Archive for January, 2011

God’s Words for Our Ongoing Trials: Psalm 138

Case Study: Beverly’s preference was to avoid conflict. She was known as a hard worker and a kind-hearted person. Being in the room when people disagreed was uncomfortable for Beverly, much less when people disapproved of something she did.

Unfortunately, Beverly found herself in the center of a controversy. She has taught the 7th grade girls Sunday School class since they were in 4th grade. Each year they graduated to the next class, she decided to graduate with them. Beverly’s own children are out of the house, so she has been able to devote extra time to building a relationship with her class.

One of the girls in her class has been going through a rough family situation for the last 8 months and has begun to confide in Beverly more than her mother. A troubled marriage and a distant daughter has made this already insecure mother jealous of Beverly. The mother has spoken with the youth minister and several deacons about how Beverly is “monopolizing” the class.

When questions begun to be asked of other parents (before coming to Beverly) there were mixed responses. Some parents wanted equal attention for their children in other classes, other youth teachers felt like they were being made to look bad by Beverly’s work, and (the most silent segment) commented on how much they appreciate Beverly’s heart for their children.

Beverly is becoming the focal point of a conversation amongst many influential people in the church. But she only realizes it when comments leak back to her second and third person. When she learns all that has been done she is amazed and unsettled by the amount of talking that has occurred. She is hurt, angry, and wants to hide.

Every interaction is counter to Beverly’s nature. She likes to serve people with only mild gratitude in return. She realizes she must rely on God in new and more constant ways. As she reads her Bible she comes across Psalm 138 and finds that it echoes her situation. She even finds comfort in the fact that the situation to which the Psalm speaks does not seem to be resolved yet (like her own), so she prays it often in her struggle; making it her own.

Pre-Questions: This case study is meant to challenge you to think biblically about the real struggles of life. These questions will not be answered completely in the sections below. But they do represent the kind of struggles that are being wrestled with in Psalm 138. Use the question to both stir application and to give you new insight into the psalm.

  • How would you comfort Beverly when she said, “I was just trying to serve God by discipling a generation of our children. I didn’t mean to upset anyone.”?
  • Assuming the youth minister and deacons knew of the family situation driving the mother’s jealousy how should they have balanced comfort and directiveness in their response to her?
  • How would Beverly begin to feel comfortable in her own church and ministry role again? What responsibility does she bear and the church leaders bear in regaining that comfort?
  • What are some of the most dangerous or tempting distractions for each person involved in this situation?
  • How should the church minister to and protect the young girl who “sparked” this situation?

Read Psalm 138 in your preferred Bible translation. The “rewrite” of Psalm 138 below is an attempt to capture the words that God would give Beverly to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This would be something Beverly would need to pray many times as he struggled to surrender her work-based identity to the Lord.

A re-write of Psalm 138

1. Lord, You have been so good to me and I want to acknowledge that whole-heartedly. I would say that to anyone; even those who don’t believe in You or act like they should have Your job (smiling).

2. As hard as it is when I am fearful and hurt, I humble myself vulnerably before You. You have always been faithful and Your love I cannot question. My situation would make it easy for me to forget that. There are two things You have declared most important: Your name and Your word. That is why I love teaching my class; I use one to lift up the other.

3. There has never been a moment in my hurt and fear when I called and You were not there. When I felt like I lost everything else regarding my faith (my church, my leaders, my friends, my class), You always heard and answered my prayers. That is what has given me strength to continue to serve.

4. I know everyone in this situation truly wants to honor You; every deacon, parent, and teacher. They come to church to hear Your word, because they love it too.

5. They sing the hymns and I can tell they truly want to praise Your name and give You glory. I have to remind myself of that often when their sin and fear spills onto me. You must overlook (through the blood of Christ) all our sin when we sing our hymns.

6. You are the God who declared “blessed as the poor in spirit” because you delight in comforting the hurting, fearful, and insecure. You draw near to us (both me and this mother) when we will admit our need. But if we refuse to admit our need we push Your comfort away.

7. I am in a hard place right now. Keep me humble. Don’t let fear become pride or entitlement so I will remain in the care of Your protection. If those who are making my life hard are doing so with a hard heart and malice intent, I trust that they will answer to You. But let me focus on Your deliverance more than their punishment.

8. The most important thing is that Your will for my life will be done. Your love cannot be thwarted by man’s sin or time’s erosion. You never get an “incomplete” on your work. I am Your “work in progress.” Help me remember and be comforted by these things even after I say, “Amen.”

Passages for Further Study: Romans 5:1-10; Philippians 4:1-10; Colossians 1:24-29; James 1:2-4; I Peter

Post Questions: Now that you have read Psalm 138, examined how Beverly might rewrite it for her situation, and studied several other passages, consider the following questions:

  • How does this Psalm help Beverly maintain her focus on God in a situation that would distract her to many other things?
  • How could Beverly maintain a confidence that God does hear her when she prays even when her situation is unresolved? How might personalizing this Psalm help her with that?
  • How would your answers to the “pre-questions” have changed as a result of reflecting on Psalm 138?
  • For what instances of work or performance-based identity do you need to re-write your own version of Psalm 138?

What Happens When We Don’t Repent?

 

I almost wrote, “What happens if we don’t repent,” but then why I insinuate that we might not resist repentance. But it is worth noting before we get started that repentance is a gift and a blessing—not a burden and a punishment.

Before you read these seven points, think of your last few sins. Use those sins as a reference point to reflect on the impact of non-repentance.

Now to the title question:

1. We live in a world where our sin is deemed okay. Sin is not safe. We all cry “that’s not fair” when we are sinned against. Yet when we refuse to return and submit to God’s sanity through repentance, we change our expectations of life and others.

2. We force others to live in a world where our sin is okay. Those closest to us have their world changed when sin is not openly and humbly acknowledged as wrong. They are forced to protect where they should rest and question where they should trust. With time, these become habits and ways of life.

3. We blame others and, thereby, confuse sin and suffering. It is hard enough to decipher where I should and should not bear responsibility. When blame-shifting and rationalization enters relationships the level of moral and emotional confusion increases dramatically.

4. We force ourselves to handle life alone. Repentance is God’s invitation to all His resources. When we refuse to repent we begin to do life alone. We declare that “we know better and do not want anyone telling us how to live our life.” Independence comes at the price of community and protection.

5. We surround ourselves with those who agree with our sin. In the absence of God’s community we find/make our own. We begin to surround ourselves with those who like living in a world where our sin is okay. This reinforces and expands the corruptive influence of the sin we will not repent of.

6. We treat God as blind, creating a scary world requiring greater self-reliance. We think, “Nothing that bad has happened (yet). God either doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or won’t do anything about my sin.” Non-repentance devolves into living as a functional atheist. God becomes (in our mind) confined to certain places, subjects, or people. As God becomes smaller, more of life falls on our shoulders.

7. Ultimately, we continue to live for the kingdom of self and experience its bondage. God gives us what we want; we just don’t always like it. Sin always flips the tables from serving us to us serving it. This is where I encourage you to remember that repentance is the only freedom and life!

Bible Verses on Anxiety

Effective Biblical Counseling can never be reduced to the question, “What does the Bible say about [topic]?” Both life and counseling require more than having the right answer to a question. Counseling (or Christian friendship that seeks to embody the “one another” commands of the New Testament) is when one person joins another on his/her journey to cultivate more of the fruit of the Spirit in his/her life by overcoming some life struggle.

What you find below should be considered the “map” for this journey. God’s Word helps us see both where we are (stuck in sin and/or suffering) and where we want to be. The Summit counseling ministry hopes you find both direction and encouragement for your journey in these passages.

This list is updated periodically.

It is not God’s design for us to live in fear and anxiety.

Philippians 4:5-9, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

A characteristic mark of growing in Christian maturity is peace.

Galatians 5:22-26, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

The most important question during anxiety is, “Where will I turn for peace?”

Psalm 56:3-4, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

Daily responsibilities bring anxiety and we battle to focus on the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35, “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”

Our concern for others produces anxieties that are rooted in compassion.

2 Corinthians 11:28-29, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”

Anxiety can be physically exhausting.

Proverbs 12:25, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”

God is concerned about and wants to hear what troubles our souls.

1 Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Worry does not change life and is of no benefit.

Psalm 127:2, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

Anxiety ultimately expresses unbelief in God’s willingness or ability to care for us.

Matthew 6:25-34, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Other Passages to Study: Proverbs 3:24-26; Isaiah 9:6, 12:12, 26:3; John 14:1-6, 25-29, 16:33; Romans 8:6; Ephesians 2:14-22; Colossians 3:14-17, 2 Thessalonians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:6-7

Other Topics to Consider: Character, Change Process, Codependency, Contentment, Decision Making, Emotions (General), Self-Esteem

What Fuels Your Engine?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself… God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing (p. 50).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What are you using to fuel your life?

  • Acceptance
  • Achievement
  • Appearance
  • Athleticism
  • Family
  • Influence
  • Intelligence
  • Morality
  • Wealth

You could add to the list. These are all things that can easily become “why we get out of bed in the morning” or the basis of our personal identity. But they are all deficient fuels for life. Each one will wear us out if we depend on it, because each one is unsustainable and ultimately non-dependable.

There is only one fuel that is self-sustaining and completely reliable. That is God. The only problem (as compared to the other “fuels”) is that God is also uncontrollable. We decide what to do with each of the other fuels. God has already prepared what He will do with/through us (Eph. 2:10).

We might be tempted to think that we prefer these alternative fuels because they are more tangible than God (which might have some validity). But I would dare say it has more to do with our sense of control than any of the “five senses.”

We like to choose who we want to be accepted by and see if we can make them like us. We want to choose the achievement we like best and see if we can tackle it. We define beauty according to our standards and see if we can live up to it. Influence is a commodity we believe we know how to manage. We prefer to narrow our pursuit of morality to those virtues we hold highest. We want to accumulate wealth to fulfill our dreams or attain our markers of security.

If we ran on the more (most) dependable fuel (the fuel which we were created to run on), then we would surrender these freedoms. At least we would surrender the freedom to define these “alternative fuels” as we please.

God has promised to provide our every need (Phil. 4:19), but He has not promised to do so in a Build-A-Bear fashion. We want a Build-A-Bear life. But that has been the temptation from the very beginning (Gen 3:5). The serpent enticed Eve to attain the ability to discern good and bad for herself—to acquire a personal definition and taste for the things that really mattered. Since then our lives have been running down on every “alternative fuel” imaginable.

FAQ’s About Sex, Lust & the Gospel

 

How should I think about sex?

Here is a quote that I believe captures the glory of sex and cautions us against the over-emphasis of sex.

“Our Christian task is to remember that every sexual union is profound.  It always points to the deeper union that we have with Christ by faith.  Sex mirrors the glory of God in the gospel.  It exists because it expresses God’s oneness with His people, His fidelity to us, His ownership of us, His self-sacrifice, and the pleasure we can take in this relationship… Sex is a good thing, there’s no question about that, but we don’t need sex.  Humanness, found in Jesus, is not defined by sexual intercourse.” Edward T. Welch in “The Apostle Paul: On Sex” The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Fall 2005).

How does sexual sin (or any other sin) begin to change me?

The article “Not Again Sin” by Brad Hambrick [SIN_article_Hambrick] takes you through nine questions to help you see the influence of your sin in your life. Often, like David, we miss the subtle changes. He moved from sense of entitlement about rest (staying home “because he had already won many battles and deserved a rest”) to a sense of entitlement about pleasure (having Bathsheba). Chances are, he didn’t see the connection. When we see the ways our sin influences us, then our resolve to avoid temptation becomes stronger.

What should I do if I struggle with pornography?

Act now! You need to talk to somebody. Private sins, like pornography, fester in anonymity. We would highly recommend you join our Freedom Group on purity.

Install accountability and blocking software on your computer. For free accountability software on your computer, see www.xxxchurch.com. If you want a slightly more sophisticated program, see www.covenanteyes.com.

How hurt or offended should I be by my spouse’s pornography problem?

The article “Is Pornography Biblical Grounds for Divorce?” by Brad Hambrick [PORN_MARRIAGE_article_Hambrick] is meant to walk couples through this question. Don’t let the title make you think it’s a debative article. It attempts to walk a couple form hurt (intense and personal) to hope (real and honest). The article walks a couple through understanding the hurt, what to ask, who to involve, and what each spouse should do next.

A sample piece of advice: don’t let your wife be your primary or exclusive accountability partner (or vice versa). These dual roles of spouse and accountability are hard to balance. The wife should be allowed to ask any question she would like to know, but the husband should protect his wife by not forcing her to perpetually ask him uncomfortable questions or risk her husband being alone in his battle with pornography.

What do I do if my spouse has been unfaithful?

Don’t continue to hurt alone and in silence. Yelling at your spouse doesn’t count as speaking up. Infidelity should not be handled alone.  The powerful emotions of anger, betrayal, fear, shame, shock, and the corresponding temptations to denial, blame-shifting, manipulation, and quick fixes are too strong to be navigated alone. Reach out to our counseling office for help (919.383.7100).

What if my struggle stems from insecurity?

Our culture tells us that the universal solution to all our problems is to love ourselves more. The Bible predicted this and warned against it long before psychology “discovered” it (2 Tim. 3:1-2). Focusing on and thinking more of self doesn’t provide relief from insecurity – it makes it worse. Staring in a mirror longer and closer doesn’t excite us any more about our appearance. This is especially true when we “score” ourselves by appearance, instead of treasuring who we are in/to Christ and what God has done for us and is willing to do through us.

The following four articles should help you think through this further.

How should I talk to my children about sex and lust?

You should talk to your children about sex and lust. If you don’t, somebody else will. With that said, it is an intimidating and awkward subject. Paul Tripp’s booklet Teens & Sex: How Should We Teach Them? provides an excellent brief discussion of how to have these talks (yes, plural). Joshua Harris’ book Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World  is an excellent PG book on lust written for teens with a gospel focus.

Pastor JD talked about not dressing for attention. This is not an attack on style and is difficult. Carolyn Mahaney has written a four page “modesty checklist” [PARENTING_Modesty Checklist_Mahaney] that takes you from heart to heels. It is an excellent tool for parents to talk through with their daughters (and their sons concerning what attracts them to girls).

How do I train myself to be “captivated by God’s beauty”?

Too often a phrase like this can be good rhetoric, but hard to apply. There are no picture magazines of God’s beauty and our captivation in God’s beauty is more declaration than self-gratification. If this question intrigues you and you want to make a reality in your life, I would recommend chapters 25-27 of Future Grace by John Piper (only 30 pages total for all three chapters combined). The title of chapter 27 is “Faith in Future Grace vs. Lust.”

Putting Yourself First

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan; and that was the sin he taught the human race (p. 49).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

In our day, if you do not put yourself first, then you are said to be mistreating yourself. Lewis is saying that this is the opposite of Christian teaching – even going so far as to say that it is the first and great lie of Satan. That will surely get a defensive reaction from many readers (maybe even you), but let’s think for a minute about what is being said.

Lewis is not saying, “Hate yourself,” but since we live in such a “love-me-first world” when someone says putting yourself first is bad, we tend to react that way. Until we can see that there are other (many other) options between “hate yourself” and “put yourself first,” then we are impaired from hearing what Lewis or God (not that the two are equivalent) have to say.

For many readers, there will be the need to pause here and let that concept sink in before reading further.

Lewis is saying that we must put pleasing God ahead of our own perceived happiness. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” is not sound logic for justifying non-biblical behavior. The answer in that case is, “No, God doesn’t want you to be happy as you are defining it, because you have a deficient view of happiness from which God is trying to rescue you.”

“But I don’t want to be rescued. I think my definition of happiness is just fine,” might be your reply. Exactly! Because you have put yourself and your view of life first, God’s definition of happiness is no longer good enough for you because believe you know better than God what will make you happy.

When we believe that there is a happiness to be had apart from God, we have radically misunderstood God – His person and not just His ways. We do not follow God’s rules in order to arrive at happiness. This would assume that happiness was a place and God was one of the guides (or even the best guide among others) who wrote our directions in the form of the Bible.

By contrast, God is the destination of our pursuit of happiness. When we put God first, we have centered our life on happiness. When we put ourselves first, we have centered our life on the fickleness of our own tastes, opinion, wisdom, and ability to control circumstances.

“But why don’t I always experience happiness when I pursue God?” is the natural (and good) question that comes in reply. We do not always experience happiness when we pursue God because the world is broken, not because God is broken (in error or holding out on us).

It is as if we have an appointment and when we arrive we find the office closed. We look at our watch and feel offended that the person forgot our appointment. Yet we do not consider whether our watch is broken. God wants to challenge our watch (happiness-tracking device). He says it is broken by the effects of sin and only He is the reliable source of telling right time (finding true joy).

In conclusion, I would simply ask, “After several decades of intensely teaching to ‘love yourself first’ has our culture become a happier culture? Has the rate of depression, divorce, substance abuse, or suicide gone down or up?”

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

God’s Words for Workaholics: Psalm 127

Case Study: When Philip said, “I am a teacher,” he was making a true statement of his identity. If they allowed the same person to win “Teacher of the Year” multiple times, his would be the only name on the hallway plaque. Reading, preparing lectures, designing classroom projects, giving feedback on student papers, and meeting with students were all a joy to Philip. “Changing the future one student at a time,” was a motto and a drug for Philip.

Philip’s wife, however, wanted some of the attention and passion directed towards students for her. Admittedly, she had grown angry (with a strong dose of jealousy), then bitter, then distant, and now disinterested in their 30 years of marriage. Marriage was now only a convenient way to have more time and money to pursue her other interests.

When she used to try to talk to Philip about balance in his life, he would only complain that she didn’t support him and she should be proud to have a husband who works that hard. Now Philip is the one on the bitter-distant cycle as he feels like his wife only uses him for money. But when that thought gets him down, Philip pours himself back into teaching in order to “stay positive.”

What hurts Philip most is how disinterested his boys are in him or education. The boys also began to resent school when they could see it was stealing their father and becoming the definition of “being a good son.” While they wanted to be a real person worth knowing, they felt reduced to their mind and their future when talking with Dad. Dad’s connections were helpful to get into nicer schools, but they vowed not to take their education too seriously because they feared becoming “like Dad.”

Philip is wrestling with mid-life issues. He has worked for three decades on “his dreams” but it not sure what to do with them now. His relationships with his wife, boys, and grandkids are functional at best. Making a will is almost depressing. He wanted to leave something to his boys to help them pursue their dreams. But the boys seem allergic to pursuing a dream (intentionally so).

As Philip struggled with depression, he tried returning to his faith. His teacher-side likes poetry so he began reading through the Psalms. When he came to Psalm 127 he read it many times over. For him it was “he Psalm less traveled.” He saw in it a warning against his life-dominating error. He prayed through it many times and eventually rewrote it in his words to use as part of his repentance to his wife and boys.

Pre-Questions: This case study is meant to challenge you to think biblically about the real struggles of life. These questions will not be answered completely in the sections below. But they do represent the kind of struggles that are being wrestled with in Psalm 127. Use the question to both stir application and to give you new insight into the psalm.

  • What are the warning signs that a job is becoming an identity?
  • What kind of relationships should Philip have established to serve a warning system?
  • How did an over-emphasis on work become both the cause and “cure” of Philip’s family problems?
  • How did Philip’s dream become both the standard and methodology of his parenting?

Read Psalm 127 in your preferred Bible translation. The “rewrite” of Psalm 127 below is an attempt to capture the words that God would give Philip to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This would be something Philip would need to pray many times as he struggled to surrender his work-based identity to the Lord.

A re-write of Psalm 127

1. I thought I could build my own dream life. I labored hard and excelled (in every tangible way I knew to measure or pursue “success”), but I am starting to wonder if it was worth it. I built a career, but I can’t live in it and it’s lonely.  I gave my wife and boys every “thing” and “opportunity” I knew existed, but that has not made us a family.

2. I was the first one in the office and stayed up late researching or grading. My labor has not provided what was most important. I would work through lunch and be distracted during “family dinners,” but I think God (and I) would have been much happier if I had learned to rest and enjoy life. I see now that God wanted to give me rest, not because I was weak, but because He loved me and my family.

3. I thought my career was my gift from God and that with it I could reward my children. I realize now that my boys were my primary gift from God and that they were given to me to be enjoyed and loved more than rewarded and advanced. I have always seemed to miss relationships in the name of progress.

4. I thought my lectures, my writings, or my students would be my legacy. Now that they are all I have, I see I was wrong. My children are where I could have had the biggest impact on the world. My boys were God’s designed weapon with which I should have focused on advancing God’s kingdom and changing the world.

5. Fortunate is the father who pours himself into his children first; whose satisfaction is in his children more than his career or reputation. Everything I once did for my own glory now brings me shame as I see the damage it did to my family. When I speak with those I used to “compete with” for glory, I am only reminded of how they distracted me from what was most important.

Passages for Further Study: I Corinthians 6:12; Ephesians 4:15-17, notice that Ephesians 6:1-4 (parenting) comes before 6:5-9 (work); 2 Thessalonians 2:6-16

Post Questions: Now that you have read Psalm 127, examined how Philip might rewrite it for his situation, and studied several other passages, consider the following questions:

  • How should Philip deal with the sense of regret and guilt he feels for the damage his focus on work did to his family?
  • How should Philip respond to the anger or indifference his wife and boys may have when he comes to them in repentance?
  • How would your answers to the “pre-questions” have changed as a result of reflecting on Psalm 127?
  • For what instances of work or performance-based identity do you need to re-write your own version of Psalm 127?

How Specific Should a Spouse Be Confessing Sexual Sin?

This is a difficult question. Unfortunately, it is also a common question. It is a question that, even when pressing, most try to avoid. But when we avoid the question, the person who gets hurt most is the person who has been betrayed.

We must not buy the lie that we can “protect someone from the truth.” The absence of truth is bondage (John 8:31-38). When we couch our silence as “protecting our spouse,” we make a virtue out of the cover up of our sin.

Take a moment to listen to this brief (5 minute) video by David Powlison.

I would encourage you to read the biblical passages referenced from II Samuel 11-12 as you go through this post.  What follows is attempt to outline key elements of confessing sexual sin (lust, pornography, infidelity, etc…) from the account of David and Bathsheba. Remember, we have this account primarily because David volunteered it after being confronted by Nathan (see Psalm 51:13-14).

11:1 – You should confess the actions that left you vulnerable to this sin. This is important as the two of you develop a “how do protect against this happening again” plan.

11:2-3 – You should confess the steps that you took as entered into the sin. Rarely does sin “just happen.” You need to see where you chose to be blind. Confessing this helps your spouse to know you are taking the sin seriously.

11:4 – You should confess sin to the full extent to which it reached. Little is more damaging than the severity of sexual sin to slowly leak out. Trust begins to build and then is broken time after time. Learn from David – the truth always comes out.

11:5 – You should confess all consequences of your sin that occurred before your spouse learned of your sin. Did you lose your job, get demoted, contract an STD, take out an unknown credit card, etc…? Unconfessed consequences will be painful reminders for both of you later on.

11:6-27 – You should confess your methods of deception, others involved in the cover up of your sin, other sins you committed in tandem with the sexual sin, and the impact the sin has had on your overall character. Notice this section is the longest part of the narrative. Sin maintains its life and mutates into other expressions when we hide our methods of lying and resist reflecting upon its impact.

12:1-15 – You should confess how you were brought to repentance. As you confess this, remember it is God’s grace (although painful) that you were brought to repentance. If your spouse “found out,” you can still share how you came to the conviction to be completely truthful.

12:7-15 – You should accept the consequences that emerge after your confession. Being forgiven should not be confused with the removal of consequences. See the blog post “The Forgiveness Trap” for more on this.

12:16-23 – You should be willing to walk through the emotional ups and downs with your spouse as they learn of your sin, forgive, and work to restore the relationship. Don’t vomit your sin on your spouse and walk away from them to clean up the mess alone. This is a key part of loving your spouse well. It will not feel loving to either of you, but choosing to comfort your spouse over your own comfort is love (Philippians 2:4-5).

Seminars:

  • False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Lust to Adultery
  • True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin

Articles:

Booklets:

The Forgiveness Trap

Anger is usually prompted by some offense (real or perceived). If we are going to do anger well, then we must learn to forgive well. This post is “Appendix A” from the upcoming Overcoming Anger seminar (information below) and looks at how anger often hijacks forgiveness.

Forgiveness is never simple or straight-forward because it always involves both sin and sinners. Worse yet, it always involves a sinner who has sinned against another sinner.

Usually in the post-sin, pre-confession stage of the process there is some clear role definition. One person is the offender. The other person is the offended. I acknowledge that we are all sinners, but for repentance and forgiveness to occur, these roles must be defined even if they are alternated.

During this post-sin, pre-confession there is usually some delay of time when the offending party(s) is trying to decide if they are going to repent. They replay the events looking for a way to justify their actions. Maybe they weigh out whether their actions were “wrong enough” to warrant an apology. But in order to enter “the forgiveness trap” the offending party must come to the person they offended in repentance.

Eventually they come to the person they offended and say, “I was wrong for doing what I did. Will you forgive me?” The trap has been set. But wait a minute. You’re thinking, “What is wrong with that?” Nothing. That is exactly what should happen. I am not saying that the trap is manipulative or intentional.

So what is the trap? The trap is an immediate role reversal in which if the offended person does not promptly reply with absolute forgiveness, the sinner versus saint roles are reversed. The white hat and the black hat switch heads. Oftentimes a hesitancy in forgiveness is perceived (or even declared) to be a greater sin than the original offense and the offended person is not even given the same period of time to forgive that the offending person took to repent.

I am not saying this is what should happen, but it’s often what does happen. Sometimes, it is an innocent misapplication of biblical teaching on forgiveness. Other times, it is manipulative form of repentant-revenge.

I am not saying that forgiveness is optional. Even if the offending person does not repent, forgiveness is commanded as an authentic expression of our appreciation for Christ’s forgiveness of us (Eph. 4:32). To fail to do so angers God greatly (Matt 18:15-35).

But too often, “the trap” assumes this must be done immediately and that full trust must be restored upon forgiveness. We must remember that while God can command forgiveness, the offending person cannot. The offending person requests forgiveness, recognizing forgiveness is an act of grace. To demand forgiveness and use Scripture to pressure forgiveness is a sign that the “repenting” person does not understand what he/she is asking.

As a general guide line, I advise a repenting person to wait at least as long as it took them to repent before they mention the offended person’s obligation to forgive. In cases of traumatic offenses or painful betrayals it may be wise to wait longer. If not, it falls into the “now I’m the good guy and you’re the bad guy… God’s on my team” trap.

It should also be noted that the restoration of trust and forgiveness are two distinct but related things. One can “cancel a debt” without being eager to “give more credit.” Attacking someone with their fault is a sign of unforgiveness, but a hesitancy to potentially place one’s self in harms-way again is not. If these two things are treated as the same thing, they create another “forgiveness trap.”

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

Made of Better Stuff?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Somebody once asked me: ‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of – the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be it if goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better or worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all (p. 49).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What do we want for our children? What would be the best thing we could ask God to grant our children? If we are honest, I think most of us (myself included), would pray that our children would do great things. Personally, I look for special moments to whisper in the ears of my boys, “I believe and pray this world will be a better place because of the life you live on it.”

After reading Lewis’ quote, I am convicted to pray differently. Now my prayers would sound something like, “Lord, grant my boys the humility to contain whatever ‘good works’ You have ordained for them to accomplish.” I realize I was inadvertently praying for a temptation without praying for the accompanying protection.

That is not to say that I think God would curse my boys for my imbalanced prayers. But my prayers (even for others) change me. When I bring things before the Father as “worthy of His attention” I am shaped to treasure those things. When I prayed for my boys to change the world without spending equal time praying for their character, I was reinforcing the distortions of my own heart.

Lewis’ quote on “better stuff” makes more sense of Jesus’ teaching/warning:

“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

Greatness must be protected from itself if it is to remain good. Power is ultimately remembered more for its impact than its magnitude. The most powerful figures in human history are rarely remembered fondly. Their character could not contain their influence.

Service (and its embedded virtue of humility) is the protection of greatness. It is one of the few cases where the wrapper should be valued more than the object. Greatness outside the wrapper of humility always mutates into evil.

May we pray regularly (for ourselves and our children), in light of the “better stuff” from which we are made, that God would grant us the humility to carry greatness (His image and the message of salvation) with integrity all of our days. Let us pray that we would pray for the wrapper with complete faith that when we have humility that God will grant all we need to accomplish all He intends (James 4:6).