged adults caring for aging parents. Many times, this is entered into with little forethought: a parent needs care, so the adult children are the ones to give it. And while most adult children anticipate a period of adjustment, few realize the true difficulties that caring for aging parents can bring.

One Reason Your Bible Reading Might Feel Boring by Mike Leake

I wonder if we sometimes have a similar experience with Scripture. Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth”. Yet, there are times when God’s Word tastes bland to me. Is it because I’m expecting the wrong thing? Am I not savoring God’s Word because I’m treating it like something it is not?

What I’m Reading

counsel crossCounsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Given the evermore apparent failure of modern psychotherapies and a growing discomfort with pharmacological strategies, many churches are reaffirming the sufficiency and power of the Scriptures to change lives.

To aid churches in ministering to broken and hurting people, the authors of Counsel from the Cross present a counseling model based on Scripture and powered by the work of the wonderful counselor, Jesus Christ. Through careful exegesis and helpful case studies, they demonstrate how to provide consistently biblical, gospel-centered counseling and explain why it is important to do so.

The authors’ combined backgrounds—one, a woman trained in biblical counseling and the other, a male professor of practical theology—bring balance to this work, making it relevant for those who counsel as part of pastoral ministry and for all involved in mentoring or discipleship.

Tweets of the Week

Meaningful Meme

tozer

On the Lighter Side

Because, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” Proverbs 17:22.

Video: Overcoming Codependency (Step Nine)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Codependency.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“From Codependency to Salt and Light”
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Overcoming Codependency – Step 9 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV), “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Salt… Light” – An implication of this passage is a recognition that we live in places of darkness and decay.
  • “Lost its saltiness… under a basket” – God does not intend for us to lose our voice in our hardships.
  • “Gives light to all” – Living out of God’s love and for God’s purpose is how God intends of us to have influence.
  • “So they may see” – Our freedom in Christ is either attractive to those who want to be free or infuriating for those who want to be in control (abuse) or are satisfied to live in bondage (addiction).
  • “Give glory to your father” – We find the most freedom when we don’t personalize other’s response to our freedom.

Teaching Notes

To “steward” something means to use it for God’s intended purpose. It is important to remember that what is being stewarded is the life of the group member in general, not your experience of suffering exclusively.

“One of the tests for an intimate relationship is answering the question, Can I be most myself in your presence? Can I be creative, funny, vulnerable, productive, strong, weak, flamboyant, shy or even smart? Can I couple any of those words with sex and romance? Can I be tough, forgiving, generous, spiritual, intuitive, graceful, clumsy, lazy, self-indulgent and disciplined? Do I feel equal, successful, attractive, encouraged, trusted and believed? Can I be fully as competent as I can be and not have my partner disappear? Do I feel challenged? Can I be accountable and hold my partner accountable? Is it OK to make a mistake? Does our time together really seem to matter (p. 66)?” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

“The odd thing is that fear and anxiety are running away from something, but they don’t know what to run to. They know danger, but they don’t know where to find peace and rest (p. 63)… It’s as if fear needs to be replaced in our lives, and it is replaced with a simple question, ‘What does my Father, the King, want me to do now?’ (p. 241) .” Ed Welch in Running Scared

Full Disclosure: A Step Towards Marital Restoration After Sexual Addiction or Adultery

full-disclosureThis post is an excerpt from Step 2 of the False Love seminar manual. If you read the content and feel like this is a very weighty step, you are right. But it is a vital step in marital restoration. It is advised that you and your spouse have a counselor or mentoring relationship to support you in this process.

Understanding the history and development of a behavior, even a sinful behavior, can be an important part of changing it. Often we forget, or never noticed in the first place, when and why we began to do something. When this happens that action feels completely “natural” and, therefore, its continuation is reinforced through our ignorance of ourselves.

“Recognizing how my pattern of sexual obsessions first developed its particular shape helped the tumblers fall into place for me in terms of understanding myself (p. 16).” Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon.

There is another reason for this kind of examination in our day. Where do most people today learn about sex? Movies and internet. Or, conversations with friends who learned about sex from movies and internet. Romance movies/novels and pornography are defining our sexual expectations. Because this is “all we know” for so many people (enhanced further by how little we talk about sex in church or family), the deceitful and destructive messages of these media forms stay in place to fuel our sexual sin.

“The sexuality of a whole generation of children is being formed not by talks with their parents, not by reading the kind of book I was given as a young man, but by professional pornographers who will do anything—anything!—to fuel an increased desire for increased depravity (p. 13).” Tim Challies in Sexual Detox

As you go through this section, your goal is not just to identify when you began “doing” bad but when you began in “believing wrongly” about sex. As we will explore more in chapter three, sinful behavior is rooted in deceitful beliefs or expectations. We believe that other things (in this case relationships, marriage, sex, or sexual fantasy) can give us what only God can give. It is easier to surrender these beliefs (biblically called “dying to self” Luke 9:23) when we understand when they began and how they have been reinforced throughout our life.

Before engaging the primary exercise for this section, there is a caution that needs to be given. While overcoming sexual sin, it is easy to begin to view your sexuality as evil or as your enemy. As you examine the history of your sexual sin, this is likely correlated with but not the same as your history of sexual development. We become sexually aware and enter puberty before there is a holy expression for our sexuality. In recent decades with the advance of nutrition causing an earlier onset of puberty and our cultural age of marriage getting older, this gap is increasing. This means that the window of temptation is larger, but should not be used to mean that sexual sin is inevitable (I Cor 10:13).

“That’s why it’s so critical to understand that sexual drive isn’t the same as lust. For example: (1) It’s not lust to be attracted to someone or notice he or she is good-looking; (2) It’s not lust to have a strong desire to have sex; (3) It’s not lust to anticipate and be excited about having sex within marriage; (4) It’s not lust when a man or woman becomes turned-on without any conscious decision to do so; (5) It’s not lust to experience sexual temptation. The crucial issue in each of these examples is how we respond to the urges and desires of our sexual drive (p. 35)… Misplaced shame can be dangerous because it saps our strength for fighting our real enemy. A person who is wrongly ashamed of being a sexual creature with sexual desires will quickly feel overwhelmed and helpless because he’s trying to overcome more than just lust—he’s trying to stop being human (p. 37).” Joshua Harris in Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is)

Exercise: Preparing a Full Disclosure

Using the outline and questions below create a chronological history of your battle with sexual sin. The outline will be built around the categories from the evaluation tool in chapter one.

Write out your answers on separate pieces of paper and leave room for questions raised by your counselor, accountability partner, or spouse. Be honest. Retreating back to lies or “partial truths” at this point destroys everything you are working towards.

If you are married, this exercise should be used as the basis for your “full disclosure” to your spouse. This full disclosure is not the same thing as the confession you will be asked to do in chapter five. But it is appropriate to ask your spouse’s forgiveness for the things you share and to let him/her know that you will be returning to them to further seek his/her forgiveness as you come to understand the spiritual and relational significance of your actions in the coming chapters.

Don’t try to convince yourself or your spouse that you fully “get it” at this time.

“An issue most people struggle with is the advisability of confessing undiscovered affairs, both past and present. Confession is vital in restoring honesty and rebuilding trust… Treating your mate as fragile or fearing conflict are inadequate reasons for not confessing (p. 349).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Read Proverbs 12:13-28. Before you begin writing your full disclosure take time to consider this passage that portrays the difference between a life of honesty and a life of deceit. The honesty and transparency of your words will be the difference between peace and despair, joy and misery, life and death. You will likely be tempted to think that further deception and concealment is the only way you will know peace, joy, and life; but be wise and hear this advice – that is a lie (12:15). If you want to build enduring relationships, speak truth; if you want your world to continue to crumble, hide the truth (12:18). The Lord will delight in you if you are honest, even if that honesty is the confession of sin (12:22). Continued deceit will weigh you down with anxiety, but confession is the first step to joy (12:25). You have been headed towards death, but honesty is the path to life (12:28). Remind yourself of these things frequently as you work on your disclosure.

  • Objectifying People: When did you first notice that you classified people by favorable-disfavorable physical features, had a strong pull towards certain relational qualities, or began to fear people who had certain “strengths” you desired? How did you begin to arrange your life to pursue, be liked by, or avoid these “better” people? How did these changes in your social life result in isolation, social fakeness, over dependent relationships, or serial relationships? How has sin led to shame then secrecy and ultimately isolation?
  • Public Visual Lust: What features are you most prone to notice and linger upon? What locations or activities are (present sin) or have been (development of sin) the most frequent or concentrated sources of visual temptation? How have you (past or present) arranged your schedule to feed your appetite for public visual lust?
  • Private Narrative Lust: What romantic or erotic themes repeat themselves most in your private narrative lust? What insecurities are calmed or desires met through these themes? What movies or books best capture the themes of your private narrative lusts? How much time do you spend consuming these kinds of romantic books or movies? How much time do you spend in private fantasy about these themes?
  • Soft Porn: What was your first exposure to soft porn (catalog, magazine, commercial, fuzzy TV channels, lewd conversations with friends, etc…)? What current exposure to soft porn do you have? What parts of common life experience or conversation do you sexualize to the point of becoming soft porn?

“Sexual addiction seems unmanageable because acting out seems to just ‘happen.’ Sex addicts must learn that this is not true (p. 62)… Stopping rituals is key to stopping sexual acting out. Rituals are all the thoughts and actions that lead to sexual acting out (p. 153).” Mark Laaser in Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction

What rituals do you go through as you prepare to participate in soft porn (these questions on rituals apply to all types of sexual sin behavior)? How do you slowly move towards your sin, even if you are telling yourself you’re not going to indulge this time? What lust triggers do you continue to expose yourself? What habits frequently precede your sexual sin? How do you use sexual sin as a “reward” for completing a task or doing good?

  • Hard Porn: What was your first exposure to pornography with full naked bodies or sexually explicit scenes? How much time do you spend looking at pornography per week? How much money have you spent on pornography? Do you have any active subscriptions to pornography? In the last three years what is the longest period of time you’ve gone without viewing pornography? Do you have pornography hidden anywhere (physically or electronically)? Do you have any secret e-mail accounts?
  • Interacting with Real Anonymous Person: What website, phone numbers, or other services do you use to connect with these people? Do you use a chat room, social networking sites, or match-making services to connect with people? How much time do you spend “fishing” for a “conversation” partner? Have you put your real name and contact information on any websites? Have you sent real pictures of yourself (nude or non-nude) or communicated with a webcam (casual or erotic)? As you get to know someone does the relationship become more or less appealing? Have you ever scheduled to meet someone? How many steps did you take towards meeting?
  • Emotional Affair without Touch: [For single men or women these questions may not be relevant unless your dating partner is married or in a committed relationship with someone else.] How did the relationship begin and when did the conversations become more trusting and or self-disclosing? What negative statements have you made about your spouse, your marriage, or your family? Have the two of you told each other that you are attracted to one another? What means of hidden communication do you have? When and where do you talk? What steps have you made to hide this communication from your spouse? What life circumstances have made it easy to hide this relationship? Does your interaction include date-like activities? Could any actions you have taken jeopardize your employment? Was the relationship fueled by dissatisfaction with your spouse or attraction to the other person?

“We suggest that one of the first steps in extracting yourself out of an emotional affair is to come home and confess to your spouse. Some might think, Wait a minute; this one I don’t need to confess because nothing really happened. It’ll only upset my spouse and cause even more problems… This confession will accomplish three things. First… it diffuses the power of secrecy… Second, it helps prevent the escalation of the relationship… Third, it is a great motivator to immediately end the relationship and begin working to rebuild your marriage with your spouse (p. 238-239).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

  • Sexual Touch without Sex: How much physical touch was involved: holding hands, massage, hug, kiss, removing articles of clothing, fondling sensitive areas, or oral sex? With how many people have these touches occurred? With each person, how many occurrences of sexual touch have there been? With each person, over what length of time did these touches occur? Who or what stopped the sexual touching from becoming more intimate?
  • One Time Sexual Encounter: How many people have you had “casual” sex with? When and how have you been the pursuer in these sexual encounters? When and how have you intentionally placed yourself in compromising situations for these encounters to occur? Has there been reason to fear pregnancy resulting from these sexual encounters? Have you paid for sex? Have alcohol or drugs been involved in your sexual activities?
  • Affair in a Committed Relationship: [For single men or women these questions would address fornication (pre-marital sex) rather than adultery (extra-marital sex).] Answer all questions pertaining to an emotional affair. When did the sex begin? What percentage of your interaction with your adultery partner was sexual? What expressions of love and commitment were exchanged (verbal, gifts, risks, trips, etc…)? Was the relationship considered romantic or merely “friends with benefits”? Who knew about, condoned, or encouraged the relationship?
  • Affair as a Pseudo-Spouse: [For single men or women these questions would apply to situations of co-habitation.] What plans were made to leave your respective spouses? What research or other action steps were put into these plans? What family, friends, or children were introduced to your adultery partner? What actions have you taken to emotionally, financially, or otherwise protect your adultery partner at the expense of your spouse and family? What lies have you told yourself or others about your spouse in order to validate your choices?

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Pornography” or “Favorite Posts on Adultery”  post which address other facets of this subject.

Council of Counselors: Self-Forgetfulness / Date Ideas / Divorce Habits / Celibate Gay Christians / Life as Worship

This is a weekly post that highlights resources from other counselors that I have found helpful. The counselors may be from the biblical counseling, Christian psychology, integration, or secular counseling traditions. By linking to a post, I am not giving it my full endorsement, I am merely indicating that I believe it made a unique contribution or raised an important subject for consideration.

Can Self-Forgetfulness Make Us Happier? by Randy Alcorn

Sometimes when times are tough, I have that same experience of losing myself during quiet times with God. Sometimes I have it when laughing with family and friends. Other times it’s when I’m riding a bike or listening to music or a great audio book. In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis said of the humble person, “He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” I’ve seen the truth of what Lewis and Tim Keller and others have discovered, experiencing my greatest happiness not simply when I think less of myself, but when I think of myself less. When I’m thinking most about Jesus and others, and least about me, I’m most fulfilled.

20 Ideas for Dating Your Wife by Justin Buzzard

Men, you need to come up with your own ideas for how to date your wife. You know your wife better than anyone else. Only you know how to best care for the woman God has given you. But, sometimes it helps to build off other people’s ideas in order to form your own. Look these ideas over.

12 Habits That Lead to Divorce by Dave Willis

How do we stop this epidemic of broken marriages? To bring it even closer to home, how should YOU protect YOUR marriage? I’m convinced that if you’ll avoid these 12 common bad “habits,” you’ll be well on your way to beating the divorce statistics and creating a healthy and happy marriage that will endure through every season of life.

Friends as Family Perspective by Mark Yarhouse

We are looking to enhance our understanding of the experiences of celibate gay Christians and their support system. We would like to interview friends who are close to celibate gay Christians or function as family in the lives of celibate gay Christians and could speak to that friendship. We would like to understand how people have built supportive friendships and to learn about the challenges, approaches, and your shared wisdom in building such relationships.

Worship Matters Video Intensive by Bob Kauflin

In 2008, Bob Kauflin wrote Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, in which he sought to connect a biblical theology of worship with what worship leaders actually do on Sundays. Through the book, Bob builds congregational worship on biblical principles that transcend cultures, generations, and ethnic groups.

  • For a perspective on how the concept of worship is central to biblical counseling see the “What I’m Reading” section below.

What I’m Reading

aweAwe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul Tripp. Humans are hardwired for awe. Our hearts are always captured by something—that’s how God made us. But sin threatens to distract us from the glory of our Creator. All too often, we stand in awe of everything but God.

Uncovering the lies we believe about all the earthly things that promise us peace, life, and contentment, Paul Tripp redirects our gaze to God’s awe-inducing glory—showing how such a vision has the potential to impact our every thought, word, and deed.

Tweets of the Week

Meaningful Meme

Jesus_Spurgeon

On the Lighter Side

Because, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” Proverbs 17:22.

When Someone Resists Your Advice: 3 Questions to Consider

????????????This post was originally published on the CareLeader resource site on March 22, 2017. We asked pastoral counselor Brad Hambrick to respond to a question that pastors inevitably face: “If someone you counsel in your church refuses or ignores your counsel, how should that be handled?” Here are his thoughts.

This is one of the things that can be difficult when we are counseling others. How much is somebody obligated to follow the counsel of others in the church to preserve the fellowship and the unity of the body of Christ? I think if we’re going to answer that question, we have to deconstruct it a little bit. We have to look at its pieces and then come back and ask some further clarifying questions.

First consideration: Who’s involved in the conversation?

So we start with the question, Who are you? What is your role? Are you the pastor? Are you a deacon? Are you a small-group leader? Are you leading in a particular ministry area, like a recovery group? Are you a peer?

And then we ask, Who is the other person? Is the person somebody held to a higher standard like a pastor, a deacon, or an elder? Is the person a peer? Does the person look up to you in a position of authority, like a teacher? Different roles carry different standards that come with them. Thus, pastors and elders are to be above reproach, and in these cases you might come to the other person with an issue that compromises the person’s reputation in the community.

Second consideration: What type of advice was given?

Next we ask, What is the advice that you gave? Is it moral instruction? Is it significant, logistical instruction, or is it more casual advice?

Scripture, when it calls you to counsel and care for others, is not calling you to be a social engineer in their lives, arranging their lives in whatever way that you see best. It’s calling you to be responsible for those moral areas in which hearts tend to be bent and broken. We all need people who see our lives more clearly than we do. We all need caring people who can say, “I really feel like you’re falling into error.” If it’s a moral instruction, then you might come along with somebody else, like it says in Matthew 18, to tell the person that you’re really concerned about this area of his or her life.1 If it’s not an area of moral weight, then you probably don’t do that.

If, however, it is not a matter of moral weight, you might look at the friend and say, “Because of the issue we’ve been talking about, you’re on the brink of burnout.” Or, “I can’t necessarily say that what you’re doing is sinful, but it’s foolish enough to be dangerous.”

Third consideration: What type of resistance is it?

And then we ask the question, What is the nature of the resistance? Was the person flippant? Defiant? Forgetful? You can use this set of questions to decide how you should respond if the counsel you offer is rejected.

This is where a passage like 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is very instructive, because it gives people different attitudes that they might have toward behavior that needs to change. This verse says if people are unruly—if they’re committed to their sin—then you should admonish them. Give a strong word of correction that you speak with a heartfelt urgency, because this issue really needs to change.

First Thessalonians 5:14 also says that some people are disheartened. They’re overwhelmed, and what they need is to be encouraged. You would say, “We’re here for you. You’re not having to do this alone. We see these fruits of grace in your life, and so we know that God is with you.”

And then the passage says if somebody is weak, that is, the person lacks the ability or the skill set needed in a situation, then you don’t offer words; you offer assistance. You “help the weak.”

At the end of the passage it says, “Be patient with them all.” Now if you are resisted, the last thing that you might want to be is patient. And Scripture recognizes that side of our hearts. But when you’re in the helping role, there is a higher calling of patience that’s upon you. When you are in a helping relationship, you are representing Christ’s agenda, and you shouldn’t be a distraction from what Christ wants to do in this person’s life.

Counsel of Counselors: Trauma and Breathing / Instagram Depression / Chronic Illness / Job-Fit / Cohabitation

This is a weekly post that highlights resources from other counselors that I have found helpful. The counselors may be from the biblical counseling, Christian psychology, integration, or secular counseling traditions. By linking to a post, I am not giving it my full endorsement, I am merely indicating that I believe it made a unique contribution or raised an important subject for consideration.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises and Your Vagus Nerve by Christopher Bergland

Diaphragmatic breathing (also referred to as “slow abdominal breathing) is something you can do anytime and anywhere to instantly stimulate your vagus nerve and lower stress responses associated with “fight-or-flight” mechanisms. Deep breathing also improves heart rate variability (HRV), which is the measurement of variations within beat-to-beat intervals.

This Popular Social Network Ranks as the Worst for Young People’s Mental Health by Quenton Fottrell

Instagram, an app that people use to share photos of their lives as seen through a series of flattering filters, was rated worst for the mental health of young people in a study by the Royal Society for Public Health in the U.K. The researchers asked nearly 1,500 British social media users aged 14 to 25 about five of the most popular social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube. The aim of the survey was to find out how they feel each of these platforms impacts their health and well-being. Based on the 14 health-related questions, Instagram came out the worst, followed by Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Building Relationships with Families Touched by Chronic Illness and Disability by Mary Tutterow

The numbers have grown too big to ignore. More than 65 million people, 29 percent of the US population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member—a child with special needs, a spouse with cancer, a parent with dementia, a family member with schizophrenia. So how will our churches serve these families—through all ages and phases of care? And it’s not just about those who are afflicted. What about those who are struggling to care for them?

10 Ways to Know if You’re on the Wrong Seat in the Bus by Chuck Lawless

Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, popularized the concept of “getting the right people on the right seat in the bus.” It’s not uncommon in church consulting to find church staff members who seem to be in the wrong seat. If you’re wondering about your role, here are some indicators of that possibility.

The Three Myths of Cohabitation by Andrew Palpant Dilley

According to a recent sociological study, cohabitation has a notably deleterious impact on one particular group: kids. “As marriage becomes less likely to anchor the adult life course across the globe, growing numbers of children may be thrown into increasingly turbulent family waters,” writes Bradford Wilcox in Foreign Affairs.

What I’m Reading

suffering langbergSuffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores by Diane Langberg. When someone suffers through trauma, can healing happen? And, if yes, how does it happen? Dr. Diane Langberg tackles these complex and difficult questions with the insights she has gained through more than forty years of counseling those whose lives have been destroyed by trauma and abuse. Her answer carefully explained in Suffering and the Heart of God is Yes, what trauma destroys, Christ can and does restore.

But it s not a fast process, instead much patience is required from family, friends, and counselors as they wisely and respectfully help victims unpack their traumatic suffering through talking, tears, and time. And it s not a process that can be separated from the work of God in both a counselor and counselee. Dr. Langberg calls all of those who wish to help sufferers to model Jesus s sacrificial love and care in how they listen, love, and guide. The heart of God is revealed to sufferers as they grow to understand the cross of Christ and how their God came to this earth and experienced such severe suffering that he too is well-acquainted with grief. The cross of Christ is the lens that transforms and redeems traumatic suffering and its aftermath, not only for the sufferer, but it also transforms those who walk with the suffering. This book will be a great help to anyone who loves, listens to, and seeks to help someone impacted by trauma and abuse. There is no quick fix, but there is the hope for healing through the love of God in Christ.

Tweets of the Week

Meaningful Meme

Calvin and Hobbes gets deep.

On the Lighter Side

Because, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” Proverbs 17:22.

Follow Up Resources for a Sermon from Amos: Robust Repentance

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon “Amos,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday May 20-21, 2017.

Repentance-300x200This post is written for the individual who senses their need to repent (a major theme in Amos). But, as is true for so many of us, we so seldom fully own our sin that “the language of repentance” is not our native-tongue. If you need to shift from minimizing, generalizing, and blame-shifting in how to you relate to you sin to robust repentance the points below will be helpful.

There is no formula for repentance. The six points below are merely meant to help you experience the full redemptive impact of repentance. In this sense, repentance and God’s forgiveness can be like a smart phone. They have many features that we may not know are present or how to utilize. When we buy the phone, we get them all; but we do not get the full benefit of them until we realize they’re there and how to use them.

After each point, we will offer an area of self-assessment. These questions are meant to help you determine whether you are placing yourself in a position to receive the benefits God intends to provide through each aspect of repentance.

1. A desire to live for God and submit to His Lordship.

Repentance does not begin with remorse. If that were the case, then we would be saying the cure for guilt begins with feeling worse.

Repentance begins with a genuine desire to submit to God’s Lordship out of trust for His character. Repentance begins with the belief that what God wants for us is actually what is best. We trust God to lead our lives more than ourselves.

When we see God’s ways as best, we are sorry we strayed from them, but this remorse is not “icky” like shame; instead it is like the sense of reunion with a trusted friend after you realize you were wrongly upset with them and they graciously embrace the friendship again.

  • Self-Assessment: Are you surrendering to the Lordship of Christ because you trust his love for you or are you primarily seeking relief from unpleasant emotions and destructive habits?

2. An understanding of how our sin sought to replace God.

It is not just actions or distorted motives for which we repent. We repent for having replaced God with ourselves. 

The idols that fuel our sin want to control all of our lives; to interpret all the events and people in our lives. Repentance acknowledges this false worship as an affront to God and wants him to have his rightful place in our lives; allowing God to again rightly interpret the events and people in our lives.

  • Self-Assessment: Are you able to see the “against God” nature of your sin?

3. Brokenness over the nature of our sin.

A healthy life begins with recognizing our fallen human condition. Ultimately we sin because we are sinners. The myriad of factors that led to our sin are not the root cause. The root is that our nature has been distorted by the Fall (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

True repentance is not just sorrow over particular idols or behavioral failures but brokenness over our condition as a sinful person. When we acknowledge our depravity, we gain an accurate self-assessment that motivates us to perpetually rely on God. Realizing this is the perpetual need of every person allows for a non-shame-based honesty in which a real relationship with God can thrive.

Repentance is what allows you not to have to be either fake or fatalistic about your short-comings and perpetual struggles. Repentance allows you to be honest and have hope at the same time.

  • Self-Assessment: Do you resist seeing yourself and allowing yourself to be known as someone who is in perpetual need of God’s sustaining grace?

4. Expression to God.

After sin, our pride or fear causes us to hide from God rather than talk to God (Gen. 3:8). Too often we think that a directionless sense of regret for sin is the same thing as repenting to God.

You will not feel restored to God as long as you are avoiding God because of your sin. It does no good to address your repentance “to whom it may concern.” Any ambiguously addressed repentance is little more than talking to yourself differently. Talk to God when you repent so that you can know His response to your repentance.

  • Self-Assessment: Have you talked to God in your repentance? If not, might it be that your repentance seems ineffective because the “no one” you spoke to can have no power to forgive or comfort?

5. Faith in God’s willingness to forgive.

Repentance is an expression of faith. We come to God with nothing to offer in exchange for forgiveness. If we do not believe God will freely forgive, we will continue in our “try harder” or “hide more effectively” approaches that allowed our sin to fester.

All this does is inadvertently reinforce the false beliefs that our sin is good and God is mean. Unless we believe that God is willing to forgive on the basis of His grace and Christ’s death, then repentance becomes a form of penance that is more like putting peace in layaway than receiving a gift.

  • Self-Assessment: How do you view God (i.e., expression on His face, posture of His body, tones when He speaks, words that He says, gestures of His hands) when you come to God in repentance?

6. New direction of life usually expressed first by confession (to those we’ve offended and other Christians for accountability).

Repentance is our part of entering into or recommitting to a covenant relationship (i.e., like marriage) with God. This is why sin is frequently called spiritual adultery. 

Repentance is our vow-renewal ceremony that expresses our renewed commitment to covenant fidelity. Marriage ceremonies and vow renewals are not done in private. They are public declarations of who has our ultimate allegiance. This parallels why repentance doesn’t remain private. It is also expressed through confession.

  • Self-Assessment: Does it startle you to think of repentance as a vow-renewal ceremony? How does that image extend the implications of repentance beyond the moment of prayer?

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.